Take a nature break at Carnival

Weekend getaways and nature adventures in and around Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Urban wildlife in Rio de Janeiro, seen near the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. Please don’t feed the monkeys!

This weekend most of the Western world celebrates Carnaval, or Mardi Gras, and no place celebrates the holiday as enthusiastically as Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

But even in the heartland of Carnaval, there are dissenters looking to get away from the city for a quiet and relaxing holiday break. Here are some ideas for a little nature time during the big weekend.

Take a stroll in the Jardim Botânico in the heart of Rio’s Zona Sul. This amazing place was founded by the Portuguese emperors in 1808 to develop useful plants discovered by the explorers funded by the crown. Today it is an outstanding biodiversity and study resource, and a quiet oasis in the bustling city. If you can’t get out of town this weekend, the Jardim Botânico will soothe your nerves. (Warning: there will be a lot of traffic this weekend with the various neighborhood Carnaval blocos on parade. Check the paper for schedules.)

Another awesome garden in metropolitan Rio is the home and garden of Roberto Burle Marx, the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. Now a historical park on the far west side of Rio, the renowned landscape architect’s estate was his creative laboratory for gardening and architecture. (The park is temporarily closed due to heavy rains interfering with infrastructural projects. Be sure to check back with the park for re-opening!)

This might be the weekend to explore some of the hiking trails in Rio de Janeiro. You can hike to the top of Corcovado, Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf), Pedra da Gávea and the Dois Irmãos, to name the most famous mountains in the city.

Just outside of Rio is Petropolis, the historic imperial city in the Serra Orgão mountains. Long a favorite weekend getaway, Petropolis offers some great mountain hikes, including a challenging 35-km trek between the two cities of Petropolis and Teresopolis.

If you’re more of a water baby than a mountain goat, the Costa Verde, or Green Coast near Paraty makes for a refreshing escape from the big city. Try sea kayaking or paddle boarding for a fresh twist on this popular resort area.

Buzios, once a quiet fishing village, was “discovered” by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s and today is a buzzing resort town. It’s also one of the top windsurfing locations in Brazil. If you’re looking for a quiet escape from the crowds, Buzios is probably not the best place to go during holiday weekends–half of Rio has had the same idea, and they’re driving slowly around the town square, looking for that lost parking spot.

As always, do your research before booking, and if you’re traveling to Brazil from abroad, be sure to apply for your visa in plenty of time for the trip.

Groovy Links of the Month: Ideas for field sketching kits

A pencil and a sketchbook are the bare minimum supplies for a travelling artist!

Truly, this is all you need to enjoy sketching nature outdoors!

This year, for some reason, I have felt compelled to switch up my ordinary travel sketching kit. In February, I took pastels to the Grand Canyon. In August, I took a variety of materials to the Grand Canyon and Zion, but ended up using my tried and tested watercolor and ink pen method the most. For the Bosque del Apache birdwatching trip, I used just my favorite mechanical pencil and a cold-press, mixed-media paper sketchbook that was part of the equipment list from a workshop at the ASBA conference.

I love to see the field-sketching kits used by other outdoor and nature artists. Every artist who works outdoors on a regular basis develops a preference for some materials and gear over others. Below are some ingenious ideas for ways to make drawing and painting on location more comfortable and practical.

Hope you enjoy taking a peek at these ingenious set-ups, and maybe get some ideas for your next outdoor painting foray. If you have an interesting tip or idea for traveling with a sketchbook, please share it in the comments!

Birdwatching at the Bosque del Apache Festival of the Cranes

Chupadero Mountains near Socorro, New Mexico, with snow geese and sandhill cranes.

Despite the early hour, the snow geese and sandhill cranes were quacking, squawking, chuckling, and generally making a loud ruckus.

This weekend we made a little jaunt down to Socorro, New Mexico to attend the annual Festival of the Cranes at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. 

We had been invited to join friends and soon-to-be friends in birdwatching and photography. After a quick lunch, and even quicker tour of Socorro, we met up with our friends and headed over to the refuge to scope out the birds and the location.

Snow geese, cranes, the Chupadero Mountains in New Mexico, dawn.

The Chupadero Mountains turn rosy at sunrise, while cranes start lifting off.

The Wrenaissance Man and our friends from the Grand Canyon photography trip were hoping to capture some exciting images of the mass gatherings of snow geese and Sandhill cranes that overwinter each year at the refuge. Our new friends were nature enthusiasts who attend the festival nearly every year to enjoy the drama of thousands of waterfowl in flight and the comedy of individual birds interacting.

Photographers taking pictures of snow geese and sandhill cranes.

Sometimes watching the birders and photographers is more fun than watching the birds!

After learning about how and where the birds gather and disperse in the park, we enjoyed dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and headed to an early bedtime. To reach the site of the next morning’s lift-off we would awake at 4 am.

Birdwatching in Socorro, NM, at the Festival of the Cranes.

It was just below freezing, but the birders were out in force!

We arrived at the pond in the dark shortly before 5:30 am. Temperatures were around 29F, or -2C, with little or no wind. Fortunately, I had prepared by bringing fresh-baked bran muffins from home, and 2 aluminum thermos canteens with a mix of hot coffee and cocoa! 🙂

Even in the dark, the sleeping birds were cackling and squawking.

As the sun rose, so did the noise level. The snow geese and cranes began to preen and socialize within their flocks. Now and then, a few would fly up, then circle around and land.

Around 7:00 am, the snow geese suddenly ascended en masse. The deep beat of their wings and the honking calls were nearly deafening. The water and sky were filled with a chaotic flurry of white and blue as they took off.

The cranes stayed behind, but they slowly began to fly away in groups of 3 or 7. We noticed that cranes have an interesting “tell” when they are about to fly. One bird will extend its neck straight forward at a 45° angle for a few moments, then spread its wings and lift off, causing others to join it.

Wetlands near the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, Socorro, NM.

A stately cottonwood at water’s edge shelters ducks.

By 7:45, only the ducks were left behind.

We spent the rest of the day in the refuge itself, going from pond to field, as the birds moved around from feeding ground to feeding ground.

It was a marvelous day. The weather warmed up to a sunny 60F or 15C by mid-afternoon, with very little wind. The photographers filled up their memory chips, and I got many gesture sketches of bird postures.

The festival takes place in late November each year, but the winter birdwatching season at the Bosque del Apache has only just begun. We learned that there are even more birds, and the landscape more spectacular in December and January when snow covers the ground, and in February, when the Sandhill cranes perform their mating dance before heading back north to their summer nesting grounds.

Goose feather on the ground. Birdwatching in New Mexico.

All that remained after the morning lift-off.


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