Category Archives: brazil


note: mile counter is wrong

this morning i took a bus from curitiba to sao paulo. ironically (or perhaps not), it is also the first time that i’ve seen the brazilian highway patrol do anything. as in most latin american countries, instead of driving around, the officers simply have checkpoints. however, i’ve never seen them stop anybody…in fact, before today, i’d never even seen them!

well, they stopped the bus for over an hour…..looked through our luggage and interviewed all of us. once, while traveling back from a case study at my medical device job, the airport security asked me what i was transporting…..i kept thinking ‘don’t say biohazard, don’t say biohazard’….and, of course, i said ‘biohazard’. today, the police officer inquired that i had entered through foz do iguacu. i was thinking ‘just say ‘yes”….but, because i’m stupid, i told him that i had driven there and then had to spend a few minutes describing the trip and how i had given the car to the receita federal the day prior, show him the papers, etc. it could have been worse, though, since four of the passengers on our bus were apprehended by the police for further questioning.

the rest of the trip was pretty routine. as sara said, the airport bus is very overpriced ($20 for a 20min ride….whereas the 6 hour ride from curitiba to sao paulo was $40). the airplanes all left on time and customs was ridiculously easy (i thought i would be stopped and interrogated by homeland security). air canada seems to have friendlier staff, better service and owns nicer planes than united (air canada: sao paulo –> toronto, united: toronto –> chicago –> san francisco). at one point the stewardess described the ravioli dinner as ‘actually, quite nice’. i don’t like when people call food ‘nice’ — it’s a meal, not a person or the weather outside. also, the pasta was not nice….if anything it was pretty rude.


pretty bold anti-smoking warnings on the packs for sale at sao paulo duty free. at what point do the warnings go from scary to ‘cool’ (as if to say that a normal person couldn’t handle smoking)

this wifi logo is trademarked (see the ‘tm’?). they also had these in argentina. are they associated with a certain provider?

air canada’s 1st class is pretty nice. coach wasn’t too bad either.


what a day! (i’m still a bit emotional, so may rewrite this post at a later date)

i wrote this around 11am today:
another day, another dollar. getting rid of ushi has been much harder than it should have been. much of the fault lies with myself….for talking to the wrong people (and even worse, believing them). today, i was ready to head back down to iguazu….but gabriel came through at the last minute. we spoke to a guy at the receita federal who said there was a way to transfer the car for free (….although, if you account for the last week i’ve wasted in curitiba, it’s been a bit pricey). so, another day here. i’m so frustrated. it’s a shame that this experience with incompetent brazilians will foul my memories of the country. but, a huge thanks to gabriel! especially true in latin america, it’s all about talking to the right people.

this part was written later today

the receita official told us to provide two forms: one written by gabriel stating that he would pay any fines associated with ushi (in case there were any pending ones, in which case i would reimburse him) and another from some legal person stating that i was handing over permission of the vehicle to the brasilian government. well, gabriel got a friend to do the legal part….but he was really busy….and by 4pm, we still didnt have it. (receita closes at 5pm).

so, i just decided to go over to receita to plea my case: i’m giving them a car for free. i’ve been in curitiba for 1 stressful week already. i don’t want to spend the weekend here unless i know that this process will work. so, i begged and begged. finally, we spoke to the head of receita in curitiba. and, eventually, they said ok! who would have ever thought i would be so happy to be parting with ushi….and for free.

so, at 4:48pm (local time) and at mile 172,673 sentradiaries is over!


it’s hard to think back on the beginning of this trip. every day has been a new experience and, after a while, everything just blends together. i vaguely remember where i’ve been and rarely know where i’m going….in fact, the only thing that i’ve always known is where ushi and i are (in the present). as i stand here today, handing over the keys of my trusty companion, it’s hard. i understand that car’s are inanimate, but ushi has been like a security blanket. anywhere i’ve been, ushi’s been there for me. and now, i’m handing over the car to a stranger.

when i first proposed the trip, most people thought i was crazy. when we began the trip, most thought ushi would die far short of ushuaia. on the contrary, the trip has been a great (and expensive) experience and ushi has held up masterfully. who thought a sentra could drive through a flooded street and survive? or up through the high-altitude andes (twice!)? ushi is a tough little car. which reminds me: i always complained that nissan sentra’s have no character. they’re simple, small and look just like the honda civic, toyota something-or-other, etc. i never really minded too much, though; and, actually kinda enjoyed not having to worry about dents/scratches. i also learned a great deal about car mechanics (how to replace brakes, fuel filters, etc.).

but, after this trip, i see ushi in a different light. most cars would have died long ago (or been too expensive to repair). most cars would be too nice/fancy to drive through the terrain we did. plus, ushi now has the tattoos to prove it.

it’ll be hard to find another car to drive. i’d feel a bit like i was cheating on ushi. i might just have to bike for a year or two until i’m physically (i’m really out of shape after driving for 6 months) and emotionally ready….plus, the environment could use a break. hopefully by the time i’m ready, yush will have already bought a new car.

p.s.–a big thanks to my parents for gifting me the car several years ago


today i spent the whole day at the police station chasing after false leads for donating the car. really frustrating. especially when i came home to find 2 emails from friends with good alternatives. i’m going to try to explore those tomorrow.

i’m really disappointed in the brasilian legal system. that said, i also understand it completely. charity is a tricky thing… the short term it’s great, but in the long term it can be harmful to development. for instance, donating shirts to africa is great, but it also puts the local shirt makers out of business (how can they compete with free?). clearly my case is an anomaly and the legal system can’t account for crazy people who decide to drive from san francisco. i’m just frustrated because so far brazil doesn’t seem to have an ‘out’ for the sentra.

here’s something interesting…..when brazilians say the number ‘6’, they say ‘meia’ (not sure if i spelled it right)….meaning ‘half’. so for a phone number, they’ll say: five, three, three, ‘half’, two, etc…..



first nissan. now the police. still have the car. not sure what to do with ushi or where to go next.

upset. frustrated. disappointed.


i hate packing. it’s especially tough when trying to pack a carload into a bag. luckily, there’s very little that i really need. in fact, except for a small bag of stuff….the rest is just $$. should i bring back a $60 car battery booster? (it’s a huge battery that can be used to jumpstart a car) how about $150 worth of jerry cans? (they’re huge) a $30 car jack? …the list goes on….

being a jew (…and apparently a bit anti-semitic), it’s a bit hard to just give up all this money….but i’m also american (and thus lazy….and, apparently, a bit racist). so, i’ll pack as much as i can. the rest, i gave to sara and gabriel, my brother’s friends who took me out tonight in curitiba.

here’s something i’ve seen very rarely…but twice in brasil (curitiba and sao paulo): a large road (4+ lanes) with a divider. the divider splits the very large road into two smaller parallel roads…..which communicate with each other every few blocks. what’s the point of this? does it reduce accidents? make traffic flow faster?


well, the federal police seem to be handling the paperwork extremely quickly….what a relief! unfortunately, now, i’m beginning to feel a bit sad to be parting with ushi. well, maybe guilty is a better way to describe the emotion.

when i was in elementary school, our guinea pig, Porter, birthed a litter of guinea piglets. we tried to give them away to friends and family….but we still had quite a few left. eventually, we found a pet store willing to take them. as we were walking out of the pet shop we realized something: there were no furry pets there….just snakes and reptiles.

as i prepare to hand over ushi to the homicide division of the federal police force in curitiba, i can’t help but feel a similar emotion. somehow i don’t see the police driving ushi around the favelas (where apparently there are 6 homicides/day….mostly crack related).


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.”


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.


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).


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!