October 25th, 2010

Brazil has a big anniversary coming up in 2022: 200 years of independence. But it hasn´t started to think about this. For now, all eyes are on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Meeting the demands of not one but two megalomaniac self-perpetuating oligarchies, FIFA and the IOC, will be hugely expensive and time-consuming. Mind you, I doubt it is FIFA insisting that the stadium in Manaus (home to several teams in the Amazon League) be demolished and rebuilt for 47,000. Brazil will only realize in 2016 that there are only six years to go before the bicentennial. This is quite long enough to organize fine parties and plan a park or two, but not, if Brazilians want one, a worthy memorial on a national scale.

The 1922 monument is the giant Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio, then the capital. They didn´t actually finish it till 1931. The absence of a cross makes it a far gentler and more eirenic symbol than a crucifix, and it´s beloved by Cariocas. Still, Brazil has changed a lot since then, and I suggest the country should look for something different for 2022: dispersed, rural as well as urban, green, youthful.

My Clever Plan is an Independence Trail along the Atlantic façade, from the lagoons on the Uruguayan border to the NE corner, Cabo São Roque north of Natal. 73% of Brazil´s population lives in the states it would connect. It would I think work out a little longer than the Appalachian Trail (4,000 km or so), and provide a similar mix of opportunities for family days out and months-long treks for super-fit and slightly crazy enthusiasts.

While the Atlantic façade is hilly, it doesn´t supply such a convenient chain as the Appalachians. North of Rio, you can either go inland and follow the Serra do Espinhaço – dry maquis – or, my preference, follow what´s left of the Mata Atlântica rainforest nearer the coast.

Topography with arbitrary lines on the map:

Vegetation map:

Both maps credit

The scheme is obviously feasible in an engineering sense. The highest point in SE Brazil, the Pico da Bandeira, is a hikeable 2,890 metres. The Incas ran an empire in the Andes linked by thousands of kilometres of trails higher than this. You would have to cross many rivers; get sponsors to pay for elegant footbridges. The real questions are demand – are the landscape and the challenge attractive enough to young Brazilians? – and how much would it cost? Assuming the demand is there, volunteer labour and sponsorship could make it far cheaper than the Olympics or World Cup, as well as more enduring.

The trail would go through some magnificent national parks and unspoilt Mata Atlântica, but also a lot of damaged and nondescript farmland. This problem is an opportunity for some imaginative restoration and mixed-use regeneration for ecotourism.

I`ve tried to sell my idea by writing to a newspaper and the Green Party, but no takers. Do commenters have any ideas how I can get the concept at least into the conversation? I won`t complain if you come up with something better.

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4 Responses to “Chutzpath”

  1. Randy Paul says:


    I don’t know if you know about Binka Le Breton and her efforts with the Iracambi Center in Eastern Minas Gerais, but she might be a good place to start. One of my brothers-in-law is a game warden in Minas Gerais, in the Jequitononha Valley region. If I get a chance I’ll see what he thinks. I love this idea and would be at least willing to offer up my sweat equity in a couple of years when I hope to be retired in Espirito Santo.

    I’ve gone up Pico da Bandeira, btw. It’s a great hike.

    I also commented on your election post from Friday.

  2. James Wimberley says:

    Thanks for the tip, I´ll contact them.
    Everybody I´ve tried the idea on likes it. So this will be a good test of the viral power of the blogosphere!

  3. Randy Paul says:


    Drop me a note when you get a chance at my e-mail randinho at yahoo dot com. I’ll like to communicate in a little moe detail.

    BTW, do you know about the Estrada dos Escravos in Northern Minas Gerais between Diamantina and Aracuai? You could probably have that incorporated in the trail.

  4. Kalas Brasil says:

    Brilhante idéia James! Gostaria muito que ela se tornasse realidade aqui no meu País.