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.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!

Join the Audubon Society Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend, Feb. 13-16, 2015!

Your backyard bird feeder is an easy spot for counting the birds in your neighborhood. Photo courtesy of the Wrenaissance Man.

This weekend, February 13–16, is the American Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count, and you are invited to join in the fun! You don’t need to be a professional ornithologist or even a geeky, hard-core birder to participate. Simply spend 15 minutes this weekend counting and identifying the birds in your backyard, local park, or other favorite outdoor spot and upload the results to the project website.

Last year, 19,363 lists were submitted, with more than 2 million birds of 2,754 species counted during the big weekend. The GBBC website provides instructions on how to make a count list, a dynamic map of submissions made during the weekend, more maps showing the birds seen by region and species, and a very helpful “tricky ID” page to help tell the difference between species that look almost the same (like red finches).

You don’t even have to be a big outdoorsman to participate! If you have a bird feeder set up outside your window, simply take 15 minutes at feeding time to count the birds showing up to eat. This is an easy and accessible way to take part if the weather isn’t cooperating, or if you’re a shut-in.

This weekend is a great opportunity to introduce your children or grandchildren to the nature that surrounds us all every day. I hope you’ll join me!

Robert Burns Day and Happy Birthday, Nevis!

Robert Burns' birthday is celebrated worldwide on January 25, and we celebrate Nevis' birthday today also.

The birthday boy is quite the dignified wee Scot.

Today is Robert Burns Day, the day set aside to celebrate Scotland’s first national poet by drinking whiskey, eating haggis, and reciting Burns’ poems while wearing a kilt (for the gents, ladies wear regular evening gowns).

Nevis was whelped on January 20, 2012, close enough to Burns Day to celebrate them together. Nevis is definitely down with the eating haggis part of the festivities, lol!

In honor of these two great Scots, here is a little excerpt from Burns’ poem, The Twa Dogs: A Tale, which describes his own dog, Luath:

The tither was a ploughman’s collie—
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an’ comrade had him,
And in freak had Luath ca’d him,
After some dog in Highland Sang,
Was made lang syne,—Lord knows how lang.

He was a gash an’ faithfu’ tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws’nt face
Aye gat him friends in ilka place;
His breast was white, his touzie back
Weel clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black;
His gawsie tail, wi’ upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdie’s wi’ a swirl.

You can read the rest at Burns Country, dedicated to all things Robert Burns, including an online anthology of the poet’s works with links to the translations of the Scottish dialect that Burns used.

Happy Birthday to Nevis, my own gash and faithful tyke!

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