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Porto Alegre, Brazil

BRAZIL | Friday, 28 November 2008 | Views [3853] | Comments [1]

We arrived in Rio's Novo Rio bus station at about 3 in the afternoon, over 2 hours after leaving Copacobana. The reason for the delay was a torrential rainstorm. We had had a lot of rain in Rio but things had certainly stepped up a notch. Our destination was Florianopolis, a beautiful city spanning the continent and Santa Catarina island which I had briefly visited before but definitely wanted to see again, this time for more than an afternoon!

We arrived at the station and found a place at the end of the snaking queue. No tickets today. Goddamn had we learnt nothing!! We decided to go to Sao Paolo instead which is broadly in the same direction anyway. We would see how we fared when we got there. Besides Claire always says these things happen for a reason. The bus we got was quite posh, providing a little tuck bag of snacks, a yoghurt drink, a newspaper and a Brazilian version of Hello magazine. Claire perused the photos of Brazil's B lists while I struggled my way through current affairs in Portuguese (which I have to say is way easier written than verbal!).

A surfer dude we met in the hostel had given us a few tips on beaches and places to stay in Floriaopolis and the island but had said, by way of a parting gesture, I hope the weather's good they have had 53 consecutive days rain there. I didn't think much of the comment until I saw the front page of the newspaper, a half page photo of a town devastated by floods. The town was in Santa Catarina State, of which Florianopolis is the capital.

I read on, and while not really understanding all the sentences I could understand phrases like 'state of emergency', 'thousands left homeless' and 'national guard'. Needless to say this prompted us to start to reevaluate the plan . We got to Sao Paolo at 10.30pm after 7ish hours and we ran around Tiete, what must be the biggest bus station in the world (but I'd have to check) looking for a ticket to anywhere that night. No luck, we were too late and would have to come back first thing,

Having done no research on Sau Paolo whatsoever, neither of us having any desire to stay in a city of well over 20m people we were now a might unprepared. We asked the ladies at information for any recommendations of places to stay and they said there was a place around the corner. A little suspicious but game, we pulled on our (now feeling very conspicuous) rucksacks and followed the half understood directions.

We got about 2 blocks and both agreed that this was not the right situation to be at all. Everywhere seemed to have a curious, but very distinctive smell of poo and there were a lot of shady people doing unknown things in the shadows. In the near distance I saw a Novotel sign and we made for it, On the way we passed Sao Paolo Police Department's organised crime division. They had about 20 officers outside, seemingly waiting for some organised crime to happen. They gave us a few funny looks but decided we weren't organised enough.

The Novotel receptionists shunned my attempts at bargaining a backpacker price for what was clearly a business traveller's hotel. They informed us that the hotel we had been heading for was pay-by-the hour.(Hello sailor!) Plan Z became the only viable option: get a taxi to the centre , find a Hosteling International place where we could get a discount and don't talk to anyone at all. We made it without too many hitches, passing by a large number of scantily clad ladies of the night on the streets we had just been wandering lost in.

We checked in to the hostel, which had its own specific aroma (of a nursing - home I though it was supposed to be a youth hostel!) and holed up for the evening, thankful we had made it intact. The receptionist had made an interesting introduction to the area: metro down the street, show this card if you need to come in after 11pm and don't turn left – it's really REALLY dangerous down there. People have been killed. Just like that – he didn't even flinch as he said it.

None of the apartments, or rather flats we could see from our bedroom window had glass in the windows. They varied between empty to the better ones which had a blanket for a curtain. As were on the left side of the hostel we joked that we would be able to hear the gangs coming first, by the sound of their gunshots. Just at the point of heading off to sleep we heard a very loud something-or-other which sounded exactly like a gunshot. Who knows. It seemed appropriate not to discuss what the sound actually was and to roll over into uneasy sleep. Needless to say we left for the bus station as early as possible next morning.

A bus to Porto Alegre in Brazil's Southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, far, far away from organised (or disorganised) crime was the best option available. This allowed us to bypass all of the problems in Florianopolis but saddened me that I would not to be able to say hello again. As I write, about 100 people are dead, many thousands homeless and things don't seem to be getting better. I hope it at least stops raining for them.

So another 18 hours in a bus and we arrived groggily in the morning sunshine of Porto Alegre. We found a cheap hotel, with the smallest twin room in the world, near the station. 2 singles beds, about half a single bed's width between them and that's it. We had great craic finding a place to put the rucksacks so we could actually sleep! I should point out that, albeit the smallest room in the world, the hotel was the same price for both of us as one bed in a 6 sleeper dorm was in Rio!.

Porto Alegre is a big bustling town with a very distinct dichotomy between rich and poor. The bus station is on the less affluent side of town and there are lots of street sleepers, beggars and collectors of cans and plastic drinks bottles about, As you progress through to the centre the power dressing begins and the banks and their associated cultural centres get grander and the street sellers thin out. It's a little microcosm of Brazil I guess.

We wandered around in the blistering heat, chancing upon a very good interpretive exhibition of a Brazilian sociologist called Gilberto Freyere. Despite the fact that we couldn't understand what he had written we liked their interpretation of it. Further downtown, a gallery in a converted power station with an open air balcony from where you could watch the sunset

The following morning, another wander around the parks and while walking up one street had to decline, on linguistic grounds, a TV interview for something or other.

We felt like a churrasco, the Brazilian version of the asado, so asked for a recommendation at the hotel. Hoping for a small local place with plastic tables but great meat, and thinking that that was what the receptionist described however the taxi driver obviously had different ideas.

We arrived at a massive barn of a place with staff dressed in costume. It was one of those places you get taken to with a tour group to get a “taste of the local culture”. The tour groups were there, the girl with the massive oversized maté, gaucho hats and a Polaroid camera was there and the souvenir shop (of the restaurant) was there too. Actually we enjoyed the evening quite a lot – the buffet was good and the meat, which the waiters bring around on huge skewers was delicious, although not quite as nice as we had become accustomed to in Argentina. They also put on a Gaucho show with “traditional” singing and dancing. We went home full and happy but also feeling a little like we had cheated the gauchos for going to such a plastic restaurant. Ah well. We got back to the hotel, put on some tunes and played cacho (Bolivian dice game) for the rest of the evening.)

Having bought our tickets for the next destination in advance we were ready to move on, sad to leave Brazil (for its people but not its prices) and committed to coming back (when we have more money and less time).Brazil has also inspired my invention of a new economic index with which to evaulate the relative prosperity of countries. It's called the mangy dog index and quite simply equates the quantity and manginess of dogs to the poverty of the general population of a country. Bolivia is very poor by this index having a large number of strays who roam in packs eating the street refuse and are usually pretty scabby. Brazil by comparison is quite rich – we saw a lot of poodles in Rio wearing not only jumpers but little boots too. Very few strays. I hope to continue to use this index more in the future.

On the last morning in Porto Alagre, I checked the battery on my ipod to see if it needed a charge before the journey and saw something unusual. No music, no playlists, no podcasts no nothing. WHAT!!! I thought it had gotten some form of digital STD, having plugged it in to charge into too many computers of ill repute. No music for the rest of the year was a prospect which made me a little sad. We had a few hours during the day before our bus so we found a place with wi-fi and I did some tests – my ipod thinks it is empty but when I plug it into the laptop its fine again, So i now have an ipod that i have to listen to through a laptop. My preliminary research suggests that I need to learn how to programme Linux in order to fix it. If anyone has any suggestions please let me know!

So now we are off further south to Chui, on the border with Uruguay. It will be good to wind down on the beach ... hopefully it will actually be there this time!

Tags: buffet, gaucho, ipod, modern art, natural disaster




hi, great story. we are thinking of flying down from san francisco next week to porto alegre and getting a rental car and drive to floroanopolis. what do you think? should we cancel? any insight to conditions in floroanopolis would be helpfull.

  carmen Dec 4, 2008 3:57 PM

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