Gralha de crista negra, Iguazú National Park

I was trying to photograph one of these birds from afar, as it briefly touched down on a branch before flying off just as I had it in focus. But within five minutes there were more than enough, squawking and sticking their tail feathers in the air.

Carnaval Porteño 2012 in Boedo

There’s a war going on in the Boedo neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

While crowds cluster along the roadside and yellow-vested security patrol the metal barriers keeping the road clear. While stall owners grill chorizo and hamburgers on huge barbecues. While the supermarket wraps plastic around its shelves of alcohol and hangs up a sign prohibiting sales from 18:00 to 11:00.

While drums resound and cymbals clang. While flags wave and sequined satin sparkles. While painted faces chant and sing and dancers four-step, high kick and bop their way along the street.

While a figure in a Scream mask and another in a kufiya weave in and out of the paraders and two men dressed as Jews entertain the crowds from a central stage. While a baby suckles from its dancing mother’s breast. While the faces of Che, Bob Marley and Homer Simpson smile from the costumes of performers.

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While Carnaval Porteño 2012 is celebrated in Boedo the war happens on the sidelines.

It starts with a few young children chasing each other with cans of soapy foam spray. Toddlers play with the foam on the pavement. Then come young teenagers, boys and girls divided into different war bands. Roaming, flirting, spraying and running. Once someone’s hit they become a target, the tell-tale white foam on their clothes draws more shots.

As the evening progresses, the attacks become bolder. No longer a sneaky behind-the-back spray, but a shot straight to the eyes or mouth. The rules of leaving alone those younger or older than you start to be broken. There are indiscriminate attacks into the crowd. Passers-by become casualties of war, but no-one can be angry during Carnaval.

Empty cans litter the floor like shrapnel and people hurry through the damp gauntlet as they move along the outskirts of the crowds watching the parades. Stacks of cans are still for sale. Grown men buy them and hold the canisters ready, fingers poised for a lightning shot. Old women shout their way through. The pavement runs white with foam.

But it’s barely eleven o’clock and the parades aren’t going to finish any time soon. There are still people who are dry, not covered in soapy suds. The war isn’t over yet.

Three ways to experience Paraty

The owner of our hostel tells us it’s possible to stay in Paraty for 14 days and never visit the same place twice. We have only three days, but it’s just enough to experience three different sides of this small town.

Day 1: Culture

Sipping a caipirinha in front of an old church, watching a teenage girl try to tie a bow in her puppy’s hair and listening to music slipping out through the colorful window frames of nearby restaurants…this is a great way to spend an afternoon.

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You might call Paraty Old Town a tourist trap, but it’s a very charming one. Smiling families, here for the weekend, ride horse-drawn carriages along the cobblestone streets. At the seafront, painted boats are lined up, visitors returning from day trips to the islands which dot the coastline here. Jason Mraz plays at every other dock and signs advertise a party cruise setting sale that evening. Cake sellers open up their mobile carts in time for mid-afternoon snack time.

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Wandering down the small side streets, it’s easy to lose the crowds. The pre-tourist Paraty is still visible here. Paint peels in dull-colored flakes, damp patches creep up walls and plants grow amongst stones or on roofs.

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Day 2: Waterfalls and Swimming Holes

I give up trying to ride my bicycle uphill. Instead I push it, puffs of dust circling my feet and sweat dripping down my back. Eventually I catch up with the others. They’ve given up too and stand in the shade at the roadside, applying insect repellant. This was supposed to be the easier part, but we’re perhaps too exhausted after a whole morning of cycling to look at this objectively. There’s no question of giving up though. Not after where we’ve just been.

Natural water slide

Sliding down the ridge of smooth rock and splashing into the pool at the bottom; fighting our way against the flow of water to climb up behind a waterfall and listen to its torrential crash around us; laughing amongst the Brazilians, here on holiday too, as people slip and trip across the rocks to bask in the sun and cool water simultaneously. All this at just one site. We can’t give up on reaching another.

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With tour agencies in town charging R$70 for transportation and a mere half an hour at each waterfall, we can’t help thinking we have the better deal. It’s hard work now, but we know how refreshing that water’s going to feel once we’re in it.

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Day 3: Beach

“You wanna take a bus or walking?” asks Pablo, the Argentinian owner of our hostel. He gives us instructions on how to get to Praia do Sono. “It’s fucking paradise,” he tells us. After a 30 minute bus ride we arrive in a small village. There’s only one way to the beach and that’s by foot through an area of protected land. When the path begins to descend we think we must be reaching the beach, but it’s a false hope. We hike on past banana trees and palm fronds and purple flowers.

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As we walk we catch glimpses of the light blue sea between the deep green of shadowy jungle leaves. More than an hour later the trees part and there we see it. Praia do Sono.

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I’m not a beach person, but here I become one. The water is warm and calm, the sand fine and golden. Colorful buildings sit back from the shore and tents are pitched in the shade of trees, but there are only a handful of other visitors. It feels like some magical make-believe place.

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Sao Paulo

A lot of what you hear about Brazil´s megacity has to do with crime. So, I was initially a bit guarded, looking out for pick pockets, or worse, violent gangsters. But my fears soon dissipated as I walked around Sao Paulo´s varied and coloful neighborhoods. From the Koreatown we stumbled into to the high rises of Vila Mariana, I took a cue from the easy-going Paulistanos and relaxed.

Street music in Córdoba

Córdoba is the university town of Argentina. Of the roughly 1.3 million residents, about 200,000 are students. That means there’s a lot of youth and a lot of life on the streets. We heard this quartet from the end of the street, and as we approached, we couldn’t believe they weren’t using mics. Enjoy!

Protest in Córdoba

“Is this picture for a positive memory?”

A middle-aged man spoke to us while we were photographing a protest in the streets of Córdoba. We stumbled across the protesters on Avenida Colón while on our way to the Jesuit Crypt.

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We saw waving flags, spray-painted slogans, burning rubbish bins, and the face of Che Guevara. ‘Kill Neoliberalism’ read one of the hand-painted signs. A topless, slightly overweight guy kept shouting a chant encouraging the others to join in. The song never lasted very long. Little clusters of people stood talking to each other and laughed while smoke from a burning pile of rubbish wafted over them. Three old guys smoked together by a skip on wheels, skinny shoulders and bare chests on display, looking serious and motioning with their arms at the wider group.

The majority of the protesters were young, but there was nothing to make them stand out amongst any other group of youth in the city. There were some older people too, like the smoking men and a couple of fat, flushed women on the outskirt of the flag-wavers. After about ten minutes they began dispersing. Che Guevara and the blue and white stripes of Argentina headed off in one direction. The red flags stayed, waving a little less than before. We didn’t see any police. There seemed to be more onlookers than participators.

“We’re tourists”, we told the guy who questioned us. He seemed not to like the protesters.

“This is a democracy,” he said, “Every day they paralyse the country”.

He walked away as a burning skip collapsed at its base into a gooey, plastic mess.

A postcard from the Afro-Brazil Museum

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Iemanja, goddess of the sea.
Pele, god of football.

We chose to visit the Afro-Brazil Museum over the Modern Art Museum just because it was closer to where we were standing at decision time. Not only is it the best ‘cultural thing’ of the trip so far, it’s also one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

The two-level building inside is set up with both broad open views and small labyrinthine spaces that bring you close to the exhibits. The collection is vast, encompassing historical and ethnographic artifacts as well as artworks (including folk art, fine art and modern art). They’re displayed along themes rather than by category, so you might read about the slaves brought to Brazil, stand next to a ceremonial costume from Africa and admire a modern sculpture made of seashells and pottery.

The most beautiful exhibits were the traditional costumes, displayed on wire-frame mannequins to give all the glory to the patterned fabric, embroidery, beadwork and jewelry. I was most surprised at the skeleton of a slave ship, which was much smaller than I had imagined and made me wonder how they possibly fitted so many people on it. My favorite thing was the temporary exhibition about cowboys in the northeast of Brazil.

Life size photos brought me face to face with cangaceiros; outlaws reacting against landowners and government. Stony-faced and unmoving like all old portraits are, men and women clad alike in leather with a backdrop of thorny desert. This contrasted with the many clay figurines of Lampião and his girlfriend, Maria Bonita, smiling arm in arm or riding horses, glorified as folk heroes despite being the leaders of the most notorious band of marauders in the 1920s and 1930s. One final photo showed their disembodied heads, mouths limp, eyes closed in death as they rested upon shelves in front of the camera.

Afro-Brasil Museum
Subway: Ana Rosa, then walk to Ibirapuera Park
Price: free
Hours: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.