Saturday, December 1, 2007

Brazil: The Bumpy Road to Sao Luis

First an editorial aside. Please excuse us for not including the appropriate accents in our blog. Internet cafe computers with variable keyboards leaves us with little recourse. Plus, truthfully, we probably really don`t know where they all go.

And since we`re off topic, here`s another general Brazil comment. This is by far the most diverse country we`ve ever traveled through. The people of Brazil are such an amazing amalgam of the many cultures and peoples that have tread upon their shores. It would be impossible to say what a typical Brazilian looked like---there is a fabulous range of skin tone, height, and hair color. The only commonality seems that by and large they tend to love wearing tight pants and making out in public. Okay, back to our travels.

Fearing that if we stayed in Jeri any longer, we may never leave at all, we embarked on a hilariously ambitious overland journey to Sao Luis. Eschewing package tour options, we decided to try and do it independently. A noble, if slightly misguided, decision given that it was off-season. But at least we had no one to blame but ourselves for mishaps. And there were a few....

Our journey began in the back of a 4wd truck that raced along sand dunes and navigated two river car ferries before landing in the town of Camocin. Here we transfered to a rattletrap mini-van that trundled on for another four hours in the heat, with the door kept shut by shoving a balled up wad of paper in the door jamb. We finally arrived in Parnaiba and set to work trying to buy tickets for the local commuter ferry up the delta. Instead, we spent the afternoon wheeling and dealing for a private boat when we learned that the cheap local ferry sank a year ago. Doh! Maybe this is where package tours come in handy. That being said, we couldn`t really complain when we set off on the Lima do Rio, our imminently sea-worthy chariot. Once we got over the fact that we had to pay more, we had to admit that slowly motoring up the delta in hammocks with cold beer and fresh mango wasn`t all that bad. It`s the only delta in the Americas that faces the open sea, and it is a moving picture of mangroves, sand dunes, and lagoons. Quite beautiful.
Landing in Tutoia, we awaited another 4wd transfer to the town of Barreirinhas. This is when we made a real rookie maneuver. In our butchered Portuguese, we inquired as to when the next truck was leaving. We thought he said IN four hours, when really he said AT four o`clock. And we stupidly didn`t even think about the potential confusion. So when we showed up four hours later, after killing time sweating profusely in an un-air-conditioned internet cafe, and were told the truck left at 4pm, we had a low moment. Lower still when we checked into a dreary room in the long-distance truckers motel, where drivers sling up hammocks in the hallway and the music starts blaring in the wee hours of the morning. Lower even still when we realized that all of the restaurants are closed and the town seemed to be inhabited only by school uniformed teenagers. Not even a cold beer was to be found, a rarity in Brazil!

Up at dawn (determined not to miss a ride again!) we hopped in the back of another 4wd outfitted with wood slat bench seats. This photo was taken before the truck filled to the gills with people, new toilet bowls, rebar, potato chips, and other construction materials. Off we rumbled for 1.5 hours of sandy bumpy craziness. Switching trucks in a petrol station, we had two hours of hold-on-or-be-bounced-completely-off-your-seat transit. It felt like being driven around Death Valley with a drunken relative at the wheel doing donuts in the sand. We can`t believe this is a daily public transit route. We bounced our way through stark desert scenery, past mummified cow carcasses, and slipped between sand dunes past donkeys before screeching to a dusty stop in town. Our arms were completely exhausted.

Our main reason for visiting this area was to go to the Parque Nacional dos Lencois Maranhenses, an otherwordly stretch of massive sand dunes (said to look like bed linens, hence the name lencois meaning sheets). This is another Brazilian area vying for inclusion in the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. We actually went to a promotional campaign for this in Sao Luis, where they plied us with free food and more Amazonian fruit juice than you could shake a stick at, provided we logged onto one of their computers to vote. But that`s another story...

Running a bit behind schedule because of our mix-up in Tutoia, we raced to join a trip out to the dunes. Unfortunately, however, they only had room for one more person. Kathleen couldn`t enjoy her padded seat as we traveled 45 minutes over bumps, because she worried about Eric hanging off the back of the truck for dear life as he alternated between cracking his head on the metal bar above him and his bum on the bar below. Happily once we arrived, it was a true sugar-fine dune paradise, interspersed with fresh-water lagoons. We spent time making goofy videos of ourselves cartwheeling and rolling down the dunes, while a Brazilian couple did a sexy swimsuit pictorial. I believe this is where our cultural differences seemed greatest. Eric did, however, spend some time hanging out in hammocks with nekkid Brazilian ladies on our boat trip out to Cabure to further explore the National Park.

We eventually made our way to Sao Luis, a UNESCO world heritage site resplendent with azulejos tilework, and coincidentally, the reggae capital of Brazil. We spent two days admiring the architecture and enjoying the music before saying Tchau to Brazil.

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