09 May – 13 May 2014
The capital of Brazil, Brasilia (not Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo). I arrived earlyish in the morning, and my CouchSurfing host, Fredson very kindly came to pick me up from the bus station to take me to his place. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Fredson dropped me off at his workplace, close to the “centre” of Brasilia, with a couple of tips about things to see and a promise to meet me after work. The thing about Brasilia is that there is no real centre, in the way other cities have centres.
Brasilia is a huge, sprawling city,
built on absolutely nothing in the middle of absolutely nowhere (locals say Brasilia’s odd location was strategically chosen to dissuade discontented citizens from launching an attack on the city). When the then president Kubitschek conceived the idea of Brasilia, he imagined a rich and prosperous city where the common mode of transport would be the personal automobile. Obviously, his slogan for Brasilia “Fifty years of progress in five” didn’t quite come to fruition, as even today, lots of people in Brasilia don’t own any personal automobiles,
which has led to Brasilia developing an extensive bus network. Anyway, the point is. Brasilia is not a pedestrian friendly city. My exploration of Brasilia hence had to be spread out over a few days, and on the first, I decided to walk towards the “head” of the airplane (Brasilia is designed in the shape of an airplane, with the body called the Monumental Axis – home to many monuments and office buildings, and the wings being where the residential areas are concentrated).
It was a long, but thankfully interesting enough walk,
with lots of quirky monuments to marvel at.
Brasilia, besides being the capital of Brazil, also stands as a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s famed, if eccentric architect.
If there’s an odd-looking building in Brasilia, chances are Niemeyer designed it – as chief architect in the Build Brasilia project, Niemeyer was given practically free reign over most of the buildings and accordingly, flavoured them with his unique touch.
The day went by quite quickly,
with the amount of walking I had to do to get the head of the airplane
and that evening, Fredson invited me along for his birthday celebrations with his friends. His friends turned out to be quite a jovial bunch, although I didn’t quite get most of the conversation which was in Portuguese. Still, it was fun (and I forgot to take pictures as usual).
The next day, Sarita, Fredson’s flatmate who works at the Finnish Embassy, invited us to go to a Europe Fair hosted by some of the European embassies, so Fredson and I dropped by for a bit, before I continued with my aimless wanderings. I went to a random park/garden that was huge (like everything else in Brasilia) and wandered around for a while,
feeling quite sorry for the park that was kinda lacking in vegetation due to the hot and dry climate of Brasilia.
arrived at the huge football stadium where some World Cup 2014 matches were going to be held, and just my luck – there was a match about to be played between two national teams!
I was just standing around, watching the spectators stream into the stadium when a random kind stranger offered me an extra ticket he had. I thought – hey, why not? Especially since I wasn’t going to be around for the World Cup itself.
It turned out to be quite fun, surrounded by ardent fans of a losing team, who kept yelling encouragement and tactical advice to the footballers, and occasionally breaking out into song. That was pretty much the end of my day,
and I spent the evening watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones with Fredson and Sarita. TV transcends borders 😉
Day 3 in Brasilia was time for me to cover the last section of the body of the airplane. Feeling a little more wise (and confident of my bus-taking abilities), I rode the bus all the way to the end of the strip to check out a cute little church there,courtesy of Niemeyer.
I enjoyed the walk back to the bus terminal, stopping along the way at a monument to Kubitschek
and an indigenous museum,
amongst other things.
Fredson wanted to show Sarita and me the sunset from a great spot he knew of on the other side of the lake, so I headed over to meet them in the afternoon, satisfied with having checked out most of the monuments in the centre strip of Brasilia. The other side of the (man-made) lake was quite beautiful, with lots of space for families to hang out just by the lake.
The sunset was also gorgeous, and it was a good way to end the day.
Unfortunately, my tummy decided that I had been having too many good days, and decided to act up on me that night. I threw up my dinner and several bottles of water before settling down for a feverish night. I wasn’t feeling much better the next day, so I lounged around at home for the most part, trying to organize the most important part of my trip to Brasilia – my trip to the Singapore embassy. To cut a long story short, I arranged for my bank to courier the replacement for the credit card I had lost/cancelled in Chile several months ago to the Singapore Embassy in Brasilia so that I could pick it up from there. After a bunch of emails back and forth from Embassy Dude (Darius Lim), I finally managed to set up a meeting with him to get my credit card the next day.
Thankfully, by the next day, my tummy was feeling tones better and I decided to head to the interstate bus terminal to buy my bus ticket to Campo Grande, in Mato Grosso do Sul where I had my next Workaway stint lined up, before heading to the Singapore embassy. Thanks to the meticulous organization of Brasilia into sectors, all the embassies are located in roughly the same area, so I took a detour to the Bolivian embassy, the next country on my itinerary, to check out the visa requirements. That turned out to be quite an unpleasant visit, with the embassy representative informing me that I needed all sorts of rubbishy documents (read: certificate of criminal records, only obtainable from the Singapore Police Department) and 2 weeks processing time to get my visa. Well, there was nothing I could do since I was leaving that day, so I quite dejectedly left and made my way to the Singapore embassy. Sweet taste of home. Well, not really but anyway. I got my credit card (Yay!) and when I explained my Bolivian visa crisis to Embassy Dude, he informed me quite apologetically that other Singaporeans had tried to get the Bolivian visa as well, only to be stumped by the requirement for the certificate of criminal records. He very did very helpfully take my fingerprints for me in case I decided to send them to Singapore and get them verified by the Police Department for them to issue me the certificate, so I left the Singapore embassy with one credit card, and one set of fingerprints, should I ever need to use them.
Well, my mission in Brasilia finally accomplished, I packed up my stuff, bid farewell to my very nice host, Fredson, and his flatmates and off I went to Campo Grande!
***Bonus! My impressions of Brasilia, written during my stay there.***
Brasilia – My Impressions
I’ve been in Brasilia for three days. These are my impressions
- It is a huge city, definitely not built for pedestrians. Public transport, while seemingly comprehensive, is also incomprehensible to the average tourist.
- It feels like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Very organized and structured, it’s supposed to be a symbol of modernity and human willpower (to create something out of nothing), but I just get the sense that it’s too rigid, clinical and something rather unimaginative.
- Which brings me to my next point – because all the buildings in Brasilia look the same. Apart from some iconic works by our crazed “genius” Oscar Niemeyer, all the buildings are almost exactly the same. In the residential areas, this makes it really easy to get lost. Add in the fact that the streets don’t have names, just numbers, and you have the recipe for lots of lost tourists.
- The city is a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer. If a building looks like it wasn’t mass produced but instead belongs in a sci-fi film, chances are Niemeyer designed it.
- There are no dogs/cats/stray animals on the street. It is so strange. Not many people have pets either, and those who do, keep them very securely leashed. It’s like Brasilia isn’t even part of Brazil, with its numerous strays and people who let their pets run wild.
- People are rather odd here. Not that they are weird or anything of that sort, but it definitely is true that people aren’t as friendly here. People seem…more fake.
- Everything is expensive.