Jul 26, 2010

Under the spell of Ceará state, in Brazil's Nordeste

by Antonella Kann

Ceará is one of my favorite states. Not only because it´s so uncommonly beautiful in many distinguished features, like the endless stretches of sandy beaches and the wildness of nature which surrounds them.

It´s also oddly attractive because it´s as if time has stopped in several little seaside resorts, like Mundaú, as pictured here in some of the images. By the way, seasons are different in the northeast : now it´s “their summer”, so it´s as hot as it can be, dry and sunny.

Early morning you can go down to the seashore and watch as the fishermen come back from their catch. Dozens of people gather , some buying but many of them just waiting to be granted with the “leftovers”.

You will also spot people coming on donkeys, bikes and all kind of means of transportation. The sand gets very hard as the tide goes down. That´s why one of the best way to explore the region is with a funny sort of car called buggy, perfect for sandy beaches and very popular with tourists and locals.

The cearense ( those from Ceará) is a jolly good fellow, always very kind and willing to chat. And ready to show you around. But do not hurry in these places. No stress. Life goes on day after day, and while they are busy, folks will grin and eventually pose for your camera. If you start to chat, chances are you´ll never be waved away.

Also be prepared to eat as a local - fresh lobster, crabs and crayfish, delicious seafood straight from the nets, cooked, grilled or broiled. And, while you wait, facing the sea, sitting on a wooden stool, feet on the sand, ask for an “água de côco”, and sip the fresh coconut water inside its shell. Then, you´ll use “local tools” to eat - your fingers, at some point.

But I guarantee that you won´t regret a bite !

fishermen coming back after a busy day of work

Jul 23, 2010

Renting a house in Brazil: Casas Charmosas, a website you can trust

If there's one thing that the internet has almost too much of is info on hotels and houses for rent. Thousands, millions of sites! But... who to trust? I am particularly careful with sites that don't have a human touch behind them, someone to answer the phone and answer all my questions.

For that same reason, I am very careful when recommending one of these sites: there's just too many crooks out there and I don't want to be responsible for ruining someone elses' vacation!

But here's one site I can safely vouch for: Casas Charmosas. The reason is very simple: this is a business that was created by my oh-so-stylish cousin Ana Carolina Salem Vanossi.

She inspects each property before signing with the owners, and all of the homes have a high level of elegance and comfort.

I'm looking into my New Year's plans this week, and have been browsing through her offerings in Trancoso, which is Bahia's most magical beach village (lots been written on this blog about the place, in fact). This post is illustrated with photos of one of Ana Carolina's Trancoso houses, the Casa dos Segredos. Three suites. 250 meters from the beach. Huge DVD library for the rare rainy day. Not bad, huh?

On her site, house descriptions are in Portuguese, but she is fluent in English and French, and can gladly assist with any booking. Her phone number is (55-11) 2307-7898. She also does house swaps...

Jul 19, 2010

The courting ritual of the blue macaws in the Pantanal

by Antonella Kann

So sorry to bring back the animal theme so fast. But I didn´t resist to share with you a few images of animals which can be admired in the wild in their habitat, the Pantanal region, which remains today, with 89,000 square miles, as one of the most enormous and undamaged tropical ecosystems on earth.

As any animal lover, I was really impressed by the behavior of a couple of gorgeous blue araras , or, translated into scientific language, the hyacinthine macaw, which is an endangered bird like so many others.

So, in the sequence, as I watched this loving duo of araras courting each other,
it crossed my mind that we, mere human beings, have much to learn from nature – and natural male/female attitudes.

This bird, which congregates in Pantanal´s trees, is one of the world´s most threatened species and in the black market is worth at least U$ 10 thousand a head.

Mr. & Mrs Araras Azuis - blue macaw - in a sunny morning

Another beautiful winged animal is the tuiuiú, which is known as the jabiru stork, and is the biggest flying bird in Brazil, with a wingspan of more than seven feet. The deer, also very rare to be seen as relaxed as in this picture, is also endangered.

the "tuiuiú" eating a snake is somewhat impressive.

Now let´s check out on one of the favorite mammals, the monkey...

Much admired and also feared – just watch out for those teeth! – is the macaco-prego, which means nail monkey. They can come quite close and are always looking for food. But beware as they can be treacherous and fast enough to grab whatever is loose in seconds flat. So, think purse, camera, sunglasses, hat, necklaces, whatever they can lay their hands.

Fortunately, all these animals are protected by conservationists, ranchers and, of course, severe environmental laws.

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Jul 13, 2010

The pink cliffs of the Chapada dos Guimarães

by Antonella Kann

The Chapada dos Guimarães National Park ( “chapada” means, in a funny sort of translation, the flat landscape on top of a chain of mountains and canyons) , located in the state of Mato Grosso, the heart of Brazil, is over 300 millions years old.

That´s when it was still covered by water. Now it´s an astonishing place, where rock formations change colour depending on the sun and the light.

Dozens of waterfalls and lagoons are the attractions of the park, where you can hike and enjoy refreshing dips in cool waters, all year-round. The rich fauna and flora also contribute to the fabulous scenery.

Away only 69 kilometers from capital Cuiabá, the nearest airport, and located 900m above sea level, the Chapada can easily be reached through a good and well signposted road. The journey only takes around one hour.

More than 4 thousand medicinal plants have been recorded in the park, in which the only way to explore is by foot, along narrow trails and sinuous paths.

The Chapada is a sanctuary for the fans of eco-tourism, as it is the habitat of many species of stunning birds such as toucans, parrots and araras – the latter makes its nest all against the cliffs and can be seen flying all the time.

It makes sense to hire a guide before adventuring yourself into the Park, as steep cliffs can be dangerous and while you may feel the impulse to go near the precipice, there are some spots that must reeeeeeeeeally be avoided. There has been some fatal accidents, so I must warn the most intrepid to be extra cautious. Specially if you have children with you.

Don´t miss the Cidade da Pedra ( City of Rock) at sunset. The view is amazing and the salmon- pink colour reflected on the cliffs is an unforgettable sight. Also, the Véu da Noiva waterfall is one of the most impressive natural wonders to be admired.

You should plan an overnight stay, if possible, to have time to visit at leisure every site and enjoy swimming in many natural pools and lagoons. There´s a couple of charming pousadas around town, where you´ll also find artcrafts made by local Indian and some souvenir shops to relax after your hikes.

Check the official site www.ibama.gov.br/parna_guimaraes for more infos about accommodations and guides.

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Jul 8, 2010

Rio's Cristo Redentor reopens after extensive renovations

by Alexandra Forbes

The Cristo Redentor, Rio's most recognizeable landmark, was officially reopened in June after four months of renovations. Cracks in the gigantic Christ statue (38 meters tall) were mended, water infiltrations were fixed, and, to celebrate the end of the works in high style, the monument was lit up in green and yellow for the first week of July.

Visitors should not that landslides have foreced authorities to close down the road leading up to the sought-after attraction, and only taxis are allowed to go through.

Jul 5, 2010

Itanhangá: the oldest golf course in Rio is among the 10 best in Brazil.

by Antonella Kann

Are you into golf? Thought so. And guess what, even if you are just visiting Rio for a few days you can actually enjoy playing, as Itanhangá Golf Club, although being a private club only reserved for members, actually welcomes outside guests from selected hotels in town. You may check ahead for the reserved schedules, green fees and participating hotels on www.itanhanga.com.br
In July, Itanhangá Golf Club will be celebrating 75 years of existence, as it opened to the public in 1935 , two years after its construction began in Barra da Tijuca.

At that time, it was one of the most remote areas in town, with Ipanema as the last inhabited neighbourhood. There was no tunnel connecting any place to the Barra. And, remember, Rio was still the capital of Brazil.

Nowadays, Itanhangá´s magnificent 18 holes circuit is still preserved in an extraordinary lush green valley with plenty of trees. Players can spot araras, monkeys, toucans, flamingos and all sorts of birds along the almost 100 acres of terrain.

This golf course was considered by Exame magazine as one of the 10 best in Brazil and the high end publication Golf Digest rated it among the 100 best worldwide.

It´s 18th hole is considered to be one of the most difficult in the world, a challenge to the best players, even though the course is appropriated to anyone with a handicap 25 or less. Higher handicaps will find the course somehow harder, but worth the try.

Golf widows can enjoy the attractive clubhouse, with its restaurant, the pool and the quiet environment, only a mere half-hour from the busy Leblon and Ipanema hubs- traffic permitting, of course.

Estrada da Barra da Tijuca, 2005
Tel. 55 21 2494 2507

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Jul 1, 2010

Lençois of the Maranhão state: our wet desert

by Antonella Kann

As promised, I will introduce you to our desert: the Lençóis Maranhenses. They are located in the state of Maranhão and are best seen during our winter time, when the rainy season is over and the lagoons are full.

This endless chain of dunes is a stunning scenery which changes constantly with the wind. Don´t forget to watch the sunset from the top of the highest ones.

Hundreds of lagoons are flanked by these magnificent dunes, and that´s what makes our desert different and unique: it´s the only wet desert on the planet.

Some dunes measure up to 40 meters. The sand is as creamy as a béchamel cream and soft under your feet. You can roll down, or run down…anything will be thrilling. Moreover if there´s a lagoon at the bottom, with cool and translucid waters, in which you can dip and swim as you please.

Tourists are welcome, but as the Lençóis (pronounce lain-soy´s) are a National Park, guides are mandatory. You must hire one in the nearest town, Barreirinhas, which is also the main “gate” to the dunes.

It´s not an easy way to reach the entrance of the park, and includes a river crossing followed by a dust road only accessible by 4x4 vehicles.You´re unlikely to be bored, as there´s a lot to see in the region of Lençóis: little towns, rivers, wildlife and more. You can walk, hike, drive, ride boats and quads, photograph…And although it´s not a foodie destination, you´ll enjoy the prawns and fresh grilled fish. Don´t try to track down a fancy restaurant because you´ll get frustrated. Stay local and be happy.

Even if you´re afraid of small planes, don´t hesitate to do the flight above the Lençóis, as the shapes of this labyrinth of sand are impossibly beautiful.