#A country as big as a continent
Despite the absence of marked reliefs as in the countries surrounding it, the vastness of the Brazilian territory, the largest in Latin America and the fourth largest in the world with nearly 9 million square kilometres, is characterized by infinite contrasts. As Mario Carelli wrote, Brazil is the result of a Métis epic. The five geographical regions (South, South-East, South-East, Central-East, North-East, North-East) have their own identities, cultures, traditions, dishes, accents... Indigenous, African and European origins certainly intersect everywhere, but some influences are more pronounced in some regions. In Belém, the Indian origins of the inhabitants are easily observable. In Bahia, the African origins of the country's first capital are expressed in the deep rootedness of African culture, perceptible in the local cuisine, musical and religious influences of the land of its origins. Further south, Italian and German immigration at the beginning of the 20th century explained the white skin and pale eyes of some of the inhabitants of Santa Catarina. In Pomerode, some people still speak an old Pomeranian dialect. Another eminently Brazilian feature is the contrasting population densities that will surely confuse visitors. Overcrowded and frenetic megacities, bristling with countless buildings such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, contrast with the indigenous villages where you can walk peacefully on the rivers, on board frail skiffs. Forests, ecological reserves, large rivers, sea, waterfalls... Nature, of incomparable richness, is changing. The climate varies between North and South, coastline and interior, plain and mountain, we can almost forget the concept of season. Wet heat, temperatures close to zero and extreme drought are some of the climatic conditions that can be found in June, for example, depending on the region visited. A cuisine often made up of rice, beans and beef, sometimes made from river fish or seafood, Amazonian fruit juices, pampas tea or the famous queijo pies (cheese breads) complete this feeling of diversity that often confuses at first sight. A trip will surely not be enough to see, know or taste everything, but this immensity is also a good excuse to return there!
A nature with genius :
To say that nature is grandiose in Brazil is a truism. The landscapes and biodiversity seem to rival each other in ingenuity and extravagance. Brazil is probably the country with the highest number of endemic species in the world. Beyond the extraordinary Amazonian green lung, the country has many reserves, natural parks or biosphere reserves, natural heritage of humanity. The Pantanal, located in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, is another wonder to discover, a vast plain of 230,000 km² inhabited by many animals and struggling with the advance of the soybean front. Those who love nature will therefore have an incredible choice between the jungle with its exuberant vegetation and the great rivers, the Pantanal, a paradise for ornithologists, or the 43 national parks. These nature reserves are geographically very diverse sites in the middle of the sertão, such as the Chapada da Diamantina plateau in Bahia or in the open sea like the Fernando de Noronha archipelago near Recife. If Brazil is not known for its mountains, these, although modest, offer remarkable ecosystems, an opportunity for so many walks in the heart of national parks such as those of Agulhas negras or Caparao, which culminate, between Minas and Rio, at nearly 3,000 meters. The confrontation of tropical and high altitude climates will generate an extreme faunal and floristic diversity. The coastline, composed of superb white sand and coconut beaches, cliffs, reefs, mangroves, first contact between European "discoverers" and this incognita terrace remains an essential asset, despite the fierce struggle between the actors of coastal urbanization and their detractors.
Rio de Janeiro and the megacities
An international symbol of Brazil, Rio is both a concentrate of Brazil and a city apart. To simplify, Rio is to Brazil what Paris is to France: cultural capital, symbol of the country, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a people with a distinctive personality. It is a shortcut that allows you to quickly present the city in relation to the country, but the situation is a little more complex. Rio ceased to be the country's political capital in 1960, when Brasilia was inaugurated. Officials and diplomats have often experienced this "exile" as a real tear. Today, the oil boom is restoring a certain economic dynamism to the former capital. The other megalopolis, São Paulo or Sampa, has been the economic capital for almost fifty years. It is one of the richest cities in Latin America. The industrial, political, industrial and financial elites travel by helicopter. It is also a place of permanent cultural and artistic effervescence. Reciprocal jokes illustrate the friendly rivalry between Rio and Sampa. Despite the disappearance of its prerogatives, Rio remains a city apart in the imagination of Brazilians, the symbol of an unequalled softness and joie de vivre. However, some geographers are considering the imminent junction of the two Brazilian megacities, the Rio hedonist with the laborious Sampa to form a new megalopolis that would hypothetically extend as far as Buenos Aires. If visitors do not stop or stop for a short while in Sampa, today's Brazil cannot be considered without its ever-evolving economic, economic and cultural capital.
The Brazilian beaches of the Northeast were the first meeting places between Europeans and Amerindian tribes, sometimes welcoming, sometimes bellicose. There is no doubt that the collective unconscious of Westerners has been forever crossed by a real fascination for these interfaces with colours unknown in Europe. Tropical beaches of white sand, warm and crystal clear water are certainly one of Brazil's assets. The warmth and sunshine that shines almost all year round complete this idyllic setting. The beaches of the Nordeste (Itacaré, Porto de Galinha, Praia da Pipa, Jericoacoara) are the most attractive. We practice walking, diving, surfing (beware of sharks in Recife). Less well known, the coast of Santa Catarina, in the southern region, is also of extreme beauty to visit during the summer. Joaquina Beach is a well-known spot for surfers from all over the world. The beaches of the islands of Fernando de Noronha, preserved from too intense a frequentation, appear as natural sanctuaries in a setting of indescribable beauty. Even today, a large part of the Brazilian population still lives near the coasts and the majority of tourist sites are close to the beaches. In short, the famous Boumboum bikini store in Ipanema has a bright future ahead of it.
Carnival and music country
The wonderful Bahian writer Jorge Amado entitled one of his books Le Pays du Carnaval, reminding us if necessary that this festival of pagan and Christian origins is an important element of the "fabrication" of Brazil, an annual rite of a society born of the fusion of peoples as links between masters and slaves. As for nearly a third of the tourists who visit Brazil during the year come during this period, the carnival can be one of the objectives of your Brazilian stay. The Rio Carnival is the largest popular event in the world. In this gigantic popular festival (still?), there are three main festive places: samba school parades, rua blockades (street parades) and balls. For four days, the country was taken by a collective madness that only stopped on the evening of Tuesday night. The Bahia Carnival is another major pre-Lenten celebration, but in a style very different from that of Rio. In Salvador, the foliões (party people) are organized in groups that follow the great Trios eletricos (sound trucks) with their star singers to the sound of the axé during a long journey. Each group (bloco) has its own T-shirt and is protected by a rope that separates participants from those who have not bought the T-shirt. Already in Pernambuco you can see everyone mixed up in the narrow streets of Olinda to the sound of the frevo. The large puppets, several meters high, animate the celebration. In the cities of Minas Gérais, in the south-east, we find this same style of carnival with the musicians mixing with the audience. In Ouro Preto, for example, to avoid the expensive carnival packets, one can stay in republicas (small student residences in venerable residences where one can remake the world as one wishes around local cachaça force). It is therefore impossible to go to Brazil and not let oneself be thrilled by his music. Indeed, a multitude of musical styles have been born in the country, from the most famous such as bossa-nova and samba, to the axé, chorinho, maracatu, forró, sertanejo, pagoda... the list is long! Samba, the country's international brand, was born in Rio de Janeiro and it is still there that traditional samba schools and real sambists (composers and musicians) meet. From November until Carnival, it is possible to listen to samba (o samba, masculine, in Portuguese) and to dance during the open-air rehearsals of the schools preparing for the big competition. One of the oldest and most traditional schools is the "Mangueira", named after the favela where it was created. Beija-Flor, Salgueiro, Portela, Grande Rio and Unidos da Tijuca are also well known to the public. Bossa Nova is another more recent carioca creation, from the 1960s. With a jazzy influence, the bossa has taken the "Garota de Ipanema", by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, all over the world. There are more than a hundred versions of this song, which was first recorded in 1962 and then immortalized by Frank Sinatra.
An endearing population
Despite the country's social violence, linked to its slave heritage and current social inequalities, visitors will quickly be swept away by the extreme kindness of Brazilians, their need to talk for hours in front of a beer or simply at the doorstep. The friendship of the Brazilians will be easily granted from the first meetings. You may meet a Brazilian who will accompany you for several days as if you were long-time friends, for the simple pleasure of showing you his or her city and country. But beware, the promises of future meetings are not necessarily kept: Brazilians also live on temporary friendships, especially in Rio. You can make friends very quickly, but you will also lose them very quickly. "A gente se fala" which is equivalent to our "we call each other" means "to more... maybe". Undoubtedly it is linked to the mobility inherent in the lifestyles of the Brazilians in the past... The notion of "anthropophagous country" will then take on its full meaning upon return to France because it will inevitably be accompanied by an intense saudade. Of course, friendships are not always selfless, because of poverty. Neither are the sneaky blinkers in Copacabana or in a few tourist bars. To a good hearing!
A mixed and tasty cuisine
Cooking and gastronomy are the products of regional and national cultures. Brazil is a country composed of the fusion or juxtaposition of Amerindian, African and European influences. These multiple influences shape Brazilian culture and consequently its gastronomy. Certainly, traditional cuisine may seem rustic at first sight, but in each region it will be possible to taste a different and tasty cuisine made of local products. In the Minas Gerais region, the cuisine is prepared with lots of pork and beef, potatoes, beans, Portuguese cabbage, corn and other cooked vegetables. The tutu feeds his man; normal, it is the dish of the former cowherds. Further north it is cassava which brings an indigenous influence to the kitchen and is present in the daily diet. In Bahia the African, the regional cuisine is necessarily tinged with influences from the black continent. Fish is widespread, as are spices and dendê oil (orange palm oil), which make up original dishes. For a good moqueca baiana you need fish, onions, pepper, tomatoes, spices and coconut milk. Other dishes typical of certain regions, such as churrasco gaúcho or feijoada carioca, are widely available nationally and can be enjoyed throughout the country. However, modern Brazilian cuisine cannot be reduced to its local origins alone. In the major cities, Brazilian gastronomy is today a laboratory of modernity where local and international influences blend. All the great European chefs settle down at the pianos of the palaces and open their own restaurants (like Claude Troisgros in Rio, in his restaurant Olympe).
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette