January 27, 2007

Brazil Expense Depression
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

The prices in this country are out of control. I'm really in an unhappy place (mentally and financially) when every time I reach into my pocket to pay for something I get a frown (or look of disgust) on my face.

The cost of living and transport is making me depressed—I'm close to scrapping plans to travel north, jumping across the border to Argentina, and flying out of Latin America for SE Asia.

My desire to see the coast of NE Brazil, the Amazon River, and Carnival in Salvador are the only reasons I'm still here. I have absolutely no wish to visit anything south of Salvador, except to see what the legendary beaches of Rio de Janeiro look like.

The bus ride to Rio is going to be 24 hours, and will cost at least US$80. The bus ride from Rio to Salvador is about 27 hours, with a price tag of at least US$95. Flights are currently somewhere in the US$250 range from Iguaçu to both Rio and Salvador.

I could have picked up an air pass for a Brazilian airline that lets you hop around major cities within a time limit, but my intended focus is going to be on the small coastal cities to the north. Once I'm up there I'm sure I'll be happier (sun and sand tend to do that to me), but it's the expense of doing so that's getting to me.

Factoring in the cost of Carnival, the amount of money spent over the next month is enough to let me live on a beach in Thailand for at least five.

And thus, I have reached a crossroads…

I'm considering cutting my time in Salvador for Carnival substantially to save money. I'm sure after four nights of chaos I'll have gotten the gist of things.

I accompanied Tatiana to the airport today, crossing into Argentina to do so. Brazil has a policy in these parts to skip border formalities if you're going to return the same day. Argentina plopped another pair of stamps in my passport.

The border crossing was radically different between Brazil and Argentina versus between Brazil and Paraguay. Yesterday Tatiana and I crossed across the frontier and spent a bit of time in the Paraguayan border town of Ciudad del Este.

Comparing the two (river) crossings (some distance from each other) would be like showing you an image of a pile of garbage, and a tranquil Japanese sand/rock garden. The closest I've seen to the border with Brazil and Paraguay is the United States and Mexico at Tijuana.

Ciudad del Este looks like a hole. Technically I—traveling on a U.S. passport—need a visa and a fist full of cash to enter into the country—but there are no guards, there are no gates, only chaos. A queue of cars and buses stretch further than the eye can see waiting to enter into Brazil.

Shady motorcycle taxis lined the main avenue on both sides of border, trying their best to get people on the back of their bikes. The price was only US$1, but you couldn't pay me to get on one of these things in the middle of that environment. Tatiana was game, but the possibility that these guys could divide us (and do God knows what, where they wanted) was a situation I wasn't about to give the opportunity to occur. I needed to stay in control in this type of place.

Tatiana and I ended up taking a city bus into Paraguay, and once we got off every moment that I wasn't stabbed for the contents of my pockets was a relief. Neither of us were dress appropriately for the scene, and stood out even more than normal.

Again, dismissing the motorbike taxis we walked back into Brazil—sweating like crazy. We walked straight through the poorly organized pedestrian processing area, completely unchallenged.

Jumping into Paraguay and back into Argentina I couldn't help but smile—I was never happier to hear Spanish in my life. Ahhh, communication.

An Unexpected Twist

As I'm writing this, an opportunity has presented itself. I've been chatting with a trio of eccentric, 30-something Swedish fellows here at the pool (so nice to have), and have discovered they've got a rental car—as well as extremely poor planning and navigation skills, taking them 500km off course on the way here. They say they're leaving for Rio on the morning of the 29th, and seem open to squeezing my pack and I into the car.

So instead of leaving tomorrow, as planned, I'll hang out here for another day and see if my alternate (and hopefully entertaining) transport works out. These guys could turn out to be the deciding factor that keeps me in Brazil.


Cristiane Mattos

January 30th, 2007

Hey Craig,

It is very nice that you are sharing your holiday with other people.
Money is just to spend! Brazil is a very expensive country if you compare with the others Latin America countries, that is true! Even for us to live here is sometimes crazy.. But try to be concentrated in the goods things the country can give you, new friendship for example!
Soon you will be in Salvador and sure you will have a huge experience. Carnival in Salvador is the biggest Street party in the world and million of people will be here just to enjoy and for all forget that they will have a lot of bills to pay after the dream party.. People like me and you! Have a nice time!Dont worry, be happy!
Cristiane Mattos


January 30th, 2007

IMO, the simplest way to cut costs is to reduce all this frantic moving around. What you're doing now is spending an awful lot of time inside third-world buses and bus stations, and that doesn't sound very pleasant, aside from the money issue. Most travelers make the same mistake. Every city is interesting if it's sufficiently different from the world you came from. Try spending a week in a town with absolutely nothing going on. The first few days, you'll be bored. Then you'll discover that there are things going on. You just have to look more carefully. It's like the difference between visiting those waterfalls versus visiting a little parks in the middle of a busy city. You might think nothing is happening in that park. But look more carefully. More than likely, you'll see some ants. Possibly just looking for food, possibly carrying food back to the nest, possibly fighting a mighty battle against some injured insect, possibly building a new nest. And that's just the ants!

Personally, I'm no great fan of these multi-year travels. A better approach, IMO, is to travel 9 months at a time, followed by 3 months in the US recuperating and preparing for the next trip. Most countries allow 3 month tourist visas. So for example, you could fly to Chile, spend 3 months there, then take the bus to Argentina and spend another 3 months there, then finish up in Uruguay and spend another 3 months there, and finally return to the US and learn some Portuguese before spending the next year in Brazil, Urugary, Paraguay, or whatever. If you travel this way, you only make 2 long flights a year, plus a much smaller number of bus trips than what you are currently making, versus constantly hassling with transportation issues. Something to think about.

If you are worried about money now, you'll be frantic when you get to Europe, BTW. But Europe needn't be expensive. The secret is to carry camping gear. My camping gear (tarp, bug-bivy, sleep quilt, ground pad) weighs about 5 pounds total. Combined with my other gear, my total pack weight is about 13 pounds, exclusive of water, food and books, and that is quite manageable. Instead of sleeping in hostels at 10 euro/night or hotels at 20-30 euro/night, I can sleep for free by wild camping discretely. But making all this work takes some experience. Visit my web site for more details on the equipment required.


Craig | travelvice.com

February 3rd, 2007

Looking forward to meeting up with you sometime and learning a few of your tricks!

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