Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil

Brazil's southernmost state regards itself as different from the rest of the country and has long been lobbying for independence. Its people identify more with Uruguay and Argentina and, like their counterparts on the pampas, refer to themselves as gaúchos.

The scenery is different too. An escarpment, in places over 1000 m high, runs down the coastal area as far as Porto Alegre providing escape from the summer swelter. The state capital is the most industrialized and cosmopolitan city in the south and tops the country's 'urban quality of life' rankings. All along the coast, the green hills of Rio Grande do Sul are fringed by sandbars and lagoons, forming one of the world's longest beaches. On the border with Santa Catarina in the north is the remarkable Aparados da Serra national park, where there is often snow.

In southern Rio Grande do Sul, the grasslands stretch as far as Uruguay to the south and more than 800 km west to Argentina, and are scattered with the remains of Jesuit missions. This is the distinctive land of the gaúcho (cowboy) and the herders are regularly seen in traditional garb. In restaurants, steaks the size of Texas are the order of the day; look out for local specialities such as 'comida campeira', 'te colonial' and 'quentão'.

Background

The first people to settle in the area were pioneer farmers, and the traditional dress of the
gaúcho
(pronounced ga-oo-shoo in Brazil) can still be seen: the flat black hat,
bombachas
(baggy trousers) and poncho. The indispensable drink of the southern cattlemen is
ximarão
(
mate
without sugar, also spelt
chimarrão
). The
gaúcho
culture has developed a sense of distance from the African-influenced society further north. Many people will tell you they have more in common with Uruguayans or Argentines than Brazilians - apart from when it comes to football. Today, there are many millions of cattle, sheep and pigs, and the state produces some 75% of all Brazilian wine.

Since 1999, the state government has implemented a radical consultative scheme whereby people in all 497 municipalities jointly decide school, road and other infrastructure spending. The 'participatory budget', pioneered for more than a dozen years in Porto Alegre, is widely supported and has attracted international acclaim. For more information visit www.estado.rs.gov.br.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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