10 reasons to love Brazil
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Modern gonzo Robin Esrock and partner Ana Alheiro lay out the argument in photographs.
MY FIRST VISIT TO Brazil was an accident. The next was a holiday. The most recent was a necessity.
With 192 million people, Brazil is one of the four nations (along with Russia, China, and India) anticipated to define this century. While China is revolutionizing the world of commerce, analysts expect Brazil’s natural attractions to transform the country into a global tourism powerhouse. It has the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and Rio will host the 2016 Summer Olympics — an unprecedented double-whammy of superstar events that will bring the world to its shores.
As a professional traveler, I am often asked what my favourite country is. The answer is Brazil, and with the photos below I hope to explain why. For my partner Ana, the reason is simple. She’s a born and bred carioca, growing up just steps away from the Copacabana. Whether you’re attracted to the beaches or Carnaval, wildlife or music, there’s too much going on here to ignore for much longer.
The Music and Dance
Rhythm permeates Brazil. Sometimes I catch myself listening to traffic, and even it carries a tune. Teenagers listen to the same classic bossa nova songs their parents do. MBP, modern Brazilian pop, incorporates many different genres. Samba is Brazil's most famous dance, but there are dozens of others, like forro (picture a couple doing the vertical funky chicken) funk, and axÃ© (pronounced ash-ay), which turns nightclubs into well-choreographed musicals. Travelers donât need to know each dance, nor the music that accompanies it. Your enthusiasm and willingness to enjoy the rhythm goes a long way.
The biodiversity in Brazil is staggering. More than one-third of all the world's species live in the Amazon, including 3,000 species of fish. In the state of Matto Grosso do Sul, birdwatchers head to the Pantanal, the worldâs largest wetland. Jungle safaris have brought us up close to piranhas, anacondas, and this wary caiman.
While archaeologists recently discovered new mysteries in the Amazon, Brazil's history is mainly focused on its colonial past. The country was tossed and torn in battles between the Spanish, Dutch, British, and of course the Portuguese, who give the country its language. In the northeast cities of Recife and Salvador (pictured), blackened churches and buildings recall a turbulent time of plantations, wars, religion, wealth, and slavery.
Swing a cat in Brazil and it will land suntanned on a white sandy beach. With nearly 7,500km of coastline and glorious tropical weather, this is a beach country. The most famous are the long sandy strips in Rio's Copacabana and Ipanema. Cabo Frio has the squeaky white sand of the Caribbean. My favourite is Lopez Mendes, on the island of Ilha Grande. Northeast beaches in Natal, Jericoacoara, and Morro Do Sao Paulo are well worth traveling for.
Nothing will prepare you for the spectacle of Carnaval. The entire country explodes into celebration, ranging from massive parades inside Rioâs Sambadrome to chaotic street parties and festivals. Carnaval brings Brazilians together across the socioeconomic divide. What was once a Catholic ritual of giving up meat for Lent is now the biggest, most intense annual party you'll find anywhere. Believe the hype.
The Stuff You Can't Do Anywhere Else
I travel for a living, and after 90 countries on 6 continents, I'm always on the lookout for activities that are unique. There are plenty of places you can climb, or raft, or even fish for piranhas. Capoeira at sunset? Favela funk parties? Joining a parade in the Sambadrome -- thatâs Brazil. I recently discovered Rio do Plata outside of the eco-tourism hotspot of Bonito. Float with the current for three hours down a crystal clear stream, snorkelling amongst thousands of freshwater fish. That's Brazil.
The official religion of Brazil is Roman Catholicism. The actual religion is football. The country has won the World Cup a record five times. The game is played and followed on beaches and streets, in clubs and parks. The Brazilian style of play is beautiful to watch -- full of flamboyant tricks and skill compared to Europeâs clinical game. A visit to Maracana Stadium in Rio, which holds the record for single game attendance (199,854 people at the 1950 World Cup Final) will convert you way before the final whistle blows.
I'm not a fan of the commercially inspired marketing campaign that is "The New Seven Wonders." Some might argue that the statue of Christ the Redeemer, a remarkable landmark much like the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty, doesnât quite belong on a list with the Great Wall of China or Petra. But Brazilians got behind the vote and today it is officially a wonder of our world. Personally I believe the view of Rio de Janeiro, amongst the world's most beautiful cities, is the true wonder here. Down south, Iguazu Falls is an easy finalist for the Natural Seven Wonders.
Caju? Cupuaçu? Pitanga? Jaboticaba? Brazil is blessed with tropical fruit rich in vitamins and taste. People here have long enjoyed the nutritional benefits of acai, even as it becomes a wonder berry in North America. Meanwhile itâs a meat fest in the churrascaria, a uniquely Brazilian concept. Each diner receives a card. The green side means more, the red side means stop. Waiters attack with different cuts of meat until you burst. Staples like beans, rice, and farofa (manioc flour) accompany most dishes. Cheap eats like bolinhos de bacalhau (fish and potato balls) and coxinha de galinha (chicken and potato balls) are deep fried and delicious.
We in the cold Northern Hemisphere know that special first day of summer. For the first time, we can put on shorts or that summer dress, feel a warm breeze on our legs, and appreciate that finally, the best time of year has arrived. On that day, we walk around smiling, easily relaxed, infused with positive energy. In Brazil I have observed locals of all classes, watching crowds on beaches and buses, in malls, restaurants, the slums, and on the streets. Many of them have that same twinkle in their eye, an uplifting smile on their face. Every single day.
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