Oi, Corumba!

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This blog entry about the events of Friday, January 30, 2004 was originally posted on February 01, 2004.

DAY 104: The sun rose and woke me up around six in the morning, only after a mere three-hour slumber.  What the sun revealed was worth the rude awakening though; we were well into the Bolivian side of The Pantanal, with its marshy, tropical vegetation and impressive rocky cliff formations.  The girl next to me wasn’t so impressed; tired, she just kept on sleeping, often falling and leaning on my shoulder until she’d suddenly wake up embarrassed.  When another two-seater opened up after a stop, she snatched it to sleep in peace.

The train continued through the wetlands of The Pantanal, stopping in small outpost towns to drop off and pick up passengers.  At each stop, the train was assaulted by dozens of food vendors, usually women and children, selling lemonade, chicken and empanadas.  Each one in a different pitch of voice announced their goods in increasingly annoying repetitive calls, with vocal inflections ending as a question.  After a while I tired of hearing “Limonada fria?  Limonada fria?  Empanadas de pollo y queso?  Limonada fria?” over and over and over again. 


THE LOCOMOTIVE CONTINUED TO PULL OUR TRAIN eastbound towards the Bolivian border town of Quijarro through the hot and sticky wilderness, cooled only for a short time by a passing shower.  Along with the kids on the train, I popped my head and arms slightly out the window, ducking in whenever a branch would whiz by.  I used the on-board toilet whose drain was merely a big hole to underneath the train.  A team of border cops entered the train at a stop and randomly searched bags — I had to reveal my electronics and cameras, but without any narcotics I was let go.


AFTER THE ALMOST FOURTEEN HOUR JOURNEY — four hours longer than anticipated — we arrived at the end of the line in Quijarro.  I shared a taxi with a young Bolivian couple to the border crossing, across town.  I paid the 10 Bs. (bolivianos) for the exit stamp and then changed a 50 Bs. note from a shady money changer guy on the street.  Fifty Bs. translated to 17 Brazilian real — I didn’t change any more for fear of having gotten counterfeit money like I did during my Ecuador/Peru crossing.

The young Bolivian couple was detained by the border cops for a while, but I befriended two Bolivian guys that weren’t together.  “Taxi?” one of them asked me.

“Si.”

“[It should be fifteen real.  Five, five and five.]”

We walked across the border line into Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country, and one hour into the future with the time zone difference.  There was a collection of taxis nearby.  An eager driver put our bags in his trunk.

“[Fifteen real]” the one Bolivian said. 

The Brazilian taxi driver got upset.  “[No, where did you hear that?]”

“[Fifteen.  No more.]”

“[You’re not going anywhere for fifteen,]” the Brazilian argued back, or so I figured without really knowing much Brazilian Portuguese.  He took our luggage out of the trunk and dropped it on the street.  Fifteen was too little and the other cabbies nearby agreed.  I was confused; why were we worried about getting a taxi now, don’t we have to get our entry stamps in our passports?

Another driver said he’d take the three of us into town for the (still low) price of 30 real.  The other Bolivian guy convinced the first one to just pay the ten — time was running out with the time zone change.  It was already 5:10 and the customs office, which I soon discovered was at the bus terminal all the way on the other side of town, was to close at 5:30.

The driver sped across the streets of the Brazilian border town of Corumba, bringing us to the customs line with ten minutes to spare.  We paid the driver the ten real each and got on line with our passports.  The two Bolivian guys went ahead of me, making me the third and final guy on line before the window closed for the day.

However, just making the cut off wasn’t good enough.

“[United States?  Oh, you are American,]” the immigration officer said.  He continued to tell me something in what I heard as a mix of English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese — needless to say it was quite confusing.  Brazilian Portuguese had been described to me by most people as “Spanish with a French accent,” but I soon discovered it was more like what a woman I once met in Antarctica two years prior had described it:  “It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before.”  Sure, written Brazilian Portuguese looks like Spanish with a French flair to it, but spoken, there are inflections in the voice that make it sound almost Dutch, German or some sort of Scandinavian language. 

I didn’t know what the immigration officer was saying, so the Bolivian guys helped me translate, surprised that they had been in the midst of a Yank the whole time in the cab.

“[I can’t help you.  You must go to the Federal Police in the town center,]” I deciphered from the immigration officer’s mouth.  “[You must get…]” he started, and then did the motions of a fingerprinting.  I had heard through the Blog grapevine that Brazil had initiated a new law requiring Americans to be fingerprinted and photographed upon entry because the American government does it to Brazilians.  I figured I was one of the first Americans — if not the first to enter Brazil through its Bolivian “backdoor” since the law was instated.

“[Is the office open now?]” I asked.

“[No.  Go tomorrow.  Eight in the morning.]”

And so, I began my adventures in Brazil that day, technically as an illegal alien.


CORUMBA, BRAZIL, ACCORDING TO LONELY PLANET, had a “reputation for poaching and drug trafficking,” and wasn’t one of the major destinations covered well in the abridged Shoestring guide — only one page was allotted for the border town and there were no maps for me to tear out.  However, in the one page I found the Hotel Angola, a cheap hostel in the town center where I decided to go.  With only seven real in my pocket, I needed to change some money in order to get a taxi into town.  I asked the information booth and they directed me to a store, which directed me to the baggage claim — none of them had changing services and there was no bank or ATM in the rather small terminal building. 

“[How much to the town center?]” I asked in Spanish to a taxi driver that looked like legendary comic book creator Stan Lee.  (Sam, who I toured the Bolivian salt flats and the Bolivian capital city of Sucre with, had been in Brazil and told me that I could get by in Brazil in Spanish more than English.)

“[Ten real,]” the cabbie said.

“[I only have seven.  Is there a bank in the center.]”

“[Yes.]”

The Brazilian Stan Lee drove me into town as a slight drizzle came down from the overcast sky.  I was waiting for him to take me to a bank but he took me to the Hotel Angola and waited for me to pay.  Great, he didn’t understand me, I thought.  I paid him the seven real I had, dropped off my bags in the hostel and ran off to find an ATM.  The first one wasn’t closer than a block away, and it didn’t accept my card.  The second one I found didn’t either.  Luckily the international HSBC was nearby — the first machine asked for my checking account number (Who carries that around?), but the second machine sorted me out with English words.  I ran back to the taxi driver and tipped him a real extra for waiting.


SOMETIMES I FEEL THAT TRAVELING — or Life in general — is one big adventure role-playing video game where you have to collect certain objects to unlock doors or continue on.  In adventure role-playing video games, almost nothing happens without some sort of reason or purpose for later on in the game.

While going to the bus terminal seemed like a waste of time and money — I could have used my initial ten real to go straight to the town center instead of wasting time there, only to find out I couldn’t get a visa stamp or a change of currency — the one item I collected there was a brochure that a guy gave me for his tour agency.  On the back of the brochure was a map of town with a star on his tour office, as well as the other points of interest.  Without a map from Lonely Planet, this would be my guide.

After checking into my spacious room with a cheesy circular honeymoon bed and an all-important ceiling fan, I used the map to wander around town.  The place was a ghost town with mostly everything closed — Lonely Planet said that most things closed by 1 p.m. on a Saturday.  I wandered the practically empty streets to the Porto Geral on the Rio Miranda, the Plaça da Indepencia and the Plaça da Republica.  It was a gloomy day, but a huge, majestic rainbow appeared from a break in the clouds (picture above) to foreshadow that perhaps, in the end, things would be okay.

I had dinner at a Brazilian pizzeria and had a pie with corn on top, complemented with a bottle of Skol, Brazil’s proudly brewed beer served in a glass bottle encased in a plastic cooler thing to keep it cold.  I soon confirmed what I had heard about prices in Brazil — with the exchange rate into US dollars, prices were about doubled from what I had been paying in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.  I supposed I just had to adjust to the inflation, just as I had to with common expressions:  no longer was it ”¡hola!” it was “Oi!”  No longer was it “gracias,” it was “obrigado.”  The one thing that didn’t change though was the apparent love for 80’s American pop music, which came from the pizzeria’s speakers.  I swear between Bolivia and Brazil thus far, I hadn’t heard Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” more than ever.


I WANDERED AROUND CORUMBA’S STREETS at night — the illegal alien I was — passing a church fair with outdoor bingo in the Plaça da Republica and stopping into the one internet place in town.  Tired, I walked back to my hostel and laid in the circular bed under the cooling fan above — in a new country with a new language, a new currency and new problems.

Oi, Corumba!






Next entry: COPS in The Pantanal

Previous entry: Random Thoughts While Waiting and Walking




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Comments for “Oi, Corumba!”

  • Time out, time out… it’s Superbowl Sunday?  You can’t tell here… “Football” is soccer down here and it’s a lot grander. 

    So far markyt just told me Janet’s boob popped out during the halftime show… 

    Someone give me a commercial update!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  12:37 AM


  • it was definitely her boob….actually, justin made it pop out….but it wasn’t her real nipple….wanna know why?....

    cuz i wasn’t droolin….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  12:39 AM


  • patriots won. 32-29

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:53 AM


  • markyt is right on the money, as usual!

    Sounds like the force will come in handy in Brazil.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  05:04 AM


  • Planned boob rip… as Justin (Timberlake) hit the word “naked”... looked silver to me, like it was covered in body makeup.  CBS/NFL very quickly cut away to commercial… I’m sure Kelly and Regis will be bitching and moaning about it all morning long.  Wassup with the federales?  They bust your butt for entering without a pic/stamp???  Operation Reciprocity in full effect; take THAT you damn dirty Americans!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  05:09 AM


  • Hi, Bud
    I am off to work this “summer morning”  24 degrees & sunny, it’s groundhog day & did not see any shadow, so long winter.. I am glad that you made it to Brazil.  Be careful.
    We love you..

    God bless…...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:12 AM


  • superbowl sunday wasn’t the same without ya! next year you can join us and corduroy at the chalet. welcome to Brazil!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  12:51 PM


  • conversational brazillian portuguese is weird with those soft j-sounds—sounds like a soft russian-based language.  i am very jealous that you’ll be there for carneval.

    ***hi markyt!

    Posted by hanalei  on  02/01  at  01:24 PM


  • it was definitely a nipple and It was pierced…a silver star which made it look like a tassle from afar. (wow…i just rapped)

    i got the pic to prove it too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  01:47 PM


  • Erik, what is your quest?  Is it just to gain experience?  Take some great pictures? See how the other ninety percent live?  For your mission to be truly heroic, you need a mission, a purpose.  To find the meaning of life?  To go past the illusion of a role playing game, and find the real meaning of your life?  Or even just to learn “Why they hate us?”  Who are “they”?  Where is Globalization taking the planet?  Lots and lots of questions.  So just what are you trying to learn?  Or perhaps, become?

    Posted by Craig Ullman  on  02/01  at  02:04 PM


  • just saw the pic…and i’m droolin’

    close up confirms….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:09 PM


  • CRAIG ULLMAN:  Very good question… I’ve been wondering that myself, even before I left… 

    I wish I had thought of some loftier “purpose” to the trip around the world for the sake of a “complete story” like in Brad Newsham’s “Take Me With You” book (see Amazon.com), but when it came time to take off, I didn’t even have my bags packed until the day I left NYC.

    For now, I know that I’m here to see the world and research little nooks of it for short articles.  This Blog is merely my notepad for me to remember things later on for writing freelance articles or more shorts in books.  Unless I can come up with some universal theme to everything—any ideas?—for now, I suppose a collection of shorts will do.  (It’s worked for Tim Cahill, Bill Bryson and Doug Lansky.) 

    It’s only been 104 days out of about 500, so I still have a good 400 or so days to figure things out.

    BTW, the answer to the Universe is still “42.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:32 PM


  • HANALEI:  Yeah, the spoken language IS weird…  “Spanish with a French accent” is such an understatement!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:35 PM


  • SHEA:  Is it still gonna be “Cordoruoy?”  Excellent. 

    I still may be away during the NEXT Super Bowl (wow that’s far away), but we can fire up the XBox anyway…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:41 PM


  • If you are interested, I found a site that has some basic Portuguese (Brazilian) sound clips on it: http://www.saunalahti.fi/~huuhilo/portuguese/gb_greetings.htm
    It might come in handy.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  02:51 PM


  • wow, i read about brazil and their plans to fingerprint and photograph americans who enter their country. i forgot that would end up affecting you too.

    http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2004-01-06-brazil-usa_x.htm

    it was all over the news 2 weeks ago. but then, i guess it is a good protest to how the u.s. is treating foreigners who enter here. homeland security is getting out of hand.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  03:07 PM


  • Hey Erik,

    I came upon your site this weekend and have spent many hours already catching up on your world trip.  This fellow New Yorker just wanted to say I love your work, and I wish you much luck and success on the rest of your trip!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  03:21 PM


  • yo Erik…i think we found a positive ID of those steps in the Snoop Dogg/Pharrel video….

    Bust out the camera cuz wheat is gonna make a fool!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  03:42 PM


  • Markyt/Wheat: The next objective is to find the women’s soccer cages. T-Minus 18 days!

    Posted by Paul  on  02/01  at  03:45 PM


  • OOOO.  Fashion Week in Sao Paulo! Too bad you are over 1000km away, I’d give you a mission of posing as a fashion photographer and crashing the partay!  I’m sure you could whip up some press credentials on that Powerbook of yours.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  03:59 PM


  • Happy Groundhog’s Day everybody….6 more weeks of winter….not for Erik of course….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  05:00 PM


  • HARRY:  Thanks!  Glad you enjoy my work and welcome to The Fellowship of The Blog… spread the word around! 

    Curious, how did you find the site?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  09:08 PM


  • DUAINE:  How long is fashion week for? Oh wait.. a week… duh…  I suppose I’ll be there after the models are gone.  Oh well…

    Ask WHEAT for an update on NYC’s fashion week… he sneeks in with his UN credentials…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  09:11 PM


  • DTELLA:  Thanks!  Any other pages with more phrases than that?  (i.e. “Can you play Y.M.C.A.?”)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  09:13 PM


  • Hey Erik,

    How I Found You:
    Ex travel Agent here who always fancied writing.  While looking through jobs at GregsList (http://newyork.craigslist.org/) I came upon an add for travel writer articles, which led me to Traveler’s Tales site, which led me to your article (Pretty In Pink), which led me to your Global Trip page, which led me to your blog…whew! (Just another day surfing around)

    How You Helped Me Out:
    I had been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling while things were still good in the travel biz, and I didn’t even mind not traveling for the past 4 years now.  But you have now given me the ich…and with that, some type of goal for the future, to get my sulking ass out of my apartment again.

    Having lost my fiance, my car, having the last 3 companies I worked for go out of biz and now being broke with not too much hope of making good money again in the career I had chosen….With all this, I had also lost hope for the future….

    So, I have now decided that I will take on my own around-the-world journey, my own discovery of myself and the world, and hopefully with no time table.  Sure it may take up to a year from now until I will be ready to go, but it has given me something to look foward to, to get me off my ass and out of the ! 

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    P.S. The word IS spreading;) And sorry for the long post.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:17 PM


  • HARRY:  No apologies for the long post…  Glad The Blog could be of some inspiration to you. 

    If there’s anything that traveling does, it puts things in perspective for you… especially coming from a place like NYC and its rocky economy and going to places where people just live day to day, seemingly satisfied without much. 

    People are not “poor” in the “Third World” as you may have discovered through my entries… Really, all you need in life is shelter and food—and occassionally a beer. 

    Need more help getting your ass in gear?  Try reading “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and “Rough Guide:  First Time Around the World” by Doug Lansky… in that order.  Then go out and get that “Hyenas…” book that I’m in (pub. by Travelers Tales)—sorry, couldn’t resist a plug!

    So you found me via that “Pretty in Pink” story, huh?  I don’t suppose you’ll start wearing hot pink bras in Canada any time soon, eh?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:04 PM


  • - lol..No, I don’t think I’ve reached that point just yet.  I don’t even know what got me to read the article actually, but I’m glad I did cause it lead me to your site, and much more interesting reading.

    I’ll be keeping up and live vicariously through your posts now, while trying to set myself up for my own trip/new life;) Perhaps we can even meet up when you get back.

    P.S. Already checking out the books, thanks! And yes, I will have to get a copy of the hyenas book too:)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:18 PM


  • Erik:
    “Can you play Y.M.C.A.?”

    pode voc? jogar Y. M. C. A.?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/04  at  05:22 PM


  • Hey Erik!!

    Glad to see you’re alive and kicking and still exploring the great wonders of the world.  Do us proud.  Derek and I are settling in for a moment while we’re saving up for the next adventure. Meanwhile, we’ll just go local and explore what is there to see in New South Wales, Australia.  Derek reckons this state is different country!  But the bug hasn’t completely left us yet…

    Keep the stories rolling, mate. You’re our point person when we travel to South America.  Derek hopes to go to Brazil in August, but it’s for a PT job for the Australian vball team.  He hopes to have a bit of time to look around though. 

    Take care!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/14  at  02:08 AM


  • Hey Erik!!

    Glad to see you’re alive and kicking and still exploring the great wonders of the world.  Do us proud.  Derek and I are settling in for a moment while we’re saving up for the next adventure. Meanwhile, we’ll just go local and explore what is there to see in New South Wales, Australia.  Derek reckons this state is different country!  But the bug hasn’t completely left us yet…

    Keep the stories rolling, mate. You’re our point person when we travel to South America.  Derek hopes to go to Brazil in August, but it’s for a PT job for the Australian vball team.  He hopes to have a bit of time to look around though. 

    Take care!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/14  at  02:08 AM


  • Hey Erik!!

    Glad to see you’re alive and kicking and still exploring the great wonders of the world.  Do us proud.  Derek and I are settling in for a moment while we’re saving up for the next adventure. Meanwhile, we’ll just go local and explore what is there to see in New South Wales, Australia.  Derek reckons this state is different country!  But the bug hasn’t completely left us yet…

    Keep the stories rolling, mate. You’re our point person when we travel to South America.  Derek hopes to go to Brazil in August, but it’s for a PT job for the Australian vball team.  He hopes to have a bit of time to look around though. 

    Take care!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/14  at  02:09 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
COPS in The Pantanal

Previous entry:
Random Thoughts While Waiting and Walking




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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