South America | Brazil – With still a million things to see, it’s over
When the thunder rolls in Sao Paulo, it’s earth shattering as it echoes between the endless high-rise apartment buildings. The rain will soak through you in five seconds as this IS a concrete jungle in the tropics. Here and there in the city are the most beautiful parks with palm trees integrated into the greenery and lush tropical plants in the undergrowth, but these are city parks with nice wide stone walkways that curve around in no certain pattern and little benches are placed for people to enjoy the shade and comfort of the flora. I’ve visited a few museums and galleries today after catching up on some sleep in the apartment booked using points accumulated over the past ten years – my first reward! Aside from the advertised pool being about as big as four bathtubs put together, it’s a pretty nice place. I did have a notion that I would stay in a place that had nice ductwork as mentioned in the movie that had nothing to do with and still was called “Brazil”, but London Flats is a bit too modern for that.
The previous night, I had taken a bus from Curitiba only one day after taking another overnight bus from Iguasu to Curitiba – see I did need my sleep! From the extremely clean and well organized city of Curitiba, I took the “most spectacular train ride in all of Brazil” to Morretes and then bussed and took a boat over to Ihla du Mol, a nature preserve and surfer’s paradise in the state of Parana. There I walked and enjoyed the jungle pathways and tropical beaches for a few hours, watching giant lizards scurry in the grassy areas and vultures feasting on a small sea turtle that had washed up on a beach. There are no cars on Ihla du Mol and although its open to tourism, the infrastructure and impacts are minimal. The last boat back ended up going to a different town than I thought it would and facing a 3 km twilight walk to a place where it might be possible to catch a bus back to Curitiba, a nice couple who had also been on the boat stopped and offered me a lift all the way to the city some 100 kms up the road – nice Brazilian hospitality. Umberto had been a contemporary dancer with the state company for twenty years and Cecilia, a psychologist. Between my Spanish and their English, we managed to have a conversation for most of the way back. Curitiba is very international and while I was there they were hosting two concurrent UNESCO conferences and a two week theatre festival.
In Sao Paulo, I’ve spent some time doing some walking tours of the center and the Paulista Avenue areas. The architecture here is quite interesting and the city has many pedestrian only streets that link the big squares making for some nice meandering. The Municipal Theatre is one of my favorite buildings in the city and directly across the street is a great park full of statues and people enjoying the city life. After dark many of the shops close up and the pedestrian streets fill with tables and chairs for Paulistas to get together for a drink, while the homeless spread their cardboard beds out in front of the office towers or streetkids of which there are many play barefoot and plot their survival in the metropolis. And it is a Metropolis – a fast moving one where people move faster than most in South America. When the ever expanding Metro doors open – get ready to go because there is nothing that stops the flow of humanity on their way from one train to another. It could be because in Sao Paulo it seems that there is a relatively fast moving long lineup for almost everything – not just taxis and telephones. The only place I didn’t see some sort of line-up was at the cellular phone battery charge stations in Sao Paulo airport that were sponsored by some genetically modified food company – maybe because the GM information video that played endlessly was – playing endlessly. I was in the airport for a quick trip to Brazil’s most famous city.
Rio is the land of the girl from Ipanema who dances on the sand at Copacabana. Sorry – I couldn’t resist stringing together a few cliche quotes for a city that feels like a must see in Brazil. I can’t deny that its a stunning shining city on a beach with dramatic hills and mountains that you can climb up and look down on its vastness and surrounding turqoise waters. On the day I visit, a massive rainbow arches across the sky and ends just short of the landmark Sugar Loaf Mountain which can be easily seen from Corcodavo, the 710 m high hill with the massive Christ the Redeemer statue. The statue was erected in 1931 and now its image means ‘Rio de Janiero’ to the whole world. Sunday, the beaches are jammed with people, especially in Ipanema where they close the beachside street off for people to bike, skateboard, rollerblade or strut – and believe you me – beachside in Rio – bare chested muscle boys and bikini clad beauties strut their stuff like no other beach on the planet. Rio seems larger than life. It is.
Unfortunately, I only have a very short time in Rio and soon I return to Sao Paulo for my flight back to Canada. The afternoon is pleasant enough and there’s time to sample some street food or pick up a few last souvenirs before heading back to my hotel for the bike. Along the way, the sky begins to darken and the storm clouds grow. Just after six o’clock the thunder rolls and the rains come down again. I have some trouble getting a taxi large enough for the bike and with the airport normally 40 minutes away, my seven o’clock departure would not be a problem for a flight at ten p.m. The problem is that the rains are very heavy and now the traffic is among the worst imaginable in the world. Streets are completely flooded and lakes are formed in intersections. Numerous routes to the north of the city are cut off and try as he might, my taxi driver has no choice but to sit through traffic that gets us from one side of an intersection to another in five minutes. I may not make my plane and that’s okay with me.
The meter ticks and we plod on turning left and right, nudging our way into this lane and that with a grateful wave or an insistent horn being part of the procedure. I have only eighty six reals to cover the taxi and tip for the normal sixty or seventy real fare without having to change money or go to a bank while I’m trying to catch a plane that I’m late for, but it won’t be enough. No problem my driver tells me. He will cut the meter at 86. He doesn’t, but again says its no problem. When we reach the airport, its 110. He takes the 86 and wishes me a good journey helping me with my bags and bicycle in the process. This is Brazil and this man is part of its spirit – the good side that differs from the many reports of its dangers and annoyances. In part because of his persistence and due to the fact that numerous passengers have also had to deal with the flooding, I will make my plane, but in my heart as Kate Bush once sang,
“There’s one thing I’m certain of
That’s another time. See you then.
Cheers and thanks for reading Wojo – In the World here on Worldsurface.com