From Andrew Harper
From the seductive pleasures of Rio to the call of the wild in the Amazon, Brazil provides riches of all kinds. The country covers nearly half of the entire South American continent and contains an extraordinary variety of landscapes, climates, cultures and peoples. Rio de Janeiro lies just within the tropics and offers all the pleasures of luxurious urban living in a startlingly beautiful setting. The vast ecosystem of Amazonia is about half the size of the continental United States. In the northeastern state of Bahia, Brazil’s mix of European and African blood is most readily apparent. To the south are miles of golden beaches where you can walk for hours and see no one. And more than 200 miles out into the Atlantic, the captivating tropical island of Fernando de Noronha offers world-class scuba diving as well as abundant fauna and flora.
In Buenos Aires, it often seems that you have been mysteriously transported to one of the more desirable quarters of Paris. Or Rome. Or maybe Madrid, as most people seem to be speaking Spanish. There are elegant neoclassical squares, pavement cafés, ritzy boutiques and grand old hotels like the Alvear Palace in Recoleta that can compete with the best in Europe. Periodically, the Hermes- and Gucci-clad assemble in the elegant district of Palermo for the international polo championships. There, the accents of the more affluent citizens mingle with those from London, Seville and Greenwich, Conn.
But then you notice the men with the ponies, the gauchos, with their flowing hair, ubiquitous ponchos, huge leather chaps, tooled silver belt buckles and faces tanned to the bone by the fierce sun of the pampas. Gauchos are mestizos, embodiments of the collision that melded the peoples and cultures of Europe and South America.
Far to the northwest, in the high Andes, you find the same intriguing juxtaposition. Step through the massive wooden doorway of the wonderful Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, housed within a gold-embellished 16th-Century baroque monastery, and you are startled to see that the first layers of masonry are still the massive blocks that once supported Inca temples and palaces. And there, in an instant, is the history of an entire continent, its ancient splendor, its violent conquest and the fascinating and evolving hybrid world of today.