172651

note: location is curitiba, brasil

well, this morning i called up nissan again and…..

…wait for it…

…wait for it…

nothing happened!

after sitting in the room for several hours waiting for a call back, i gave up and walked around curitiba a bit. there’s a nearby park featuring small caged up birds, tortoises and monkey (there was only 1). at one of the cages, an identical bird was sitting freely on the railing outside. i’m not sure if he escaped (but was to scared to face the cruel world)….or was wild and fell in love with a caged bird.

not wanting the entire day to go to waste….i did something a bit daring: i spoke to the cops. it’s risky because it severely limits my future options (at least in curitiba). also, police in latin america (minus chile), can be corrupt….which can be a good or bad thing. in this case, it might be a good thing, since they’re getting a free car….so they’ll be fine expediting the process. and who knows…maybe they’ll give me a ‘get out of jail free’ card. i’m a bit scared to show them ushi until the deal is further underway. anyway, i showed up and spoke to the first guy i saw. then, he took me to his boss. then, i went to the boss’ boss. at this rate, i might be speaking with president lula tomorrow.

i’m also going through a bit of withdrawal. it’ll be sad not having a/the car anymore. i’ll have to sweat in the heat and take the bus like a commoner. without ushi, i’m not ready to face the cruel world either.

in other news, i’m beginning to look into getting home. a 1-way flight to san francisco is more expensive than a roundtrip one (~$1k). i figured that for that price, i might be able to find a cruise. unfortunately, the only cruise that i found going from south to north america is a 6 star one, costing ~$7k. next, i looked into container ships (which sometimes offer transport for passengers). a huge thanks to Charlie for researching this. unfortunately, ships are kinda pricey…and apparently
\Homeland Security has forbidden one-way voyages between continental USA (and Canada!) and Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America because they threaten the security of the USA\”.

so, i thought about going to europe first…here’s one going from brazil to france:
\”We are happy to inform you that CMA-CGM, The French Line, continues to serve the Caribbean and Brazil from Northern Europe. These container ships carry bananas northbound and fine French wines southbound along with other container cargo.\”

sounds delightful! plus it has a small gym, pool, tv, etc. but it will end up costing several times more than an airplane.

so…any other ideas or suggestions?

aside: when i said that there was no cheap lodging in curitiba, i was slightly mistaken. near the train station there is a place that provides a private room (shared bathroom), television & car park for 17 reais (the next cheapest i found was a shared dorm for 33 reais). to put that in perspective, most parking lots here charge 12 reais for 12hrs of parking. unfortunately, the place is also a dump…..even worse than the $3 hotel i was at in guatemala. it’s usually a bad sign when the guests lounging around the reception look high/drunk and have alcohol on their breath.”

172650

one of the most frustrating thing about latin america is the inability of people here to say no. it’s as if, ‘no’ is a 4-letter word. for instance, when asking for directions….people will often give you a definite answer, even if they’re just guessing. when i was looking for a job in chile, i met with several people, from the vice-dean of a university to a product design startup. all were excited to meet me and suggested several courses of action. however, undoubtedly, the meetings would either result in more meetings or in nothing happening. unsurprisingly, a similar thing seems to be happening with nissan hq in curitiba. last week, i met with some folks from marketing. they were extremely excited about the trip….so much so that they took some pics of the car in front of the plant and were going to launch a press release about the trip. naturally, i care more about the outcome of the car than any press. two weeks later, nothing has happened (i drove back down to curitiba specifically for this purpose). of course, i haven’t received a ‘no’ yet….just another ‘call me tomorrow’. i know it’s poor form to criticize the same people who might help me…..but i’m not really criticizing…..just stating the facts….like i have always done in this blog.

on the other hand, i stopped by the tourist office today to ask about cheap hostels/hotels here in curitiba…apparently there are none. however, the tourist lady (betty) and i got to talking. it got a bit awkward when she started talking about her upcoming gall bladder surgery and showed me a scar from a previous occurrence. after that detour, however, she told me that her old boss (beto) did the reverse drive several years ago (curitiba to alaska). randomly, beto’s family also owns the second largest restaurant in the world (well, supposedly according to guinness). so, this evening i went to see him at madalosso. he was cool and we got to talk a bit about our trips. unfortunately, they didn’t have any insanely great solutions/recommendations for getting rid of the car. their best recommendation was paraguay…..which seems like an anarchists paradise.

172612

ironically, i don’t really like driving that much. i find it boring, isolating and polluting. however, in today’s world, it’s probably the best way to explore latin america as i have been doing. well, ‘best’, depends on the metrics you’re using….in my case, it means seeing a lot of cool stuff in a short amount of time. i’m not a great driver, but so far, i haven’t been in any accidents on this extensive roadtrip….so i guess that’s something (the most serious accident was when i naively drove into a flooded street). also, my driving endurance is getting much better. today, i drove almost 12 hours non-stop….and, except for the giant urge to pee at the end, i was fine.

i’m especially concerned about getting in an accident in brasil; not just because it’s the end of the trip (the odds are beginning to add up) but because i’ve seen so many overturned trucks here. today alone i saw 4. that’s more than i’ve seen in all the other countries combined. it did rain pretty hard today, but even so, brasilian truck drivers seem to be at risk (or, perhaps they are the risk). i wouldn’t have expected brasil, because the roads are quite good and 99% of the trucks here have auto-inflating tires (tubes run from all the tires into a central on-board pump). argentina had those too, but not as much as brasil.

part of the reason brasil’s roads are so good is that there are a lot of toll ones. in previous days, some were pretty expensive ($5 per 50 miles). today, however, they were cheap: $0.65 per 50 miles from belo horizonte to sao paulo & $0.90 per 50 miles from sao paulo to curitiba. the toll booth attendants are usually very friendly and usually female. it seems like a constant battle to get rid of the change. they’ll give me 5 coins which equal 50 cents as change…..then i’ll hand the stack back to them at the next toll station. i even got a 1 real paper bill (the first i’ve seen, since they’re usually coins). in the end, i won the battle, handing off the last of the steel over to them at the final toll booth.

on the road today, i saw a truck that puts the fedex logo to shame…although i think they may have overdone it a bit.

brasilian roads have quite a few radars. sol, one of the guys we met in the pantanal, ended up getting two tickets 6 months after the infraction. i wonder how many infractions i have piled up waiting for me. will there be a warrant for my arrest if i ever come back to brasil?

sao paulo seems to have traffic all of the time. on the way to rio, we hit rush hour (at 3pm)….and on the way down today, i must have hit the ‘coming home from church’ traffic. today’s traffic was a bit lighter, though….i wonder how many brasilians go to church on sunday. the traffic is frustrating, but what is even more annoying is the placement of the road: right next to a canal….which oughta be nice, but instead smells like raw sewage.

when i arrived in curitiba, i went to the hostel here. surprisingly, it was completely booked (last time we were here, it was completely empty). so, instead i’m staying at the more expensive hotel adrian and i stayed at when we were here. for one person, the hostel is significantly cheaper (almost half the price)…although it’s still overpriced. for two people, the hotel is a little bit more, but you get your own room, better location, etc. tomorrow i might check with the tourist office for a cheaper alternative (since i might be here for several days).

171953

note: location is near belo horizonte

today we had the pleasure of visiting the most beautiful museum i have ever been to. inhotim is more of an art/botanical sanctuary than a modern art museum. lush green hills surround the park, which is filled with beautiful ponds, exotic plants, interesting architecture and unique modern art — everything (from the art to the orchids growing on the trees) is of exceptional quality. when there, you almost feel transported into another world — a place where everything is interesting and beautiful….where natural and man-made beauty coexist. it’s such a unique way to experience art: you’ll be walking along, admiring the giant palm leaves and then see some colorfully painted volkswagen beetles, followed by some jaboticaba trees (with fruit) next to an awesome oldenburg-esque bench carved out of a huge piece of wood outside a beautiful modern building. everything just flows together….and everything is so interesting. they also thought of the little things: there are (beautiful) benches everywhere, umbrellas dispersed around the property (in case it rains, you just pick one up), water fountains (which are also cool looking), etc.

inhotim is definitely one of the highlights of my roadtrip through the americas. why doesn’t the bay area have anything cool like it?

well, tomorrow i’m off to curitiba to try to talk with nissan about taking over ownership of the sentra. it’s a long drive (10-14 hrs?), but hopefully will be worth it. a big thanks to carlos, delza and daniel for showing me around belo horizonte.

and here’s something funny: carlos has trouble working his watch….so he

owns two identical watches: one for daylight savings time and another for the rest of the year!

 

171952

note: location is ouro preto and congonhas, near belo horizonte, brasil

today carlos chauffeured me around ouro preto and congonhas. both are nice little cities with cool art work. the roads were cobbled and steep….i’m glad i didn’t have to drive on them. they have some nice museums, churches, gold mines, statues, etc. a lot of the artwork was done by the famed aleijadinho — a real bastard (in the technical sense) born to a portuguese man and his black slave mistress.

and check out the cool ceral box. 1) it has a new way of folding closed; and 2) there’s braille on the front left of the box.

171951

note: location is belo horizonte, brasil today i drove back carlos’ car from the mechanic — it felt a bit like i was cheating on ushi. the other car had some things which worked better, others that weren’t so good….it’s impressive in how good shape the sentra is after so many miles and so little maintenance.

before i left on this trip, i wanted to see two wonders of the world: machu picchu and iguazu falls. intellectually, there were two other really interesting cities i wanted to visit: curitiba and belo horizonte. curitiba is famous for it’s creative approach to urban planning. belo horizonte, on the other hand, is famous for it’s innovative approach to resolving the hunger problem (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/10-most-hopeful-trends/1398). in 1993, 20% of the youngest children in belo horizonte suffered from malnourishment. about 10 years later, infant mortality has almost been cut in half. the approach is multifaceted, but one of the main features are the restaurante popular’s, which provide healthy meals at a price that anyone can afford. moreover, these restaurants are open to everyone….eliminating the social stigma associated with soup kitchens.

the restaurante popular we visited was actually quite nice. when we arrived, there was a line of about 50 people outside the door. however, the line moved pretty fast, and we were upstairs in about 10 minutes. the operation is efficient and reminiscent of a school/jail cafeteria. you’re handed a metal tray, then walk along as they slop on piles of food. today’s menu was rice, beans, ground meat, greens and some vegetable stew/gravy. the food wasn’t terrific, but for 1 real (60 cents), you can’t really complain — i’ve paid much more for much worse food. actually, the rice and beans were on par with any other restaurant i’ve been to; and the quantity of food was enormous (i couldn’t finish it). one really cool thing is the clientelle, which ranges from homeless people to men dressed in suits. it’s nice to have a safe/friendly environment for everyone to mix together. it’s better than the soup kitchens in the us, where homeless people have to eat with other homeless people (here, everyone is an equal). i wish more places initiated this program.

after a filling lunch, daniel took me to the central market (a maze of stands seling everything from clay pots to dried meat). products there were surprisingly expensive….and not any cheaper than the supermarket. afterwards, we drove up to a vista where you can see belo horizonte.

171950

SAUDADE
last night, adrian took off back to san francisco. this is the first day in over a month that i’ll be on my own again (first gabriel, then adrian were passengers). there are some obvious pros/cons to being on my own again, but more cons than pros. one surprising advantage is NOT having a navigator (…sorta). naturally, if i had the option to use a skilled navigator (or gps), i would…..but i feel that i can understand the city layout much better if i navigate myself (because i’m forced to learn it).

as i left rio this morning, i realized that it had really grown on me. it’s not just the beautiful people and environment, or hanging out with my family in their apartment across from the beach in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the americas, or having delicious food day after day….well, i could go on, but the point is that when you’re there, you just feel relaxed and happy. if i were to move to rio, i’m quite certain that i would live a very happy life. so why not move there? i dunno…maybe i will? but for now, i think that i might not find the professional fulfillment that i currently desire (mech eng R&D is much less developed here than in the us).

BELO HORIZONTE
from rio, i drove to belo horizonte…..a very large city about 5 hours from rio. i haven’t seen much of it, but it seems to have a lot of tall buildings. i’m staying at the house of some family friends who are putting me (and ushi) up in a beautiful apartment in very nice neighborhood here. this afternoon, we walked to the bakery, which had a bunch of delicious bread options to choose from.

later, this evening, i walked around the neighborhood. it’s very pleasant and there were quite a few people jogging. it’s nice seeing women jogging at night. for that reason too, but mostly because it usually means that the neighborhood is very safe — i think the only other place that i saw women jogging alone at night was in chile. also, my 6 month search for the allusive nespera (loquot) finally ended tonight! nesperas are not that rare (they even grow in the bay area), but it seems that only a fraction of the population knows about them. in the states, they don’t sell them in the markets (i have to steal them from people’s yards); and even in brasil (where they are sold), many people have never heard of them.

aside: in the united states, traffic lights are typically placed pretty far from the crosswalk (on the other side of the intersection). in many (all?) places in brasil, they’re placed at the crosswalk. the result is that cars must stop before the crosswalk, or they won’t know when the light is red/green. it’s a very simple, yet effective approach at keeping the crosswalks clear of cars.

i’m starting to get bored of travelling (who knew the sentra would last so long?), so am hoping to plan my exit over the next few days. if anybody feels like taking the reigns of the sentra and continuing the journey, shoot me an email (beto [at] sentradiaries [dot] com or sentradiaries [at] gmail [dot] com)

171704

note: location is rio de janeiro, brasil

the pantanal was fun, but by far the best thing that came out of it was the people we met. on the drive up from curitiba to rio, we spent the night at sol and lilly’s beautiful house in sorocaba. in rio, we met up with julie and alan. this morning, alan took us around the favela where he volunteers (rocinha). it started off a bit confusing, with us not really sure where to meet them. the taxi drove around the favela a bit, but in the end we made it without any issues.

rocinha is one of the safer favelas. it’s also quite large (according to alan, over 300k people!) — it actually started off on one face of a hill, then spread to the other side. actually, the slum does not feel much different from some of the towns i passed through in central america….especially the border towns. it’s dirty, busy and, as julie put it, a sensory overload. however, it also seems relatively safe (…maybe not safe, but not nearly as dangerous as the movies make it out to be….granted, i would have been petrified if i were not with someone who lived there). we started off by checking out the school where alan volunteers (www.2bros.org). aside from the one main street, the streets are all very narrow alleys — like urban slot canyons. indeed, with the trash, steps and other dangers, most are even impassible by motorcycles. power is a mess there, but it seems to work. internet is not uncommon and credit cards are widely accepted (….or maybe people just love decorating their stores with mastercard stickers). however, when you look at all the cables, resistors and other materials wrapped around the powerlines, it’s a wonder that the system works.

after the institute, alan waved his hands, and, before i knew it, i was riding backseat on a mototaxi swerving between buses at 25mph (uphill too). it was probably one of the scarier things i’ve done on this trip, but it was worth it — the view from the top of rocinha is beautiful. from there, we stopped by a daycare, then went to alan’s apartment (which also has incredible views, and is just $120/mo). here are some interesting things re: favelas (source: alan). he feels safer in the favela than on copocabana beach — thefts are rare in the favela, since they don’t want cops coming in. taking pictures in the favela is ok…as long as there aren’t people around (which is a bit tricky when you have such a dense concentration). the owner of the top floor of a house can sell the roof for somebody else to build a flat on (then that person can sell their roof, etc.). making money in the favela is hard, but there are some entrepreneurs….like the guy who created the mototaxi service. water drainage is bad in rocinha, which is why there is water on the street and many places smell like mold.

after rocinha, we had some delicious farrofa at simon/rosa’s house, checked out the indian museum (feather, not dot), visited dr. simon’s office, bid adrian farewell, had some delicious homemade pasteis, hung out, then went to sleep.

aside: brazilians love the thumbs up — they use it al the time. even today, when i caught the mototaxi drivers shirt that was falling onto the road, he gave me a thumbs up…i kinda wished he had just kept both hands on the handles as we narrowly avoided a bus zooming downhill. they also have a unique hand signal — it’s the one you use when somebody’s talking too much (clamping the hand open and shut, as if it were a mouth)…..but here it also means ‘full’ (as in, the taxi is occupied or the club is packed).

171703

note: location is rio de janeiro, brasil

well, after my disappointment in the pantanal, i finally saw the giant lilly pads today in rio’s botanical garden. there were only four of them, and they weren’t that big….but beggars can’t be choosers. from there, we met up with a friend we met at the pantanal and headed over to sugarloaf mountain. pao de acucar has a really beautiful view from the top. it was a nice clear day, with a pleasant breeze, so we just sat there for an hour or two staring at the water and city below. rio is a very pretty city from up top.

from the base of the mountain, we caught a cab over to post 9 on ipanema beach, where we met up with my cousin pri. i was really impressed with the quality of some of the futevolley players (volleyball, but with no hands)…including quite a few good women players. the sand, water and views were all great. after relaxing at the beach for a few hours, pri took us to a popular restaurant where we gorged ourselves with food yet again. since i’ve been here, every day we’ve had a huge meal — it’s not so bad, though, because then i can skip a couple of meals and have more time for tourist things….the big meals are a bit like an investment.

tonight, pri took us to lapa…an older part of rio which has recently been revitalized and is now famous for it’s historic buildings and samba clubs. on account of it being the end of a holiday weekend, most of the clubs were closed, but we did find one that had a live samba band. the band is typically made up of percussion, a small guitar and a singer. the music plays continuously and the singer goes on nonstop for hours — it’s quite impressive! it was very crowded downstairs, so we sat on the balcony upstairs and were lucky enough to be at the same table as a professional samba dancer who is one of the leads at a very good samba school here. after a bit, we went downstairs….and, despite it being crowded, she still amazed us with how fast, but rhythmically, she could move her feet.

aside: many bars/clubs here do not permit smoking. it’s really nice. in my mind, chile and brasil are always competing for the top spot of south american countries (that i’ve visited)….so, for nightlife, the point goes to brasil.

171702

note: location is rio de janeiro, brasil

despite the weather not cooperating with us (it rained/drizzled most of the day), we still found some great things to do today, first, we went across the bay to the contemporary art museum of niteroi, which is housed in a cool building designed by oscar neimeyer. the art itself wasn’t spectatacular, but the location and architecture were very nice.

then, back to rio to gorge ourselves with another huge lunch — this time at porcao (a churrascaria rodizio). the restaurant is in a beautiful location right next to the water…with sail boats and windsurfers. the food is also as great as the view. to give you an idea, the waiting area has tables/chairs plus a small buffet with quality olives, breads, quail eggs, etc…..i originally thought the waiting area was the restaurant! the food was very good quality….from delicious meats to the best palmito (heart of palm) i’ve ever had. i’m still a bit drunk from all the good food i ate.

later this evening, we hung out with the daughter of one of simon’s good friends — it was a lot of fun, and (as always) it was great to see another side to rio that we wouldn’t have if we were just tourists on our own. carol took us around town and, with a group of her friends, we ended up at a club which is normally a swingers club (…yes, that kind of swinger…but periodically it becomes a normal club). it was a bit shocking how many people in the club were kissing each other. there were many exotic pieces of furniture….i think the shower with a transparent glass door may have been the cleanest part of the club.

another aside: so far, the largest concentrations of nissan sentra’s has been in lima, peru — we could not walk a block there without seeing one. brasil still has some, but they tend to be the newer models….which are huge compared to ushi.