A Real Deal
It's on the wish list of most travellers, but even if you're on a budget, far away Brazil is nearer than you think text and photos by Noel Braganzatravel Updated: May 07, 2012 16:41 IST
My love for Brazil began the moment I discovered the bossa nova, a sound that lingered through most of my years in Delhi. What triggered my decision to visit Brazil last July was the fact that Sahil, one of my closest friends, was working there at the time, and wouldn't be there for long.
I landed in Sao Paulo, with about 600 real (the local currency, pronounced hay-aa-eil and approximately R16,500) in cash and 600 real on a travel card (I was on a budget) and enough excitement to rival a five-year-old with a new bike. Sahil met me at the airport and we rushed out into the nippy night, heading into the city. An hour and a half later, we were in Sao Paulo city, ready to couchsurf for the night.
The next day, we dropped in to South America's largest park, Ibirapuera. Brazilians are obsessed with their physical appearance. Their government runs free gyms and people were jogging or bicycling along the many paths. We spent a fair bit of time trying to fit into a very physical world before returning. On the way, we spotted various diners and restaurants that served cheap food (10 real or less) near our place. Chicken, rice, beans and salad became my staple diet for most of my stay in Brazil.
Most of my evenings in Sao Paulo were spent clubbing or walking through what, in part, resembles New York or London. We carried just about 50 real, an identity card and a debit card - never any valuables. Sao Paulo is reasonably safe, but you don't want to attract any attention to yourself.
After three days in Sao Paulo, we moved to Paraty (Para-CHee), an old Portuguese city in the north. We took the bus, and the best part about the journey was the natural landscape along the way.
At Paraty, we checked into our dorm at the Youth Hostel Che Lagarto and, map in hand, began to explore the city. The cobbled streets were lined with Portuguese buildings housing swish restaurants, souvenir shops and hostels.
By evening, we headed back to our hostel and were informed that they'd be throwing a beach party. We headed out into the night with our fellow hostellers, only to return to a night of horror. My knapsack with my camera, passport and money was gone. We woke up the hostel staff and a hunt began. It turned out that my bag, along with some other ones, were emptied and dumped in one of the unused rooms. The thief, though, was kind, and had left my passport behind. I didn't care about my money - I had insurance. But they took my brand new camera (the photos you see here were taken on my phone).
The managers at the hostel let us stay our next two nights for free, They even got us a free night's stay at their hostel at Ilha Grande, our next destination.
Getting to Ilha Grande was a bit of an adventure too. We took a bus to Angra, sprinted from the bus stop with our overweight bags to the jetty and only just managed to make it onto the boat to catch the last ferry there. Cold and hungry, we curled up into our seats and shielded ourselves from the icy Atlantic air that was gushing through the length of the ferry.
After 45 minutes of taking in the gorgeous scenery, we reached the grand island that has some of Brazil's most stunning beaches, nature trails and hill peaks. The sea here was dotted with hundreds of tiny boats and yachts swaying gently as if being rocked to sleep by the lazy ocean. The cold jungle mist rose to cover a peak that easily resembled the head of a duck.
Our hostel was right on the bay, and it had its own wooden deck that overlooked spectacular coral reefs.
The island was perfect to explore on foot, but the uphill-downhill hike took over two hours and was exhausting. I was quite breathless by the time we reached the pristine white Lopes Mendes beach and dived into the clear blue Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, it was possible to take a boat around the island back to the hostel.
Rio de Janeiro. We took the last ferry out to the Mangaratiba pier and took a bus to the city. Rio is the most stunning city I have seen. Urban development and nature thrives side by side. It was more alive than Sao Paulo and looked like a city that would never sleep. We couchsurfed here as well and went clubbing almost every night. The clubs here are huge and were open all the way into the morning. Buses clipped along empty streets even at 3 am, all full of people.
Rio's best seen on foot, so we walked down from Copacabana to Ipanema along the beaches. The entire walkway was lined with outdoor gyms, jogging tracks and juice bars. In the distance you could see the famous PÃ£o de AÃ§Ãºcar (Loaf of Sugar), peeking out of the ocean.
That evening, we took a rickety, narrow gauge tram to see a friend in the old neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. The area is rundown, but leafy and dotted with quaint cafÃ©s. Our next destination, the sleepy mining hill town of Ouro Preto, was an overnight bus trip away. We arrived at the crack of dawn smack into a month-long arts festival. The whole city was transformed into a colourful bustling hillock. There was street theatre, concerts, performances and lots more happening every day. Every time I took a turn, I was greeted by beautiful churches. The steep slopes aren't for the fainthearted. But Ouro Preto is truly the perfect example of how history can stand the test of time.
The trip wasn't done. A few days later we flew up north to Salvador, the third most populous city in Brazil. Salvador is known for its outdoor parties and the easygoing attitude of its people. The centuries-old colourful buildings now enjoy a new life as restaurants and tiny souvenir shops. I also got to witness the world-famous Olodum group drumming away in the narrow alley; its sounds echoing a good 10 blocks away.
Salvador's local cuisine is delicious, in particular, a deep-fried snack called acarajÃ©, essentially a ball of peeled black-eyed peas. I was warned not to eat more than one by the bus driver who dropped us to the Itapaon market, the consequences of which I would only realise the next day. AcarajÃ© is available all over Salvador, but places like Itapoan attract crowds every evening after 5 pm. With beer flowing and acarajÃ© frying, these evenings always end up becoming one big community party.
After a couple of days in Salvador, we went into the wild again via a bus to CapÃ£o, a small village that acts as a base for trekkers at the limestone tabletop mountains in Chapada Diamantina National Park. The climb was gruelling for the first couple of hours, but once we were at the tabletop, the horizon opened up to the Pati Valley, an endless expanse of mountains. The winds here are so strong that the waterfall doesn't really get a chance to reach the bottom. Instead it rises right back to shower the top of the cliff as a never ending cycle of rain.
When I returned to Rio, I was determined to visit Cristo Redentor. You can really see all of Rio from this vantage point. Take the famous Trem do Corcovado tram up the hill or simply share a taxi to the top. It's relatively more expensive than the other things I did, but it was
definitely something one should do when they are in Rio.
Before you slip into a pair of Havaianas and dream of samba on the beach, here's what you need to know
There are no direct flights to Sao Paulo, so one could fly via Johannesburg or Paris, New York or Dubai. The route that makes the most sense is via Dubai, as you don't need a transit visa.
Getting a Brazilian visa isn't difficult. It takes about a week for the High Commission to issue the visa, so plan accordingly, especially if you're visiting other South American countries. See