Sunday, February 23, 2020

Uruguay

Poor little Uruguay; sandwiched between the magnificent beaches of Brasil and the incredibly varied landscape of Argentina, she has a very hard time holding her own.

Upon entering customs and immigration in any country, the government always makes the most of catching the trapped audience’s attention with posters of her gorgeous marque attractions.
This guy got caught smuggling in instant coffee. Not even real coffee
Instant coffee.
In Uruguay we saw sky diving, horseback riding and beaches, which are available in practically every country. Hmmm – low wow factor. She lived up to it.

From my diary: “First impressions of Uruguay – Super expensive. It looks like the pampa of Argentina but with palm trees, but they are very low growing palms - pygmy palms. Flat and unremarkable. The beaches . . . so so.

No reason to put Uruguay on your travel list. There is nothing offensive about it, and there is nothing exciting either. It's the most average of all Latin America and super expensive.

South America should be at the top of your list. I love it here. However, there's no reason to ever go to Uruguay. It's a c-rated country. It has all the expense of the first world and a fraction of the infrastructure ($13 for a liter of ATF and it’s a pain in the ass to find).
Capybaras. They world's largest rodent

Punta Del Este

I went to Punta Del Este. It's unattractive and unimaginative. It’s a giant parking lot on a promontory with a casino. If you have friends there, that would make for a different story. I heard all the hype, couldn't wait to get there, and was completely let down. There's nothing superlative in either direction about Uruguay.  It's not wonderful and it doesn’t suck. It really only excels at being average: "Uruguay, the most expensive average money can buy"

Or maybe

Uruguay – There’s a reason you don’t know anything about it.
Montevideo does have some charm

Uruguay shouldn’t be at the bottom of your list, it shouldn’t even be on your list. Let’s be honest, with 195 countries in the whole world, you’re only going to see a small fraction. Don’t waste your time with this one.

I came to the conclusion that is must have been essentially a buffer land that allowed the Portuguese and the Spanish to stop fighting each other between Brazil and Argentina. It was the land “not worth dying for” and then it became a country.

One more bashing and then I’ll say something nice: This whole country desperately needs to invest in stop signs. These intersections are so dangerous. What are you doing with all that petrol tax? $5.50 per gallon? Come on.


Punta Del Diablo

If you do find yourself in Uruguay, stop and tour this beach community with their tiny houses and great designs in delightful colors.

Parking The Rig

We left Elsie on a farm that had indoor storage run by a very nice German family. We went back to our countries and returned 2 months later to start driving again. Back into Argentina!
When Elsie is the smallest vehicle you
 can begin to understand how the German's travel







Your man on point,
Bobby (The Basher of Nations) Friedman



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Brazil Part 1

Recently, In Elsie

The last dispatch left us in Santiago Chile. It was early fall. We had some time to enjoy the city and drink good wine before Paso Libertadores (our Andes crossing) became unpassable. We traversed the Andes for the umpteenth time and once again made our way across Argentina stopping to see Rulo & Sere in Alicia, and Diego & Ana in Belen De Escobar.
Diego seasoning the ribs.
Another asado in Alicia with Rulo & Sere and friends
"A" is Iguazu. This was our 2 month drive up from Buenos Aires thru southern Brazil


This webpage will return to Argentina in the near future, but this dispatch is about Brazil. We drove for 5 days through the long arm of northern Argentina which borders Uruguay, Paraguay, and of course Brazil. We made 2 noteworthy stops before entering our next country of discovery in South America.

The Missions of San Ignacio - Argentina

The first was built in 1610. The Jesuits abandoned it in 1767 and in 1817 the Portuguese forces blew them apart. They were forgotten for 80 years until someone stumbled across them in 1897. Restoration began in 1940. The width of the walls averages 2 meters!

Iguazu Falls

It’s only the largest waterfall in the world. It straddles the Argentinian and Brazilian borders so you can view it from both sides. We only saw it from the Argentinian side, so our first views of Brasil were rather breathtaking. There are 2 distinct vistas and they are equally spectacular:

Brazil! Actually… Brasil!

It was a five day wait at the border for my Brasilian visa, and then the real driving began. This is a very large country. Yes the USA is larger but only because of Alaska. If you pull that out of the formula and compare only the lower 48 Brasil wins by 200,000 square miles. It borders every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile. For over a century they’ve been taking immigrants from everywhere so she has 210,000,000 different faces.
That one was a little too close for comfort

That first day of crossing a border is really special. It’s an immediate immersion into a new culture. The street signs, the method of road construction, the architecture and city planning - it’s always a little different. Do they use roundabouts or intersections?  A gas station in the middle of the highway? – that’s novel! It’s always interesting to see how a different culture solves infrastructure.

Weighing Your food. 

I love their approach to feeding the masses! Buffet style, serve yourself, and at the cash register you put the plate on a scale. You pay per kilo. So smart, lots of variety, and the food is really delicious. In Central America you count how many good meals you get. In Brazil you count how many bad meals you get. It’s about the same low number.

A New Language

“R’s” are “H’s”. “T’s are “CH” (First T only. Second T is a T). “D’s are “G’s” but the best part is that the “J” …. is a “J” (Suck on that one Español)! My proper name; “Robert” is pronounced “Hoberch”
We met a dog. Great dog. That dog’s name was Cheetah. Know how to spell it? Titan. Yep. Pronounced “Cheetah” spelled “Titan” That’s Portuguese baby!

Maybe Portuguese sounds like a happy Russian, if there was such a thing, trying to speak Spanish. Or if a French goat could speak. It’s got that tonal nasal quality to some of its words so I’m reminded of Vietnamese. But don’t be confused; unlike Vietnamese, it’s very pleasing to the ear.

They aren’t comfortable not affixing a vowel to the end of a word. Their language does it, so when they speak English they auto correct. “Lap top” becomes “Lapi-topi”, Milk shake” becomes “Milky Shakey”. Netflix is “Netchiflicki”. How cute is that? I started mispronouncing English words just to encourage their specific brand of adorable. Kitchenette became Kitchy Netchy. We’d watch Netchiflicki in the Kitchy Netchy.

Ponta Grossa

We drove for days to track down a family of overlanders that we had met back in Peru. We met Martin (Marcheen) at The Atacadista: Brazil beats Argentina hands down for food options in the super market except for cereal and wine.

And strangely enough – you’ll never find celery. They either never developed a taste for it or they can’t grow it. They know about peanut butter. Sad to realize they’ve never slathered the trough of a celery stick with the viscose wonderment of peanut butter. Oh well, they invented Samba. I can forgive them.
The pond beneath the home of Martin, Cintia, Gabriel & Tiago.
We cooked and shot guns and drank and had a Brasilero redneck good time


Curitiba

Shaming Kleber

Sometimes it’s not the place but the people. On 3 different occasions we parked at this overflowing trailer park and though I couldn’t communicate with anyone I never felt more welcome. Meat meat meat, beer beer beer, big happy smiles - That’s all you need.


Marcos the massive meat eating Brasilero. "Bom Dia. Cerveja?"

I sold my sailboat Barraveigh to Luiz Belo in 2010 in Bali and we became friends. We spent some great times getting reacquainted in his landlocked home town of Curitiba.

They love salt so much that their snacks are called “salgados”. That translates as “Salties”. And since salt is the most popular seasoning they even bump it up a level and make artisanal salgados. Guess what goes on meat? Yep, salt and salt alone. And then more salt. Our trailer park was filled with smiling wonderful Brasileros who generously tried to explode my organs with salt laden BBQs (churrascos) nightly. Guard your meat, they will see a spot that doesn’t sparkle white with sodium crystals and they’ll smash a handful of salt right on top of your filet mignon when you reach for your caipirinha. And they love to dip their meat in farinha; a flour made from cassava. Weird at first but it grew on me. And you don’t get your own plate. Instead the cutting board is passed around and you eat with your fingers. That’s hard for a germ freak like me but I came to adapt, and now I love not having to wash all those dishes when the party is over.
Trailer park girls from the 50's

The Caves of Parque PETAR

Yes the Amazon of Brasil is being denuded but so is the Atlantic Forest. This park is one exception. The big draw is the caves - 350 of them. Totally Protected and worth the drive. We even made friends - Hard not to in Brasil.
We made friends with a local and we were invited to a churrasco.
You can see the farinha on the cutting board

Itatinga


Our time in Brasil would have been a shadow of itself without Erick De Castro Rosa as our nexus. We met on a hike to a volcano in El Salvador years before: “You live in your vehicle? I live in my vehicle!” We became friends and stayed in touch. I have learned over the years that Erick is a legend. He lived in the no-man’s land between Nicaragua and Costa Rica for 12 days on the kindness of others when the bureaucrats wouldn’t let him enter with his steering wheel on the right hand side. He spent 45 days in isolation paddling through the Amazon River basin on an unsupported self-sustained excursion. He speaks 3 languages. He’s taller and younger than me and can dance. I wait for the bouncer to usher me away from the cool kids table, but Erick keeps talking to me. When we were in Curitiba he sent over his friends Kleber and Fran. When we got to Florianopolis he introduced us to Mauricio and Rita. He plugged us into his community of friends multiple times. That’s the beauty of this culture. “They are quality, I vouch for them” And just like that, Brasileros will go out of their way to take you in.

We parked in front of his parents’ house in their small town for a few nights and really enjoyed the surroundings.

Sao Paulo


Hock and Holl!

Brazilians are a proud people and they should be; their food, beaches, drinks, dancing, Carnival and …. transsexuals. Who does it better – Brasil or Thailand? Brasil wins! But why so many? I’m not judging, just curious. Why would those 2 countries have such a disproportionate number? Message me please. (Interestingly – I’m writing this in Thailand).
Erick; our most gracious host

We wanted to see the big city. Erick was a little concerned for our safety so he came along as a guide, should we hit road construction and a detour. Driving into a favela could be a death sentence. We navigated the route to his parent’s apartment building and managed to park Elsie in a guarded lot. Sometimes lucky. We had a fun cosmopolitan experience for 3 nights and then drove to the coast where we said goodbye to Erick.

Bombinhas

Brasil and her beaches. Oh boy. I need to warn you.... Brazil invented the ass. They do ass so well that you could cuddle up to one for a year, fall in love, share your greatest secrets, and never even get around to talking to its owner. The day after Brazil invented the ass, Colombia and Cuba said, “uh huh, we can do that.” And they did. It’s a toss-up for world’s greatest ass. There’s a million dollar tour group idea for you: “The Nalgas Tour of Latin America”. Can I get a royalty?

I can’t speak for all of Brasil but the corner I saw was the perfect mix between first world and third world. Nature is protected in the form of near pristine parks, but you can still drink on the beach. It’s cheap and loose but… And this is huge.... They don't litter. I know that’s a broad stroke statement, and of course you will find exceptions, but I found that to be the rule. The infrastructure is (almost) all in place but at reduced prices to the first world, and the people are Wunderbar!

Bombinhas is an angry bull neck of a peninsula that thrusts her head into the turmoil of the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find placid beaches on one side and pounding surf on the other.

Florianopolis
There is an island south of Bombinhas in the same state of Santa Catarina called Florianopolis. The locals call it Floripa. I call it heaven on earth. With 42 beaches, a couple lakes in the middle and many fantastic restaurants you might find something to like as well. They have mansions in the north and cattle farms in the south. There’s a little something for everyone here.

We made real friends and enjoyed cooking and touring the island together. Brazilians are just as inclusive and friendly as Argentinians. They do seem to be slightly apologetic for using cachaça in a caipirinha. As if they recognize that the whole world would prefer vodka (caipiroska). Not me. I prefer cachaça. I love it in a caipirinha and I’ve even been known to drink the good stuff neat.
Cachaça!
Oysters on the west side, shrimp on the east, steak in the south and you can eat the rich in the north

Mauricio - Lent to us by Erick, but now ours as well.
Our dear friends Gustavo and Barbara


Rio Grande Do Sul

Sorry, I’m going to hurt some feelings with this one but this enormous state is only worth visiting for friends. There are a few attractions but it can’t compete with Santa Catarina and few would argue with that. The inhabitants call themselves “gauchos” and they all go to Floripa and Bombinhas to vacation.

Brasil!

We had such a great tour on this lap around this big beautiful country that we swore we’d return. And we did. But first we drove thousands more miles through Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. Stay tuned.

Your man on point,
Blacktop Bobby