Saturday, February 26, 2011


When we were approaching Venezuela, every person we met thought it was his duty to tell us that Venezuela is very, very dangerous. Bad, bad people live there, and their only goal in life was to rob us, kidnap us or do some other undescribable thing to us.
We decided to press on anyway to see with our own eyes if it was really that bad. Juan Villarino must have heard tales ten times worse when he was planning his trip across Iraq and Afghanistan... What he found was the incredible hospitality of the people instead.
So we, keeping his example in mind, got our passports stamped at the border and stuck our thumbs out just past the military post. 5 minutes later,an owner of a cyber cafe gave us a lift into Sta. Elena. We changed our reales into bolivares on the street (the black market in Venezuela gives you twice the exchange rate than the official banks) and headed to the exit of town. On our way out we passed a gas station. An old pump was standing in the middle of a dirt field, a line of cars waiting to be filled up. We glanced at the display on the pump and then looked again with eyes wide open: 0.048 bolivares a litre? That`s 200 liters for a dollar! Gas is practically free... An image of smiling Chavez looked at us from every wall and lamppost we passed. ¨Until the victory!¨ said the signs below. ¨Build socialism or die!¨ proclaimed a brush-painted slogan on the block walls of a police station.
The weather was unstable as we moved out to our spot. The sun would poke out and hide again behind heavy rolling thunderstorms. It would rain hard for 20 minutes and then the sun would shine again and dry out the ground. Half an hour more,and another rain would pour down. The Gran Savana gave us its usual welcome of heavy mists, rain and shine, all at once.
The first day was a failure. Nobody stopped, and when we went to camp that night, the heaviest rain poured down on us. We woke up a little wet but determined to hitch out today. Indeed, we did hitch a ride. It was not a very long one but still a ride. When Mishico pulled over, she was out for her 4:20pm ride out in the savanna. She invited us to come along, offering to drop us off at the military check point some 20 kms further on. While we were driving, we saw this cool ant-eater on the side of the road. We got out and approached it.The funny mammal would get up on its hind legs and spread out its ¨arms¨ in a defending posture. Very cute. It was obviously a young puppy because we were told that an adult ant-eater can reach a size of a big dog. The one in front of us barely reached 1 foot when it stood on its hind legs. It fell over a few times, loosing its balance. We were lucky its mamma was not around! We observed it for a while and then let it continue on its route. It started raining heavily at that point and Mishico said: ¨why don´t you come back to Sta Elena with me tonight? You can stay at my house a night or two, rest from the road.¨ Well, the offer was generous and we happily accepted. Mishico turned around and we drove back to town. At the entrance, not far from the place where we tried hitching the day before, Mishico pulled into a driveway.¨This is the bar I ran for 7 months¨ she said, ¨but I had no permission to run it, so they finally closed me down a month ago. Damn. I´m in the process of getting all this official crap sorted out.¨ We walked into the empty bar. The clock, strangely enough, showed 4:20 (again!) and we sat behind the empty bar table, listened to loud Bob Dylan records and watched the street traffic. Mishico, it seemed, knew everybody in town. Many a passer-by would stop and ask her ¨so, when do you finally open up?¨
Later on Mishico took us to her place and showed us our room. The next two days we spent in her company, touring the houses of her friends and going for walks.
One of the friends that we visited impressed us deeply, although we are still not sure what was stronger: the personality of Margarita or the crazy view that opened up from her window openings. You see, Margarita was building a huge house on top of the hill. She was working alone and without a slightest idea about what she was doing. Margarita went crazy sometime during the construction, or was it before...? She spoke non-stop for 8 hours about all sort of her construction decisions, workers she hired and neighbours, on whoom she was stealthily advancing her property lines. She chain-smoked and lively gesticulated with a beer can, letting beer fly in all directions.
While Margarita was buzzing in the background, an icredible view opened up to us from her second storey. You had to walk on a plank thrown over some twisty joists and look out of a window opening holding on not to fall, and this is what you could see: Mount Roraima peeked out of the clouds just as the sun was setting. It was far away but still very clear, we could even see the waterfall rushing from the top of the plateau. We took this photo on another day and from a different pointNext morning, we said good-byes to Mishico and her family and went back to the road. This time we advanced a little further, to the bus station that was curiously located welloutside of town. We picked a spot just past it and observed a steady flow of taxis (80% of Sta. Elena vehicles are taxis) drop off passengers there, or just coming by for a ride, looking for customers. So we spent the next 3 days, looking for a truck or a car without the small yellow ¨taxi¨ sticker on the windshield. When the nights fell, we seeked shelter under a traditional palm roof of Señor Castro´s closed down restaurant.On the third day we struck gold. Rafael was taking an empty truck to Caracas. He was in no hurry and had a pleasant disposition. We stopped frequently to drink from the jungle streams, to take a cup of coffe or just to stretch our legs. At the end of the day, Rafael deposited us at a tollbooth outside of Puerto Ordaz. There was a truckstop nearby, with an ample roofed space for the truckers to hang their hammocks! We camped there and hitched a ride to Carupano next morning. This ride was silent, we barely exchanged 10 words with the trucker in the first 3 hours. Then, Anastasia asked: ¨by the way, we never asked what is your name?¨ and instantly, Jose smiled and started chatting. He dropped us off at a small village 20 minutes before Carupano. It was getting late so we decided to camp there. We began going from house to house, asking if we could camp in the backyard. None of the five women we asked said no, but instead said ¨why don´t you ask the next house over? They have a back yard.¨ After a fifth such reply, we went to the gas station with the same question. The owner looked as if he never heard such a request before and offered us to camp right in front of the pumps. ¨There¨ he said,¨you can put your tent there.¨ 10 more minutes were required to carefully explain to him why we do not like to camp out in the open at night, but instead would prefer a more out-of-the-way spot, like around that corner, for example. Eventualy, we reached a consensus with the man and pitched a tent behind a parked truck.
In the morning the ride did not come easy. We were only a short distance away from town, but nobody would stop. Eventually,a man gave us a short lift to the center of the village from where we took a luxurious taxi ride all the way to Carupano. The beaten-up 70s model Caprice Classic took in 5 passengers and there was still room for more. We cruised in comfort, riding with 3 other local people who were taking their usual taxi ride to work in the morning.
Carupano was our first town on the Caribbean coast since a long while and its chaos made us recall Central America. Lots of people on the streets, yelling, selling and buying all sorts of things. We maneuvered our way to the central plaza and sat down to think. We did not know how to get out of town, nor did we see anybody trustworthy whom we could ask for directions. A plaza full of people but no one to ask! Finally,a young mother with a child in her arms sat on the bench near us. She was friendly and explained to us which bus we should get on to get to the exit of town. Half an hour later we were already hitch-hikng on the narrow highway 10, headed for Guiria.
A few more rides took us there. The first one bought us a much-needed beer and the other was a ¨rural transport¨ truck. ¨Gratis, gracias a Chavez!¨ (Free thanks to Chavez) yelled out the driver and we hopped into the back of the revolutionary socialist transport.
When we got to Guiria, it was getting dark. We walked a few blocks and asked at the first house that we liked: ¨could we please camp in your backyard for the night?¨ The lady agreed and even let us stay for as long as we need! Now we are set up with a place to stay and our next task rises tall in front of us: get to Trinidad. It is easier said than done, this is sure. The fact that a carnival is approaching (the festivities commence Monday), does not make our task any easier. We are getting a lot of conflicting information about boats that go there and prices they charge, but one bit is certain: the ferry that leaves once a week charges 120 dollars for the 5 hour traverse, and they would only sell us a two-way ticket. That´s to comply with Trinidad´s immigration request of an onward passage for every foreigner who comes to the island. We are in the process of seeing what other solution can be found, wish us luck!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Amazon

Early next morning we moved out to the direction of the port. Not the container port, which was surrounded by a three meter wire fence (with electric wire to boot), the entrance guarded by grim men in uniform, but to the ¨public¨ port. The piers stretched out for some 10 kilometers along the shoreline, and there was plenty of boats moored up. Some were unloading lumber, some were loading rice and beer to take upstream, but most of them were not going anywhere anytime soon. We asked a few captains of the typical three deck passenger/cargo vessels like this one where they were heading, but the furthest port of call was Macapa, 100 kms away, and in the wrong direction. After going up and down the port for half a day, amidst slums, open-ditch sewages and never-ending piers, we came up to Porto Marcus Pinto. ¨Santarem¨, a beten-up three deck diesel boat was due to depart today, and the last of the cargo was being loaded into the vessel. Most of the passengers were already on board, having hung their hammocks in the best spots. They were idly waiting, observing the labourers work. The cargo deck was being filled with bags of onions and crates of tomatoes. We found the captain and inquired about the price of passage up to Manaus. ¨180!¨ was his firm word, but after some pleading, going away and coming back game, it was lowered to 150 ($75), and to that we agreed. We were actually quite happy with the arrangement, having by that time abandoned the hope of hitching out of Belem.
So we went back to the hostel, got our bags, bought some snacks for the 5 day ¨cruise¨ and came onboard.
When we showed up, the official passenger-holding capacity of the ship must have been trippled. Hammocks and travel bags took up most of the space on passenger deck and there was no space left to even sit down, let alone hang a hammock. Children were running underfoot and it was a difficult task to move along the passages: one had to step over, crowl under and generally avoid collision with the human bodies crammed into their hammocks all over. When we were leaving the hostel, the reception girl presented us with a hammock that one of the travellers left behind, so we were proud owners of a good, brand-new hammock, but without a place to hang it.
In despair, we went to the least crowded area of the ship - the cargo deck. We sat down on the hold hatch and watched the men load up the last of tomatoes. The crates were piled up to the ceiling on three sides of the hatch, and the forth side was a passage along the board. A crew member came up to us and said: ¨it is prohibited to sit where you are sitting. Go to the passenger deck.¨
¨Show us where we can go there and we will!¨ we answered.
He said nothing more and went away.
We looked around. The hatch was pretty big, and there were metal pipes running along the ceiling that we could possibly attach our hammock to... 10 minutes later we have occupied what proved to be the best spot on the whole ship (except for the air-conditionned cabins, of course). We had a cabin with a view. There were no neighbours, only green tomatoes peeped out from their card-board homes all around. True, we were a little close to the engine room, and on some nights it got pretty hot, but overall we were happy. Compare yourself:
As we were settling in for the night, we spotted a bag of pasta packages in the garbage bin next to us! What the hell? Somebody threw out 5 kilos of pasta? We promptly dumpster-dived the treasure and hid it in our bags. Half an hour later a crew member came by. He looked into the garbage bin, turned over some trash in there, obviously looking for something. Not having found what he was looking for, he went away and returned with a flashlight. He made a careful search of the area, even lifting up some tomatoes to see if the big bag of pasta accidentaly got buried in there. When we asked him if he was looking for something, he grumpily said he wasn´t. For the rest of the trip we saw him now and then sadly looking in the garbage bin, perhaps hoping that the pasta would somehow reappear. We nicknamed him ¨Matros Lapshov¨ to avoid pronouncing such words as ¨macaroni¨, ¨pasta¨ and ¨spaghetti¨ all words understood in Brazil. We guessed that he stole the bag from an even biger bag of pasta when it was loaded on the ship. He then stashed his booty the garbage bin, hoping to retrieve it under the cover of darkness. We beat him to it, and were not at all sorry. As most of the other tourists onboard, we thought that at least some of the meals would be included in the price of the passage. We were wrong. A sad looking plate of rice, beans and some meat varied in price between 6 and 10 reais ($3-5), depending on your skin colour and appearance. The whiter you are - the more expensive it is!
The pasta, therefore, was our main dish for the next 5 days, along with 2 kilos of peanuts and a kilo of raisins. Towards the end of the trip the tomatoes began to get red around us and we snacked on them now and again.
The first day of the route passed through the narrow channels of the amazonian delta. We often got close to the banks and the wall of greenery was sliding along us. We could imagine pumas, capibaras and anacondas looking at us from the cover of the forest. We saw no animals, but we saw lots of people. There were a lot of shacks built at the swampy shores of the river. The construction was dubious and the huts lacked window panes, but almost every one was equipped with a satellite dish, pointing straight up in the sky.As our ship would appear around the bend, people who lived in those huts would jump in their canoes and paddle out to the center. They would wait for the ship to get close and then the children in the canoes would start waving their hands up and down. The passengers onboard would get very excited and throw plastic bags full of stuff to the canoes. The local would then pick up the bags and paddle back home. The woman who stood near us watching the ¨donation¨ explained to us that these people were very poor and lacked essential things. People who could afford it donated what they needed most: clothes. It may be true, but many bags contained things other than clothes. We noticed potato chips bag showing through the plastic in one of the bags that floated on the water. What surprised us was that the locals never said ¨thank you¨ or some how acknowledged the gifts. They picked up the floating bags with the same face expressions as if they were pulling out a fish net.
The second day we got out into the main channel and the banks diminished to a thin line of green on the horizon. The captain steered the boat along one shore or the other to avoid the strong current in the middle, and he would switch sides often. When we passed a small village, a motorboat or two would catch up to us, tie up alongside and sell cheese, banana chips, salted shrimps and frozen fruit juice.
The third, fourth and fifth day of the cruise were hard to tell apart. We slept in the hammock, coocked pasta and generally hanged out on ¨our¨ hatch. Some passengers would occasionally come down, look at our royal arrangemnts and without saying a word, go back to their hammock. We guess that they were envious of our spot, which only encouraged us to never leave it for the fear of loosing it to some industrious local family of seven.
We read books and played chess to pass the time. The game aroused immense interest among the passengers. The men would gather in circle, observe us moving the pieces for some time and then ask if we were playing checkers. ¨No, it is chess¨ we would say. ¨Ahh, I only know to play checkers...¨ yet another man would say and walk off. We tried to teach some, but people lost interest about 5 minutes into explanation, asking if we knew how to play checkers instead.
An impressive sunset near Santarem
We arrived in Manaus on the sixth night, 3 in the morning. To our surprise, most of the passengers, rolled up their hammocks and walked off. We stayed onboard untill the morning to venture out into the port city.
No CS luck in Manaus either, so after a quick Internet session we headed for the take-off spot. In half an hour, already 4 cars have stopped for us, offering rides of 8 to 10 kilometers. We politely refused such offers, but were pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the population. The fith car that stopped was driven by a math teacher. He gave us a 100 km ride to Presidente Figuereiro, talking all the way. He told us about the cruel history of the road we were travelling.
In the 70s, the last military dictator of Brazil (Figueredo) decided to build a road from Manaus to Boa Vista. The task was difficult because of the terrain to be traversed and also because of the hostile indigenous peoples to be encountered on the way. The Waimiri-Atroari people fought against the road builders, protecting their area. The army was called in to make the construction progress. The natives were mowed down with machine-gun fire, dynamited and blown up with grenades. The indians fought back with poisoned arrows. We were to pass throught the 200 kms of Waimiri-Atroari Indigenous Reserve further up the road. The traffic is only allowed during day time, and stopping is expressly prohibited within the reserve.
We bid farewell to the talkative fellow at the turn off to his town and walked a little ways up the road. We came up to a tiny truck stop and seeked shelter for the night in an empty trailer. When we first asked the driver if we could camp in his trailer he totally did not understand what it is that we want, but after some 5 minutes of careful explanation in Portuñol, he got the idea and warmed up to us. We spent the night peacefully, enjoying sound sleep on the cool metal of the trailer floor.
In the morning, an early breakfast of bread, cheese and water, and we are back on the road. A quick succesion of three short rides placed us at the last settlement before the reserve. There, we cooked in the hot sun for sometime before the air brakes hissed behind us and we jumped into a truck carrying jet-fuel up to the airport in Boa Vista. Joao-Carlos was a sublime truck driver. He was talkative, inteligent and generally an interesting person, an uncommon collection of traits of Brazilian truck drivers. In the first five minutes of the conversation he said: ¨Once I saw a program on National Gegraphic about a French guy hitch-hiking around Brazil. I thought, wow, what a cool story, I would like to meet such a fellow, and then I see you two on the side of the road, so I stopped...¨ Joao-Carlos was interested in many things: he was intrigued by the mistery of the Incas and was planning a trip to Cusco; he collected wild orchids, for which purpose he bought some hectares of virgin forest in the Amazon; he painted with oil ¨to relax from the road¨, in his own words. Because he was transporting dangerous cargo, his speed was limited to 78km/h, and 60 on wet surface. He could not drive in the dark and was also obliged to stop frequently to rest (1:15 for lunch, for example). We did not object to such a relaxed schedule, still having our sleepless 16 hour ride fresh in the memory.
Joao-Carlos took it as his mission to show us the lands we were passing through. He would tell us local legends about pink dolphins and panthers; pirranhas that are only dangerous if you have an open wound on your body; dangerous fish cantiroo that lives in the local waters: if a swimmer urinates in the water, the tiny fish smells out the urine and quickly goes up the uretra. Once inside, it opens up its spiky fins and can only be extracted surgically. He told us about the giant anacondas (sukuri) that swallow up men and cows in one piece and pointed out tuyouyou birds, sort of like giant heron with a head of a pelican. Once we saw a herd of capibaras chilling in a roadside pool. Joao-Carlos screeched to a halt and backed up for 200 m so we could take a photo of them. He said:¨ whenever there are capibaras, there are panthers around.¨Our driver also possesed a wealth of information about the flora of the jungle and he would point out some of the species on the side of the road and talk about it.
An important part of getting to know the lands you are passing through is the food, and Joao-Carlos stopped at all his favourite road side stands to treat us to fresh fruit juice, an especially tasty dish of fried fish, fresh fruit... and, of course, a few cans of beer after a long day.
We are in Boa Vista now, heading to Venezuela in a few hours.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A lack of sleep and too much trucking brings us to Belem

The truck stop that we found ourselves on in Anapolis was not in a perfect spot: it was before the highway turned off toward Belem and a lot of trucks going to Brasilia stopped there and almost no Belem-bound driver thought it comfortable enough to spend the night on the dusty parking lot of Posto Presidente. An intoxicated trucker invited us to camp inside his empty soya trailer that night.
Next morning we went to town, the day being Sunday. On Sunday trucks travel much less than on other days in Brazil, you know. Most truckers we spoke to on the morning of that day were `taking a day off`, sipping on their morning coffee and relaxing in their folding chairs in front of their trucks. We made a tour of the city (on a public bus) and came to a conclusion that it is very similiar to the towns of the same size in Peru. Street vendors, noise and smog.
We came back to our truck stop in the evening and found shelter in the familiar trailer. The next morning was pretty bleak. Same idle waiting, nothing to do. After about two hours of sitting, we decided to explore other truck stops in town.
`Posto Brasil is where you need to go,` informed us the trucker in whose trailer we crushed. `It is on the route 153, but on the other side of town. It is just as big as this one here. You´ll have much better luck there than here.`
`OK,`we thought,`let´s go there then.` Two hours later we hopped out of a municipal bus in front of a God-forgotten Posto Brasil. It was dead. There was one truck parked near the pumps, not looking like it is going to move any time soon. The parking lot was empty except for a couple of local pick-ups. Their drivers were sipping beers in the half-open restaurant on premises.
`@#$%!` we thought, `what was the guy thinking!?` We walked back to the bus stop and took another tour, this time of the countryside around Anapolis, before coming back to the central bus station, again. There, we asked a sympathetic-looking elderly bus driver about what bus we should take to reach such and such a truck stop. `Are you guys hitch-hiking to Belem? You need to go to a different truck-stop!!! The one you need is called Posto San Jose. All trucks stop there!` He then lead us to the bus we needed to take and instructed the driver to let us off at the right place. We felt at ease: finally, a sensible man. We thought these relaxing thoughts for about half an hour, just as long as it took the bus to reach Posto San Jose. `It´s just over there, one block away!` said the driver when he let us off. We walked in the direction indicated. `@#$%!!!!!!!!` The gas station was under damn construction!!! The brick layers stopped their labours for a few minutes to watch two back-packers cross the road, survey the half build lot and walk off. We were so depressed. The bus left, and we had no desire of waiting for the next one in the sketchy suburbian neighbourhood. We were on the edge of breaking down and crying. What we had in front of us was a 15 km walk back to Posto Fucking Presidente, in the scorching sun, against the desirable traffic direction.
We walked for a few kilometers, up the hill, when we came to a speed bump, in the middle of an abandoned highway-improving construction project. We decided to try our good old way of hitching there, with the outstreched arm, smiles and waves... Ten minutes passed and a miracle happened!!! Hitch-hiking in Brasil actually WORKS!!! A trucker made a welcoming gesture and pulled over. We picked up our bags with an almost-forgotten swing of the hand and were underway all the way to the turn-off to Palmas. The driver was super cool. He was from Santa Catarina, he was a surfer and listened to reggae music. He was genuinely interested in our story and we chatted almost all the time. Like most other truckers in Brazil, Giovanni Coelho Pacifico, such was his name, travelled in pair with another trucker, an old road-dog Cuco. When it came time for them to stop for the night, they pulled out a bottle of cashasa (a vodka-like sugar cane liquor) and tought us the traditional way of drinking it. After a few rounds, we were like a family gathered around a kitchen fire.We parted as good friends at the turn-off to Palmas. There, we walked to yet another speed-bump (the further north we go, the more of them seem to appear and we welcome this fact) and hitched yet another 500 km ride in under 15 minutes. Ho-ho, the curse of Foz do Iguacu has lost its power, ha!
This driver did not look over 18, although he claimed to be 25. He consulted our road atlas several times, inspite of him reassuring us that he has been doing this run for three years now. Whatever, man, as long as we are heading the same direction, it´s all good...
The kid dropped us off in a small town the next day. There, kids stopped their games in the mud and watched us go by. Their grandmothers, who were selling cocos and corn, watched us silently as we walked. No smile, no handwave of ours could invite a response. After the fifth non-responsive grandma we changed the game a little. We opened our mounths just a bit and looked back at them, raising one eye-brow. No change of face, no response, we could just as well be making grimases at the brick walls behind them.
An expected speed-bump at the end of this village, complimented by an improvized labirinth of orange cones that the nearby police stastion has mastefully aranged to make traffic go even more slower. On top of that, a bushy tree gave plenty of shade where we installed ourselves. That was an ideal hitching spot, and we were not going to leave it for anything less then Belem, 1200 kms away.30 minutes of waiting yielded just the ride we were waiting for - straight to Belem. A truck pulled over and when we ran up to it, the driver poked out of his window and asked us in pure English: `Do you speak any English?`
`Eh, yes, we do. Sir.`
`Ok, let´s go`
Luciano spent some years as an illegal worker in England before he was found out and deported by the Immigration Police. He learnt English while he was working there, and he had a dream of going back one day. In the meanwhile, he was trucking. When he picked us up, he already spent 60 hours driving, no sleep. His eyes had dark circles around them. He had trouble concentrating on the conversation, he was so tired. `I´m a damn good driver` he told us, `you´ll see`. And he was good. In the next 16 hours that we spent with him, he drove with supreme accuracy. He avoided ALL the pot-holes on the Transbrasiliana, and some of them were mean. He drove through the night rain, remembering every speed-bump, sharp turn and the pot-hole to come. We were impressed. He kept saying:`I am so so tired.` Like many drivers, he took pills. Normally, one Amphetamine pill staves off sleep for about 8 hours. For Luciano, it only lasted 3. `That´s because I eat them all the time, hahaha!` He said. He chain-smoked, stopped to drink strong coffee on almost every gas station and just kept driving. We had trouble staying awake, but he would storm hill after hill, looking straight. About 4 am, a battery belt broke. We had to pull over and replace it. The operation took more than an hour. `Now I am really really really tired` said Luciano when he pluncked back into his seat and released the parking brake. Two hours later we parted with him outside of Belem Cargo Terminal. He was going to unload, sleep for 2 hours and then head straight back to Sao Paulo!!! Crazy.
On our part, we had yet another cup of coffeeeeee and went to town. Out of our 5 CS requests none were unswered. Hm, in the atmosphere that we felt in Belem, we had no desire to camp somewhere in the bushes. We caught lots of `interested` looks on our bags when we walked on the streets. So, we found a hostel ($7 a head), for the first time since... Bolivia, actually! An early night tonight, kids!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interesting points of Brasilian Portuguese

By and by we are slowly picking up the local lengua. When some people speak to us, we understand almost everything, while the speach of others sounds totally foreign to us (like Luis the trucker). We suspect that the accents vary greatly from one state to another, the most clear sounding (to us) are the accents of the southern states. These are the few points we managed to figure out from chatting with drivers and reading road signs:
D is pronounced as G, as in `edad` (age), pronounced `edaJ` and `onde` (where), pronounced as `onJe`
L is pronounced as O, as in `Natal` (a city on the coast), pronounced `NataO`
T is pronounced as CH, as in `Internet`, pronounced as `InterneCH` - that´s why the girls at the gas station in Rio Preto were so confused when we asked for an InterneT place nearby.
M is pronounced as N, as in an article `com` (with), pronounced as `coN`

Our waiting time on the service center outside of Sao Jose do Rio Preto has significantly improved compared to the 3 day wait in Foz do Iguacu. Here, we spent only 2 full days. The scenario was very similar: we picked a strategic spot near the gas pumps, from where we could see both the trucks pulling up to pick up fuel and also those pulling up to the restaurant/washrooms. As soon as we spotted movement, one of us would get up and stroll over to the truck.
`Hi, would you be heading north by any chance?`
`I said, North? Goiania? Anapolis? BELEM?` also pointing north with a finger
`Aaa, no.`
`Thank you, have a good trip, then`
The dialog has repeated itself for over 60 times , varying only slightly. Sometimes we would approach a friendlier-than-others truckers. They would ask where we were from, and when they found out we were Russian, they would offer us shower coupons, snacks and lots of bad advices on how to hitch hike. The winner in this category is: `If you have no luck here today, you should walk to the next truck stop, it is like 10 kms down the road... or may be 50.`
Inspired by Juan Villarino, we made a similiar sign in hopes of starting conversations with people: The message reads: `Two russian hitch-hiking around Latin America`. But, alas, it did not help much. Some truckers stopped and read the message, by syllables. They briefly scanned the map, obviously not connecting the image with anything they were familiar with. One trucker came up, looked at it and pointed to Brasil: `And this is the United States, right?` Hm.
By the end of the first day we met Aparecido, a super-friendly trucker. He was waiting for a load for the fifth day in a row! He asked us if we ate, and when we said no, he got excited and busy. He said:`I do not have much, but I would like to offer you a traditional Brasilian dish - arroefejao` (rice and beans). He pulled out the pots and the stove from his kitchen box on the side of the trailer and reheated his left over rice and beans for us. We were not particularly hungry but we could not turn down such an open-hearted offer. We ate and constantly complimented the cheff on the good taste of the meal, to an obvious satisfaction of the host. `This is the best dish in Brasil!` he said proudly, `Arroz e Feijao.`
After we washed the dishes and installed ourselves on our spot again, Aparecido (his name means `the one who appeared` by the way) appeared from around the corner. He pulled out his cell phone and put on some simple melody. It sounded like a hymn, and he was humming some words in tune with it. After we listened to some three compositions, Aparecido said: `this is holy music. It praises the Lord. We play this music in our church, the Congregation of Christ in Brasil.` Just so it happened that there was a service at the local chapter that evening and Aparecido invited us to come. We were so bored at the gas station that a visit to a `New Religion Church` sounded like an entertainment worth exploring. So we agreed.
At 6 pm Aparecido appeared again. He was dressed in a suit and looking sharp, eyes glowing with excitement. `Come, my friends, come, the service will start soon!`
We loaded into his truck and drove to the church. The interior of the church looked more like an office space rather than a place of worship: white walls and strong white light. No cross, no icons, no decoration. There was no altar, but instead of it, a white space with two white columns on the sides, supporting the golden letters: `IN THE NAME OF JESUS`. A woman sitting next to Anastasia, said: `Today you will meet the lord (senhor).` Anastasia thought that the woman was referring to the pastor, so she answered: `Oh, I already met him. In the corridor outside.` The woman looked at her, hesitated for a moment and then said: `No, the OTHER lord, JESUS`.
The service consisted of singing hymns (the males in the audience could yell out any number from 1 to 450, and the congregation would leaf through their singing books, find the right page and sing the appropriate 3 verse hymn) and praying (again, the males would come up to the front pedestal and pray very loudly to the Lord. The congregation was free to yell `Great God!`, `Thank God!` or `Halleluya!!!` whenever they thought appropriate). It all lasted two hours. When it was over, people started shaking hands and kissing each other on the cheek. Everybody wanted to meet the Russians, of course... We were quite tired of the strong illumination, loud singing and attention when we went out. Tears were running down Aparecido´s cheeks when we were driving back. `I am so happy, so happy for you. It was your first time today! It is the happiest day of my life, I will never forget it. I will pray that you will get a ride tomorrow`, he said.
The next day we spent just like the day before. It was not as boring as waiting for a ride near Bajo Caracoles back in Argentinian Patagonia but still, we were thoroughly bored.
In the morning of Day 3, we finally asked the right person - he agreed to take us to Goiania! Whoo-hooooo!
We were moving again! That was good. The driver said not a word during the 5 hour drive. That was not so good, but we could live with it, as long as we were moving! Silent Andres dropped us off at yet another truck stop in Goiania. 5 minutes of asking for rides there (Anastasia scores!)and we were underway to Anapolis with a brand new (2011 model) Scania. The music worked, the driver was interesting and talkative (only two years trucking...) and the landscape finally changed from never ending fields of soja, corn and sugar cane to rolling hills covered with forests and bamboo groves on the sides of the road. We fell asleep on the truck stop in Anapolis, 600 kms closer to Belem, 2000 more to go.