Category Archives: Land and Landscapes

Rio after the Rain

Newspapers and TV news all over the world reported about the catastrophy in Rio in the Rain earlier this week. But – except within Brazil – few report about Rio after the Rain now… well, hopefully now is already “after the rain”, so that rescue works hopefully do not have to put up with even more challenges than they already do. The firefighters involved in the rescues are already getting support from many volunteers – but are in need of even more. For now, the rain has ceased – but the clouds are still there and eventual drizzle threatens more water.

What happened during and after the rain was – once again, similar to the situation in Angra dos Reis three months ago – that the rain turned hills into mud, which in the end slid down and took with them the houses built on these hills, most of them without official permission. This week, in Rio and Niteroi, the hill where the mudslide happened actually was not a hill but a former garbage dump, covered with soil as a landfill some 25 years ago. It was never meant to become a residential area, not authorized for construction, but for lack of another place to go, people started to build there and to call the place their home.

On TV, a lady who lost her home and her family in the most recent mudslide explained, with tears in her eyes, that authorities even had come to her house a few years ago and asked her to leave her home for security reasons. But she neither had anywhere to go, nor money or opportunity to build a new existence elsewhere, so she ended up staying. And with her, the inhabitants of the other 60 houses that slid down the “Morro do Bumba” hill in Niteroi. See the video:

While the world is turning its attention to other topics and other countries, the catastrophe in Rio and Niteroi is still dominating the news in Brazil and promises are being made that measures will be taken so that something like this will never happen again. Hopefully they will… so that in the future, when the next rain comes – and it will – all Brazilians can spend the rainy days in a way like those in this video below:

Today, the rain brings up one more proof of just how divided the Brazilian society is and how harsh the differences are between rich and poor.

With best wishes


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Rio and the Rain

You may have seen it on the news already: Rio de Janeiro has been flooded by tropical rains yesterday. Thick black clouds hanging between the usually picturesque green hills, cars being carried away by rivers running where main roads used to be, people crowding stairways or doors watching the waters and wondering how they will get where they are supposed to go… right, you’ve probably seen the pictures.

Flooded streets in Rio de Janeiro on 6th April 2010

Rio and the Rain, 6th April 2010

Or a video:

This is not what you expect when you think of the “Marvellous City”, right?

So what about the Myth of the city of Samba, Beaches, and year-round Sun? Remember the song “It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya, it pours… man it pours” ? Well, I’d say this is something Rio and California have in common!

In the end, Rio does have a tropical climate, and there is a reason why all the picturesque hills beautifully distributed in the blue water of the sea of the bay of Guanabara are so lush and green: a lot of water. Now the reason we usually think of Rio in the sun is this: It does rain, and more than in many other places of the world. But the rain is heavy and short and once the sky clears up the sun is so hot it dries the streets and beaches and heats the city up so fast that you forget it ever rained. Until the next rain comes. And it will, eventually.

This “forgetting it ever rained” is a symptom visitors of Rio share with inhabitants and as well the local politicians. And this is where things get critical. In the first days or January 2010, heavy rains caused a mudslide in Angra dos Reis, a little beach town at a 3 hours’ drive from Rio de Janeiro. In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s 11 million metropolis, it has been raining every day for 45 days in a row during December and January this year, and most of these days the city was flooded. In 2008, extraordinarily heavy rains caused a mudslide which left many victims and more homeless in Blumenau, a town in Southern Brazil, and overflowing rivers destroyed bridges and practically cut off the southernmost state of Brazil, Santa Catarina. According to news and politicians, every time the reason is because “the quantity of rain that fell in an hour was more than was expected for a month”. The time span mentioned in this phrase varies, but you hear it again and again. I sometimes ask myself: Why not expect more rain? And prepare for it?

I recently read an article in a popular Brazilian magazine asking pretty much the same question. It referred to the event in Angra dos Reis in January 2010, where over 40 people died and many houses were destroyed by the mudslide. It stated “The cause for the disaster was not the rain, but the fact that the people were in a place where they mustn’t have been when it rained.” To be precise: they were at the foot of a steep hill of rock covered by a thin layer of soil and high – and heavy – Atlantic rainforest vegetation with no deep roots. The hill reached out picturesquely into the sea, but the soil and vegetation uphill were not connected well enough with the rock below, and when the rain came, they slid into the sea. According to the article, of the about 300 houses at the foot of the hill, only a small percentage had been build with official permission by the authorities, and even those probably shouldn’t even have had this permission had there been a proper geological analysis of the construction site.

As a side note: in the Amazon and the Pantanal, which suffer much heavier rainfalls over much longer periods of time, nature deals with it without any big disasters. Flora, Fauna and the local human inhabitants have adapted to the cycle and respect it, and even take advantage of it. The variety of plants, animals and birds that only exist in these unique ecosystems are the best proof. It is only where man tries to take control, to build big cities and shape the land according to his wishes, where the whole system becomes so vulnerable.

Another fact that startled me in the article was this: The Federal Budget of Brazil does consider the climate and lays aside millions of reais for “Disaster Prevention” every year, but less than 10% of this budget get used by the politicians. I repeat: Apparently, as soon as the sun comes out, local politicians forget that it ever rained. At the same time, every year, the amount spent on Emergency Help for the victims of Disasters is higher than the budget that had been planned for the prevention of disasters in the first place.

The ability of its people to live in the present and not get stuck in too many worries about the past and the future is an ability I personally admire Brazil for, and is something many more developed countries can learn from. But as with anything, you can go over the top with this one, too. Today the rains ceased in Rio de Janeiro, but there are still black clouds hanging heavily over the hilltops.

For Rio and its people and visitors, I hope the clouds disappear soon and give way to the usual clear blue summer sky. But maybe it would be good it those clouds continued to hang above some people’s heads for another while.

With best wishes

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Happy Birthday Salvador

Happy Birthday, Salvador!

The first capital of Brazil, Salvador da Bahia, is 461 years old today, 29th of March 2010!

Compared with many European cities, this number might not be very impressive, but Salvador is, still, one of the oldest cities in Brazil. And for 461 years, it has a lot of (hi)stories to tell. Founded in colonial times, having played an important role in the era of slavery, and consequently having been one of the centers of the movements of resistance, and for the abolition of slavery and later, until now, of the movements for racial equality, “Salvador” has a special meaning for everyone who lives in or even only visited it. There is something special about the “City of Salvador (the Savior) by the Bay of all Saints”. Despite of the many dark chapters in its history, and despite of the fact that still today, the city struggles with huge problems (social inequality, high unemployment and poverty rate, an inappropriate infrastructure with a tube line of only 8 km which has been under construction for over 20 years and still is not in service, while roads are getting more congested by the day, and a growing crime rate, related to an increase in the use of drugs and drug traffic, amongst others….), despite of all these difficulties, Salvador is a city that is loved and admired by most of its inhabitants and visitors. When asked, they will tell what they love and admire: the beauty of this city by the sea with countless beaches and view of the bay and its islands, the music, the colors, the culture and traditions and dance, the year-round sun and the sea, the food, and – most of all – the smile of its people. Maybe the “something special” about Salvador is just this: HOPE. Despite of all problems, people smile. This may not be the best way to start a revolution to change and improve things quickly, but it makes each day a little bit better. And it fascinates.

Today on its 461st anniversary, Salvador celebrates with a bit of everything. The city organizes educational tours for schools to historical places, to keep awake the memory of both good and bad moments of its history. Several architectural projects such as health centers, public squares and areas for physical exercise have been finalized and opened to the public, to improve the quality of life in the specific neighborhoods in the city. Libraries and shopping centers are hosting photographic exhibitions capturing the visual beauty of Salvador and it people. And one thing that cannot be missing: Music. At night, on the square Praça Castro Alves, Salvador celebrates its birthday with shows with the popular band Parangolé – and with the Gospel Band MD7, which brings us back to the theme of HOPE.

Want a glimpse of the preview of the Birthday Party:

So whether we consider 461 years for a city old or young, the lesson of Hope is a beautiful lesson Salvador can teach. Happy Birthday, Salvador.

With best wishes from Brazil

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Spring and Fall and other contrasts

Today is the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere; after this year’s winter has been exceptionally harsh, the first flowers are finally bringing some color back into Europe’s and  North America’s landscapes. Night and day divide today’s 24 hours equally and in the months to come, there will be more light than dark hours; something many are looking forward to.

In the Southern hemisphere, on the contrary, a hot summer with symptoms of the El Nino Phenomenon in South America is coming to an end. It is the beginning of Fall.

What does “Fall” mean to Brazil?

Somehting different in every region. In the very South, days get shorter and nights cooler. In the very North, the Amazon, practically on the Equator, there is hardly any difference between the seasons.

And in between, on the coast in the North-East, it is the beginning of the rainy season. After a long and dry summer, thick and dark clouds have been accumulating above the sea, and from the sunny beaches you could watch them waiting for their time to come. This weekend was overcast. Any time soon, the thick drops of tropical rains will fill the air and flood the roads, transform stairways into riverbeds and stop rushhour traffic in hot and humid mist. For about one month, people will wake up at dusk from the sound of water pouring down, as if the neighbours had left the shower running at full power, for an hour; then the sun will dry up the clouds, then the roads, and shine for a day of blue sky perfect for going to the beach.

Later, the rains will get more frequent, lose their regularity, until June will have days as grey and filled with soft but permanent rain as a London November day. These days will be warm though, too warm use a waterproof jacket, but warm emough to feel like summer as soon as the rain stops.

This is, perhaps, the secret: I have not researched statistics, but from observation, I believe that in most (coastal) parts of Brazil, it rains more than in Europe. That is how the land is so green. But as soon as the rain stops, the sun makes you forget it ever rained. Not a bad effect… just do not end up facing the hardest rains in rush-hour traffic and formal clothing, as neither the sewage systems nor umbrellas are up for it.

With best wishes

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