The Sublime Coastline of Brazil


Between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro lie some of the most fabulous coastline views on Earth – (including that “Twilight” honeymoon spot)

Brazil (Alternate Take) – Antônio Carlos Jobim


Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart on location in Casa em Paraty

It’s always fun when a movie shows you some impressive, exotic location and you realize “Wait, I recognize that place, we’ve been there!” ( Of course it’s even better when you can go “Wait, I know that place, I live there!”)  Such was the case when Ed and I popped the wedding video of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn Part 1, into the DVD player.  The secret island honeymoon getaway for glamorous eternally teenage vampire Edward and his winsome bride Bella had a natural coastline character that we recognized as undeniably Brazilian.  A little internet digging revealed that the vacation resort Hollywood rented to stand in for the island hideaway responsible for bed-busting and feather-flying vampire-on-human deflowering was an exclusive holiday rental called Casa em Paraty.

map-coast-bestCasa em Paraty is actually not on an island, as suggested by the movie, but along the shore of a lagoon that points deeply inland like a large maritime index finger, south of the town of Paraty along the coastline between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.   Ed and I explored this same coastline for several days during the first days of our first tour of Brazil together in 2012.  It is a fantastically evocative landscape, with verdant mountains undulating to one side, and green islands protruding out of the waters like forested bubbles.


We drove from São Paulo over a mountain road towards the coast.  Our first view of the coastline was of the city of Caraguatuba below and the island of Ihlabela across the straight.


Ilhabela is very popular with Paulistas (São Paulo city dwellers) during the summer holidays.  But we arrived in August, which is winter in Brazil, so we practically had the island to ourselves.


Ilhabela was formed by volcanoes.  The long cooled top of the main volcano dominates the center of the island.




Many exotic plants would capture our camera’s eye.  I’ll share just one plant picture, this particularly beautiful banana tree.  The banana berries (yes, bananas are members of the berry family of fruits) are bunched like a crown atop, while the massive flower hangs pendulous and heavy below.

Ed and I would also take countless pictures of the countless bird species we’d encounter (OK, enough, or count me out!).  I’ve already shared pictures of the eagles, parrots, toucans and the incredible Tuiuius we saw later in the Pantanal.


However the birds that dominate Brazil’s landscape more ubiquitously than any other are the vultures.  We would see them all over Brazil.  And this picture capturing a vulture in its full Far-Side like essence was one of the first we took on the island of Ihlabela.  A few more unexpected vulture sightings would will be included later in this piece.  But let me just reiterate, just because I didn’t include vulture pics in the other Brazil posts on this blog doesn’t mean we didn’t see them all over, flying around the Sugarloaf, in the Amazon, the Lençoís, everywhere.


Ilhabela is famous for its many waterfalls.  That is Ed hiding behind the curtain spray of one of them.   Further downstream of that fall the waters created a natural water slide, scooping out a track through the stones.  That’s Ed at right zooming down …


… and being deposited into the pond below.  It was a fast and bumpy ride.  It’s not like nature scooped out a perfectly smooth and safe path in the hard rock following the safety regulations of US water parks.  Both Ed and I wound up with a few scrapes and bruises.  But no regrets, it was wild and fun.


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BRAZIL – Pernambuco Memories



Brazil – Cornelius


Why have Ed and I traveled twice to Brazil, exploring different parts of the country for the whole month of August in 2012 and 2016?  We do love to travel and explore the world when we can, but even so, the Brazil vacations are a particularly grand commitment of time and resources for us.  The answer lies in Ed’s history with Brazil.  In the early 1980’s he spent three years in Brazil, working in a program similar to the Peace Corps.
I asked Ed to write the main part of today’s blog post, his memories of the time he spent in the countryside near the small town of Orobó in the State of Pernambuco.  About three hours East of Pernambuco’s capitol Recife (and about an hour West of Caruaru, see map).  In 2012 we returned to the area and searched for Ed’s old home driving our progressively more mud-speckled rental car on dirt roads through puddles and over precariously steep slopes in the picturesquely hilly countryside.  The pictures I took then will annotate Ed’s tale.



Pernambuco is the the Northeastern bulge of Brazil

As will three versions of the popular Brazilian tune “Último Pau de Arara” (written by Jose Palmeira Guimaraes, Manuel Jose Do Espirito Santo and Marcos Cavalcanti De Albuquerque in the 1950’s).  Pau de Arara literally means “the parrot’s perch” and refers to the unfixed benches on the open backs of trucks rural Pernambucanos would travel on to get to faraway cities.  Eventually the trucks themselves acquired the name Pau de Arara.  The song title refers to final truck taking the last people ever to leave the country, there will be no truck after; the singer will take it only if the rains fail, the crops and cow die and there is no choice but to leave the farm:
I hope that rain comes right away
I hope so, my God,
I only will leave my Cariri (city)
when the last pau-de-arara arrives


Brazil culture abounds with references of migration out of Pernambuco (for example the song Sampa about São Paulo).  “Último Pau de Arara” is one of the most famous.  I will include three versions of the song, the first a lively traditional rendition, the second a stark torch singer version, and the third a guitar-centric instrumental.



Último Pau de Arara – Ary Lobo





And now, without further ado, Edward Elder’s article:

Pernambuco Memories

I lived in Brazil as a volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee from January 1983 to December of 1985.  We began in Brazil with 3 months of language training in Recife.  While not as obviously lovely as neighboring Olinda, Recife is considered the Venice of Brazil for the many rivers and canals that cut through it.  It has some truly wonderful beaches, even if there is some risk of being bitten by a shark.  I never actually heard of anyone being attacked while I was there, but there are plenty of signs up now.

After getting some facility with the language, I moved with another volunteer to the town of Orobó, which is about 100 km from Recife.  At the time this would take about 3 hours, either by bus or cômbe (small van), because the roads were so filled with potholes.  On Danny and my first trip to Brazil in 2012, we made that trip and the roads at least had not changed much.  At least the road to Orobó had not changed.  The road to Caruaru on the other hand was fantastic, beautiful and smooth.


Ed tried to find the road he used to take out of Orobó to get to his farm house, a 45 minute walk from town.  But Orobó had changed too much since 1985.


This man remembered all the volunteers who came with the Mennonite Central Committee.  He recalled that Ed had trained his wife in public health.

The Mennonite’s had asked for a volunteer to help train people from the countryside in basic medical services to help expand the reach of Brazil’s marvelous (on paper) health care system.  Each town should have a Basic Health Unit, with larger city’s having Intermediate Health Facilities and the major city’s having state of the art Tertiary Health Units.  When I got there, I found that there had been a bit of a miscommunication and no one in Orobó had known this is what I was going to do.  So, my partner and I moved to a small house in the countryside and began doing our volunteer work as best we could.  He was there to help with rural agricultural development, having grown up on a farm in Ohio.  Of course farming in the agreste (fertile land) of Brazil is very different from farming on Ohio.  And I was to train women in health care, having a year of training in health education from The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.  And the book “Where There is No Doctor”.


Orobó’s cemetery.  Thirty years ago Ed helped bury two of his neighbors, carrying the coffins all the way from the country to town (remember, that was at least a 45 minute walk).


We believe this is the grave of one of the neighbors Ed helped bury.  She was a woman who died at 80 of severe burns after falling onto the hearth fire.  She refused to be taken to the hospital, and perhaps it would not have helped.  Ed did what he could for her until she passed.


Looking back on Orobó as we make our way to find Ed’s old country home.

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Brazil – Desi Arnaz

The classic tune “Brazil”, performed in a classic style by Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra (yes, the Desi from “I Love Lucy”, he led a Band Orchestra in real life too, not just on TV).  Now imagine what might happen to this classic arrangement if it got appropriated for the Oktoberfest crowd.  Why, then it may sound something like this:

Brazil – Ray Coniff and his Orchestra

That’s what I would call the processed cheese version of “Brazil”.  And yet, as processed cheese orchestrations go, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.  It’s the kind of musical cheese that can still put a smile on my face, rather than make me gag or hurl.   As for it being played at Oktoberfest, well, it’s probably way too classy for Oktoberfest.  But we’ll get to that a little later, after we’ve been properly introduced to Oktoberfest in Brazil.


Billboard along the highway to Blumenau

Oktoberfest is the beer swilling, polka grooving party for the masses that grips Germany, especially Southern Germany, in October.  The biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world is, not surprisingly, in Munich, Germany.  The second biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world is in Blumenau, Brazil.

What?  Blumenau, Brazil?

map-of-south-brazilYep, Blumenau, founded by Dr. Herrman Bruno Otto Blumenau and 17 other German immigrants 1850 in Southern Brazil and now home to about 300 000 souls, a fifth of which have German ancestry, claims the distinction of playing host to the biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world after Munich, attracting up to a million tourists to its Bavarian bacchanal.  Every other German city can just eat its Brazilian dust.

The city of Blumenau has even built a theme park specifically for Oktoberfest.  Called “Vila Germânica”, it recreates a Disneyland Main Street version of an old fashioned German town, linked with a covered bridge boasting faux German half-timber (Fachwerk) architecture and roof tiling to a stadium big enough to add hundreds of thousands of revelers to the hundreds of thousands mingling in the fake German Village streets.


Oktoberfest revelers in Vila Germânica

For me, who grew up in Germany, and who, truth be told, never really warmed up to the Oktoberfest culture, with its beers in steins, its vaguely (or not so vaguely) sexist buxom-girls-in-dirndl and drunk-goofs-in-lederhosen humor, and especially its obnoxiously peppy and unrelentingly polka-dotty “Schunkel” music (Schunkeln is swaying back and forth side by side rhythmically, often with arms linked, always with much exaggerated frivolity), walking through Blumenau’s Vila Germânica and seeing this theme park version of Germany in tropical Brazil was disorienting, like having a dream that feels too real and yet also feels unsettlingly “off”.


The Brazilian/Germanic hybridization of the Blumenau Oktoberfest souvenirs knocked me slightly off balance.  But my mind was perfectly blown, and not really in a good way, when I heard Brazilian versions of German Schunkel-music piped in several souvenir shops.  It’s weird enough to hear this kind of peppy Bavarian bilge sung in Portuguese, even weirder to hear phrases like “Eins Zwei Drei” (One, Two Three), “Alle mit dabei” (all together now, basically) “Prosit” (Bavarian for Drink up/Cheers) and, most alarmingly “Schunkel, Schunkel Schunkel” commanded with thick Brazilian accents.

So this is what really became of the Boys of Brazil:

Ein Prosit Blumenau – Cavalinho Branco – Oktoberfest

Ed and I visited Blumenau in August, not during Oktoberfest, so we were able to take in the town and Vila Germânica theme park during the calm before the Sturm und Drang of October.  So let’s take a closer less populated look, first at Vila Germânica:

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BRAZIL – Amazon Animal Adventures


Very Close Encounters with Caiman, Tarantula,

Pink Dolphins & more in the Amazon!

Brazil – Rosemary Clooney and John Pizzarelli

Brazil – Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby

(Yes, it’s a “Brazil” song double feature today, because it’s Rosemary Clooney, and because these two takes of hers on the song sound so very different, stylistically and vocally, being from opposite ends of Clooney’s career trajectory)

I’ve already posted here and here on the fantastic waterworld of the Amazon.  Today let’s get up close and personal with some of its wildlife.  In 2012, when Ed and I spent a weekend on the Urubu river, our guide Frank took us on several excursions, including a nighttime boat ride into the floating forests, where he very dexterously spotted and snatched a 3-6 month old caiman youth out of the waters.




Frank allowed Ed and me to hold the little fella too.  The caiman stayed very still while in our firm but gentle grip.  Frank said at this size the “teenager” caiman was still prey to several predators.  Only as an adult does the caiman reach the top of the Amazon food chain.

Finally I let our kidnapped hostage go free by lowering him back into the river.  Only once he was in the water and sensing my grip loosen did the caiman move his arms and legs and wiggle his body back into motion and freedom.


Frank would later again showcase his excellent hunting skills by spearing a rainbow fish by flashlight.


The next day we took a rainforest walk.  This included a very close encounter with a tarantula:


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São Paulo, with the Banespa building in the middle

BRAZIL – Lee Press-On and the Nails

(I enjoy this take on the song Brazil, but what I really love is the name of the artists:  Lee Press-On and the Nails… hilarious!)



The Banespa building.

Today let’s take a panoramic visual and musical view of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city (and the Earth’s 11th or 12th most populous, depending on how you’re counting).   We’ll anchor our visual tour with panoramic shots from atop the Banespa building, a bank building inspired by New York City’s Empire State Building, which has a 360 degree viewing tower on top, and we’ll include visual asides from street level pics.

Our musical tour of São Paulo comes courtesy of Caetano Velose’s famous song “Sampa”, a personal, lyrical ode to São Paulo (“Sampa” is a nickname for the city).  I’ll include Velose’s lyrics in the original Portuguese and an English translation, lightly annotated.


Looking almost due north around noon from the Banespa viewing platform

A fun bonus will be where song and photos intersect, literally and figuratively:  “Sampa” famously includes a reference to a specific street corner: Ipiranga and São João Avenue.  When Ed and I walked all over São Paulo in 2012 (or as much as anyone can walk “all over” such a massive city in two days) we made sure to find and take pictures of the intersection of Ipiranga and São João Avenue, much as visitors to San Francisco might seek out the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

Sampa – Caetano Velose


(Somewhere in this western view stands the Edificio Italia,

at 46 stories one of the tallest in São Paulo:)



Alguma coisa acontece no meu coração
Que só quando cruza a Ipiranga e Av. São João
É que quando eu cheguei por aqui eu nada entendi
Da dura poesia concreta de tuas esquinas
Da deselegância discreta de tuas meninas
Ainda não havia para mim Rita Lee
A tua mais completa tradução
Alguma coisa acontece no meu coração
Que só quando cruza a Ipiranga e avenida São João

sp-1bQuando eu te encarei frente a frente e não vi o meu rosto
Chamei de mau gosto o que vi, de mau gosto, mau gosto
É que Narciso acha feio o que não é espelho
E à mente apavora o que ainda não é mesmo velho
Nada do que não era antes quando não somos mutantes
E foste um difícil começo
Afasto o que não conheço
E quem vem de outro sonho feliz de cidade
Aprende depressa a chamar-te de realidade
Porque és o avesso do avesso do avesso do avesso

Do povo oprimido nas filas, nas vilas, favelas
Da força da grana que ergue e destrói coisas belas
Da feia fumaça que sobe, apagando as estrelas
Eu vejo surgir teus poetas de campos, espaços
Tuas oficinas de florestas, teus deuses da chuva
Pan-Américas de Áfricas utópicas, túmulo do samba
Mas possível novo quilombo de Zumbi
E os Novos Baianos passeiam na tua garoa
E novos baianos te podem curtir numa boa



Above the Catedral da Se, as seen from above, and below, the Catedral da Se as seen from, well, below:




Now that we’ve heard the song, let’s dive into the English translation of “Sampa”:

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BRAZIL – The Beauty of Olinda – The Light of Tieta


Brazil – Spirit of Brazil

167969-004-b94cd598Olinda is a beautiful historic town, one of the oldest in Brazil, founded 1535 in the state of Pernambuco.  The large metropolitan capitol city of Recife looms just south, contrasting modern high rises at the horizon with the quaint colorful buildings and handsome churches of historic Olinda.

Today let’s stroll up and down the sometimes steeply inclined cobblestone streets of Olinda, taking in the beauty of the town as well as some of its history; for example how slavery has left its mark quite literally on the cobblestones…





Olinda’s great historical trauma was the looting and burning it suffered under the Dutch in the 17th century.  Guides will repeatedly make reference to that short-lived time of occupation.  For example, the religious statue to the right was hollowed out so that the Portuguese could smuggle gold unnoticed past the Dutch invaders.

When later in our tour I would get glimpses of what 400 years of slavery had wrought, it put the Portuguese trauma of Olinda’s handful of years under Dutch occupation in some perspective.

On the highest point of Olinda stands the Church of Grace, and at the left corner of the photo sits “the Problem of Olinda”, an unsightly modernistic viewing platform.  I’m sure it provides pretty views of Olinda for tourists (we didn’t bother), but it does mar the view from every other vantage perspective that includes its presence:


Another view of the Church of Grace:



Church of Carmo, with the multicolored Atlantic ocean behind it (beautiful waters, but dangerous: this area suffers from one of the highest incidents of shark attacks in the world):


Church of St. Benedict:


A train for tourists:


As we stroll past the quaint colorful houses of Olinda, let’s listen to my favorite Brazilian song:

A Luz de Tieta – Caetano Veloso

This song was written for the movie 1996 “Tieta do Agreste”, starring Sonia Braga, based on Jorge Amado’s popular novel “Tieta”.  Ed and I got a sense of how popular this song is in Brazil when we heard it performed during an open air concert in Salvador; everybody in the large crowd joyously sang along to the catchy chorus:


Eta, eta, eta

É a lua, é o sol é a luz de Tieta

Eta, eta!…”


And if you would like to sing the chorus in English, it translates (and fits the melody) thusly:


Eta, eta, eta

It’s the moon, it’s the sun, it’s the light of Tieta

Eta, eta!…”


(Although I prefer to sing the less directly translated but more pleasing:

“See the moon, see the sun, see the sun of Tieta, eta, eta”)




This hill up to Igresia da Misericordia (Church of Mercy) is ascended by the faithful on their bare knees every May 1st.

Have mercy indeed.


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BRAZIL – Salvador High and Low


Brazil – The Coasters


Brazil’s city of contrasts – topographically, historically, religiously…

bahiaSalvador, in the state of Bahia, is a Brazilian city full of highs and lows.  Quite literally, at first blush, due to its topography.  The historic center sits on a high plateau separated by a steep cliff from a lower section of town at the shore.  Which makes parts of Salvador look like a city on top of a city, like something dreamed up by Escher or Christopher Nolan (see top photo).



The high and low of Salvador is also applicable to the extreme contrasts from street to street, section to section.  You have streets of beautifully, colorfully restored old houses right next to dangerously run down roads your New York honed street smarts warn you against walking down (at least in 2012, when these pictures were taken); a business district of sleek office buildings next to old buildings in various states of disrepair; wealthy modern high rise apartment buildings conspicuously fortressed behind gates and private security details.

The high and low of Salvador is also present in its many famous and fascinating churches and their intractable relationship with Brazil’s history of slavery.

We’ll catch glimpses and word of all that, as well as Salvador’s lively beaches and famous municipal elevator.

But first we’ll stroll past some of the more picturesque corners of the Old City:







Mas Que Nada – Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

s-7For our Brazilian musical selection, it is long past due that I share one of the most famous upbeat selections Brazil has gifted the world.  You may not know the title “Mas Que Nada”, but you have surely heard this track’s lively chorus.  Possibly no piece of music has been used more often as a shorthand to illustrate Brazilian high spirits.

And to honor our “high and low” theme, this high spirited take on “Mas Que Nada” will be followed later by a “low”, more earthy version later in this post.

By the way, “Mas Que Nada” is Brazilian Portuguese slang, literally translated as “but, that [is] nothing”), yet it has flexible meanings (“come on”, “no way”, “whatever”, or “yeah, right!”) depending on the context in which it is used in informal conversation.


The Elevator (Elevador Lacenda) connecting “high” and “low” Salvador.


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Brazil – Les Paul and Mary Ford

In my previous Brazil post I introduced you to the Lençóis region – the “Bedsheets” of Brazil, including two unique approaches / views of this one-of-a-kind landscape.

Today we will explore the Lençóis from three more angles, again revealing extraordinary and unique views.  We’ll start from above:

Lençóis Approach #3 – Airplane Flyover

bl-001This is the little 4 seater airplane we hired (with some birthday present “mad money”) to take us on a thirty minute flyover across the whole Lençóis region.  The pilot and his trainee sat upfront and Ed and I sat behind.

I couldn’t help but have nervous thoughts of JFK Jr. and James Horner.  Especially when our pilot waited many minutes with the engine running before lifting off (we wouldn’t find out why until later…)


We started with views of Rio Preguiças, which snakes past the town of Barreirinhas and separates the Grandes (Big) Lençóis in the West from the Pequenos (Smaller) Lençóis in the East (look at the map here).



Above a view of the Smaller Lençóis to the East.

Below, the lighthouse near the delta of the Rio Preguiças.  (We will climb it later.)



The Lençóis beaches are fabulous.  I could have posted plenty more gorgeous high and ground level views of sun-dappled oceans and wide smooth beaches, but the real sensation of this area (and point of this post) is of course the unparalleled white dune landscape.



Eventually the Grandes Lençóis stretched out before us.




Last post I went highbrow with musical selections from Brazilian artists that directly reference the Lençóis.  But I also went cheeky with “Whiter Shade of Pale”.  This time I’m going to double down on the on-the-nose “white noise”.  And because I am an LOTR fan, I’ll start with:

Gandalf the White – Howard Shore

But I think you’ll find most of the track works nicely for this landscape too.


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September 11, 2016

For this day:


from the oratorio The Song of Job 9:11


For the full concert, go to the  Song of Job page.



THE SONG OF JOB 9:11 – 14 year anniversary of 9/11/2001

The Song of Job 9:11 – Chapter Ten: HOPE – concert video, Sep 9, 2011 The Song of Job 9:11 – Chapter Ten: HOPE – concert audio, Sep 11, 2011 Above are recordings of the finale of the tenth anniversary … Continue reading


HOPE for a New Year

I believe in the good of mankind I believe in the end truth prevails It resides in our hearts and our minds Should we seek it we’d find love unveiled HOPE Happy New Year.  Let’s hope for a 2016 that … Continue reading


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LENÇÓIS – The Bedsheets of Brazil


Brazil – Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra

HouseofSandAround ten years ago Ed and I saw an extraordinary Brazilian movie called “The House of Sand”.  It is set in a landscape of endless, blindingly white sand dunes.  So unusual and otherworldly the film seemed to be taking place on another planet.

Turns out The House of Sand is set and was filmed in the Lençóis Maranhenses, the “Bedsheets” of the State of Maranhão.  The Lençóis is a nearly 600 square mile region of white dunes and blue lagoons.  It looks like a white desert, but it wouldn’t be right to call it that.  More accurate would be calling it the biggest whitest beach on the planet (Further down this post I share the what and why of this unique environment).

l-00bEver since seeing “The House of Sand” I have wanted to explore this fantastical landscape in person.  And this August we did it.  It required flying into São Luís, the capitol of Maranhão, then taking a 4.5 hour bus to Barreirinhas, the largest town near the Lençóis Maranhenses, from where most tour excursions originate.  But even once in Barreirinhas, most routes  into the “Bedsheets” require a long, bumpy trek over sandy roads.  On the map below, only the black dotted line represents an asphalted road.  The red dotted lines are deeply sandy paths over which four wheel drives slosh and jump and jostle their way for at least an hour before you reach the white dunes.  It’s like riding a bucking kangaroo.




Among many musical bonbons I will share two Brazilian musical tracks with Lençóis in their title.  The first one, a jazz instrumental, definitely refers to the region, since it is called Lençóis de Areia (Bedsheets of Sand).  The second one, simply called Lençóis, which I will share at the end, may just be about actual bedsheets, as it clearly describes lovers in bed, but the music and the landscape still go well together.

Lençóis de Areia – Leonardo E. M. Cioglia


We will be exploring the Lençóis from 5 different approaches, each revealing another distinct side of this incredible world.

Lençóis Approach #1 – from the northern beaches by Atins


After over an hour driving north from Barreirinhas towards Atins, we got our first glimpses of the famous white dunes.  But these are still outliers and the full splendor of the Lencois was still to come.



We then drove west along the shore.  Near the ocean there are wide expanses of impossibly white sand.





Eventually we left the northern shore area and drove south into the dunes.


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BRAZIL – Upstream into the Pantanal Waterworld


Watery Vistas with Sky Filling Flocks of Herons; Jacaré Alligators, Howler Monkeys, Toucans (well, One Toucan), and the wonderfully weird and brilliantly named Tuiuiu!

Brazil – Django Reinhardt

Our second Pantanal excursion.  You can explore the Pantanal by car in the dry season, but to really grasp the water-logged region, it’s best to take a boat into the waters.  We took a day trip up the Paraguay river from Corumba.


Before we left, two green Parakeets sat on a wire just at the dock.  After all the trouble they gave me when I tried to photograph the flighty buggers during our road excursion, this was mighty obliging of them, even if they did keep their back to me.



Br-pa03Above and beside, these great lily pads are called Victoria Regina.  Something tells me it wasn’t a Portuguese gentlemen who coined the name.




Our guide pointed out two shapes in the tree that untangled and revealed themselves to be howler monkeys that eventually slunk away to another tree beyond our view.








And next, the beautifully strange and man-sized Tuiuiu birds.

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BRAZIL – The Black & Brown Waters of the Amazon UPDATED, NEW & IMPROVED


Well, no, the waters themselves are pretty much as they were, but my blog post about them has been updated, with all new and improved pictures and information about the truly spectacular Meeting of the Waters in the Amazon river by Manaus.

Why, and how? Well take another look at the original post, now enhanced and upgraded:


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BRAZIL – Wildlife Encounters Driving into the Pantanal


Vast watery landscapes, birds birds birds, and really close encounters with the largest and cuddliest monster rodents you can imagine as well as the jacaré, Brazil’s alligators!

Brazil (Sam Lowry’s First Dream) – Michael Kamen / Kate Bush

PantanalmapTwo weeks ago Ed and I flew into Corumba, near Bolivia in Brazil’s southwestern state of Mato Grosso du Sul, the main southern access point to the vast Pantanal region.  The Pantanal might be best described, to Americans at least, as Brazil’s version of the Everglades.  An immense system of rivers and wetlands, with water levels that rise and inundate the land in the rainy season and fall again in the dry season, releasing some ground from a watery blanket.  The Pantanal waters are separate from those that form the Amazonian system.

August is in the dry season, so it was possible for Ed and I to drive the Estrada Parque hundreds of kilometers west and south of Corumba in a regular car (that would get really dusty in the process).  During the rainy season only 4 wheel drives would make in through the then muddy and water logged trail.

North of Corumba the Pantanal, even in the dry season is completely inundated with water (the photo above is looking north, the photo is from the start of the Estrada Parque road).  We explored that section by boat, a completely different experience, which I will share in the next blog post.


The dirt road gives way to many bridges, which allow the waters to flow freely in and out.





Even in the dry season, most of the view on either side of the Estrada Parque road is water covered terrain.








To the left, the golden trumpet, Brazil’s National Tree.







Br-p5bHarpy eagle.

The eagles look so distinguished and calm on their high perches overlooking the landscape.

Regal eagles indeed.












We saw so many parrots whizzing by, sometimes in groups of 4 or 6, but capturing them on camera proved nigh impossible.  Even when they stopped in trees, they had a way of blending in and moving out of sight behind branches.  Still, I have a few shots to prove the encounters happened.  I was less fortunate with the toucans, who would fly past us suddenly and beautifully and too quick for the camera.  On this day I would shoot no images of toucans.  On another day, however, well… stay tuned…



Although August is a winter month in Brazil, it still reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Corumba.  So I’ll take this opportunity to include the famous Summer Samba as a musical interlude:

So Nice (Summer Samba) – Bebel Gilberto

Take a close look below, do you see it…?


The jacaré caiman, proud member of the alligator family!


So many more jacaré, up close and jaws agape, plus much more “below the break”, as they say…

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BRAZIL – The Caves of PETAR


Brazil – Geoff Muldaur

The pictures of Brazil I have posted so far have been from our trip four years ago.  Today for the first time I post pictures from our current trip.  Our first stop in Brazil after touching down in Campinas (Sao Paulo) was State Park of PETAR (Parque Estadual Turístico do Alto Ribeira), in the south of Sao Paulo State.  It boasts one of the largest areas of original Mata Atlantica rainforest (the pre-Columbian Atlantic coast rainforest that had been largely decimated by development).  PETAR State Park is most famous for its many caves.  Below is a picture of Casa de Pedra, a Petar cave with a nearly record big opening of about 18o meters.


You however need about a day’s hike into the forest to reach Casa de Pedra.  More humble tourists that we are, we hired a guide to take us into those three caves most accessible to day trippers.  They are pretty impressive in their own right.  The first one, Santana, goes on for over 12 km.  800 meters worth is deemed safe for tourists and their guides.  And that alone is a lot of cave to explore, with too many fabulous formations of stalactites and stalagmites to contain in even this blog post, and I’ll share plenty.

Br-c1To the right, that’s Ed and me and our head protection (it’s easy to bump your head making your way through and past the tight corners, low ceilings and odd protrusions of a cave system).  Below is the entrance to the Santana cave.  It looks rather modest for what would wind up being an elaborate, impressive 12 km cave system.  Turns out this entrance was blasted open by dynamite a hundred years ago.  Originally the opening was much smaller, just enough for the water to pour out and make a strange grumbling sound, which is why it initially was called the Snoring Cave.



The opening of the Santana cave, as seen from within:


Taking pictures inside the caves with just my regular old canon automatic, there is the decision of whether to use flash photography or try capturing the image in the low light available from the helmet headlights.  Below you can see the difference of the same section of the cave being photographed in the “natural” light of the head lamps and with the camera’s flash.  Although the flash photography for the most part gives much more detail, it can have a flattening effect, and it doesn’t represent the actual experience of being in the darkness of the caves, guided only by the lights from our helmet lamps.




I will include pictures taken both ways.  So you can share the experience of being in the dark cave system, spookily illuminated by limited light, as well as revel in the details of some of the fantastic calcium carbonate deposit formations we encountered.

All this talk of camera usage brings me to our Brazilian musical number of today: Desafinado.  Why?  Because of this lyric of course:

Fotografei você na minha Rolleiflex

(I took a picture of you with my Rolleiflex)

Desafinado – Antonio Carlos Jobim

Desafinado is actually less about cameras and more about music.  Desafinado means “out of tune” and the lyrics describe a lover’s disdain for the narrator’s singing.   The lyrics’ dissection of the relationship is actually a sly defense of bossa nova itself, the musical style which was just being introduced at the time of the song’s writing.  Desafinado may now easily be not only the most famous bossa nova tune but also the song that more than any other defines the bossa nova style.

Okay, back into the caves:




Br-c6Above and beside you can see some of the walkways we took to get through the cave system.  Ed says “I love about Brazil that you can do things here that would be considered totally unsafe for tourists in America”.



Br-c8spiderThere are animals that live exclusively in the caves, like this spider.


Below note the glittering of the minerals on the cave wall, like a star filled night.



Time for some stalactites, in columns and curtains:



Br-c12aEd is looking at a rock formation which is called the horse’s head for obvious reasons.



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BRAZIL – Rio Religioso


Brazil – Ritchie Family

Welcome back to Rio de Janeiro, currently in the midst of hosting the Olympic Games.  Ed and I are currently in other parts of Brazil, but four years ago we were all over Rio.  I already shared our impressions of Ipanema, Copacabana and the Sugarloaf, now let’s explore some other awe-inspiring places in the city.

And when you think Rio and inspirational, it’s hard not to think of the Cristo Redentor statue on top of Mount Corcovado.  The statue of Christ the Redeemer looking over the city is such an indelible image.  There may be many cities with a greater claim on religious importance, but no other city has an image of such unmistakable religious significance laying claim to being its most recognizable emblem.



Therefore this post’s Brazilian musical example must be Antonio Carlos Jobim’s song Corcovado, in which the narrator finds hope and redemption in a new love sharing his bed, while he awakes in the morning and looks out the window at the statue on top of the mountain that gives this love song its title:

Corcovado – Antonio Carlos Jobim

Br-r1aToday’s  tour through Rio will conclude on Corcovado.  And I promise you I will be sharing pictures of Cristo Redentor that are unlike the typical postcard pictures or Google Images you will find of the iconic location.  Our visit there turned out to be less than typical, and that will be reflected in my photos.

Until then we have plenty of Rio to explore, and to stick to the theme of Rio Religioso we will be viewing Cathedrals of Awe, mostly religious structures in the strict definition of the term, but also cathedrals of culture, that inspire their own spiritual awe.





Let’s start with Rio de Janeiro’s Metropolitan Cathedral AKA Catedral de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.


I was particularly taken with the way the modernist cathedral reflected off the multifaceted glass of the nearby tall office towers.




Then we went inside the Metropolitan Cathedral.



Massive statues, above see Saint Francis, guard the entrances into the Cathedral.




And below another view of Cristo Redentor on Corcovado.  It’s a view that dominates most of the Rio de Janeiro skyline.  So in anticipation of the “climax” of this blog post I will include a series of favorite “Jesus” songs.  Since I am what I would call “spiritually unaffiliated” no church hymns will be included.  But spiritual uplift and/or contemplation are inextricably linked to each musical choice.

Let’s start with a really famous one:

Superstar – from “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice)





From the Catedral Metropolitana we walked uphill towards the Santa Teresa neighborhood.  The roads are very steep, more so even than these pictures indicate.


And we didn’t yet know that a hidden religious secret would reveal itself to us.  We might have noticed it as early as standing outside the Metropolitan Cathedral, but we wouldn’t see it for ourselves until much later.  The photos we took along the way however would drop big hints…


The Sugarloaf in the background.  We’d ascended it previously.


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BRAZIL- RIO DE JANEIRO – Ipanema, Copacabana and the Sugarloaf


Brazil – Frank Sinatra

Ed and I are in Brazil this August, but we are not going to Rio de Janeiro.  Not this year.  Not going to compete with the Olympics.  But four years ago, we spent 6 fabulous days in Rio.  Today I share impressions of the famous beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana, and a trip up the famous Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar).  The picture above is the view from the Sugarloaf, a Gondula coming up from the city below.  Copacabana beach can be seen center left, with Ipanema beach just on the other side of the peninsula and hill behind Copacabana.

Let’s start with Ipanema:


The Girl from Ipanema – Antonio Carlos Jobim




Version 2

Ed and I took turns frolicking in the waves.  It was enormously fun.


Ed, I’m actually off to the right, in the water, not over there… uh… Ed?





Vendors on the beach peddle souvenirs, foods, jewelry (below) and even bikinis (above).




And on the other side of a thin peninsula, Copacabana beach:


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