Most people’s reactions in Rio when I said that I would be spending New Year’s Eve in Brasília wasn’t all too comforting. I had a weird aversion to the city before even laying eyes on it.
Brasília is very unique from most other Brazilian cities, in that it was a planned city. Completely planned by famous Architect Oscar Niemeyer and constructed in the 1950s to serve as the new Brazilian capital instead of Rio de Janeiro. When I actually toured the city and got a glimpse of the architecture, it seems as if it was the brainchild of some Soviet mastermind. Buildings are oddly squared and “modern” in a 1960s sense, which appear somewhat outdated now, if that makes any sense.
My trip to Brasília was in complete contrast to my stay in S.P. and Rio (I will discount Sao Paulo since I was only there for a day). As opposed to all the madness and craziness of Rio and the constant movement of people, Brasília is clean, organized and very very laid back relatively speaking. Brasília is mainly associated with government ministries and embassies. As opposed to the backpacker and budgeted trip of Rio, I stayed with family friends, living in a fairly affluent part of the city.
I didn’t really know what to expect, especially having gone to Rio first. I stayed with my dad’s friend’s family who is the current Sudanese ambassador in Brazil. Although good family friends, I vaguely remembered them from visits back to Sudan. So I had my reservations about that whole situation.
Ringing in 2008!
When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by Salma one of my dad’s friend’s daughters. She is also the same age and is studying university in Brazil. For New Year’s Eve, Salma and I went down to lake to partake in the festivities and watch condomble rituals taking place (condomble is a form of religious practice largely practiced by people of Northern Brazil, in the state of Bahia. It is a mixture of Catholic and west African religious practices). Troupes drumming dancing and singing along with hundreds of food stands. I had this one snack called acaraje. The outer shell I can only describe as falafel-like and is filled with various ingredients and topped with shrimp and super spicy chilli sauce, oh so good!. At the mark of the new year, orchestrated firework took place from the centre of the lake. Also all those taking part in the condomble rituals walked down in the lake with vases full of flowers and candles which they placed in the water to float away. Afterwards we went to a New Year’s part at the Embassy of Cote d’Ivoire. It was mostly people from other embassies as well. I had a really great time and met a bunch of people.
The following days, I spent hanging out with Salma and meeting some of her friends and getting to know Brasília. Granted it was a very select part of city, surrounded things related to embassies and diplomats. Went to a bbq hosted at another diplomat’s house that lasted from early afternoon till fairly late at night. Regardless I had a lot more fun than I expected. All my reservations about my Brasilia trip dissipated, and I was really glad I got the chance to come and reconnect with these family friends. They were super hospitable.
ohh random discovery at the party at the Cote d’Ivorian Embassy, an Angolan song came on and all these Angolans took to the dance floor performing steps eerily similar to the electric slide. When I inquired about this dance, I found out that this is a traditional dance from most countries in Southern Africa, usually danced to Kudouro music. So I wonder if the American version bootlegged the steps from them or was it independently conceived.
Initially my plan after visiting Brasília was to head west to the Pantanal region (world’s largest wetland) for camping and such. When I got to Brazil and actually realized how hot and humid it was, I changed my mind; especially since it is the rainy season in that part of the country. In talking to many people in Rio, the verdict was clear, I had to head up north to Salvador in the state of Bahia (this region has the strongest African influence and a very unique culture). So I started looking into tickets to get there. I finally found a ticket, which was still expensive but relatively cheap in comparison to all the prices that I saw. I walked away from the computer for seriously 3 mins to discuss it with Salma and Khaltu Amal, came back to find the price went up drastically! I still didn’t want to give up so I started looking into bus options. Mind you Brazil is huge, from Brasília (which is fairly central) to Salvador (which is fairly southern relative to the state of Bahia) it takes 22 hours by bus. Despite the dreadful thought of sitting in a bus for that long, I still wanted to make it up there. After more research I found out that most buses to long distance cities leave at night to reduce daytime travel. So that meant I would spend my entire time traveling and no time to actually explore Salvador. So I missed the opportunity to see Bahia and Salvador. Definitely the biggest disappointment of my trip.
Instead I regrouped and rerouted my travels elsewhere to one of the national parks several hours northwest of Brasília.