March 4, 2007

Hating Brazil Again
Olinda, Brazil

I'm typing this out because it is the only thing keeping me from swearing uncontrollably.

Flipping through my guidebook last night I remembered why I was in Olinda in the first place—there was a nudist beach within day-trip striking distance from the city. Only a tiny blurb is found in guide for Brazil, stating:

Ilha do Paiva, nicknamed the island of lovers, is popular for its nude beaches. Take a boat from Barra de Jangada (15 minutes)—it's worth a visit. You'll see boats along the beach.

I went to bed at an early hour and set an alarm for a something just shy of 7:00—expecting to sample whatever constituted the breakfast at this hostel and spend a full day at the beach (figuring I'd spend a good two hours getting out to the island).

I awoke, and after passing on most of the breakfast offerings wrote my destination as clearly and logically as possible of a piece of blank paper: "Barra de Jangada," with an arrowing pointing towards the name "Ilha do Paiva."

I showed it to the male staffer on duty and asked him how to get there—"Rio Doce/Piedade," he says (as I instruct him to write it down). I'm forced to get people to write things down as often as possible now, as I can barely decipher the correlation between spoken and written Portuguese—don't even get me started on this language.

It looked like the beach was a fair bit out of town on the guidebook map, and I was surprised that a single bus (from just outside the hostel) could take me there in 40 minutes without having to go to some type of terminal first. By the end of the day I would wish I'd listened to/explored that gut reaction more.

During the half hour I'd been awake the weather had changed from sunny to stormy/overcast with intermittent sprinkles—not exactly beach weather. I'm getting better at understanding the way the climate works up here in NE Brazil though, and had confidence the sky would be blue by the time 10:00 rolled around.

I'd been waiting at the bus stop for some time when I went back into the hostel and asked what the deal was with the buses—lots for Rio Doce, but none for Piedade. The man said it was Sunday and service was reduced, and to give it time.

I finally jumped on a bus with the proper markings and handed the paper to the driver, who passes me off to the cashier at the turnstile. No, the man says, wagging his finger in my face (a typical Latin/Brazilian thing that is rather insulting to me, but common and anything but in this country). Not this bus. The one you want will have a sign on the front for this place, the man says as we continue to drive further down the street.

I'm dropped off at another bus stop and wait. A solid 30 minutes later another bus drives past. I jump on and repeat the confirmation process—another finger wagged in the face, repeating that I need to look for a sign on the front of the bus.

A local man queuing behind me also needs to the same location, and gets dropped off an another stop along with me, some place down the road from our last pick-up. He's not dressed for the beach.

The man tires to make small-talk with me while we're waiting, but I wasn't really in the mood to try and translate his gibberish at this point. Another half hour passes by, and finally, after at least a good hour and a half of waiting for this bus, the correct one comes along.

Brazil bus turnstile

An interesting side note about Brazilian inner-city buses is the culture of what qualifies a child (free admission) to pay for ticket or not. It basically comes down to the rotational count of the turnstile. If a child can slide under the rotating barrier, be carried above it, or squeeze in with an adult, the fare is free.

I'm on the bus for 30 minutes when the Brazilian fellow gets off. I whistle to him and ask if this is the correct spot, but he replies with a further down the road gesture. I reinforce my destination with the cashier and ask the surly man to tell me when to get off.

Another 15 minutes later I'm told to disembark, and after doing so instantly know I'm in trouble. I'm in the middle of a ghetto. The place looked like it was carpet-bombed 15 years ago and had been rotting away ever since. I could see the coast was a block away, so I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers for good fortune.

Shark warning

The leftover ruins of the neighborhood were what constituted the sand of this particular beach. A massive sign (with the first printed English I've seen in Brazil) warned that you stood a greater than average chance of being murdered by a shark in these waters. I've never seen such a sign before, and the image of the shark printed on the display scared the crap out of me. And worst of all—there were no boats or island in sight.

Off came my shirt (typical when I'm frustrated in warm climates), but it was well after 10:00 and the sky was already mostly clear. I started asking locals where to go—a store owner pointed me in the direction of the road my bus disappeared down.

It was busy on this stretch of paved/soggy-dirt road. Large shuttle buses zoomed past every few moments, the barkers shouting out their destination. After getting nothing of substance from street folk I flagged one down and showed him the paper.

The driver drove on as he and the barker rambled onto each other (and me) in speedy Portuguese. Finally the barker and he decide how I could get to my destination and dropped me off a the end of their route, having written down the three vehicle exchanges it would take to get me there:

  1. Ponte dos Caruacuos
  2. Cabo
  3. Gaibú

They instructed me wait at the spot to catch the 1st leg of my journey, and then zoomed off. I had absolutely no idea what part of town I was in, other than that I was indeed in Barra de Jangada.

I had gotten to the correct place, but everything was wrong. Was the guidebook incorrect? Was there another city with the same name as this district of Recife that I was directed to? I had no idea.

I waited for a bit, but not seeing any transport with my 1st destination listed I started walking back to where the shuttle had picked me up from (and where my bus had dropped me off at earlier). Along the way I revised my piece of paper to only say "Ilha do Paiva," hoping to eliminate any confusion.

Finally back at the familiar intersection and in an unhappy mood, I select the nicest of the pay-by-the-hour hotels and talk to a girl in her late-teens at the gate. She writes down a small novel on my piece of paper after we have a very one-sided conversation.

I now had a decision to make. It was at least 11:00 in the morning, I would never be able to make it to the island in time to lay out before I had to begin a return home (the last decent light for sunbathing ends about 3:00 here). The bus to take me back to the hostel was right here, but I knew this was going to be my last day in Olinda—I'm definitely not in the mood for the city—and to quit now would be to concede complete and total defeat.

I convinced myself that it would be useful (read: best for my ego) to push on and turn the rest of the endeavour into a scouting mission to find new options for accommodations.

I stopped a conventional bus and showed the diver the novel, who told me hail a shuttle bus. The next shuttle bus to come along confidentially had destination #1 (from the list above) displayed on the windshield. The driver looked at the paper and told me to get on.

We drove along dirt roads and through some really lackluster living environments before reaching my stop. I had absolutely zero idea where I was in Brazil at this point, and had to trust in the people around me and the information written on a piece of paper by a love hotel employee.

The next vehicle was a minibus, bound for Cabo (destination #2). It drove me out of the ghetto and onto the highway—the exact same highway that I rode into town on yesterday (I recognized the road and landmarks).

We were way out there, driving through cane fields again, when we reached the Cabo bus terminal—a parking lot next to the highway.

I was running up to the waiting buses, showing them both pieces of paper (the novel and the one with my destination), getting pointed to a man with a clipboard—the guy in charge.

I showed the seated man (and the other bus employees around him) the info, and he/they told me to take a bus for Itapocma (not Gaibú, #3). I queried again, just to be sure it wasn't Gaibú—nope.

The inner-city bus was set to depart in 15 minutes and I show both the driver and the cashier the piece of paper with "Ilha do Paiva" written on it in bold letters to be sure (yet again). Thumbs-up.

The bus is packed full of surfers (with their short-boards), and I'm not taking that to be a particularly good sign. Boats waiting to take people to an island aren't going to be doing that in good breaks.

The paved road turned to dirt and after more seas of cane field and jungle were passed we reached a rural intersection and turned left towards… "PRAIA DO PAIVA."

I look at the cashier and felt like slapping him, and every other city bus employee in the country of Brazil—just line them up. I point at my piece of paper reading "ILHA DO PAIVA" and then at the sign—"Beach" and "Island" are not the same! …He smiled, not quite understanding.

What could I do but get off and see what I had found. The next bus would be back in two hours.

It was 1:00, and had taken me nearly six hours to get to the wrong beach. I was pissed.

Sleeping surfers

The serious chop out there in the water (and shark warnings on the beach) didn't seem to concern the surfers much. No island in sight, no boats, only Brazilians on holiday or getting away for the weekend.

I had too much stressful energy and decided to run for a few kilometers along the beach to try and work out some of my frustration (although I felt like going to a firing range for some pistol practice instead).

An hour and a half after arriving I was back on the road waiting for the bus to take me back to the Cabo terminal.

Oh, but that's not the end… I still had to get back Olinda!

A mass of people were queuing for the "Centro do Cabo" bus in the parking lot—which was really the Recife bus without a changed sign. I asked the grumpy female cashier, Recife?—a nod. I asked again, in "Portuguese," The Recife central bus terminal? She looks at me (confused) and points to the sign with the bus fare displayed. I give up, I don't care anymore, I say to her in English, paying the woman.

The sun was well along on its daily journey to the horizon as we rolled into a high-rise section of Recife. It wasn't downtown (because that was visible on the horizon—massive and tall), just another district of town (although looking pretty in the orange, setting sun).

The majority of passengers got off at a particular intersection of about 10 different converging avenues—buses running through most of them. I figured this was a pretty good spot to ask if I should get off at (especially now that the bus had turned and was facing in a direction that would take it back to Cabo).

I had done some prep work for the return into town, having written out the different buses and approaches from the major terminals/metro stations of Recife. I asked the woman where the "Rio Doce/Princesa Isabel" bus was (if there at all), and she pointed to a corner of the intersection a half-block away that we had just passed.

I exit, walk to the spot, and wait with others. Buses go past, but none that I need. I query the driver of a passing bus—No, that bus doesn't pass here. It passes over there (pointing). I sigh.

I walk over to the spot where the man pointed and ask yet another passing bus—No, that bus doesn't pass at this intersection at all! Jump in and I'll drop you to a bus stop that will. OK…

I had no heart left. Ultimately this man was what I'll forever remember as the smartest bus driver in Brazil, as he did indeed deliver me to a stop where I eventually worked out my ride home.

Over 10 hours spent running around today, 1.5 of which were on the wrong beach, having never reached my destination. Something along the lines of BR$20+ spent on transport today alone.

Bus–Bus–Bus–Walk–Shuttle–Walk–Shuttle–Kombi–Bus–Beach–Bus–Bus–Bus–Bus.

Mission Failed.

Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo Brazil

I've traveled in about 30 countries, and Brazil is the absolute worst I've experienced for transport to date. Navigating from Foz do Iguaçu to Rio in a car was a bloody mess, and the buses have consistently been a stressful disaster. The population of Brazil does try, but are dumb as rocks when it comes to bus navigation. Drivers only know their own routes, and my personal road to Hell is paved with their good intentions. So depressing.

A friend of mine recently overheard a description of how I tend to define my opinion of countries—factoring in heavily the highs and lows—the peaks and valleys. It would seem that for me, Brazil has had more valley than mountain.

There are many environmental factors that I use to gage my happiness, but there are four that impact me on a daily basis above all else (in order of priority):

  1. Accommodations
  2. Transport
  3. Internet
  4. Food

The varying amounts of cost and quality within these four items result in my perception of value, and that in turn impacts my happiness (as I am a value-for-my-dollar driven person). This is what we would call utility, in economic terms.

Right now I would rate Brazil low in every category—the only saving grace with the food being that they actually have spicy hot sauce.

I'm leaving Olinda tomorrow, I can't be in this city another day. I don't think I can be in any large Brazilian city another day.

I'm stepping up my timetable on the NE, researching flights that will take me to Belém somewhere between the 15th and the 25th of this month.

I'm burnt out on many aspects of Brazil, and ready for a new country, and a new continent. I will leave Latin America in less than 30 days.

Comments:

Brazil

Craig | travelvice.com

March 9th, 2007

I was taking a quick glance at my buddy Andy's travelogue, when I noticed he was talking about budgets. Interestingly he listed almost the exact same four elements that I did above…

Africa Travel Budget

info

July 12th, 2009

This post made me me laugh so much !! As a foreigner here I had the same experiences several times, but at least people is willing to help which is really possitive.

Next time around don´t forget to visit Porto de Galinhas. Just one bus to destination !! thanks

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