|Travelogue: Brazil 2000||
Lonely Planet Brazil
Berlitz Portuguese Phrase Book & Dictionary
Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island (has nothing to do with Brazil, but was the book I was reading along the way.)
Thursday January 13, 2000
Traveling to Curitiba, Brazil via Chicago and São Paulo. I am travelling on a United Airlines/Star Alliance Round-the-World ticket in business class. This first leg is on an old 737-300 in first class (there is no business class, so the business class ticket gets bumped up to first.) Unfortunately, the guy sitting next to me is sick as a dog, coughing and sneezing non-stop. This is making me really nervous since I am embarking on 3 months of travel and my immune system is currently under attack from the Yellow Fever and Typhoid vaccines I got on Tuesday. Yikes. I am scrunched up as far away on my seat as I can get, but it is only a matter of inches. Air travel is hard enough on the immune system; mix in a couple of vaccines and a violently sick passenger and you have quite a cocktail.
Brazil itself sounds like a hotbed of incredibly nasty diseases. I spent several hours at the health center at the University of Washington learning all about it. Yellow Fever is rampant throughout the Amazon basin and Malaria is even more widespread. There is also the delightful dengue fever, for which there is no vaccine, meningococcal meningitis, typhus, and a host of other bacteria, molds, and worms. I am particularly excited about one worm that enters through the skin and then travels to your vital organs where it gestates and grows for years. Apparently there are often no systems for months or years, when suddenly you get very sick, by which point irreparable damage has been one. Schistosomiasis: sounds like a winner! I won't even talk about the critter that climbs up your urethra. I shudder at the thought. Oh, and how about this one - are you ready - plague! That's right, plague, as in the black plague that almost wiped out Europe in the middle ages. I can hear the conversation now:
"Hello dear, how was your trip?"
"Oh, not so great. I got the plague and my lymph nodes grew to the size of zucchini."
"Oh my! Well let me know if I should paint burning tar on the door posts."
Not a conversation you ever want to have. I think I'll avoid getting bitten by fleas in Brazil.
This set of travel will be lengthy. I leave Seattle at 2:15pm and arrive in Curitiba at 3:45pm (local time) the next day. Curitiba is 6 hours ahead, but that is still over 20 hours from first departure to final arrival.
The Chicago to São Paulo leg is on a Boeing 777 "Overwater". Business class on the 777 sure is sweet. The headrest on my seat is slightly broken (it won't stay up) and I tried to convince the flight attendant that they have to move me to first class to compensate, but no dice. The seat next to me is open, so if it becomes a real problem I can easily move. Overall, an uneventful flight. These business class seats are very nice - so much better than the coach seat I had from Bangkok last time. On the other hand, it would be awfully pleasant to have one or two more inches of padding on the seat cushion. Also, though I am in a window seat, row 9 on this plane basically doesnít have a window; I have to lean way forward to see out the window for my row. I'll have to remember to avoid row 9 in the future.
Friday January 14, 2000
Exiting the plane we head off on an insanely long march to immigration. Long walks through airports always make me vaguely nervous because I keep wondering if I've missed the place that I was supposed to go. I just never believe that it could possibly be that far from a gate to immigration. But it is. Just before immigration I talked to a United Airlines representative who directed me to "Arrivals by United" at the Red Carpet Club. Because I am travelling business class internationally, I get to use a shower facility that they have available. It was great! They escorted me to a marble bathroom that was the equal of any 5 star hotel I've seen. Complete with heated towels, bathrobe, and all kinds of toiletries (single use, of course.) I had a really fine shower and a shave (I love the single-serving shaving cream) and felt much better. The only downside was that I didnít have my antiperspirant with me and I forgot to look in the toiletries kit for some. Oh well. After my shower I had a little breakfast at the Red Carpet Club and downloaded my email using AT&T Global Network (formerly IBM Global Network.) It took me about 20 tries to get connected but finally it worked at 9600 baud. I hope this isn't a harbinger of Brazilian connect speeds.
When I was all done and it was getting close to the time that immigration closes, a United representative escorted me through immigration. Very nice. My bags were waiting for me at baggage claim, though not quite as well guarded as I would have liked. When I got my bags an attendant asked me if they were mine (good), but then didnít ask for any proof (bad.) Customs was a breeze as I had nothing to declare. Then followed another amazingly long walk to Varig check-in. Again I kept on checking and rechecking to make sure that I was really headed the right way; it really was just a long walk.
I had a coach class ticket for this leg because United showed no business class section on this flight. When I called Varig in the US to get a seat assignment they had put me in 5A and told me it was the first row. I said "5 is the first row? Is there a first or business class?" The answer was "Yes", but the agent couldnít put me in business class and told me to call United since they had issued the ticket. So, I called United and they said "No, there is only one class on that flight; if Varig says there is business class, then you have to talk to them." So I called Varig again and spoke to the same agent who said "Sorry sir, I made a mistake, there is no business class." OK, fine. Anyway, when I checked in here in São Paolo I asked again. Sure enough the flight does have a business class. The gate agent took my ticket and disappeared for a good 10 minutes before coming back with my business class seat. It just goes to show, youíve got to keep on asking.
So it turns out that before I can fly to Curitiba, I have to pay a 9.15 Real airport tax (about US $5.00.) But I haven't gotten any Reis yet (yes "Reis" is the plural of "Real", the unit of currency in Brazil.) No problem, sir, you can pay in US dollars. The price if I pay in US dollars? How about $36.00. Only seven times as much. Fortunately I had plenty of time so I started walking around the airport looking for ATMs, of which there were plenty. But machine after machine rejected my card. One was kind enough to tell me in English that it isn't on the "Cirrus" network, the others just gave me errors in Portuguese that I couldnít interpret. I'm pretty sure I went to one ATM of each bank at the airport and none would work. Keep in mind that this is the airport of the biggest city in South America. If I can't use my ATM card this could be a problem. I can still get money using my Visa and Amex cards, but the costs are a lot higher. Finally I gave up and changed some US dollars at a money changer booth at a mediocre exchange rate. One thing that is weird about Brazil is that there are 3 commonly recognized exchange rates: the official rate, the "tourist" rate (which for most purposes is the real rate), and the black market rate. Exchange booths at the airport offer the official rate, which is the worst of the three. Not that it really matters - I lost $2 on the exchange but saved $32 by not using dollars to pay the airport tax.
The Varig lounge at São Paulo is very nice with a variety of soft drinks and a little bit of finger food. I had an apple turnover and a cup of killer coffee and awaited my next flight. My final leg to Curitiba is on a Varig 737-300. Business class is 4 rows of 4, but there are only 3 other people up here with me, so the flight attendants gave us a lot of attention. Before takeoff one of the attendants came over to me with the demonstration life vest and safety belt and said, "You know how this works, right?" I nodded yes, so she skipped the demonstration. This 45-minute flight includes a snack! Amazing.
Flying over São Paulo is really startling. This is the 3rd largest city in the world; 17 million people covering 1000 square miles. These statistics are just numbers until you get into the air and look down. It's not just the expanse that is covered, it is the number of high-rise buildings that is so amazing. I'm even more intimidated about the idea of visiting there.
Though the air got a bit rough right before landing, the flight was basically uneventful. I was first off the plane and my priority special-deluxe business-class labeled bags were last at baggage claim. One nice thing was that they were checking luggage tickets. That always makes me feel much more secure. My old friend Augusto was there to greet me. It is great seeing him again; I think it's been at least 4 or 5 years. Just as we were putting my bags in the car it started to hammer down with rain and then there was the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard. I thought I had been shot. This was immediately followed by the wailing of dozens of car alarms. The shock wave from the noise had been so strong that it set off every car alarm in the entire parking lot. Quite a hoot. It is quite warm and kinda sticky here; something like 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm glad I got my shower, but doubly wish I had had some antiperspirant.
We drove off to Augusto's home here in Curitiba, talked for a long time, then I did a 1/2 hour power-nap. Tonight two Brazilian teams are facing off for the world soccer championships. One is Augusto's favorite team (Corinthians), so I know what we are doing for 2 hours tonight. Brazilians are crazy for soccer. As far as Augusto is concerned, Corinthians isn't his favorite team, they are his team.
Augusto, his wife Glair and I went to dinner tonight at Lupulos Choparia at Rua Buenos Aires 148, Batel (324-6666.) Lupulos is a stylish brewpub restaurant with live music and a very chic crowd ("Chopp" is draft beer (as opposed to cerveza), and a "Choparia" is a brew pub). The place is new but was built to look old, and succeeds. The wait staff was very friendly; the menu was in Portuguese only! I ordered Linguado Grelhado com Molho de Maca, a type of Argentinean white fish breaded and fried with a cinnamon apple sauce. It was a very generous portion and came with a nice flavored rice, carrots and potatoes in a pleasant presentation. After dinner I had the famous Caipirinha, a drink made with Brazil's signature sugar-cane alcohol and lime juice. It was very much like a slightly bitter Kamakazi.
When we got back to the house I reconnected to the internet and this time found that the phone lines and connections were excellent (40K baud and higher.) I've no idea why it was so hard to connect from the airport.
Saturday January 15, 2000
We all got up this morning and headed over to the Mercado Municipal (municipal market) to pick up special fruits and nuts for something being planned for Augusto's birthday next weekend. The market was modestly interesting - I always enjoy seeing local fruits and vegetables. This is definitely the land of beans. Last night I searched the web and discovered that my ATM card works at Banco Do Brazil, which is good because they are everywhere. So now I have plenty of money in my pocket.
The three of us drove to Pontal do Sul (near Paranaguá) to take the Ferry to Ihla do Mel (Honey Island). At the ticket counter Augusto and Glair talked with the tourist agent (who spoke no English) and found that there was almost nowhere to stay in Ihla do Mel that was not already booked up. Fortunately Augusto had his cell phone and after about 10 calls finally found a "pousada" with room. "Pousada" translates as "inn", and roughly speaking they are anything from a bed & breakfast to a youth hostel (in my experience they are more of the latter.)
We got on the Ferry (9 Reis round trip) just as it was about to leave. Apparently this was very lucky; though my guides say the ferries run on a regular schedule a couple times a day, and I was told that they leave every 1/2 hour, apparently they simply go when they are full. If you get there first, you sit until it is full - a minute, an hour, a day, whatever. There was a light rain falling, but I was only mildly anxious about the state of my bag sitting on top of the boat in the exposed luggage area. The rain had pretty much abated when we reached the island 1/2 hour later. Augusto was wearing a soccer shirt of his team, Corinthians, which had won the world championship the night before. When we got off the boat a boy of 10 or 11 years old latched on to him and started gabbing away while leading us to our pousada (which I would never have found if I were alone.) We trudged down the beach with this kid leading the way and going on and on. I asked Augusto why this boy was leading us and he told me that the boy is a fan of the team that was defeated last night (Vasco de Gamma) and wanted to give Augusto a hard time about it. Whatever the reason, he did a nice job of leading us to the place so I gave him a Real.
Pousada Sol & Mar (041-978-3225) would basically have been a youth hostel in any other part of the world. The only difference was that it wasnít full of youths. Most of the people there were older adults, including a couple of families from Argentina with grown up children. We had one room with two bunk beds and one stand-alone bed. We had our own bathroom with a private shower down the hall. Our room was on the ocean side of the place, and the Pousada was practically in the water itself, so the sound of the surf through the paper-thin walls was powerful but pleasant.
By the time we had unpacked and settled in the rain had stopped and we walked back up the beach to a small café (Poque Sol Maria) for a really mediocre meal of fried shrimp and French fries. By the time we finished eating the rain had started up again, but we decided to put on our bathing suits and go for a swim anyway. One very nice thing is that though it rains here, the rain and the air are both warm. The sea water is very warm too, so the rain isn't all that relevant. Still, with my North American perspective, it just seems weird to go swimming at the beach in the rain. As it happens, we ended up just walking up the beach in the drizzle until we were a good 15 minutes from the Pousada when it started to barrel down with rain the way it can only really do in the tropics. We turned tail and headed back to the pousada with rain streaming down so hard and so fast that it was almost impossible to see. I suggested that it might just be easier to get into the water and swim! After a few minutes of stumbling blindly forward trying to shield my eyes from the pelting drops I started to wonder if it was possible to drown on land. I didnít feel like finding out, so we started to run. Needless to say the rain stopped a couple of minutes after we got back and the sun started to come out just in time for sunset. So, after drying off and putting on new clothes we headed back out onto the beach to try and see what little sunset was poking through the clouds.
We headed over to the sunset side of the island, walked for a while, then went and had sodas on the deck at Pousada Por Do Sol (which looks much nicer and better located than our pousada.) Unfortunately the clouds did a really good job of obscuring the sunset, but it was pleasant anyway.
Dinner at the Pousada was included in the 30 Reis per person price. It was simple food served buffet style, but was surprisingly good. Broccholi, veggies, a casserole of some fish, and an enchilada-like thing called "panqueca" (which translates as pancake.) The proprietress offered us our choice of beverage: Guarana or cerveza or guarana or cerveza or guarana or cerveza. We each chose Guarana. [Guarana is a fruit which grows only in the Amazon and is mainly made into soda. Guarana soda is available everywhere in Brazil - if there's water for sale, there's Guarana. It's also making a name for itself in the USA as a supplement in sports drinks because of its high caffeine content.]
Saturday night during the summer on Ilha do Mel is quite an event. We went to a place called Toca Do Abutre where a local reggae band was playing. I'm pretty sure that by midnight virtually everyone on the island was there. It was a huge fun scene with everyone having a great time. Though we left around 1am, apparently the band was playing 'till two, with recorded music after that. I'm sure there were people there all night.
I got to sleep at around 2am with sound of pounding surf and dance music in the distance.
Sunday January 16, 2000
Breakfast was included with the room, and was so unmemorable that I honestly can't remember what it was. I think I might have had some fruit. Dunno. Anyway, we finished up eating something or other and then walked down the beach to the fort, Fortaleza de NS dos Prazeres. The photo of the fort that was hanging up at the ferry dock looked really cool. In person, it was only mildly interesting. Still it was a nice walk, and it is always pleasant to have a specific destination for such an outing. We did our return walk on a path up the island. I had a good time looking at orchids and bromeliads blooming in the trees and bird watching.
Back at the pousada I went and hung out on the porch talking with some very drunk Brazilian guys. Now that the sun was finally shining I wanted to get some photos of the place. One of them offered to take my photo for me; it was pretty entertaining looking at them afterwards and seeing the pictures he snapped with me only partially in the frame. Ah, drunk peopleÖ you've got to love them.
So, we packed up, had another irrelevant lunch and took the ferry back to the mainland. Because it was Sunday there was a lot of traffic to contend with heading back from the beaches. The drive was made more pleasant though when we picked up a couple of fresh green coconuts at a stand by the side of the road. They were quite large and really really good. True to form as the afternoon grew later the skies opened up like a faucet and traffic was brought to a crawl as oceans of water fell from the sky, obliterating the world in a torrent of obscured vision and noise. Curitiba is at 900 meters, and the drive back included one of the longest sustained climbs around. I was impressed to see dozens of intrepid cyclists of all kinds making this hell-climb. To see this going on in a downpour reminiscent of a biblical flood was all the more astounding.
As with all these daily rains, it was over by the time we got to Curitiba. Augusto needed to go to the barber so we popped into the Crystal shopping center. He got coifed and I walked around looking at what Brazil considers an upscale mall.
We went for dinner tonight at a place called Taco El Pancho (342-1204). Bright colors, fun excited people, and uninspired Mexican food. This place is all atmosphere, the food is ignorable at best. I had a beer of the Brahma brand called "Malzbier". It was supposed to be a dark beer, which got me excited because I am getting pretty tired of these watery lagers. Boy was this stuff nasty; it tasted somewhat like a bad Belgian Cherry Lambic, or perhaps it was more like a stout mixed 50-50 with cherry cough syrup. For an appetizer they brought us spice-less salsa served with Doritos instead of tortilla chips. Augusto gave them hell for the Doritos so they brought us really bad homemade tortilla chips. We ordered fajitas, which were basically mediocre. Probably a great place for people watching at happy hour, but skip the food. Come to think of it, skip the beer too.
Monday January 17, 2000
I went this morning to a local bakery and got coffee and a non-descript pastry. No one speaks English. I'm flubbing along with a weird mixture of English, Spanish, Italian and the occasional word that I actually manage to get out in Portuguese. Glair came back from work at noon to get me and give me the car. I drove her back to work and then we had lunch at an OK vegetarian place. Very cheap, healthy food served cafeteria style in a place filled with lots of people who work in local offices.
Afterwards I went off to check out Curitiba. The sidewalks here are really beautiful; paved in varying patterns of black and white stones. I did a little shopping, trying to find a map, a Brazilian phone adapter, and a new camera strap. There is something of an odd phenomenon here. The shops all seem to sell the same things. There are a huge number of photo-finishing shops (people here must be photo-crazy), but they all sell identical merchandise. The shoe stores are all different, but all sell the same shoes. There are more optical shops than I have ever seen in one city, all selling the same frames. And I have never seen a place with more hairdressers. Anyway, though many places sold phones (all the same phones), I couldnít find anyone that would sell me a Brazilian phone adapter. The phones come with adapters, but they donít seem to sell them separately. I also couldnít find a simple fold-up map. The phone company provides people with an odd phonebook style book. You look in the book for a street name, and then it lists everything that is on that street, sorted by cross-street. Then you can find the map page in another section of the book. But the damn thing is way too big to carry around, and I just want a normal fold-up map. Hmmm.
So, after walking around I took the car and drove around for a bit, quickly getting lost. It was hot as hell, and I was dripping with sweat. The red-lights were set to hit every one, and they were interminable in my car without air conditioning or a radio. The street names here are a pain in the ass; all the streets have names like "Rua Senator Alencar Guimaraes" and "Rua General Xavier da Silva". The street signs are thus in a really small, hard to read font, and the names tend to get abbreviated as "R. Gen. Xav. Da Silva." Driving along looking for names like this is hard - a lot of the names seem similar to me. To make matters worse, I have a bad habit of looking at a map, seeing "Rua Presidente Carlos Cavalcanti" and thinking, "OK, I turn right at that 'president' street." Bad idea in Curitiba. There are a lot of 'president' streets, not to mention the generals, doctors, and other dignitaries.
So, hot, sweating and tired I just went back to the house, took another shower and rested. Jet lag, bad water, unfamiliar food, etc. is catching up with me. Later in the evening I went back downtown and got Glair from her work. Before heading home we went to the train station to figure out the details on a scenic train ride through the mountains to Paranagua for tomorrow.
Many restaurants are closed on Monday night (as in the US), but we managed to find dinner at Cartagena, an attractive see-and-be-seen place that seems more interested in serving drinks than food. They started us with a basket of uninteresting breads served with 3 spreads; one turned out to be tuna fish salad, the next was basically cottage cheese, and the third was probably tartar sauce (blech.) For dinner I had shrimp with a ginger mustard sauce accompanied by rice and deep-fried potato balls. The food was uniformly OK, but completely uninspired. The service was quite speedy.
This was the second time I have seen a strange payment system that I am told is quite common in Brazil. When you come in they give you a paper card which they either refer to or write on every time you order. When you want to pay, they take your card and total up the bill. After you've paid they stamp your card "paid", and you have to give it to the attendant when you leave. If you lose the card they charge you R$150. It's kind of like losing your ticket at a parking garage. I can only imagine that they have a huge problem with people skipping out on their bills. The first time I got one of these tickets, I thought they were handing me some kind of raffle ticket and I stood to win R$150. Hi ho.
Tuesday January 18, 2000
I got picked up by a van this morning at 8:00am to take the "Littorina" (tourist train) through the mountains towards Paranagua. I have arranged for the full tourist package which includes pick-up and drop-off, the littorina ride, a guided tour of the towns of Morretes and Antonina, a special "typical" lunch, and a van ride back along the old mountain road.
The van that picked me up had gotten lost trying to find me, so we were late getting to the train station; my van load was the last group to arrive. I was bumming because this was to be a sightseeing ride, so I really wanted a window seat. To my surprise, I discovered that the tickets were for assigned seats, and I had a window seat. Of course, there was someone sitting in it, but that was quickly sorted out.
Travellers Tip: When you make your reservation, make sure to get a window seat, and try to get one that is on the left side of the train. Some noteworthy things are on each side, but the lions share is on the left.
The train pulled out on schedule at 9am and within about 1/2 hour we were out of the city, past some rather grim slums, and into an attractive countryside. Each car of the train has a tour guide to point out and describe the sights along the way. It turns out that mine is a trainee, and while he speaks English, he does not speak well. Over the PA system he speaks in Portuguese for some 5 or 10 minutes, then walks over to where I and two other Americans are seated and speaks to us for about 30 seconds. Oh well. Fortunately a Brazilian woman sitting next to me speaks excellent English and is happy to tell me about what is going on.
The terrain changed back and forth as we rode along; rolling countryside, swamp, farmland, fields of scrub and hills covered with Parana pines. Huge hydrangeas lined the way covered with blue flowers. There were also many beautiful trees with large red and white flowers; I am told they are called "Ype". Eventually we got into the mountains with some rather dramatic views. Mostly forested, there were views of waterfalls, a water mill, and exciting plunges off of bridges over high passes. It was all pretty nice.
About 2.5 hours later we pulled into the station in Morretes (pronounced "Mohets".) About 15 or 16 people from the train were continuing on in the vans for the guided tour. We piled into 2 vans with our tour guides from the train. The van pulled out of Morretes and drove us to a tiny factory where they make electroplated plaster statuettes. This was among the lamest touristy things I have ever seen. I hate the fact that tour operators insist on taking tours on these little side-stops where they can get a kickback. I'm sorry, but little statues of Buddhas and dancing horses electroplated in bronze and copper just has nothing to do with a scenic tour of Brazil. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything. But, we all stood around and dutifully watched as women carefully scraped the excess plaster off of cast ballerinas and elephants, and listened as the proprietor explained (in Portuguese) how electroplating works. I sat back comfortable in the knowledge that at least now I know where all this crap comes from. I need never stand in a trinket shop and wonder again. Now I know.
Back in the van we headed to the town of Antonina, an old shipping center that has now been largely superceded by Paranagua. As far as I can tell there is basically nothing in Antonina, and I'm really not sure why they took us there. We stopped for a little while to see nothing at all, then got back into the van and returned to Morrettes for lunch.
Lunch was served at a touristy restaurant called Madolozo Restaurate (041-462-1410) and consisted of the famous local dish called "barreado". The meal is served all at once with lots of dishes. Appetizers of salad, hard boiled quail eggs, deep fried whitefish balls, fried shrimp, deep fried fish, olives, etc, etc. All of it pretty bland, deep fried, and lifeless. The barreado dish itself is kind of surprising. One takes a heaping tablespoon of dry manioc flour and puts it in the bottom of a bowl. Onto this you ladle a glop of stewed meat, and then stir it all up. The hot liquid from the meat cooks the flour, so you end up with a bowl of goop. By the way, manioc is a root that is dried and ground into flour. The meat looks like it has been cooking for a few days and has no consistency whatsoever. Not a pretty picture, but surprisingly it didnít taste bad. I mean, it wasnít exactly good, but it wasnít bad. There was a jar of pickled peppers on the table and I found that if I put a couple of them in my bowl with the barreado it actually had some flavor. All the Brazilians at the table were stunned when I sat there chomping on these mild chili peppers. These people wouldnít last a minute in Thailand. So, now I've had the local specialty. Check. Next?
After lunch we made the obligatory gift shop stop, and then were finally able to walk around Morretes a little bit. It is a tiny little town of insignificant interest, but was pleasant enough, and it was nice to be locomoting under my own power. Back in the van we headed back to Curitiba on an ancient road (route 410) that winds back and forth in narrow switchbacks up the steep mountain. Along the way we stopped for a photo-op at a waterfall called "Recanto Rio Cascata".
As we were arriving in Curitba the daily deluge began, this time with the added bonus of sleet. Woo hoo! Gotta love some exciting weather. All in all the train ride was quite nice with some excellent views, but the rest of the trip was touristy and irrelevant.
Had dinner at a terrific little pub called "Don Max" on Rua Tenente Max Wolf Filho at the corner of Avenue President Getulio Vargas (god I hate these street names!) Don Max is a cute, hip, small, noisy, smoky, open air pub with cool art and photos on the wall. At 8:30 on a Tuesday night (8:30 is considered early), all the little tables were full of people - mostly drinking and talking, with some eating. I started with Entrada Traditional (literally "traditional appetizer") which turned out to be a really boring plate of palm hearts, tomatoes, mango, pickles and olives on a bed of lettuce with some hummos. Though the entrée was totally lame, the main course was fantastic. I had the Pasta do Ernesto, basically spaghetti with strips of marinated steak and two kinds of mushrooms in a cream sauce. Wow. Absolutely the best food I've had in Brazil by a huge margin. I actually enjoyed it. More than that, I actually wanted to eat all of it, and then I wished I had had more. What a novelty! The spaghetti was al dente, the sauce was delicious, the meat was tender and flavorful. The owner of the place makes his own liquors; various kinds of infusions and eau-de-vies of fruit and spices. Though I had been drinking beer throughout the meal (a rather uninteresting lager called "Skor"), I had to try one of these drinks. I had one infused with a fruit called "pitanga"; it was quite excellent and quite inebriating. Recommended. I was dining with Glair and Augusto's cousin Luciana (who had recommended Don Max), and her boyfriend Marcello. During the meal Marcello offered to come by tomorrow and take me on a tour of Curitiba. Cool! I can't wait.
Wednesday January 19, 2000
Well, I finally managed to buy a map of Curitiba, but it is a big wall map, not a fold up map. I got it at a map store, Geomapas Papelaria at 234 Rua Carlos de Carvalho. I also bought a really crappy fold-up "tourists map" at a bookstore, but it was really worthless. How strange to not be able to buy a normal street map!
Around lunchtime I walked by several restaurants and chose one that looked "best" almost at random. I thought it was a standard sit-down restaurant with service and a menu, but in fact it was a by-the-kilo buffet. I got myself a plate of various things - over-cooked meats, wilted vegetables, dry rice, ugly potatoes. Very little of it was bad, none of it was good.
After lunch I wandered around looking at buildings and parks in the main downtown area, then went to a telephone office to make a phone call to my mother. It was very hard to hear because the pay phone would click every time a "unit" of time was used on my phone card; calling the USA during the day, the units were clicking off about 1 per second.
I then headed back to the apartment to wait for Marcello to pick me up for my tour of Curitiba. Like all Brazilians, Marcello is extremely proud of his soccer team, so the first stop was at the new stadium, even though it was closed during the day. It was on the way to the Jardim Botanico (botanic gardens,) so Marcello couldnít resist showing it off. The Jardim Botanico is a very new park, and it really doesnít look well grown-in yet. The conservatory is quite small, and only modestly interesting. The plants in the formal gardens are even less so. My favorite part of the Jardim Botanico is the remains of the wild forest with nice walking paths. While walking through the trees we spotted two small wild capybaras. I was definitely surprised to see them running free in an urban park.
Next we went to Parque da Pedreira (Paulo Leminsky Quarry Park) & Opera de Arame (Wire Opera House.) The Opera de Arame is an intriguing structure, and the area looks like a good place to see a concert. The fake waterfall is a nice touch. Afterward we headed to another brand new park, Parque Tangua, with another cool fake waterfall. This is a very nicely constructed park. It is impressive to see how many parks this city has added in a short period of time. In this park there were to huge capybara, which appeared to be running free, but are actually living in an area that they cannot get out of due to high stone cliffs.
Some days being a tourist feels more like shopping for a house. Going from one place to the next, looking, appraising. Every time I asked a question I felt like I was asking if the plumbing worked, if the neighborhood was safe to walk my dog at night, and if the wood had been checked for termites. Hi ho.
At this point Luciana called on Marcello's cell phone to say that she was finishing up work, so we hopped in the car and headed back towards the center of town and the Ingreja de Saõ Francisco, the ruins of the oldest church in Curitiba. We met Luciana and walked up the "Flower Road", a pedestrian street which is actually named Rua 15 Novembre, but everyone calls it the Flower Road from a time when there were flowers growing up and down the street. Today the street is lined with nice old restored buildings and row-houses, which are kept authentic by strict conservation laws.
We stopped for a snack on the Flower Road at Confectariadas Familias bakery. Apparently it is "very famous" and has been in the same family forever. I had a pastry called a Madrillena, which was excellent and certainly fattening. We took a quick spin past Universidade do Parana, the oldest university in Parana, the Teatro Guaira, Museu Paranaense, and the Cathedral Metropolitana. By this time I had had a pretty good survey of Curitiba, so Marcello took me back to the house and headed on his way.
I had dinner in the Santa Felicidade area, an area known for its Italian immigrants and restaurants. We ate at Cantina Famiglia Fadanelli, Av. Manoel Ribas 5667. It is housed in a new building, successfully and attractively designed to look old. It definitely fit in well with the local architecture. This area has many huge restaurants styled to look like Italian castles and villas, very odd. I had spaghetti with mushrooms in a cream sauce, which was good, but not inspired.
I had an amusing experience with the restrooms at the restaurant. They had no pictures or icons indicating which was which, saying merely "Ela" and "Ele", two words which I had never come across before. Hmmmm. Am I an "ele" or an "ela"? Well, in French "elle" is "her", so maybe I am an "ela". But in Portuguese "a" is the feminine ending, so maybe I am an "ele". I waited for a while hoping that either a man or a woman would go into or come out of one of the doors, but no such luck. Eventually after a few indecisive false starts I asked a waiter. Pointing to my the bathrooms, then to my chest I said "Ela? Ele?" It turns out that I am an "ele." "Ele" is "his", and "ela" is "hers". A couple of those international man/woman icons would have been nice.
Thursday January 20, 2000
What a fucked up morning. I donít even want to talk about it. Suffice it to say that my friends held me up till 2pm when we finally had lunch at Churrascaria OK on Av. Das Torres. It is located on the road to the airport. For some reason almost all of the Churrascarias are out here. The idea of a Churrascaria is that they cook various kinds of meat on skewers, which they then carry table to table and slice off onto your plate in an all-you-can-eat deal. Again the food was boring, but should be a meat lover's delight. As far as I am concerned, Brazilian food just doesnít cut it. Like so many others, the restaurant was fairly empty. I am told that this is because it is currently the summer holiday, and lots of people have left Curitiba for their summer homes. Hmmm.
While sitting and waiting for my friends to show I spent some idle time reading through my Portuguese/English dictionary and discovered an astonishing omission: the word "hello" was missing. It's a pretty common word. I mean, we're not talking "infandibular" or "jejuneosity" here. Give me a break.
I also learned a really goofy thing about commerce here. It turns out that very few people use credit cards. When people want to buy something expensive they will often do it on credit, but they do it with each store on its own terms. The process they go through is to write a series of checks (usually 3 or 4), each for a portion of the purchase amount and each future dated to various dates. They give the store the set of checks, and the store then deposits the checks on the future dates. Of course, the store charges interest for this. The whole process sounds like an amazingly cumbersome way to do what credit cards do. Curious.
After lunch I went into town to check out the few things I had missed the day before. First I went by the Museu Paranaense, since it had been closed when we went by yesterday. It is a beautiful building with wonderful woodwork, but the contents are completely irrelevant. Doubly so since I donít read Portuguese. If you bother to go and visit, be sure to check out the bathroom on the 4th floor - a strange little circular room, it was the highlight of the museum for me. I went by the "clock of flowers", but the clock was stopped and the flowers were dead. Pretty exciting, I must say. Though the "clock of flowers" was a dud, there were one or two modestly interesting shops on the street, some nice buildings, and a pretty cool fountain with a modern sculpture of the head of a horse bisected by a slab of stone.
For dinner tonight I had the honor of eating at McDonalds. It was fuel.
Friday January 21, 2000
It was "up and at em" early this morning to drive the 400km to the town of Andirá in the middle of Parana state where Augusto's parents live. It is 70 miles from the small city of Londrina. In other words, it is basically nowhere. Gliar and I were driving together, Augusto was already in Londrina on business.
On the way we stopped off at Vila Velha. It was fantastic. The Lonely Planet travel guide calls it an interesting day trip from Curitiba; I call it the best thing to do in Curitiba. 60 miles Northwest of town, it took about an hour and a half to get there. Parque Estadual de Vila Velha is not a vila (city) at all, but rather an amazing park. The area is a sandstone mountain that has been eroded away by wind and water into extraordinary chasms, columns and boulders. Twenty-two of the formations have been given distinctive names like Garrafa (Giraffe), Camelo (Camel), and Taça (Cup) the most amazing of them all. The "Pedra Suspensa" (suspended stone) hanging over our heads in the mouth of a chasm was quite cool. While walking along the path we spied a couple of Coati Mundis in the trees. (Learn more about Coati Mundi's.) They seemed completely unafraid of us, which was really neat. Unfortunately we had Augusto's dog with us, and his barking scared them away. There was also a huge black and white lizard basking in the sunshine, also remarkably unperturbed by our mammalian presence. I had a terrific time hiking around and taking some great photos and would have stayed for hours. Unfortunately, we had to hit the road to get to Andirá.
We passed pleasant rolling hills and green farms. The sky was light blue with puffy clouds. The drive was very hot with no air conditioning, no radio, and no language in common.
The scenery continued on, attractive but not particularly noteworthy. We passed farms growing various crops that I recognize, both ordinary (corn, cows) and exotic (papaya, sugar cane), and some that I donít recognize (who knows what they were.) For the first half of drive there were lots of attractive Parana Pines, which were quite striking at the sides of the road. Later some Eucalptus, occasional palm trees and then just scrubby trees in amongst the farmland. Mostly the road surface was quite poor, the road was two lanes for the first 200K, and one lane the rest of the way. Fortunately the traffic became quite light after the point where the road narrowed. We drove along hitting potholes left and right, with me sweating like a pig. Much of the scenery could be anywhere - Eastern Washington, Pennsylvania, New Zealand (but not Iowa.) It is really hot here, probably 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the skies are clear, with a few big fluffy clouds.
I have to say again that the food in Brazil is just terrible. If I didnít need a certain number of calories per day to live, I donít think I would bother eating here at all. At least I am losing weight. Maybe I've hit on a great new idea for Weight Watchers - serve Brazilian food!
Well, we got to Augusto's without incident where I sat out by the pool to write. After dinner Augusto's cousin Fabio took me to the pub in town. Thatís right, the pub. The only game in town. It was Karaoke night. Very hokey. Everyone in town was there. I had hoped that Brazilians in a small farming town would be very open and friendly, but was surprised to find that they seemed as closed and unapproachable as any big city dweller. Hi ho.
Saturday January 21, 2000
After breakfast this morning Augusto's father, uncle and cousin took me to see the farm of a friend of the family. Once the area had all been coffee beans, but apparently bad weather had wiped out all the coffee plants some years ago and no one replanted coffee. After coffee they had switched to cows (now there's a switch!) and now are moving from cows to pigs. There are huge fields of soybeans and sugar cane with occasional fruit trees.
They have a magnificent huge mango tree which produces more fruit than several families could ever consume. They would pick a fruit, take a few cuts at it, hand me a piece of fantastic fruit and then throw the almost uneaten fruit on the ground a grab another one. Each time they would throw away a fantastic mango I had the impulse to dive to the ground to try to catch it.
They are very excited about the new pig business. They have purchased a special new kind of genetically engineered pig from Belgium that is said to have almost no fat, and produces big front shoulders (so you can harvest both the rear legs and the front.) It looks like a pretty insanely boring life for the pig. They have set up a very modern, extremely clean environment where the pregnant female pigs either lie or stand in a small sterile pen. In front of them is a trough that is alternately filled with feed or water, and they lie on grating that allows their excrement to fall away. Basically they donít move. When they are ready to give birth they walk 20 yards over to the birthing pens and have a litter of 10 to 14 piglets, nurse them for a while, then walk 20 yards over to another pen where the only male pig waits for them. And may I just say that that male pig had the biggest testicles I've ever seen on any animal, including elephants. Another miracle of genetic engineering? A few days later the females are pregnant again and head back to the immobility of the pregnancy pens. Hmmm. I'm not sure I want to be a pig (even if I get to be the male one.) As for the piglets, they go out and eat and grow for 140 days then become supermarket fodder. Interestingly, apparently the pigs are genetically engineered to not breed true, so the piglets can only be used for meat; they are not valuable for breeding themselves. Thus, the Belgian company gets to stay in business selling more genetically true females.
We wandered around and ate more fruit from their trees; mangos, acerola, and passion fruit (which is called maracuja in Portuguese.) I had an interesting experience with the passion fruit. On the property there are huge bush-sized poinsettias. Being something of an amateur botanist I can identify a poinsettia at a goodly distance, and I knew they were poinsettias even though they were so big. My host pointed at them and said "maracuja." What? I was pretty certain that maracuja was passion fruit, and I know that poinsettias are poisonous. Low and behold, he reaches in and picks a yellow fruit and cuts it open. This is definitely a passion fruit. Of that I am certain. But passion fruit is a vine, and he has picked the fruit from a poinsettia bush. Impossible. With Fabio trying to translate for me I attempted to investigate this mystery but without much success. Finally I just climbed on into the bush. Sure enough, there was a passion fruit vine growing in the poinsettia and using it for support. Whew. I wasnít crazy. [Those of you who donít know me probably think that is the stupidest story you've ever heard. My friends are doubtless laughing their asses off right now.]
Anyway, we went back to the farmhouse and ate some fantastic cheeses that they make themselves, drank cokes and beers, and had a fun time playing with my camera. A good day. I spent the rest of the day reading, writing, and waiting for Augusto's birthday party to begin.
Sunday January 23, 2000
I pretty much spent the day hanging out, then Augusto and I drove to Londrina so that he could do some business and I could fly on TAM to São Paulo. TAM is a partner with American Airlines, so I get American frequent flyer miles even though I haven't flown with them in years. The equipment is a Fokker F100. I get an exit row seat, which should be a superior seat, but alas it does not recline. No biggie, it's only a one hour flight. Amazingly, they serve food even on this short trip.
I've reserved a room at the Parthenon Park Ave hotel (Alameda Jau, 358, (55 11) 284-8622) in the Jardim Paulista district. This is an "apartment-style" hotel, where each room is a suite with bedroom, bath, living room and kitchen. The location, price and amenities all looked good on paper, but the room is actually pretty mediocre. There are two iron burns on rug, peeling paint, and the place is just plain ugly and run-down looking. Furthermore, it is next to a construction sight. Oh well. After getting checked in, I asked the concierge for recommendation for dinner and then one of São Paulo's famous night clubs. She sends me to Galetos for dinner, right around the corner, then to the Itiam Bibi neighborhood for night clubs. I walk over to Galetos and get seated, but the menu looks terrible so I get up and leave. I later learn Galetos is a chain. Not what I had in mind.
So, I went for dinner at Restaurant Bargaco (R Oscar Freire 1189). Fodor's says that if you wont be able to make it to the northeast of Brazil to try the Bahian's cuisine, then you have to try the food at Bargaco. The room is really ugly and modestly sized, though dozens of mirrors make it look huge. It is half full at 10pm on a Sunday night; the patrons seem to be about 50-50 Brazilians and foreigners. The menu is in Portuguese and English, which is a nice change. I ordered the famous Moqueca de Peixe - fish cooked in an earthenware casserole with coconut milk, palm oil, coriander leaves and ginger. A coronary delight, but it sounds delicious. I also ordered a glass of the local dry white wine, which was thin, sweet and terrible. After 45 minutes of waiting without any bread, service, or my main course, I looked in my dictionary to ask what was taking so long. I suspect they forgot my order. 15 minutes after that it finally arrived. By the time my food got to me I was the only remaining patron and was bored to sleep. I had entertained myself watching other diners finishing their meals and having deserts from the desert carts. All the deserts are various kinds of goopy glop in chocolate and fruit flavors. Some are goopy like pudding, others like melting ice cream. The presentation is nauseating. I had tasted some at Churrascaria OK in Curitiba, and knew that they taste only marginally better than they look. To make my wait all the more pleasant, there was a mistuned radio playing garbled music which failed to cover the fingernail-on-chalkboard squeak of the kitchen door.
So the Moqueca finally arrived. The portion was huge, the flavor was OK. Unfortunately the fish was very bony. After stabbing my tongue several times I was pretty put out. Since I was alone I started just spitting gobs of bone and fish out onto my plate; I hardly cared what the waiters thought of my manners. It was the kind of dish where the first several bites are quite good, but there is no depth, nothing to keep the taste buds interested, and soon you are just slogging through hoping to attain a certain amount of nutrition from the meal. There was a bowl of awful thick soup provided as well (at least, I think it was soup), and a dish of chili sauce. I hoped that perhaps the chili sauce would invigorate the meal, but unfortunately it had a really foul bitter flavor. People have always said that England has the worst cuisine in the world. I think the reason for this is that not enough people have traveled to Brazil to realize that they truly deserve the crown for the world's worst food. The service continued to be terrible, and I had to demand my check. On the way out I tried to explain to them just how awful I thought their restaurant was, but no one spoke English. Hi ho.
After dinner I got a cab and headed over to the Itaim Bibi district as recommended for night clubs. Unforunately, everything is closed at midnight on a Sunday. Apparently this city which never sleeps, sleeps quite well on Sundays. Two strikes for the concierge at the Parthenon!
Strangely, the taxis donít seem to know where the hot spots are. I asked my driver to take me to a "discotheque", but we just seemed to drive around and around. In São Paulo, all the taxis zip around and run red lights everywhere, except for my drivers who go 5 miles an hour and sit forever at red lights. This driver stoped frequently to ask other taxis for directions and recommendations. Yikes. Am I having bad luck or what? I think I ended up in an area called Vila Magdelena, where I stopped into a couple of dance clubs and bars, but I wasnít having much fun. I failed to speak with anyone, and wasnít enjoying either the music or the scene. At 2am I give up my fruitless search.
Monday January 24, 2000
The construction at the site next door started at 8am. What a noisy room. On the other hand the bed was comfortable and the shower was excellent (surprise!) Nonetheless, I will move; the Sheraton Mofarrej is highly rated and has a good rate for me as a Starwood Gold member.
Fodor's says that the Hotel Maksoud has the best breakfast in the city. Off I went. I found it to be mediocre at best. Fodor's says that it is on Ave. Paulista, but it is not. It is on a side street, which caused me to waste a lot of time trying to find it. The place looks like 70's chic that was never updated. Ugh. It had occurred to me to stay here, since the United Hemispheres Magazine "Three Perfect Days" recommended it, but seeing the lobby turned me completely off.
I check out of Parthenon and hopped a cab to take me 5 blocks over to the Sheraton. I get the Starwood Gold rate and room upgrade, plus the American Express Platinum card bonus (although they didnít tell me what the bonus was.) I also get points for my stay towards "Starwood Free Fridays". I am upgraded from a standard room to a "Deluxe Suite". It is a very nice room, but in the US this room would not be called a "suite"; there is only one room. It is quite deluxe though. Unfortunately I've developed a huge headache; possibly from the pollution, possibly from the breakfast. I tried to take a nap, but somehow all I could do was just lie there. I really wanted to see this huge city, so I was feeling restless in spite of my head.
For lunch I went to a corner sandwich shop called Cinderella on the corner of Rua Pamplona and Alameda Santos. I had acerola juice and a "beirutes". "Beirutes" are grilled pita bread sandwiches. Mine was made with Canadian bacon, eggs, and cheese. It was excellent and the acerola juice was great too. The whole fruit-smoothy craze in the USA is old hat here. Suddenly I felt much better! I think I've turned a corner in my vacation.
Yes, I've definitely turned a corner. I leave Cinderella and hop right into a taxi. I say "Parque do Ibirapuera" and the driver knows what I mean. Off we go. This city is definitely polluted, but not like Bangkok. Here there are lots of trees, so it doesnít seem as oppressive.
At the entrance to the park there is a huge bombastic statue commemorating the "bandieras", the gold miners who explored and opened up large sections of Brazil. A group of workers is trying to clean graffiti off of it. I wonder how they will protect it from further graffiti after it is clean.
Parque do Ibirapuera is a pleasant city park with a stream, pond full of geese, impressive strangler figs, and huge bamboos. There is an interesting water jet in the middle of the pond, which shoots out a stream some 30 feet down the length of the pond. All the buildings are either from the 50's and 60's, or were designed with 50's/60's sensibilities. There is graffiti on everything: statues, benches, trees, even scratched into the windows of the museum. There are quite a lot of people about, bicycling, roller-blading, walking. The weather today is very pleasant, particularly after the heat of Andirá. One of the main things I wanted to see in the park was the Museu de Arte Moderna, but, of course, MAM is closed on Mondays. The interesting looking Japanese village is also closed, opening only on Saturdays and Sundays. It appears to have been spared of the blight of graffiti by its high barbed wire fence.
Following Fodor's "A Good Walk", I proceeded to Rua Dr. Mario Ferraz, which Fodor's said was lined with interesting shops. The taxi driver had a hard time understanding where I wanted to go, so I gave him the address of one of the stores mentioned in Fodor's. He seemed very confused, but took me to the address. It seems that the interesting part of Rua Dr. Mario Ferraz is only one block long, and the store Fodor's mentioned was gone. The taxi driver insisted on looking for this one shop which I really didnít care about. I couldnít convince him to just let me out to walk around, so finally in desperation I just opened the door of the cab, whereupon he stopped. What a pain.
There really wasnít much to see on Rua Dr. Mario Ferraz, and most of what was there was closed. I did go into a beautiful pastry shop called "Sweet Pimenta Doces & Salgados." I had a really hard time ordering a cup of tea and a piece of pastry, though the woman behind the counter was extremely earnest in her attempts to help me. I really wanted a cup of tea, really. When I am stressed and lonely in a foreign city there's nothing I want more than a nice hot cup of tea. Unfortunately they had absolutely no black tea, so I had to settle for some kind of herbal tea. I was reminded of a cockney fellow that I was sitting next to in a small restaurant in Amsterdam. He was so lost in Amsterdam, and seemed completely forlorn. He had ulcers so he couldnít eat any spicy food. Between his heavy cockney accent and the waitress's Dutch accent, he could barely communicate with her. I sat down and ordered a cup of tea. His whole face lit up, "Tea! Please!" When he was served his tea you could see his whole body relax, as though now the world were right again. I felt the same way now.
I had another restroom nightmare at Sweet Pimenta. The restrooms were labeled "S" and "H", with no symbols. Oh god. I have no idea.
Around the corner on Rua Tabapua there were some cool looking bars and pubs, but of course, none of them were open.
Next on the Fodor's list was another chic shopping street, Rua Oscar Freire. A 9 Real taxi ride took me there. There was a great looking gelato shop, but I couldnít manage to get any service. I stood and waited as Brazilians pushed in line and stepped in front of me without so much as a "by your leave." It was like I was furniture or something. I gave up. I donít need the calories anyway.
The street is lined with Rodeo Drive type shops, but they were mostly empty, and they were all having sales. The place felt like a seaside resort in fall - not yet closed, but closing. I went into the Lalique shop, but it was all new stuff, not the beautiful pieces from Lalique's heyday. I poked my head into a few high-fashion boutiques and soap shops, but nothing was particularly noteworthy. Even on sale and with a weak Real, the prices weren't especially good.
Fodor's recommended the view from the Terraco Italia restaurant at the top of the Terrazo Italia building, the tallest building in São Paulo. Taking a taxi over there I was again struck by the hideous graffiti. It isn't even murals and stuff, just scrawled symbols that cover everything. All the buildings, even churches, are covered. The first floor of every building, some second stories, and astoundingly, some top floors as well. Is it really worth hanging off the top of a building to scrawl something in spray paint?
From the bar on the 41st floor of the Terrazo Italia you can really see what an ugly city this isÖ sprawling, dirty, polluted. Get me the hell out of here!
At 6pm the bar is completely empty. Just the waiters and me. Apparently people will start arriving around 8pm. I guess at that point they won't have to be assaulted by the view! I ordered the famous Batida de Maracuja, a drink of passion fruit juice and distilled sugar cane. Unfortunately it is also made with a healthy dose of condensed milk, so I can't drink it. I had a few sips anyway; it was OK. I also ordered a carpaccio, which came smothered in so much cheese that the beef was irrelevant. The bill was appalling, but you are really paying for the view; a view I'd rather not have seen.
In my day of wandering the city, I found no evidence of the famous crime or traffic, but no evidence of any reason to ever come here either.
For dinner I just wandered down Av. Paulista until I found a café/restaurant that was full of people. I had another beirutes, but I really wasnít hungry. I donít know if I caught some sort of bug, or if it is the heat, or just the general level of mediocrity of the food, but I have had no desire to eat for quite a while. Sometimes I ask for things without milk, and I get strange looks. Like maybe I'm asking for beer without milk or something. Unfortunately, since I can't drink milk, and I'm never really sure what strange ingredients may show up in a foreign concoction, I have to ask.
Sitting in the café I was struck by how many things travel guides tell you not to do that you can't avoid. Like, donít get bitten by mosquitoes. I mean, come on! In Brazil? I've been doing my best and have at least a dozen bites. I haven't even been in the jungle. How do you avoid being bitten by mosquitoes? Stay in your air-conditioned hotel room and never come out? How about this one: donít eat lettuce unless you wash it yourself. But lettuce comes on every sandwich, in a pile under your fried shrimp, and on and on. And donít drink any water that isn't bottled, donít drink beverages with ice unless you know the ice was made with bottled water, donít drink fruit drinks that might have been made with tap water. But fruit drinks are the national specialty. One might as well stay at home.
Oh the things you discover about a hotel room when it is too lateÖ turns out there is a HUGE neon sign on the building next door that flashes and blinks and displays different information. Therefore, I have to close my blinds. I hate closing my blinds because then I donít have the sunlight to wake me up in the morning. Argh!
Tuesday January 25, 2000
Well, it turns out that today is a holiday in São Paulo - the birthday of the city (456 years or something like that.) So, the CEASA flower market, which is supposed to be particularly nice on Tuesday and Friday, is closed. I had skipped going there yesterday because the flowers are supposed to be there on Tuesdays. Oh well. Unfortunately it isn't even an interesting holiday; things are closed, but there are no interesting parades or celebrations or anything. I had a tiny breakfast of a single shot of espresso and a piece of doughy bread in the shape of a croissant at the bakery called Duomo. Cinderella, the nice sandwich shop across the street, was closed. Oh well, the museums are open today, perhaps I'll go to the MASP (Museu Arte São Paulo.) No, I wont. It's closed for renovations.
OK, fine, I'll go to a park. Parque Trianon is right across the street from the hotel. It is a lovely park; full of shady benches, many carved from tree trunks. The trees are beautiful, well maintained and blissfully free of graffiti. In one corner of the park is an interesting trio with a man reciting poetry into a microphone accompanied by sitar and drums. Very funky.
After passing some pleasant minutes in Parque Trianon, I decided to head out onto Avenue Paulista to look at the MASP building. São Paulo never fails to disappoint. Not only is MASP closed for renovations, it is the ugliest building I've ever seen. It shouldnít be renovated, it should be torn down! I never thought I would see a public building that would make the Centre Pompidou in Paris look lovely. This thing is just putrid.
OK, screw it. I'm getting the hell out of Dodge. São Paulo is the least interesting city I have ever seen. I donít know how United Airlines managed to have "Three Perfect Days", I didnít manage to put together one pleasant one. Back to the hotel to call United Airlines and change my reservation to go to Rio today. As soon as possible, next flight out. With my Starwood Gold card, I get a 4pm checkout from the Sheraton, so I wont have to pay for another night here tonight. United took forever to figure out what was involved in changing my round-the-world ticket, but eventually they put me on a 7pm flight out. I knew there were earlier flights, but they couldnít book them. So, I called Varig and had them put me on the 5:44pm. Not as early as I wanted, but itís a start.
I had a late lunch at Christine's, the astoundingly expensive restaurant in the basement of the Sheraton. It would be hard to have lunch here for less than $20 US. On the other hand, I've ordered a cup of tea and I actually got a pot of tea! A real pot! Of real tea! Ahhhh, simple pleasures. Maybe I'll just sit here until it is time to go to the airport. The service is gut-wrenchingly slow, so I might not have a choice. A little bread, some utterly ignorable Gazpacho, just a light lunch.
The taxi to the airport took a different route than the one I took in. It was a very ugly drive. The buildings here are not attractive to begin with, covering them top to bottom with scrawled grafitti does nothing to enhance them. The air in Bangkok looks worse, but I suspect that the pollution here is probably as bad for you. Just driving to the airport my eyes are burning and I am coughing up a lung. I can only see a vague haze at the horizon and though I donít have a portable pollution monitor, I know something is ill in the air. Along the highway I started to notice an awful stench of dead animals; I suspect it was the river. I used to think that Albuquerque, New Mexico was my least favorite city, but I would rather live in Albuquerque than visit São Paulo again.
The gate agent at Varig was unable to change my ticket, and sent me off to the ticket office to get my ticket reissued. I misinterpreted where he was pointing, and went off and stood in line at the StarAlliance gold check-in line. There was only one agent and it took forever. Of course, I was supposed to be at the ticket office, inside of an unmarked door. Inside the ticket office was a huge line, with no special line for Gold or business class travelers. After a 15 minute wait I was finally in front of the least competent agent in the room. She had to call over person after person to help her. In the end a very competent Gold gate agent came over and helped her re-issue the ticket. In the end no less than three people were helping me. They were all very nice, though it was rather pathetic. The stupidest thing was that to reissue the ticket they had to type into the computer, by hand, verbatim, all of the text from my original ticket; gobbledy gook like "RGRIO UAX/MIA UALAX UA SYD TGBKK LHX/FRA LHPRG" etc. which basically encoded all of the information for the rest of my whole round-the-world itinerary! Who cares? All Varig should care about is that I am flying to Rio. But they did forget to charge me the $75 ticket change fee, so I guess I can't complain too much.
In the end my flight was delayed 45 minutes, which gave me time to go to the executive lounge and have something to eat. This delay is actually a good thing since I am starving. I ate about a dozen of the gooey cheese bread-balls that seem to be so popular here. They're not bad. Of course, they're not good either. They are really just sustenance. I've come to think of Brazilian food not as cuisine, but fuel.
The flight was pretty amazing. Since the trip is so short, the plane hardly has enough time to go up and come back down again. As a result, we spent most of the time in the clouds. As we got in to Rio, there was a huge electrical storm. Massive lightning strikes were occurring all over the place, and the thunder booms were terrific. It was quite a show!
People smoke in the airport here. Standing at baggage claim, a dozen people have lit up. I haven't seen that in years. Not only aren't there "no smoking" signs, there are ads for "Lucky Strike" on every trash can. Wow. The man standing next to me at the carousel isn't really smoking. It's more like he's burning a cigarette. Once again my priority tagged bags were just about last; this time with one of them soaked on the bottom.
The drive to the hotel was no less exciting than the landing. The rain is coming down so hard and fast that I cant see a thing through the windows. Cars on the other side of the highway are sending up wakes that wash over the taxi. I notice that the taxi has those funny double-wipers and the driver doesnít seem at all phased, so I'm guessing this is a pretty standard event.
I arrive at the Rio Othon Palace hotel, right on the beach at Copacabana (Av. Atlantica 3264). A great location. The lobby is swarming with people, but I go right up to the reception with no problem. No problem except that I'm getting "executive" check-in, which is not here. Well that's cool, I like being an executive. So, without a bellman I work my way back across the reception area and past the elevators to the tiny "executive" check-in area. I'm not sure what "executive" means to these people, because here I have to wait, and a line develops behind me. This is an SRS World-hotel, which means that they have a relationship with United Airlines. Except that no one here has ever heard of such a relationship, so I donít get my free room upgrade, nor my 500 mileage plus miles. Same story as at the Gellert hotel in Budapest.
The bellman did not help me with my bags, but he did grab the elevator doors and wrench them apart as they were slamming shut on my shoulders. Wasnít that special. This place is really ugly. Another un-upgraded '70s interior. Ugh. The baked orange brick wall in my room will probably kill me. I have a great ocean view, but my "balcony" is about 8 inches wide and the sliding door onto the balcony wont close all the way. The room is dank and humid and smells a little funny. There's a smell in the bathroom that is somewhere between a locker-room and sewer gas. The underwear that I washed this morning, which didnít have time to dry in São Paulo will never dry here. I think the SRS chain must be buying up all the faded-glory hotels in the world and then letting them fade some more. I have two twin beds, even though my reservation was for a double bed. Oh well. I suspect I'll be doing another hotel move tomorrow morning. The Sheraton Rio was full for tonightÖ maybe tomorrow. At least this hotel has a great location and the room does have an awesome view (if I could see it through the rain.) Sadly, the view comes with a ton of street noise as a bonus. As an extra coup-de-grace there is a 3 Reis per day charge to use the in-room safe, and local telephone calls are 74 centavos per minute. Ouch. At least I talked them into giving me the $167 (US) per day rate that I found on the internet. Donít I feel lucky. Of course, though there is a data-port on the telephone in the room, it doesnít work, so I have to unplug the phone to connect up.
Uncertain of where to go for dinner, I went to find the concierge. Alas, there is none (why did I expect this pathetic hotel to have a concierge?) The receptionist for the "Master" floor offered to help, and I took her up on it. [It turns out that my "executive" floor, is 2nd class. "Master" is the real first class floor. I'm guessing rooms on the "Master" floor donít have bare spots in the carpet.] I asked her about a restaurant called "Spices" that Fodor's had recommended. She suggested instead a place a few hundred feet down the road called "Don Camilo." That sounds a lot easier. So off I go and man does this place look pathetic. What is it with the people at these Brazilian hotels? I guess they've grown up eating Brazilian food and so have no idea what food should be. I grabbed a cab and headed off to Spices. A paltry 10 minutes and 7 Reis later I was in a really beautiful, quiet part of town, right on a large lake. Gee, I wonder if there are hotels here?
Anyway, Spices is a very nice room, though my seat is far too low. Even sitting on the provided pillow I feel like a child, peering up over the edge of the table. Very quickly they bring me a selection of breads and spreads, including butter, pate, and something that seems like spiced mayonnaise. The pate is very good, but the breads are lame. I started out my meal with a Buffalo Mozzarella salad with cashews, watercress, tomatoes and basil dressing. It comes out super-fast with a nice presentation. This dish is the first thing I've had since Don Max which was creative and not overly salty. I order a glass of draft Antartica bear (pronounced "Antarchika"). It's funny, when you order a bottle of beer it is huge, when you order a glass it is tiny. Hi ho. The service here is excellent and correct too. After my salad, a waiter comes over and changes the silverware. How nice. For the main I am having a ginger tuna steak. Again a beautiful presentation with a wonderful smell of fresh dill. The dish has lovely, complex flavors and textures. The interplay of ginger, dill and salt is great. There's not a bone to be found! It's funny, one good meal and I am willing to forgive this country (some of) its sins. I wasnít really hungry for desert, but this place is too good to say "no," so, I dive into an apple crepe with mango puree. It is very good. Beautiful play of flavors and not too heavy. I suspect that most Brazilians would hate this restaurant.
Getting to bed I am aware of just how astounding the street noise is. It is like I am living on top of a highway, which I am. The main drag below is 3 lanes in each direction with huge busses chuging up and down the street continually, grinding and wheezing as they pull away from the traffic light below. I am definitely moving first thing tomorrow.
Wednesday January 26, 2000
Well, it's overcast and drizzling outside. Not exactly what I had in mind for a day at the beach. My first priority was getting out of this pit of a hotel, so I got on the web and read through my travel guides looking for hotels that sounded good and had room. A lot of places were booked up or seriously expensive. In the end I chose a place called the Luxor Regente (Av. Atlantica 3716). It's just a couple blocks away on Copacabana beach and was recommended by someone I had spoken to the night before. For the same price, it is a hell of a lot better than the Othon Palace (or the "Oh No Palace" as I've taken to calling it.) They have clearly done a major renovation recently. The elevators are new and slick, the paint in the room is new and clean. There is a big stain on the carpet in front of the refrigerator, but I can live with that. Also, the double bed is just two twins pushed together and made up with a single blanket (what my friend Richard dubbed "suck bed".) There is one very odd thing about the place; the air-conditioning. It appears that there is one central air-conditioning system. To control the temperature in my room there is a small metal ring tied to a line with two hooks on the wall below. You pull the ring down and hook it onto a hook to open the vent half way, or all the way. Letting the ring go, allows the vent to close with a very mechanical thump. It's kinda quaint actually, but has the drawback that even with the vent closed there is still some cold air blowing into the room. Given that it isn't warm outside, this isn't a good thing.
Unfortunately the one thing that hasnít been upgraded at this hotel is the only thing that it desperately needs - the windows. Even with the windows closed and the heavy curtains drawn it is just as noisy here as at the Oh No Palace. I suspect it is only marginally quieter than a sleeping bag on the median strip would be. I think if they installed three sets of triple-glazed glass, they might be able to keep the noise out. I'm sure that every hotel on this strip would suffer equally.
While walking around today I stopped in at a hotel a couple blocks away off the main drag called South American Copacabana Hotel, Rua Francisco Sá 90 (021-522-0040) and had a look at one of their rooms. It was almost identical in quality to the Luxor Regente, but only R$130. Unfortunately Rua Francisco Sá is also a pretty busy and noisy street, so I donít think it would be a real advantage over the Luxor aside from price.
For lunch today I just couldnít face more Brazilian food. I went to a place on Av. Atlantica that served both Chinese and Japanese called Sushi Atlantico. I had a bowl of bad hot and sour soup and some good rice. Then went back to the hotel to read and watch the rain.
I went to dinner tonight at another Fodor's recommended restaurant: Alho & Óleo. This beautiful, chic, modern restaurant is completely empty at 8:30pm. The omnipresent appetizers appear almost immediately. It is a nice selection with some paté, zucchini with balsamico, hard boiled quail eggs, and potatoes. The accompanying bread is OK. Since I am alone, and taking notes with every bite, I am getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately, the main course didnít quite live up to my expectations: I've ordered a duck with cassis sauce, but it is just OK. The sauce is too thick and salty. The accompanying mashed potatoes have an unusual and indescribable taste; I suspect they are made with some kind of Brazilian potato with which I am unfamiliar.
For a country with a wounded economy, things sure are expensive here. In France you pay a France price, but you get France! Here you pay good money and get something that is at best OK. Every time I order tea (as I have tonight) they bring me a tiny little cup of tea. I donít want a cup of tea, I want the whole frigging pot for crying out loud. I want to be sloshing when I leave. Oh well.
So the plan for tonight is to finally see some of the famous Brazilian nightlife. Based on my Fodor's, Lonely Planet, and the concierge, I am going to head off to Gávea district to check out a series of clubs and bars. First stop is El Turf (Pça. Santos Dumont, 31, 511-0737) a chic looking place that tonight is absolutely dead. When you enter you prepay for 15 Reis worth of drinks and get a bar tab card. Each table has a beer taps in the middle; you put your card in the reader and pour yourself a beer. Cute gimmick, and clearly a good way for groups of people to spend lotsa money. Normally there would be 100 people at 10:30pm, but because of the rain and a soccer game on TV, the place is empty except for 3 other people. I tried talking to a couple of them, but none spoke English or French, nor seemed inclined to try to communicate with me.
I walked up the street and over to Hippodromo (Praça Santos Dumont, 108) a happening local bar which was very much as described in Lonely Planet. Basically a big, well lit pub with large communal tables. People of all ages were hanging out, eating, drinking and talking. Farther down the street I walked into Club Skipper. There were tons of kids in fresh duds hanging out on the street in front. Inside I found more young people and good music, though it was basically empty until midnight, much like the hip clubs in Madrid. Strangely, men start showing up first. There were a few women and lots and lots of men. It was odd, because this clearly was not a gay club. Absolutely no one spoke English. I ended up striking up a conversation with a young woman who turned out to be French. I have this odd knack for meeting French speakers in non-French countries. When I finally decided to leave I found that there was a huge line of women waiting to get in. I cannot imagine why the doormen were letting lots of men in and making the women wait. Odd.
I had also wanted to go to a club called "People" on Rue Bartolomeu Mitre, but by then I was really tired and ready to pack it in. It was now raining, and I found that it took a while to find a taxi. By the time I got one I was pretty wet, and when I got back to the room I found that it was freezing. Even though the funky air-conditioning controls were set to "closed", enough cold air got through to make it bitter, and there were no controls for heat.
Thursday January 27, 2000
Day three of rain in Rio de Janiero. Spending the night in the cold room, getting back from my wanderings all wet, I feel a scratchy throat and nasty cold coming on. Bad food, noisy hotels, no one speaks English, I give up. I keep on playing mind games with myself, pretending that this is day 1 of a 7-day vacation. No luck. I have 7 days left in Brazil. I could spend some $500 to fly round trip to Foz do Iguacu (plus accommodations, tours, etc.) I could move to the Sheraton, hope it is quiet, and try to have fun in Rio. I could try to get to some other place to see jungles and nature. But the way I feel now, I just can't imagine having a good time. At great length and with all due consideration, I've decided to change my flight to the US to tonight. I think I'd really rather spend a week in LA than another week here, so why not. I donít know when I'll go back to Seattle.
It was pretty easy changing my United flight. Initially I tried and tried to dial up the internet to get information about what flights there were, but getting connected proved impossible. Fortunately the United representative spoke English perfectly and was able to make my changes with no problems at all. Whew! Canceling my reservation at the Sheraton proved somewhat more difficult. I couldnít get through. No one answered. I called and called. Finally after an hour of calling and mere minutes before checkout time at the Luxor, the Sheraton answered and I was able to cancel my reservation there.
So I'm in Rio, I've seen basically nothing, and I have 7 hours to kill and no hotel room. Time to go sightseeing! I checked out, left my bags at the Luxor and jumped in a cab. The traffic was terrible! It took almost an hour got get into downtown Centro Rio. [As a side note, I observed that all of the traffic on the main drag turns at the Meridien hotel. So the Meridien, which I had considered staying at, is probably quite noisy, but the few hotels beyond it might be OK.]
Historic Rio actually has a few very nice buildings. Some are infected with the same brand of graffiti as São Paulo, but it is not quite so bad. First stop is Café Teatro, recommended by Fodor's, for lunch. It is in the basement of the Teatro Municipal building. The building appears to be under renovation, so it took me a while to find the entrance to the café in the pouring rain. Once inside it was amazing! What a fantastic room. All done in an Egyptian motif; I wish I had my camera, but I left it behind because I have heard so much about theft in Rio. The room is covered in amazing tile work and filled with columns topped by ceramic rams. This is a must-see. The menu is in French, and I find myself speaking French with the waiter who clearly is not understanding me. I revert to pointing to items on the menu. He speaks the names of the menu items with bizarre Portuguese pronunciation. I order a bowl of consommé and an omelet du fine herbs. Ah what a simple pleasure this will be. For this room alone, come to Rio. I could spend my whole day here. I hope this isn't an over-reaction; it is possible that this room only shines by comparison.
There are a zillion waiters, and consommé should be fast, but it's been 20 minutes now. I called the waiter over to complain. Clearly he forgot. By the time the food arrives the piano player is starting to get on my nerves. After the hour in the taxi I'm really hungry. Though I could spend my whole day in this room, that doesnít mean this is actually how I want to spend my day. The consommé arrives and is OK. As I am finishing it I call over the waiter to let him know that I am ready for my omelet now. I figure it's better safe than bored. My cup of tea is long gone, but I donít want to bother ordering another one and none of the dozens of waiters notices. My omelet is prepared absolutely correctly. A true French omelet! How wonderful. Not surprisingly it is too salty and of course there is no bread, but I can forgive that. On the way out I popped into the men's room and let me just say that it is magnificent in a faded-glory kind of way.
The rain had subsided to a mere trickle, so I walked up and down this street admiring the architecture. This is really nice. Some great old buildings, some great new buildings, some ignorable buildings in-between which donít significantly detract from the noteworthy ones. Across the street from the Teatro is the Biblioteca Nacional (Av Rio Branco, 219, 021-262-8255). The soaring entrance is crowned by an Art deco stained glass ceiling. Rows of trompe l'oeil marble columns surround floor after floor rising above the atrium. Each ceiling is covered with attractive and ornate moldings. This is magnificent. A stunning edifice. I got myself a free visitors pass and went on in.
There is a fantastic reading room. Not the grandeur of the New York Public Library, but still, quite a room. The floor is inlaid, and there are more wonderful columns support highly decorated beams. The exterior windows are engraved with the "BN" logo in a fancy font. Irreplaceable molded glass graces the interior doors. Up on the 3rd floor the microfilm room is a masterpiece. I am thrilled! I never imagined such a building hiding here. I sit for a while taking in the room and watching a couple of people destroying a roll of microfilm by attempting to re-roll it by hand, getting their fingers on every frame. For some reason I am overcome by the need to try to tell them not to do that. My efforts are fruitless. I think one of them works for the library. Sigh.
Around the corner from the microfilm room, "manuscripts" is full of soaring stacks ascending 7 stories. Even the fuse box on the wall is ornate. The banisters on the stairs are wrought iron and fantastically detailed. The tile floors are wonderful. The 3rd floor balcony provides excellent views up and down Avenue Rio Branco; the light rain does little to discourage me. For this building alone I forgive you, Brazil. You can keep your terrible cuisine, just give me architecture like this.
Just a few doors down I enter the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Avenida Rio Branco 199). The entry fee is a scant 4 Reis. I had really come to see the building, but there are some nice pieces on the walls. The impressionists were pleasant. As I stood there regarding a couple paintings by one Eliseu Visconti, a young guard was kicking with his heel at the parquet floor, leaving huge black marks and annoying the hell out of me. Visconti's paintings are great and apparently he was quite prolific. A little further on I spent some time with a self portrait by Yoshiya Takaoka and then a room-sized picasso-esque canvas by Di Cavalcanti. There are a couple great modernist rooms including a neat abstract steel-plate piece by Roberto Moriconi entitled "signo."
Even with the Biblioteca Nacional behind me and this pleasant museum surrounding me, I find my mind wandering. I am so excited about leaving that I want to be at the airport now. But my flight is still hours and hours away.
Further along my path in the museum I found an exciting modern interpretation of Saint Sebastain (the patron saint of Rio) by Glauco Rodrigues. Fodor's says that Candido Portinari is the featured artist of this museum. I find his works OK. They certainly are prominently displayed. More significant to me is a deeply moving bronze sculpture of a dead girl named "Moema", by Rodolfo Bernadelli. Again I wish I had my camera. I ended my visit to the museum in a nice little sculpture garden that would doubtless be wonderful in more clement weather.
Hopping another cab I went over to the Mosterio de Saõ Benito, set on a hillside overlooking the port. The church at the Mosterio is an astounding gilt room. Quite dark inside, it is very hard to see, but the effect is overwhelming. Everything is beautifully carved and covered in gold leaf. Nothing is roped off, it is all there to be seen up close, and potentially to be touched. No doubt some day this place will have the barriers and barricades of so many European churches. Sitting on a bench, the room is very dark and warm and I am tempted to go to sleep. Waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dim light, I imagine monks chanting. After a while with my eyes closed, when I open them I can now see in the dim light. The room has taken on a warm glow. Back outside in the overcast gray day there is a lovely meditation garden and pool, but I am anxious to move on, stopping only at the bookstore to buy a book (in English) about this great place.
Next stop, the contrast of the 1960's Cathedral São Sebastian. This huge concrete building looks like a gigantic beehive. Inside four monumental stained glass windows adorn each of the four interior walls of the cavernous space. Again I wish I had a camera, though I am sure I would find it unphotographable. Near the Cathedral are the famous aqueducts, though I think they are unremarkable. Nearby I could hear, but not see, a samba school practicing for Carnival. I grabbed a bag of yummy caramel corn from a street vendor to reinforce me for my continued journey.
Though it was getting late, I took my next cab to Museu Chácara do Céu (Rua Murtinho Nobre 345), a museum establish in the home of art patron Castro Maya, in the hilly district of Santa Teresa. The beautiful drive up a narrow cobblestone road was only slightly marred by grafitti. The house, though modern, was great, reminding me of a Frank Lloyd Wright. The gardens, the views over the city, the art collection, and the house were beautiful. It must take an army of guards to protect this place from the hoards and their spray cans. Or perhaps the hooligans just donít feel like climbing the steep hill. Though Fodor's said that the museum closed at 5:30, it appears that it closes at 5, so I was only able to spend about 1/2 hour there before heading back down into the city.
What an irony that having made my decision to leave, I then have a thoroughly excellent day! I considered re-booking my reservation at the Sheraton and changing my flight out again, but I couldnít face another meal here, and it is nice ending the trip on a very upbeat note.
On my way back from town to the hotel I had a really pleasant conversation in Portuguese with a taxi driver named Marcello. What a great guy! It was so terrific finally meeting one of the famous friendly Cariocas (people from Rio.) At the end of the trip he shook my hand. How did I have a conversation in Portuguese? Beats me. He spoke a few words of English that he learned in school 15 years ago. I spoke a few words of English that I learned in school 15 years ago. We worked it out. Then, my taxi driver to the airport was fluent in French. We spent the 45-minute trip conversing in French like old friends. It was so great understanding and being understood in French. I've never understood French so well. It turns out that he used to be a programmer for IBM, working in France for 6 years. We talked about the differences between French and Portuguese and why so many Brazilians donít speak Spanish. He says that part of it is that a huge number of Brazilians are illiterate. Those that are literate donít speak Spanish due to rivalry with all the neighboring Spanish speaking countries.
Having had my faith in Rio renewed, I entered the airport feeling pretty good. But then the pain-in-the-ass began again. As in many countries outside the US, you have to get by a United Airlines checkpoint before you can get to the checkin counter. The United agent took the opportunity to interview me for about 5 minutes about when and where I packed my bags, what battery operated devices I had, and what I thought of Brazil. Checkin was quick and efficient with an extremely dour clerk, then the fun began. There was a line 100 people long to get to get to immigration. From the time I got my ticket, found the end of the line, made it through the line and then through passport control and security was 1/2 hour. What they were doing to go so slow, I have no idea. The actual passport inspection took me about 11 seconds. I was hoping to have a snack at the Red Carpet club, send email letting people know I was going home early, and book a hotel and car for Los Angeles. Now I had barely enough time to shove some food in my face, bolt down a can of Coke, send out my mail and get my hotel. The car will have to wait for the layover in Miami.
Now here I am on UA 990, a Boeing 767-300 in business class. The seats are powered for laptops but evidently the captain can't turn the power on, so I will have limited battery life. [At the end of the flight the bursar, Kimberly, apologized for the lack of power. Apparently they tried to reset the circuit twice, and aren't allowed to retry more than 2 times due to danger of sparks. She gave me a form to mail in; maybe I'll get a coupon or something.] The big problem with the 767-300 is the lack of toilets. In business class there are just 2 for 40 people. I imagine in coach there must just be a hole in the back of the plane. To make matters worse, they give out those wonderful gift bags in business class, including toothpaste and brush. Everyone uses them (I think it's great, myself,) but that means that you have all these people brushing their teeth, shaving, waxing their bikini lines, etc. It takes some time.
Well the food on this flight was just magnificent! An excellent (and huge) appetizer of smoked salmon, real bread (imagine it, real bread!), a fine, crisp salad, and the best filet mignon I've had in ages. Itís a pretty sad testament to a country's cuisine that the best food I've had is on the plane going home.
The landing was outstanding. The smoothest in a long time. Arrivals by United was again a fine, fine way to spend part of my 3 hour layover. This time I asked for some antiperspirant and sure enough it is available on request. Ask and ye shall receive. I wonder what else you can ask for. Perhaps next time I'll ask for a $50 gift certificate to the Spiegel catalog. The Red Carpet Club in Miami is really nice. It is good to be home.
Well, that vacation didnít work out. I'm not sure how I managed to screw it up so badly. It just didnít work. A big reason for the trip was to see my old friend Augusto, which was really nice. And I met a couple great people along the way, but otherwise the trip was a disappointment. Will I ever come back to Brazil? Oh, I suppose so; I donít feel like I really saw the place this time. I think next time I would skip the cities completely and arrange for a pre-set tour of the Amazon, Pantanal, and Foz do Iguacu. I think Sierra Club has some trips that might fit the bill. (Pantanal Mato Grossensse, a nature preserve in Mato Grosso, is said to be more beautiful than the Amazon.) I can also see myself going back to Rio, but hopefully in better weather and I wouldnít set a foot in Copacabana. I'm sure there must be a nice quiet neighborhood in Rio with a pleasant boutique hotel or B&B.
© 2000, Andrew Sigal
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