South America

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Varig Airlines Travel Poster Bahia

Once a standard-bearer of glamour and adventure during the Golden Age of jet travel, Brazil’s Varig brand will cease to exist by next April. That’s when Brazilian low-cost airline Gol, owner of the brand, will officially dispense with the iconic logo and name that it acquired when the original Varig stopped flying in 2006, repainting the remaining Varig-branded planes in Gol’s fluorescent orange livery.

Varig-Gol

Founded in Porto Alegre in 1927 as Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense, the airline known as Varig once connected Brazil with destinations as far-flung as Copenhagen, Tokyo, Maputo, and Toronto, carrying with it idealized exoticism, the promise of sun and sex south of the equator. Jet-setters, when not flying Pan Am, flew Varig down to Rio. Even the plucky Holly Golightly adorned the walls of her Manhattan apartment with Varig’s eye-catching posters as she dreamt of a new life in Brazil in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Sadly, as air travel became more accessible to the masses, Varig’s stellar service waned, as did its profits, and by the 2000s, the airline found it hard to compete against nimble competition in a stormy economic environment. After an embarrassing bankruptcy in 2006, with planes repossessed at JFK and soccer fans stranded in Germany during the World Cup, competitor Gol snapped up a few bits and pieces of the legacy carrier, hoping to bank on Varig’s international brand recognition and global image. Subsequently, as archrival TAM has taken up the mantle as Brazil’s de facto flag carrier and Gol has steadily built its own brand awareness through aggressive advertizing and solid service, Varig’s name proved irrelevant and, come next April, will be consigned to history, alongside Pan Am, TWA, Swissair, and a few other paragons of 20th century air travel.

I only flew Varig once, round-trip from Miami to Salvador da Bahia via São Paulo. It was my first trip to Brazil. The seats on the Boeing 777 were cramped, the flight attendants on the international legs mostly surly, middle-aged men. Our return domestic flight was late and an agent had to rush us through the concrete maze that is São Paulo’s airport to make our connection to Miami and as I approached the door, one flight attendant smiled at me and asked, “Baiano?” “Não,” I responded, flattered to have been mistaken for Brazilian, “americano.”

Varig, you will be missed.

Varig Airlines Travel Poster Rio2

Varig Airlines Travel Poster Sao Paulo

Varig Airlines Travel Poster Brazil

Varig Airlines Travel Poster Rio1

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Demonstrators Stage Largest Street Protests In Two Decades
      This ain’t no Carnival. People pissed! Image source: AP

Right now, Brazil convulses with the heady combination of indignation and optimism that characterizes popular movements. The People – that vast and oft-evoked abstraction made up of millions of students and truck drivers and dental hygienists and single mothers and retirees and first graders – have gotten so fed up with the economic and political oppression that has always plagued Brazil, Latin America as a whole, and, at many times in its history, the United States, that they’ve taken to the streets to voice their exasperation with the greed, corruption, official acts of violence, and woefully poor quality-of-life that have hampered the upward mobility of most Brazilians in the face of unprecedented “national prosperity” and vanity projects like the World Cup and the Olympics.

What that means, exactly, remains to be seen. Moneyed and political interests are too entrenched in the business of making money at all costs to really engage in the necessary paradigm shift even if they wanted to. And I’m just cynical enough to believe that nothing lasting is going to happen; after all, a columnist from Brazil’s largest daily reflected the general cluelessness of those in power: “From paradise, we have slipped…into limbo.”

Paradise for whom?

No, there will be no New Deal-style governmental investment in infrastructure, no nationwide jobs program, no major overhaul of the educational and health care systems. There’s too much unfettered greed infecting the country’s economical and political elite for that to ever happen. It’s a refrain in heavy rotation: “Brazil never moved away from the slave plantation.”

I have friends who were injured by police during last week’s protest in my beloved São Paulo. I have friends who live in the areas most heavily affected by teargas and rubber bullets in the center of the city. Some of the clashes between protesters and the police occurred on the street where I last lived not a full two years ago, where I last walked not a full two months ago, and where I spent several years becoming part of the city’s social fabric, another brown face popping in and out of lunch counters and convenience stores, hopping the bus to work during the week or home from the club on the weekend. That was my street and my neighborhood and my people and my city. It’s unnerving to know that I could just as easily have been shot with a rubber bullet outside my door or teargassed on my way home from work as any of my friends, neighbors, or coworkers.

It’s easy to change the channel when you have no direct connection to the events on the screen, but it’s something else when you are linked to the places and people being affected by strife. When the air clears, I’m still not sure what will have changed in terms of corruption, accountability, state-sanctioned violence, or quality-of-life. But I know that neither the powers that be, the media, nor Brazilians themselves will continue to blindly brush off indignities and injustices with a tudo bom (It’s all good) and an evocation of Brazil’s trademark deflectors: sun, sex, and soccer.

Maybe that refusal to accept indignities and injustices is the necessary spark. Hell, it only took 9 cents to finally piss enough people off. And that’s just my 2 cents.


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In 2014, the FIFA World Cup soccer championship will be held in Brazil from June 12 to July 13. With Brazil being a continent-sized country geographically larger than the “Lower 48,” FIFA agreed to let the country host matches in a dozen cities, exceeding the usual number by two, and ensuring spectators from Copacabana to the Amazon get a chance to witness the ultimate expression of The Beautiful Game on its most fervent home turf. Ladies and gentlemen, today I present to you the promotional posters for Brazil’s 12 World Cup host cities:

World Cup Poster Belo Horizonte

World Cup Poster Brasilia

World Cup Poster Cuiaba

World Cup Poster Curitiba

World Cup Poster Fortaleza

World Cup Poster Manaus

World Cup Poster Natal

World Cup Poster Porto Alegre

World Cup Poster Recife

World Cup Poster Rio de Janeiro

World Cup Poster Salvador

World Cup Poster Sao Paulo

Which ones do you folks like best?

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Starting today, Brazil celebrates Black Consciousness Month, honoring the contributions of African-descended peoples in Brazilian society and recognizing the challenges of those same peoples in the country today.

Well, that’s not entirely true…many people in Brazil are celebrating Black Consciousness Month. But many others see this particular exercise as unnecessarily divisive and alien to Brazil’s culture of “inclusiveness and miscegenation.” I see the latter as a negation and a silencing of an inextricable aspect of the culture that has long been undervalued and misrepresented, so…Happy Black Consciousness Month, todo mundo!

Stay tuned for related posts throughout the month…er, year, and in the meantime, take a look at the trailer for a documentary currently in the works about the black experience in Rio de Janeiro, called AfroCariocas. Can’t wait for the debut!

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Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:

1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.

2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).

3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.

4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.

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Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!

Bangkok, Thailand
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!

Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.

Toronto, Canada
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.

Make sure you stay tuned to Fly-Brother.com and get lifted with me.

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Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.

All around the world, same song...

It’s time for a bit of airline geekery! I keep track of all my flights via the Flight Memory database system. I enter the details of my trip, including times, aircraft type, and seat number, then watch as the system tallies up trivia like my top ten air routes (Bogotá-Barranquilla is still #1), how many times I could have circumnavigated the globe via air (13.87 times), most used airports (ATL, BOG, JAX, GRU, BAQ), etc. It also renders the fly-ass map above that shows all the non-US routes I’ve flown. With this week’s Swiss flight from São Paulo to Zurich, I finally closed the transatlantic gap between Europe and South America! Yeh, yeh…well, it’s exciting to me.

That's my plane!

Anyway, impeccable service aside, Swiss International Air Lines (the descendant of Swissair, which folded in 2002) developed a funky-fresh inflight mapping system called the Airshow, that keeps track of your plane’s progress and throws up fact boxes about key destinations en route. There’s a stat ticker at the bottom of the screen and cool swoop-around graphics of the plane and the earth. I snapped a few shots (and some video) during the flight – in the dark, so as not to look like some star-struck kid – but it’s the very idea of hurtling across the equator on a Swiss jetliner to Zurich that just says fly.



Next up: Notes on Zurich

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