Robin Esrock shares some of his favourite photographs from Brazil, along with his thoughts about why the country is so special.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Rhythm permeates Brazil. Sometimes I catch myself listening to traffic, and even it carries a tune. Teenagers listen to the same classic bossa nova songs their parents do. MBP, modern Brazilian pop, incorporates many different genres. Samba is Brazil’s most famous dance, but there are dozens of others, like
forro, funk, and axé (pronounced ash-ay), which turns nightclubs into well-choreographed musicals. Travellers don’t need to know each dance, nor the music that accompanies it. Your enthusiasm and willingness to enjoy the rhythm goes a long way.
WILDLIFE The bio-diversity in Brazil is staggering. More than one-third of all the world’s species live in the Amazon, including 3000 species of fish. In the state of Matto Grosso do Sul, birdwatchers discover paradise in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland. Jungle safaris have brought me up close and personal with piranhas, anacondas, and this weary caiman.
HISTORY Although archaeologists keep discovering new mysteries in the Amazon, Brazil’s history is mainly focused on its colonial past. The country was tossed and torn in battles between the Spanish, Dutch, British, and Portuguese, who give the country its language. In the northeast cities of Recife and Salvador (pictured), blackened churches and buildings recall a turbulent time of plantations, wars, religion, wealth, and slavery.
BEACHES Swing a cat in Brazil and it will land suntanned on a white sandy beach. With nearly 7500km of coastline and glorious tropical weather, Brazilians have every reason to love their beaches. The most famous are the long sandy strips in Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema. Cabo Frio has the squeaky white sand of the Caribbean. My favourite is Lopez Mendes, a slice of paradise on the island of Ilha Grande. Northeast beaches in Natal, Jericoacoara and Morro Do Sao Paulo are well worth travelling for.
CARNAVAL Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacle of Carnaval each February. The entire country explodes into celebration, ranging from massive parades inside Rio’s Sambadrome to chaotic street parties and festivals. Carnaval brings Brazilians together across the socio-economic divide, especially after the chaos and restrictions of the pandemic. What was once Catholic ritual of giving up meat for Lent, is now the biggest, most intense annual party you’ll find anywhere. Believe the hype.
ADVENTURES I travel for a living, and after 115 countries on 7 continents, I’m always on the lookout for activities that are unique. There are plenty of places you can climb, or raft, or even fish for piranhas. Capoeira at sunset? Favela funk parties? Joining a parade in the Sambadrome – that’s Brazil. One of my favourite discoveries has been Rio do Plata outside of the eco-tourism hotspot of Bonito. Float with the current for three hours down a crystal clear stream, snorkelling amongst thousands of freshwater fish. Simply Braziliant!
FOOTBALL The official religion of Brazil is Roman Catholicism. The actual religion is football. The country has won the World Cup a record five times. The game is played and followed on the beaches and streets, in clubs and parks. The Brazilian style of play is beautiful to watch – full of flamboyant tricks and skill that bamboozle Europe’s clinical style. A visit to Maracana Stadium in Rio, which holds the official record for a single game attendance (199,854 people at the 1950 World Cup Final) will convert you way before the final whistle blows.
NATURAL AND CULTURAL WONDERS I’m not a fan of the commercially inspired marketing campaign that was “The New Seven Wonders”. Some might argue that the statue of Christ the Redeemer, a remarkable landmark much like the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty, doesn’t belong on a list with the Great Wall of China or Petra. But Brazilians got behind the vote and today it is semi-officially regarded as a wonder of our world. Personally I believe the view of Rio de Janeiro, among the world’s most beautiful cities, is the true wonder here. Down south, Iguazu Falls was an easy and fitting finalist for the Natural Seven Wonders of the World.
FOOD Caju? Cupuaçu? Pitanga? Jaboticaba? Brazil is blessed with natural tropical fruit rich in vitamins and taste. People here have long enjoyed the nutritional benefits of acai, even as it becomes a wonder berry in hipster cafes worldwide. Meanwhile it’s a meat fest in the churrascaria, a uniquely Brazilian concept. Each diner receives a card. The green side means more, the red side means stop. Waiters attack with different cuts of meat until you burst. Staples like beans, rice and farofa (manioc flour) accompany most dishes. Cheap eats like bolinhos de bacalhau (fish and potato balls) and coxinha de galinha (chicken and potato balls) offer deep fried perfection.
PEOPLE Those who live in the cold northern hemisphere know that special feeling on the first day of summer. Finally we can put on shorts or that summer dress, feel a warm breeze on our legs, and appreciate that the best time of year has arrived. On that day, we walk around smiling, easily relaxed, infused with positive energy. In Brazil I have observed locals of all classes, watching crowds on beaches and buses, in malls, restaurants, the slums and on the streets. Many of them have that same twinkle in their eye, an uplifting smile on their face. It’s the first day of summer, every single day.