Current Date: Monday, March 29, 2004 11:00p.m. (Necochea, Argentina)

Current Itinerary: Arrived here today from Mar del Plata. I'll spend the next couple days hiking/biking in this area and nearby. Not sure after that but probably going towards Bahia Blanca. I can only see about 3 days into the future for now. Rock on.

Note: Alright, back to my "traditional" journal format. These next couple journals are from my road trip over the Xmas holiday and definitely worth a read. I'm having trouble uploading journals is the reason for the delay...but I'll get there.

Saturday, Dec. 20, 2003 3:30 p.m. (bus to Curitiba)

Ahhhhhh. Back on the road again finally!! Not exactly going where I thought I would 24 hours ago but on the road just the same. Hell, maybe it's for the better. Time will tell.

So for the past month and a half I had planned to spend this next week in the Pantanal. Unfortunately, the folks at GOL (Brazilian equivalent of Southwest Airlines) had different plans for me in mind. Last night I went to catch my flight to a city called Cuiaba, on the northern border of the Pantanal. When I tried to check in for my flight, the woman wouldn't except my US driver's license as an ID, nor would she except a photocopy of my passport. Since I would be traveling to several different places over that week I did not carry my passport with me. First of all, I didn't plan to leave the country. Secondly, I didn't want to lose it. However, the major reason I didn't carry it was because if I was stopped at any check point or if the folks in the airport looked, they would realize that I have over stayed my welcome here in Brazil by 6 months. For those of you that like things put straight forward, I am illegal in this country and have been for quite some time (you can only get a Visa for total of 6 months in any given year). It isn't a problem for everyday living and not for traveling either generally. Much like in the US, once you are in the country, not much is done to try to get rid of you. Just a side note...I do find it interesting that I am in the reverse position that many people in this country would like to be in...I mean that there are many here that would love to go and live in the US and cannot get into the country and here I am, a fully legal US resident wanting to get out. Maybe it isn't fair in a way. I would gladly let someone take my place if we could work out some sort of trade system...but obviously it doesn't work that way. Anyway, I pleaded with the woman and raised a ruckus, but it was to no avail...I was not allowed to board the flight. I was more than dissappointed, not only b/c I was looking forward to traveling again, but more because the Pantanal was one of my main destinations I wanted to see in Brazil. A big piece of the reason I didn't leave SP in Nov. was because I wanted to do that trip. Alas, there was no way I was gonna let that roadblock ruin my vacation. So I slept on the issue, trying to decide exactly what I was going to do. My original plan was to stay in the Pantanal until Xmas day, return to SP, and then head to Florianapolis (in the south...I went in 2002) on the 26th. So I decided, that in the end, I would probably get to see a lot more and it would be considerably cheaper to spend the week making my way towards Florianapolis by bus. There are a few places between here and there I want to visit...so I am currently on a bus to Curitiba, a city I have heard many great things about that is 400km. south of SP. It may sound familar to many of you from H-town as it is the home city of our favorite Brazilian, Bruna. Unfortunately since I decided on this destination about 2 hours before going to catch a bus, I may not be able to meet up with any contacts she has there...we'll see I guess.

So for the moment I am off to begin yet another adventure (albeit a short one...although, my whole life is an adventure...smile!) and a curve ball has already been thrown my way. So when that happens, you just take a swing anyway, and try to hit a homerun. Stay tuned...

..........................................

The rest of the bus ride to Curitiba was cool. I was sitting next to cool guy, Wagner on the way down and talked to him a little about Curitiba. I was going in completely blind so I was just trying to get some ideas. Leandro has a friend, Paolo, who lives in Curitiba and he was going to try that day to get a hold of him for me so I would have someone to hangout with...but I couldn't count on that. I had also e-mailed Bruna for some contacts but I couldn't count on getting to a computer when I got there.

I wanted to say something else about the bus ride. It was from the afternoon into the evening so I had daylight for most of the drive. It was raining a bit but that still didn't take away from the amazing landscape of southern Brazil. I still find myself captivated by the beauty of this country.

I arrived in Curitiba around 10:00...about an hour later than I had expected. I figured I could still find a place to stay and be out by 12 though. I gave Paolo a call but couldn't get a hold of him. The lonely planet suggested a cheap place just across from the bus station, which was good for me since I wanted to hurry. I checked in, showered and got ready to head out...only one problem, where too? I had read about a relatively active street called "Rua 24 hours". I figured I would start there and just go forward. I met someone on the bus stop who helped with how to get there. Once again, traveling in Brazil is always made a little easier by the friendly people. It had been a while since I had been in a situation where I didn't really nowhere I was going. I know SP fairly well now...long gone are the days of struggling with buses, and looking at maps. Now it was like the beginning of my trip again, new places, new systems, new everything...although since I can speak now, it is easier of course.

A side note about the public transportation in Curitiba. It is a very nice system that uses buses to the effect that most cities would use a metro. There is a system they refer to as Tubo (meaning tube...duh!) so named because the stops where the people wait are large plastic round cylinders thus you are waiting inside a "tube". It goes all over the city but the buses follow lines like a subway, rather than in a haphazard numbering system. It is quite nice. On the busy roads, the tubes has it's own lanes down the middle of the road so it is not involved in traffic. You can connect from one tube to another like a metro...it really is a fantastic system. They also have regular buses on top of that so it is easy to get from one place to another. One funny thing was that on more than one occasion, people here have said to me that Curititba is "world reknown" for it's public transportation system. Now, I'm not saying it isn't good but I would say giving it a label like "world reknown" is a little over the top. It's funny to me when people get these little tidbits/factoids about their city/country and then try to magnify the significance to ridiculous proportions...and they really like to tell people. "You know, my city has the (superlative) (noun) in the world." Hmmmm...anyone who doesn't know what a superlative is...ask an English teacher:)

So I headed to the "Rua 24 horas" but on the way, as luck would have it, I passed an open internet place. I quickly checked an e-mail from Bruna and she had given me a phone number of a friend of her brother's. I tried it but was unable to get ahold of him. I was on my own.

Rua 24 horas was relatively unimpressive. It was clear it's better days were behind it, however, I was able to get some food there and there was some decent live MPB (Brazilian popular music...sort of like adult contemporary with a bit more of a pop feel I guess). While I was there it started to rain pretty heavily outside and the poorly constructed roof (the street is really more like a large outdoor mall type cooridor) leaked like a sieve, getting many of the people, including myself, pretty wet. Just about everyone was forced to move tables. It was time to get out of there. I asked a guy at the table next to me about some decent bars in the area and he said he only knew one place called "Flick's", and that it was nearby. Sounded a little shaky, but I didn't have much choice. It was about 1:00a.m. by then, it was raining cats and dogs outside and the only other place I had heard about was a barrio called Santa Felicidade...an expensive cab ride away and I didn't have the name of a specific place. So off to Flick's it was. The place wasn't anything great...they were playing Brazilian country music, which did not particularly excite me, but hey, I had to make the most of it. I ended up meeting two pretty cool girls, Sandra and Claudenice, and we danced the night away. The band actually ended up playing some good Axe (another brazilian music style) and popular songs too so it wasn't as bad as it appeared it would be in the beginning. Truthfully, it wasn't a bad night in Curitiba considering I started with nothing. Danced until about 5:00 and then headed home.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Woke up around 11:30, which was way later than I had hoped. I had wanted to get an earlier start. Oh well, I set off to do my own sort of walking tour of the city. First I needed to get my hands on a map...I remembered seeing a nice hotel near Rua 2 horas and I figured it would be a good place to get a map and any other information. After getting to the centro, one of the first things I really noticed about Curitiba is how nice of a city it is. At the school where I teach, one of the questions in one of the books is What is the cleanest city you know of? Quite often people answer, "Curitiba" and now I understand why. The streets are wider, cleaner and much better maintained than Sao Paulo. Also, you have large sidewalks and (atleast in the centro) the city is built for pedestrains. There are many outdoor malls and streets which are closed to traffic. Another interesting observation I made was the respect the cars have for pedestrians. Crossing the street in Sao Paolo could be an Olympic sport...here in Curitiba, the cars actually wait for the pedestrians to clear the path before going. In SP, if you are crossing the street and the little walk/don't walk man turns red, you better haul ass. I was crossing the street here in Curitiba and the guy turned red, I was the only one who started to run. Interesting subcultural difference.

I walked around the centro and made my way towards a small park called the "Paseo publico". It is a park where many people walk on Sunday's and bring their families. There is a small zoo also which is very cool. I gave Paolo (Leandro's friend) a call and finally was able to speak to him. He had returned from traveling just that morning and was pretty beat so we decided I would call him later. Then I gave Cristian (Bruna's Bro's friend) a call and he was happy to come and meet up with me for lunch.

An hour later, he, and another guy, Bruno, picked me up. There were pretty cool guys. They took me to a really good rodizio and I chatted with them about my adventures in Brazil and how much I love this country. They were happy to hear me speak so well of their country. Like most people I meet, they have seen very little of Brazil (although they have traveled extensively to Europe and the US)...but I think that, as I have previously stated in other journals, Brazil does not strongly promote tourism to it's citizens or to foreigners. I'll certainly sign up for the job if anyone ever asks me though:)

After our 2 hour lunch, a couple other friends of theirs came by and we met, but they had to leave quickly. They said they would meet up with us later that night at a bar we planned to go to. The guys then gave me a little driviing tour of the city. As I said before, Curitiba is indeed very clean and quite modern. It sort of reminded me of the newer part of Natal, especially near Ponta Negra.

They dropped me off back at my hotel around 6 and I got in a nap and a shower. I had to wait for Cristian to pick me up so I began reading a book that Mark gave me for Xmas, called Papillon. It is a story of a frenchman wrongly accused of a crime and he is sent to prison in French Guyana (it is in the northern part of South America for those not in the know). The story follows his continious adventures of trying to escape from prison. Apparently this true story is quite well known around the world, although I had not hear of it. Anyway, it sucked me in immediately and I understand why it is so popular.

Cristian picked me up around 9 and we went to Bruno's apartment...which I must say was a mighty fine bachelor pad (second only to the ULTIMATE PAD Lyle had in Tampa!). We had a few drinks there and then another friend showed up, Craig, and we headed for the bar. There was a Pink Floyd and Rush cover band playing at the bar. I'm not a huge classic rock fan, but I can certainly handle it for an evening. It was a Sunday night but the bar was modestly packed, although there was a serious lack of females. I must pause here to say that from the limited scope of what I saw, the women in Curitiba don't compare to those from SP...however, I state again for the record, my experience in Curitiba was severely limited. We stayed at the bar until 4 and then headed home. It was a great day in the end and I owed it all to Cristian and Bruno. Thanks a lot guys for giving me a glimpse of your city and showing me a good time! My experience in Curitiba would have not been what it was without you...and of course thanks to Bruna for the hook-up.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Woke up around 11:30 again, which I was okay with this time. I didn't have too much planned for the day. I only needed to make my arrangements for leaving Curitiba the next day and then I was going to meet Bruno in the afternoon. I was really wanting to do some hiking in a nearby state park, but I also wanted to take what was supposed to be a beautiful trainride from Curitiba to a city called Paranagua. I decided I would try to tackle both those things on Tuesday as I was headed towards an island called Ihla do Mel, and I wanted to spend a few days there. On Friday I had to be in Florianapolis so may days were already numbered.

At the trainstation I discovered that trains are temporarily not running to Paranagua due to construction so I bought my ticket for a city called Morretes, which was far as I could go. It turned out to be quite a fortunate decision.

Anyway, my train didn't leave until the next morning so I was free. I had pretty much seen most of Curitiba so I decided to just get some lunch and then I would call Bruno later in the afternoon to go for a few beers. After I ate, they day turned pretty ugly...well, with respect to the weather anyway. It began to rain, and rain, and rain...and it didn't appear it was going to let up. It worked out well though as I was unable to get a hold of Briuno or Cristian. I literally spent the next EIGHT hours reading "Papillon"...the book had a serious hold on me. Anyway, there was a particular quote from the book that stirred an amalgum of feelings in me and I think is worth sharing.

Papillon Quote:

"By leaving his house to three escaped convicts like this he gave us a lesson that couldn't have been bettered: it was as though he were saying: 'You are normal decent human beings...now that I have talked to you, I see that you are perfectly trustworthy-so much so that I leave you here in my home like old friends, not supposing for a moment that you could possibly do or say anything wrong.'"

The point was already clear here but in a truly unconventional style, right in the middle the book the author pauses to talk to the reader (because for him it was such an overwhelming moment) and the this passage follows what is above:

"Reader-supposing this book has readers some day- I am not clever and I don't possess the vivid style, the living power, that is needed to describe this immense feeling of self-respect- no, of rehabilitation, or even of a new life. This figurative baptism, this bath of cleanliness, this raising of me above the filth I had sunk in...quite simply changed my whole being."

I point out this lesson for two reasons. The first is that I can remember quite clearly, when I also had my own "figurative baptism" back in 2002. Some of you long time subscribers might remember I tale from my first South America trip I told about Six strangers in Uraguay. Minutes after meeting him, this guy I met, JuanJose, invited myself and 4 other folks from the hostel to his home for dinner...literally on 2 hours notice. This gesture of kindness and his opening up his home to us had a profound effect on me...and although on the outside, it may seem like a small gesture, I was truly overwhelmed by the experience and it changed me and the way I look at people in other countries and of other cultures and how we should treat each other. That really leads me into the second reason I wanted to speak about this passage. I remember Mark and I having a conversation about this once when I first moved to SP. I guess I too tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust in them until I have reason not to. I guess I just think it is the "right way" to live. It seems to me, that those who have traveled a bit tend to live this way. Probably, because when you are on the road, you have to lean on others a bit more than normal. You just have to trust in them. The scary thing about something like that is that when you go out on a limb, sometimes it breaks. I had a recent situation in SP where exactly that happened to me (purposely sparing all the long story and details)...and it caused me to withdraw a bit. I would be lying to say that I wasn't very hurt and that it caused me to reevalute some things, but in the end...I look around and see how fantastic I was treated by Cristian and Bruno yesterday. Just the way they treated me as a friend and trusted in me. I know the world turns because of people them, and Juanjose, and Mark, and the many others out there. This particular passage reminded of that...and I guess, in a way, got me thinking enough for me to finally get over my own personal situation. It's funny how you're reading a book sometimes and it seems like a certain part was written specifically for you. It was something I seriously needed right now. Tomorrow, I'll wake up again for a new day, but with a small weight lifted from my spirit, and ready to trust again. It's just the "right way" to live.

AC

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