A Travellerspoint blog

Belo Horizonte's Bubble of Decadence


semi-overcast 28 °C

Belo Horizonte is not the most interesting place in the world, but at the moment, that suits me fine, because I have a cold. (I have no idea how I managed to get a cold in a country where the temperature hits 28 degrees every day.) Strangely enough, Belo Horizonte is a perfect place to take a break from all the strenuous travelling. I am staying in a small, but good hostel called O Sorriso do Lagarto (The Lizard's Smile) right in the snazzy Savassi district of Belo Horizonte.

Belo Horizonte has favelas (slums), but Savassi, especially the Pátio Savassi shopping mall, is becoming my experience of 'rich Brazil'. Pátio Savassi is a huge shopping centre which looks like an exact replica of a shopping mall I spent some hours in in Columbus, Ohio (Andrew, are you reading this?) Except for that every shop is a brand-name shop: there is a Tommy Hilfiger shop, a Calvin Klein shop, an ARMANI SHOP... Prices, I calculated, are near enough to the prices in Europe - so I won't be buying much!

Still, the shopping complex is a fun place to hang out if you don't have the energy for more strenuous sight-seeing. It's also interesting to see how the shopping centre functions as a kind of air-conditioned, ultra-clean bubble of decadence for middle-class and rich Brazilians - of which there are more than I imagined, the place is always packed!

Posted by Alex-H 01:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

But Is It Safe?


semi-overcast 27 °C

'But is it safe?' is a legitimate question to ask anyone who is going travelling in Brazil on their own, and Rio de Janeiro seems a perfect place to write about this.

The answer to the question is: 'Yes, but you have to keep your eyes open.'

Brazil, and Rio and São Paulo especially, have a bit of a name for violence (remember Cidade de Deus / City of God?) But violence exists everywhere, and people get robbed all over the world. True, an Australian girl in the hotel where I am staying in Rio had her bag robbed yesterday morning. So it happens. But as long as I stick to my own set of rules, I feel just as safe as walking around Amsterdam or Dublin as I do in Rio or São Paulo. (In fact, if you want to go to a really unsafe city, go to Washington DC.)

Here's my list of tips and tricks for enjoying Brazil without being conscious of safety all the time:

1. Always look like you know where you are going (even if you don't.)
2. Don't carry too much money with you (but bring some, just in case somebody stops you - at least you have something to give them quickly so they will go away. (I haven't had to use this one yet.)
3. Try carrying money in your socks! You have to wear long pants to pull this trick off of course. But pickpockets can't get there.
4. Carry valuable items (cameras etc.) in a supermarket bag so it looks like you went buying groceries!
5. By the way, Brazilians have absolutely no qualms about bringing mobile phones and mp3 players to the beach. If you rent a beach chair, the people renting out the chairs will keep an eye on your stuff. (iPods are de rigueur in Brazil as well at this stage. You just wear the earphone wire under your shirt.)
6. The best thing to do of course is learn Portuguese so you can tell if people are talking about you, and if they are, you can understand what you are saying.
7. Leave the Lonely Planet at home, it will just scare you. (More about travelling without the Lonely Planet later.)

Posted by Alex-H 13:58 Archived in Brazil Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Dutch Pirates in Paradise


sunny 35 °C


Bonete beach, with a traditional
canoa in the foreground.

There is a Dutch saying that goes: "Nederlanders zie je ook overál!" ("You run into the Dutch everywhere".) Well, in the case of Bonete, an isolated fishing (and surfing) community on the island of Ilhabela, that is definitely the case.

Believe it or not, but less than three hours from the third largest city in the world, São Paulo, there is a village of just 250 souls living in what Edna O' Brien would call 'splendid isolation'. Bonete, on the island of Ilhabela (off the São Paulo coast) can only be reached by following a dangerous but fun path (I walked 12km in the sweltering heat (with my 18kg backpack on), crossed two reasonably deep waterfalls, saw one small snake) or by motor boat.

Bonete has no mobile phones, no electricity, no pollution, no stress, no nightlife. It only has traditional fishermen and (less traditional) surfers. There is a beach, there are hills covered in subtropical rainforest (the Mata Atlântica), there is a really nice waterfall to swim in, the pousada (a Brazilian concept somewhere between a hostel and a hotel) where I stayed was good. Basically, it's heaven on earth. But I found out that, after a day or two, heaven gets extremely boring: paradise is the same all day long.

So after two nights, I decided to hit the road, or rather, the waves. I took the easy way back, a motor boat. This is where I found out about Bonete's past. I asked Fernando, the fisherman who gave me a lift back to civilization, if he had ever met a Dutchman before.
"Of course," he said. "I've got plenty of Dutch blood myself!"
It turns out that the traditional fishermen of Bonete (not the surfers) are the descendents of Dutch pirates who married with the local Tupi-Guarani native tribe. In the 15th and 16th Centuries, the pirates used Ilhabela as a hiding place from which to launch their attacks on the Portuguese settlement of São Sebastião, on the mainland. The Dutch pirates must have liked paradise better than I did, because they stayed.

Posted by Alex-H 03:29 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)



semi-overcast 26 °C


I did something yesterday that most people would probably advise against: I went home with a random stranger. The random stranger also did something most people would probably advise against: he invited another random stranger - me - into his house.

I first read about couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) in The Irish Times about half a year ago. The idea appealed to me instantly: a website where travellers can find locals to stay with, nearly anywhere in the world. Of course it saves you having to spend money on a hotel (couchsurfing is per definition free), but it´s not all about that. It is a great way to get to know a country, and its people. Because most couchsurfers have extensive profiles, it´s easy to find people you have something in common with. My current couchsurfing host, Gonçalo, a young guy from Portugal, is doing media studies here in Santos.

From the moment he let me into his (stamp-sized) appartment he has been the perfect host (and I´m trying to be the perfect guest.) We went to meet his girlfriend, who is a journalist for a number of magazines in São Paulo, and her housemate who also works in media, and before long we were all comparing notes on media in Brazil and in Europe.

As it happens, www.couchsurfing.com is full of media people, travel agents, and, apparently, doctors. At least, that is what Cintia, who I met through couchsurfing in São Paulo (but just met for drinks as she is currently living at home again) says. Cintia (see Journalism, Brazilian Style) is an ambassador for couchsurfing in São Paulo.

Anyway, to cut a long story short... couchsurfing comes highly recommended!


This week, I couchsurfed with Pédro Malta in Vila Velha, in Espirito Santo for two days. It was great!

Tudo bem?

Minutes after Pédro and his friends showed up at the hotel in which I was staying before, we were on our way to a samba rehearsal on the outskirts of Vila Velha, where we danced until there was nobody left. Then we went for late night munchies and talked about, amongst other things, Afro-Brazilian religions. The next morning we went looking for crabs and other crustaceans on the rocks at the beach. Pédro showed me all of Vila Velha and Vitória, and even had time to make a chocolate cake at midnight. Couchsurfing is great!

Posted by Alex-H 13:14 Archived in Brazil Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Journalism, Brazilian Style

semi-overcast 19 °C

Just seconds after I met Cintia, www.couchsurfing.com 's ambassador in São Paulo (more about couchsurfing later!), we were accosted by a news camera crew outside the TV station Gazeta's enormous office on the Avenida Paulista.


Gazeta's TV Crew, my friend Cintia on the far left

Of course accosting innocent bystanders is what I do every day as a news reporter in Ireland, so I made Cintia do an interview. The reporter, a tough lady wearing suede pumps and dark sunglasses (I would love to see reporters dress like this in Europe!) thanked me profusely for helping her drag poor Cintia in front of the camera. Little did I know that Gazeta is a TV station aimed mostly at housewives and their news coverage consists mostly of recipes and horoscopes. In fact, they made Cintia ask a question rather than answer one, the question was going to be a lead-in to an advise session with a relationships expert. The question they made Cintia ask was: "I want to stay a virgin but my family is giving me trouble about this, what should I do?"
I'd love if reporting was just as easy in Ireland!

Posted by Alex-H 03:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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