Our arrival in Brasilia on March coincided with noisy protests over the then President, Dilma Rouseff, and her possible impeachment. Fortunately we were spending the next two days out of town, by which time things had settled down a bit.
We attended a jazz concert near the centre of town on our first night. We passed many people and cars tooting and waving flags and banners, making it impossible to drive through the main centre of the city. The concert was excellent.
Restaurant in Brasilia, Xique Xique
Our local friends have introduced us to Brasilian regional cuisine from the North East of Brasil. We share a restaurant specialty of “complete Suns meat”, which features a multiplicity of different dishes with their corresponding diversity of flavors. Corned meat, beans, herbs, rice and a range of other local dishes made up the assortment. The combination is earthy and diverse and interesting in its presentation.
Thursday and Friday we leave Brasilia and head off to Pirenópolis, an historic and atmospheric town about 2 to 3 hours drive from Brasilia, which is set amongst beautiful hills and forests. The town is very popular as a tourist destination for both its waterfalls (around 20 are located within 15 km of the town), its proximity to nature walks and its festivals. We visited during the week and it was not too busy. It gets very busy when the main festival is on. We did a walk to the Lazaro and Santa Maria falls, and stopped for a refreshing swim. We had the ?? Falls all to ourselves, on a beautiful sunny day. There were lots of beautiful plants and wildflowers along the way and many stops were made to take photos.
The town was founded in 1727 and for a time was wealthy and thriving due to the gold found in the area. After 1800 it went into decline and did not revive until the construction of Brasilia, which used building materials from the area, and provided a growing source of tourists.
The town has been restored artistically with stone paved streets and colonial houses (casarões). There are historic churches, an old theatre, cinema, and a museum of the cavalhadas, the most famous of the festivals, which attracts thousands of visitors.
The Cavalhadas was introduced in 1826 by Portuguese settlers, as part of the Festival for the Holy Spirit. Horsemen representing Moors and Christians in medieval costumes re-enact a battle fought by Charlmagne. It features a parade beginning with a bugle fanfare announcing the knights’ pages, then the mounted knights displaying their colors, blue for the Christian knights and red for the Moors. The battle lasts for three days, with the highlight being the mock battle performed in the city’s bullring. The Moors invariably are defeated and convert to Christianity.
Our visit was not at the right time for the festival, but we were able to see costumes and photos and videos of previous years in the museums.
While in Pirenópolis we stayed at Pousados do so Vigario, a small atmospheric hotel in the centre of town and within walking distance of everything. Apparently this place once accommodated the local monks. At 6.00 am on our first morning it certainly seemed that those monks had been resurrected and were singing their hearts out in our lovely little room. Actually, it was some local Catholic festival. The local priest is screaming at 160 decibels. We are shocked, and it had been quite a good sleep too. The accommodation is quite rustic but comfortable and breakfast quite appropriate and filling. The courtyard and pool out back are pleasant and surrounded by trees and gardens. The building and grounds are quite fascinating, but really the local streets are quite noisy at all times of the day and night.
No festivals the second morning, but the local lads like to drive around with the music blaring, and it seems 6 am is a good time for this too.
This little sanctuary near Pirenópolis is quite famous locally. A certain elderly British Royal even visited here once. A walk through the sanctuary provides somewhat of a snapshot of what the local ecology might be like. It has forest paths, chattering monkeys, active birdlife, waterfalls and many colouful flowering plants. But visitors might be a little distracted since this little bit of nature is quite coevolved with humanity. The sanctuary is worth a visit, even if it is just for the local condiments made from the produce onsite, but mind the rough track into the place. It requires some careful driving.
From Pirenópolis we return for a couple of days in Brasilia. The protests have quietened down so we are able to visit the centre of the city. The planning and architecture is impressive and functional, with large open spaces (which, incidentally are excellent for demonstrations). The wide tree lined streets are very attractive, screening the apartment blocks, which are also integrated with open spaces and gardens.
We also visit the university and take in some beautiful views of the lake. We drive to view the Presidential Palace but due to the political unrest the road is closed off and we can only view it from afar.
Brasilia is a very livable city, although a car is necessary as it is so spaced out. However, there are very strict planning controls and thus restricted housing options within the city limits, so around the edges there are many satellite cities and settlements where the majority of people live. These range from well-planned and modern apartment complexes to untidy and haphazard ‘shanty towns’.
After a hard day’s sight seeing it is time to taste some local cuisine. Our local friends introduce us to Brasilian regional cuisine from the North East of Brasil at the Xique Xique restaurant. We share a restaurant specialty of “complete Suns meat”, which features a multiplicity of different dishes with their corresponding diversity of flavors. Corned meat, beans, herbs, rice and a range of other local dishes made up the assortment. The combination is earthy and diverse and interesting in its presentation. A satisfying meal.
On to Rio
From Brasilia we travel on to Rio for a couple of days rest and relaxation before our Antarctic trip later in the week. When in Rio one should be near the beach so we booked into the Arena Cococobana right in the centre of Copacabana Beach.
The Arena Cococobana hotel represents reasonably well. Location is perfect and general facilities are quite good. Beds are good so sleep comfort is fine. The views over Cococobana are magic. The rooftop bar is also a top spot and we spend quite a bit of time chilling out here. We can see Christ the Redeemer and Sugar loaf from here, and there is always something happening on the beach and out in the water, including an oil rig being towed past one evening.
On the down side for the hotel, we had no hot water for showers, and there were mosquitoes in the room, which one does not expect on a high floor of an air-conditioned luxury hotel, particularly in the midst of a zika outbreak. We had experienced plenty of rain forest and wilderness in Brazil and had no problems – we certainly didn’t expect to get mosquito bites inside!
The hotel restaurant was presented as a gourmet treat, but was very disappointing.
Hotel staff didn’t seem to think they had any responsibility in managing these issues, and attitude that does not bode well for the coming Olympics.
Oh and the Brasilian caipirinhas are excellent.