A Brazilian Christmas

Trip Start May 03, 2011
Trip End Mar 22, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , Federal District,
Sunday, January 1, 2012

When you are travelling for an extended period of time it's sometimes difficult to  predict where you will be on a certain date and often your plans change along the way. However there is always an outline plan, and when in July my sister Miranda said "where will you be at Christmas, James and I want to come and visit you"  we quickly and fairly roughly came up with "Brazil".

When you only have two weeks for your holiday, time is precious so back in July and August many emails were flying across the net as we finalised plans, accommodation and travel arrangements. It felt quite strange to have the entire two weeks organised in advance (and certainly a welcome change from continuously thinking about the next night's accommodation).

Early December found us in southern Brazil, on a slow amble up the coast, heading for the meet-up in Sao Paolo on the 15th. The coast here consists of huge and wild surf beaches, backed by hills and Mata Atlantica (coastal rainforest)   I finally got my "beach time", along with a fair few of December's 12 rainy days, but the scenery is still stunning even in the rain. However the sun smiled on us for 3 days when we travelled to the small offshore island "Ilho do Mel" (island of honey) and we had some long walks, swims and beautiful sunsets.

Of course we were now well and truly in the Christmas period and it's always interesting to see how different countries celebrate. Somewhere in Brazil there must have been an edict for "eco-decorations" as everywhere we travelled we saw a lot of evidence of recycling with old plastic bottles turned into some quite amazing Christmas trees & decorations. Our last major city before Sao Paolo was Curitiba which has put a lot of effort into urban planning, transport and the environment. As a result, traffic runs smoothly and the several million head of population move easily around the city with dedicated bus lanes and... wait for it Boris, double bendy buses. In Curitiba we also experienced a little more of the Christmas experience with some traditional Christmas markets and a Christmas parade that bordered on the bizarre. Elsewhere we have had more traditional shows of Christmas singing, though not quite the familiar carols that we know so well. Of course it always seems a bit odd to be celebrating Christmas when the thermometer is over 30 degrees. Curitiba also introduced us to the amazing architecture of Oscar Niemeyer and strengthened my resolve to make the long detour to Brasilia.
The day before our big meet-up I had  final check of the emails and it was quite a shock to receive one from Miranda "a bit of a hiccup, I've fractured my elbow, but it's OK I can fly..."   In fact, despite all sorts of initial fears, the fracture was to hardly slow Miranda down at all. Whether it was scrambling up and down steep & slippery paths, clambering  over bobbing boats (albeit with the comment "is this a good idea?"), taking a powerboat ride under Iguazu Falls for a power drenching or more straightforward things such as swimming or eating (not sure how much she told the doctor on her return though!). When we met them at Sao Paolo airport they were surprisingly lively after a long flight and keen to hit the streets to take in the night air.

Sao Paolo certainly surprised us all.... it has a reputation of being crowded, polluted and generally overwhelming, but didn't find this to be true at all and really enjoyed our day taking in the sights and sounds. A highlight for Cliff  was the soccer museum at Pacaembo stadium, I think he could have spent all day there. For Miranda it was just getting out into the streets in a new country and soaking up the atmosphere. 

The next day and a very early start for our flight down to Iguazu. The falls should be seen from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides. We started with the Brazilian side. The falls have  a reputation for being amazing, so it's always a little hard visiting in case you are disappointed. Also having lived in Zambia, Cliff & I had made six visits to Victoria Falls and our standards were high. However the falls were.... mind blowing!  so many perfect views and just when you think you've seen the best, then just around the corner is another even more amazing one. So many different sets of falls and so much water! We spent a day on each side and still didn't manage to walk to all the viewpoints on the Argentinian side. A highlight for all of us was a trip in a Zodiac, up to and right under some of the smaller falls, not just in the spray but a proper drenching where you could hardy catch your breath.

Another early start and another flight and we were in Rio. Now for as long as I can remember, this has been one of my "I really want to go there" destinations. Unfortunately it also comes with a "Rio has a very serious crime problem and the odds are you are likely to get hit" tag. So balancing the enjoyment factor with keeping safe was a bit daunting at first. However (and I don't know if this is because of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics), Rio seems to have really cleaned up its act and we had an even quite relaxing 4 days. Miranda had found a great apartment between Copacabana & Ipanema beaches with a 5 minute walk to each. The government has been implementing a campaign of "pacifying" the favellas, in fact we visited two which had been pacified only a month previously (the drug lords having been rounded up or driven out). Contrary to popular belief, the favellas "unlawful occupation of the land" have always been safe for tourists, now they are safe for the residents as well.

We visited all the main sights, Christ, Sugar Loaf, the beaches, the historic centre (James particularly enjoyed the hill suburb of Santa Theresa) and another Niemeyer building, the flying saucer museum of contemporary art. For all of us, just being on Ipanema beach was a highlight; swimming, running, walking, drinking beer and people watching.. plus being part of the scene when everyone comes out to watch and to applaud the sunset.. magic.   I should also add that we were blessed with fantastic weather, in the first 10 days of the holiday we had one big rain downpour and the rest was glorious sunshine.

Now it was time for Christmas and we were off to the beach. Ilha Grande is a beautiful island a few hours south of Rio. It is covered in rainforest and hills, a perfect getaway. So quiet in fact (we were on the less busy side of the island) that the "ferry" was actually a local fishing boat. This was the only time Miranda wavered as she had to clamber over 2 boats of different heights (it's amazing how much you need two arms to do things...), but there was no alternative and she was soon installed with the locals, the Christmas shopping for delivery to the islanders and half a dozen holiday makers. Another lovely place to stay, set back in the forest, disturbed only by the cacophony of insect and bird noises. We sat and watched the hummingbirds, tiny monkeys, a porcupine. Cliff was delighted to see a turtle one day while snorkelling.  We could walk to three small beaches or sit in a bar or hammock and watch the rain (we had to get some eventually). James was especially pleased -  "there's no sights for Miranda to drag me off to" .

Christmas was celebrated with a big dinner on Christmas Eve. so Christmas Day was very low key. We had some very welcome presents (marmite, mince pies and christmas cake) and thought of everyone back home. Then went to the beach.  

The final stop was the small colonial town of Paraty with cobbled streets and an historic centre of old houses. A final trip to the beach and before we knew it we were saying goodbye (though not before we had gratefully offloaded quite a few kilos of excess belongings which wended their way back to England in James' bag alongside quite a few bottles of cheap vodka).  M&J got on a bus for Rio, we headed in the other direction to Sao Paolo for a connection to Brasilia. By the time we were getting off the bus in Brasilia, they were landing at Heathrow. 

Brasilia is the modern capital of Brazil, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was completed in 1960, with a very forward thinking urban plan and a lot of futuristic Niemeyer buildings. I remember learning about it at primary school and it had always fascinated me. It is a very strange city in that the centre has a lot of green space and hardly any people. Shaped like a aeroplane, the fuselage consists of the "Axis Monumental ", a wide swathe of green and all the Government buildings. The aircraft wings are the original housing sectors.  It's a real mix, the buildings are absolutely amazing, an architect's dream. The landscape in between reminds me of Africa with crumbling concrete pavements and ragged grass. It was built for driving around so nobody walks (except for us) and everything is zoned... hotel zone, commercial zone, housing zones. The hotel zone is in the empty centre so is eerily quiet at night & on the weekend (and you can imagine how quiet on New Years Day).  A strange place, but well worth the big detour. 

We saw in the New Year  on the Monumental Axis. Lots of fireworks (but little choreography) and incredibly loud samba bands and big crowds  (so there are some people there!). 

Happy New Year!


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Miranda Shoebridge on

Fab photos and a great reminder of our holiday! The images of the falls and Brasilia architecture are especially stunning, but I enjoyed them all and will re-run the slideshow often.....Mx

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