Just how big is Brazil?

How big is Brazil?  In a word, enormous.  It is easily the largest country in Latin America but also one of the largest countries in the world.  Only Canada, China, Russia, and the United States are larger in terms of land mass and the US only counts if we include Alaska and Hawaii.  Here are some awesome overlay maps to get a sense of scale:

MAPfrappe Google Maps Mashup - Brazil vs United States
Source: mapfrappe.blogspot.com.br
Source: Brazil: five centuries of change / Thomas E. Skidmore. — 2nd ed. (2010)

The equator runs through the very north of Brazil so for many northern areas there are essentially no seasons, it’s just hot.  The rest of Brazil is of course in the Southern Hemisphere so all of the seasons are in reverse to what we have in the US.  Winter here is from May to September and currently we are getting close to beginning Summer which goes from December to March.  Hurricanes and earthquakes do not exist in Brazil but other natural threats like drought and flooding are constant concerns.

In the US being from the Northeast is nothing like being from the South.  And being from the Southwest is nothing like being from the Midwest.  Similarly, Brazilians identify with five major regions a person might be from that influence their upbringing, their accent, their economic opportunities, and general identity.  Here’s another map to illustrate those regions:

Source: Brazil: five centuries of change / Thomas E. Skidmore. — 2nd ed. (2010)

The North and Center-West regions are predictably least populated.  The North contains much of the Amazon which is essentially impenetrable to large scale human settlement and the Center-West is a dry region making settlement difficult.  Despite this, Brazil has utilized swathes of land in Mato Grosso for large scale soybean production which is Brazil’s top export by far.  As with many nations the points of commerce are concentrated in the coastal areas.  In particular, the Southeast and South regions are the economic drivers in the country.

I am living and studying in Florianópolis which is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina in the South region.  It follows due to proximity that most of the Brazilians I have met come from Rio Grande do Sul, other parts of Santa Catarina, Paraná, the state and city of São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro.  To a lesser extent I have also met individuals from Minas Gerais and Bahia.  The Northeast has been experiencing economic decline since the nineteenth century.  Unfortunately there aren’t many signs of improvement on the horizon for that region so many Brazilians from the area migrate to other parts of Brazil for work.  In the South, the Brazilians I have spoken to tell me that Rio Grande do Sul is in a bit of an economic decline as well.  The capital city Porto Alegre is generally considered to be a bit dangerous and many people from Rio Grande do Sul, called gaúchos (ga-oo-shows), have relocated to Santa Catarina citing safety concerns and the better availability of work.

As in the United States there is an incredible amount of variety in the spoken accent of people from various parts of Brazil.  The accent of people from Rio Grande do Sul, for instance, is surprisingly easy for Spanish speakers to understand.  Portuguese and Spanish are technically close in structure and vocabulary but in practice spoken Brazilian Portuguese sounds almost nothing like spoken Spanish.  People from Rio de Janeiro were more difficult for me to understand.  They have a very specific carioca accent tied to the area and city of Rio de Janeiro.  Think of a really strong New Yorker accent in US English, and you might get an equivalent idea of how recognizable of an accent it is here.  Also, Brazilians in coastal states very much distinguish between those who grew up in cities on the coast and those who grew up in the interior.  Interior cities are generally thought of as more rural, less modern, with less economy, resources and education.  And there is a specifically interior accent as well where words like porta (door) and lar (home) use an “r” sound surprisingly very much like a normal American English speaker would pronounce them.

Owing to its size, Brazil contains an astounding amount of diversity among its people, places, and language.  Thankfully Florianópolis is very much a destination city for international travelers as well as migrating Brazilians.  This has provided me with a good sampling of regional cultural and language differences to study and learn from.  My budget unfortunately will not allow for a lot of travel within Brazil during my time here.  But I hope to bring more interesting bits of information as I come across them in my day to day situations here.

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Let’s have a race!

I am a huge proponent of accepting challenges.  If you’re offered to participate in something awesome, and it scares the crap out of you, the answer is always “yes” first and you figure out how to actually do it later.  So when our USAC resident director, Renato, asked if anyone wanted to compete in a 62 km (38.5 miles) adventure race around an enormous salt water lagoon here on this beautiful Brazilian island, I of course signed up to try out for a spot.  Tryouts were simple.  Everyone interested would meet and run 6 km (3.73 miles) and the best 8 times would get a spot on the team.  I barely squeaked by in the 8th spot and I am incredibly glad that I did.

The 62 km of the race are divided up into 8 pieces and it can be run in various team sizes which include octeto (8-people), quarteto (4-people), dupla (2-people), and insane (single person).  Believe me, running as an 8 person group is hard enough.  Renato, our resident director and defacto coach, exemplifies the sort of crazy person an event like this draws.  Due to an unfortunate bicycling accident two days before the race, he literally broke a bone in his right arm and still ran the longest part of the race at a great time.  This race was filled with people like this.  They simply love running and competing more than pain bothers them.  Here’s Renato in action:


The 8 parts of the race are of various lengths and elevations around the Lagoa de Conceição, a massive salt water lagoon on the island of Florianópolis.  This provides for really stunning views, if you’re able to catch your breath and appreciate them during your run.

Mapa do Percurso

You run through forests, beaches, dunes, clay, rocks, and water traps in a manner seemingly arranged for maximum fun and / or pain.

The real experience of the race for me, was the interactions you have along the way.  Getting between each posto, or place where you hand off between runners, is an adventure in itself.  None of us here have cars so you end up making friends with other runners or teams who do.  The Brazilians welcomed us wholeheartedly, paying no attention to the mud and sand we tracked in their vehicles, and they offered us snacks, beverages, and advice about cool places to check out on the island between stops.  Also Florianópolis is full of stray dogs, which are all kept well fed and in good health by the locals, who show a special kindness to them as if they were collective pets.  One of the fun stories of the race was that one dog in particular decided to do the trail with us.  It happily trotted along, keeping various runners and teams company, and it literally ran the race from start to finish.  Here is a shot of her with one of our teammates, Cole:


The race was organized by a group called Mountain Do who put on amazing trail runs all over South America.  I had never participated in an event like this before but I am eager to try more now that I’ve had such an amazing experience.  Our team placed 17th overall and 4th in the octeto (8-man) group.  I would like to say a special thanks to USAC and to the USAC Florianopolis site team composed of Renato Carvalho, Laura Baltazar, and Helena Cherem.  In a new place, you have to push yourself to do new things.  Get out there!

Finally, so that you can get a better feel for the event, here is a video created by Helena Cherem:

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