25 – 27 Jan 5
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Tuesday morning I woke up feeling great. I was leaving La Paz, and with it my sickness. I get up somewhat early for a guy without a job, and head down to have my last bit of Coca Tea and write some more observations in my blog.
I order my Tea, and as I’m waiting, who do I see, but Mette and her brother Jesus. You may remember Mette from such post as “Greg and Lou get drunk on Christmas Day” and “Apparently the Inca trail is hard if you smoke.” It was Mette from Cusco. I give her a hug, not knowing she was as red as a lobster from the appropriately named Island of the Sun. We get a table together, and spend some time catching up on her travels and mine. It was very nice – I hadn’t talked to anyone at length (or felt like it) in a long time, and she and her brother are both very nice and easy to talk to. For her massive sunburn (she’s Danish, blonde, and wasn’t wearing suncreen on a lake at 13000+ ft), I recommend a combination of aspirin, Ibuprofen and a ton of Coca tea. But then again, I recommend coca tea for everything.
Eventually we go our own way. I head to the internet cafe to send some mail, and say goodbye to the friendly Danish (?) owner of the cafe. Back to the hotel, and I get a taxi to take me to the airport. This guy is unlike any taxi driver I’ve had before. First, he’s blaring jesus music – the tone was unmistakable (I did grow up in the South), and I could make out the occasional Hallelujah and Jesus!! That made me nervous, because I’ve found, at least in the States, that the more people hide behind religion, the more willing they are to screw you. If you see a cross on a business card, run. So I’m wary of him, but nothing happened, and I was glad. The second, and best part of the trip, was he finally had a taxi that could accelerate up a hill. Most of the taxis in South America are pretty beaten and battered. This guy was in a newish Toyota Corolla, and he was going pretty fast. That made the trip a lot more fun.
I get to the airport, and check in without issue. The flight starts in La Paz, stops in Santa Cruz (45 minutes), then continues on to Sao Paulo (3 hours), and lastly to Rio. Eventually the guy next to me starts talking to me. He is of european ancestry (most of Bolivia is indigenous) and owns a Plastics factory (making bottle caps, etc.) He was very nice, but probably because I was a white guy, and flying in S.A. is still a class thing. He was as racist any Republican in the US (if any republicans are reading – I’m kidding – you’re not really racist – Blacky is different and must not be trusted.) Usually I try to argue the other point, but with his limited English, and my desire to not talk to him, I let it drop, and just listened. I hadn’t seen a racist Bolivian yet – but I knew they must exist. Even when I was asking him about getting my fake money blessed, he was putting down the indigenous for believing in such things, and I guess, to some extent, me. We didn’t talk too long.
When the plane finally lands, the first thing I notice is that I’m back in Civilization again. The airport at La Paz was about half the size of the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. I think there are about eight gates, and this is true of most of the airports in S.A. – Lima was bigger, but not SeaTac big. In contrast, Sao Paulo was huge, which makes sense – Sao Paulo is a city of 18 Million people. That’s not a typo – 18 Million – it’s one of the largest cities in the world. Landing, there were planes everywhere, and I think we were on gate 45. To get out of the gate, and to get to customs and immigration, I walked for about 15 minutes at a pretty brisk pace. It was huge, and it was civilized. I saw ads for the Gap & McDonalds & New Cars! – Oh my!! Things were clean, new and orderly.
Eventually I got my bag, which was rolling by as I walked up. I found immigration, and was asked for my Yellow Fever vaccination for the fourth time (one for the Visa, once by the Travel Agent when getting my ticket, once by the counter person as I boarded the flight, and once by a guy standing near immigration in a white jacket.) It’s something they are very concerned about in Brazil. Mr White jacket gave me some paperwork I needed to fill out, and I went through counter number one, then was directed to the special US only counter, where I was fingerprinted (just like we do to the rest of the world.) When the US starts mandantory cavity searches, I think my travels are over. My bags weren’t searched as I left the secured area at last – they haven’t been anywhere yet.
As I left, I was expecting Simone to pick me up, and I was very excited at the prospect seeing her. As I officially enter, she comes running up to me wearing impossibly high platform shoes, looking way too beautiful to be with a guy like me. She has black hair, down the the middle of her back, and wearing nice pants and sexy shirt. The last time I’d seen her she was wearing the same clothes she wore on the Inca Trail and I though she was pretty then, but today she was simply breathtaking. Me – I had the same clothes as I had on the Inca trail. Clean, but still the same clothes, and I’d been on a plane for five hours.
We walk outside, and it’s more of the same. I am back in civilization. New cars, nice highways – heck, even having highways – most places don’t have them. The night is warm and humid, and I’m very glad to be here. Sao Paulo is supposed to have the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, which to me means Sushi. We go to a very nice Sushi near her house and get reacquainted. Our relationship (if you can call it that yet) has been a very unusual one – we met on a four day hike, spent a couple days together after that, and haven’t had too much communication since. I don’t speak Portuguese, but her English is pretty good, in person. Over the phone and via e-mail, it’s pretty difficult. We end up being up until 4 a.m., speaking English.
The next day, I have two goals in mind. Goal number one is I want some different clothes, and number two was to get money. Simone knows some places where I _might_ be able to get normal sized clothes. It’s a pretty good sized mall somewhat near her house, and we head there early. It’s just like being in the US, except there tends to be a lot of security everywhere. It’s difficult finding clothes my size, but at last it’s not impossible. I get a couple of pairs of pants, including a pair of very cool, very low cut jeans (when in Rome), a couple of pairs of shoes and a couple of short sleeve shirts. The shoes, which were difficult to find in my size, are very cool. I expected a large selection, since Brazil is the third largest maker of shoes in the world, behind China and Italy, but I didn’t expect finding my size to be difficult. One pair were more dress shoes, but they were blue (not suede), and very cool. The other were white distressed leather, and pretty cool too. I’m looking decent for a change, and I’m glad to be wearing normal clothes. Things were sort of cheap, but not Bolivia cheap. I’d call it about half the price of the US.
When we go back home, and as I’m changing into my new clothes, I realized something very important. Over the years, there has been a lot of sexy foreigners in my life. It started with the sexy exchange student in High School, then it was the mysterious hungarian girls in college. Everybody has had a few – work, girlfriends of a friend (note – to me, these sexy foreign types are always female.) It dawned on me. I’m now the sexy foreigner. Yup – tall, goofy me. Ha!
This realization has put a lot of pressure on me, as I must live up to the role. I don’t quite know how yet. Do I develop something of a Texas accent. Probably not – I hate Texas, and specifically a Texan (GWB, i.e. – he who must not be named.) Maybe something like a Maine Accent – it seems easy to do. For right now, I’m just going with tall white guy who speaks no Portuguese, yet exudes an incredible amount of sex appeal.
Thursday was a pretty low key day – we ended up sleeping pretty late, since she didn’t have any Yoga classes to teach in the early morning, and we hadn’t gotten much sleep yet. Her sister was in a play – “The Importance of Being Earnest.” by Oscar Wilde. We got free tickets, which was nice – front row tickets to an entire play in Portuguese. It’s a hilarious satire on dating in the 1900’s – I think. It was kind of funny – but I couldn’t understand a word. Then, maybe to make it up to me, we went to one of her favorite restaurants – a place called America. When we were parking, someone was sitting nearby, wearing a orange vest. Apparently he wanted to know if we wanted him to “Watch” our car. I’ve come to find out that this is slang for “want to make sure nothing happens to that nice car of yours?” I don’t remember if she said yes or no, but he was gone when we came out, and the car was fine. She had apple pie (only an approximation of _real_ american pie) and I forgot what I had. But it was very american.
On the drive home, she was tired and asked me to drive. Near her house, at a red light, I stopped. Apparently you don’t stop at red lights in Sao Paulo at night, because people come up to your car and take stuff. One time this stuff included her purse, another time, her brother. We argued a bit “what do you mean don’t stop? the light is red?.” In retrospect, I felt like a square. Now, I run lights whenever I feel like it, with one hand on the wheel, the other a fist outside pumping the air, Springsteen blaring, screaming at the top of my lungs “I’m an American, baby.”