We managed to escape Madrid just before martial law was declared in Spain's airports and have spent an enjoyable 'puente de diciembre' week in Brazil. It started with a couple of days in Rio de Janeiro. This was my third time in the city and despite the reputation it has for violence and social problems I saw it looking better than the other times. Brazil has done quite well in recent years, thanks to having both generals and a greedy and corrupt right-wing excluded from government. Which is not to say it doesn't have serious problems still, the social divide in Rio is very evident where you can have luxury villas on one side of a street and a favela shanty town on the other.
There are now companies which organise tours of one of the biggest and well-established favelas, it's a trip well worth doing to get an insight into how much of the city's population lives. Another sign of Brazil's progress is the strength of its currency, it's an expensive place to visit at the moment. My first visit was at the end of the 1980's when hyperinflation was crushing living standards and banknotes supposedly bearing the value 100,000 were stamped with the number 100 in attempts to stabilise the currency without printing new money.
I'm something of a minor rain god and I often bring rainfall in impressive quantities to places that I visit. I ended Barcelona's drought a couple of years ago, and last year I even made it snow heavily there. Rio was no exception and on our last night before leaving there was a long and torrential thunderstorm that demonstrated how much they need good drainage on some of the streets. I think the only day it didn't rain was the day we left Brazil, which just proves my point.
After Rio we headed south and discovered another paradise island - Ilha Grande. Once the site of a prison and a quarantine centre for immigrants from Europe, this forest covered island is now mostly protected and is a wonderful low-key tourist destination. From there we headed to the small colonial town of Paraty, not a cheap destination and when I saw the price of our hotel the rain god bowed down in homage before the VISA god. It carried on raining but to the huge amusement of the waiters in the bars we were determined to celebrate our last night with a caipirinha in one of the outdoor terraces, umbrellas in hand to keep us more or less dry. It was warm rain.