A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Alex-H

All Is Well That Ends Well


semi-overcast 35 °C
View Brasil 06/07 on Alex-H's travel map.

Good thing I finally managed to upload my pictures of the Lavagem do Bonfim... I see Travellerspoint have picked this blog entry for their front page today!

Filhos and Fitas - The Filhos de Ghandy drummers on their way to the Lavagem de Bonfim, and someone selling the ubiquitous fitas - souvenirs of the Lavagem that bring good luck and grant three wishes each. There are more fitas in Salvador than bicycles in Amsterdam.

I'm back in Salvador once again. I arrived just in time for the Lavagem do Bonfim, last Thursday, the biggest religious festival in Salvador's crazy calendar of religious (both Candomblé* and Catholic) events. The Lavagem de Bonfim is the ritual washing of the steps of the church of Bonfim by members of Bahia's Candomblé houses, a tradition which has been continuous since 1754, when black slaves were forced to wash the white people's church. With time, it they turned it into a religious event honouring Oxalá, one of the most important Orixás (deities) in Candomblé. In Candomblé the Orixás became syncretized (mixed) with Catholic saints, and Oxalá is O Senhor do Bonfim, The Lord of the Good End, in other words, Jesus.

On the way to the church of Bonfim the crowd passes some fabulous graffiti!

So I am back in Salvador. My 7,200km long trip to Brazil left out various parts of this enormous country: the states of the extreme south, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, which I already know from previous trips to Brazil; the vast interior of Goiás and the Mato Grossos; the rainforests of Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia, Macapá and Pará, and the surprises Maranhão and Piauí would have had in store for me if I had not turned back to avoid the rainy season. But I already know, the soul of Brazil is here, in Salvador, and it could not be anywhere else, because this is where Brazil began.

No more rodoviárias (bus stations)! This concrete monstrosity is in Fortaleza.

All is well that ends well. This Thursday, I am flying back to Ireland. Time to say goodbye and to say thank you to all the readers of this blog. When I get back, I will probably post one more entry with travel tips and recommendations for those of you who would like to visit Brazil... I hope I inspired at least somebody!!!

*Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion.

Posted by Alex-H 06:23 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (2)



semi-overcast 31 °C
View Brasil 06/07 on Alex-H's travel map.

It's been a while since I was able to update the blog properly (see the last entry, The End of the World.) But after 5 days, Icaraí felt too far away from the rest of the world, and I had to leave... But I can assure you, Icaraí is hard to leave. Literally.

Sand dunes in the ocean paradise called Icaraí. At the end of the world, turn left. Bring enough water.

Icaraí, like I described in the last blog entry, is so small that there is no internet café (and the shop does not have shaving foam.) There is meant to be a bus, but during my 5 days in Icaraí I haven't seen it once.
I arrived in Icaraí on New Year's Day in a pretty spectacular way, on the back of a motorcycle. A mototaxi was the only way to get from the "bus station" of Amontada, a fly-blown desert town way away from the ocean, to Icaraí. The trip over the red dust road took nearly an hour, and (I was looking over the mototaxista's shoulder) we were doing 60 - 80km/h most of the time, so it must have been at least 60km.

For the next four days, I just swam and sunbathed.

Then I decided to give myself a little challenge. I could find out the timetable for the ghost bus, but that would be easy. Why not take the hard way out and walk the beach to the next town, Baleia? I enquired with two locals, and, yes, they said, it was indeed possible to walk there, but it was 36km.

One of the sights on the way. Getting one of these jangadas would have been easier.

So I bought loads of water (2 1/2 liters) and set out at 8am. I walked until 12 noon and made myself take a three hour break because the sun was getting too hot. So I went swimming. I started walking again at 15.00 and surprisingly enough arrived in Baleia at 17.30, which means it only took 6 1/2 hours (remember I was doing this with a 17kg backpack on my back, in the tropics, and barefoot.) I suppose this is why my friends never want to come on holidays with me, because it always turns into an army expedition...

Rain on the way

If you looked at a map of Brazil (but you would need a pretty precise, large-scale one) you would notice that I have actually turned back, and that I am going eastwards, not westwards. I was planning to travel on to São Luis in the state of Maranhão and to return from there to São Paulo, but rain was on the way. A lot of rain. Maranhão has two seasons: a dry one and a wet one. And the dry one just ended. The wet one lasts from January until June. Icaraí is not that far from Maranhão, and indeed every day I could see the clouds moving in from the ocean, getting bigger, darker, and more foreboding. So I decided that, when I get back to Galway in two weeks time, there will be enough rain. For now, I am going to take advantage of Northeast Brazil's sunshine a little more...

Posted by Alex-H 08:47 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

The End of the World


Yes, the world has an end, and it is in Icaraí, Ceará. It is beautiful! There is just a magnificent beach here... that's all. There is one computer in the village with internet and it is in somebody's house (I am using it now.) Also, bizarrely, it is impossible to buy shaving foam here. Therefore I am using sun tan lotion. Which I can recommend! A proper update will follow when I return to civilization.

Posted by Alex-H 13:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Feliz Ano Novo


semi-overcast 29 °C

Well, it is the morning of the 31st of December and they have blocked off the pier in Fortaleza (right in front of the youth hostel where I am staying) because the entire pier is full of fireworks. So I am in the right place! (I have a good photo of this but for some reason it won't upload to the blog.)

This morning I am going to Cumbuco, a nice beach about 30km away. Tonight, I am coming back to Iracema beach in the centre of Fortaleza, to watch the fireworks and to party a little!

Tonight, everybody in Brazil (literally everybody) will be dressed in white, and, at some point before midnight, must consume a plate of lentils. Otherwise, no good luck next year!

I have travelled over a thousand kilometres in the last week, this is why I haven't been posting much on the blog. Next week, I am off to the Lencóis Maranhenses, a national park of sand dunes, rivers, freshwater lakes and sea in the state of Maranhão.

Unless you are in Denver (Réjane!) or Ohio (Andrew!) you will be fast asleep by the time it is 2007 here in Brazil - we are four hours behind Amsterdam, three hours behind Dublin. So I will just wish you all a happy new year right now!

Feliz Ano Novo!

Posted by Alex-H 04:10 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

What If


semi-overcast 27 °C
View Brasil 06/07 on Alex-H's travel map.

It has been a while since I posted, and I am actually already miles away from Pernambuco, but that is another story. This post is going to be nearly completely in the conditional tense, because it is all about a very hypothetical question:

What if Brazil had started off as a Dutch colony?

Forte Orange was built by the Dutch near Recife in 1631

Because it nearly did.

In 1624, the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC) conquered Salvador, then the biggest city in the Americas (north or south.) The Dutch freed the slaves (only to annoy the Portuguese slave owners, it didn't exactly stop the Dutch from trading slaves elsewhere) and put freedom of religion in place. Soon the economy started to grow, but it all ended after a year when the Portuguese, helped by the Spanish (Portugal was actually part of Spain at that time.)

In 1631, the Dutch tried again and this time it went better. They conquered the area known as Pernambuco, and started building a new city across the river from Recife, called Mauritsstad (now Mauritsstad and Recife Antigo form the centre of the modern day city of Recife.)

The Maurits Bridge was the first river crossing bridge in Brazil. (This is a rebuilt version, but it is still called Ponte do Príncipe Maurício.)

The Dutch occupation of Pernambuco ended in 1654 but it is amazing how 23 years at the beginning of Recife have given the city an unmistakeably different feel from, for example, Rio de Janeiro or Salvador. WIth its river, canals and bridges, the city actually feels and looks Dutch, because its basic layout was planned by the WIC.

Again, during the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco, freedom of religion was put in place (by force - Portuguese Catholic priests who did not co-operate with the new separation of church and state were locked up, in Forte Orange.) This meant that Recife / Mauritsstad became an attractive destination for Portuguese (Sefardim) Jews, who were being forceably converted to Christianity in Portugal. Many Portuguese Jews had already fled Portugal to Amsterdam, and now thew were more than willing to help build the Dutch version of Brazil in Pernambuco. Recife / Mauritsstad became the first city in the Americas (north or south) with a Synagogue, and many of the soldiers and sailors occupied with the city's defenze were Jewish.

The first Synagogue in the Americas, north or south, was founded in Recife during the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco.

But in 1654 everything ended when the Portuguese kicked the Dutch out of Pernambuco again. Freedom of religion ended, slavery returned. Just in time, two ships, especially sent from Amsterdam, rescued the majority of Recife's Jewish population from certain persecution. Some of Recife's Jews returned to Amsterdam, most went on to Nieuw Amsterdam (currently New York) and they became the first Jews to arrive in North America.

In Holland, the Dutch history in Brazil is almost forgotten. However, in Brazil, there is quite a little industry of what I call "What-If-Journalism". A Brazilian author, Aydano Roriz, has written a number of novels set during the Dutch occupation of Salvador in 1624, and a recently published book, "Outros Brasis" ("Other Versions of Brazil") examines what could have been if the Dutch, and not the Portuguese, had colonised Brazil.
In general, these books seem to idealize the Dutch period, because slavery was (more or less) abolished and because freedom of religion was imposed. Would Brazil be a more equal society today if it had started off Dutch?

I'm not even sure if it is worth asking that question, because you might as well ask what life would be like if the world was flat, or the sky yellow. What those Brazilians who idealize the period of Dutch occupation in Pernambuco don't seem to realize, is that a perfect example of what would have been a Dutch version of Brazil indeed exists - right next door. It is called Suriname. Of course you can't compare one to the other because one is a giant and the other one a fairly small country, but Suriname is not exactly utopia.

Posted by Alex-H 16:54 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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