Paradise Consultant

March 16, 2010

I had coffee with my friend Carina this morning and for the second time in only a few days the conversation veered toward my travel recommendations and what I could offer people.  The first time the topic came up, Scott and I were talking about doing customized New York guidebooks for our cousins, marking and flagging and annotating everything we love about the city.  Today Carina suggested I take everything compiled in the blog and create a travel planning and guide service.  I kind of love the idea–planning and producing trips is something I have a lot of experience doing, and I definitely feel like I have some expertise on Brazil (and maybe a few other places, too, and whatever I don’t know I can call in some help.)  It’s an idea that germinating, growing.  I’ll have to figure out something to do between when I get home and when I start school.  Hopefully I’ll finish my novel, but this is a fun project to take on as well.  So–anyone need help planning a trip?  I’ll even serve as your guide…

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Jericoacoara

February 18, 2010

We’re in Jericoacoara.  It’s one of the most remote places I have been, and I have been endlessly amazed by how far we are from anything, coupled with the beachy perfection of this little town.

We woke up yesterday in Fortaleza (as you all know, now, not my favorite place) and got in a minivan that drove west from the city for five hours.  Along the highway (one lane in each direction) we passed through Cumbuco and went by the usual Brazilian things–small restaurants with plastic tables, gas stations, stands selling fruits, houses made out of the ubiquitous brick, or plastered and painted bright colors.  There was a lot of sand and scrubby plants, and very tall palm trees.  They seem to grow especially tall here in Ceara.  After a full five hours, maybe a bit more, we arrived in Jijoca de Jericoacoara.  We pulled into a gas station off the main road, and got out of the van (there were maybe ten of us, five pairs, all going to the same hotel).  At the gas station there were people hanging out in the sun, eating popsicles, waiting for our minivan to take them back to Fortaleza.  There was another vehicle with rows of wooden seats and big tires.  It felt like the bonde in Rio, painted bright green, with its open sides.

Sitting on a bench we made a couple of turns through the town–cobbled streets, surf shops and pharmacies baking in the blazing northeastern sun.  The driver of the sort of open air 4X4 truck got out and went into one of the pharmacies.  It was pretty funny that he was running an errand with so many passengers waiting, and we were wondering why he was stopping.  He pulled two packages of diapers off a shelf and we all had a good laugh about how wives are the same everywhere.  After picking up a few more passengers we passed over the last stretch of cobbled street and started down a sandy dirt road.  We passed some houses, some fenced in properties.  At one house we slowed and a little naked girl, probably about three our four ran out of the house, across the cement porch.  She had mess, dark, hair and had the biggest smile on her face.  She squealed as the driver handed her the plastic bag with the diapers, and giggled and turned and ran them back to her mother, standing the shadow of the doorway.

At another house we picked up a gigantic plastic burlap sack of mangoes and the driver chatted with the man of the house for a couple of minutes, as his teenaged daughters peered out from inside the house as well–darkish cement rooms with hammocks strung across.

We drove for another fifteen or twenty minutes until the road really was just sand (it’s worth noting that our original plan had been to drive to Jericoacoara ourselves, until we did a little more research and learned that the roads between Jeri and Fortaleza were badly marked, and that the last 30km are not passable without four wheel drive).  The sand road snaked through waist-high brush for a while until we got to the entrance of the national park and dunes.  They looked like giant snow drifts (which made us think of everyone up north).  The road seemed to disappear and it looked like a moonscape–just sand with some aqua pools of rainwater.  There were a few donkeys grazing on the sparse grass that was scattered across the sand.  At this point we were in awe, and also sort of nervous.  Where were we going?  What was going to be at the end of this six hour journey?  What kind of town could be all the way out here?

After another twenty minutes of driving between dunes, we reached Jericoacoara.  I’ve never seen anyplace like it.  It’s literally an oasis in the middle of a desert.  It’s a perfect tourist town, with just the right number of restaurants and pousadas to be comfortable, but it’s quiet, sunny, and extremely beach-based.  The roads are just sand, nothing is paved, putting on flip flops feels like an imposition.  Most people get around by dune buggy, or some by bicycle.

The whole town climbs up to a giant sand dune next to the main beach to watch the sunset.  There’s camaraderie and people sit and stand and laugh and jump in the dunes.  There were a few kids who brought up sandboards (like snowboards, but for sand) and were coasting down the side of the dune.  There was a guy who had wheeled up his ice cream cart and was selling popsicles, and another who had a full bar set up to make caiparinhas.  On the way down, there was enough foot traffic at the base of the dune for beautiful girls to hand out flyers for things that were going on that night.

It’s hard to stress the complete dumbfoundedness at the transition between Fortaleza, our epic drive to get here, and the beauty that is here.  I went for a run this morning along the water, one of the best in my life, as the sand was flat and hard, not pitched at all, and surrounded by more sand and gently lapping ocean.  Last night we dinner at candle lit tables in the sand–fresh fish and wine.  It was perfect.

More pictures to come, hopefully at better resolution. The internet’s too slow here right now.

Tam Hero

February 13, 2010

We just arrived in Fortaleza, and it feels like a victory in decision-making.  We were only charged for the one night that we stayed in Cumbuco (they could have easily enforced their cancellation policy and didn’t, since we booked for four nights), and our hotel in Fortaleza is super cheap and clean, if pretty spare.  We also figured out the rest of our trip yesterday, which required changing our flights a little bit (it seems worth giving a shout out to the guy at the internet cafe in Cumbuco who lent us an electrical adaptor for the night since there was no where in town to buy one and the hotel didn’t have any–he was the clear MVP of the last 24 hours).  From Cumbuco we went back to the Fortaleza airport to sort out a rental car to drive to Jericoacoara, and we tried at the Tam counter to switch our flights.  They were no help.  We felt a little defeated.  Now at our hotel, with functional internet, I just spoke to someone at Tam that, as Scott just said, should be running Brazil.  It felt like the most successful transaction I’ve had in months.  His English was flawless (hard to come by up here in the Northeast, we’ve been getting by almost totally in Portuguese), and he managed to make all of the changes we needed, with a negligible change fee.  It was unreal.  He even emailed me the itinerary while we were on the phone so I could check it over.  That kind of efficiency almost never happens here.  It was unreal.

So we’re here in Fortaleza for Carnival until Tuesday, and then we’re driving to Jericoacoara (if you haven’t yet, you should google images it), then we’re flying to Salvador, spending a night there, then going to Morro de Sao Paulo, a two hour boat ride from Salvador, and then heading to Belo Horizonte to visit Marjory and Eduardo and then back to Sao Paulo.  Phew.

Bem-Vindo a Ceara

February 12, 2010

We just landed in Fortaleza and arrived at our hotel.  So far, driving from the airport there seem to be a lot of typical Brazilian elements going on in this town very far north.  We hit some traffic, and found the same lanchenettes and car mechanic shops.  While I fully admit that the areas around airports are not usually the best the city has to offer, Ceara looks like a serious downgrade from Pipa.  Our hotel resembles a Holiday Inn on the beach, but at least it’s on the beach right?  We’re staying 30km outside Fortaleza itself, which may prove to be a mistake, we’ll see.  We’re a little bit stuck by carnival package cancellation fees and the fact that every hotel has been booked for weeks.  Seems like we’ll be making lemonade out of only slightly sour lemons.

Dos Girassois

February 8, 2010

Driving into Pipa, we both had pretty strong visceral reactions.  It was exciting to be tracing back through the sugar cane fields of the northeast, and I think a little surreal to make that turn at Goianinha to head to Pipa.  It seemed almost impossible, pulling into town, that this place that’s been so special, so magical in our memories still exists.  It’s more crowded now, than it was in August a year and a half ago.  The streets are more full, there are more people, more cars trying to squeeze past one another on the cobbled road, but the beach, and Dos Girassois, is just as spectacular (and the best pousada deal around).

We had a quick lunch in town and then walked on the beach past all of the plastic table restaurants, to a group of dark tanned me playing soccer in the surf, and along the water to the end of Praia do Amor.  It’s really insanely perfect.  Hopefully I’ll have pictures to post tomorrow.

Packing

February 4, 2010

I had sort of a visceral reaction pulling out our big blue duffel bags again.  Looking at one of them slack and empty next to my closet in the flat, I couldn’t believe that we were really packing up again, another time.  We’ve loaded and unloaded those bags so much over the last year, really.  Scott and I moved in together at the end of last February, packing up our respective apartments and setting up Downing Street, thinking we would be there for a while.  In June we packed it up again (I think I blogged about it at the time, but our move out was insane, and included the super turning the elevator off on us).  We moved here, we lived in a hotel for a week, then moved to our apartment in Rio, then packed it back up again two months ago, stayed at Karen’s for a couple of days, then moved to the flat in Itaim Bibi and now we’re all packed up again and at Paulo and Edite’s.  That’s not counting the travel in the middle–the small trips around Brazil ourselves, our big trips around Brazil with our families, and October, where we went from Rio to Buenos Aires to New York/Philadelphia and Israel and had to take things for a wedding, a marathon, another black tie event, and clothes for business meetings.  It’s been a lot of packing an unpacking.  We’ll see what happens after we get back from traveling this time, how intact our bags can stay.

While I really am excited to travel right now, for a change of scenery, to get out of our little flat, I’m getting ready to settle somewhere for a while, to unpack for real, to have our furniture back and have a space that’s ours.

Hitting the Road

February 3, 2010

We’re hitting the road for February.  Check out our adventures as we head to the northeast–Pipa, Natal, Fortaleza, Jericoacoara, Canoas Quebrada…

And thank you to all of you who have voted!  Keep passing it along, as I think some of the other blogs are pulling ahead of me.

We’ve been talking with Edite about going to Bom Retiro for a few weeks now, and after a cafezinho with her in her lovely breakfast room, with the parrot chirping in the background, she, Scott, Karen and I went to the wholesale neighborhood.  Bom Retiro, which translates literally to ‘good retreat’ is right next to the Estacao Luz and Pinacoteca (both of which I’ve written about in other posts), and it used to be the Jewish neighborhood, full of textile and wholesale clothing shops, and has now turned over to Korean immigrants.  Having Edite and Karen as our guides was amazing, as Edite grew up there (we saw her childhood home) and her family has owned various shops there since she was a little girl.  She knew all the streets and all of the history.

Bom Retiro is still a center for making and selling clothes.  Some of the streets have the latest fashions–samples hanging in the front and stacks of items tucked into floor to ceiling cubby holes in the back.  Almost all of the places require that you buy at least twelve pieces.  Karen said that buyers from both the stores in the malls and all over the country come here to buy shirts, dresses, pants, bags, in bulk.  On other streets there are factories where the clothes are made, and there are several shops that sell all the components of clothes–fabric, zippers, lace trim, buttons.  It feels like a cross between the Garment District and the Lower East Side, where the Jewish neighborhood was given over to Asians and now to hipsters.  The Jews here moved to Higienopolis, just like the Jews in New York moved to the Upper East and West sides.

I heard the story of how Paulo and Edite met–Edite’s mother knew Paulo and Edite went to the Purim Ball at Hebraica to scope him out, then one of her friends started dating one of his friends, and she had another friend who lived in the same building as his family.  We saw where Paulo had his first architecture office. After wandering in and out of a few stores we went to a synagogue where Edite’s father was one of the benefactors and played an instrumental role in the building’s refurbishment in the 1970s.  It was beautiful inside–all dark wood and dreamy blue light.  Karen hadn’t been there for thirty years and she said it looked exactly the same as she remembered from being a child.

Upstairs in the women’s section, we also found where Edite’s mother still has a seat with her name on it. Flank was her maiden name before she became a Traiman.

After the stop at the synagogue we went to a kind of galleria where upstairs there was a small, totally nondescript stand that apparently sells the best falafel in Sao Paulo.  It was.  We got plates with crispy, lemony falafel, tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, some pickled cabbage and fresh pitas.

Full and satisfied we went next to Unibes, an amazing NGO and community center that started out as just a Jewish-based organization (União Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem-Estar Social), but has expanded to become an entire community improvement operation, offering a wide array of services.  We first met Ida and Henrique, who showed us around.  They took us to the pharmacy, where doctors offices all over the city donate hundreds or maybe thousands of free sample drugs to Unibes.  Volunteers sort them by brand, kind, and expiration dates, and the result is shelves upon shelves of medicine that will be distributed to anyone who comes in with a prescription.  If the organization doesn’t have the right thing, they will buy it for the patient.  About 120 people come in per day with prescriptions to be filled for free. From there we went to the Bazar, through the back where we could see boxes and bags of clothes waiting to be sorted.  The bazar looked like the Salvation Army at home, with a combination of new clothes donated by stores and used clothes donated by individuals.  We crossed the street and went to the center for the elderly.  A young woman in jeans and a tee shirt was leading about fifteen or twenty older people in arm exercises while they all sat in a circle.  We saw their herb and vegetable garden in the back, and learned that a gardener comes every Thursday.  Each day each there’s a different activity for the old people, idosos.

From the center for the elderly we stopped at the bazar for non-clothing items, where lines of refrigerators and stoves and washing machines, all used, gave way to a room full of stools, chairs, tables, paintings, luggage, toys.  We went then to the kindergarten, where two hundred children are supposed to come tomorrow for the first day of school.  They are there from 7.30am until 5pm when their parents come pick them up and the school provides them with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It was an extremely happy place, with teachers cutting name tags out of construction paper, and a sparkling clean kitchen waiting to turn out hundreds of meals over the next year.  There was a playground in the back and classrooms upstairs with miniature desks and chairs, small toilets and knee-high sinks.  In another part of the city the center offers professional training classes, teaching adults how to work as maids and house cleaners, cooking, computer programing and web design, typing and financial skills.  I was totally, utterly impressed and hope to go back to volunteer.  While we were waiting by the front for a taxi, a group of mentally disabled elderly were leaving to go on an excursion to the mall.  At the front of the line, there was a tall, skinny man holding hands with a woman.  Those two, Ida said, are a couple.  Whenever there’s a party and people dance, she always stands next to him and keeps hold of his arm. Keep your hands off her man.

After a day of such exploration we spent the rest of the afternoon at Karen’s, hanging out at the pool and doing research for a possible trip to Jericoacoara.  Our relaxing afternoon was offset just the tiniest bit by getting ensnared in Sao Paulo’s terrible traffic on the way home, and Scott just made bacon (which we had from making bacon and chili pepper tomato sauce from scratch last night), and sweet potato fries fried crispy golden in the remaining fat for his dinner…and now fried ravioli.  Adventures in bacon fat frying on Rua Bandeira Paulista.  He said he can’t believe how easy it is to make food taste good if you can use bacon fat.

Also, VOTE FOR MENINA NA RIO TO WIN! Right now I’m in third…

The Amazon

January 1, 2010

The Amazon was one of the most unbelievable places I have ever been.  It’s a time warp–many of the villages still don’t have electricity, and the ones around where we were staying just got it a year ago.  There are no roads, the region is only accessible to the rest of Brazil by water and by air. The sheer volume of the river is unbelievable, looking more like a sea than any other river that I have ever seen.

We stayed at the Ariau Towers, a sort of bizarre, but amusing complex of huge towers on stilts, connected by catwalks.  We were greeted by a woman wearing a plastic coconut bra with the Brazilian flag painted across each boob.  She handed out necklaces, Hawaii-style and we went inside the main tower for juice.  Everything was painted green, the doors were carved with parrots and other animals and brightly painted and small squirrel monkeys were everywhere.  Any piece of the hotel seemed like it could pitch or fall or break, at any moment, but now it all seems charming rather than dangerous.

The Araiu Towers is on the Rio Negro, or Black River, which joins up with the Solimões just east of Manaus to form the Amazon.  The Rio Negro runs at two kilometers an hour, allowing all of the leaves and organic matter that falls into it to settle and decompose.  The water is clear and nearly black (hence its name) and the decaying material makes it acidic and inhospitable to mosquitoes (a huge plus).  The Solimões on the other hand runs at six kilometers an hour and picks up all kinds of sediment.  It’s said that between 5pm and 5am, the air is so thick with mosquitos that you can’t talk outside without getting bugs in your mouth.  Because they have mosquitos there, they also have the frogs that eat them and the snakes that hawks that eat them and up and up the food chain.  Where these two rivers meet, they run parallel for seven kilometers before fully mixing.  It’s wild to see, two bodies of water that won’t blend.  We learned that Roberto Burle Marx got his idea for the famous Copacabana sidewalks from visiting the Meeting of the Waters.  We all loved this detail.  It’s such a perfect emblem of this country–that something so famously displayed on the most well-know beach comes from this amazing natural phenomenon in the heart of the country.

I wish I could remember all of the statistics we learned about what percentage of the world’s wildlife lives in the Amazon, and how much water the river holds, all of those things, but the numbers escape me now.  Opting out of the hotel’s planned group activities, we had our own guide, motorized canoe and boat driver each day.  Edi, our guide, was fantastic–loud and quick to laugh, full of information and stories.  She was like the mayor of the jungle, waving hello to everyone.  She had been a guide for twenty-five years and had hosted everyone (she said) from the crew that shot Survivor: The Amazon, to Arlen Spector and Jean-Michel Cousteau.  Along with our boat came Antonio, the most useful, fearless, adept driver we ever could have imagined.  We even started to play the game “Antonio vs. __________.” Some of the things we were sure he could beat in a fight included Hulk Hogan, a race car driver with his car, and a jaguar.

With Edi and Antonio we explored the little tributaries of the Rio Negro, where both had grown up. They were both Caboclo–part Indian and part Portuguese.  They spoke easy, jungle-time Portuguese.  We went pirana fishing– we caught a few, watched Antonio clean and gut them on the flat part of an oar with a machete, and ate them fried for dinner. We trekked to an inland pond in the pouring rain to see gigantic lily pads two meters across with intense vein systems underneath.  We saw pink and gray river dolphins loping in and out of the calm waters, and countless birds.  On a night boat ride, Antonio captured a caiman–a reptile that looks exactly like a crocodile or alligator–with his bare hands, after spotting the creature’s red eyes poking out of the water with a flashlight.  He brought the animal, totally calm, back to the boat, resting it in his lap.  With his hand securely around its neck, I guess cutting off whatever adrenaline glands are there, Edi and Antonio pointed out its teeth, how strong its scaly, pointy tail was, how the eyes are double lidded for land and swimming under water.  It was wild.

The last afternoon we were on the Black River we took a boat ride into the open water.  That morning had been the lily pad expedition, where it rained continuously (we were in the rain forest, after all).  During lunch the sky had cleared, and coming out of the tributary, peaceful river stretched on all sides.  The air was fresh and clean, and after a while we pulled up to a deserted, empty beach.  It was a stretch of fine white sand with a small hut on it.  Apparently in the wet season the beaches don’t even exist. The water covers them.  It was mystical.

From there we went to visit a local family.

Pulling up to their dock (again, there are no roads, everyone gets around by boat), we all felt a little uneasy about seeing “natives in their natural habitat.”  It wound up being okay, I think.  The family was welcoming, and we learned later than they only get visitors about once a month.  They were close friends with Edi, and our skepticism quickly turned as we learned about the family.  The father was sixty, with the build of an in-shape twenty-five year old, all wiry, mahogany colored muscles.  He and his wife, who was beautiful, if a little wrinkled from the sun and weary from daily life, had seventeen children.  They had lost count of how many grandchildren they had.  We only met a few of the daughters and three of the small children, who were totally captivating. The youngest that we met was named Nataniel, and his mother was only about fifteen or sixteen. He was already an agile climber, clinging to a pole of the thatched roof structure, and a more agile soccer player than any 14-month-old I had ever seen.

The other little boy was shy, and Edi told us he liked to spend time by himself, walking among the trees and hanging out with the animals.  Scott got him to engage a little.

On their land, we saw the wife’s medicinal garden, a collection of raised beds and filled pots with aloe, and herbs that create seeds that you put in your eyes to make them clear, and other things that solve indigestion.  There were spices and a large space in the back planted with manioc, the staple of Amazonian diets.  We learned how farofa is made–the manioc tuber is peeled (with a machete) and put through a sort of grinding machine, powered by a giant wooden wheel cranked by two people at a time.  The pulp is spit out the other side and then put into long cylindrical baskets to dry.  The meal is separated from the manioc juice (which is also collected and bottled in reused water bottles) and then toasted on the surface of a giant wood-burning clay stove. They also served us freshly cracked open Brazil nuts, and a huge tapioca pancake.

While there, we came back from where the manioc was planted to the stand of açaí trees. Antonio was standing there with a loop of plastic burlap.  He tested its soundness as we stood looking at him, wondering how the piece of material was going to help him climb a stick straight palm tree.  He looped the band around one foot, twisted it, and stuck his other foot in the other side.  He put his arms around the tree, kicked his legs up against the trunk and shimmed all the way up, and then slid down.  Emily gave it a go, too.

It was really special to see a piece of the family’s life.  The generations, and how they spread to form a village of their own.  Their self-sufficiency was pretty inspiring.

Later that night, sitting at a table near the Araiu bar, we recapped the day.  Washing down my Malarone with a sip of capairinha in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, it just all seemed so surreal.

Continental

September 17, 2009

I got into a taxi to go to Galeao last night, and the driver and I had the best conversation I had had in Portuguese since arriving in Brazil.  We chatted about the Olympics, and my time in the city, where I learned to speak his language.  Then he took the stupidest way to the airport and as we sat in bumper to bumper traffic I strategized what I was going to do when I missed my 9pm flight.  It was a grittier highway than I had been on, snaking past Praca XV, cars inching toward the bridge to Niteroi.  Exhaust streamed in his open window and I fumed.

I got lucky arriving at the airport, and the lovely women at the Continental desk took pity on my screeching up to her 35 minutes before my flight was to take off.  She handed me a boarding pass and I sprinted through security and to my gate.  I then sat on the mostly empty plane for the next ten hours, until we touched down at Bush International Airport in Houston.  It was odd to be back in the US, not saying disculpe all the time.  The customs woman was confused.  You’ve been in Brazil for three months? And you haven’t taken any classes? Or worked anywhere?  I said that I had been traveling.  What’s your occupation? I was traveling with my boyfriend, he’s still there. Ahhh, she got it.  I went through the cavernous, stark airport at 6am.   I bought a Starbucks iced coffee (one of the things I miss most in Brazil) and headed to my connecting gate.

When I landed at La Guardia at 11am it was gray and drizzly, and we drove through the surface streets of Queens.  By the time I got to my house the day had slipped into Autumn crispness, with some sunshine.  It’s great to have all of the Lewys home, in the same place.  I’m glad I don’t have to miss a minute.

Petropolis

September 10, 2009

Scott and I just got back from twenty-four hours in Petropolis,t he mountain town put on the map by Emperor Pedro II, who built his summer residence in the “Imperial City” when it was too hot in Rio.  The town itself is quite cute, with canals running throughout and grand old buildings.  It still has the ubiquitous Brazilian things–pe sujos and lanchenettes, drug stores and hardware stores, but it was a nice change from the city.

One of the best things about being in Brazil during the low season is getting to stay in very nice hotels for not very much money.  We stayed at the Solar do Imperio, which had an amazing lawn and this beautiful patio.

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We went to the Imperial Palace, a lovely home if you’re into that sort of thing.  It had some crown jewels, a bunch of old furniture, some really fantastic floors.  The most interesting pieces were a print of what Copacabana looked like in the mid-1800s and a full family tree of the Portuguese/Brazilian royal family, including people like the Princess of Saxony.  Wandering around the house with funny slippers that fit over our flip flops, it was hard not to think that an actual family lived their life there, and they probably never dreamed that some American jerks would be critiquing their taste in dining room tables.

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There wasn’t much else of note.  We had a mediocre dinner at Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant, and hung out on the veranda for most of the night.  This morning we visited Santos Dumont’s house.  Santos Dumont is coined the “Father of Brazilian Aviation,” and had a number of really remarkable sky bound accomplishments. (Sorry, Karla, for not being more rigorous with my research).

Car Rental Misfires

July 23, 2009

Today Scott and I were bad at life–tripped up by being here in a place we still don’t know that well.  We woke up, dashed out of the house without breakfast and went to class. Thankfully there was no dog shit this time, but there was a test during the second part of class that we had forgotten about and didn’t study for (don’t worry parents, we don’t get actual grades in Portugues Para Estranjeiros and it was extremely easy, we both thought we did well.)

A few weeks ago we talked about going to Buzios (Rio’s version of the Hamptons) for my birthday, but after compulsively checking the weather for that beach town and a dozen other cities in Brazil, we discovered that it’s supposed to rain everywhere all weekend.  We decided a night or two ago that we should go to Sao Paulo, since it’s a huge, sophisticated city with with so much to offer, even in a downpour (not something that can be said for many of Brazil’s other cities).  Flights here are regulated by the government– it was ridiculously expensive to fly there on such short notice, so we thought we would rent a car and go on a road trip to Sao Paulo, about five and a half hours away, according to Google maps (this country doesn’t have trains).

After class today, we jumped on the bus in Gavea and took it across town, feeling totally confident, to the far edge of Copa, where the car rental places are.  We got to Thrifty (wahoo!) and learned that we didn’t need some weird international driver’s certification to rent a car (even better!), but we did need a passport, which we didn’t have.  It was also about 1pm, and we were supposed to meet a person who was going to come clean our apartment (for $20!) at 2.30pm, way on the other side of town in Leblon.  As we were debating whether to take a cab or the subway/bus combo back home to get a passport to go back to rent a car to drive to Sao Paulo tomorrow, we passed a bike shop.  Tragically, I insisted that we rent bikes, rather than paying for taxis both ways, or spending the time on the bus.  I thought we would zip home along the beach, Scott could grab his passport, bike the eight miles back, return the bike and rent the car and drive home.  I would stay at home with the cleaning man, Joao, until he was done, bike back to Copa, return my wheels and run home in time for a 6pm conference call.

Well, we start biking.  Our bikes were awful, with rusted chains and no gears.  It was totally unpleasant, the sun went away, and it felt as if we were peddling uphill the whole way.  We realize that Scott left his driver’s license as collateral for the bikes, so we have to hope that they’ll give it back to him for returning one bike and let him give them mine until I get back there.  He goes.  I wait for Joao.  He’s late.  And then he arrives and he’s old, and moves slowly and takes a long time to clean.  Scott bikes back to Copa, rents the car, and drives back home, prepared to pick up my bike and turn around.  At first it doesn’t fit.  It’s 4.15pm, and I insist that I can bike back and run or take a taxi back before dark (it’s winter here, so it gets dark at 5.30pm).  He’s (rightly) not into the idea of me running in a bad part of Copa as it turns dark.  He wants to ride the bike while I run.  Without noticing that there are two policeman and another guy standing in our parking area, I throw a legitimate tantrum.  I start crying, jumping up and down, flailing my fists, insisting that I just needed to go ride the bike back.  I just wanted this whole experience to be over for Scott as quickly as possible, as he was already pissed that I added an amazing level of complication by insisting on riding bikes instead of paying a stupid $8 for the cabs each way. The policemen got a show.

We fit the bike in the car.  We both get in, and we start driving to Copacabana.  The car doesn’t have power steering, I’m in tears, Scott’s just spent the last hour in traffic (they call traffic jams engarrafamentos here, isn’t that a fantastic word?) and we’re stuck in traffic again.  By the time we go to return my bike, it’s been four hours and they charge us $25 (cabs already would have been cheaper).  We get stuck going around the one way streets of Copa, without power steering, there are cars everywhere, as it’s getting dark, trying to figure out how to get back the Thrifty, which is literally on the highway which leads into a long tunnel that goes beneath a favela and into Botafogo.  We’ve decided that it’s ridiculous to drive to Sao Paulo, or at least an impossible notion in this tin can car that can’t turn.  We wonder how we forgot how hard our last road trip in Brazil was, last summer when we thought it would be fun to drive from Recife to Pipa at night, along a cliff, where we had no idea where we were going, what was beyond the edge of the line-less road, with trucks, and another crappy little Fiat.

So here were again, doing laps around Copa, trying to get to the Thrifty to give them back their car. Thankfully, they took it back and charged us only for a couple of hours.  Happy to be free of a vehicle that seemed entirely too dangerous we stumbled to the Chinese restaurant, at 6.30pm, well before we’ve eaten dinner any other night here, totally starving (we hadn’t had any food all day) and spent.