“Muy Gusta Brasileiros”
This small phrase in Portuguese translates into English as “I really like Brazilians” and for me it’s true.
I really love Brazilians and Brazil.
If you think of Europe as being a stylish and sophisticated place and take that image and place it in a hot tropical climate, then you have Brazil – stylish and sophisticated yet far more exotic and absolutely full of life and colour. Brazil is the home of Carnival, the Samba, Football and so much more.
Brazil (Brasil) also has a population of around 207 million people, some 12 million living in Sao Paulo, 6.3 million in Rio and 2.5 million living in the capital city, Brasilia. Distances are also big – for example, the distance from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus in the Amazon is some 4300 kilometres (2650 miles), Rio to Salvador de Bahia 1631 Kilometres (1000 miles)while Rio to Sao Paulo is 430 kilometres (267 miles).
I first travelled from the USA to Central and South America in my twenties, variously catching trains, a few flights, buses, hitch hiking and trekking, to travel along what was then called the ‘Gringo Trail’ – not an official road as such, more a general path for ‘gringo travellers’ like myself heading overland from the USA in the north through Central America to South America in the south. I did this, travelling overland through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, to Panama and then flew to Ecuador before heading to Peru, then on to Bolivia and Brazil.
I almost got to Colombia on a flight from Panama, but then just before boarding the flight, I was told that I needed a Visa for Colombia and that would have meant travelling back to Mexico City to go to the Embassy there to get that visa! No, I wasn’t going to do that, so it was off on a flight to Quito in Ecuador and from there on by land to Peru and then Bolivia and Brazil.
Later on I travelled from Brazil to Paraguay, crossing over the River from Asunciόn into Argentina to see Iguaçu Falls and then back to Asunciόn before taking a flight over the Andes to Chile, then flying back to Mexico and the USA. It took about 6 months or so to make this journey.
It was a great time and while my Spanish was non-existent when I started the journey, it gradually improved enough to say a few words and get by, but then, in Brazil, they speak Portuguese!
To get to Brazil, I travelled from La Paz in Bolivia and that was a journey in itself.
La Paz in Bolivia is a high altitude city, about 3500 metres above sea level and located in a dish like valley beneath the imposing snow-capped mountain of Illimani that is often shrouded in clouds, but then when the mountain does appear, the mountain creates a whole different look to the city.
In Bolivia I had travelled by bus from the remarkable Lake Titicaca, and from La Paz taken a bus out of La Paz heading to a small village that I don’t recall the name of. The journey was however the most memorable part of that trip.
The bus headed out of La Paz, but then stopped at the top of the mountain ridge above the city, not to see the view, but for the Bus Driver and conductor to both cross themselves before throwing holy water out the window! There was good reason for them to do this as the road was narrow and ran along beside massive incredibly steep drops over the side. At periodic places there would be one or two small white crosses next to the roadway, but then half a dozen crosses where a bus had gone over the side.
It wasn’t long also until we came across landslides where half of a hillside slipped down over the roadway. Anyway, I survived, just as I had on other perilous journeys in Central and South America, either sitting in a bus or sometimes riding in the roof rack on top of the bus with my backpack in view.
Back in La Paz, the train station was uphill from where I was staying and I headed up the hill carrying my backpack. Even though I had been in the Andes for a few months, the Altitude Sickness certainly kicked in. Every step meant stopping to get a breath. It felt like I was carrying a ton of weight, but I somehow managed to get to the station and catch the train to the Brazilian border – but then what a journey.
The train journey started well enough, with just a few passengers on board, the train a mix of passenger carriages and closed fright cars. Off into the night we went heading to Brazil through the darkness thinking it would be an overnight trip. It turned out to be a day and a half on what they called “El Tren de Morte” (The Death Train), but no-one could say when the train was likely to get to the border with Brazil!
At different times the train would just stop in the middle of the jungle for seemingly no reason. A couple of times, a whole group of soldiers would jump out from one of the closed up freight cars and run off into the jungle. All quite strange!
There was no food on-board, but then a couple of times the train stopped at small places in the jungle where there were people selling food – the blueish-black ‘Frijoles’ (beans), and ‘Huevos’ (eggs) a whole stack, maybe 100 fried eggs piled high glistening in the sunlight. Then there were ‘Guavas’ and that was it. Nothing more to entice you to take your life in your hands and either eat or starve. I got to really hate Guavas, and haven’t eaten one ever since.
Eventually however, we did get the Brazilian border and crossed over into Brazil to board a train with airline type seats that reclined and great food on board and super sweet coffee. It was back to the first world and on to Sᾶo Paulo – the biggest city in Brazil.
A year or two before this time, I had been promised a great job in Brazil, but for one reason or another it didn’t happen, so I was determined to come to Brazil, all be it as a tourist traveller.
On board I met a Brazilian girl, Iliada, who lived in Sᾶo Paulo, and she invited me to stay with her and then we also travelled to great beaches at Ubatuba on the coast spending time there too. It was then on to Rio de Janeiro to see Carnival – the greatest festival in the world.
Yes, “Muy Gusta Brasileiros” and if you ever get a chance to go to see ‘Carnival ’ (Carnaval) in Rio – do it. It happens in Lent, 40 days before Easter – which means it is usually in February.
Carnival is magical and I will tell you a bit more about it on the pages on Rio.
There is no doubt that Brazil is a great country. There is great wealth but also great poverty and violence too, so you need to be very careful where you go and what you do.
What makes Brazil such an exciting country to visit is undoubtedly the people that you meet, so hopefully you will meet many ‘Brazieiros’ and fall in love with this great country.