About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

22 February 2008

Reflections: South America

Both Peru and Brazil are similar to countries I have been to before. In many respects, much of Peru reminded me of some of the less developed Indian cities or for that matter the lesser developed South African towns, while Brazil reminded me a lot of South Africa. But they are still very different countries, and I really enjoyed my time.

They are very different countries - with very different attractions. While Peru is a lot less developed, it is the centre of civilisation in South America, and as such has a lot to offer in terms of things to see. Furthermore, with its varied geography, there is a lot of different things to do - from the jungle to the mountains to the beaches to the desert - it is all there. Brazil is a lot more developed (in many cases more than South Africa), and offers a simpler range of attractions - beaches and jungles; and interesting architecture highlights.

Brazil is a massive country, and traveling around is time consuming and expensive. To really explore Brazil, one requires a lot more time than what I had. That said, the fact that I went during Carnaval also contributed to my less time. There are a few places I would love to go in Brazil - the North-Eastern area from Salvador up to Belem, and to the South Western area - from Igazu Falls and the Pantanatal.

Cost wise, Brazil is a lot more expensive than Peru - especially in terms of accommodation and transport. And it is not that quality is better in Brazil for the higher price - I think Peru's buses were a lot better value for money, when compared to Brazilian buses for example. In total, my travels for two months cost me about R 45 000 (inclusive of airfares), or about 4 200 Euros. That is a full R 15 000 over my original budget; but my original budget had no provisions for Carnaval; which cost about R6 000. In all honesty, I had under budgeted for Brazil; and there are two problems that hit the costs simultaneously - the strengthening of the Real and the depreciation of the Rand. My expenditure was also impacted by two very expensive flights (of around R4 500 each): Sao Paulo - Lima and Manaus - Salvador; which together cost more than my return flight between Johannesburg and South Africa!

All said, I want to go back to South America - but for a lot longer period: at least 1 year, possibly longer. And instead of just Peru and Brazil, I would like to go to the other countries in South America; especially Argentina, Bolivia, Equador and Columbia. I estimate I will need about 2 000 US Dollars a month for such a trip (on average) so I better get saving!

20 February 2008

Reflections Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world, and it is the business capital of Brazil, and for that matter South America. And in all honesty, it is a city for work, and it does not really make itself a major tourist attraction. But it is still an interesting city.

The Japanese Quarter

Sao Paulo aparently has the largest Japanese population outside Japan, and it is easily noticable. The area of "Liberade" is the Japanese quarter, and features a number of Japanese restaurants and the like. When I arrived in Sao Paulo, I had a craving for sushi, so I tracked down a Sushi restaurant (there were surprisingly not that many to choose from) which offered a sushi festival - which equated to almost an "eat as much as you can" sushi option, for a fairly decent price.


I think there are probably more high rises in Sao Paulo than in New York - but the high rises in Sao Paulo are not really that high. But despite that, the sometimes claustrophobic nature of Manhattan is not repeated in Sao Paulo, because there seems to be just so much open space - not just in parks and gardens, but also in broad pedestrian avenues that seem to connect various parts of central Sao Paulo.

One interesting part is the job recruiters, who seem a lot like your standard flyer guy at the traffic lights. The jobs advertised seem to be mostly semi-skilled ones - drivers, cooks, etc. but it is an interesting approach.

The city centre is around the Cathedral (which features a sizable plaza and park around it) which is also where the concentration of what remains of old Sao Paulo. Brazil, it seems has a fascination with the Parisian opera house, as the city theatre is also modeled on the Parisian opera house (like Rio's main theatre).


The roads in Sao Paulo are noticeably more congested, and one of the more recent features of Sao Paulo are the helipads on top office buildings and the helicopters ferrying people (most probably business executives) between the buildings. Public transport in Sao Paulo is not bad - I did not take the buses, but the metro is super efficient (there seemed to be one every 2 minutes, even after 10pm), although does not have a great coverage.

Shopping Districts

In general, there is a trend of "shopping districts" - where a certain area has all the shops associated to a certain industry. For example, near the hostel, all the shops seemed to be either mechanics or dealers for motor parts. One of the more interesting shopping areas was the "Gallery of Rock", which is a 6 storrey shopping centre with shops dedicated to rock music (and rap and hip-hop music on the ground floor): not just the music, but also clothing: from T-Shirts of your favourite rock band to studded jewelery, and other "lifestyle" products like tattoo and piercing studios.

Street People, and the "old" look

There are a lot more people sleeping on the streets in Sao Paulo - I suppose it is to be expected, as it is the "richest" city. One thing that does strike about Sao Paulo, is that it has a old, faded look - buildings seem to age very fast, probably in the inevitable smog and pollution (which is a lot less than one can expect in a city this size), but also possibly due to a lesser zeal for maintenance when compared to cities like New York.

19 February 2008


One of the great pleasure of Brazil is fresh juice. Restaurants, always serve fresh juice - no boxed juices on offer - and there are many specialised juice bars that only sell snacks and juices. And there is an amazing variety of juices (and I guess some juices qualify more as smoothies) on offer. Apart from the obligatory orange (Brazil is the world's largest producer of orange juice), the other common juices are pineapple and mango. But most places also offer lemon (as lemonade), paw paw and granadilla. There are also a number of more local fruits on offer (from the Amazon region for example) while the two most interesting options are definitely Avocado (which is served as a smoothie really) and açaí (pronounced a-saa-ee) - which is a berry like fruit from the Amazon (looks a bit like blackberries imo), which is blended with some other fruits (usually banana and/or mango) with ice (to make it like a sorbet) and then usually eaten with granola.

18 February 2008

Rio and Security

Rio De Janeiro is infamous for its crime rate ... in fact, Brazil has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Makes one feel right at home :p

But the security tips listed in the guide books and the hostels, is, in my opinion, silly and downright misleading. The first tip: do not carry back packs, rather carry everything in plastic shopping bags, like the locals. But a quick observation in town soon shows that locals carry only shopping in their shopping bags, not cameras and the like. In fact, there are many locals carrying backpacks, briefcases and laptop bags. In my opinion, carrying your valuables a plastic shopping bag is a downright stupid idea. Firstly, shopping bags are transparent, and even when you use two, it is pretty easy to see what it is. Secondly, shopping bags are thin, and are hardly the most comfortable things to carry. Thirdly, tourists are really easy to identify: they are usually pale skinned gringos with a hint of sun burn, or failing that the fact that they usually do not speak the language like the locals or failing that, they are inevitably carrying maps and guide books. And if you are a thief, and you see a potential target carrying a shopping bag - are you not going to rob him because he is a local?

Another stupid tip: do not carry wallets or money belts - but rather hide your money in your bra (if you are a woman) or in your shoe (if you are a man). This is followed by a tip to dress like a local: bermudas, t-shirts and flip-flops. I guess guys should not carry money ... but in all seriousness, carrying money in your shoe has a number of other problems that I can think of. Firstly, Rio is a hot place - it is about 28 Degrees Celsius at night! On top of that, since it is next to the ocean, it is fairly humid too. So, putting money in your shoe means that it will get all sweaty and wet ... you might not get robbed, but you might not get to use the money either. Next, putting money in your shoe means getting money out of your shoe. While putting money in your shoe has it's positives - getting pick pocketed is harder - but putting all your money in your shoe? That's daft.

All said, I found Rio De Janeiro to be rather tame. The signs of high crime rates are there to see - windows have burglar bars, houses have alarms, cars have anti theft devices, there are electronic gates and doors. But, to be honest it is nothing in the levels of South Africa. People drive with their windows open. Burglar bars are not that common. Fences are short. Security guards for cash in transit vans carry pistols not automatic rifles.

And my hostel is in the centre of town, in an area very similar to Observatory in Cape Town. It is rated as one of the more unsafe areas of town - and I have walked around, at night, with no problems.

But then, I do that in South Africa too. Yes, Rio De Janeiro can be dangerous. But the danger is overblown out of proportion. However that does bring an interesting social observation - according to even locals, the favelas or the slums are like warzones, areas where the police fear to enter. However, that violence does not spill over. In South Africa, this is what used to be, before 1994. Violent crimes occurred more in the townships, and since 1994, crime has been, for that lack of a better word, been better distributed. Is the violence in Rio just waiting for its own liberation?

Reflections: Rio De Janeiro

No doubt about it, Rio De Janeiro, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but, in my biased opinion, it is not as beautiful as Cape Town. The Sugar Loaf and the Corcovado, together with the beaches and the bay provide a stunning location. But in competition, Cape Town should not just be judged with Table Mountain, but also Lion's Head, Devil's Peak and the 12 Apostles, and then I think there is no competition.

But there are two factors that might make Rio a better city - great public transport and (a diminishing) colonial charm. The colonial past of the city has largely disappeared; and many of the buildings that are old, are hardly 100 years old - considerably younger than the city itself. But the remains of the colonial cities - large plazas, cobbled stone streets, lavish churches - are interesting to explore.

In general, public transport is great in Brazil. Rio has a fantastic road network, and since their mountains are a lot smaller, numerous tunnels link the various suburbs. And except for a few bottlenecks (introduced because of the geography or at the junctions of the main roads), traffic is fairly fast moving - even in rush hour. One of the side effects is that the buses are driven at, sometimes terrifying and uncomfortable, high speeds. In fact, I think the ordinary minibus taxi driver from South Africa would be hard pressed to match the Rio bus drivers on the road ... after all the buses are much bigger :p Rio's metro is also quite nice, although not as useful as it could be. They do feature air-conditioned carriages - which is really useful in Rio's weather.

I stayed a long time in Rio, and even then there were things I wish I could have done - a hike on the rain forests covering the Corcovado and surrounds topping the list, as well as a favela tour. But that said, Rio is possibly the most expensive city I have been to in Brazil, and in all honestly, it is not my favourite city in Brazil. If I come back to Brazil, I would stop over in Rio - but won't stay as long.

17 February 2008

Flamengo vs Vasco da Gama

Football - nothing is more Brazilian I think. And a match at the world famous Maracana stadium, involving the two biggest names in Brazilian football, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama, in a cup semi-final.

I went as part of an organised tour - I was not sure what to expect, and initially could not find people who were keen to go along with. The atmosphere was electric - by far the most passionate supporters I have seen at any sporting event - and although the stadium was not full (despite the massive fan bases of the two clubs), it was a great atmosphere.

All the features of the big rivalries were there - the big flags, drums, the chanting and off course, great football. Brazilian football is just on such a different level - it is fast, and the 2-1 score line (in favour of Flamaengo) is a testament of good keeping more than bad shooting - shots on goal tended to be on target more often than not, and the sleek passing and ball control was wonderful to watch.

Hang Gliding over Rio (well part of)

I decided that Sunday was a great day to run and jump of a cliff ... on a tandem hang gliding ride. It was certainly not as much of an adrenalin rush as a bungee jump - but it lasted a lot longer. Unfortunately, it is yet again the wrong time of the year - the winds are not that great, and so the flight only lasted 10 minutes or so ... but absolutely stunning views of Rio (well part of it) and a great experience.