Tag - Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Glitzy Gemstone Capital of the World

Aquamarine, courtesy of Alyea's Jewellers, Ottawa - S. Hallett

Aquamarine, courtesy of Alyea’s Jewellers, Ottawa – S. Hallett

When thinking of gemstones, Boucheron in France, Graff in England, Tiffany’s in the U.S. and Italy’s Buccellati come to mind. So should H. Stern in Rio.

Brazil’s Mountains a Trove of Mineral Wealth

That one of the world’s largest jewelers is Brazilian should come as no surprise. Brazil is an immense storehouse of precious metals and colored gemstones. Almost every type of colored gemstone and precious metal has been found in one or another region of the country. Approximately 65% of the entire production of gemstones in the world originates in Brazil.

The exploitation of mineral wealth was an important factor in Brazil’s historical development. Such colonial-era cities as Vila Rica, now called Ouro Preto meaning Black Gold, and Diamantina were established around out-croppings of precious stones and metals. Now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they are listed because of their beautiful Brazilian Baroque architecture.

Brazil Has It All Plus Rio de Janeiro

Brazil is famous for macumba (voodoo); maniacal drivers; manioc and mate (strong tea) as well as its memories of conquistadors; filibusters and privateers. There are masses or orchids, papayas to eat after your feijoada, the national meal of black beans and rice, and batida, the potent fruit punch made with cachaca, a crude white brew concocted from sugar cane. It tastes like a mixture of rum and tequila.

Rio’s Place in the World of Precious Stones

The exciting cosmopolitan city of Rio de Janeiro, a city surrounded by lush forests, is the Brazilian showtown ne plus ultra with fabulous wealth and world-famous beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema. It is also probably the best place in the world to buy amethysts, aquamarines, citrines and tourmalines.

Rio’s place as the gemstone center of South America and possibly the entire world, is a result of the enterprise of Hans Stern, a German immigrant who founded what has become a virtual jewellery empire. That was back in 1946. Rio is still headquarters of the firm, but you can shop in many other cities and on cruise ships for gemstones from H. Stern.

The first thing I saw after unpacking at the Sheraton Rio was a green card proposing a “Free visit to H. Stern’s gem cutting and goldsmith workshops.” Transportation by taxi to the lavish headquarters in Ipanema and return to the hotel were part of the deal, so I had nothing to lose.

First in Brazil to Quote Fixed Prices

Bargaining was the way most jewellery was bought in Brazil before Hans Stern established what for years was the largest space ever built solely for the production and sale of jewellery. On arrival, visitors are escorted to the third floor for a guided tour, which is a wonderful learning experience as well as an entertaining way to spend time on a rainy day. The tour, which lasts for about 15 minutes, takes visitors through the entire cycle of jewellery production, from the discovery of the raw material through cutting and polishing, the design and actual mounting process to the display and sale of the finished product.

The hostess who accompanied me on the tour said that almost 50% of all tourists in Rio visit the Ipanema headquarters. After the tour, there is a chance to visit the firm’s museum and buy loose stones as well as jewellery.

No bargaining is done, as happens frequently in South America and every piece bought comes with a written guarantee. Stern was ahead of the times as he was the first to start using computers to keep inventory. He also organized fashion shows featuring jewellery on cruise ships and commercial airline flights. Although showmanship was part of his rise to success, it was the innovative use of stones as well as the scrupulous honesty of the company that made the firm such a success.

Most Popular Brazilian Gemstones

The most popular of all the Brazilian gemstones is the aquamarine, followed closely by the tourmaline which comes in a rainbow of colors. Citrine and topaz are also sought after, especially the type of topaz found only in Brazil called Imperial Topaz. This stone ranges from a pale wheat color, through pink champagne to a deep sherry color and is fairly expensive. Brazilian emeralds are also popular. My favorite stone was called Rubellite, a type of tourmaline in a deep pink shade.

H. Stern’s workshop is located at Rua Garcia D”Avila, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro.  Although I didn’t have time for visits to other jewelers, Amsterdam Sauer is another option in Rio for those who are interested in gems and jewellery, although rumor has it that this firm is on the pricey side.

Giant Anteaters Of The Pantanal- Brazil

Giant ant eater

Giant ant eater

Among the amazing species we see are the nearly extinct Giant Anteaters. The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland, bog, swamp or marsh. The Pantanal is a tropical wetland and the world’s largest wetland of any kind. It lies mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul but extends into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping support a dense array of animal species.

The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater and the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina. Its fossil remains have been found as far north as northwestern Sonora, Mexico. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats, including grasslands, deciduous forests and rainforests.

It feeds mainly on ants and termites, sometimes up to 30,000 insects in a single day.   The giant anteater is one of few taxa of mammals without any teeth even in a mature state. An anteater instead crushes insects it consumes using hard growths found on the inside of its mouth, and its flabby stomach. It grows to a size of up to 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, with a 4-foot-long (1.2 m) head and torso, and a 3-foot-long (0.91 m) tail. Generally it weighs from 65 to 140 pounds (29 to 64 kg). These anteaters are have a very keen sense of smell, used to locate ants, but are thought to have poor sight and hearing.

Habitat destruction is the primary threat to giant anteaters. They are listed as Appendix II by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Appendix II is defined as a species not necessarily threatened to extinction but one that should be controlled in trade to avoid overuse. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). ‘Vulnerable’ is defined as an estimated population reduction of 20% in the next 10 years. It is estimated that there are only as few as 5,000 left in the wild, and only 90 live in zoos across the United States.

If you are interested in visiting these ant eaters. Contact Terra Incognita and ask for Gerard. He will take care of you. You might be well served if you mention that you are referred by smart travel info.

Rio’s Labyrinth: A Closer Look at the Favelas of Rio De Janeiro

Favelas of Rio De Janeiro-cr-rioonwatch.org

Favelas of Rio De Janeiro-cr-rioonwatch.org

For decades, the Favelas of Rio have been a center point for drug trafficking and violence in Brazil. Until now, this has been widely ignored by the government, the law enforcement and the rest of the world, yet with anticipation already growing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, attentions have turned to making the city as safe as possible for the visiting tourists. Unfortunately, this city’s reputation in Western circles has been built upon reels of negative media coverage and the well circulated film “City of God” (2002), in which against the backdrop of the Cidade de Deus Favela the harsh reality of living in these communities is captured on film for the rest of the world to see. It is not an inaccurate portrayal, yet there are still many layers of this intricate labyrinth of colorful decay that have yet to be pulled back. Standing in the shadow of the awe inspiring Christ the Redeemer, many of these people are still waiting to be redeemed, not just in his eyes, but in the eyes of the world.

History of the Favelas

According to the book Favelas and Ghettos: race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City, the Favelas in Rio can be traced back as far as the late 1800s, where the black slaves started to build their own houses and develop their own communities after they were freed from slavery. The first Favela to be called by its own name was erected in November 1897, and since then, these shanty towns have been growing exponentially. The housing crisis of the 1940s saw an explosion of the favela populations in the suburbs, to the point where they have now expanded so much they are pushing the borderline of metropolitan Rio. However, constant flooding of the low-lying areas in the wet season has seen has forced many people to build hillside, so the mountains that surround this great city are now dotted with the colour of these sprawling urban labyrinths.

Growth Control

The fact that these Favelas still exist in indicates a wide gap between the classes of people as a result of an unequal distribution of the country’s wealth. Yet the aim to remove all inhabitants of the Favelas and place them in the suburbs or rural communities has proved too great a task now to be considered practical; according to the Brazilian census, there are currently over 513 different Favelas existing in Rio De Janeiro alone. As the gap continues to grow between the rich and the poor, so too do the Favelas, spreading out over the hillsides and into Rio’s national park forest, which in turn poses a threat to the surrounding ecosystems and the wildlife that reside there. In order to curb the urban sprawl, the government is looking into putting up concrete walls around the existing outskirts, yet with the current civil unrest stirring within the Favelas, it may stand that this proposed project will do more damage than it will prevent.

Inside the Favela

Few people have had the chance to see the intricacies of a social structure that balances on the edge of the machete, and understand the true nature of the people that live there. From this side of the looking glass their world appears base and brutal, but if you step through and look from the other side, you will find that the majority of people are out to make an honest living, yet cannot afford the bustling metropolis that is downtown Rio. They move here because they do not have to pay tax on their houses, they have access to free electricity and water, and they have nowhere else to go. Most of them are not interested in purchasing drugs, nor are they compelled to, as long as they follow the rules under the strict hand of the drug lords, who will not tolerate theft or violence amongst their own residents so that the paths for trafficking between them and the outside remains open and clear. In fact, it is often heard that the man who shakes your hand in the Favela will be the man who robs you on the streets of Rio. If you are a tourist visiting one of the many Favelas close to the city, firstly, always take a tour guide with you to ensure your safety.

It is perfectly safe to take your camera, yet your tour guide will tell you the points where photography is prohibited. There are a large number of tours available, from walking tours to bus tours to tours on the back of motor taxis. You will find children playing samba drums for your change, women making colourful bracelets from telephone wires, artist studios and a large number of bakeries and shops where it is safe to try the local cuisine; they even have set up a day care center for children whose parents have to work during the day. But be careful, for the children flying kites and playing you music in the streets of the Favela are likely to take your jewelry if you meet them on Copacabana beach.

The Interventions

The impending police interventions to try and control these gangs and their drug operations appear to have caused a case of waking the sleeping giant. Loss of control over their territories due to the imposition of governmental law in the Favelas has caused the criminals to rise up and lash out against the public, with retaliation attacks including the torching of cars and public transport in the heart of Rio city, and the crossfire fatalities of civilians in late November 2010 (Merco Press, 26th of November 2010). With the government determined to get the situation under control by the commencement of the World Cup in 2014, one of the most significant sporting events in the city’s history, locals are worried that this will not be the last of the backlash. We can only hope it is not they who are the ones always paying the ultimate price for other people’s mistakes. On my travels through Rio, I found the Favelas to be one of the most intriguing and emotionally arresting places in all of Rio. I encourage all who are traveling to this amazing city to take the time to take a tour up into these widely misunderstood cultural hubs of Brazil, and you will see that not all that is said about them is true. If you are a tourist in Rio, don’t be put off by all that you’ve seen on the news; as long as you go with a good tour group, you will be safer in there than you will  be shopping on the streets of  downtown Rio. A great tour group to go with is Be A Local, as the guides have good relationships with the local people who live in the Favelas, and they will take you right into the heart to interact with these amazing people.