Monday, July 30, 2007

Happy in Brazil

It has come to my attention, that I seem to be "fawning" on Brazil and the Brazilian people. Why, if I seem to like most places and people I have met, is Brazil so "special" Well, to be honest this question has also been on my mind, and lo and behold I have an answer.

First, for the last two years I have had nothing but good impressions of both the people and the places I have been, with the notable exception of Russia (read the RUSSIA JOURNAL. Which to be honest, I am more surprised at, than anything else, as I have a number of friends who have spent a lot more time there than I, who have nothing but great comments on the country its people.)

Back to Brazil. Why is it so special, or why do I perceive it to be so special. For one, it is truly a very special country and its people help make it so. But for a deeper answer it lies in "core values". The moment I set foot in the country, it was clear that we shared something. In actual fact a lot of somethings. Since I left Switzerland, nearly two years ago, things changed. The countries outside of Europe, were a stark contrast from what I am used to. First the Arab countries of North Africa and the middle east, then the ex-soviet block countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. Then to Russia, Mongolia, back to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. Further on to Pakistan and the sub continent, India, and Nepal. All countries in which have people and histories radically different than mine.

The fact that nowhere I went could I be mistaken for anything else other than an tourist. The difficulties with the language and the radically different cultures all lead to a sense of alienation as a traveler. People, were universally friendly (with exception of...), and it was really interesting to talk to people and take some small part in their lives. But there was rarely if ever real common ground on which we could talk, laugh, cry or complain. All the topics we discussed were invariably innocuous, weather, roads, the bikes, the trip etc. You get the picture. Somehow you were always a little scared or careful, maybe dare I say considerate, and refrained from discussing (other than in very general terms, what religion are you?), religion, unemployment, woman's rights, economy etc. If it was brought up you tended to simply nod your head and go with the flow. The fact is that in my opinion western solutions and criticism are not really useful here, and the fact that you could only look from the outside in so to speak, created a barrier to getting closer and maybe a better understanding. It simply takes more time than it was possible to spend in the various countries. It was simply not possible to carry on a discussion on topics which you could only speculate about how it really was.

Now, why is Brazil different. First for those of you who have actually read my Bio (all three of you) know that I was born in Panama. So for starters we share a lot of common history. Furthermore, Brazil is an extremely homogeneous country and has a culture that mirrors this. What does that mean, well, I can go anywhere, and not stand out as a sore thumb. Making it possible to very quickly or quietly to take part in actives an not become part of the attraction in the process. The moment I open my mouth the effect is spoiled, but nevertheless it is very refreshing and I truly enjoy the freedom that this provides. Something as simple as being asked for directions on the street, I find extremely enjoyable and satisfying. Never-mind that in the end we got get a big laugh out of the in effect we are both "lost". The end effect is that once they get past the language, we can try and talk about things we both know about, whether it is new world conquest or the "virtues" of a good wave (surfing). This makes getting a deeper understanding of what makes the Brazilians "tick" a lot easier, we both share a lot of core values or at least have a lot more experience with them.

The end effect is that I feel much more at home here than anywhere I have been so far, and I am a little surprised that it makes that much of a difference. So if could just learn a little Portuguese it might make it even more fun to be here, if that is possible.

Has anyone noticed that there suddenly seem to be a lot more blog entries? Enjoy it while you can, once I get my bike, I heading north to some warmer climes, and I doubt that I will have such good connectivity...

Technorati Tags: ,

Some more pictures

Cristina Santos of Allink has generously sent me some pictures she had of Santos and Sao Paulo, you can check them out HERE. I really like the old postcards, really cool, and have a look at the pictures of the beach, it is really great. For those of you who know nothing of Sao Paulo, some of the pictures of the city will give you an idea of how huge it really is. Enjoy.

The Waiting continues, but Brazil continues to fascinate


The few days last mentioned in the previous blog entry have come and gone, and still no bike. I decided to go to Santos on Friday to have a look around (according to the Internet, "my" boat was still unloading, so there was no chance of getting the bike) and spend some more time on the beach. It looked like it was going to be a nice day, so instead of staying in the hotel waiting for a mail that wasn't coming, a road trip seemed like a good idea.

(Santos beach)

Once I got to Santos I went by the office to talk to Claudio and he confirmed that it would take a few more days. In the end "we" agreed that it should be possible to get the bike on Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday being the more likely candidate. No problem, I have time.

(Santos beach)

As the sun was just coming out it looked like a great day for exploring. So I walked to the beach side of the island and relaxed for a while, and even caught my first glimpse of the famous (infamous) Brazilian string bikini. (sorry no pictures...). Unfortunately as I sat there the weather turned, it didn't rain, but it got windy and cool as the sun disappeared behind clouds and wasn't seen again for the next two days (at least..).

(Church across from the beach)

Nevertheless, I walked around some more and checked out the fish market, and the port area. The port area is not somewhere I would not recommend for a leisurely walk, but I found it interesting. There is a pier for citrus, which is at least 1km long, and the pier to handle sugar, is a complex over 2kms long. It is huge. The most interesting thing was the fishing pier near the aquarium, from here you can watch the boat traffic coming and going, as it all has to pass the narrow straight here. Making it very easy to pass a whole day even if you don't have a fishing pole.

(Fish market, check out the birds on the roof..)

If I haven't mentioned it recently, I like Santos even better than Sao Paulo, and this little walk showed me a lot more, all of which I really enjoyed. The park along the beach is just a wonderful place to spend as much time as you have. If you are not inclined to partake in the all the sports going on, you can enjoy the time, eating, reading or just people watching. Now if we could just get some sun, so more of those bikinis come out of hiding, it would be a real paradise.

In the end I did a 17km walk around Santos before heading home to the hotel, and extending my reservation for another week.

With all this time on my hands, I have managed to do a lot of work on the website, most of it behind the scenes (little new content), but there are nevertheless a few new things. Check out the About page, which I have finally done. After reading it I am kind of wondering if it really has a purpose... Let me know what you think...

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Brazil, the love affair continues.

Bandeiras Monument, Sao Paulo

Well, I have been here over a week now and my bike should be showing up soon, very soon.
As I have been here so long I thought I would share with you some of my impressions of Brazil, and Sao Paulo.

Skyline at night, Sao Paulo

First, the Paulistas have a serious siege mentality, at least judging by they way they barricade the places where they live and how they act around "suspicious" characters (mainly myself). The largest occupation in Sao Paulo as far as I can tell, must be being a security guard. Followed by security gate/camera maintenance people. Based on what I keep reading everywhere it might be justified, but certainly not by what I have seen or experienced. So maybe it is just preventative? Every house, apartment, building, lot, whatever, has a guard and camera. You have to be buzzed into every building you wish to enter. Including for example the offices of Argentinean Airlines which I had to see about a refund recently. Ok, they were in a business tower, but still. Once inside, they take your personal details before allowing you to enter, so always carry your passport. In some building I got to be so well known that they just let me pass after the first 4 or 5 times I needed to get in (customs building in Santos, or the Allink office complex.. see below for more details).

Municipal Theater, Sao Paulo

The other thing that tipped me off, was every store I entered I was followed by at least one guard, on occasion two. Very, inconspicuous of course! Maybe it is the long hair. But come on guys, it is a supermarket, I just want to get some yogurt... After the first time I noticed it, I started to have fun with it, specially when they tried being inconspicuous about it. Ie. looking at something else in an empty isle with just me and them..(two of them...) So I would go up and ask in spinglish (half spanish half english, no portuguese) where the microwave popcorn is? Well, they worked here right, might as well give them something productive to do!

Ibirapuera park, Sao Paulo

Second, the Paulistas, have a very nice city, with some great subways and some really interesting neighborhoods, beautiful parks, and friendly people (even the security people). What more could you want. I have walked at least 50 kilometers around various parts of town and have have only seen a little bit, this place is huge. I have taken various metros (subways) to random stations or end to end and then walked around the area or back to where I started. The center of town has a lot of pedestrian zones, some nice parks where there always seem to be something going on.

Football (soccer), Sao Paulo

The last couple of weeks in the park down from the Theater there has been shows and amusement park for children, with music and dance. Last weekend I also saw an interesting Arts/Crafts show in the center of town. Or walking around, just stumbled into a weekend farmers market setup by blocking a street at either end. The market area downtown is a huge hustle and bustle with people choking off any traffic on the various streets leading up and away from it.

Street near central market, Sao Paulo

Also, last week I spent two days taking care of the customs clearance paperwork, with the help of the shipping agents, and while at it got a chance to spend some time in Santos. First the customs and shipping. Instead of re-writing here what I have already written check out the second half of this document suffice it say that it was surprisingly "easy".

Centro Portugues, Santos

Now to Santos, it is one of the largest ports in Latin America, but also a very nice town, with great parks and beautiful beaches, and more of those ever present friendly Brazilians. It is just great. In order to get to Santos I walk 500 meters to the metro station, take the green line for two stops, switch to the blue line and go to the end. At the end of the is the bus station for buses to Santos and the coast, there are two companies and they both run busses every 15 minutes. The ride costs 14.50Brl (around 7$), the buses are very nice, the ride is comfortable and quick (and hour). The old part of town has some great buildings and some very impressive architecture as well as plenty of "charm". This being a port town there are plenty of prostitutes, in this area, and in the park in front of the cathedral!, but it is quite charming nevertheless.

Cathedral, Santos

On the other side there are some great beaches and a beautiful beach front park which stretches for kilometers. They also have this great tram, which must have come straight from Lisbon, 50 years ago!

Tram, Santos

Again, plenty of things going on. During a lunch break from my customs adventure, I caught a cultural show, consisting of some samba dancers, alternating between samba rhythms and traditional? dance. Afterwards there was a demonstration of Capoeira (a type ritualized fighting) accompanied by singing and music performed on what can only be described as a archery bow, and accompanied by a tamborine and a large drum. The acrobatics involved was amazing, not to mention the speed and agility required.

Capoeira demonstration, Santos

The bike is still not here, but I am waiting patiently for news of its arrival. I can track the comings and goings of the ships in port, and have seen that my boat was two days late docking, and as I write this is being unloaded. So I assume that tomorrow or the following day I should be able to get my bike.

More soon...

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new continent, a new country, Brazil: The beginning of a beautiful

Se Plaza, downtown Sao Paulo

Just a quick note. I am now in Brazil. After a fairly strenuous few days of traveling I made it to Sao Paulo.

The journey went something like this.

Up at 4:30 am with a taxi to the airport at 5:00 am. Stand in line at the airport (they open at 5:30). Bags x-rayed and taped, pay airport tax of 1500 nrs, check-in. Fill out immigration form, have the passport stamped. Wait some more, another security check, wait some more. Get on the plane, food, drink, land, get off plane. Nothing unsual, the flight to Delhi is short, and other than the first 10 minutes after take off there wasn't anything to see.

In Delhi, walk from the arrival lounge upstairs to the departure area. They do not let you into the departure are until 3 hours before your flight, so one goes across the road to the resting area, which charges 30 irs for 3 hours. It is 10:00am in the morning, my flight to Milan takes off at 2:30am, so I have a while to wait. Add to this, the fact that I had no Indian rupees, as there are no banks outside the terminal, and I couldn't get back in to change money, so we made a deal. For 5 dollars I could stay in the resting area all day until my flight leaves. The way it worked is that they give you a piece of paper with the time you came in and if you leave, they check it when you come back in. The resting are consists of rows of seats with two large tv's mounted on the ceiling, a gift shop and a small bookstore. That's it. So if you want something to drink, or go to the toilet you had to leave and come back in. Our deal was that after every three hours I would come out and he would make the ticket valid for another three hours. What he did was simply change the number on the single ticket I had. All fine and well, I couldn't care less, as long as I could lie down in relative comfort and, come and go as I pleased. So that is how I passed the day, lying, sitting, watching the Indian version of CNN (in Hindi). Around 20:00 they guy gets off work, but I still need a validated ticket for the rest of the time, so I tracked him down before he left and made him give me another ticket for the last few hours. He tried to insist that it wouldn't matter, I could just stay and no-one would check. This was an unacceptable solution for me, so just on principle I made him get me another ticket, so in the end I paid for 18hours rest time, and he issued two tickets for a value of 60 irs. The exchange rate they were using was 36rupees per $, which is not too bad considering the actual rate was around 41rupees per $. Anyway some quick math, 2x30 = 60, 5 x 36 = 180 so a nifty profit of 120rupees for the gentleman at the gate... And that is the way it goes.

The departure area was packet, but with a little patience and some luck, I got checked in and spent a while in the waiting area before boarding the plane. The plane then spent 30 minutes on the tarmac before taking off. To my surprise the plane was packet, a surprise because I had just checked the seating arrangements on the Alitalia website, and according to the official seating chart for the plane it was half empty (of full, as you please). The internet information and the actual information for the plane did not match. So it was a pretty uncomfortable flight to Italy, specially since I had so looked forward to having a whole row to myself so I could stretch out...

The three days in Milan were wonderful, great weather, nice relaxing hotel, and the first full night sleep I had had since I left Pokhara back in May..

Then it was time to leave. The first problem, as I tried to check-in they would not allow me on the plane because I did not have an onward ticket from Brazil. Ok, no problem, "look here is proof that my bike is on its way to Santos"... No luck, after talking to one supervisor, and he/she to another the answer was I would not be allowed on the plane without an onward ticket. Ok, so over to the ticket area, where I purchased a refundable ticket from Sao Paolo to Buenos Aires, which was the cheapest she could find in a hurry. Ok, with onward ticket in headed back to the check-in area. This time they didn't even ask me for an onward ticket! The reason was not that I didn't need one, rather, when I purchased the ticket, it was entered in my details in the computer, so she didn't need to ask me.

So again, looking forward to a half empty flight (I looked it up again..) I boarded a full airplane. A little over 11 un-rested hours later, disembarked in Brazil.

more to come....

Technorati Tags: , , , ,