Travelodge: Brazil - Beyond the symbols and screens

I believe that the everyone’s first associations of Brazil are  Copacabana and carnival in Rio, samba, favelas, the statue of Christ on the Corcovado above Rio, Pele and football, Brazilian coffee and Amazonia, rainforests... There are untouched spaces, about which we know nothing or almost nothing and in which several tens of indigenous tribes still live today. Brazil is a large country, one of the largest. It is both big and unknown. Brazil has a specific culture, language, history, development. It doesn’t have “great” ancient cultures like Maya, Aztecs or Inc, but it has its music, writers, poets, football players, samba dancers, singers... Brazil is a country where there is no discrimination on a religious basis or nationality. In their language there are no expressions for black people or natives. They are all - Brazilians. Mixed. They have been mixing since the 18th century when old settlers and African immigrants who were brought to work in numerous mines and plantations, were allowed to mix with white people. The slaves, the African black people and the indigenous population officially received their freedom in 1888. And here, as everywhere, there are injustices, differences and hierarchies, but only by social and economic affiliation. There are very, very poor people; there is a middle class and those very, very rich. Fortunately - there are no visible differences according to skin colour, religion or national affiliation.

After three days of touring Rio and Sao Paolo and listening to the stories about the inhabitants and the life of Brazil, I was left speechless. I was left astounded by the access that guides and travel agency provided for us. To understand life in general in that area first, then respect it. Beyond the symbols as the snippets of one's life. It may be a bit unusual, but that's what I've asked myself over a long flight to Brazil. On the way to the first point of the journey across Brazil – Salvador da Bahia, I was thinking about what's behind the glitz, the victories, fame, the carnival, Copacabana, Pele or Neymar. What is hidden behind the beautiful taste of Brazilian coffee, rainforests, behind the vast expanse of rainforests that broke into the first lines of current writing about the sustainability of life on Planet Earth, on the conservation of nature, on the protection of forests? I found the answers, or at least it seems to me. Usually what a man seeks he finds. But I found a lot more. Or I learned from the wonderful talk of local guides about the life behind. They opened up new views by focusing on traveling through Brazil to discover the foundations, backgrounds, the life behind the screens. This travelogue is here, like that in front of you. Brazil behind the screens and symbols.

Brazil’s symbols

Brazil is a symbol of the freedom of body movement expressed through football, capoeira, samba. This freedom of movement is actually a lifestyle. It is an exit from heavy everyday life, a relaxation valve but also a way to mask the internal charge. They have been created along with the creation and mixing of inhabitants on the Brazilian soil from the beginning of the 16th century to the present. This freedom of movement visible through football and samba hides perseverance, exhausting exercises, control, and above all the desire to pass through this resistance to the surface, to the very top, where one will be visible, recognized and famous. To become Pele, Ronaldo or Neymar means to be one in a million of boys who run with an old ball in one of the streets of some of the densely populated favelas and suburbs of multi-million cities. And not just run, but practice, kick, until someone notices you. And then the fight begins. Because being one in a million at the top means fighting, persistence, the power of will... Samba dancers we see on the carnival are just a fraction of those who have been dancing since early age at home, in the streets, parks or squares in favelas. And as the legs grow, and the body becomes dancing, these millions of players tend to be famous, to be recognized by their play, costumes, and skills, to be one of those who will reach the Carnival, and then to the leader of one of the many samba clubs in Rio and thus become visible. This resistance and strength are very powerful. Personally, I believe that they are in the genes, as a record of the eternal struggle for survival, whether they are Africans brought as slaves or members of some seventy indigenous tribes who lived or are still living hidden in the rainforests of Brazil. To survive they had to be tough, persistent, fighting, working and disciplined. Otherwise, they would not survive, get to the ray of light, fresh air, to the state in which you can develop and show their size, beauty... It is the same for dance-martial art capoeira. Formed as a martial art, and later banned, it speeded up the design of hidden movements, the emergence of tendency to defeat the opponent in the battle of wisdom, competition, not killing. Thousands of capoeira dancers are still learning this skill, a symbol of the movement and the mix of music and movement.

Does anyone think this way about Brazil? Do you think about what is behind the glory, the game, the victory? Where are they and who are the ultimate winners? What was their path to fame? We admire them. They are symbols of Brazil for us. It is a tempting reason to go to that country and feel their spirit, their strength, their will... And whether we will feel it and how much we understand them, depends mostly on local guides. If you are lucky as I was, you will experience Brazil and feel it deeply through the story of people rich in knowledge and strong emotions, with much love and genuine respect for the country they live in. They will not take you through favelas. They will only offer you a glimpse at the huge hills with tightly enclosed buildings, houses inhabited by Brazilians. Since, favela is a house, a home of someone who lives honorably as a citizen of that country. There are less and more educated people in favelas. There are professors, doctors, engineers. They pay their taxes and state duties. They go to work, eat, live... It is in these favelas that samba, carnival and football are created, and they are created in the souls of people who live in favelas. Like a lotus flower that comes out of sludge.

Salvador da Bahia – the city of capoeira and churches

It was Sunday. Still under the impression of a long trip to Brazil, we set out to explore the city of Salvador, Salvador de Baia or in full name São Salvador da Baía de Todos os Santos, in translation: the Holy Savior of the All-Saint Bay. Salvador is a huge city, the third largest in Brazil. With about 3 million inhabitants, he settled down at the entrance to the vast Atlantic Gulf - the Cove of All Saints. This is the place where the conquerors from Portugal first met in 1500 when they began to transform the nature, culture, history and life of this distant region. Its position is remarkable, because at the same time it is on the powerful Atlantic and in a calmer bay. It has a playful base to develop its parts, which this city has been using well. Since 1549 on the largest number of African slaves were brought to South America to work. They managed to survive, and enabled their descendants to live today in a beautiful city, that is most African and most black from all other Brazilian cities. Salvador is the city where capoeira was founded, the dance-martial art that has been transformed into a dance from a former dangerous martial art, and today it is an example of how with communion, rhythm and movement an opponent can be won. Salvador is crowded with schools and capoeira clubs, and there is also the Faculty of Capoeira. That's why it's not surprising that the whole town, especially on Sunday, can hear the capoeira music. Numerous groups, formal or spontaneous dance in squares, streets, and parks can be seen...

Capoeira is one of the Salvador’s attractions, as well as numerous churches – each for every day in a year, churches of various ages, beauty, sizes, temples belonging to dozens of different religions, groups, sects... The oldest is Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (from the middle of the 14th century), best known for its miraculous cures. In front of the church is a wall, spontaneously formed, with countless small colorful ribbons that visitors buy from street sellers and put on that wall with a desire for healing, happiness, well-being... When we entered the church, silent, very melodious music was playing. The heads of silent visitors tightened together were bent down. This was completely opposite of those joyful Brazilians playing capoeira on the streets and squares! Picturesque, well preserved building, streets, squares filled with restaurants, souvenir shops and music – make this city under the UNESCO protection as a part of world heritage, one of the very well visited cities in Brazil. 

Chapada Diamantina – the region of preserved wild nature and picturesque towns

The next day we stayed in the interior of the Bahia – Chapada Diamantina (Diamond plateau). I was expecting a rainforest, a tropical forest... but this wasn’t the case. Still, there was something primal, original, wild, unknown, magical. The Chapada Diamantina National Park, on an area of 152,000 ha, is just a part of the wondrous region of the same name, known for its wild waters, rocky cores that rise vertically from the valleys, colorful stones, wild rivers, waterfalls, underground caves and tunnels. According to the local guide - geologist, this region is one of the oldest on Earth. With soil tests, it was found that in the walls of the entire plateau, consisting of small pieces of very versatile stones, there are no fossil remains at all. Nowhere. When asked what this means, the guide explained to us that this indicates that this terrain was formed at the time of the formation of the Earth, when there were no plants nor animals, about three billion years ago. What was absolutely incredible and unexplainable for all of us was the energy of that space.

The whole region is a paradise for lovers of climbing. We climbed to the very top of the plateau, to the Pai Inacio Hill with a spectacular view of the surrounding area. Sitting on the wall, almost vertical sides, high above the river valley - I had the feeling that I was flying. The wind was blowing, and this feeling, with a little imagination, was almost real. We walked for two days through this region. We admired the waterfalls of Paco do Diablo, climb across the Serano River valley, which creates small recesses in which the surrounding population finds shade on warm days. We discovered a cave with rich decorations and halls - Lapa Doce.
In the evening we would return to a beautiful, well-known and decorated town of Lencois. It is a typically colonial-style Spanish-Portuguese town, with nicely painted and decorated houses, restaurants, bars, shops with interesting souvenirs... There are also tourists, who are otherwise rare in this part of Brazil.

The wealth of Brazil - Minas Gerais

We spent the next three days in the Minas Gerais region. This region is one of the leading economic powers of today's Brazil. The power of wealth dates back to the 17th century when many coal mines were opened and used, but also from the fruitful land where the famous Brazilian coffee and many other cultures are grown. In the 19th century, the seat of this region was moved to one of the largest cities of Brazil - Belo Horizonte. Like every big city, it has its own story, beautiful and that less beautiful side. I liked better little, very beautiful, picturesque, quieter, more accessible cities of this region: Ouro Preto, Congonhas and Tiradentes. They are all built in colonial style, with a significant presence of Baroque, which is also visible on numerous churches, but also on buildings in the centers of these places. Ouro Preto is under the protection of UNESCO, but Tiradentes left the strongest impression on me, because it reflects the hospitality, but also offers numerous handicrafts from stone, crystal, leather, ceramics, as well as interesting coffee shops with scented Brazilian coffee and chocolate.  These cities, as well as the entire region, are strongly developing tourism. In small hotels, guesthouses, in national or other restaurants, parks or squares, tourists can get to know and feel the lives of Brazilians much better, their spontaneity, relaxation, hospitality. There you can drink Brazilian coffee, eat cookies and observe in peace and quiet... and then end up in one of the “kilograms” restaurants, that are the symbol of Brazil. The concept of these restaurants is very interesting: you choose whatever food you want, then the plate with the selected foods is being measured, you pay and enjoy in your selection. The other options are restaurants where, people choose the food in the same way, but the meat is served on the daggers and long metal bars by the gauchos who cut the meat directly into the plate. Brazil is a paradise for lovers of not only coffee and chocolate, but also meat and grill.

Rio de Janeiro beyond the symbols

What to say about Rio and São Paulo what has not been said yet? They are large, huge, varied, crowded with tourists and it is difficult to experience hosts in them. The novels could be written about them. Especially Rio de Janeiro. From Rio alone, thanks to the local guides again, I took the image beyond the great statue of Jesus Christ, Sugarhead, and Copacabana known all over the world. The first image is the preparation for Carnival. We were spectators; I'd rather say participants in preparing three big Samba clubs for Carnival. On the sambadrom, the audience in the theater gathered for two hours, waiting for a general test of the clubs. All of them, even us, were not actually spectators, but active participants in the event. It was really impressive to watch thousands of people who, in fact, already danced before the performance of their favorite clubs ... And for hours, all night. Cheering for their club, they clearly showed that they were part of all that. That they are samba, dance...

The second image is the hidden old quarter of Rio - Santa Teresa, in contact with the favelas. The whole neighborhood with old beautiful cottages is being reconstructed in terms of changing the function of buildings. Artists, various creators are moving in these buildings, and opening workshops, small galleries... The most popular is the art of making various artistic constellations from recycled materials, old parts of everything. In one big, beautiful former villa - Vila Lobos, today is opened "Park ruins", where various workshops, performances, exhibitions are held. Similar small but interesting is the corner "Selaron Staircase". Contemporary controversial artist Jorge Selarion, a Chilean living in Rio in the Lapa district for the last decade of his life, turned the staircase of a narrow street with 215 steps - into an artistic experience. With a lot of red color, which he felt lacking in this world, he placed ceramic tiles with his paintings and interesting thoughts on the stairs and surrounding walls. Today it is a favorite place for tourists who sit there, read, watch…

To speak about Brazil and its attractions without mentioning Iguazu Falls is simply not possible. As a world-wide attraction, as highly organized, tourists are fully adjusted, the whole area of Iguazu Falls is more than impressive: on the border of three countries, hundreds of hectares under the water that flows, falls, plummets, dozens of waterfalls, strong rivers, 10 km of metal trails that give you the opportunity to enter the waterfall, or to be above or below it – can’t be compared with anything. For me, the waterfall is a force of water that washes us inside and outside. If you surrender to its strength and energy, the waterfall provides healing. Standing within a vast waterfall, all bathed in strong drops, the jets of water flowing through the centuries, giving and taking, I felt the real bliss of merging with nature. Completely immersed, I was overwhelmed the enchantment that makes you scream from the chest, cry from the heart, and be thankful from the bottom of your soul! Unforgettable. Simply: settled forever. Just like the image of Brazil and its people, who after two weeks of travelling through this amazing land full of incredible contradictions, became much more complete, richer with knowledge and emotions, and who found their place in my heart forever..