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Brazilians often say they live in a continent rather than a country, and that's an excusable exaggeration. The landmass is bigger than the United States if you exclude Alaska; the journey from Recife in the east to the western border with Peru is longer than that from London to Moscow, and the distance between the northern and southern borders is about the same as that between New York and Los Angeles. Brazil has no mountains to compare with its Andean neighbours, but in every other respect it has all the scenic - and cultural - variety you would expect from so vast a country.

Despite the immense expanses of the interior, roughly two-thirds of Brazil's population live on or near the coast; and well over half live in cities - even in the Amazon. In Rio and São Paulo, Brazil has two of the world's great metropolises, and nine other cities have over a million inhabitants. Yet Brazil still thinks of itself as a frontier country, and certainly the deeper into the interior you go, the thinner the population becomes. Nevertheless, the frontier communities have expanded relentlessly during the last fifty years, usually hand in hand with the planned expansion of the road network into remote regions.

Other South Americans regard Brazilians as a race apart, and language has a lot to do with it - Brazilians understand Spanish, just about, but Spanish-speakers won't understand Portuguese. More importantly, though, Brazilians look different. They're one of the most ethnically diverse peoples in the world: in the extreme south, German and Italian immigration has left distinctive European features; São Paulo has the world's largest Japanese community outside Japan; there's a large black population concentrated in Rio, Salvador and São Luís; while the Indian influence is most visible in the people of Amazônia and the Northeastern interior.


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