It’s impossible not to learn some Spanish in Gainesville, even from just glancing at billboards.
But that doesn’t help when one looks at Brazil. The fifth-largest country in the world is of Latin origin, but its language is Portuguese.
Brazil occupies nearly half of the South American continent and offers a fascinating array of natural and city environments.
Its monster city, Sao Paulo, has remained in the news due to the catastrophic drought that started in 2014. Last October, the city headed toward summer season with its main reservoir delivering at 12 percent of normal.
Many sections of the Cantareira Reservoir are now completely dry. It’s puzzling to see Sao Paulo in such a state of emergency, because Brazil has an immense wealth of fresh water in the Amazon Basin, contained under the world’s largest rainforests, and in the flow of the mighty Amazon River.
But Sao Paulo has been unable to cope with its huge growth, as 20 million people live in the city and surroundings, rivaled only by Shanghai, China, as the world’s largest urban settlement.
A visit to Brazil should include Rio De Janeiro, the most popular tourist destination. But to see the rain forest, better starting points are Santarém or Manaus in the State of Amazonas.
River cruises are available there that let travelers see an amazing collection of wildlife, including three-toed sloths, pink dolphins and exotic plants.
Adventurous people also travel to Sao Domingos do Capim near Belém, where surfers from around the world gather annually.
One of the most impressive features in Brazil’s natural setting is the huge tidal bore that sweeps up the Amazon.
That’s a wave up to 13 feet tall, gaining in height as the ocean water pushes up the mouth of the river into an ever-narrowing space. Called “pororoca” locally, the wave resembles a tsunami, and can sweep trees and buildings away. Some surfers have taken rides up to 7 miles at 20 mph speeds, and the tail end of the wave has been reported as far as 180 miles upstream.
The sad story, reported by Newsweek last year, is that rain forest depletion is increasing again.
Brazil made great progress from 2005-2010, reducing its carbon emission from deforestation by 39 percent. But the recent rise in hardwood cutting by poachers puts that fragile ecological unit back to the top of the list of environmental worries.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.