My impressions of five Brazilian cities
(Western PA (USA))
I lived in Brazil in the late 1960s. At that time, in my early 20s, I traveled by bus to visit Recife, Maceio, Aracajú, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Brasilia, Rio, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and on to Uruguay and Argentina. I enjoyed almost every city I visited. I lived in Sergipe, in a small interior town without full-time electricity, no running water nor sewage system, no TV nor telephones service, no university nor hospital nor paved roads ---all things that are present today ---so by comparison, those large cities all seemed modern, exotic, and fascinating.
I returned to Brazil in August 2011. These are my impressions of the cities I visited:
Aracajú, has increased immensely in size in the past 40+ years, so most of the city is relatively new. It is clean, has beautiful parks and beaches, and I understand it is one of the least-spoiled and safest coastal/resort cities in Brazil ---which seems to be the best-kept secret in the country. There are many things to do and see, but I spent most of my time visiting friends and former students. As for friendliness and hospitality, Brazilians have no equal. I already knew that, but didn't expect to be treated like royalty during my unforgettable return to Sergipe.
Forty years ago, Salvador was my favorite city & I visited it often, but this time I found Salvador disappointing. By comparison to Aracajú, it seemed grimy and shabby. The streets & beaches were full of litter and nearly every wall covered in graffiti. Traffic was terrible. Everyone warned me to be careful, especially on crowded buses. And worst of all, most of the beautiful old buildings were in horrible states of disrepair. A friend who lives there told me there is money available to repair the old structures, but it has "disappeared" through government graft and corruption. Not everything in Salvador was terrible. I enjoyed the art museum on Rua Sete de Setembro, the Solar de Unhão and enjoyed walking through Pelourinho, especially the Afro-Brazilian Museum. The bay and ocean views are terrific and the Mercado Modelo is a great one-stop place to buy just about anything. Bahian food is unique and wonderful.
Besides trying some of Brazil's regional cuisine, be sure to sample Brazilian ice cream. It comes in dozens, maybe hundreds, of exotic tropical varieties with some cities and shops having their unique flavors. Most places will allow you to try a small taste before buying.
Manaus reminded me a lot of Salvador, with the added problem that the first two days there the temperature was 107 degrees, after which it "cooled" down to about 96. (Be sure to drink lots of bottled water to prevent dehydration.) I enjoyed the Opera House, Bosque de Ciencias, "Meeting of the Waters" boat trip, and a friend took me to view the beautiful sunset on the Rio Negro, but the city itself was, like Salvador, crowded, dirty, and full of graffiti. Another friend describes it as a charming frontier city, but I'm afraid its charms eluded me.
Foz do Iguaçu is a small city, but it is very clean with wide tree-lined streets. There is little traffic, even at rush hour, and the 65-70 degree temperatures were a welcome relief after Manaus. And, of course, for natural beauty one can't beat the falls on both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides. (Take a raincoat to protect you from the over spray.) The Bird Park across from the entrance to the Brazilian falls should not be missed either.
I ended my trip with a few days in Rio. It seemed much the same as it did 40 years ago, albeit much more expensive than I expected. Highlights of my stay were visiting the Contemporary Art Museum in Niteroi, the Botanical Garden near Ipanema, and shopping at the Sunday morning "hippy" fair. The tram to Santa Teresa had wrecked while I was there and museum workers went on strike so I missed a few things I wanted to see. My biggest disappointment was that I had planned to hang glide down to the beach, but the winds were not favorable any time during my stay. For first-time visitors, Corcovado and Pão de Açucar are must-sees, but I had seen both several times when I lived in Brazil and didn't have much time, so I skipped them.
Overall I had a wonderful trip, especially in Aracajú, Foz do Iguaçu, and Rio. But on my next visit, I'll probably skip Salvador and Manaus.