Brasilia, modern architecture, no hostels, and no English

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South America » Brazil » Distrito Federal » Brasília
October 30th 2009
Published: November 10th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Oct 24, 2009

We realized that Brasilia, Brasil was not a normal tourist destination, especially a backpacker destination, while looking for accommodations and info. We went to all of the normal hostel sites and discovered that no hostels existed. There was a “guest house” that’s prices rivaled those of a midrange hotel. Slightly concerned, we asked our hostel in Rio for assistance. They found one cheap alternative, but the prices were higher than a hostel (we would later find out that it was simply someone’s home that was trying to make extra money - probably illegal because there was no advertisement/sign/signal out front). As we were looking for information on blogs and other sites, we soon realized that everything was extremely expensive and notes on Brasilia consisted of its short history and architectural significance, none on typical tourist help.

We had an afternoon flight from TAM, so we took the local bus from Botafogo to the airport (blue Real bus, costs 7 Real, and says Aeropuerto). The bus had a weird stopping point - in the right most lane of the third road in front of the shopping area and beach. We made it to the airport early and then boarded our nice airplane (nice to avoid the extreme distance between Rio and Brasilia). Rumi slept well as usual and I didn’t sleep a bit…as usual.

On the flight in we noticed a very interestingly-designed bridge (JK bridge named after Juscelino Kubitschek who was the president who ordered the construction of Brasilia to move the capital from Rio) and then landed in a very progressive modern airport (designed by the same architect who designed most of the city’s buildings, Oscar Neimeyer).

We usually check with airport information to get general tips for the city and the best public transportation to get to our hostel/accommodation. We found it interesting that the worker didn’t speak any English at all (very uncommon compared to other city’s international airports). Additionally, when we inquired about details for our next flight with GOL airlines to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, no one spoke English at the airlines! They had one person who they had to call for assistance. She turned out to be extremely helpful and genuinely wanted to help us. However, she did ask us “Why did you want to come to Brasilia?” That was the final confirmation that Brasilia is not amongst the norm of travel destinations. We would later find out that Brasilia has banned all hostels in the city and has very VERY little English translation or tourist assistance.

From the airport we caught the 102 (or 102.1) bus towards the Rodavaria (central bus station). The advantage of a planned city, is if you understand its mathematical design, you can navigate well. All the streets are numbered and sections are labeled as quadrants. The Rodavaria is located in the exact center of the city (looks like the Mall in Washington D.C.).

As we were riding our bus into town, receiving stares from some locals wondering how two backpackers got stranded in Brasilia, Rumi was paying great attention to the surroundings. She had done the research for getting to our “house” so I just decided to sit back and relax until we reached the central bus station. About 45 min into the ride, she said “I think this is it.” I was very skeptical considering it looked like we were in the ghetto of Eastern Europe void of any commercialization nor advertisements. I trusted her (“wholeheartedly”) and we got off the bus at the next stop. So we walked back to the area and street Rumi claimed was our accommodation. The houses were barred up and riddled with graffiti on the front side. She walked to the pedestrian avenue between the rear of the homes and I followed (wondering ??? but trusting…of course). As we passed people’s homes, Rumi said “I think this one is it.” It was just the backyard of someone’s home, so we pressed further. When we both got discouraged, we looked back and a lady and her child were motioning us into the house that Rumi led us to originally. Impressive Rumi!

The house/hotel included a great breakfast and the most enjoyable part was their one month old puppy. Slightly terrified of the steep Brazilian prices, we found a supermarket very near the hostel and stocked up on some affordable food. We decided to save the touring for the next day and took it easy. We watched a movie with the son of the home’s owner and watched some more Amazing Race.

Oct 25, 2009

The next day turned out to be a nice hot cloudless day (maybe the best weather yet). Rumi and her fantastic grasp on the navigation of Brasilia, said we could walk to all of the sites. We started towards the town center and passed Dom Bosco Sanctuary on the way. It is an impressive church designed by the city’s architect. It’s a modern futuristic design that’s interior is far more impressive surrounded by vivid blue stained glass.

After looking around the church we continued on to the TV tower located in the “Mall.” The TV tower kind of reminded me of the Washington Monument (not as aesthetically pleasing, but the futuristic version and it serves a dual purpose: touristic mirador and TV broadcasting). There was a festival underneath the tower and we watched some men dressed in Native American drab playing traditional music. Then we ate a cheap lunch nearby. Afterwards we rode the elevator up the tower (free) to view the entire city.

Until we reached this festival, we had not seen very many people. I kept saying it reminded me of a pre-planned city that’s residents had not met the populace required to utilize its infrastructure. Very strange…almost appeared as a ghost town…a very modern large ghost town. We later would find several Brazilian tourists and more people came out of the habitats during the work week.

We decided to continue walking until the JK bridge and to view all of the city sights on the way. We passed the central bus station and national library before reaching the famous museum shaped like the planet Saturn. The entrance was free because of the lack of exhibits. Brasilia is prepping for their Bicentinneal celebration so lots of their sites were under construction (but free).

We continued on to the national cathedral. Its shape can only be described adequately by the accompanying picture. The church bells were separate of the church as were the statues of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John; all with a modern twist.

Later came the National Congress building (looked like the Twin Towers between a giant bowl). The architect claimed to have a purpose behind the giant bowl; something about how laws are made on the inside and governs from the outside. Personally I think he was just trying to brag to his architect buddies that he could get the country of Brasil to pay millions of dollars to build a gigantic bowl that serves absolutely no purpose.

We passed more legislation and judicial buildings before arriving at the famous statue of two “people” (looks more like aliens to me) with their arms wrapped around each other. The statue is almost symmetrical if you cut it in half and folded it outwards. We got some pictures and were happy to find the site (it is not visible from the rest of the mall). We had been walking the entire day and knew we had quite a trek back to food and the hotel. Therefore, we decided not to continue to the famous bridge or the president’s mansion.

On our walk back to the hotel we decided to stop at the local mall and have dinner. We ate a very good, but expensive dinner. Welcome to Brasilia.

Afterwards we looked around for a bit and found a good bookstore with English tourist books (surprising to find in a town that didn’t have any English speaking anywhere). We looked at some Lonely Planets for Bolivia and Peru. Side note: Through our journey so far, we are both shocked to find so many people basing their travels off Lonely Planet travel books. They do provide some useful information, but we would both rather enjoy our own experiences, not follow those of another traveler. Additionally, even with the most recent copies of the novels, sometimes they describe places that are no longer in business or methods of travel that are no longer available.

When we left the mall we were unhappy to see a torrential downpour of rain - very unexpected since we entered the mall under a cloudless sky. We had about a 1 km trek back to the hotel without the luxury of an umbrella or jacket. Freezing while wearing our summer clothes, we kept talking about warm Okinawa beaches.

Oct 26, 2009

Since we had walked an extensive amount the day before and we had seen most of the sights, we decided to make it an easy day. We went back to the nearby mall to buy Rumi some shorts, because she didn’t bring any for the trip; we knew that it was just going to get hotter as we continued on the trip. Rumi did a wonderful job cutting my hair, because I kept complaining of how long it was getting. Afterwards we watched some more episodes of Amazing Race, another movie with the kid who lived in the house, and got ready for our departure to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 28


National CongressNational Congress
National Congress

Where laws are made from a bowl

14th November 2009

Hello Rumiko and Justin: I was very pleased that you have sent a very good blog on Brasilia and pictures. A completely modern city the picture of the Saturn Museum was particularly interesting reminding one of a flying saucer. The last pictures particularly of you both in the Don Bosco are really great. You are both certainly gathering many pictures to remind you in later days of your fantastic journey. One question so far. Of all the places you have visited if you were to visit only one place which would it be. Love always, Dad
15th November 2009

Hello from Cusco
That is a very interesting question that Rumi and I have keep asking each other. We both agree that Easter Island has been the most special so far, but we have about 10 close seconds! We are really enjoying Peru - it's somewhere we should have allocated more time. Hope all is well in Victoria. See you soon. Take care, Justin

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