Somewhere in Brazil

Sat, 22 Mar 2008 12:30:47 +0000

What's in Mat's handbag? Index And now the story really starts...

It gave me such a happy when the bus pulled out of Sao Paulo. Not that I wasn't enjoying Sao Paulo, but it's such a great feeling to be making progress towards where you're going, with a reservation at the other end, and nothing to do but sit back and relax as someone else does the driving.

After getting nine hours sleep last night, which alone is going to make several readers of this blog sick with envy, I woke up early and went down to breakfast. Hostel breakfasts are extremely variable. This one was on the far side of the spectrum:

The bread was beautifully fresh, light and crispy. The guava (? I don't really know my tropical fruits) was ripe, the pineapple juice cold. Those little balls are called "pao de queyo", simply "cheese bread", and are incredible. A thin crispy shell around a gooey pancakey centre. Best when hot, apparently, but still warm and fresh as they were this morning, they were a joy. I bought some more at the bus station later, and they were good, but not comparable to fresh ones.

The only fly in my ointment right now is that I don't have any malaria pills. In principle, you're supposed to start taking them ten days before travelling to a malaria area, and I'm planning on crossing into Bolivia in two or three days. When I went to get my immunisations, the doctor said I should get my pills when I get to Brazil, since they'll have what's best for local conditions. That seems like pretty silly advice right now.

Anyway, in pursuit of these pills, the people at reception suggested I go to Congonhas airport, which was only fifteen minutes away by bus, so that's what I did with my morning. Of course, taking a bus in a foreign country is never easy, and I always panic that I'm going in the wrong direction or have missed my stop or something. In this case, the panic hit when we were right next door to the airport, the entrance was just around the corner, and the bus suddenly pulled onto a highway and drove hell for leather in the exact opposite direction. It turned out, of course, that this was a cunning plan on the part of the driver: he pulled a u-turn a couple of kilometres up and went back again on the right part of the intersection. But I came close to jumping off the bus at apogee, and was only saved because I happened to ask "aeroporto?" at the crucial moment and was firmly told "nao".

And after all that, they didn't have anything against malaria. Instead I bought some sunscreen, at the ruinous price of R$37, about EUR100, for a tiny little tube. But it was sunny this morning in Sao Paulo, so no time to be penny pinching. I also bought some much more reasonably priced insect repellant at the train station. This will have to do for now. I'm guessing that the Brazilians are proud of their malaria-free status, and this has something to do with the lack of availability of anti-malaria medicine. Closer to the border things may be different. I'm not all that worried about malaria here though: I'm at a relatively low latitude, and South America is relatively mildly affected by malaria. But it'd be nice to have a little extra safety.

I wasn't sure if there would be any opportunity to buy food on the bus, so I resolved to stock up on supplies at the bus station. Then when I was actually there, I decided that the best place to store food is in your belly, so even though it was early I had some lunch too. The conical fried thing I bought only because I forgot to photograph it when I had one last night: it appears to be some sort of chickeny stuff in a blanket of potato and then deep fried: The balls are the aforementioned pao de queyo:

After that I got vitamin withdrawal and bought some fruit salad, with more fruits I can't identify. Supplies for the road were a loaf of bread and a liter of water, just in order to keep things simple.

And then we hit the road. Everyone else immediately and rather sensibly invested in sleep, but I'm not here to be sensible, so I stared out the window at the scenery instead. It's not like it's lush and tropical here: mostly sugar cane and cattle grazing. But there are palms and termite mounds and it definitely looks like a different continent. The soil is a fabulous rich shade of red chocalatey brown, which I didn't even bother photographing, there's no way I could capture it.

In fact the bus seems to stop every couple of hours at roadside services, the first clearly designated "lunch". These roadside services are much like the motorway services in the UK, in the same sense as "heaven" is much like "hell":

I had one of the little birds-nest looking things top right, which turned out to be full of chopped nuts and dripping with syrup. And some freshly squeezed orange juice, which is apparently what the word "cafe" means in Portuguese. Needless to say, I will now be ordering "cafe" everywhere I go.

So right now we're travelling again, and according to the GPS I am about halfway from Sao Paulo to Corumba, well beyond the ken of the openstreetmap project where my maps come from. I have to change buses at around two o'clock in the morning, so I really should be getting some sleep, but this is apparently "talk loudly on your mobile phone and with each other" time in Brazil. So instead I'm savouring the sunset over the vast empty fields. Till next time...

What's in Mat's handbag? Index And now the story really starts...