Monday, August 9, 2010


My wife, born and raised in São Paulo, was well into her twenties before she saw snow for the very first time.
It was about this time of year, the dead of winter in the Southern hemisphere.
We were on a train snaking its way through the valley of the Urumbamba.
The snow was maybe ten kilometers away, and about five thousand meters higher than we were – on the top of an Andean peak.
She turned to me, her eyes all aglitter.
“Too high to get to, huh?” she said, “And too far away.”
“Too far,” I agreed.
She sighed – and kept staring at it.
The next time she saw it, we were closer.
We were, in fact, in it.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where the town was in the throes of a Northern hemisphere winter.
She took our (well-bundled) one-year-old from my arms, rested her on a snowdrift and took a photo.  
Back in Brazil, that photo went the rounds of friends and family.
They all “ooohed” and “ahhed”.
Not at the the baby.
At the snow.
(Okay, maybe a little at the image of the baby. They’re all Brazilians, after all, and Brazilians love kids.)
But Brazilians also love snow.
They consider it exotic.
And the vast majority of them have never seen it “for real”.
Mind you, it does snow in Brazil.
Just not everywhere and not very often.
The photos that follow were all shot in the country’s southernmost states, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, all shown in red on this map:
 They're not the sort of images you expect when you think of Brazil.
 But that’s where all of them were taken.
 Look closely,  and you’ll see the occasional palm tree.
 Sometimes you don’t even have to look that closely.
 Brazilians dream of seeing snow.
Every time it falls, tourists flock to the south of the country to experience it.
Images of it make the national TV newscasts, night after night.
Probably hard to believe for those of you, like Yrsa, who live in hardier climes.
True nonetheless.

Leighton - Monday


  1. A wonderful new aspect of a "tropical" land! Thanks, Leighton. Also good to see on a map where Tocantins is, after encountering the name for the first time in your upcoming book EVERY BITTER THING (what a read!).

  2. Thank you, Mr. Gage, for showing me a side of Brazil I never even suspected existed: snow! Considering how, just last week, I posted a comment on Mr. James Thompson's Facebook page regarding the lack of snow in Brazil, and how that made Brazil a less-than-ideal vacation spot for "a polar creature such as myself", I will take this blog entry as a personal response to my comment and apologize if, in my ignorance, I made a gross generalization that proved quite untrue, as most generalizations seem to be. Hmm, that sounded like another generalization... Enough said: Brazil looks wonderful in her light winter coat!

  3. Hi Beth,
    Hmmm. You mentioned Tocantins.
    It reminded me of a story I know about a tapir that the owner of Miracema tried to get me to bring back to São Paulo and donate to a zoo. I'm gonna see if I can't work that up into a post.

    Hi Annie,
    Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to comment. We hope you'll return often.
    No, my post wasn't really a response to what you posted on Jim's Facebook page - just a coincidence.
    But, if you're a cold-weather girl, and if you want a break from a warm European summer, the period between July and September is the ideal time to visit the southern part of Brazil.
    You could take in the waterfalls at Iguaçu (search elsewhere on this blog for a post about that), The Pantanal (ditto) and work in side-trips to Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.
    Four countries for the price of one!

  4. Hi Leighton,

    Nice photos of the Alps...oops Brazil!


  5. So this was a coincidence, then? I'm at a loss for words!

    And you may very well have convinced me with the waterfalls... even on the photographs, they look awe-inspiring! I love waterfalls nearly as much as I love snow, and these look like the Mother of all Waterfalls!

    Thank you for the travelling tips, Mr. Gage, and I'm sure this won't be the last time you see me around here.

  6. the last photo, of that village, is not in Brazil. I think it may be in Chile or Argentina.

    Anyway, just this last week, we had the strongest snowfalls in southern Brazil in over a decade. Over 30cm accumulation in some parts. Mind you that it was not record cold, just (recent) record snowfall, since usually our coldest days are very dry, and snow requires also some air humidity.

    Anyway, those 30cm accumulation are puny compared to the past. In 1879, the accumulation reached over 2 meters in Vacaria. In 1957, 1.5 meters in São Joaquim. Nowadays, Brazil makes international news for 30cm of snow.

  7. Rogério,
    Chile or Argentina?
    You think?
    Obrigado pela sua contribuição.
    Two meters?

  8. I've seen snow in Phoenix. Didn't accumulate, but, still, the air was full of snow. TV milked the story for a week.

    Now, snow on the foothills just north of Phoenix is not a rarity. But, it is within the city limits.

  9. Hi Leighton,

    In Johannesburg snow is also a rarity, although the mountains of the Cape and kwaZulu-Natal get it regularly. I guess we get a significant fall here once every fifteen years or so. I remember one occasion about twenty-five years ago when I was a member of a group interviewing candidates for a professorship in actuarial science at the university. It was a staid and formal affair in the British tradition and took place in the Council Chamber. Each candidate was brought in, introduced to all the members of the committee, and interviewed. He would then be led out to a chorus of farewell nods. As soon as the candidate left the room, everyone (myself included) jumped up and rushed to the windows to watch the snow and estimate the damage as cars - unaccustomed to such stuff - bumped into each other. We pointing and commented like a group of boys. Then, as we heard the next candidate approaching, we would scuttle back to our seats and assume academic expressions again. Fortunately we made a good appointment despite the distraction, but it's the snow I remember!

    Thanks for the great pictures.

  10. I remember the first time I saw snow most vividly. It was Johannesburg, August 31, 1963. I normally woke up at 6:30 am, and had a cup of tea and breakfast before heading to school. That day I was startled awake at about 6:00 am by a deafening silence. Normally I could hear the traffic on Louis Botha Avenue, a few blocks away. But this day there was total silence. And it was silence that woke me. Not only were fewer vehicles on the road because 4 inches (10 cms) of snow had fallen, but the snow itself absorbed sound. I'll never forget the excitement of the day. Everyone in uniforms - policemen, traffic cops, and so on became targets of snowballs. Wonderful.

    The next snowfall in Jhannesburg was on September 11, 1981. But then I was used to it because I was living in Illinois.


  11. Ah!That was the date of the selection committee meeting!


  12. Hi Leighton,

    Awesome photos!

    Snow is the last thing I would ever expect to see in Brazil.


  13. What beautiful pics! I am a week late in commenting, but the photos were so beautiful I couldn't resist. It's hard to see these as 95+ degree heat beats down on us here in the southern United States.