My Travel Map

My Travel Map

27 December 2010

Foz do Iguacu, Brasil

This is going to be a pretty picture-heavy/writing-light post. Foz do Iguacu, Iguazu Falls...the Brazilian side. There is a city of 300,000 people near this natural wonder along the border between Brazil and Argentina (the border with Paraguay is also across the river that this one flows into nearby). A meeting for work here was the reason for my entire South American journey, and I stayed in a hostel in the city. The city itself is nothing to write home about, but the falls more than make up for that. They are one of those places that are just indescribable in their sheer scale and scope. I've done my best to do them justice with pictures, but really you need to see them in person...they are spectacular.

The falls are really a series of falls along the Iguazu River. There are more than 250 separate waterfalls here, all spread out over a huge area. The flow rate over these cascades is more than 3 times the amount that goes over Niagara Eleanor Roosevelt once said of Iguazu: "Poor Niagara," and she was right.

These little guys were all over the place...and they are cheeky too...they've obviously been well fed by tourists.

The Brazilian side of the falls focuses more on the epic scale and sweeping views of the system of falls, while the Argentine side (upcoming post) gets visitors up close and personal with the falls.

The torrent below.

You can pay an exorbitant amount to take a speed-raft trip along the river. These boats are great for giving a better sense of scale to these shots! Those are big rafts...there is seating for over thirty people on board each.

If taking the boat prepared to get wet.

The jungle around the falls is lush, and I saw many different species of tropical, colorful birds, including flocks of toucans.

These walkways provide the means of hiking along the steep canyon walls; they also allow you to get out closer to the falls.

As is the norm very close to large falls, there were plenty of rainbows.

Nice shot down on the walkways. Unlike Niagara, there is very, very little infrastructure around the falls. Fortunately, they have been kept quite natural thanks to their national park status on both sides.

If you get to visit the falls, you need to spare some time to check out the bird park just outside of the park entrance. They have an amazing collection of exotic (to us North Americans that is) birds, most of which are native to Brazil (or some neighboring country in S. America). The following pics are all from this bird park and are just some examples of what I saw.

These toucans were trouble. You could walk around inside the large cages, and these guys had no fear. They would swoop right overhead, literally buzzing you.

Brazilian flag colors on this guy above:

Several different species of toucan, all native to Brazil!

Not just birds here...they had some reptiles too including cayman and these lengthy anacondas, all native to Brazil of course.

This parrot cage was one of my favorite parts. There were more macaws in this one enclosure than I had seen collectively in my entire life.

Red ones...

blue ones...

And this guy...apparently a very rare species.

Back in town, the one thing I thoroughly enjoyed and had been looking forward to my entire trip was the Brazilian churrascaria, that is grill-house. These places have a set price for all-you-can-eat food, and man is it amazing. The restaurant is centered around an enormous grill, on which is cooking up just about every cut and kind of meat you can imagine. It is a seemingly endless supply of steaks, sausages, cutlets, drum-sticks, legs, thighs, flanks, and offal. To make you feel a little less guilty and further from imminent heart failure, they have a "salad bar", consisting of a bunch of vegetables (fresh, pickled, and grilled/cooked), salads (house, macaroni, potato, etc), beans, rice, oh and a huge amount of deserts (ha...suckers...who needs desert when you have unlimited meat?!?). The meat is a never-ending stream coming at you care of the tireless wait-staff. The cuts come out on the skewers on which they were cooked, and the waiters just cut you off as much or as little as you desire. Your plate at times looks like something out of a horror film with the amount of different meats stacked on there. The best part is the price, all this for somewhere around US$16!

A plate good...the meats were all very fresh and cooked to perfection! What should be rare was rare, and what should be cooked thoroughly was still tender and moist. Amazing. I ended up eating at these a couple times during my stay in the south of Brazil (where this style originates, which is why I saved it for down there), and I found it was all I needed the entire day! Who knows how many weeks or months I may have taken off my life by doing so, but I tell you, it was well worth it!

So this does it for Brazil...I loved it there. I've already made arrangements to return in 2014 for the World Cup, which should be epic there, and I look forward to return again and again to explore more of that massive and amazing country throughout my life. I only sampled a small amount of the country, and I can't wait to get back to travel further north along the coast as well as inland to the enormous Pantanal swampland and the remote Amazon.

Sao Paulo, Brasil

I had a full day in Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo. As a massive city, one day is nowhere near the amount of time you would need to get to know it, but I figured I should at least get a brief sample of the place. From the enormous rodoviaria (bus station), I took the city's excellent metro service around all day, popping up to check out different places around town.

Like Rio, there was some AWESOME street art around the city... this massive mural was one of my favorites.

Check out that detail...amazing.
The seemingly ever-present Brazilian flag in graffiti form below:

The Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo's version of 5th Avenue. It is lined with these interesting skyscrapers; there is apparently an architect's war going on here...with each trying to do something more unique than the last. It's neat, but really, I'm not a big-city kind of guy. I did manage to find a cool little cafe here, which made for some great relaxation and people-watching over a nice coffee.

I had some really lucky timing at this cathedral. The monks in residence here do an amazing chorus only a few times each week, and I caught one! My luck didn't last all day though...the thing I was looking forward to most was the city's main market. It is supposed to be an incredible display of the wealth of foods that Brazil can maintain, and there are supposedly some great stalls to catch a bite to eat. I spent the good part of an hour wandering the streets (nothing is on a square grid there, and street signs are difficult to spot if they exist at all) trying to find it. With the help of a couple of police officers, a store-owner, and a taxi driver (stopped on the side...I didn't just get in and take the ride as I knew I was pretty close), I found the market closed. It was the only day that month that it was closed.

Much of the city I saw was very run down. I didn't feel at all safe wandering around there, though there was a pretty significant police presence. There is evidently a very large homeless population in Sao Paulo too, which is sad.

This was a pleasant surprise. Being quite sick of wandering the city, I stumbled upon this park along Avenida Paulista, the Parque Siqueira Campos. This park has preserved the lush forest that used to cover the area on which the city has claimed. It was beautiful and so pleasant and peaceful. It is heavily used by the locals too, which is great to see. It's sad though that such beauty has been replaced by the concrete jungle and enormous sprawling suburbs that is now Sao Paulo. Overall, I felt that a day was enough for me in the city...just not my type of place, and when I return to Brazil, I don't plan to spend any time there.

25 December 2010

Ouro Preto, Brasil

After an overnight, bouncy, and twisty bus journey north of Rio, I arrived early morning in Ouro Preto, which translates to Black Gold. This place is an old, old town in the state of Minas Gerais. I spent only a couple days here, but that was enough to wander around the historic city center, get a feel for the place, and eat some awesome Minas cuisine!

Ouro has a ton of Boroque churches, which is part of the reason it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. As you should know by now if you follow this blog, I love historic, well-preserved old cities, and Ouro Preto definitely fits this bill. As an added bonus, it is surrounded by these incredible mountains, and the town itself is built on very hilly terrain, which offers spectacular views over different parts of the city as you wander around its twisty cobbled streets.

Like Paraty, the place has been really well preserved, and the locals maintain everything just wonderfully.

Why don't we have detail like this on buildings anymore?

Ouro Preto is a town steeped in history, and it holds a special place in the financial and political history of Brazil. It was in Ouro Preto that the Inconfidencia Mineira revolution was attempted in 1789. The attempt was the result of Portuguese colonial rule over Brazil and the increased demand of gold from Ouro Preto's mines. The political elite organized the revolt, but it was quelled and the leaders executed. The statue, seen in the middle of the town square and political rally in the picture above, is of Tiradentes, one of the most prominent leaders of the attempted revolt, and the main building on the square now houses a museum devoted to Ouro Preto's history with a lot covering the attempted revolt. Even Minas Gerais' state flag (seen below) reflects this history; the words "Libertas quae sera tamen" was the motto of the Inconfidencia. It translates to "Freedom albeit late."

One of those sweeping views from around town. You can see the churches sticking up above the other buildings.

You definitely burn some calories wandering around town. The hills it is built on are steep, but they didn't stop the cities architects and contractors.

There are favelas clinging to the hills here too...many of these serve as the homes of local miners and their families. In the local hills and mountains, the dominant resource is aluminum, but other stones, metals, and minerals are still mined too including iron, bauxite, manganese, talcum, marble, gold, hematite, dolomite, tourmaline, pyrite, muscovite, topaz and imperial topaz, which is unique to the area. This wealth of minerals is very evident in the multitude of gem shops around town and even peddlers offering discounted, uncut gems on the street. It's unfortunate that this wealth isn't more evenly distributed amongst the workers; there is an enormous difference between these favela dwellings and some of the more expensive ones around town.

A neat thing about Ouro Preto is that the town is still very much lived in. Despite heavy dependence on tourism and even more so than Paraty, the place has not at all been ruined or made fake by over-catering to tourists.

Just another typical view of town.

The observatory at the old School of Mines. Ouro Preto is also a university town (the Federal University of Ouro Preto is here), which is another bonus point in my books.

You can get some INCREDIBLE handmade stoneware in the markets in Ouro Preto, and the stuff is really well-priced. I got a couple hand carved and painted stone candlesticks for only US$4.50 and a stone shot glass for US$1! The carvings are intricate, and you can see people doing the work right in front of you (picture above). Then they use those wonderful bright colors to paint the pieces...really a great deal. As with most street markets, just remember to politely and respectfully haggle, or run the risk of being taken advantage of!

Awesome restaurant... Minas is known nationwide for its cuisine. When I told Brazilians I met along the way that I was headed into the state, all of them told me to make sure I enjoy the food. That was another great thing about Brazil in general; we met some really nice and friendly people. Missy wasn't with me in Ouro Preto, and I was approached by several people about our age just wondering where I was from and what I was doing in Brazil. They were beyond friendly and after nothing but a little practice with their English (which was really good for the most part!) and to make a new, foreign friend. I have more notes in my guide book from these meetings as these new friends pointed out their favorite places around the country, and I even collected some email addresses of those who offered places for Missy and I to stay around the country when we return in 2014 for the World Cup!

One of my plate-fulls of amazing food at favorite of the local restaurants. Buffet style meals are popular in Brazil, and this one was incredible. They also had unlimited cachaca, the Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar and similar to a strong rum (seen in the small shot glass next to the beer). Brazilians take their cachaca seriously too, and Paraty had entire cachaceria's devoted just to the beverage! Each region is known for its different styles of it, and the amazing caipirinha drink is made using it (along with fresh lime juice and sugar...delicious!).

Minas food is very savory, salty, and stew-like. Rice and bread serve as the major starches and for sopping up the various sauces. As is the norm in Brazil, there are lots of meat dishes...lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. This is just part of the spread from Chaferez; it was absolutely delicious and served all you can eat! I stuffed myself there.

The museum is located in this old building on the city's main square. I'd recommend a visit...they have a lot of really neat stuff in there and many of the displays and interactive exhibits have English translations.

You just get this incredible feel walking around the you are in another time. Also, I felt extremely safe here... I was alone the whole time and wandered around much of the city without any problems.

Sunset over Ouro Preto, with one of its famous Baroque cathedrals in silhouette.