Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

Brazil with Michael Palin…Serenity south of Sao Paulo

18 Nov

Four weeks ago we started our journey across Brazil with Michael Palin in the steamy and tropical northeast of Brazil and over the next two weeks we journeyed across this vast country, a country spanning half a continent and 40 times the size of the United Kingdom.

This is the last week and once again we are off the well beaten tourist tracks of Brazil to the parts where we may not have been before. We met the remnants of the Brazilian royal family in a country that is solidly republican serving as a reminder of times gone and a social and racial hierarchy that it is ebbing away.

The programme threw up a question which I don’t know if most people would know the answer to? What is the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world? Did you say Brazil’s Embraer? Head to the top of the class!  We have seen the vast mineral and agricultural resources that Brazil is endowed with but the country is also moving up the value chain with a growing industrial base with world-class companies like Embraer and Petrobas.

Palin took us to the Embraer manufacturing facility where we met Felipe who is arguably the happiest plane painter I have ever met, admittedly he is also the only plane painter I have met, but he has a quite a jolly outlook on life. His love for his job was apparent and his contentment with the lifestyle it gave him very commendable.

One of the challenges of a rapid industrialisation and urban growth is the waste is generates and disposing this.  Palin meets Wilson Cantahla, a man who has taken the adage “there is money in muck” and spun it out into a personal fortune, and along the way elevated thousands of people who scavenged the waste dumps outside Sao Paulo in to regular jobs in his recycling plants. Further evidence of the transformation of Brazil industrial sector and the social change it spawns.

Another instrument of social change is introduced. The Brazil Telenova  industry. We think of Eastenders and Coronation Street as massive TV shows imagine  then if they regularly pulled in 72 million viewers, that is the power of Brazil’s telenova’s. They are essentially soap operas, but unlike their British cousins dont run for years till we are pleading to be released from our misery, they run for about 9 months before ending while not shying away from tackling a wide range of social issues.

These social changes have transformed but not completely overcome one aspect of Brazilian society and it was something that Palin only lightly touched on, Brazil’s reputation as a melting pot. The country seems blended on the surface but like cream whisk it too vigorously and it splits. As we have traveled across Brazil from the poorer North to the wealthier South although uncommented upon we have seen a subtle change in the makeup of the population.

So much so that when Palin reaches the deep south of the country in the state of Rio Grande do Sol on the border with Uruguay it is almost as if we have stepped onto the casting set for a Bavarian agricultural show awash with lederhosen, barrels of Pilsner and accordions  It was a different country from the one we had arrived at. The Germanic culture and influences were strong and pervasive and  in a way more authentic that what now remains in the teutonic Motherland. It may not be a testament to Brazil as a melting pot, but it is a testament to its varied heritage.

Palin was now in the southermost tip of Brazil close to his journeys end, but that was not to be without a final trip to see another of the great natural wonders this country offers - The Pantanal. The world largest wetland, spanning an area the size of holland and Belgium.

The Pantanal Wetlands

A beautiful, tranquil haven of nature. Here Palin ends the day fishing for flesh eating pinranha, which apparently are delightful for a light evening Sashimi…Just  another day of contrasts in Brazil

Holiday Home Sweet Home…Programme, Info-mercial or Advert?

17 Nov

It a damp, dull and dreary Saturday afternoon and to make it worse I have a bit of a flu. So taking it easy at home flicking through the channels when I come across a Holiday programme on ITV. What better way to take my mind away from the dreariness outside and be whisked away to dream locations for my next summer holiday.

Today there were back to back episodes of “Holiday Home Sweet Home” taking us through Idyllic holiday homes in South Wales and Devon. The programmes are fronted by Lisa Faulkner (Ex-Holby City and also a Celebrity Master Chef Winner). All good so far.

What I can’t help noticing is that unlike most other programmes of this type, it is does not focus on the people who are taking the holidays, nor the people who own the holiday homes but on the letting agents who are letting these homes.

Lisa talks to the letting agents and then takes on a tour of “the luxury awe-inspiring properties on their books”. As she guides us through the homes under the watchful eye of the agents, she gushes with superlatives on the desirability of the property.

We are taken in painstaking detail through all the details of the property marveling at luxurious en suite bedrooms, carefully restored exposed wooden beams, tasteful renovations that are sympathetic to the countryside, all with grinning boss of the letting agency hovering in the background.

It is all nicely done, but is it really a programme? How is this different from a series of advert for these letting companies? Do the letting companies pay for this or are they chosen to take part? How do they decide who to choose?

Brazil With Michael Palin…Road to Rio

11 Nov

The most enduring stereotypes survive because they are built on a minor truth, a truth that is expanded, generalised and comes to totally define the object that is being stereotyped.

At the beginning of this series we were introduced to a Brazil free of the stereotypes Brazil is known for, but that is not say Brazilians do not love football, that there are no great beaches in Brazil with toned guys and girls in bikinis you could floss your teeth with, or even that the notorious Favelas do not exist.  In this episode, the penultimate, we taken to see these not as a definition of Brazil, but as just a part of the greater Brazilian story.

The episode starts in mining state of Minas Gerias which provides the huge mineral wealth that has helped propel Brazil’s economy to the world’s fifth largest.  We tour the mines with our guide who it seems doubles as a Brazilian Les Dawson and amuses Palin with a Mother-In-Law joke in the depths of a Brazilian gold mine.

We meet a New Zealander fighting to save the Minas Gerias heritage against the onslaught of the changes the mining industry brings. We meet a local coffee grower who survives on 1 1/2 litres of coffee and 5 espressos a day (he seemed  a bit hyper, but I can’t think why) and then we meet Rio de Janierio.

For most non-Brazilians this is the city that defines Brazil and in Rio lies the seeds of most of what we assume Brazil to be about.

We are taken on a somewhat narrow, rickety and acrophobia inducing train ride to the base of the magnificent ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue that over looks Rio.  We dip into some football history with a  visit to the grounds of the Fulminenese. We watch as Palin unwisely decides to take part in what I can only describe as “Commentary-off” with a famous Brazilian football commentator to see who can exclaim ‘gooooooaaaaallll’ for the longest. If you’ve ever seen Brazilian football commentary you would know it was a ‘no contest’.

We journey into the Favelas and along the way meet the special forces, BOPE, who police the Favelas and learn about their ominously Judge Dredd sounding ‘pacification programme’.

We see the beaches Copacobana and Ipanema, magnificent stretches of inviting brown sand dazzling in the sun shine,  and learn how different social groups have colonised different parts of the beach.

We round off with the visit to a ‘ Love Hotel’, it is exactly what it sounds like, and spend the rest of the episode with Rio’s vibrant Transexual and Transvestite community.

Stereotypes done. Next week we should be back to learn about the Brazil we don’t know.

Brazil with Michael Palin…Into the Amazon.

1 Nov

This episode was part sociological, part geographical.

First the sociology, should indigenous people be left to their devices protected from the encroachment of what is an increasingly a monoculture? That is the challenge that faces the myriad of indigenous people in Brazil’s Amazonian regions. There is need for modern medicines and they can see the benefits of some technology, but how easy is it to pick and choose what you want from advancing universal culture?

This was one of the topics Michael Palin touched on in the second of his series on Brazil. There seems to be no easy answer. Like King Canute, the waves of global culture are almost unstoppable and already the trappings of modern life are slowly but surely seeping into the villages. I spotted motor cycles, TVs and DVD players as well as the ubiquitous football shirts in the villages Michael Palin visited. I fear the price for the things you want, are all the other things you don’t want.

Yesterday also included a visit to ‘Fordlandia’, a long abandoned attempt to create an Eldorado in the middle of the Amazon by Ford Motor Company in the 1930’s.


It was pretty much preserved in the state that it was abandoned all those years ago. A remarkable memorial to what the founders hoped would be a little piece of American suburbia slap bang in the middle of the dense Brazilian rain forest. It was eerie.

I also loved the scenes with the boat trips along the Brazil’s mighty rivers. Relaxing in a hammock in the bright sunshine on a gently lilting boat is my idea of a good time and Michael Palin seems to share my view. The trip went up to where the Amazon and the Rio Negro meet creating an incredible two-tone river.

A great travelogue for Brazil.

Brazil with Michael Palin

25 Oct

He has dusted off his trusted linen trousers and cotton shirt,  picked up his well-thumbed passport, kissed the wife good-bye and is heading off again to bring sights and sounds from the distant world into our homes.

Michael Palin  is off to Brazil.!

It is a timely programme. With Brazil over the next four years hosting both  the World Cup and the Olympics , the country is  going to be more prominent in our view of the world than it probably has ever been and BBC gets this rolling with Palin’s latest travelogue.

I am not sure what the remit  is, but at the very least I expect it to be a reminder that there is more to Brazil than football, the Rio carnival and the Copacabana beach. The first episode, centered around the north-east of  Brazil,  lived up to that expectation  featuring  cigar chomping grandmas,  weather-beaten cowboys,  an incredibly cheerful celebrity chef, dancing martial art fighters and much more.

It was slow-paced and genteel, like an Englishman on an idyllic saunter across the world’s fifth largest country, but’ that is Palin’s style. If you missed it is worth a look on IPlayer.

Meanwhile here is one of my favourite ever scenes from Palin’s travels – “Bottom’s Up with Toureg’s in the Sahara”.