Years ago when one of the Cunard liners visited Sydney, the captain was asked how it felt sailing into Sydney harbour. He said it was a magnificent sight and the only city in the world that rivalled it was Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. That’s the moment when I decided I wanted to see Rio for myself.
I was lucky enough to visit the city in February 2017, just a few months after Rio had been host for the 2016 Olympics. The city had settled back to almost normal and the Cunard skipper’s remark proved to be completely correct. Rio has astonishing natural beauty which does not disappoint.
At the time Rio was preparing for Carnival, Brazil’s most famous festival, so the city was full of tourists. Our plan had been to spend a short time in Rio before flying to visit the Iguazu waterfalls – one of the great natural wonders of the world (I made a video)– before returning to Rio in time for Carnival.
But we changed our plans and after Iguazu, instead of returning to Rio, decided to experience Carnival in the epicentre of Afro-Brazilian culture, in a city 1,200 kms north of Rio – Salvador de Bahia. Salvador was the capital of Portuguese Brazil for more than 200 years until the 1760’s. Captain Cook hadn’t even joined the Royal Navy as a teenager when the capital was moved.
Salvador is a very old city with a very dark past. It was one of the primary hubs of the Afro-American slave trade, and the scale and sheer numbers of human beings imported as slaves into Brazil completely dwarfs what happened in the USA.
Brazil’s history is very long and complex. It’s a nation of 210 million people, with the 8th largest economy in the world, but it still hasn’t come to terms with the legacy from its past.