Monday, January 23, 2012

2012, 6th - 8th & 20th - 21st January: Salvador, Brazil

2012, 6th - 8th & 20th - 21st January: Salvador, Brazil

For more photos follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:

There are not so many photos accompanying this blog entry as I was not inclined to carry my camera around Salvador too much as it has a reputation for street crime - so I thought it best to be cautious.

My time in the city was spread across two separate weekends, with my visit to Lençois in-between these two stops in Salvador. I stayed in the Barra district which is at the end of the peninsula on which the city is built. Barra (pronounced Ba-ha) is a more relaxed place to stay than (say) the Pelourinho as there is less street crime. In fact, I felt relaxed in Barra while I had heard a lot of stories of ´issues´ on certain streets in and around the Pelourinho.

It is with thanks to a friend Laura in Rio de Janeiro (that I met through my host there) that I had such a sociable time in Salvador. Laura put me in touch with some of her friends in Salvador, and Brazilians (as well as someone from the US) being such nice people they volunteered to show me around the place.

On my first weekend there I met with Túlio. I accompanied him, Kate and Tanure on their boat. We sailed from a marina in Baía Todos-os-Santos which is the large bay to the west of Salvador. We made a trip into the main bay in the direction of Salvador - giving views of the city in the distance, before heading to the shores of a small island (Ilha de Mare) where we dropped anchor. Túlio phoned a restaurant on the island who delivered (by launch) a lunch of shrimp, lobster, crab, salad and farofa to our boat (tough life isn´t it).

Kate, Tanure & Túlio on their Sailing Boat

On my second weekend in Salvador I spent time with Lisa who I met through Túlio. Lisa is from the US but has lived in Salvador for many years, so she has a great knowledge of the city. One evening we visited the Pelourinho district, which is a historic quarter (the city centre during the Portuguese colonial period). It has plenty of charm (and a bit of grit too). The name Pelourinho means whipping post  - there was one in it´s central plaza for punishment of slaves. Now the district is a hotbed of Bahian music and dance with many schools and theatres. Lisa took me to a performance called Balé Folclórico da Bahia held at a small theatre. Accompanied by live musicians at the back of the stage, the dancers performed many pieces from traditional African dances with the Gods (Orixá) - including homages to the Gods of war, rivers and lakes, death, storms, hunting and fire. A visually inspiring pieces was the fisherman´s dance (Puxada de Rede) with rising circular movement which was uplifting. The highlight of the evening for me was the Capoeira, a dance which (normally gently) mimics fighting and which was originally performed by slaves in Brazil. The form performed at the theatre was a more athletic and acrobatic version than the original more gentle and fluid Capoeira Angola, so plenty of multiple back-flips, high kicks, posturing and bravado. This is more of a showy form of Capoeira and it is certainly very entertaining with more wow factor. However, the Angola version (which we saw in a plaza later in the evening) is more ´dreamy´ and flowing - maybe a little longer-lasting if you are into nodding along to simple rhythms in a chilled stylee.

After the theatre we wondered the cobbled streets of the Pelourinho, admiring the colonial architecture. The many music and dance schools on the first floors of buildings were sending out the banging rhythms of live percussion - leading to a real cocophany of sound in the streets. We stopped at the stall selling traditional Bahian cusine - tended by a fine looking black woman in traditional dress. The food on offer was typically Bahian; including dishes made with shrimp, beans and manioc flour (acarajé is a memorable one) as well as sweet dishes made with tapioca - and typically for Brazil only a passing glance at vegetables. Around the Pelourinho there were various performances in full flow - these involved a group of really competent percussionists playing carnival-esque banging rhythms with a vocalist on the mic.

Lisa & Tim with Bahian Food Street Vendor in the Pelourinho

 Banging Bahian Rhythms in the Pelourinho

The next day I joined Lisa and two of her friends (Tom and Paulo) for lunch which included more Bahian food such as farofa (made with manioc flour) and moqueca (a fish stew with coconut milk). In the evening Lisa took me to a jazz performance at the Modern Art Museum which is by the sea - a pleasant spot in the setting sun with some really competent musicians playing jazz with some Bahian percussion fused-in at times.

My enjoyment of Salvador is largely due to my kind hosts - so thanks go out to them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012, 9th - 19th January: Lençois, Bahia, Brazil

2012, 9th - 19th January: Lençois, Bahia, Brazil

For a full complement of photos, follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:

Lençois is a small town around 6 hours west of Salvador in the state of Bahia. It is located next to the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Chapada means ´elevated plateau´ and diamantina means diamonds. The town and others in the area grew up in the days of diamond mining which started in the region in the 19th century and ended (I believe) 30 or 40 years ago. The main attraction of the area are the numerous plateaus, mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers, waterfalls and caves.

The rock in the area was formed from marine sediment. This is evident in the sides of the mountains and canyons by the layer upon layer of rock (formed from layer upon layer of sediment layed down many years ago). Tectonic activity later pushed the whole area upwards, causing the rock to crack. These cracks were then subject to erosion over millions of years which formed the numerous mountains, valleys and canyons.

I was glad to experience this area of Brazil because before visiting the country, I perceived that the only features on offer were jungles, cities and beaches - I happily stood corrected.

I lost a few days at the beginning of my stay here while I had to rest after catching a mild virus. Other ´off´ days were spent waiting for treks to be available and catching up on these blog entries, photo uploading and arranging the logistics of my onward travel northwards in Brazil as well as the next country (Venezuela).

 Four Day Trek in Chapada Diamantina National Park
13th - 16th January

I made the four day trek with a local guide (Puma) and a British traveller (Drew). We walked in the Chapada Diamantina national park - bivouacing as well as staying in simple pousadas located in the valleys of the park. The park is well protected, with no roads at all within its borders.

The water in the rivers and pools throughout the park is a coloured brown from the organic matter it contains (plant and soil). However, it tasted reasonable and drinking it did me no harm.

Day 1

Starting near to the town of Guiné, we climbed Aleixo Hill onto the plateau Gerais do Rio Preto. During the walk across the plateua Puma pointed out orchids and other fauna. We spent the night under a rock overhang at Toca do Gaviáo. A very friendly group of Portuguese hikers were there and they spoke excellent English, so we spent a sociable evening sharing the shelter of the rock overhang, with Puma making a great meal on a fire.

Many of the plateaus in the park are at a resonable elevation (800 metres or more), so it was surprisingly a little chilly under the biviouc even though the time was during a Brazilian summer. The cool nightime temperatures also brought in a light mist.

Day 2

After setting off along the plateau it was not long until we reached a spectacular sight - the point where the Cachoeirão waterfall plunges into the Vale (valley) do Cachoeirão (which is canyon like in shape). Due to dry weather however, the waterfall was tiny (almost non-existent). The view was fantastic with a sheer drop to the base below and a grand vista up the length of the canyon. As well as a great flat viewing point to sit on (part of the river bed when it is in full flow), there was also a pointed section of rock jutting out over the vast drop where the brave could sit - right over the canyon. I had a go which made for spectular photos.

View of Vale do Cachoeirão from the Cachoeirão Waterfall

Tim Sitting Above Vale do Cachoeirão

A hot walk in the afternoon sun brought us to the edge of another valley which had commanding views to Castle Hill (Morro do Castelo) on the other side. The hill (a small mountain really) got it´s name from the turret-like rocky outcrops that surround it´s long flat summit. A steep descent into the valley followed and evening rain produced some picturesque rainbows. After getting wet it was a welcome relief to be able to spend a night in some rustic pousada accommodation at Prefeitura. In the posusadas they cook on wood-fired stoves, and our guide Puma produced another fine meal.

Morro do Castelo in the Distance

Day 3

Our day´s walking involved a rainy start, but by the time we reached pousada Casa do Linda, the rain had stopped and in the Brazilian summer heat it does not take long to dry. We were able to leave our packs at the pousada (where we would sleep that night) before heading up the Vale do Cachoeirão (which we looked down on from above on Day 2). On the way up the valley we followed the path of the river, so the whole way was scrambling across boulders large and small. The river was at a low level, but not so low as to spoil our fun in a fantastic natural swimming pool with a refreshing waterfall at one end. After jumping in I was surprised to find somethings biting me - these turned out to be little fish having a harmless nibble.

Our onward boulder walk became more tricky as the surfaces became more mossy towards the more shaded head of the valley, but the sight at the end was well worth it. The head of the valley is a vast canyon with shear sides more than 200 metres high arranged in a semi-circular shape. The geological history of the area was evident again as the innumerable layers of sedimentary rock were clearly visible. The viewing point and the pointed rock where I had sat the day before could just be made out at the top of the cliff faces. During the return to the pousada, the (really annoying) large biting horseflies were out, but fortunately they went to bed early.

The Foot of Vale do Cachoeirão Below the Location of the Cachoeirão Waterfall
(Waterfall Present When it is Wet)

The night was almost cloudless and we were presented with a beautiful starry night sky (no light pollution to spoil it). Orion´s belt was clearly visible. The white points of light above our heads were complemented by many flashing green ones close to ground level thanks to the activities of numerous fire flies.

Day 4

Puma set us a fast pace despite the fact it was a very hot and humid morning - this was so that we would have time to visit a cave on the way home. We climbed out of valley and up the hill Ladeira do Império which gave great views of much of the route from the previous two days (Vale do Cachoeirão and Morro do Castelo). The descent to the town Andarai (where we were collected by car) took us through Serra do Baiano where evidence of many years of diamond mining was on show. The ground was covered in large chunks of rock that had been extracted by the miners. The pieces were made up of soft sedimantary rock that was full throughout with hard stones. The miners sought diamonds in these stones.

View of Vale do Cachoeirão & Morro do Castelo

We made a diversion on the drive home to visit the cave ´Poco Azul´ which is a small cave filled with crystal clear water where you can snorkel. The conditions in the cave give the water a rich blue (Azul) colour.

One Day Trek to the Fumaça Waterfall
18th January

I joined a guided group to make this easy-going trek to the Fumaça waterfall, which is the highest in the national park. The walk started from an isolated small town called Capão which is well known for it´s laid back atmosphere (reportedly it is a ´hippy hang out´).

The climb to the plateau gave us good views of Morro Morrão (Big Hill) the other side of the valley. At the other side of the plateau (elevation approximately 1200 metres) we reached the Fumaça waterfall. Unfortunately the dry weather meant that the river feeding it was little more than a trickle such that if the wind blew, the water did not reach the valley below but formed upward spray instead. Nevertheless, the view was impressive as the drop made by the waterfall is approximately 400 metres.

The Fumaça Waterfall

On the drive home from Capão we stopped off at one of the area´s many points for swimming (a pool at the foot of a small waterfall).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011, 22nd - 26th December & 2011, 31st December - 2012, 5th January: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2011, 22nd - 26th December & 2011, 31st December - 2012, 5th January: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2011, 27th - 30th December: Paraty, Brazil

Most of the time was spent in Rio, apart from three days in Paraty between Christmas and New Year. During my time in Rio I stayed with a host called Tony in his apartment in Santa Teresa.

For the full complement of photos of my time in Rio de Janeiro, follow this link:

For the full complement of photos of my time in Paraty, follow this link:

Rio de Janeiro - City Features
The topographical setting of Rio naturally lends the city a unique character, with the main contributors being the coastline, the mountains and the jungle parks. It is set around a large bay which the first European explorers found in the month of January and mistaking the bay for a river named it Rio de Janeiro (River of January). The coastline has numerous arcs - large and small, which provide many sheltered beaches such as CopacobanaIpanema and Flamengo. Since you are never far from a beach in Rio, beach life is a big part of leisure time.

One of Rio´s Many Bays (Botafogo)

As well as its coastline, the mountains contribute much to the character of the city, which range from large rocky outcrops to long ridges with sections up to 800 metres high. Virtually all districts are flanked by mountains in some way. The most famous are of course Corcovado(where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is) and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). The most affluent neighbourhoods, such as Copacabana, IpanemaLeblon and the business district of Centro, are built on the flat areas near the bays. Apart from Santa Teresa, that leaves all the steep hills (and any gaps in the conurbation) to be infilled by favelas. If there is a gap, they will find it and be no respectors of proximity to posh neighbourhoods.
Any mountainsides not found by the favelas are covered in forest (many are protected by national park status - e.g. Tijuca). So if you do not fancy the beach or it is too hot in the midday sun you can always walk in the shade of the forests and cool off in one of the waterfalls. I think that it is the fact that wherever you are in Rio you have ready access to a natural feature (beach, mountain , forest, waterfall) that keeps the people of the city relaxed and more chilled that those in land-locked cities such as (reportedly) São Paulo. Some of the spirit of Rio may also be down to its favelas, I think that though they have a problematic history, they bring a degree of realism to the city as any comfortably financed people cannot pretend that their city is not shared with the poor (there is always a slum not too far away).

View from Perira da Silva Favela Towards Botafogo District

Many of the more affluent districts (such as LeblonCopacabama and Ipanema) do not have the most inspiring architecture as they are mostly made up of high rise apartment blocks. My host told me that these districts used to contain old town houses, but these were gradually sold-off to developers.
One of the few remaining residential districts that predominantly has its original architecture is Santa Teresa where I stayed with my host, Tony. This suburb is built along a ´mountain´ ridge that effectively has Christ the Redeemer at one end and the district of Lapa at the base of the other. Santa Teresa is a maze of steep and winding cobbled streets . Tony´s appartment block has great views to the north (Centro, Zona Norte and the bay). On the other side of the ridge are views to the south to Ipanema and Pão de Açúcar. Some of the steep sides of the ridge are covered in favelas - in fact Tony´s place overlooked one. So on Christmas Eve (which is a bigger celebration in Brazil that Christmas day) a cocophany of tacky music and the bang of firecrackers and fireworks made for a jumpy noise-scape through the evening and night, with the next morning heralded by dogs barking and cockrels crowing.

Hillside View in Santa Teresa

The Favelas
The favelas (slum districts) of the city are as much a feature of Rio as the well-to-do high-rise affluent districts. One has to admire the tenacity of those with little or no money squeezing a little homested into any gap they can find (generally tiny and on the side of a steep hill) and their bare-faced cheek for building a house whether they have permission or not (not to mention the illegal connections to the electrical grid). That said, I would not want to live next to one. The structure of pretty much all the favela houses seems to be a concrete base, engineering brick construction and a flat concrete roof (from where they can fly their kites right next to a high voltage power line).

Fallet Favela

Reportedly, things have improved in recent years, with some favelas achieving a degree of domesticity. One in Santa Teresa even has hostel accommodation, though some favelas are still best avoided. It seems as if the police have had some success in calming things down. In the past, most favelas were no-go areas for the police and so these districts were well and truly ruled by the drug dealers. In those years, canvasing politicians during an election campaign would seek ´permission´ from a drug dealer before entering a favela. Tony said that in the past, because the police could not enter the favela below his appartment block, they would try to take-out the drug dealers with snipers positioned on the main road above the favela. During the ensuing gun battles, bullets hit and entered Tony´s appartment (he has a collection of spent bullets and a lampshade with bullet holes in it to prove this). Things are much calmer now, though there was the brief sound of distant gunfire one evening.
It is worth noting that the rougher side of life in Rio´s favelas is of course a fact of life in the city, but I never felt uneasy or threatened while in the non-favela districts. Also, with Tony I met a number of people from the favelas near his home and they were really sound and friendly people - though of course we were sensible enough to avoid going deep into some of the less-civilised slum districts.
An interesting strategy to ´open-up´ the favelas and reduce the grip of the drug dealers on these slum districts can be found in Complexo do Alemange. The area has a number of rocky hills in its midst and the authorties have constructed a cable car system between them with four stations. Tony and I took a ride one day which provided a birds-eye view of the slums and an appreciation of just how densely the housing is packed (very tightly with the only real open space in some parts being the flat rooftops). One could appreciate why it can be / was so difficult for the police to gain safe access to the rabbit warren like maze of little streets and alleyways spread across steep-sided slopes. This particular project has had some success. If nothing else, the inhabitants of these districts now have a good link to the road and rail network. The district now appears to be less of a ´fortress zone´ where the drug dealers rule (though I am not a local so cannot really comment too much). The authorities are obviously keen to keep things in the improved state as armed soldiers monitor the cable car stations. These guys also pop into the favela for a drive around (aided by the concrete access roads that were not there originally - another ´opening-up´ strategy).

View of Favela in Complexo do Alemange from Cable Car

The Perira da Silva favela on the south side of the ridge on which Santa Teresa is built has a reasonably homely feel and the people we met there were very friendly. It has great views across to Ipanema (affluent area with high-rise appartment blocks) - providing a great visual contrast between rich and poor neighbourhoods. The favela even has a hostel. It also has a little community project (called Project Morrinho) where some locals had the ingenious idea of making a model of a favela out of the same engineering bricks they use to construct the houses in the real slums - with one engineering brick representing a house and its square holes the windows.

Tony´s Tours

Tony had some spare time during my stay in Rio, and he was kind enough to take me on a number of tours. This gave me a great feel of the overall city as well as providing the opportunity to visit areas I would unlikely have done as a lone tourist.

The districts covered included Santa Teresa, Lapa, Centro, Central do Brasil, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Catete, Gloriá, Lagoa, Praça XV, Sahara and others. We also visited the city of Niterói which is located the other side of the bay. Included in the tours were some favelas as well as a shady and very grubby red light area (purely for looking at another side of life only - not touching with a barge pole springs to mind). Also included was a dip in the Baineiras waterfalls in Parque da Cidade.

The Classic Sights

I also took the time to fit in some classic Rio tourist sights such as Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the statue of Christ the Redeemer and the Sugarloaf mountain.

Statue of Christ the Redeemer

New Years Eve in Rio

Despite some minor reservations I had about being a lone tourist in the midst of 2 million plus revellers in a city with a reputation, I concluded that I could not be in Rio on this big day and not experience the world famous celebration on Copacabana beach.

After a real crowd crush to get to the seafront, I arrived just in time at 11:50pm and grabbed some beer from one of the many street vendors - incidentally, sadly the mainstream Brazilian beers have the taste and body of a partial vacuum which is becoming rather tiresome after a months worth of them. At the zero hour the night erupted with the start of a 15 minute firework display. Suffice it to say, the locals greeted this with true Brazilian enthusiasm, which all made for a jovial atmosphere.

Just After Midnight on New Year´s Eve on Copacabana Beach

As it rained on and off all night and being a true Brit I foolishly decided that it would be a good idea to wear a raincoat - so no doubt I looked a true tourist tit. Maybe that is why I had no trouble with pickpockets and other street detritous as being a tall, short-haired, raincoated bloke I may have looked like a copper. Anyway, the raincoat is long so any pickppocket could only have reached the bum-bag beneath with an unwelcome hand brushing past sack or crack, which I like to think I would have noticed.

After the fireworks the crowds thinned which was a welcome relief. I wandered along the seafront to sample the various happenings. The music on the big stages I came across was not of interest to me as it was rather cheesy. So for me the highlights were the samba groups that set themselves up on the pavement. One was really good and had plenty of percussion and a vocalist on a megaphone to get the crowd going. True to form, all the locals knew the words and sang and danced along. The rhythms were very infectious and I enjoyed dancing too.

On my way home much later via the district of Lapa I found one solitary bar that was still open after 5am, and finished off with a drink to the sounds of some bloke on a keyboard and more samba-infused (but slightly cheesy this time) music.

My walk home up the steep cobbled streets of Santa Teresa was in the light of new year´s day which was a good ending to my celebrations.


As an interlude to the time I spent in Rio during Christmas and New Year, I spent three days in the small historic town of Paraty which is approximately 250 km south west of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The cobbled streets are almost rock-like as the cobblestones are huge and pretty roughly laid, so one´s eyes spend a lot of time looking downwards while walking the streets if one is to avoid stubbed toes and falling head over heels.

The coast at Paraty is a weave of bays and little islands which makes for a great day out in a group on a hired boat. Alas the day of my boat trip was grey and sometimes drizzling so the rich blues of the water normally present on a sunny day were left to my imagination. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed swimming, jumping off the roof of the boat into the water as wells as having lunch with the others in the group.

On my other full day in Paraty I took one of the many ´Jeep Tours´ on offer where you are driven around different spots in the hills to the north of the town. We visited a number of waterfalls where you can swim. The most memorable flows down a wide and long smooth rock - making a great natural slide. I was in my element and slid down many times (after the initial shock during the first time at just how fast you get before plunging into the pool at the bottom). At another waterfall, by getting right under the main flow I had a nice back, neck and shoulder massage from the pounding of the falling water. We also visited cachaça distilleries (free tasting abounded). Cachaça is made by adding yeast to juice extracted from sugar cane. The fermentation only takes 35 hours. This forms the pure (clear) variety. Other types are on offer, including those aged in wooden barrels (for around 18 months) which adds a nice flavour as well as a brown hue. The aged ones taste (to me) like a very strong very dry sherry. Other varieties (for girly consumers) are sweetened with fruit.

Tim on Waterfall Slide Near Paraty