Monday, July 27, 2009

Brazil - The place to go

So close and easy to get to, yet unknown to most Americans, Brazil is fast becoming the new go-to getaway for savvy travelers seeking something totally different. In increasing numbers gay visitors are discovering in Brazil a vast country with countless treasures, from music and cuisine to art and architecture to a budding gay culture and a pulse-quickening undercurrent of same-sex attraction (a welcome departure from our more rigid definitions of gay versus straight).

Just do the math: With an exchange rate of over three reals to the dollar, it's also an incredibly inexpensive time for Americans to visit. This winter forget that tired old gay resort. Dust off your passport, brush up on your Portuguese and head to Brazil. Begin your discovery with our primer on the top destinations: Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and São Paulo.

Rio de Janeiro's setting is one of the most spectacular of any city œ the blue-green South Atlantic Ocean laps a wide expanse of white beaches, abutting the lush greenery of a semitropical forest. Superimpose a pulsating city and a vibrant nightlife and culture for a complete view of Rio's offerings. The city underwent a major facelift for the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development a few years ago, making now one of the best times ever to visit. A renovated airport, a speedy new route from airport to city, a bicycle path along the beachfront, spruced-up parks and an increased police presence in tourist areas are the major improvements.

Of course, Rio is famous for its Carnival. Besides the fantastic spectacle of the parade itself, there are lots of street parties and balls during the days before and after the main event. The gay ball is O Grande Gala Gay (official gay ball). This was once the gay event to go to, but it has taken a turn to the more commercial side, attracting a mostly straight audience in search of the exotic drag queens and transvestites that fill the ball to capacity.

There are a lot of other alternative gay neighborhood parades (Blocos and Bandas) such as Banda de Ipanema and Banda da Carmen Miranda, that wind around the Suburb of Ipanema, a dazzling cacophony of samba bands, exotic drag queens and beautiful Brazilian men and women.

These bands are followed by a big crowd singing and dancing samba on the streets of Ipanema from midafternoon (immediately after beach time œ attire consisting of swimming suits, bikinis or shorts) until late at night, ending up in one of the popular neighborhood bars, Bofetadaat Farme de Amoedo Street.

The Banda da Carmen Miranda leaves only once, on the Sunday preceding Carnival week. They crown the gay Queen and King of the parade, usually TV stars or other Brazilian celebrities. The most fun float of the Banda is from the Le Boy nightclub, with a huge crowd following it back to the door of the club in Copacabana at 10 p.m. The Banda de Ipanema leaves twice during the event, on the Saturday and Tuesday of Carnaval.

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