There are 67 indigenous tribes still living in Brazil who have had no contact with any outsider whatsoever, happily living in their own pristine – call it primitive if you like – little worlds, a few miles square! Surely this earth, our home, is much more diverse and intriguing than Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists would have us believe.
(Daily Times, 3 July 2013)
With the world’s fifth largest population and rich in natural resources, Brazil is now considered an emerging economic giant, after China and India. Among other achievements, it produces the Embraer aircraft. Nearly 50 airlines around the world operate about a thousand of various models of the aircraft, the largest of which is the 50-seater ERJ-145, launched in 1995. Brazil also has a thriving arms export industry. It now produces over 3% of the world’s crude oil, more than Nigeria or Venezuela.
Rio de Janeiro lacks the vibrancy of Sao Paulo, commonly called Sampa, 442 kilometres to the southwest. With a population of 20 million, Sao Paulo is a very large metropolis by any standard. The downtown markets are pulsating. It has a massive underground metro system connecting most parts of the city. Brasilia and Rio have underground metros too, but much smaller. So, too, have a few other South American cities, such as Santiago (Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). Lima (Peru) has an efficient metro bus system.
For me, the greatest attraction was Iguazu Falls, which straddles the Argentine border in the southeast. The world’s largest waterfall is shared by two countries (with a third country, Paraguay, only about 10 kilometres away), as are the second and third largest, namely, Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe) and Niagara Falls (USA/Canada). For full appreciation, all three should be seen from both sides, as I have been privileged to do. In all three, the views are so different from the two sides that you might think you are looking at two different waterfalls!
Citizens of the two countries concerned can argue about who has the best view but, if one is limited to view the falls from one side only, then I would recommend the Argentinian, Zimbabwean and Canadian sides, respectively, for Iguazu, Victoria and Niagara. At Iguazu, there is more variety, many pathways and greater access from the Argentinian side. But the Brazilian side offers a more panoramic view, an open vista.
In the hierarchy of waterfalls, Iguazu Falls has to be rated as number one in overall magnificence. Of the three top-ranking falls, Victoria has the highest drop at 107 metres, compared to 80 metres for Iguazu and 58 metres for Niagara Falls. But, in width, Iguazu takes the lead at a formidable 2.7 km (though broken into many separate falls), although Victoria is the widest uninterrupted waterfall, with a width of 1.7 km, compared to 0.67 km for Niagara.
The Amazon Jungle, 60 per cent of which lies within Brazil, contains half of the world’s remaining rainforests. According to Wikipedia, “the region is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. To date, at least 40,000 plant species, 2,200 fishes, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region.”
“One in five of all the bird species in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon, and one in five of the fish species live in Amazonian rivers and streams. The biodiversity of plant species is the highest on Earth . . . One square kilometre of Amazon rainforest can contain about 90,790 tonnes of living plants”. No wonder Amazonia has been called the “lung of the world”. What happens here directly affects the climate everywhere.
Deforestation in Amazonia from human encroachment and economic exploitation is now a major global concern. One result of this is its effect on the dwindling population of the native American Indians, large populations of whom were decimated centuries ago as a consequence of white colonisation throughout north and south America, most from introduced diseases to which they had no immunity.
Bolivia is now the only country in the entire western hemisphere where the indigenous people still constitute a majority of the population. And mineral-rich Bolivia is also the poorest! Brazil’s 700,000 Indians now constitute only 0.04% of the total population, though many millions have Indian ancestry. However, as late as in 2007, Brazil was said to have 67 “uncontacted” tribes, more than in the island of New Guinea in south-east Asia, which is divided between the independent state of Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua/West Papua.
In other words, there are 67 indigenous tribes still living in Brazil who have had no contact with any outsider whatsoever, happily living in their own pristine – call it primitive if you like – little worlds, a few miles square! Surely this earth, our home, is much more diverse and intriguing than Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists would have us believe.
On trips like these, one meets very interesting people and learns a thing or two about many things, particularly if one is ready to interact with strangers, rather than stay fixated on sight-seeing or remain confined to “guided” tours. In fact, the human interactions are just as interesting, educative and enlightening as the sights and sounds of mountains, lakes, beaches and market places.
I met a young man at Sao Paulo airport who, when asked where he was from, said he was “Basque”. On further questioning, he conceded, with a sneer, that he was from Spain. Who would he support when Spain is playing, say, Italy in a soccer final? “Italy, of course,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation. He went on to add that, in any sport, he and his people will support any team which is playing against Spain.
New Zealanders are known to declare their support for whichever team is playing Australia. Australians, for their part, will happily cheer for a team of devils if it was playing against England!
In Valparaiso, Chile, I met a Canadian couple from the French-speaking province of Quebec who claimed they spoke no English, only French. I knew this could not be true, but when I told this to two young Canadian men from Toronto I met a short while later, they expressed their opinion of the Quebecois in, well, French!
By Razi Azmi