Retro-futurism in Brasilia

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Brasilia seems to cop a lot of hate. Everyone I met along the way, who I told that I was going to Brasilia told me not to go. It began with “Junior”, the guy from Minas Gerais who works in the ASN sports nutrition store on Oxford Street just around the corner from yoga… While purchasing my vegan cookie there one day after yoga, I mentioned to Junior that I was going to Brasilia. He was completely gobsmacked and exclaimed, “Oh my God, you can’t go there… It’s like Canberra, only much worse.” “But I want to see the famous Oscar Niemeyer buildings, Junior.” “OK, so you go there for half a day, take your pictures, upload to Instagram and then you get the hell out”, was his response. To be fair, any student who tells me they’re going to Canberra, I usually give them the same advice: Go for half a day and then get out. In Rio de Janeiro, Rodrigo from my Airbnb told me that if I wanted to see Oscar Niemeyer buildings, I should go to absolutely any other city except Brasilia. And at the very minimum, everyone seemed to say, “Well, you know in Brasilia, you’ll have to take an Uber EVERYWHERE”, as if that was the worst thing ever. And hey… If you’re a gringo, you have to take a freakin’ Uber everywhere in Brazil. Perhaps it was because of this incredibly negative build-up, but my week in Brasilia was wonderful. It’s like I had saved the best for last. Brazil is really just a state of mind in my opinion, and as a gringo, you get the same Brazilian experience in Brasilia as you do anywhere in Brazil, but without the bitter third world after taste. It’s new (ish) … The buildings aren’t dilapidated, and the streets aren’t swimming in trash and piss. What’s not to like? I feel like if Brazil was Sydney, then Brasilia would be the Upper North Shore… But hey, I spent most of my life on Sydney’s upper north shore so I’m not knocking it. Maybe I was just lucky. Afterall, travelling solo is a bit of a roll of the dice at the best of times… But I had the most fun, met the nicest people and even reconnected with an old friend from Brasilia who I hadn’t spoken to in 5 years. Maybe the theory that people in ugly cities are nicer because they feel that they have to try harder applies. Who knows?

I’ll admit… When you first arrive, Brasilia is a bit of a weird looking place. It reminds me of the Australian Outback; not that I’ve actually ever been there, but you know… Big, flat, dry, wide open spaces. Then suddenly you have these huge surreal spaceship-like concrete structures plonked down, and plonked down seemingly at random.

While the buildings themselves are impressive, there doesn’t seem to have been much thought put into how the buildings relate to each other or how the surroundings relate to the buildings. The main streets are WIDE, and I mean REALLY, REALLY wide, but they’re empty (of people), and kind of eerie and windswept and lacking any kind of vibe.

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Another thing that’s weird when you first arrive in Brasilia is that everything has been placed into sectors. There’s the hotel sector, and that sector is adjacent to the ministries sector and also the banking sector.

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I stayed in the hotel sector… It was weird staying in a designated hotel sector because there is nothing there but hotels. In other cities you would stay in a hotel surrounded by mixed-purpose buildings, shops with people living above them and cosy neighbourhood restaurants and bars. I stayed in the Saint Moritz, which was in a complex of three hotels. Like every hotel, there were a few shops downstairs on street level like a convenience store, one restaurant and a laundry, but other than that, there was nothing. When you travel, you generally want to stay in the “downtown” part of the city (as opposed to the ‘burbs) because that’s where the action tends to be. I feel though that in Brasilia, the ‘burbs are where the action is. If I were to travel to Brasilia again, I would stay in one of the satellite towns on the edge of Brasilia or in Goias.

As I said though, once you get past all of that, it’s a Brazilian city full of warm, welcoming Brazilian people, living the same Brazilian culture as anywhere else in the country, and you can find everything in Brasilia that exists in other cities, except beaches, of course. Just that you’ll probably get to know more Uber drivers in Brasilia than other cities.

The bars and clubs here are cute, at least the two bars and one club that I went to are. They feel so terribly upper-middle class though compared to the rest of Brazil. While clubs in other parts of Brazil and also Latin America can get a bit gritty, Brasilia’s ones are very nice and everyone is well groomed and polite. Imagine if Roseville or Killara had nightclubs…

And from what I could tell, Brasilia had more vegetarian restaurants compared to other cities!

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And that’s it!!

Just some more snaps before I go…

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And some random snaps from around town:

And now off to new adventures!

Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs

Today, I went to visit Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and several generations of his family are thought to have lived and are now buried.  Hebron is a divided city, under both Palestinian and Israeli control.  It’s divided into areas H1 and H2.  Area H1 is entirely Palestinian, contains 80 % of the population and is under Palestinian control.  Area H2 is contains the Jews and the remainder of the Arabs and is under full Israeli control.  The border between the two sectors runs right down the middle of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It’s a weird situation and unique in the West Bank in that the Jewish settlers have settled right smack dab in the centre of the old town, quite literally on top of the Palestinians.  In other parts of the West Bank, they build settlements next to and around the Palestinian towns but not actually in them.  The people moving to other settlements in the West Bank are motivated mainly by economics.  It’s cheap.  You can get a big comfortable house for a fraction of the cost of Jerusalem and it’s an easy commute.  The Jewish settlers in Hebron on the other hand, are a different breed. They are hardcore Zionists.  As a result there is a lot of tension between them and the Palestinians. The settlers are under protection of the Israeli Defence Forces with apparently four soldiers to every settler.

To get to Hebron, you have the choice of taking an Arab bus or an Israeli bus.  I opted for the Israeli bus simply because it’s easier.  There’s free Wi-Fi at the bus station, the bus is direct, you don’t need to deal with checkpoints; you get waved through… And… the bus is bullet proof!  When I got to the bus station though, the bullet proof bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so I thought I could save time by taking a different bus which stopped at Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement just on the edge of Hebron and then taking another bus from there.  I don’t know what I was thinking… It was like getting off the train at somewhere like Woy Woy and expecting it to be a major transport hub.  Imagine the smallest, quietest ‘burb you can think of, divide it by ten and populate it with grumpy Jewish people… Well, then you’ve got Kiryat Arba! The only busses passing through there were the same bullet proof ones coming from Jerusalem, so I still had to wait the hour.

While I was waiting I approached a man on the street to enquire exactly where I should wait for the bullet proof bus. It turns out he is a Jew from the north-east of India, somewhere close to the border of Bangladesh.  I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing: North-east Indian Jews.  You learn something new every day! … Anyway, I think he took pity on me and offered to drive me to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  We get in his car and drive off.  We start he chatting… He tells me he is from north-east India and I tell him I’m from Australia.  He starts laughing and says, “My gun is from Australia” and points to the gun on the dash.  “That’s nice” I replied, smiling on the outside but quietly freaking out on the inside.  “Ha ha, no, not really” he says… “I work in security for the Parliament” … “Oh, you jokester, you!”  And then, we arrived at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  I thanked him, shook his hand and off I went to explore Hebron.

Arrival at the tomb on the Jewish side…

It was Muslim prayer time when I arrived, so the tomb was closed to tourists for about thirty minutes.  While I was waiting, I went through the checkpoint to explore the old city of Hebron.  For me, as an obvious non-Jew and non-Muslim, it wasn’t an issue passing in either direction through the checkpoint.  You could see the Palestinian guys get a really hard time when they pass back.  The Palestinian guy in front of me had to take off his shirt, shoes, belt, roll up his pants and even then they made him walk through the metal detector multiple times.  When I walked through and the alarm sounded, they just asked me, “Do you have a knife or a gun?” Of course I replied “No”  They took my word for it, waved me through and wished me a nice time in Hebron.

The old city of Hebron is very attractive and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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As you walk through the old city and you look up, you notice that the alley ways are caged in with wire and bars covered in rubbish.  Above the bars and wires live the settlers who through the rubbish and stones onto the Palestinians below.

Beyond the old town is the modern town.  It’s quite a bustling city.  It seems that the dodgier the city, the cheaper the felafel.  In Tel Aviv it’s 20 shekels, Jerusalem it’s 15, Bethlehem 5 and in Hebron it’s only 3!

Then it was time to enter the tomb from the Muslim side…

They wanted me to go in drag, as a sign of respect.  Standing in front of Rebecca’s tomb…

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Inside …

Time to go home, so it’s back on the bullet-proof bus bound for Jerusalem.

“I’m bullet proof, nothing to loose… Fire away, Fire away.  Ricochet, you take your aim… Fire away, fire away.  You shoot me down, but I won’t fall… I am titanium.”