Day Four

Brazil is an enormous country and its main tourist sites cluster around the cities, beaches and the Amazon. The interior of the country however is poorly setup to accommodate foreign tourism and we knew we were winging it. It's no trouble at all going off the beaten path in this country, the question becomes whether it's worthwhile or even wise. Where to head next? Dad had ruled out the Amazons as costly and inaccessible and he's not much into the beach scene (he lives in Puerto Rico after all). We decided to head west, away from the cities and closer to nowhere, the better to get a sense of the "real" Brazil. I suppose in the same way that going to Kansas away from the coast cities in the States gets you closer to the real America? I dunno, it's a little hazy I admit but we work with what we got and so start heading towards the border area between Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina where we hope to see the world's largest wetland known as the Pantanal, literally swamp in both portuguese and spanish. The Pantanal is a an area half the size of California filled with wildlife which is rapidly becoming a major ecotourism attraction. We won't be joining up with multi-day tour outfitters to stalk birds and crocs of course but we'll drive thataways and see what we see. Besides, we're getting ahead of ourselves since we're waking up in Ouro Preto over a thousand miles away.

Our day's drive starts at eight sharp but we're immediately bogged down by Byzantine road connections that have the mysterious tendency to return you to your starting point or any other unintended direction despite your best efforts. Yes, we have a mural-sized map to guide us but it's useless all the same because the streets have no names and the few road signs that there are will often be utterly confusing or lead us into deadends. A gps would have been wonderful and would recommend it, assuming they're available for this country, as indispensable for anyone intending to drive here. Anyway, we eventually find our way out of town. Over the following days we discover that without aid of a gps or city-level maps the best thing to do is just get out of the city however you can, in any direction, and only when you're on a major road retrace your steps as necessary to link up with the road you meant to follow. We did this as we inevitably get all tangled up in a web of complex streets in the huge city of Belo Horizonte later in the day and then again in every following urban center, losing in each a good half hour or more before getting on the right road. Memo to Brazil's engineers: study up on the concept of ring roads.

Leaving Belo Horizonte, a city whose skyline was made up of an endless number of thin high rise condos, we drove a one lane road stuffed with slow trucks and nimble little hatchbacks that constantly leapfrogged the trucks in a deathdance with the oncoming traffic. We, too, played along on this Russian roulette for not doing so meant loping along at twenty miles an hour behind trucks spewing intolerably noxious black clouds. Death by instant lung cancer, I figured, is a worse outcome than the fifty-fifty I gave us of avoiding a head-on collision during an ill-timed lane change. And well, that I'm writing this means I'm beating the odds so far!

Had lunch at a gas station: greasy ham and cheese turnover (surprised no stomach issues so far) and a really outstanding chocolate milk that comes in a little square carton. It tastes soooo much better than the chocolate milk back in the states. I wish there was some way to import this stuff.

Anywho, after lunch we drive on and make it as far a little town called Campos Altos. With some luck and a little patience we locate its only hotel and check in for the night. The room, as rooms in all but the five star hotels that we will never go to during our stay, consist of two narrow beds, like half of a bunk bed, and just enough room for a person of moderate size to move around in. The toilets, if you're lucky that day, will have lids but when you're not quite so lucky you sit on a thin edge of cold porcelain. The showers, likewise, come with caveats of their own. Shower curtains may or may not be present, the water out the showerhead may be scalding or cold but reliably always hard or impossible to modulate to a temp that your skin can handle so that in most cases you use the shower more like a faucet in which you reach in to wet your hands to then wash outside of the stream... all lessons I'd learned on my previous three trips to South America.

We had our first real dinner tonight in a hole in the wall diner next to the hotel. An unexpected buffet-style open bar with self-serve trays had good home cookin' for which we were both really glad. I had a heaping dish of rice and pork chops and Dad, oh I wasn't paying attention to what he had but I'm sure he liked it too! After that it was lights out.

Day 5