“Brazil’s biggest problem is that it wasn’t colonised by the British.” I often find myself saying this to my Brazilian friends and I am fully aware of how patronising, imperialistic and, well, just plain arsey that it sounds. To be fair, I never make this statement when talking about the country’s many, deeply embedded, social or bureaucratic problems. That would be far too arrogant, even for an Englishman!
I make the statement slightly tongue in cheek, but there is an element of truth to what I say, because where I believe Brazil missed out due to it’s Portuguese colonisation is in it’s train system. To be more precise – it’s complete and utter lack thereof. As mentioned in my previous blog, Brazil is pretty much the same size as Europe, and yet there is no rail network connecting anywhere to anywhere else. Take Brazil’s two most important cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, for example; the distance between them is similar to Newcastle – London (about an hour by air), and yet there are no trains connecting them! You can either fly or you can drive (6 hours). Apparently there used to be a rail connection but it appears to be no more than a distant memory of the older generations.
The rural state of Minas Gerais (literally translated, ‘General Mines’) is/was incredibly rich with mineral resources (hence it’s name) and, more famously, gold – lots of it. The tiny city of Ouro Preto (‘Black Gold’) was at one time the richest city in all the Americas. It’s gold and minerals were transported to the coast for export (the vast majority of the gold going directly to London, incidentally) by the Estrada Real (‘Royal Road’). Surely a rail system would have been far more efficient?
Then there is Manaus stuck bang in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. This city, too, was once a boomtown of wealth and extravagance which was built on it’s monopolisation of the rubber trade (rubber trees only being found in the Amazon at the time). And yet the only access to, and export route from, the city was by boat – a journey that even today takes many days to complete. Today the city has road and air links, yet still no rail connection.
In Manaus’ case it could be argued that laying a rail track through the Amazon is environmentally unsound but there are at least two arguments to that. Firstly, back when Manaus was founded, ‘environmental awareness’ simply meant recognising that the saloon you were in was a bit on the micey side, and secondly, at the rate that roads are being forged through the rainforest today, a rail track would, in all probability, reduce the impact of the sheer volumes of car and lorry journeys that are made through it each day.
For the record – the English were to blame for the destruction of Manaus’ rubber trade and consequently the slow death of the city. A dastardly botanist named Henry Whickham managed to smuggle a batch of seeds back to Kew Gardens, who sent them on to India where they flourished. The India rubber trade prospered; Manaus’ importance waned. Sorry, Brazil! Again.
Why am I writing about this? Because if you’re coming to the World Cup next year you need to be fully aware that you only have two options of transport between the host cities; aeroplane or road, yet the sheer distances involved in following a team around the country
I know what you’re thinking. In a country with no rail links, the flights must be cheap as chips and the airports must be fantastic. Well, no and no. It’s cheaper for Brazilians to go on holiday to Chile, Argentina or Uruguay than to travel within their own country.
There is a protectionist law in place in favour of the nation’s aviation industry, this has done wonders for Brazilian airlines but has also helped them push the prices up on internal flights (you could be excused for thinking the airlines were working together to keep prices inflated… Nah!) If I was to book a ticket to fly to São Paulo next week, It’ll cost me about R$150 (about £55), and yet O Globo reported last week that the same flight during the World Cup may cost me closer to R$1100 (about £410) – that’s an increase of over 600%. With price hikes of this scale on Brazil’s busiest (and shortest) route, and with the majority of connecting flights utilising it, we can only imagine how expensive and complicated it is going to be for fans next year.
Hardly conducive to a ‘fans World Cup’, then, which strengthens my belief that we are going to experience vast numbers of fans arriving in Brazil and staying in 1 city to experience the carnival atmosphere that will engulf the nation, preferring to watch the games on giant screens in fan-zones. The obvious destination for many with this idea will be Rio de Janeiro. Are we ready for you?
To be continued.
CRUZEIRO – CAMPEÃO!!!!
As predicted, Cruzeiro have done it, clinching their 3rd title with a 3-1 win at Vitória when they had 4 games to spare. As I’ve already said, I think it’s fantastic for the city of Belo Horizonte to be home to both this year’s Copa Libertadores winners (Atlético Mineiro) and the Brazilian champions. It’s great to see the footballing attention taken away from the traditional giants of Rio and São Paulo for a change.
With the title decided, it’s now a case of seeing who else can qualify for the Copa Libertadores and who can avoid relegation.
Luckily for Botafogo, Brazil are given SEVEN spots for next years Libertadores. SEVEN! With 2 spots already taken and with Atlético Mineiro down in 7th place, 2nd to 5th will join the two Belo Horizonte teams in ‘South America’s Champions League’. Botafogo currently occupy 5th spot with (in descending order) Grêmio, Goiás and Atlético Paranaense in 2nd to 4th positions.
Interestingly, both Rio and São Paulo clubs have struggled this year, Botafogo being the highest placed club from either state, São Paulo FC being the next placed club down in 8th.
Looking at the bottom of the table, Nautico (who are truly, desperately, woeful) have been relegated for 3 weeks now, following a 5-0 loss to Atl. Mineiro. As to who will join them, it looks more than likely that Ponte Preta are going to continue their yo-yo existence, whilst Vasco da Gama are 4 points adrift from safety with only 3 games left and a trip to the champions next up. If you happen to be in London any time soon and you see a Brazilian crying into his pint, drying his eyes on a Vasco shirt, it’ll be my good mate, Norman – please feel free to cheer him up by reminding him that Flamengo stayed up.
That leaves the 4th and final team to go down, and the fight to avoid 17th is as interesting as hell. With 3 games to play, Coritiba are 17th on 41pts, above them are Bahia, Fluminense and Criciúma all on 42pts, and above them, Portuguesa are on 44pts, in 11th and 12th spots on 45pts are Internacional and Flamengo.
The last game of the season between Fluminense and Bahia may be a tad on the tense side.
Of course, I don’t want to see any Carioca club relegated, and many of my friends and family would be gutted to see Fluminense join Vasco in the drop, but I think it would be fascinating to see the reigning champions relegated to the second flight. I can’t think of any example of the champions being relegated (excluding punishment relegations or point deductions). If you know of any examples, please share your knowledge in the comments box below.
To commemorate 50 years since their tour of Cuba, on which they met up with Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara, 4th division Rio team, Madureira, have released a special edition 2nd strip. The outfield strip is a dark red with Che’s image imposed while the ‘keepers shirt is the full Cuban flag, again with Che’s image imposed on it. I give you the new Student wall decoration of choice (his posters are so last century.) I’m definitely getting one.
Talking of the comments box, please feel free to leave any questions you may have about Brazil, Rio, Brazilian footy or next year’s World Cup and I’ll be happy to answer you if I can.
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