Posts tagged ‘Brazil’

Visit Brazil without the jet lag

Learn this word: sim. It’s pronounced “seem” and it means yes in Portuguese. It’s really all you need to know for your “vacation” to Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian churrasco that originated in the Serra Gaucho region of Brazil and has spread like an open fire pit across the United States.fogo 2

Sim, of course, is the proper response to the handsome gauchos who will visit your table with juicy cuts of 16 types of meat all roasted over open fire pits. If you find the word difficult to say (not because it’s a particularly complicated word, but because uttering any word when your mouth is watering and lusting like it inevitably will can be challenging), just nod.

The gaucho will proceed to carve off a slice of say parmesan-encrusted pork or medalhoes com bacon (yes, that’s bacon-wrapped steak) at your preferred temperature. A whole team of gauchos will relentlessly continue bringing new spits of sizzling, sexy seared cuts of heaven until you muster the willpower to flip over your coin from red to green, signaling “finito.”

The reason it’s so damned hard to practice restraint at Fogo de Chao is because the gauchos cooking the meat have done it for you. The beef, the lamb, the pork, the chicken is allowed to slowly cook, giving the natural flavors time to do their glorious thing.

fogoWhile you’re at it, you’ll also want to say “sim” to Fogo de Chao’s Market Table, a stunning display of salads, veggies, charcuterie and cheese. It comes with every meal and, trust me, it will require great self-discipline NOT to fill up on it’s delectable offerings. It also allows your veggie/vegan friends to join in.

“Sim” comes in handy at the Feijoada bar that features rice, black beans and bread, and once again, when offered Brazil’s national drink, a Caiprihina made with muddled sugar and lime and cachaça, a rum-like liquor made with sugar cane.

A night (or even a lunch) at Fogo de Chao provides the perfect Brazilian getaway—no packing, no passports—just a dizzying display of all things Brazilian.

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Leave civilization behind in the Brazilian outback

Early adopters, listen up! You’ve got about three and a half years to get to Brazil before the crowds descend on the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Rio Olympics is the first ever in South America.

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In other words, the getting’s ripe to bone up on a country that’s soon to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And while Rio, its beaches, babes and brazen Carnival have always been a tourism magnet, Brazil is a huge country with four time zones, a big chunk of Amazon jungle and a new state that’s not even 25-years-old.

The Tocantins (Portuguese for toucan’s beak) became a state in 1988 and unlike most of Brazil’s states that capital in colonial cities, this new kid on the block has a capital that two decades ago was nothing but pristine Savannah. Not only does Palmas, the gleaming new capital, have a giant hydroelectric dam that provides electricity to a large swath of this large country, but it also happens to be a popular rendezvous spot for Brazilian ecotourists. I recently had the privilege of taking a week-long safari in Jalapao, an amazing region just 150 miles from Palmas.

If the name Jalapao sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Season 18 of Survivor was filmed in entirety at the very safari camp where I bunked beneath cashew and mangaba trees. With a comfy tent complete with mattressed-cot, I had to question the “reality” of the term “Survivor.” Hot showers, shaded campsite powered by solar generators and titillating meals could vie with any Hilton.

Korubo Safaris (named after an indigenous tribe undiscovered until 10 years ago) runs the safari camp on Novo Rio, a still drinkable river where guests kayak, swim and paddle around in inner tubes after exciting days tracking jaguars, panthers, monkeys and birds you only see on a cereal box. Yet to be discovered by Americans, Korubo mainly draws affluent travelers from Rio and Sao Paulo, all of whom know rudimentary English but had no real reason to use it except to occasionally humor the clueless American. Let’s just say if it had been “Survivor,” I’d have been the first voted off “the island.”

That’s not to say the Brazilians weren’t welcoming. They bent over backwards to include me in daily activities from hikes through the flat-topped Chapada Mountains to game treks in our open-air, double-decker jeeps. Using halting English, they even asked me polite questions, chief among them being “What is a single girl doing this far from home?”

The only real problem is the jokes went right over my non-Portuguese-speaking head and most of the time I felt like a geeky second grader not allowed to participate in the non-stop joie de vivre so common with carefree Brazilians. At dinner, fabulous feasts from local produce, I mostly smiled and continuously bugged the one German to translate the name of the many fresh juices offered with each meal.

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On the daily safaris, the Brazilians (and the one weird American) snapped photos of wildlife, got sprayed by towering waterfalls, swam in springs surrounded by banana trees and bought handicrafts woven from capim dourado, a rare golden grass that grows only in the Tocantins.

But for me, the best experience was the last night of the seven-day safari. After singing Beatles songs at the top of our lungs (some things transcend borders) as we bumped along the rutted trail, we hiked to the top of the Jalapao Dunes, famous for eerily changing color each night as the sun bids adieu.

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Finally getting up the courage, my fellow safari-ites asked if they could borrow my by-now familiar khaki hat. It seems every single one of them, some of whom I’d only nodded and smiled at for the first six days, wanted to have their picture snapped with this popular photo prop. Who knew my ratty hat (they called it a chapeu) would wedge open the door that all my inept “bom dias” and “obrigadas” failed to budge?

I smile as I think back to that amazing week in the Brazilian outback, happy to know that in computers all over Sao Paulo and Rio are downloaded photos of my safari chapeu on the heads of my glorious traveling companions, still probably wondering “Who was that weird American?”

For more information on a truly one-of-a-kind safari, click here.

Paraty, Brazil transformed into Breaking Dawn’s Isla Esme

Esme, Schesme! Call it whatever you like, but Bella Swan and Edward Cullen’s honeymoon took place in Paraty, Brazil, a quaint colonial town about three hours southwest of Rio.

Of course, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (along with Stephanie Meyer) did due diligence in the vibrant capital city (a few scenes were filmed in Rio’s Lapa district, a hotbed for samba and forro bars and they spent a night or two at Copacabana Palace), but it’s the old cobblestoned, colonial town of Paraty that plays “body double” for Isla Esme.

Probably a good thing, since Brazilian Twihards swarmed the young stars from the moment they arrived on a private chartered jet at Rio de Janeiro’s Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport.

Paraty (pronounced Par-ach-ie, like the sandals) is off-the-beaten path and charmingly subdued. In fact, its cobblestone streets (at least in the Historic Central District) have sworn off cars, letting them in on Wednesdays only for deliveries. Allowed vehicles are bikes and horse-drawn carriages.

Stewart and Pattinson spent much of their time on boats, frolicking in Pedra Branca and Andorinhas waterfalls and jetting to the 300 beaches of Paraty’s Bay of Ilha Grande.

Dotted with tropical islands, this picturesque bay was once the port from which gold from Minas Gerais, one of the world’s richest gold mines, was transported. Pirates, hiding in the many coves, plundered the ships and drank cachaca, a sugar cane liquor produced by more than 250 local distilleries. The 720-mile Gold Trail starting in Paraty and leading through the Bocaina mountains and one of the last stands of Atlantic rainforest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After Brazil gained its independence from Portugal and gold production slowed down, Paraty was all but forgotten. The population declined from 16,000 to around 600. Today, it has been revived as a popular vacation spot for Brazilians who come to enjoy the pristine architecture, the low-key beaches and hikes through the rainforest.

As for Stewart and Pattinson, they enjoyed being “vampire newlyweds” in 17th century paradise.