Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Homestretch, Ubajara to Amazona

For those of you who are subscribers I accidentally published this post before it was finished. So if you got two emails in your inbox ignore that first email and just click above where it says “The Homestretch, Ubajara to Amazonia” to view the post.

It appears that the music option in my last post was experiencing some technical difficulties.   I think I have it fixed now.  So if you want to listen to some REALLY Brazilian music while you read this post, click below (Mas Que Nada by Jorge Ben, 1963):

(This Post Covers February 20th – March 1st)


So again, I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking here.  We Left Parque Nacional Ubajara and headed to Parque Nacional Jericoacoara, of course with some detours, and adventures on the way:

Coco gets a bath. One of the detours, a strange man-made waterfall, apparently the local hangout on Saturdays where people drive back and forth in their cars and motorcycles drinking beers and playing blaring horrible music from their cars.

During this stretch of highway I had the first and only real mechanical issues with Coco, and when it rains it pours so to speak.  First the throttle was getting stuck at full speed, then the muffler turned red hot and looked like it was going to explode, the the car kept stalling (found out later was a problem with the carbuerator), the starter was failing on us, and the car would loose power when we got above 60kmph.  Ill spare the details but all this happened and was resolved within two days and caused lots of headaches.  One nice thing that came from it all was a guy who saw us on stalled on the road and pulled over to help, he ended up spending the entire afternoon (about 4 hours) with us taking us from place to place helping us get the car fixed, driving me to parts stores, offered to let us take a shower at his house (His nice way of saying that we looked like dirtballs), and he did it all just to be nice.  These acts of kindness by strangers when you travel are always the most memorable.  So if you ever see a traveler lost or struggling with a problem give them a hand, they will remember you the rest of their life.

The mechanic fixing the starter

Parque Nacional Jericoacoara is a small national park on the coast full of sand dunes and crystal clear lagoons.  We hired a dune buggy to drive us around to explore the park (its the only way to see all the spots).

Jericoacoara

Lagoa Azul, Jericoacoara

Next stop was Parque Nacional dos Lençóis for more dunes and lagoons.  We got kindof stuck in some random tiny town because our map said there was a road that led to the park from that town.  There was a road…this one:

Needless to say, Coco is a tough chica and even a good swimmer but she was not in shape to make this treck.  So we had to wait in this tiny town till a Land Cruiser was leaving that could take us to the park.  While waiting around in the town we ran into our Italian friends again, the couple who drove from Los Angeles to Argentina, seems they were following us, or we were following them.  I drank a bad coconut and got a good old case of travelers food poisoning. That made for an interesting night camping out in Coco.  So it was on shaky legs and a topsy turvy stomache that I made the trip to he park, but this was my payoff:

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis

From there we continued north to São Luís along crappy roads full of pot-holes and….

One night we were looking for a place to park the car and sleep.  We had a tip from a couchsurfer to check out some beach but on the way we saw a sign for another beach, not on the map, that pointed down a tiny dirt road.   We were already in a very rural area and so this little dirt road would take us WAY off the beaten path.  Here’s a little video of the adventure that ensued:

It was a challenge but Coco pulled through (we had to get out twice to push or put stuff under the tires).  But in the end we made it and the payoff was having a beautiful beach all to ourselves.  This is where we parked and slept:

Next stop was Sao Luis, a small city with cobblestone colonial streets and plenty of colonial houses and buildings all falling slowly and steadily into decay in a charming sort of way.   In Sao Luis the Coco Kids split up to go their own ways.  Francesco had to catch a flight to Italy and I think it was just an unsaid mutual agreement that Anna and I would be better off going our own ways.  This all suited me just fine.

I was supposed to stay with a couchsurfer named Hamon.  On my way to meet him it was POURING torrential rains and I was following Ecowapi’s directions when it led me up a steep hill in a favela.  Well I got to the top of the hill to find that it was a dead end.  So I started carefully backing Coco down the hill when WHAM!!! Everything on the dashboard comes flying at my face and I find myself looking out the winshield at the grey wet sky above.  I had only been about 6 inches from the end of the asphalt which then dropped off steeply into a ditch.  Well with the rains pouring down like they were the asphalt just gave way and this was the result:

So there I was in a favela in the pouring rain with Coco in takeoff position.  Luckily the rain eventually stopped and the sun came out (along with all the neighbors).  Of course this gringo and his flying car was the spectacle of the neghborhood but the people were SUPER cool.  At one point I probably had about 10 people trying to come up with solutions and offering their help.  This along with about a dozen neighborhood kids who left their cartoons in favor of the spectacle I had created.  In the end a towtruck came and rescued Coco and aside from the 100 Reales that it cost me to get her out it was a worthwhile adventure, spending 3 hours hanging out with the people and kids of the favela.  Some photos of my entourage:

So I finally did meet up with Hamon who I spent the next couple days with.  He works in film and animating and is half Hindu and Half Brazilian.  He offered to host me at his uncles “farm” about 30 minutes outside of the city.  His uncle Marihno is an eccentric artist who lives on this “art farm” where he has a very simple brick house open to the elements with a wood-burning stove and an outdoor toilet patrolled by baby turtles.  This is all surrounded by jungly plants and fruit trees with trails leading to random “art installations”.   Marihno is also part of an Ayahuasca Community that shares a the farm with him.  Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant that is a powerful halluginagen and is used in spiritual rituals.  Spending time with Hamon and Uncle Marihno was an interesting detour from my preceeding adventures.  They are both a little quirky in their own pleasant way and I was fond of them both.

UNCLE MARIHNO

As Carnival was right around the corner the city was abuzz with pre-carnival concerts and parades and parties.  Hamon and I headed to the Historic Center to check out the scene and who do I run into, now for the third time in about 4 weeks…The Italians!  So we ended up having lunch with them and then joining a carnival “Bloco” which is basically a band playing music who march through the streets followed by a bunch of costumed drunks.

Me and Hamon
The Italians

Costumed Drunk

From Sao Luis the homestretch to Belem was a welcomed solo drive.  Nice to have some time to myself to reflect on the previous months adventures in Coco before arriving at my final destination, Amazona…where Coco could proceed no further.

To see more photos click here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59170494@N05/sets/72157626374759244/

Advertisements

Coco in the Northeast, Salvador to Parque Nacional Ubajara

Again, for those who are subscribers and who opened this from their email account, click above where is says in blue letters “Coco in the Northeast, Salvador to Parque Nacional Ubajara” to read the blog from the actual site.

If you want to listen to some REALLY Brazilian music while you read click below…It’s is “Mas, Que Nada” by Jorge Ben:

(This post covers February 9th through the 20th)

So I left Salvador with a new travel partner who would travel with me for more than 3 weeks, a girl from Poland named Anna who has spent the last 4 years in Buenos Aires but was about to move back to Europe and wanted to see a bit of Brazil before she left.  She spoke pretty good portuguese as she was studying it in Buenos Aires so of course this came in handy.  I really can’t say anything bad about Anna but there just wasnt much of a connection between us.  Sharing enthusiasm over the small things, being silly, laughing, sharing the same curiosities, waxing philosophical….I came to appreciate with new vigor and understanding all those who have traveled with me in the past who shared these things with me (you know who you are).  But we got along well enough really and so off we went.

Im not going to write much in this post, will leave most of it to the photos and videos and the descriptions under the photos on the flickr site.  So here are some photos and stories from the trip fro Salvador to Parque Nacional Ubajara  From Salvador we hit a whole bunch of small beach towns all with their own little flavor and character.  One night we slept in the bus at a beach where sea turtles come to lay their eggs.  There was a conservation project nearby that releases newly hatched babies every other day on the beach.  not knowing this ahead of time we just happend to arrived on the beach just as the last sea turtle was marching furiously towards the beckoning waves.  If we had arrived 10 minutes earlier we would have seen the full brigade but at least we saw the one!  The next day we visited the conservation center and got to see more babies up close:

He was only about the size of your thumb.

A little side story here that will come into play in the next post…  As I mentioned before, VW  busses in Brazil are almost exclusively used as work vehicles and transport vehicles.  And in some regions they are used as transport vehicles inbetween small cities.  So its quite often that as we would be heading down the highway people standing on the side of the road would see us approaching and would think we were a transport vehicle so they would put their hand out signaling for the buss to stop.  Well, we always stopped.  They would approach the window to ask how much we were charging and when they would see a couple gringos they would take a step back, but I always gave a big reassuring smile and asked them where they were going and would offer them a ride for free and this always got their attention.  These were usually people who lived very simple modest lives in small towns or farms, people who we might normally not have come in contact and who were certianly surprised to find themselves in a bus full of gringos.  But we always tried ot make pleasant conversation in crappy portuguese and their expression and demeaner was always one of wonder (What the hell are these gringos doing here in this buss!) and of a restrained excitement of the turn their day took. In the end we always got them smiling and with a little luck laughing at our absurdism.  Surely they would return to their families that evening with the tale “You’ll never belive what happened to me today!”

Some more photos as we continued north:

This was in a small town called Praia do Forte just a few hours north of Salvador

Also in Praia do Forte

We were cruising down the highway when all of a sudden the gas pedal went straight to the floor... couldn't give the car gas (so couldn't go further). Luckily we were passing through a town and the car rolled to a stop in from of a guys house who called himself a mechanic. Waddled over to the car stinking of booze but for $12 he had the car running again in about 30 minutes.

We spent a few days with a really cool couchsurfer named Fellipe in a small city called Aracaju.  Aracaju means “Cashew”.  Cachews are a big thing in Brazil.  The trees are everywhere and they sell cashews on the side of roads and streets in every city.  They also make a juice out of the Cashew fruit.  Fellipe is a true adventurer having spent months cycling around Brazil trying to raise awareness for biking as an alternative to cars. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture with Fellipe.

We had to do quite a few river crossings on ferryboats which were always pretty fun. On this one of the other three cars on this boat had California license plates. So of course I said hello to the drivers who turned out to be an Italian couple in their seventies (!!!) who bought the car in California and spent the last 8 months driving it from California to the tip of South America! When I met them they were already on their way back up north where they planned to sell the car and fly back to Italy from Suriname.

Approaching some small town from the ferryboat

We spent a night with two couchsurfers named Wonder and Luciano in Maceió who were also heading north so they joined us for a day and we gave them a ride to a town about 250 kilometers north.

Eating sandwiches and drinking beer while we wait for the ferry

Floating Coco.

We spent a night in a small city called Recife that has a pretty cool colonial historic center.  Here we were hosted by Albert who was a really nice guy but we hardly got to spend anytime together.  He’s a lawyer and an actor (Sounds like he should be living in LA!).  We lucked out and the one night we were there in Recife they had a big pre-carnival celebration (Literally you can feel the approach of carnival throughout the whole country about a month before it actually comes…every big city has huge parties every weekend for a month leading up to carnival).   Here is a short video of some people playing music in the street:

The Historic Center in Recife, just a few blocks from where the band was playing in the street.

Albert, our Couchsurfing host in Recife

From Recife we went to a small very colonial town just north called Olinda.  Narrow cobblestone streets with small shops on either side painted in different bright colors.

View of Olinda.

The next memorable stop after Olinda was in Macau which is one of the largest sea salt producers in Latin America.

Near the Salt Flats

Mountains of Salt

So we had to do anther ferryboat crossing near Macau and one of the other 4 car on the boat was a news agency.  I tried to chat with him in Portuguese, asking what they were reporting on.  Turns out they were doing a piece on the culture and beaches of that region.  He asked what I was doing there and I explained how I had bought this VW bus and was driving up the coast, he thought it was a great story and asked if we wanted to be interviewed for the news piece…Sure!  I cut out a bunch of it and added some subtitles (thanks Moose)…this actually aired on the local news, pretty funny…

We found an amazing spot to sleep that night next to a lighthouse on a bluff overlooking the ocean, we woke up to an amazing view of the Atlantic…

This was taken using only moonlight...

We stoped at some other nice beaches on the way to Fortaleza, Pipa, and Canoa Quebrada being the best.  In Pipa Anna stepped on a venomous Stonefish which created a bit of a ruckus and almost had us paying a visit to the hospital but she toughed it out until the pain got better.  So we arrived in Fortaleza and stayed with a really cool couchsurfer named Gerson.  It was interesting to listen to his explanation of how things function “territorially” in a city like Fortaleza that is pretty dangerous.  How there are certain streets that are “safe passage” to walk on even late at night, streets the criminals dont hit because they know that if YOU know that street is a safe passege that you must be from that neighborhood and they dont like to mess with people from their own barrio.

In Fortaleza we also gained another passenger, an Italian girl named Francesca who owns a wine bar in Tuscany.  She joined us until Sao Louis (about 4 days) where she had to fly back to Italy.  A good sport with positive energy I was glad to have her aboard.  From Fortaleza we felt we had gotten a bit burnt out on beaches so we decided to get off the beaten path and headed towards a random national park that is not on most tourist routes that was supposed to be about 3 hours inland.  3 hours turned into almost 8 due to HORRIBLE roads with gigantic potholes and torrential rains.

Cable-Car into Parque National Ubajara

This was part of a huge cave system that ran through the park

Parque Nacional Ubajara. We hiked an hour through the jungle to get to this waterfall.

And so I will quit here for now, at Parque Nacional Ubajara with plans to head to Parque Nacional Lencois.  You can see more pictures by clicking here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59170494@N05/sets/72157626295399604/

Tchau!!!

Rio to Salvador…Hippies, Beaches, and Voodoo

Coco + Beach

THIS POST COVERS JANUARY 19TH – FEBRUARY 8TH

NOTE: To those who subscribed to the blog, instead of reading it in your email inbox its best to click above where is says “Rio to Salvador…Hippies, Beaches, and Voodoo”, this will take you to the actual blog site where the photos will be bigger and you have other options to click on links to see other photos…remember this for future posts also.  Also, I added a “Translate” option on the upper right side of the screen if anyone wants to translate this into another language.

So I hope that that little narrative in the last post gave you an idea of what life on the road was like.  So here are some quick shorthand stories, observations, and photos from the trip from Rio to Bahia (Salvador)

First stop after Rio was a hippie festival that Vanessa (Our couchsurfing angel in Rio) had told us about.  Its called a Rainbow Gathering and they happen all over the world and last for 30 days.  The main ideas behind these are peace, love, harmony, freedom and community (Yea…like I said, hippies.).  I had been to a very small one in Guatemala years ago and Safira had been to several.  It was more or less on the way and free so we stuck the destination into Ecowapi (the GPS) and hit the road.  It was basically what you might expect…lots of hippies living in the forest (The place was really stunningly beautiful with a nice river to swim in and waterfalls)….yoga, drum circles, dreadocks, people walking around naked, etc, etc.  These are things that I can and do relate to and feel comfortable around normally but these people were WAY into the whole thing…so much so that it was hard for me to really feel part of it.  But it was still an experience which after all is what traveling is all about.  It was interesting observing the characters in this community (some were pretty far out there) and the ideals of the community in motion.  We stayed only for two days.  Knowing that my return to reality was right around the corner, I figured “What the hell…” and I gave myself over to their way of life for the brief time I was there and had fun with it.

A hippie gathering is not complete without a tepee.

We also picked up a new passenger at the gathering…a Swiss girl named Silvina who would prove to be quite a character…often playing the role of the antagonist in the road tripping adventures that were to come.  She could be fun and spontaneous but also very opinionated and difficult.  But hey…all part of the big adventure.  So off we went, heading north.  We made lots of stops along the way, a beach here, a Buddhist monastery there, and of course passed through lots of random little town and villages stopping for gas or lunch or just to stop.  Let me pause here and say that really the meat and bones of this whole trip was seen and experienced through the windows of Coco.  The best memories I have of the whole thing were the glimpses of Brazil, the landscape and the people, all seen through the windows of the bus.  Unfortunately I was always driving so I couldn’t photograph what I saw everyday but here’s an idea:

Lots of agriculture.  The crops depended on the region with the exception of Sugarcane which was EVERYWHERE…fields as far as the eye could see.  Other times it was cacao, coffee, soybean, or palms.  In the state of Espirito Santo there was lots of eucalyptus farms.  The tree is planted in perfect rows with only about two meters between each tree. They cultivate them because they don’t need much sunlight to grow so they can plant them so close together to get a better yield form the land.  Also because they grow really fast (about 20 inches [50 cm] a month!).  They harvest them and use them for lumber, toothpicks, coal, etc.  So most of the scenery we saw between towns and cities was agricultural, the rest was either picturesque beaches and coastline, grassland for cattle, jagged green cliffs, semi-arid sand dunes or sandy scrub brush, or tropical forest and jungle.  Other common sites from the road:

  • My favorite was all the people selling things.  Sometimes staked out under small huts built from palm leaves, other times just sitting in front of table with their goods out on display.  Lots of fruit of every kind imaginable  (and lots that you could never imagine), sometimes handmade crafts, cashews, or shrimp, fish, lobster or big bags of live crabs squirming around.
  • Love Motels.  Yep…they are all over the place and very normal and socially accepted.  The fact is that many Brazilians live in the same house with several generations (kids often continue to live with their parents into their 30’s) so Love Motels are not thought of as sleazy (Although they do live up to Kitch standards with heart shaped jacuzzi tubs and mirrored walls and ceilings), but cater to couples who are just looking for a little privacy that they can’t find at home.  The best part about them is their names.  They make no qualms about what they are with names like Palácio do Prazer (Palace of Pleasure) and sometimes with Vegas like architectural themes (Mid-evil times, Egyptian, Parisian).
  • Lots of animals…cows, goats, sheep, dogs, and pigs all strolling along the highways and taking siestas between lanes.
  • Passing through small towns at night EVERYONE is out in front of their houses.  Perched on chairs or just sitting on the steps of their houses.  Sometimes just a couple sitting there in silence watching the cars go by enjoying the respite from days heat, other times a family or group of friends drinking beer and talking.  But when the sun goes down in small-town-Brazil, life happens on the front steps, not in front of the TV.
  • Capoeira…this is like a blend of martial arts and dance that has been around in Brazil since the 1500’s (!!!).  Two people enter a circle about 15 ft. in diameter and combine acrobatics, kicks, and leg sweeps into what looks like a artistic mock fight.  The further north I went the more you would see of it.  In small towns you would see the circles marked out in the dirt or sometimes they would be concrete circles.  This is where they would have public capoeira matches.
Ucalyptus Trees

Eucalyptus Trees

This is a sign for a love motel. Translation "If your boyfriend doesnt want to come, bring someone else!...Super Promotion: 2 hours for $12...Free glass of wine"

Praia Grande (we camped on this beach)

Other little stories from this leg of the trip…

There was the time when we got pulled over by the police on the highway.  Two cops got out of their cars shouting at us in Portuguese with their guns drawn and pointed at us.  Turns out a farmer had seen us parked near his property and thought we might be up to no good so he called in a description of our car.  Once the cops saw we were just some dumb gringos on a roadtrip he was actually cool and just explained to us that we need to be careful about choosing places to sleep in the car.  He wished us a safe trip and sent us on our way

One amazing memory was when we stopped in a tiny town on the ocean called Itaunas.  We had to drive for almost an hour on a dirt road (flanked on both sides by cultured eucalyptus forests) to get there.  First thing we saw when we pulled into town was a place selling homemade ice cream.  We chat it up with the guy working there who happens to be the owner and who was really cool.  He gives us a behind the scenes tour of how he makes the ice cream and lets us taste all sorts of flavors and then we tell him we are going to the beach nearby he just says “Give me five minute to close up the store and ill take you to a better beach”.  So he just closes up the store (at noon on a Sunday) tells us to jump in his car and the next thing you know we are driving down dirt roads passing beers back and forth an on our way to some secluded beach.  So we hang out there for a while then he tells us he has a fish the size of your arm in his freezer and suggests that we cook while he reopens the store.  So we ended up having this huge feast and drinking caipirinhas (and we got to use his shower!!!…I think it was out first proper shower in 4 days).

Us with the ice cream guy (I forgot his name)

I’d say the coolest place we saw on this leg of the trip was called Itacare.  We camped on a beach that was probably in the top 5 beaches I have have seen (and Ive seen lots all over the world).  Lush rainforest meets perfect white sandy beaches and transparent blue water.  We hiked through the jungle to reach an even more secluded beach called Priahna that was like a small paradise.

Praihna

From Itacare we headed to Salvador, a big city and one of the main attractions on any trip to Brazil.  After Rio De Janiero and the Amazon, Salvador probably draws the most tourists.  People come for the colonial and quaint historic center called Pelourihno and to get a taste of what Bahian life and culture is like (Much different from The North/Amazon or the south/Rio de Janiero).  Bahian life and culture is much more closely tied to the history and culture of the African slaves from the past.  From the music, the food, the dance, and religion, its a fascinating blend of African culture, slave history, and how it has in some ways melded with other more christian or modern ideas and traditions and in other ways has not changed at all.  The number of people who believe in and practice african voodoo (known as Macumba, Umbanda, or simple as Black Magic), is more prevalent in Salvador and got even more prevalent as I continued north.  Everyday spells are cast on enemies, hexes broken by invoking the powers of the gods, people are thrown into trances, either entered into on their own accord as a way to communicate with the gods or sometimes their bodies are taken over by evil spirits.

In Salvador Safira and I parted ways with Silvina (whew!) and we were hosted by a couchsurfer named Pablo who was a good guy, very eager to do his part in making sure we had a good time in Salvador.

With our Couchsurfing host Pablo

We spent a lot of time wandering around the historic center which is really beautiful but also could be much more impressive with a little work and money.  This was somethng that I noticed all throughout the historic areas in the large cities of Brazil. There is no lack of cool old buildings left over from colonial times but many if not most have been left to rot with roofs that have caved in and plants and trees growing out of the windowsills.  There are others that are heading in that direction that could still be saved but it seems they have been neglected.  Basically there is lots of potential but seems very little resources.

Pelourihno, the Historic Center

 

Coco Phones

The poverty in the city is not too hard to see although I think it has gotten better in recent years.  Crime is a huge issue in Salvador.  Most of the local couchsurfers I met don’t even stay out past 11 very often because its too dangerous to be walking around after that hour and they dont want to have to drive or take a taxi.

So Salvador was sadly where I was to loose my travel partner.  Safira had to catch a flight back to Europe so we splashed out a little bit with a departing dinner at a nice restaurant that served local food.  we shared a Vatapa with crab.  Vatapa is like a soup made from coconut milk, Dendê Oil (A very heavy orange oil made from African palms), and spices.  It was awesome!

So I said a nervous goodbye to Safira.  Nervous because I new I could count on her and her positive energy in the bus, we were old friends and traveling with her was a pleasant breeze…now I had to find new passengers to share the gas expenses!  After Safira left I spent a couple more days in Salvador with another couchsurfer, Diana and her family, her husband Tem and her Daughter Luana and they were amazing!  One of the highlights of my time in Bahia was being a part of their family for a few days.  It was so cool to see a young couple with such clear goals for themselves and for their daughter an with such discipline in achieving those goals.  They lived in well cared for but modest home in a very working class neighborhood far from the center that made me think as i drove through it…”Now this is the real Salvador!”.  Diana had a great sarcastic wit, Tem was calm and gentle, and Luana was fun and bubbly.  I also got to know their close friend Aline who is the kind of person you like immediatly.

Aline, me, Luana, Tem, & Diana

Ill leave you now to look at the other photos from the trip which tell the tale much better than I do.  Note that a lot of the photos on the Flickr site have descriptions underneath them that will explain what you are looking at or tell the story behind the picture.  Click here to see more pictures:   http://www.flickr.com/photos/59170494@N05/sets/72157626245806676/

Note: you can click on the little pins for a description…

Brazil and Life on the Road

 

BRAZIL FLAG & FACTS

FACTS:

  • Just moved (Last week) from being the 8th largest economy in the world to being the 7th. (Its also the 5th largest country in the world both by geographical size and population)
  • Brazil borders 10 of the 12 other countries in South America
  • 25% of the population is below the poverty line (compared to USA- 14%, Bolivia- 30%)
  • Brazil has the worlds first sustainable biofuel economy.  In 1976 the government made in mandatory to blend tha gasoline with ethanol (at a 1 to 3 ratio) made from sugarcane.  Then, startign in 2000, every new car sold in Brazil has the capability to fun off pure Ethanol or Gasoline (That is still blended with ethanol).  Every gastation in Brazil has both Ethanol and Gasoline available and any car made since 2000 can mix these two fuels.  So if you have a half a tank of ethanol in your car one day and the next day the price of gasoline is cheaper you can fill the other half with gas and the car will run like normal.  Many cars have also been adapted ot run on natural gas which is available at about 1 in 4 gas stations.
  • Population 190,000,000

COSTS:

***Note: The costs in Brazil vary more dramatically than other countries in my experience depending on what region you are in and if you are in a major city or not.

  • Beer (1 Ltr.)- $2 US
  • Meal in cheap region- $2.50 Meal in bigger city- $4 (note, these prices are for the REAL cheapy dingy places/street food…places my brazilian friends said they would not go near…they thought I was crazy for eating at them.)
  • Hostel/Pousada in big city $18, in small town $9
  • Gallon of gas $5.55, (liter- $1.50)
  • 5 hour bus ride-  $42 (compared to 18$ in Argentina and $11 in Paraguay)

So, for those of you who missed any of the previous posts (you can alway scroll down to read them)…just a quick update.  I bought a VW Bus in Sao Paulo (named Coco) and was driving it all the way to the Amazon.  In the last post I had made it as far as Rio De Janiero where I met  up with Safira and we were about to head north in the direction of Salvador (We left Rio on January 26th…yea i know am a bit behind in the blog). I’m going to keep this post simple and just share a short narrative with you that I hope will give you a better feeling of what it was like to be traveling in and living in a Volkswagen bus in Brazil.  Sorry no new pictures uploaded on Flickr this time but I will be sending out a new post in a couple days with more stories and lots of pictures.

**************************

Every time I am woken up by the hands of the oppressive heat it’s a slow reluctant acceptance of the reality of the fact that your sleep time is over. Once you have awoken to discover the weight of humidity and heat that has burrowed into the van, making itself at home, you know that there is no returning to the land of sleep where heat and cold don’t exist, it’s time to get up and get moving.  Today was not so bad.  We had found a road off the main highway into a farmland, from there we took smaller dirt roads past fields, some plowed and unplanted, big chunks of chocolate earth waiting for water and life, others already full of endless rows of papaya trees, sugar cane, or coffee.  We had found a little space off one of these roads where we could back the bus up and not be in the way, it was ideal because there was a lime tree that was on our east side that would stave off the sun’s awakening and was surely to thank for an extra half hour of sleep.

I sit up and look around, feeling decently well rested compared to other nights that were spent in sleepless battles with mosquitoes.  I look around the bus for a bottle of water but don’t see it.  We were running low on water having used most of it the night before to cook our soup.  There are a few blood stains on the white interior walls of the van, remnants of that nights battle with mosquitoes that had infiltrated our makeshift nets meant to let air pass through the van.  The blood is still bright red, probably mine.  A perfect match with the bump that I am scratching now near my big tow.  The bastard.  A good night’s sleep on the road is measured in how many times you awaken to hear a mosquito in your ear and how many time you are able to successfully ignore it vs. the times you are flung into a rage of battle mode, ready to splatter the mosquito and its bloody prize across the white canvas of the inside of the van like a strange work of modern art.

One of my travel companions is gone.  The life of her dream state cut short by the heat she must have woken up and gone for a walk.  The other is snoring quietly in the front seat; the hand of the heat touches everyone at different hours of the morning.  I open the side doors to the van and relish the cool fresh air that greets me, air that no one else would ever describe as cool and fresh but to someone who just woke up in a Volkswagen heatbox its like jumping into a swimming pool.  I jump out of the van and walk barefoot across the dirt road to urinate in the plowed field.  I notice the dirt stuck to to my feet, your feet are like the barometer of cleanliness.  Aside from swimming in some local rivers and some jumps into the ocean, the closest thing to a shower I have had in the last 5 days is washing my hands and face with soap in a gas station or two.  But those who say that cleanliness is happiness have never lived this way.  Memories of wild dives into Brazilian jungle rivers and jumping over tropical ocean waves, that’s happiness.  But its not only happiness, its feeling alive.  Those people can have their cleanliness.   Right now I’m not thinking about when ill finally get to shower but about what river we will cross today, what remote beach we will stumble upon, waiting for our arrival with open arms of golden sand and fish cooked over a fire by the guy who just brought it in on his 10 foot boat earlier that morning, devouring it in the shade of a palm tree along with the juice from a lime and the best mango you have ever eaten in your life.  Ill shower when we reach Salvador in a few days.

I turn around to look at Coco, my van, admiring her in the early morning light.  It’s always a great pleasure to wake up and see our campsite in the first light of the morning, to see our surroundings in a new light.  Im hungry.  I always seem to be hungry, surprisingly since I don’t think I’m expending much energy these days, mostly spent behind the wheel.  Breakfast is always the same and never gets old.  Come to think about lunch and dinner rarely waver either.   For breakfast its a bowl of granola and oats and sliced banana with some powdered milk and whatever warm water we have around poured on top.  This is usually followed by whatever other fruit we have laying around, almost always mango.  Its mango season here and its no secret.  Mangos are everywhere.  Driving along the highway and through small towns you see mango trees with branches sagging to the ground laden with thousands of mangos.  If you dont feel like jumping out to pick some off the ground there is almost always some little girl sitting in on the side of the road at a little wooden table with a few buckets of mangos for sale.  A bucket of about 12 mangoes might set you back 2 Reals (about $1.20).  If nothing else its worth it just to see the smile come across the little girls face when she makes a sale.

For lunch its always sandwiches.  We buy supplies…bread, cheese, ham, cucumber, tomato, and butter and someone makes sandwiches while I drive.  For dinner its vegetable soup (couple bullion cubes, vegetables, and rice or trigo), or pasta.  Like anything you eat when you are on an adventure, it always tastes great…no matter how simple it is.

So I wander back to the car and prepare some granola and eat it.  I look in our fruit box to see what else we have.  Mangoes of course, bananas, and some pineapple we bought on the side of the road the day before.  I grab a mango and dig in, juice dripping down my chin onto the floor of the bus.  I find a bottle of water but its not potable, we had just filled it up from the sink of a gas station.  I try and clean up my sticky hands so I can brush my teeth and try to get these damn mango fibers that are always and forever stuck between my teeth.

I look at the sky…there’s a few clouds.  Would be great if they hung around for a while.  Of course Coco has no air conditioning and driving in 90 degree (32 C) heat with tropical humidity can test your patience.  I had to hang a towel on the back of the driver seat to absorb all the sweat.

I look around our little campsite and throw some dirt over the remnants of the small campfire that we cooked our soup over the night before. I find the pot charred with ash on the outside and gather up the other dirty bowls and spoons.  We’ll wash them in the ocean later.  I lay down again on the bench in the back of the bus with the map in hand.  Silvina, the Swiss girl we met at a hippie gathering a few days earlier who decided to join our crew is still snoring in the front seat.  I marvel with jealousy at how she could possibly still be sleeping with this heat.  Then I open the map.  Where should we go today?