This is the end… the final days of our adventure!

28 August, 2009

So this is it, the final post on our adventures, we are now back in Sao Paulo, the last days were a bit more hectic, so here is where we went:

The 2,800km round trip

The trip looks pretty massive, and over three weeks it was quite a big drive, but i think its good to compare our drive, the whole of Brasil and the UK together to understand what a tiny piece of the country we actually covered in our adventure:

Brasil and the UK to the same scale

Petrolina

All good things must come to an end and thus after a long day of driving we ended up in Petrolina. That’s all I need to say about Petrolina.

Ok, there is one more thing worth saying about Petrolina, its the only place in the world where the climate is so perfect, they can grow grapes, and have to harvests of graps in a season! Unfortunately the last thing the world wine industry needs is more grapes, but its an interesting fact in itself (ok maybe only interesting to Greg – but its his blog)

The drive to Petrolina was pretty amazing, as well as the “bandit advisory” route, there was another national highway that had a “badly maintained” advisory on it, but as usual we thought, it can’t be that bad and made straight for it, turned out it was that bad, it was so bad it was amazing, most of the highway was so worn out and potholed that it was actually faster to drive along the verge, which is what all the locals were doing! To be fair it was in the process of being fixed, but there was a lot of work still to do. The quality of the roads on our trip ranged from “autobahn” perfect, to “afghanistan” bad, the good bits were great, the bad bits were definitely the worst roads i have ever driven on!

The border between Ceara and Paraiba states, one definitely makes good roads a priority and the other is Ceara!

Sousa

Okay, so 800km north east from Lencois, was Sousa. To be fair, we were just looking for a halfway point between Joao Pessoa and Petrolina and we found Sousa. The guidebook mentioned that Sousa had “dinosaur” footprints… hhmmmm…. So we like Dinosaur’s, Ross from Friend’s was OK, and the first Jurrasic Park was pretty good, but I was sceptical that such a world treasure would be in such a sleepy country town, so we went out for a look.

OMG! It was great. It started off in literally a tin shed, a sign that was about 50cm long, which read “Dino Pe” Dinosaur Footprints…. We found a really nice old bloke, and a guy called Fernando who was about 25… We did the tour, so cool. Yep, they were definitely footprints, so close, so big, so real. I couldn’t help but mention that perhaps it would be promoted a little better? And then he explained that Petrobras are about to invest R$1m into it, starting from next month and start charging people an entrance fee…  yeah I can understand that! So, then three guys showed up and Greg and I got our 10 minutes of fame. Photos, names and comments were taken, and apparently we are going to be used for publicity for the renovations…

Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but giant 60,000,000 year old dinosaur foot prints!

Raptor claw print – perhaps the only Brasilian footprint on record that is not wearing Havianas

Ok, probably only Ross would think this was funny, but we did!

That night we had yet another churasscaria experience, you may remember our £7 all you can eat motorway experience, we followed that up in Salvador with a £75 each luxury churasacaria experience at the always good Fogo de Chao, then on the road between Petrolina and Sousa we had a small town lamb and goat churasscaria experience – just awesome, but our fourth experience was probably my favourite. Its specialisation however was Bode (Goat), all for the whopping sum of £4 each!!!

At our hotel in Sousa we asked the football watching receptionist for a recommendation for dinner, he suggested a place called Sao Vicente – which was just down the road, so we headed down. Now lets paint a picture of Sousa, its in the middle of Serato – the semi desert area of the north east where things are pretty barren and life is pretty tough, it’s the kind of place where life is so tough that even the motorbikes have bull bars. Its really an area a lot like outback Australia where men are mean and sheep (and goats in this case) are afraid.

So we drove into town and tried to spot the churcussario.

We did so, actually it wasn’t that hard… three quarters of the town were there, along with 3 dogs and 1 cat to match every human. This is what always amazes me about Brasil, the locals are genuinely interested to know your name, where you are from and seriously getting very excited if you respond in a little Portuguese.

As an aside, if anyone is thinking of coming over I would seriously recommend at least 100 hours of Portuguese lessons just to cover the basics. My only regret from the last 18 months is not investing the time to learn this beautiful language. Still, life ain’t over yet, and I have every intention of continuing to learn in London. For a decent Portuguese teacher in Sao Paulo, it costs at least R$80 (£26) per hour, this compares to £18 in London. If you happen to being learning English in Sao Paulo, this costs only R$40 per hour, definitely one of those cases where the Paulistano’s know their market … so be warned!

Anyway, the beach was calling us again and it was time to head back east … off we go to Joao Pessoa.

Joao Pessoa

The drive from Sousa to Joao Pessoa was about 430km. In total on this trip we travelled through six Brasilian states / provinces, plus we have also driven in three other States. It’s fairly clear that each State applies different levels of petrol tax and this has a correlation (very unBrasilian-like) to the state of the roads…

Woooaahhh… The state that definitely wins “worst roads” (drumroll) has to be Ceara, with a very close second going to Bahia. Unbelievable. For the first time ever, we suffered a smashed hub-cap and dented rim… I don’t think were the first with the number of Barrocharias (tyre changes) on the side of the road. So we toddled off to one, thinking we would pay Gringo prices, nope, not up north! We had to buy four more hubcaps (for a total of £13) and then have them all refitted for … £5 total. Road kills numbers included a couple of chickens, one bird and god knows how may bugs / critters…

So were relieved on this dirve that most of the km’s were in Paraiba which is priding itself of building dual carriage way highways, it almost felt like we were cheating after the previous days travels!

Joao Pessoa was lovely, but completely focussed on being a beachside town, and when the weather is rainy and windy, well you get the picture… We stayed for three nights, not doing a great deal but reading & chilling… aaaghhh the bliss.

So now we are on our final day, we got up early (yes another 7am departure!), en route to Recife but via Olinda. For those who may not be that familiar with Brasilian history, Olinda is the “oldest” city (by Portuguese standards) in Brasil. Similar story to most of the northern cities, settled by the Portuguese, overtaken by the Dutch, taken back by the Portuguese, all built on the sweat of slaves taken from Africa, and never quite recovered from the downfall of commodity prices (sugar, cotton, coffee).

Olinda’s buildings are brightly painted, rustic, protected by UNESCO, but however construction still is underway as there just aren’t the resources to adequately preserve these treasures.

So alas, we are now flying back to Sao Paulo, for our final two nights in Brasil.


Down the coast to Salvador….

28 August, 2009

Hi All

We’ve had a super busy four days! The time is really flying now… can not believe that we only have 7 days remaining in this terrific country (is there a word “Brasilaphile”? if not I’m claiming it). Anyhow, it falls upon to me to summarise travels to Salvador:

So here is our map of progress so far:

850km down the coast

Salvador….

Smelly, dirty, rough, old and a little grim. That’s exactly how I imagined her and she delivered! With such an ill fated past, stemming right back to the 1500s, she has had a fairly rough time! Still, the anecdotes from travellers past keep it close to the top of any Brasil itinerary and we were glad we went.

We got in fairly late and, thus, in true Cath and Greg form, headed straight for a restaurant called “Amado” located on the harbourside. Bahia is famous in Brasil for having the best food in the country (which is an envious title to have) and this place was a real gem! One problem with Bahia is the VERY heavy focus on prawns, crabs and lobster, I have been caught a few times with this, luckily Greg has been around to clear my plate…

So next day we headed straight for the old town or the “Upper City”. In this small area of about 1km squared, there are OVER 800 dwellings from the 17th and 18th century. AMAZING! If this were Europe it would have been sealed off years ago and had a preservation order slapped on it and had millions of EU cash spent on it. But alas, the money just is not there to do this. I understand, public funding is always a matter of prioritisation, and with Brasil education and health should always come first, but in a very selfish, Gringo way, I really hope that there is investment soon.

There are some glimmers though, we stumbled upon eight different museums covering various areas of interest; tiles, postcards, pictures, 17th century religious artefacts, really cool, and of course a food museum with a cooking school attached, which served super cheap regional food — yum! We happily got lost in this little 1 km squared for the entire day. It was raining quite a lot, and we could still not be dragged away.

the old town

dirty old town – there has to be a song in that somewhere!

its not just a church, its a really old church

its not just an old church, its a really, really old church

its not just a…. oh heck you get the idea

cobbled streets and all

so pretty

and so much more potential

But now I need to confess something. Okay, I have been into this travelling gig now for over 15 years and through many countries I have always resisted the urge to braid my hair.

But I could resist this temptation no longer!

Like a henna tattoo, like a belly piercing, like trying Yoga, like buying worry beads, it was calling me! Luckily Greg was in a sensible mood (whilst I had obviously fallen into “smelly, backpacker, do I really have a job? cornrows do look as good on blonde hair as they do on afro hair” mode) but he was able to contain my hippie urges to just one braid, but it is so cool!

rasta white chick

Greg suggested that to join in the theme he should buy one of the “100% negro” t-shirts that were on sale everywhere – probably lucky for himself, he didnt!


Driving aimlessly around northeast brasil…

16 August, 2009

Ok, we started off three days ago in Recife in the state of Pernambuco, which is pretty much in the most eastern point of Brasil. Now three days later we are in Aracaju in the state of Sergipe about 600km south of Recife. Here is map of our route so far:

Our route so far

So, what have we seen?

Well the north east of Brasil is the poorest and probably the most beautiful part of Brasil.

We have seen endless beautiful coconut palm framed golden sand beaches with warm, clean, green sea. Some are crowded with families enjoying a day at the beach, others are completely empty.

A crowded beach – with a festival like atmosphere!

We have seen miles and miles of waving sugar cane fields and also miles of perfectly lined up plantation palm trees – maybe for coconut farming? we couldn’t tell.

We have seen endless gently rolling hills with big white brahma cows wandering around or relaxing in mud holes.

We have seen an continuous stream of little towns, either right on the coast or strung out along the side of BR-101, the main highway along the coast.

Sugar plantation workers town

We have see lots and lots of potholes! Our poor little rental car has taken some big hits, but like an old boxer she is ploughing on – and Greg is driving a little slower and following the line the locals take weaving in between the potholes and the puddles and the washouts.

We have seen beautiful colonial churches and amazing colonial era shops and houses in varying states of repair (sometimes the unrenovated ones are the most stunning).

Another postcard worthy church

We have seen lots and lots of cars and trucks with stickers about Jesus on them, we have also seen loads of massive modern evangelical churches – proof that religion is alive and well up here!

We have seen some beautiful bayside cities – we stayed for two nights in Maceio which was just lovely, the city is strung out along a bay, there is a reef about 2km from the coast and loads of boats are parked up on the shore with snorkelling gear for anyone who wants to snorkel in the clear green waters.

Maceio was a great, it had a really comfortable, laid back atmosphere, lots of great restaurants, a running path along the shore and a never ending supply of ice cold coconuts for Cath to drink.

Maceio

We also stopped at the infamous Porte de Galinhas, one of the most popular beach spots in the north east, but it was a real tourist trap complete with touts and hustlers on all the street corners, so we enjoyed a quick meal of freshly fried fish and hit the road again.

We have also seen the grim face of poverty, it seems much more prevalent than in Sao Paulo, not just the brick and tin favelas of Sao Paulo that we are now used too, but also the much more basic mud and palm frond shacks that dot the roadside.

We have eaten some great food, from an awesome traditional lamb stew to Peruvian ceviche, awesome parmigiana, breakfasted on ice cream at a shop that had 70 varieties and eaten freshly fried to order potato chips:

heart foundation approved!

But I think we reached a culinary peak today at a truck stop in the middle of sugar cane country, the place was massive and catered to the never-ending stream of truckers zooming up and down the coast. It was a rodizio, an all you can eat meat restaurant and it was great and only about £5 per person for all the beef, lamb, pork and chicken you could eat!

We eventually rolled ourselves out of there and got back on the road to our current location Aracaju in the state of Sergipe, tomorrow we will head to one the best Portuguese era towns nearby then make our way towards Salvador.

More news as it comes to hand!


Fernando de Noronha – wow its terrible!

14 August, 2009

Ever since we arrived in Brasil, everyone has talked about FdN, telling us how amazing it is, how it has the best beaches in Brasil, but no one had actually been here, all this advice was always second hand.

Well now we have been there and here is our first hand review….

Please, do not come here. It is awful, overrated, overpriced. It is better to stay away.

Okay, the smart ones have still kept reading, which means I now need to tell the truth. It was beautiful. Almost as good as some parts of Queensland! For those who know me, I am, unashamedly, a beach snob. Having been fortunate enough to grow up in South East Queensland, Manly, I had easy access to some of the world’s most fantastic beaches being Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Stradbroke Island, not to mention holidays to the Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island etc …

So when I first arrived in Europe, I was a little shocked to have seen the pathetic attempts at beaches in England, France, Italy where they seem to have confused pebbles for sand. Hmmm…. Nothing like stretching out on pebbles. The Thai’s and the South Africans put in good attempts but it just wasn’t the same as a good Queensland beach, where the water is always warm enough to swim in, you can leave your wallet and your car keys under the towel so they are safe (no one would ever think to look under there) and where the waves and the water were clear …. That is until FdN:

Our first view of the island from the north

This island is idyllic. Only 300km (a one hour flight) from Recife on the north coast of Brasil, it is a little oasis, whose perimeter is stacked with gorgeous beaches, fantastic dive spots, low-key posada’s, no frills restaurants and a bunch of genuinely friendly locals. The island has 500 residents, 3500 tourists and workers…. The only way you can start a business here or move there permanently is if you were born here or marry a person who was! Which means there are no big name resorts, no chain restaurants, you get the idea.

We spent five days here and stayed at a great Pousada called “Leao Marinho”   , only a 10 minute walk from the nearest beach, or a 1 minute buggy ride, with a very hospitable hostess, and all of the amendities you would ever need.

The first day was spent with our guide “Wellington” he was cool, even spoke slowly enough for us to understand his Portuguese. We did well with most of the Portuguese translations: Turtles = Turtagos, Dolphins = Golfinos, Mermaid = what the ??? Still we managed to figure it out with some excellent charades techniques! At R$60 each for the whole day, it really was terrific value. We snorkelled in 5 spots, saw most of the beaches, learnt history etc …

Cath the mermaid

Greg still looking for his mermaid!

We basically spent the next four days snorkelling, swimming and gorging ourselves on tapioca pancakes filled with fresh coconut, banana and doce de leite… We started off by riding around the island on bicycles, then we realised how many hills there were and we wanted to save our energy for snorkelling, so we switched to a Dune Buggy — so cool, only limited by the cost of fuel – at £1.30 a litre, it hurt a little…

Ours was the litte blue dune buggy!

Keep in mind, it’s a really small island – about 17 sq kms, in fact its so small, there is only one road – national highway 363, a whole whopping great 7kms of it from one end of the island to the other!

It definitely was a “doing /activity” holiday…. , because the beaches missed their usual Brasil traders, there was no beer, hot corn, umbrellas, food etc, coupled with no shopping and no resorts meant that you had to get amongst nature or get bored … which suited us perfectly!!! I feel like I’ve been to a fitness camp.

In the end we saw the following animals snorkelling, and I mean really closely: turtles, dolphins, sea snakes, eels, sting ray, manta ray, heaps of beautifully coloured fish not to mention the birds. Just gorgeous.

It really is one of those places best summarised by photos … My words can not do justice to the WOW factor of this place. So many shades of blue. Enjoy the piccies!

Another day, another empty golden beach!

The two brothers and another amazing snorkelling/diving spot.

The water was this clear as far as you could see!

Bye for now!


Fogo de Chao – where meat is king and vegetarians fear for their lives….

13 May, 2008

You know how it is, when someone recommends something as “the best”, “the greatest”, and “amazing” you can be pretty sure that you will end up setting your expectations too high and end up totally disappointed.

Well as soon as we moved to SP (now over five months ago) Fogo de Chao was the restaurant on everyone’s lips, it’s probably the most famous restaurant in SP (just a little bit more famous than The Outback even) and its main claim to fame is it’s amazing meat…..

Now as I am sure our regular readers are aware Brazil is now the largest beef producing country in the world, kicking the beefy butt of Australia and USA and Argentina. But it’s definitely not the most famous country for beef, chances are if you think about South American beef, you are probably going to think about Argentinean steak, and we had some amazing steak in Buenos Aires, so this place had a lot to live up to.

Fogo de Chao is a chain restaurant (which isn’t really the greatest start), but luckily for us, we can walk to one of their SP restaurants, so on a nice quiet Sunday afternoon – with nothing else planned for the rest of the day we strolled over to the restaurant, with the good 5km walk helping us to work up an appetite (see that folks, we walked 5km in SP and weren’t murdered)!!!

The restaurant is massive, it would probably seat 300 people and we luckily arrived just before the lunch time rush. The staff were wearing Brazilian cowboy outfits (ohh shit, it’s getting worse) and there was a massive buffet bar (more points off, it’s in freefall now).

We sat at our table, and were handed the menu:

Fogo de Chao, beef selection

Thats it, the whole menu, nothing but meat, meat, meat and meat, suddenly this place looked like it had some potential; there literally was nothing but meat available, no starters, no vegetarian option, just meat, unlimited amounts of meat!

Now most people have been to an all you can eat restaurant before, but I have never been to an all you can eat restaurant that serves the quality of meat that they do here. Instead of bringing you an individual piece of meat, the waiters are continually walking around the restaurant with giant cuts of meat, cooked and served the traditional Brazilian cowboy (Gaucho) way:

For those of you (like me) who aren’t that informed on traditional Brazilian bbq techniques, the tradition started when the gauchos were out on the range, they developed a simple way of cooking large chunks of meat, skewered on mega skewers (more like a swords) that were slowly roasted over the embers of the fire, something like this:

now thats what i call a bbq

So imagine this (and if your mouth doesn’t start watering there is something wrong with you – like you’re a vegetarian or you may be dead) the restaurant is full of blokes wandering around carrying around massive pieces of perfectly cooked bits of beef – and I mean massive, the steaks on the skewers are all three or four inches thick and each skewer has a range of cookedness – from rare to well done, so you can choose it just the way you like it! As well as 16 separate cuts of beef on parade, they also have a couple of cuts of lamb, half roasted chickens, grilled chicken hearts, roast pork and a variety of sausages….. And the food just keeps coming, they use an ingenious traffic light/drinks coaster system to control the flow of meat:

Please Keep it coming….

My heart has stopped, please stop/resuscitate!

So you just sit down, order a bottle of Brazilian red wine (that’s a whole ’nother post), loosen your belt off a bit, switch your coaster to green and let the meat feast begin…

Each of the different cuts has a different taste, you can grab a few slices of each and compare the different flavours, from the marbled sweetness of the hump, to the straight lean meat of the fillet mignon and my favourite the “ancho” – a cut like a rib eye, with a good mix or marble and lean meat. All of the meat is cooked to perfection, sure in the Brazilian way it’s loaded with salt, but heh this isn’t a restaurant the heart foundation was likely to approve anyway, so in for a penny in for a pound!

The great thing about the traffic light system is you can control the flow of food, take a 15 minute break, enjoy some more red wine a couple of polenta chips (another topic worthy of it’s own post) and generally relax, if you have had enough beef you can switch to lamb for a while, choose between slices off a roasted leg of lamb, or a rack of lamb chops, then some delicious bbq chicken and a dozen grilled chicken hearts (yet another Brazilian treat). As well there is a salad bar, but bloody hell, that salad is just taking up space that meat could be filling in your belly!

So yes, there are lots of other restaurants in Sao Paulo that specialise in preparing Brazilian bbq or churrasco, and now we have been to a couple of others but I have to say, if you have the choice start with the best, Fogo de Chao is one of those places that definitely lives up to its reputation!

http://www.fogodechao.com/


Getting tired of the city, the smoke, the traffic, the rush, the crush? Why not take a break in the Brazilian mountains – in a mock Swiss Village?!?!?!?

5 May, 2008

Living in a city can be a drag, living in one of the world’s biggest cities can be a really big drag, so with a four day weekend this weekend we took the chance to go away and see some of the countryside. But choosing where to go in the fifth biggest country in the world isn’t easy, we got lots of suggestions from friends and workmates, but in the end we were intrigued by a little village called Monte Verde, apparently the closest thing to an Swiss mountain village outside Switzerland and only 170km from Sao Paulo – this was too good to miss out on, or was that too good to be true?

The story behind the village is that apparently the area was settled by migrants from Europe, who decided it would be the perfect mountain retreat, so they built buildings resembling those built where they came from. The truth is that it is a relatively new town, with many purpose built buildings that are indeed in a “European” style, but they are very much designed with tourists in mind. We knew this before we went to Monte Verde so we weren’t disappointed when we got there, but I think people who make the journey expecting to be transported to the mountains of Europe may be disappointed.

So it’s about 170km from our house so we had to hire a car, the cheapest car you can hire in Brazil is something called a VW Gol – not Golf, just Gol , it’s the bestselling car in Brazil and a rugged little beast, though not very pretty it’s cheap as chips (a new four door model is only about £8,000) and it’s built just for the South American market specifically to handle Brazilian roads (80% of which are not sealed – or even graded as we found out).

The super Gol

So we headed off Thursday at 2pm with our trusty driving directions printed off Google maps. The instructions we had were relatively simple and for our first time driving in Brazil we were pretty chuffed to get out on the motorway where our instructions simply said travel for 127km then take exit for Um Street. We thought that was street name was pretty funny as we tootled along the motorway at 120km/hr in our 1.0 litre beast. When we got to the 127km mark we couldn’t see any turn offs so we carried on for another 20km and still no turn off as described, but we then reached the next town we quickly realised that instead of heading north for 140 odd kms we had got on the wrong motorway as soon as we left Sao Paulo and instead headed 140km east!!!!

Never ones to panic we quickly checked our map (better late than never heh) we worked out we could head across the mountains in a north westish direction and we could get to Monte Verde without going back to SP again. Looked nice and simple on the map, we could zoom through some nice mountain roads, along a short stretch of gravel road and still make it in time for dinner – or so we thought! The motorways we had driven on so far were fine roads, but as soon as you step off the major roads the quality of roads and signs drops away quickly, as we discovered. So we winded our way through the hills, the rain started to pour down and we quickly realised we weren’t going to be able to average any real speeds, after a couple of hours we finally got to the point where we could nip cross country on the dirt road. Not finding any signs for Monte Verde we stopped at a petrol station to ask for directions, the guy at the desk thought we were comedians and laughed at the suggestion, he told us the road didn’t even exist anymore and we had to take a big detour on the sealed road to another dirt road which would cut us across the mountains. Another hour passed and we reach the point of our next cunning plan, by now having been scared enough driving on the sealed roads, with massive foot deep potholes, completely washed out sections and long section of those corrugations that make you feel like visiting the dentist we started to lose courage regarding our “short cut”.

Again we stopped for directions at a taxi rank in the middle of a cute little town, again the locals thought we were nuts and advised us to take another even longer detour north to rejoin the main north south motorway where we could then drive back towards Sao Paulo and onto Monte Verde. By now we were really starting to doubt if we were ever going to make it, but after another couple of hours crawling through the hills we finally got to motorway and zoomed down towards our turn off.

Now the road from the motorway to the town is about 37km long, this bit alone took us over an hour due to the even more terrible condition of the road, we constantly had to zig and zag across the road to get around the massive pot holes and wash outs. But I am happy to announce that after eight hours of driving we finally made it to Monte Verte!!!!

A Brazilian road just like the ones we drove on

The red route is our actual route, the blue one our planned route

So we stayed at the excellent Pousada das Montanhas a couple of Kilometres from the centre of town. Our accommodation was really lovely, cute little chalets, had great breakfast, but most importantly had we had a massive open fire place in our room which was great, cos it was cold. Ok before you all start, we have just come from London, so we know what real cold is, but for Brazilians this was about as cold as it gets. Overnight it dropped to as low as 10 degrees.

Our Chalet

So Monte Verde itself is pretty interesting and entertaining, it’s basically one long main street (the only sealed street in the town) the street is lined with Swiss and Austrian style buildings.

The main street of Monte Verde

One of the “typical” buildings on the main street.

Lots of the accommodation places are also built in that style as well. We also a saw a beautiful Huf House tucked away in one of the valleys, that really was the last thing we expected to see in Brazil (and Gregs dream house). The town isn’t like a real town, there is no supermarket or anything useful like that, just lots of shops selling the usual touristy stuff, tour operator offering quad bike safaris and horse treks, but what was quite funny (to us at least) was that it actually felt like a real European mountain ski village because everyone was dressed as if it was about to snow! I suppose if you are used to SP and Rios’ constant heat it is pretty cold up there, but come on, do you really need ugg boots, scarves, beanies and gloves when it’s 15 degrees? The food in the very touristy restaurants was also tailored to the “cold” with all of them offering hot chocolate, soups and cheese or chocolate fondues, and everyone was lapping them up.

Overall it was great fun, the place is cheesy as hell, but a real nice change from SP, so we will probably end up coming back here again, or maybe just to one of the nearby towns without the European feel (and prices)!

The weather was terrible the whole time we were there, with constant rain turning the dirt roads into mud baths – luckily no trouble to our little Gol. But by Saturday we had had enough of playing 500 by the roaring fire while the rain bucketed down outside, so we decided to climb one of the nearby mountains. Sure it was raining, blowing a gale and the low cloud meant that we couldn’t actually see anything, but we headed up one of the mountains anyway.

The (lack of) view from Bishops Peak

Cath enjoying the stiff breeze

So now we are back in SP, we made the return journey in a much less painful three hours, and today I bought myself a decent Brazilian road atlas, hopefully we won’t be making that mistake again!


There’s a family living in our rubbish bin… getting used to living in a rich country that’s full of really poor people….

13 February, 2008

We live in really a big apartment building – 18 stories of some of Sao Paulo’s most expensive real estate, so between all of us tenants we must throw out a lot of rubbish, but until last week I didn’t realise it was enough rubbish to support a family, but apparently it is.

Where our rubbish is left out for a collection a mother and her four kids sit during the day – a mum of about 35 and her two boys and two girls – one on crutches. They are only around during the day; I presume they go back to the favelas (slums) in the evenings. The kids don’t appear to go to school, and the dad has a cart which he uses to collect cardboard from around the place, it’s a big cart, but he manoeuvres it through the speeding traffic with real skill – and the SP drivers (who are certainly not the most patient drivers on earth) are very patient when delayed by him or the 100’s of other carts that are pushed, pulled, dragged and squeezed through the city.

They family divides their time between our place and the supermarket just up the road, they sort through all the rubbish, collect the plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass bottles, paper and cardboard – all the usual recycling stuff but they also collect all the food that’s thrown to waste. Some of it they eat on the spot, but most of it is carefully packaged away in plastic bags and carried away – maybe to sell back in their favella I am not sure.

This daily scene of abject poverty and conspicuous wealth is one of the many reminders that Brazil is a country of massive extremes, Brazil is one of the ten largest economies in the world, its economy is larger than Russia, India or Mexico (not to mention Oz and Nz). Unfortunately it’s not been able to translate this into wealth for all its citizens, 20% of the population live below the poverty line – but even this is still a significant reduction from the 33% of only three years ago.

Using the GINI index of wealth distribution- where 100 is worst (ie one person has all the wealth of a entire country and 1 is totally distributed – everyone has an exactly equal share) Brazil is and has for a long time has been one of the countries with the most unequally shared wealth in the world:

GINI

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient

According to the latest statistics, it is only beaten by countries like Namibia (70.7), Lesotho (63.2), Botswana (60.5), Colombia (58.6) and South Africa (57.8), but given how much wealth they have, it is still a staggering statistic with Brazil ending up with a score of 57. In contrast the countries with the most equally shared wealth in the world are Denmark (24.7), Japan (24.9) and Sweden (25). Australia gets 35.2, New Zealand 36.2 and the United Kingdom 36.

There are lots of theories on why so many of the South American countries (and especially Brazil) have ended up so skewed in terms of wealth distribution, but there is a definitely a big group of either socialist or historically socialist leaning countries at the most equally shared end of the scale (excluding China who is at the other end), and many countries with famously corrupt and dysfunctional governments at the other end.

If you want some light reading on the GINI scale its all here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient

Right back to work…. and yes before we ask, we do throw away our rubbish in a very tidy way, conscious that our neighbours will be going through it within minutes of us throwing it out!