A Small Chunk of Portugal


Historically, Salvador ("Savior" in Portuguese) was the first capital of Brazil, back in the colonial days; 1500s to 1800s. As lots of places chose to name themselves Salvador, this Salvador distinguished itself with the name Salvador of Bahia, Bahia being the Brazilian State along the mid-east coast of the country. One can see why the Portuguese decided to stick around here. The coast line consists of 30+ miles of beach intermingled with rocky shore, astounding views of the Atlantic all around. This historic center, Pelourinho, is a recently renovated World Heritage Site. With balconied windows, cobblestone streets, facades and lamp posts, it's like a little chunk of Europe was deposited on this hilltop.

It felt a bit Disneylandish; the opposite of old European cities that feel truly lived in, with local bakeries and grocers and residents - and a sense of pride for dwelling in beautiful historic houses. Perhaps it's because Salvador's population now consists mostly of those of Afro-Brazilian heritage; ie, those whose ancestors were brought along via the Portuguese slave trade. Maybe they have a different attitude towards remnants of Portuguese colonialism, than say if those with European ancestry still lived in this city? Just guessing here.

Pelourinho felt completely set up for tourists - the ground floor of all buildings were shops or cafes geared towards tourists - so in an odd way, it lacked character. I like to visit places and see people getting on with their own lives, instead of catering everything to my wallet. However, I'd been hankering to see some colonial architecture, so I was happy to finally have some buildings to photograph.

There are historic colonial towns all over the coast of Brazil, and perhaps others are less commercialized. Pelourinho overlooks the modern city that has grown up around it at the foot of the hills. It's not pretty. I commented that in many other cities in the world, such scenic coastline would be lined by nice looking buildings, hotels and expensive homes etc. It was pointed out to me that Brazil has endless scenic coastline, and thus it wasn't a big deal to be near a white sand, azure watered beach.

Home Base Sao Paulo

Outside of Korea, the most Korean food I'd ever eaten was in Sao Paulo. Surprised? Well, there are some 50,000 Koreans or should I say, Korean Brazilians in Brazil, most of whom live in Sao Paulo. Much of the immigration happened in the 1950s, when Koreans wanted to escape the instability of their own country. Brazil at the time, was apparently encouraging foreigners to come on over, perhaps to stimulate population and economy. Can you imagine just picking up your family of 7 kids who'd never been out of Korea in their lives - in the 1950s PRE-internet when one couldn't google Sao Paulo and get a sense of what one was in for - and plopping everyone down in Sao Paulo? That's exactly what my husband's grandparents did.

Those Koreans that great up in SP say they feel much more Brazilian than Korean, and I could empathize, feeling much more American than Chinese. They speak Portuguese and Korean. Many of them work in the cloth/ clothing industry - design, manufacture, wholesale. The streets in the garment district are lined by fashion shop windows, all creatively decorated with lanky mannequins draped over ladders, lavish chandeliers, pink vintage wall papers, showers of origami cranes, bright splashes of fluorescent stripes. Style-wise, Think: hundreds of mini Forever-21s (that ubiquitous teenybopper mall shop which I admittedly frequent, well, frequently). Sao Paulo lacks tourists, and so I felt self conscious about taking of the camera around here, which would be the equivalent of a giant jewel-encrusted sandwich board sign announcing TOURIST!! Thus, no storefront photos.

Mixed in the maze of shops are Korean restaurants - lots of them. If all you've heard of is Korean BBQ, learn now that there is much more to Korean food. There are lots of soupy and rich dishes that come in oven-sizzling bowls. Above, a delicious mandu (ie wonton) soup. The gazillion little side dishes (kimchi, seasoned dried mini-fish, fried egg, gelatinous chunks of ?) help you to season your dish to your liking, or for you to snack on between bites of main course. But all is not business; within the family there are also connections to a Korean ceramics studio - in which we found a moment of tranquility in an otherwise gigantic buzzing city, plagued with endless traffic and confusing streets.

Cruising along on a multi-lane Sao Paulo freeway, we came to a Y-shaped division of lanes, with the right arm leading off onto a different freeway. We took the right arm instead of the left. About 30 yards into the wrong arm, the driver stopped - full on STOPPED in the fast lane (no blinkers or anything),  and other cars casually drove around us. Then he BACKED UP - in the fast lane on the freeway - until we sat in the island between the two arms. Finding a space in the left arm traffic, we rejoined the rush. No-one honked, the whole time. In fact, considering the crazy driving, disregard for lanes, cutting off, red light running - there was not much honking at all. It is as if there is a mutual agreement that driving is a challenge of obstacles and everyone just gets through it without complaint; none of this high-maintenance smooth driving American expectation.

Toucan Time

Aren't toucans wonderful? We met lots of them at the Bird Park in Iguacu, not far from the Falls. Free to interact with humans in aviaries, most toucans weren't scared and were quite alright with having their close up taken, and accepted gentle pets. A useful trivia tidbit: the toucan is Brazil's National Bird. The most commonly known toucan is the Toco Toucan, in all but the third pic. Not sure who the third toucan is, but you can see that his/her beak and body are smaller, and colorings are different. There are actually about 40 toucan species, including toucanettes, which are like mini-toucans.

What's with the huge beak? Toucans mostly eat fruit, and apparently the massive beak lets them sit in one place while chowing down on all fruit within beak radius - apparently beak mass outweighs the energy expenditure of having to move the body around. Of course it may have to do with intimidating other birds, or mating behavior.

In the afternoon sun, some toucans took on this posture of turning their head and resting the beak against whatever they were standing on. This is nap time posture - guess the beak is too heavy to hold up, and too large to tuck under a wing.

Go Here. Just Do It.

How does one even begin to try and photograph the Grand Canyon of Waterfalls? There's no photo that can do it justice. Iguacu (or Iguassu) Falls way in the south of Brazil in Parana state, on the border of Argentina and Paraguay, is probably the Widest falls on earth, consisting of 275 falls (how they count them? Hmmm). The valley is a huge, long, tongue-shaped and tiered, the end of which is sort of pictured here. The Falls extend much further to the right of the photo. For sense of scale, see the little boardwalk/ viewing platform to the bottom right, with the tiny tiny people. We went down there too - photos from that viewpoint later.

The tiers were formed by huge lava floes that rolled along way back when, and then cooled and solidified to form massive steps. The Iguacu river flows over these steps (the Amazon is not the only mighty river in these parts!). All this is part of a Brazilian National Park, which I must say, was impressively designed and organized - or rather it reminded me of American NPs that have shuttles to reduce human impact, well defined trails and excellently placed viewpoints, recycling and composting options for your trash, good maps - user friendly over all. Also similar: ridiculously priced food, and small local animals watching longingly while you eat - except here they are coatis instead of squirrels.

One can also experience Iguacu from the Argentina side. We looked into this option, as the extensive boardwalks looked fun from the Brazil side - but it turned out to be more complicated than just hopping over the border. Customs, bus changes, more fees. Paraguay is situated at the top of the falls, before the river becomes a waterfall. They must feel gypped out of getting a chunk of major tourist attraction. Brazil and Argentina otherwise claim one half or the other, the river defining the country borders.

This photo is comprised of 2 photos. Here especially, I was fervently wishing I had my wide angle lens with me. Can I just say, this photo perhaps conveys a smidgen of the falls experience. Best thing to do is to go there yourself, should you ever find yourself in South America. Far more breathtaking than most anything I've ever seen in my life. Niagara is puny in comparison. Poor Niagara - once you experience Iguacu, no other falls will do.