On the last trip I meanly insisted Kim bought herself a local bikini.  It's width was about the same as my outstreched palm it looked like it would fit an eight year old.

This time we shopped for one in Recife's poshest mall, packed like allthe others with bikini and sportswear shops. 

Men's trunks are far more modest; Speedos with thick waist bands.  The guidebooks tells you not to buy anything until you ascertain the local fashion, and as we approached Rio we saw more and more bermuda shorts being sold.  The guides had been very clear about avoiding these if you were not to be an obvious gringo.  (Winter skin tones should have been the other clue though we saw many Brazilians who were paler than we were.)  

But Ipanema Beach had stuck with the Speedos and there were fewer dental floss bikinis.



Parati is another well-preserved colonial town and another World Heritage site. ParatiIt´s a grid of flag-stoned streets with a small port and a set of old churches.

Some of the roads closest to the port flood at high tide, as a planned cleaning system (not that the Brazilians are anything but fastidious with their cleaning; I´ve never seen such a litter-free environment, and the carnival-flecked streets are miraculously clean by the next morning).

The town is busy and inevitably touristy. It´s stuffed full of restaurants and boutiques and hordes of rich Brazilians from Rio and Sao Paulo. paratiAlso, quite a few foreigners; we saw very few in the North.

The town faces another bay of beaches and islands so much of the attraction here is to book a boat trip during the day and party at night.

Far more than Olinda, a lot of money has gone into restoring into pristine condition the two-storey whitewashed buildings, painting the woodwork primary colours and filling the interiors with antiques and paitings. So it feels much less edgy and real than Olinda but is still incredibly picturesque.

There´s an active festival throughout the year including a cachaca (sugar cane spirit) festival and a literary festival. We keep seeing photos of Salman Rushdie on restaurant walls; presumably here for the latter rather than the booze.

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Costa Verde

We flew south to Rio Map of Rioand then a four hour transfer down the coast to a small fishing village called Picinguaba. 

It´s a really beautiful coast where some of the last remaining parts of the Mata Atalantica – the Atlantic rain forest – follow the coast on high, and map of paratistrangely-shaped mountains covered in swirls of cloud. The uplands look across bays of islands and long beaches.  Much of it is very beautiful and reminds me of pictures of green-covered coastal mountains of Hawaii or the South Pacific.

We´ve gone to a small boutique hotel called Pousada Picinguaba.  Herbert Ypma – who came up with the whole hip hotels thing – has it as one of his favourites in South America and there´s a feature on it oin this month´s Vogue (OK, the Brazilian edition).Picinguaba beach

It has a wonderful setting, with a view over this bay.  Still a small and genuine fishing village, it´s hemmed in by one of the protected parts of the rain forest so it cannot get bigger. 



Boozy crab leads to pick-up

Leaving Kim snoozing in the hotel, I leave to chase a large masquerading crab swigging from a beer bottle.

Giant puppetsI lost it down the side streets so hung around a crossroads while the town filled up with remnants of the coastal parade. Two girls grabbed me there and essentially didn´t let go for the next three hours.

It took a remarkable amount of time for them to realise that I wasn´t Brazilian and we didn´t have a common language between us. But with smatterings of English, Portuguese, French, German, Spanish and Italian we managed to dance and kiss our way round a variety of drummers, acoustic and electronic blocos and frevos before leading me to the samba dance hall.

This was the likely downfall as my dancing style quickly got a lot of negative attention but they persisted with teaching my samba steps encouraging me with more kisses. And that was in between adjusting an accompanying transvestite´s make-up.

(Sweetly, they would encircle me and push me against a wall whenever a fight broke out pointing out the scuffle with shouts of brigante(?).)

I guess this is everyone´s carnival fantasy; to be captured by a pair of pretty twenty-something Brazilians and be taken on whirlwind tour of the town. In the end it was getting a bit too amorous and I made my excuses… Explaining I had a friend at the pousada that I needed to meet didn´t work so I had to admit, with stress, that it was uma amica, and the centavo dropped.


Parade of champions

Carnival ticketThe day before we left I was emailed by the Rio hotel concierge about a parade at the Sambadrome that I had forgotten about. Most of the big set piece parades take place over a few days over the carnival weekend. But the Saturday after is the Parade of Champions when the winning school re-run their performance.

It´s cheaper that the main carnival shows, but that´s relative. The cheapest seats the hotel was offering came to about GBP160 each and some were into the 1000s. It´s galling when the real price is closer to GBP20. But unless you´re in Rio at the right time you´re left to the secondary market of hotels, agencies and touts. We decided to leave it as the budget is already burst.



[… lack of internet connections, so I need to catch up…]


The point of the trip…

Brazil for carnival is one of those travel mandatories. Balls and sequins, sambadromes and street dancing; and Rio or Salvador are the obvious focus. But Carnival is everywhere, and the idea was to visit it in a couple of the old colonial – and UNESCO-listed – towns. Olinda was an obvious choice because TAP fly direct to Recife, the nearest Brazilian city to Europe. It’s also supposed to have a carnival that is active the week before the others; though I’ve yet to see a program on the official site.

Four years ago

Kim and I were in Brazil four years ago, in the two weeks after Carnival. Olinda then was bright, hot and recovering from its two-week festival. monster in OlindaA week before hundreds of thousands of people had watched the blocos parade; the streets were now empty but for the streamers and bunting and the occasional papier mache grotesques hanging from street corners.

I don’t know whether it was a collective hangover or if the town had reverted to its normal pace. But it was fun; the kids were touting as guides round the tile-hung monasteries and the capoira dancers were performing for the remaining tourist dollars.