Friday, December 23, 2011

Adventuras en Brazil

For two weeks this month, I had the privilege of using some of my vacation time (I know-what? we get that?) to travel to Paraguay's neighboring country Brazil. The largest country in Latin America with a development record beyond any of it's neighbors- this is a place I just had to see. Bumping around my schedule and thankfully taking advantage of the slow Christmas season- I was off on December 11th-23rd for a Brazilian adventure!

1st Stop: Foz de Iguazu
Outstanding experience to see the largest falls in the world both from the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the border. Soooo cool! This was one attraction that just kept on giving from the Garganta de Diablo (Devil's Throat) to San Marin's massive series of falls stretching around miles of cliff-faces sculpted into a gorgeous arc. I loved this place. Maybe even good for a honeymoon as my fellow backpackers observed. It's a little far out of the way compared to the endless beaches and sunshine on the coast, but this is one place you really should not miss. 

2nd Stop: Florianópolis
This is one super amazing green and beachy island. Over 50 beaches are scratched out along the shores, large and small with all sorts of outdoor fun. A great place for photography (oh, but watch out for the sand because that is how you break your camera real quick)! The hostel staff was sweet and friendly, especially charismatic Serg from Peru; even the guests were fun to hang with, my favorite 3 couples from Spain/Colombia, Norway, and UK/France and an Argentinean friend I kept running into throughout my trip. By far my favorite beach was Matadores on the south of the island, but I also loved the small beach-side towns dotting the island with their little shops and colonial architecture. I could have stayed much longer, it was such a lovely place to be. For now, I've got the sunburn etched into my back as a recordatorio.

3rd Stop: Sao Paulo
A massive but shockingly clean and organized city. Hostel staff also great and more friends to get to know- a job hunter from the Netherlands looking to make a life in Brazil's New York City. All of Brazil screams "jobs!" but this city has the paychecks to make you squeal with delight. Rumor has it that many of Sao Paulo's rich get a ride via helicopter to work each day... so many in fact, that they are having air traffic problems. Lol. A Saturday night out bar hopping is certainly the thing to do, from brit-style gay bars to Paulista's snappy clubs. With all the Christmas decorations, it's difficult to feel like you're far from home in this city... until you notice Santa is below a palm tree. Downtown is a mass of people, the flood of pedestrians most dense heading to the Muni Mercado. If you can find a place to stop and snap a picture, you'll find the architecture unique. If you're not big on the hustle and bustle, just head to the parks where you can find ample space for a jog, yoga, or even sword-fighting lessons. Two days was enough for me, but for city-dwellers this is the place to be.

4th Stop: Rio de Janeiro
The welcome at the bus stop is not at all what one would expect for this well-known and celebrated Brazilian beach-side city and former capital. One's expectation is altered harshly to be greeted by graffiti across all the walls from kids competing to get their sign the highest and homeless sprawled out on the sidewalks. But not to worry, the place will win your approval in no time with it's outstanding touristy feel and accommodations. Boat party on the bay- check. A photo with the world's tallest statue the Christ Redeemer- check, outdoor artwork at the Lapa Stairs- check, hang-gliding over forest, sky-scrapers, and beaches- check. You can do it all and more. But make sure to take the time to see the "other" side of the city, book a tour or adventure with a friend into the favelas. Many are quite safe these days, and it is probably the real highlight of my time in Rio. Get to know the people, wander the concrete and spiraling streets, dance in the rain as the water whips away your flip-flops and the day's dirt. That is the Rio you should know.

5th Stop: Curitiba
Getting pretty tired at this rate, but Curitiba is truly a jewel in Brazil's interior. The cutest town hall I have ever seen, a free zoo right in the middle, a beautiful botanical garden, and decent souvenirs. Venture into one of the various shopping malls for a look at Brazilian fashion (not that you didn't notice already you were breaking all the rules wandering the streets) and compare the prices. This place is not actually all that cheap... in fact, it could be more expensive that the USA. While you are waiting for your bus, waltz in the Muni Market and buy some of the yummiest cheese, organic bread, and artichoke dip you've had yet in South America. Mmmmm.

Without a doubt, Brazil is certainly a place you should visit - and I barely even scratched the surface. In talking with fellow back-packers, there is much more to be seen in Brasilia and the north, the wild Pantanal, and the Amazon rainforest. These places are full of African culture, samba, and Brazil's most popular and native dishes. I will surely have to go back some day. For now, the memories I most often relive are the long bus journeys across rolling tropical hills, waking from dreams of another world and squinting through the fog to that place I was drifting through.

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