Friday, April 24, 2009

Jetskis to Brazil

When I first took this gig, I figured it would provide the opportunity to travel for work all around Latin America. Of course the financial crisis made quick work of such notions, but thanks to an urgent situation with one of our biggest clients, I was afforded the opportunity to fly to São Paulo to participate. Unfortunately for me, such a journey required obtaining a visa (thanks Dubya!). This process brought to mind the incredibly high stress levels I endured when originally moving to Argentina. Four times I had to go to the embassy and deal with the same dour-faced clerk. He insisted that it would take three business days to obtain the visa (after costing me one due to his general unhelpfulness). Luckily, my compañero Juan Carlos was able to sway him, using the fact that we were literally talking about a million dollars worth of Brazilian business. On the last day of March, and more embassy delays, I packed in about fifteen minutes and was on my way.

Ever since seeing City of God, I have found Portuguese completely impenetrable. When someone speaks Portuguese, it sounds like a language from another planet. I can't even hear the sounds, let alone the words. Belu happens to be fluent and tried to give me some lessons in advance of the trip, but they only served to confuse me all the more. Spanish is my "other language", so by default that's what I spoke. But many people understood English better. I was consistently confused as to which one to use, but not nearly as confused as the people listening to me. Thank goodness my company had taken care of nearly all the arrangements.
This is the bus line we took. It's pronounced "Happy-doo." Really? Really.

The Onion's "Our Dumb World" describes Brazil as, "People at their most beautiful, humanity at its ugliest: 'Boasting some of the sexiest people every to be stabbed repeatedly at night, Brazil is home to perhaps the most attractive victims of carjacking, robbery, and violent assault in the world.'" That's certainly an exaggeration on several fronts. São Paulo is a "thick" city. It's the fourth largest on the planet, and I found it very hard to get a feel for its character or even where I was at any point. To me, it was just an endless sprawl of buildings and traffic. Again, I wasn't a tourist and there was little time for exploring, but the sense that I was caught in an obtuse maze was always there. A couple excursions to Vila Madalena gave me the chance to see SP's version of Wicker Park, but it didn't really win me over.
Yet, there were some welcome signs of home. The power outlets and voltage are the same as in the US. I could charge everything all at once! Brazil is apparently a nation where they actually believe in recycling. Along those lines, there was also a much greater emphasis placed on general cleanliness. Everyone washed their hands before eating (there are special sinks in the company cafeteria for this!), and food preparers always used gloves and wore hats or bandanas. Also, despite what the Onion had to say, in many cases the body types resembled those from the US. More on this in a little bit. All of these things are completely the opposite of Argentina. Until this trip, I hadn't recylced a damn thing since my November excursion to Chicago. My frequent illnesses are likely due to the fact that the overall cleanliness of restaurants here are subpar to say the least.

I certainly ate well. I loaded up on mangoes as they are hard to come by in BsAs. Seafood was plentiful, a welcome development. There was a curious obsession with banana that worked really well sometimes (a delicious grilled salmon dish in my hotel) and failed miserably others (I believe I'm the only one of my friends who can say they've had a hot McDonald's Banana Pie - don't be jealous - it was rather disgusting).

The highlight of the trip was clearly that I was able to get away for a very short weekend in Guarujá, a beach town just an hour and a half away from São Paulo. Even better, Belu came up for the weekend (no visa needed for an Argentine). That meant I had a translator, tour guide, and arm candy. The bus ride passed through the lush Brazilian countryside which gave me two major thoughts. 1) It was gorgeous. The hills we climbed reminded me of my trip to Clemson, driving up over the Smoky Mountains. Belu said it was reminiscent of a rain forest she visited in New Zealand. Just beautiful. 2) They have built an incredible amount of hideous structures in that lush greenery. There is no concern for aesthetics. This was the case all over Brazil, but particularly stark in this area.
I get restless on a beach. Sitting around ain't for me. So I convinced Belu that we had to take a jetski out. It didn't take much arm-twisting. After the trip, a friend of mine claimed, "You can't ride a jetski without kind of looking like a douche," to which I said, "and yelling like one!" But really, who cares? There are few things more thrilling than trying your hardest to flip the sucker even though it's impossible. Needless to say, I can't wait to do it again.

Still, the peaceful action of eating corn on the cob followed by árroz con mariscos on the beach and washing it all down with a fresh coconut has its merits. Of course, I figured that the "scenery" would be as impressive as The Onion described. However, the real unique thing about Brazil is that its citizens have no shame about their bodies. This applies to the perfectly toned dancers at Carnival, but also to the majority of beachgoers who were far from fit. We only saw about five or six bodies worth looking at and a heckuva lot of this:
This is probably the wrongest thing I've done in the blogosphere - whatever, you're getting the full tour

Not that it bothered us. I'm sure my pale torso had people scrambling to purchase bonus sunglasses.
This coconut was rendered blind from the glare

After the brief, sunny day, it was back to São Paulo for some more work and further failed attempts at understanding Portuguese. One last story before I end this long ramble. One night I found myself briefly seated at the hotel bar next to a New Yorker who was in São Paulo on business. He had been there at least a dozen times. He'd been to Buenos Aires twice, but said he didn't like it and couldn't find any food worth eating. "I can get a better steak in New York," he declared. He was that kind of Ugly American. This is a guy who gets to travel all over South America on business and isn't taking advantage of the opportunity at all. He prefers to stay in his New York condo and "watch hour-long detective shows." Ugh. There's a verb in Spanish that doesn't really exist in English: aprovechar. It basically means to take advantage of the opportunity provided you. I love this word and wish we had something in English that could sum it up so succintly. It might be my favorte Spanish word (well, after helado, of course). I consistently feel blessed to have my time down here, and a trip to Brazil is just one example of something cool I get to do. Ron lives in NYC and thinks every other place can't measure up. He wouldn't know how to aprovechar if he sat on it. After such a successful trip, I feel lucky that I'm here, and lucky that I'm not the kind of person who would prefer to spend his time watching the TV. Now I just need to start exploring the rest of Argentina. Starting the day after I arrive from Brazil. We'll get to more aprovechando in a near-future post. Until then, tchau!


Julia said...

How'd you get that picture of me from Mont Hermosa, I know I untagged it on facebook.

PMaz said...

Amazing how people don't enjoy seeing new places. I'd probably relocate even more if it weren't impacting my entire family. You were very fortunate to get the opportunity you did.

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