My heart aches to see what is happening in the region of Rio de Janeiro known as the Serra Fluminense. I have visited the three cities most severely impacted, Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo and note that these are relatively prosperous locations and major tourism destinations. They are popular refuges from the summer heat in Rio de Janeiro. Petrópolis was the summer location for the Emperor Dom Pedro II and his former residence is now Brazil's most visited museum. Teresópolis, in addition to its scenic charms is also the location for the Brazilian Football Federation's national training center, Granja Comary and adjacent to a lovely national park with scenic mountain views, Serra dos Órgãos. Nova Friburgo has some of the best preserved portions of the Atlantic Forest in the region.
I believe that this article is largely correct:
For much of its history, Brazil has been blessed like almost no other country of its size to be almost free of such calamities. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, erupting volcanoes — none have proved threats to Brazil.
Until recently, the most costly and best-known disasters were severe droughts, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the assistant secretary general for the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
“But in the last few years the increasing frequency of floods, high winds and storms has become part of the new normal of Brazil,” she said. “The political choice we have today is to not treat disasters as events that come and go, but decide that you plan for them and realize that they are very costly.”
I can tell you from my experience that rain tends to be very heavy in Brazil this time of year and floods are all too common. I can also tell you that there appears to be little if any effort being made to prepare for the next one, a fact underscored by this from the same article:
The hillside areas around Rio lacked early warning systems or effective community organizations that might have helped residents to wake one another as the rains intensified last Tuesday night, disaster experts and residents said. Most people are believed to have died early Wednesday morning as they slept, when water-loosened earth swept their houses away.
The floods are going to happen. Better preparation for such disasters as well as strictly enforced building codes (these weren't favelas this time) to prevent building in locations prone to mudslides will only help.
Some lovely views of Brazil's third largest city from the air. Hat tip to my nephew, Christiano Simões, enjoying life in Bologna, Emilia Romagna, Italy. Turn down the sound; the music is mawkish.
How I wish I were there now:
Espirito Santo is an unusual, but very interesting state. While it has the misfortune of being wedged between three massively popular states (Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Minas Gerais) that dwarf it not only in size, but also in terms of the sheer volume of sights, activity and history, the state nonetheless has a great deal to offer.
It is the only state in Brazil, which, to my knowledge, the capital city, Vitória is not the largest city in the state; nearby Vila Velha is. While the beaches near the major cities are good, I like Itaunas and of course, thebeach near my future home, Barra do Jucu. To the left in the photo is the mouth of the Rio Jucu, near a nature reserve where cattle egrets come to roost at sunset. I plan to spend a lot of time on a kayak in that river.
Check it out.
One of my continual pet peeves when travel in Brazil is discussed is the constant focus on Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon region. I haven't been to the Amazon yet and agree that Rio is a worthwhile destination, but I was thrilled to see the main article by Seth Kugel in Sunday's Travel Section in the New York Times was on Minas Gerais.
I have visited all of the destinations described in the article and was thrilled to see some of the less obvious ones mentioned such as Catas Altas, where I spent a chilly August afternoon hiking in the area and refrshing myself with the city's spring water supply as it came down from the mountains as cold and refreshing as if it had been in a refrigerator.
A couple of areas that I believe Kugel left out and should have mentioned were the train in Tiradentes and some of the other historic cities like Sabara and Diamantina as well as Caraça, which is very near Catas Altas.
I don't want to seem unappreciative, however, and I do appreciate the attention Kugel has given to the region.
In fact, I want to praise the times for focusing the entire issue on the region. There's a fascinating article about a largely unexplored (by gringos, anyway) region of Colombia, a quick guide to Montevideo, and a profile of Santiago. While I'm sorry they wasted space on Rio's Barra da Tijuca, a place whose charm is in inverse proportion to the quality of its beaches (why go to Brazil to experience Miami), I do hope the article on bargains will result in more travel to the region, especially with a weakened dollar.
Then there's this, a site started by Chicagoans urging Rio to get the games. Good for them.
I think Alexei Barrionuevo largely gets it right here:
On shimmering Copacabana beach, where Rio’s body-conscious residents play volleyball and soccer, giant screens are being readied for a live broadcast of the vote that will determine whether this city will make history by becoming the first South American city ever to host the Olympic Games.
On the streets and on the lips of radio and television broadcasters, Brazilians are abuzz with Olympics talk, and there is the distinct sense that this famous party city is ready to explode on Friday with a delirium rivaling its famed New Year’s and Carnaval celebrations if the vote for the 2016 Games goes Rio’s way.
I find this especially appealing:
Happiness, in fact, is part of Rio’s pitch.
The city has promised a private beach for the athletes, in front of a nature reserve in Barra da Tijuca that, in true Rio spirit, would be available at all hours. The Olympic Village would feature a Rua Carioca, a typical Rio street with cafes, bars and the swaying sounds of samba and bossa nova.
I've been to that beach. WhileBarra da Tijuca itself is more like Miami than Rio, the beach known as Barra Reserva is the best beach for swimming in the city.
While not by any means my favorite city in Brazil, Rio does always make me happy when I visit. If it's the choice between the city of the big shoulders or the marvelous city, I truly hope the marvelous city wins.
Mercia is in Brazil visiting family and will be back on Friday. When she left two weeks ago she flew on TAM, what right now is the only Brazilian airline flying to the USA.
After checking in with two full suitcases (well within the weight restrictions), they asked to weigh her carry-on luggage at which point she was advised that her weight limit was 5 kilos (11 pounds). That's really nothing, but she was overweight with her carry-on luggage. We spent fifteen minutes trying to stuff more items in her checked baggage. We were unable to get the weight down to five kilos, but the woman - who did not give Mercia back her travel documents until she attempted to comply -relented and let her go.
Is this a government regulation of some kind? No, this is just TAM's bizarre policy. My brother-in-law was flying that same day and his carry-on probably weighed close to 25 pounds, more than twice the weight limit. The difference is that he is at an elite level in their frequent flyer program.
Obviously it's the company's choice to set up this policy. It's also my choice to fly TAM and it's highly unlikely I will do so again.
When I went to Italy a couple of years ago I was impressed that so many of the airports were named after atists, explorers and inventors: Marconi in Bologna, Verdi in Parma, da Vinci in Rome, Marco Polo in Venice, Galileo in Pisa and Vespucci in Florence.
Brazil seems to be moving in that direction, having changed the name of Rio de Janeiro's international airport to Tom Jobim International Airport, but I was especially pleased to learn that the new airport in Maceió, the capital of the Northeast state of Alagoas, is Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport. It's a belated honor for a man who played such an important and tragic role in Brazil's colonial history.
Travel between Brazil and the US is going to be a lot easier now. The two nations have signed an open skies agreement with Brazil that will open up a number of new routes. Available immediately are 21 new routes to the following regions/cities: North, Northeast, Center West and Belo Horizonte. In June 2009 seven new routes will be added; seven more will be added in October 2009 (excluding the dreaded Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo); fourteen more will be added in October 2010 (again, with the exception of Guarulhos).
American Airlines has applied for ten of the new slots with an eye towards starting in November. The proposed routes include Miami-Salvador-Recife on a daily basis and Miami-Belo Horizonte on a thrice weekly basis. I'm betting traffic will increase with the latter route. Delta is requesting eleven routes: Atlanta-Manaus on a daily basis and Atlanta-Recife-Fortaleza four times a week. Delta is expressing interest in adding Belo Horizonte later.
This is such good news. I have been hoping for years that Brazil start promoting itself more aggressively as a destination for US visitors. Lately I've been seeing subway and bus ads promoting tourism in Brazil and an entire doubledecker tour bus today was doing the same.
The expansion of destinations is so important. If I can avoid a trip to Guarulhos airport, as I have mentioned before, I'm a happy man. That airport and Tom Jobim airport in Rio simply cannot take the traffic that is being flung at them. If you're traveling to Salvador, going through Sao Paulo only assures you of one thing: you'll miss your connection.