Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

 

            Brazil has a remarkable and long history, which I could never begin to set forth here…it, is a huge country with about 160 million people and one of the centerpieces in the evolution of South America.   It began when competition between Spain and Portugal for the exploration of the world resulted in an agreement set forth by the Pope at that time, to let Spain explore South America and Portugal to concentrate on India and other lands in that region.  

            So the Portuguese established a route to the Indian Ocean, but on one trip the fleet sailed too far southwest as they attempted to avoid the western coast of Africa and they landed in South America in 1502.   They established a colony in  this new land, discovered a new plant and soon began exporting sugar cane…..this was to become a most important crop and supported the continued growth of their settlements along what is now the Brazilian coast.

            But they needed cheap labor and they fulfilled that need by exporting slaves from western Africa and bringing them to the new world.   Slaves were brought to the United States, the Caribbean and of course, South America.   Twelve million in all….with many dying along the way, the goal of cheap, inexperienced labor was achieved.   Later coffee became a very important crop as did latex that was drawn from rubber trees in the vast rain forests of Brazil.

            Brazil has suffered many military juntas which have seriously its economy, but nonetheless it is a country rich with natural resources and has enjoyed many periods of prosperity.   Today, Brazil enjoys a large tourist trade and benefits from a major manufacturing industry.  The government, a republic, is strong and the country has a proud vision of the future.

            Rio de Janeiro was the Brazilian port that most of these products were shipped through on their way to Europe and gained great wealth, serving as the capital for over one hundred years.   In recent times, the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a new modern city intended to be more centrally positioned within the country and designed to better meet the needs of all the people.

 

Copacabana Beach

Ipanema and Leblon Beach

 

            But Rio de Janeiro is a city of great natural beauty…mountains that fall directly into the surrounding magnificent harbor.   Glorious beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema lie on the ocean and today serve as the place of oiled suntanned bodies wearing bikinis and moving to the sounds of samba rhythms.   Great restaurants and hotels line the beach areas as patrons lie in the sun, play volleyball on the beach and sip the native drink...the Caipirinha (made with sugarcane liquor and lime juice).

            Prior to coming to Brazil, I heard of many horror stories about the security in Rio de Janeiro and was actually quite concerned.    Being forewarned, we took the security concerns quite seriously, and while there were reports of problems….theft of handbags, cameras and money…we never experienced any trouble.   One has to be cautious by not exhibiting any jewelry or articles of wealth or openly carrying cameras or other objects that are readily stolen.

            We stayed away from buses; using private cars with a driver provided by the hotel and used taxis very prudently.   And, we found the people to be very warm, eager to assist and generally a pleasure to interact with.   The restaurants, which do not start filling up until maybe nine o’clock each night, are superb and since the dollar is still strong relative to the Brazilian Real, prices were very reasonable.   Shopping in Ipanema Beach is especially upscale and is generally filled with condominiums, while Copacabana Beach is lined with more hotels as well as condominiums.  

            Arriving when we did, we just missed Brazil’s most significant celebration …that of Carnaval….which coincides with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  It is time of extravagant parades and processions…with people dressed in exotic costumes known for their color and creativity.   Judges select winners as the crowds march through the streets and partying continues nonstop through the night.   It would have been an amazing sight to see, but with the crowds and the security concerns, I am satisfied just having seen the pictures and learning about the festivities.