Brazil: From Samba to the Amazon

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Brazil: From Samba to the Amazon

Falling in Love with Brazil was easy. My love affair started in Rio. I took a flight from Sydney via Tahiti and Santiago de Chile to Rio de Janeiro. Little did I know how much this journey would change me. Brazil and South America got under my skin and the love of the latin life has never left me. Brazil is a huge country, and in two months of back packing I saw just a taster. From the tropical north to the very European south, the contrasts are extraordinary. Later, I was lucky enough to live in Santa Catarina state and experience life as a local.

On that first trip, I was awestruck in the Amazon, awakened in Alagoas and sensual in Salvador. Brazil knocked my socks off, and shook some of the stuffing out of me, as all the best travel experiences should.

Leaving Rio on a flight to Salvador, I arrived into Bahia on a festival weekend. This tropical city full of history is a delight to explore, with its pulse of music on every corner, tales of sugar cane and slave trading, its steep hills and palm trees contrasting with stunning Portuguese architecture, colourful markets and pretty plazas. Dancing all the way to the Bomfin cathedral on the outskirts of town, forgetting the time, forgetting what day it was and sweating happily amongst the throng, I felt so grateful to be a part of that washing machine of humanity. The Festival of Bomfin is famous for its energetic amalgam of Catholic and Candoble faiths and happens every year in January.

Falling in love is easy in Brazil, a land of history, dancing, beaches, jungles and contrasts.


Lying under a palm tree reading ‘Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado, a world of history, layers and cultures was revealed to me, and my imagination saw Vadiño and Flor on every street corner in Salvador. I extended my stay by a week, reading the novel in every café in town, exploring nooks and crannies, looking out for magic, enthralled by the place. The sounds and smells, the feeling of danger, of possibilities, the treacherous looking types and the friendly, open, smiling locals filled my cup. ‘I could live here!’ I mused happily.

Wandering around the Pelourinho, which is the historic old heart of Salvador, is a treat. The pastel-coloured buildings, the crumbling and the preserved, and the cobblestone streets, form part of the Unesco Heritage zone of Salvador. Did I mention the beaches and the sun and the sultry air? Did I mention the food or the capoeira and the berimbao?

The Tropical North of Brazil

Speaking of beaches, north from Salvador is another worthwhile discovery in northern Brazil, the town of Maceió, with heavenly sandy beaches and tropical palms everywhere.

My visit to Maceió started with a night full of dancing. I learned that night that I am a terrible dancer, like most gringas, and that is OK. I learned that Brazilians are great dancers, I think they each learn how to dance as a foetus, and are born dancing on their feet, hips swaying and rhythm inside every cell.

The bar had cocktails the size of pineapples, some of them actually in pineapples, for the price I would pay for a stamp back home, and after about 11pm, a very, very large crowd of families, with all ages and sizes dancing the samba de morros. This dance is one of the quickest and most difficult I attempted in Brazil. Did I mention I had two left feet? Well, it didn’t matter as a young doctor took it upon himself to thrust his pelvis next to mine and show me, and to continue to show me all night, how to dance.


Brazil – Doors

Luckily those cocktails had about five shots of different liquor in them. I met his brother and whole group of friends, well, I met most of the people in the bar before the night was done, and although the pace was grueling – there were two bands which alternated all night, leaving no gaps in the music to sit down and catch our breath – I made it to dawn in one piece, a grin the size of a banana on my face.

The next week in Maceió was a dream of palm-lined white beaches, discovering local food and beach bars, enjoying laughs with new friends and learning Portuguese very quickly. The beaches of the area are protected by a reef, making them very calm and clear, with turquoise waters soothing to your soul. My favourite was Praia do Francês, because it was not developed.

I enjoyed the parade of locals selling their jewellery, refreshments and other wares on the beach, this was a colourful way to enjoy the beach. Ooh, and the tasty, crunchy freshly fried little fish with local lemons! Sitting on the beach, enjoying the sunshine with friends, getting drinks delivered from a rustic palm thatch little hut, learning how the girls wear their g-strings with such confidence, this could only be one of the very quintessential Brazilian experiences. Take a day trip out to the Gales Reef, or visit one of the many palm-forested lagoons in the area, Maceió really is tropical Brazil personified.

Jungles of the Amazon

The Amazon must be on everyone’s wish list when they visit Brazil, and rightly so. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As a nature lover and self-confessed bird twitch, my mouth was open in awe most of the time I was there, only to be closed when swimming with piraña. Yes, I went swimming with pirañas, and lived to tell the tale. Flying into Manaus, and taking a boat up river into the Rio Negro was an unforgettable experience, as was my stay in a jungle lodge dedicated to nature and the preservation of this unique eco-system.


Brazil – Waterfall

One of my most memorable evenings was spent fishing in a large, deep section of the river, and pulling in the now ubiquitous pirañas and suspicious looking cat fish, whilst enjoying the quiet evening and the sunset. I will never forget the moment when two of the most exotic birds I have ever seen flew graciously overhead against the tangerine sky. To my untrained eye they appeared midnight blue with long curls on the ends of their twin tails, which were at least a foot long each.

They distracted me so much that I yanked my fishing line out of the water and landed a very wet cat fish into the lap of one of my fellow travellers, a very tense English girl who wasn’t having any of this adventure sort of lark, and refused to go swimming with the pirañas. I swear that I didn’t mean to up-end my fish on her well-pressed trousers, it just happened, serendipitously.

I apologised sincerely and often, yet we avoided each other for the rest of the week in the very small jungle lodge. I think she missed out of every boat excursion after that, staying in her bunk reading a book, whilst the rest of us ventured out to see alligators, monkeys, huge tracts of untouched jungle, leaf-carving ant nests, birds, birds and more birds and luckily, one day, a sloth.

Falling in love is easy in Brazil, a land of history, dancing, beaches, jungles and contrasts.

For more on Latin America, check out Tambor Beach, Costa Rica.


Katia Luz

Katia Luz

Katia has travelled since she was in her mother’s womb, has lived and worked all over the world and now writes from her atelier in a cottage in a forest just outside Noosa in Queensland, Australia. When not travelling, she writes escapist travel fiction and a travel website about Crete in Greece.

1 Comment

  • Erika

    Sounds like a great trip!

    June 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm