April 29, 2005

Siega's Casa de Bocce

In about 20 minutes I am heading for the Florianopolis airport, saying goodbye to Garopaba for the last time during this Brasilian adventure. I still need to catch up on past happenings, but I'll continue to backfill posts as I have time.

My last days here have been quite pleasant. Some nice days surfing alone in extremely clean and calm waters until the sun set and the ocean and sky melted together. It was practically hallucinatory at times. Also some nice times hanging out with Alex, a neighbor who I discovered much too late during my stay here, as he lived in Miami so speaks great english, and is also the system admin for the local ISP! We traded many gigs of MP3s in the service of cultural exchange.

But I'd like to dedicate my final post from Garopaba to Senhor Siega's bocce court.

My landlord here in Garopaba, Senhor Siega, has his own personal indoor bocce court behind the house. Bocce (or "bocha" in Brasilian) is a sport which originated in Italy. Siega seems fond of all things Italian, but especially Marconi and Bocce. Every day as I sat here typing away on my laptop I could hear the frequent eruption of cheers from the long narrow blue building just outside my door, and the occasional crashing racket of the wooden balls colliding at high speed.

Siega Bocha Pitch Bocce Scoreboard

Siega and his friends gather every afternoon for a few hours of rousing bocce. The skill level possessed by this group of sportsmen is breathtaking. The touch they exhibit with delicate precision blows me away. A couple of times I tried playing with them, but it was just too embarrassing.

Siega Bocha Pitch Measuring Distance

Siega Bocha Pitch Siega Bocha Pitch

Saude! Viva de Bocha

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April 11, 2005

off again

Mie has been here for four days, and it's been great having her here with me in Garopaba! In an hour or so we are heading up to Rio de Janeiro for a week long visit with my cousin Daniel who lives there. On the 18th Mie flys back to San Francisco and I will return to Garopaba for another couple of weeks of surfing and hacking before heading home to San Francisco myself.

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I still have two or three posts left from my Buenos Aires trip, but those will have to wait another week now. In the meantime I have added new posts and updated old ones with new photos and text from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande, Chui, Escape From Chui and Montevideo.

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April 05, 2005

sweet home, garopaba

Last nght I arrived back in Garopaba! It's nice to be back "home" after all the traveling, the best part is that Mie will be here soon. She lands in Sao Paulo on Wednesday and hopefully can get a flight down to Florianopolis the same day.

I've got a gazillion photos to upload and stories to tell about Rio Grande, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. And also my eventual exit from Chui.  I'll start doing that today and adding posts here pre-dated before this one to match up better with the actual dates of the activites.

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April 03, 2005

Buenos Aires: day 3

The next morning I decided to go back to Plaza Dorrego again for brunch. When I got there the square was overtaken by a market selling mostly antique knick knacks. On the sidewalks young bohemians had spread blankets covered with hand made jewelry. In the middle of the square two gauchos were busking with performances of music and dance routines. I especially liked the routine which uses two small balls on chains twirled in the same fashion as fire dancers. However the balls were made to actually strike the pavement as they were spun adding a percussive effect which combined with the dancers high heeled tapping boots. A little google research leads me to believe this might be called "malambo". You can see a video I shot of it here: gaucho spinning balls dance (AVI 5 megs). Also they did another cool dance using their ponchos like a flag show: gaucho poncho dance (AVI 8 megs).

Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

I had arranged to meet Res One at the site of one of his murals which turned out to be only two blocks from my hostel, down the only street I had not gone down yet. He showed up and we headed out for Res One's Contemporary and Historical Buenos Aires Graffiti 101 class. I'm going to make that a separate post so I'll skip ahead now to the evening. Res and I hung out at his apartment for a bit before heading out for dinner. He showed me his scrap book of old work he had done in Argentina and Spain, and also a collection of his tattoo works including photos of him giving himself a large gothic script R E S  O N E tattoo across his torso. Crazy.

Later at a pizza joint I noticed a punk girl carrying a guitar and then some other kids too carrying other instruments. I got Res to ask them where they would be playing, and it turned out to be a party for a circus performer collective. Man, that's so San Francisco! We got the address from them and decided to check it out later.

But first we went to a bar Res had told me about. I had mentioned to him that there were no real strip clubs in Buenos Aires, apparently just brothels, and he told me that he knew some places but they didn't necessarily look like strip clubs from the outside. So we went to this place, and it was sort of like a Hooters, but there wasn't really any food, there were waitress (wearing thongs and tiny t-shirts) and waiters (wearing only hot pants), and every hour three of the waitresses did a fully nude floor show. And the beer was cheap. Nice place!

Circo Party Res and Dione

Around midnight we headed over to the circus party. It was held at the collective's rehearsal space which was the top floor of a building in a slightly sketchy side of town. When we got upstairs we found a pretty sizable crowd mostly out on the rooftop patio which was set up with a small stage. We had just missed the band we had seen at the pizza place, but pretty soon we got to catch some comedy acts with performers popping up over the neighboring buildings walls. A all-clown band provided ongoing musical accompaniment. The audience was having a great time, laughing at all the acts. Even though it was all in Spanish I found myself laughing along anyhow. The clowns were quite talented. Later there were suspended rope acts, juggling and various impressive gymnastics. Res's girlfriend Dione showed up around 2AM to join the fun. Around 4AM I had to say goodbye though. I needed to head back to the hostel so I could get some sleep before heading to the airport in the morning.

Circo Party

It had been a long day, but probably the most fun I'd had the entire time in South America so far!

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April 02, 2005

Buenos Aires: day 2

Friday morning I wandered around San Telmo some more and discovered a nice little square called Plaza Dorrego. The neighborhood around it was full of antique shops and the square itself had a number of restaurants so I stopped to have a meal on a balcony overlooking the plaza.

Some Dork The Pink House, Buenos Aires

In the afternoon, Paula met me at the hostel and we took off on our tour. First we walked through San Telmo while she pointed out this or that thing of interest. She didn't have answers for some of my questions (such as "how old is the San Telmo neighborhood?") so I told her if she wanted to be a tour guide she was going to have to find these things out!

We walked all the way to Casa Rosa or "Pink House", which is the Argentinian equivalent of the White House. The large square in front of it was the scene of all the famous Buenos Aires protests, such as the ones in 2001 over the economic crisis (which caused a rise among the middle class in Barter Clubs and using creditos, which has always fascinated me as I am interested in underground economies).

Paula Best Subway Guide Evar

From there, we got down into the subway system. I hadn't even realized Buenos Aires had a subway system. We lucked out with the first car that pulled up, it was an antique train-car with all wood finish and even a cool mirror in one spot. Paula said there were only a few of those still in operation. Buenos Aires has the best in-car subway maps I've ever seen. Above each door is the line map which shows the stations along the line as usual, but also which street and cross-street you will find at the station and even if the station has a bathroom!

From the center of Argentine government, we rode out of the central area towards the "real" Buenos Aires. Exiting the subway station we found ourselves in a slightly shabbier part of town alive with stores and pedestrians going about their business. I'm pretty sure I was the only tourist around at this point. We wandered through this area for a bit trying to find a graffiti mural wall Paula knew about (since I had mentioned my proclivities to her). Unfortunately the wall she knew of had been recently covered up so there was no art to be found.

Wine Shop under the Tracks Falkland Island War Memorial

It started to rain, and Paula needed to get to work, so we hopped in a cab and headed back downtown to San Martin park. There she showed me the memorial to the 600+ Argentinian soldiers who were killed by the British during the Falkland Islands war of 1982 (It is known as the Malvinas War to the Argentinians). The memorial lists the name of every soldier killed (much like the Viet Nam War memorial in the USA).

She explained to me that the Argentinian people were very upset because at the time of the war soldiers were conscripted and nearly all of the ones killed were only 18 or 19 years old, barely trained at all. It was as if they were simply sent to their deaths by their military commanders. The defeat by the British army quickly led to the end of the Argentine Military dictatorship.

From here Paula went on to work and I took a walk around Florida street which is a pedestrian mall filled with trendy stores. I suppose it is the Buenos Aires equivalent of Union Square in San Francisco. Quite a difference from the "real" neighborhood I had been walking through earlier.

That evening I went to see a band Paula recommended (I wish I could remember the name, but I can't find the ticket stub now). When I showed up at the venue (La Trastienda in San Telmo) I was at first told it was sold out, but soon after I turned to leave one of the ticket takers chased me down and said they would sell me a ticket after all. I think perhaps they took pity on me since I was a foreigner. Inside I found the place to be not too crowded at all, by normal standards for a rock show. There were a few hundred people in the club but I could easily see fitting another 100 or so. I suppose this cautious capacity limitation was a result of the fire in December too.

I didn't have my camera with me, but I wished I did just to take photos of the crowd. When I entered there was just some recorded music playing and a crowd of college aged people were milling about drinking beer. Then a projector screen was lowered in front of the stage and started playing a music video for the band scheduled to play that night. As soon as the video started, people just went ape-shit. They were jumping up in the air, climbing on each other backs, spinning around with their arms in the air practically shouting the lyrics at each other (all in Spanish of course) .  I think that moment was the biggest piece of culture shock I'd yet experienced in South America.

I mean, it was just the video.

After the video finished, the band came on and I realized I previously had no idea what ape-shit really meant. The band launched into their first song and the entire place was hopping up and down,  there were women and men on the shoulders of others waving their hands in the air. Everyone knew every lyric and was just screaming it out at the top of their lungs. Most of the guys took off their shirts and were twirling them in the air like footbal hooligans.

The music was OK, a sort of Argentinian U2 sort of thing I guess. What I really enjoyed that night was watching the crowd. People were crawling up support beams to get a better view, grown men were hugging each other and giggling like schoolgirls, it was just  insane. Really, I wish I had a video of the crowd.

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April 01, 2005

Buenos Aires: day 1

Buenos Aires is located not far from Montevideo, just up and on the other side of a huge inlet/river (not sure). I took a Buquebus hydrofoil ferry and the trip was about 3 hours from dock to dock if I recall correctly. Hydrofoils are those boats with underwater wings which lift the entire body of the boat above the surface once they get going. They really feel more like flying than sailing, I like them a lot. I haven't rode in one since Mie and I visited Nii Jima in Japan. The trip itself is fairly boring though; you're inside, you can barely see land from the windows and there isn't really anything to do. The ferry ride across the Straights of Gilbraltar is certainly more fun.

Micro$oft, Buenos Aires Sun Microsystems, Buenos Aires

Upon arrival I was greeted by some very modern looking glass and steel buildings including twin sky scrapers facing each other labeled Microsoft and Sun. Passing between them I felt like an Argonaut passing between Scylla and Charybdis. I wandered around for a bit trying to get my bearings and possibly find my hostel before giving up and jumping in a taxi. I had reserved a room at the Sandanzas hostel in the San Telmo part of town, which turned out to be very far from the ferry dock by foot!

San Martin Park, Buenos Aires San Martin Park, Buenos Aires

The hostel was nice. It is run by some friendly hippie types. I think they intend it to be more of a community of guests than just a hostel, but I don't like spending a lot of time in hostels so they probably found me a little rude. It's a nice place though. Art on the walls, music, free Internet and nightly grill outs (or so I was told, I never showed up for one).

I dropped off my bags and headed back out, doing my usual shtick of wandering about aimlessly and taking photos of street art. It was mostly stencils, but they were everywhere. I stopped by an Internet cafe and fired off an email to Res One whose work I had found in Montevideo in hopes he could guide me to some real wall art.

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After sunset I headed back downtown. I was in the mood for some live music. Anything, jazz, tango, rock, hip-hop. Something. But I wasn't finding much and finally I got in a cab and tried to explain in a mixture of bad Portuguese and English that I wanted to listen to some live music and could he take me somewhere. He said a lot of stuff in Spanish that I didn't understand and shoved a flyer in my hand for a club called Solid Gold with a photo of a busty naked blond on it. I said "no, no, no. Eo nao caro este, eu caro musica." He started driving a few neighborhoods away to what I hoped was a part of town with nightclubs, but instead he pulled up in front of Solid Gold.

The cab driver called over the doorman, who turned out to speak perfect American English. I told him what I wanted, he told me Solid Gold had music. "What is it, a strip club?" I asked. I like strip clubs actually and was thinking maybe an hour here first wouldn't hurt. But he said "well, no it's more like a whorehouse." I told him I wasn't interested, did he know anyplace playing live music? The best he could come up with was a bar named Kill Kenny that had a DJ. Feeling defeated, I said OK that'll do.  And besides a bar named after a South Park gag can't be all that bad right? The driver dropped me off in front of Kilkenny's Irish Bar which I realized was about one block from where I had originally got into the cab (you bastard!).

The bar turned out to be full of suds-soaked Argentinian and ex-pat yuppies squeezing against each other as they made circuits through the crowd. The music was typical top 40 classic US crap. I finished my two drink minimum and split. There were a few more bars in the area, mostly playing the same type of music, but I kept walking by one doorway with some nice ambient stuff coming from it. Since the doorway just had a menu next to it and led upstairs I figured it was a restaurant, but after exhausting all other possibilities in the neighborhood I went upstairs to check it out.

It turned out to be a restaurant/bar so I planted myself in a bar stool near the DJ. The music was really very good. I struck up a conversation with the bartender who spoke fairly good English.  Since I was really enjoying the DJ, I asked her where some good dance clubs were. She told me that most of the clubs in the city had been closed down since the fire in December that killed 169 people. I had been told by some other travelers who had been to B.A. in January that the clubs had been closed then, but I really didn't expect them to still be in March. She told me that children as young as 10 were in the club and killed as well, and that exit doors were locked. It was a big disaster.

Still, it was incredibly strange for such a metropolitan national capitol to have no large dance clubs for so long. What did people do? I was sure that there must be an underground scene raging now, but she said there wasn't. Usually bartenders know these things, but she had no idea so maybe people just didn't dance any more. I felt like Kevin Bacon in Footloose.

At one point, Paula told me that she hoped to quit bar-tending and try to make money giving personalized tours to tourists. I told her that was a great idea and volunteered to be her first customer, so we made plans to get in touch the next day so she could show me parts of Buenos Aires that are off the beaten track!

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March 31, 2005


The bus ride to Montevideo was pleasant, for a bit in the beginning we were close to the coast with occasional views of waves crashing on empty shores. There wasn't a lot of civilization before the approach into the capital, which is much as I expected. The only thing I knew about Uruguay was from a NY Times Travel section article I had read which described a week-long horseback tour which included two days with eight hours each of riding along the coast and no signs of humanity. Sounds lovely, maybe one day I can return and try it, but this time I only had a few days in the capital, where I arrived soon after nightfall.

Since I spoke no Spanish and did not even bring a guide book for Uruguay (or Argentina for that matter) I decided to stay in a hostel. English is almost always easily used in hostels and there's always plenty of information available.

Red Hostel Red Hostel

I was soon checked in at the Red Hostel which is one of the most pleasant hostels I've ever stayed in. Bright spacious clean and airy rooms, very pleasant staff and free Internet (w00t!). Within minutes of checking in I was in a discussion on how to get to the futebol stadium and buy tickets for the Uruguay-Brasil World Cup preliminary that would be held in two days. A young Australian had just returned from there, so he described the procedure and the hostel staff person wrote down all the necessary Spanish I would need:

  • Name of stadium: Estadio Centenario
  • The less likely to get mugged section to ask for: Olympica
  • The Brasilian fan section: lado Brasilero
  • Tickets: entradas

Josh, the Australian, had also gotten the Olympica section ticket. Which was one of the sideline seats (as opposed to behind the goals, which was the dangerous sections I was told). There were numbered seats for a little more, but Josh had bought a general seating ticket for $150 pesos. Which was like five or six bucks.

Josh said there was a long line when he was just there and the staff person said it might sell out so I jumped in a taxi pronto and made my way to the stadium. Once there I saw several lines and couldn't tell the difference between them. I asked someone "Olympica?" and they pointed to one. When I got to the front I said "Uno entrada para Olympica" and the guy started getting a ticket, then I said "lado Brasilero" and he started scolding me in Spanish and pointing to the left. I figured I was in the wrong line but there were no other lines to the left. I decided to just get the 150 peso Olympica ticket he had and worry about it later.

So after purchasing the ticket I walk completely around the stadium, which was a little sketchy in some of the darker areas, but maybe I was just getting paranoid. I never found another set of ticket windows so decided to just head back to the hostel and worry about it later. If I had to, I'd sit with the Uruguayans (although I surely would not wear my Ronaldo shirt then).

Then next morning, I was in the lounge by the check-in area when a British guy named Neal came in and started asking about tickets. A different staff person was telling him that in order to sit in the Brasilian section you had to buy the most expensive tickets (390 pesos), since they always sequestered the opposing team into an upscale section that was better protected. I ended up sharing a cab with him back to the stadium and this time asked for the America section, lado Brasilero. With new tickets in hand I gave my old Olympica ticket to the staff to sell to whoever else came in wanting to go to the game (many of the hostel guests were in town for the game it seemed).

New and Old Fountain

The next two days are a bit of a blur now. Not really much went on I guess. I was mostly just biding time until the game. Montevideo has an old European feel with many of grand statues and mostly old intricately decorated stone buildings (along with the occasional glass and steel box thrown in of course). I did like the buildings a lot, but it gets old quickly. I really liked this satellite map on the floor of the Itendencia, one of the historical tourist attractions near the hostel. It helped my get my bearings on where things were in the city very well.

Montevideo Graffiti Montevideo Graffiti

As usual I looked for street art (graffiti, murals, bombing, etc) and the picking were pretty dismal. Mostly scrawled words which I couldn't translate and simple line drawings. Some OK stencils, and I did notice a lot of tagging from someone named "How". Finally I ran across an actual work of art, and it had an email address on it! When I got back to the hostel I sent an email asking if there were any more examples of decent street art in Montevideo.

Montevideo Graffiti Montevideo Graffiti

Pretty soon I got a reply saying "Actually I'm not in Montevideo, I live in Buenos Aires and only get to Montevideo occasionally." I excitedly replied that I would be going to Buenos Aires in a few days, and maybe we could meet and he could show me some stuff there? He replied back: "Sure." w00t! I was really looking forward to B.A. now! I've been documenting street art for a little while and had never actually met one of the artists. I love the idea of them using email tags on their work.

At the hostel I had set the desktop background on the three Internet terminals to my three favorite photos of Mie at Burning Man [1,2,3]. Whenever hanging out in the lounge I enjoyed watching people sit down to use the machine and then spend a minute or two staring at the desktop image trying to figure it out. I started doing this every time I went to an Internet cafe too.

Grill in the Mercado Publica Grill in the Mercado Publica

On game day I walked down to the Mercado del Puerto which is a touristy little part of the city near the docks at the northwest corner of the old town. The central attraction there is a large old warehouse with a number of open air grill restaurants inside. Each restaurant consists of a brick wood-fired grill stacked with meat (and some fish) surrounded by tables. I sat down at one and had a great grilled salmon. As I was enjoying that I noticed a grilled provolone cheese dish that looked delicious, but I was too stuffed to try it out. Next time.

In the evening Neal and I headed to the stadium and managed (after a number of unsuccessful attempts) to find the proper entrance-way for our section. Once we got to our row we realized there were people in our seats but decided to just take a couple of empty ones nearby and hope for the best. So we stood on our seats (like everyone else) and watched as the stadium cheered and jeered the players warming up on the field. Neal, being British, actually knows something about futebol so he pointed out the various famous players and explained some of the rules I was unclear about.

Uruguay vs Brasil Uruguay vs Brasil

Before the game started the Uruguayans in the Olympica section across from us unfurled a huge "Uruguay 1950" banner. Oooo, cold. It was referring to the year where the Uruguayans won the final World Cup match 2-1 against the favored Brasil who needed only to tie to win the tournament ...in Brasil. It is often referred to as Brasil's Worst National Disaster. There's a great chapter about it in this book. The Brasilian goalie who let the goal in never was forgiven.

The Brasilians around us took this in stride though, simply chanting "Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro, Cinquo!" over and over again and punctuating each numeral with the appropriate hand gesture. It was much fun and I was looking forward to some ass-kicking from the Brasilian side as they were way ahead of Uruguay in the current standings. Once game time started though, it was obvious that the Uruguayans were not outclassed and in fact seemed to be doing quite well. I think it was early in the second half when they first scored. That didn't quiet down the Brasilian fans though (although we were a pretty small group compared to the Uruguayan fans. Maybe 2000 versus 42000). The Brasilians ended up scoring soon enough and the game ended as a 1-1 draw. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the top athletes in the world perform for about US$14, and we even had decent seats.

For Your Own Safety

At the end of the game though, as we tried to exit the stadium, Uruguayan cops in riot gear wouldn't let us out for thirty minutes. Apparently for our own safety. When they finally did start letting people out they made sure everyone had hidden away their pro-Brasil clothing and banners. I suppose things have happened in the past but we didn't have any problems outside of the stadium.

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March 28, 2005

what's that smell?

Now the thankfully not too exciting conclusion to my misadventures in Chui.

After failing to fill in the misaddressed web-form in the last episode, I realized that some of those weird codes that were required fields were also in the address my landlord had given me for the Internet company on the first floor of the building I live in back in Garopaba. I have no idea what they mean, and suspect that they have something to do with taxes or other official identifiers, but I copied in all the fields from the address and hit the submit button. This gave me a completed form with some bar code data on it. I printed it out and hoped for the best.

As far as I knew, all I had to do now was go to Banco do Brasil in the morning and give them this form along with some cash and they would give me something for the Policia Federal. Then assuming I could figure out where the bus station was on the Uruguayan side of the border I could get my ass on to Montevideo. So feeling a little celebratory I wandered out of the Internet cafe and smack into some sort of political/music rally. The was a sidewalk cafe next to the rally stage so I sat down there and enjoyed a truly delicious fried fish in shrimp sauce dinner along with a number of beers.

I felt much better with the printed form in my pocket and some good food & alcohol in my gut, so I enjoyed this precious hour or two in Chuy. Not enough to forgive the sorry excuse for a town, but enough to stop bitching for the evening. I didn't know what the speakers were saying, but some of them were such great orators I wanted to clap and cheer along with the crowd. The live music afterwords wasn't bad either, a mix of acoustic and electric Uruguayan rock.

In the morning I showed up at Banco do Brasil and managed to pay my fine and get the coveted receipts. Next step was another taxi to the Policia Federal station (this time I inquired about the cost first, it was 4 times less than last time, R$5). The cop at the desk there wasn't too happy that I didn't follow the directions (which I couldn't read of course) to photocopy the receipt first but after making me sweat a little he went in the back and made a copy for me and made sure I understood that I needed to keep a hold of this if I didn't want more problems. Yes sir. I got out of there as soon as I could, before he changed his mind or something, and had the taxi driver take me to the bus station on the Uruguayan side of town. The ticket was purchased with no problem and soon enough I was on my way! Never to return, I hope.

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March 27, 2005

chui: the ass end of brasil

When I got to Pelotas last night, my choices for getting to Montevideo were limited, I decided to take the quickest option which was leave for the border town of Chui at 6:30pm. I had been told that it would take two hours to get there and then two hours more to Montevideo. I figured I had a shot of making it all the way there before midnight. It actually took four hours. Right before the bus reached Chui we pulled over to the side of the road to go through the Brasilian checkpoint and that's when things started going downhill.

When I entered Brasil via Rio de Janeiro in February I was given some kind of immigration form, a little white piece of paper. When I left Garopaba for Porto Alegre, I wasn't planning on leaving the country so I didn't occur to me to make sure I had everything I'd need. Naturally I need this form, the Policia Federal officer was a real asshole about it too. He said I could continue on to Chui to spend the night and then head back to Garopaba in the morning, and that if I tried to keep going into Uruguay he would see my name on the immigration list and then (at this point he makes finger cutting throat movement). Nice guy. Fucker.


So I get to Chui which is this weird town with the border running right down the middle of the main avenue. On one side is Uruguay and the other side is Brasil. Both sides are crappy. There's trash everywhere and dilapidated buildings. I wander around in the dark eventually finding a hotel on the Brasilian side for R$18 a night and check into a sad little room.

Streets of Chui Streets of Chui

In the morning I wake early and go to the bus station to get a ticket back to Porto Alegre and meet frustration #2 (try to keep count).  The man there refuses to sell me a ticket out of Chui BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE THAT FUCKING PIECE OF PAPER. I was starting to feel like I was in a Jim Jarmusch movie as I walked out of the bus station and wandered around trying to figure out where the Policia Federal building was. Early morning wandering around deserted streets in this Tex-Mexish border town with piles of trash blowing by like tumbleweeds. Soundtrack: Cowboy by The Sugarcubes.

Chui Streets of Chui

I find a taxi and the guy drives me to the immigration station just outside of town. I'm able to explain my situation to both him and the officer there well enough in Portuguese, but I can't understand what they're trying to tell me. Eventually it comes out that I can pay a fine of R$165 (about US$65) and then I'm golden, I can even go on to Montevideo. I can't just hand him the cash though (so much for the bribery stereotypes of Latin America), there's some complicated procedure involving going to some website and filling out a form, then going to a bank and paying them the money, then going back to the immigration station with a receipt. I guess. It's not really all that clear. We spent a long time trying to make me understand all this, eventually a traveler came through who spoke enough English to explain the above to me, although he was also unclear on exactly what was entailed.

So great. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, today is Sunday and the banks are closed. That damn christian mythology again. So I have at least another 24 hours in this purgatory which seems to be leaning to the hellish side. The taxi driver takes me back into town and shows me the cybercafe, which is closed of course, and then takes me to the hotel. I was planning on giving him a healthy tip since he spent time inside the Policia Federal station trying to help out, but as he was running off the meter he named his own price when I left and made sure it included some extra.  No biggie though, it was about what I was planning on giving him anyhow.

I spend the day drinking beer, watching Brasil beat Peru on TV, and wandering around town. There was plenty of siesta time thrown in there too, which is probably about the best way to pass the time here. The town is mostly just trash blowing in the wind and outlet-factory-ish shopping. I walked for a bit out of town to the east hoping I'd get to a beach quickly, but gave up after I realized I could see the tops of trees way off in the distance. There's a sad little kiddie park on the Uruguayan side, a lot of beat up looking dogs and rusted out cars puttering up and down the main avenue. It gets old fast.

Chui's Amusement Park Image184

Eventually as the sun is going down I find an open Internet cafe on the Uruguayan side, which is where I am right now. Of course the first thing I try to do is type in the URL printed on the document they gave me at the Policia Federal station. Of course it doesn't work. I fiddle around a bit and manage to get a form to come up which looks like it is probably the right one, however it has several fields to fill in that I cannot, such as CPF/CNPJ # which is like the Social Security number for Brasilians. GREAT. FIGURES.

Tune in tomorrow, kids. Same crappy town. Same crappy trip.

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March 26, 2005

dancing, fish and off to uruguay?

On Wednesday I loaded up on the little tour bus with the Meme dance troupe and we headed down to Rio Grande where they were to perform at the local Fish Festival. The festival was held along the docks and consisted of a row of a few warehouses containing a maritime museum, an expo for commercial goods and a concert area, with two large food tents at either end. On arrival we checked out the stage, which was the deck of a shipping crane floating right next to the dock.

Meme Rio Grande, Brasil

The dancers worked out their routines on the crane deck for awhile, then we went into the food tent where we got to eat in the VIP area with the festival queens. VIP in Portuguese is Pessoa Mointo Importa but they still spell it VIP and it doesn't mean your important enough for free booze.

IMG_3299.JPG Old Men and the Sea

After dark the troupe got into costume and began the evening with some guerrila theater in the food tent, improvising characters and interacting with the unsuspecting diners and staff. After getting some attention they lured folks down to the crane, stopping along the way to dance with cop stands and whoever else got in their way.

Dancing with the Military Cops Laco

Once on deck, they put on some great performances. I took a lot of photos and even some video. Many of the photos are blurry because I didn't want to use the flash which messed up the colors. It was really quite a nice scene: some fantastic modern dancing framed by the huge orange crane and a darkening post-sunset sky. The routine Laco and Fernanda did together was particularly good; they're both amazing. Laco is the group's leader and quite an accomplished dancer. He had never actually done the routine before but Fernanda's usual partner couldn't make it, so he stepped in. In practice earlier in the day the unfamiliarity showed, but when they  performed it for real that night it came together beautifully, even though they improvised large portions of it on the spot.

Dancers Dancers

After the performance we enjoyed the festival, which meant eating and drinking. Especially drinking. Laco was from Rio Grande and had many relatives there, so we we all split up between them for the night. I ended up at Laco's Mom's house where I passed out on the pull out sofa.

Laco's Mom lives in Cassini which is a beach town neart to Rio Grande, or maybe it's technically part of Rio Grande. I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that the beach is huge. At low tide the waters edge must be 100 yards from the dunes, and the flat beach in between is packed hard enough that you can drive normal cars on it. In the summer time, Laco told me that the beach is filled three rows deep with parked cars with people grilling out and blaring music for kilometers. One day when Laco's sister drove us from their mom's house to her place in Rio Grande, we went half the way there  on the beach. I wish I had taken my camera with me to get some photos of it.

Laco and his Mom Boats!

So the next morning I was hungover and had picked up a bit of a sore throat. Besides visiting the beach, we also hung out for a bit at the home of Laco's childhood friend and business partner (I forget her name now). This was fun, especially since they had a hammock, which is great for hangovers. Also I tried my first chimarrĂ£o tea there (It is known as Yerba Mate south of the border). It was slightly bitter, but not that bad. It also wasn't so delicious that I understand why everyone in southern Brasil, Uruguay and apparently parts of Argentina are completely addicted to the stuff.

I didn't make it to the bus station in time that day to get on to Montevideo, and when I did make it there I discovered that since the next day was some sort of Christian holiday (Good Friday I guess? Catholic school was soooo long ago.) I wouldn't be able to get out that day either. Laco and Fernanda were heading to Pelotas on Saturday to perfom at another party, and they told me it would be easier catching a bus to Montevideo from there anyhow since it was a bigger bus hub.

So I spent the evening back at the fish festival again with Laco and his extended family, but I didn't drink so much this time. We all spent the night at Laco's sister's place in Rio Grande and in the morning took the bus back to Cassini.

Rio Grande Fish Festival Rio Grande Statue

We spent the afternoon back at Laco's mom's place. She was a great cook and even accomodated my bizarre non-legged-animal dietary restriction, but she didn't speak much English at all. At one point in the afternoon while I was engrossed in flipping through some photo albums, she was talking in Portuguese to her friend on the couch next to me. Suddenly I hear her say "I love you, I fuck you" in English. Startled I look up at her and she gets very embarrassed as everyone starts laughing. Apparently she had just told her friend "I only know how to say two things in English" and went on to say them. It was pretty funny, and she stayed embarrassed right up until I left.

That evening it was (surprise!) back to the Fish Festival. First we all took a boat ride along the coast as the sun set. It was a great time of day to be out on the water. The sky went from bight to dark and the moon rose over the course of the 50 minute ride.

Grilling at the Rio Grande Fish Festival Boats and Sunset

Later at the food tent I finally tried some of the grilled anchovy fish and it was delicious! There was also some very tasty fried-shrimp-and-cheese-on-a-stick things.  It was a fun night. Laco's nephew Fernando spent hours teaching me the Portuguese word for every noun he could see and I had some good conversations with the family about things like michael jackson, economics and ipods (Fernanda did all the hard work of translating). Everyone was super nice in Rio Grande, I was happy to have met all of them.

But I spent a couple of days longer than I expected here and was glad to be moving on to someplace without a Fish Festival. I left on the Saturday afternoon bus for Pelotas where I hoped to catch the overnight direct bus to Montevideo, Uruguay. I found out on Friday that one of the World Cup qualifying games between Brazil and Uruguay would be held in Montevideo a couple of days after I arrived there, so I was planning on trying to attend! The last thing I did in Rio Grande was buy my #9 Ronaldo Brasilian team shirt :)

There's a lot more photos of this part of my trip here.

08:10 AM in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)