For those of us who had not visited Brazil before, one factor kept jumping out in each city we visited: the number of tall office and apartment buildings in each of the cities. Approaching from the sea, Recife looks like a huge city. And it is -- with a population of over three million.
The city is known as the Venice of Brazil because of its canals. It reminded me more of St. Petersburg. The wide canals and eighteenth century buildings seem to be designed more for a tsar than a doge.
But we spent very little time in Recife. Instead, we took a taxi to Olinda, another UNESCO-funded restoration project just north of Recife. It is an old Portuguese colonial city with a magnificent view. The buildings have suffered great damage over the years -- including the main church: Igreja da Sé. The exterior is very plain -- in the same style you still see in small Portuguese villages.
The interior is not much more elaborate.
With the sole exception of the altar.
Olinda is beautiful. Green and historic.
What is not so green and beautiful is Recife's reputation as the center of Latin American child prostitution. What makes such a beautiful place a pedophile magnet? Poverty and little girls exist elsewhere. But, in other parts of the world, the community takes a greater interest in protecting its children. Not even the most radical advocates of legalized prostitution could condone this saddest of tragedies.
Next stop: Tenerife and Madeira. But I want to intersperse some other topics before we reach the islands.