COPS in The Pantanal


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, January 31, 2004 was originally posted on February 01, 2004.

DAY 105:  I woke up that Sunday morning early and got in dressed in my Sunday best — I was off to the Federal Police station for my entry visa stamp, obligatory mugshot and fingerprints for being American, since I couldn’t get them the day before at the border.  I wore my nerdy Poindexter glasses in attempts to look less of a criminal, or perhaps just a white collar one.

The Federal Police station was just half a block away from my hostel.  Like many federal police buildings, inside had a strict and tidy feel like any federal building in a Hollywood movie.  The two cops on duty were also out of a movie; one tall, one short, the two Brazilians wore plain clothes with similar haircuts to Wil Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys.  They were just sitting around the lobby shooting the breeze until I arrived.

“Falla você, I mean, Você falla ingles ou espanhol?” I asked, using the torn pages in the back of my Lonely Planet book with a very, very abridged list of emergency Portuguese phrases and words (including the translation for “tampons” in case I needed any).

“Que queires?” (“What do you want?”) the Wil Smith one asked.

“Ingles. I need a stamp in my passport.”

The Bad Boys let me in.

Getting my immigration papers sorted out was an easier task than I thought.  The Martin Lawrence cop took my photo with a Sony Mavica digital camera after fumbling around looking for a disk.  He fingerprinted me onto a card after I filled out a standard immigration form.  The whole ordeal took less than half an hour.

With ink still on my thumbs and a stamp in my passport, I was now legal in Brazil and it was time to continue on.

AFTER A BREAKFAST OF SALTENHAS (chicken “Hot Pocket” turnovers) at one of the few open places open on a Sunday morning, I took a taxi to the bus terminal to get a ticket for Campo Grande, the capital city of the state, which I hoped would be a lot more livlier than the border town.  Using Spanish, I asked the man at the ticket counter for the next bus to Campo Grande.  He said something that sounded like “dos en la mañana” (two in the morning) and after pouting a bit, I realized had no way around to getting an earlier ride.  I bought the ticket and went to the baggage storage place to drop off my bag to keep there for the long-haul of a day. 

“[This places closes at 9:30 at night,]” the man said.  “[When is your bus?]”

“Dos en la mañana.”

He smiled and made motions like I had nothing to worry about, which prompted me to think — my ticket said departure time was “12:00” and usually bus tickets use the 24-hour clock.  I looked at the number list in my Lonely Planet pages, and “doze”, which he could have said, meant “twelve.”  But twelve in the morning?  I decided to stick around until noon to see if a bus would show up at Platform 1 like my ticket showed.

While waiting, confused with the new language — and I was just getting used to mastering Spanish! — I took advantage of my bag in storage and went walking for a bit to look for an open bookstore in hopes of getting a dictionary.  A drizzle came down as I walked the empty Sunday streets, and in the end I came back to the terminal bookless.

Noon was approaching and no bus came to Platform 1.  I passed the time writing and watching a multi-ethnic-casted Brazilian sketch comedy show on a nearby TV.  Just before twelve I went over to the bus in Platform 3 to see where it was going.  It was marked “Campo Grande.  12:00.” 

Quickly I got my bag out of storage and ran for the bus.  In a frenzy, the guys saw that I did in fact have a ticket for the ready-to-depart bus, and I managed to get on with just a couple of minutes to spare — all the other passengers had already been waiting on the bus for the past forty minutes. 

SAM, WHO HAD BEEN TRAVELLING WITH HER FRIEND ZOE and crossed paths with me in Bolivia a few times, told me that once I got to Brazil, the buses would be a lot nicer.  Immediately I saw what she meant:  the air-conditioned bus, equipped with a bathroom, had reclining seats with leg cushions that pulled out from the chairs ahead, forming a very comfortable Laz-Y-Boy experience.  It was easy to take a nap for a couple of hours as the bus rode through the Brazilian Pantanal region, stopping once for a lunch break in the small town of Miranda.  I took another nap for the second half the journey but was awaken by a stop at a federal police security checkpoint, where an armed officer got on the bus for a random search.  He scrutinized my passport with a gleem in his eye, and then quickly frisked my legs — and ahem, my crotch — for weapons.  Others got similar treatments, but there were no problems, unless of course someone secretly had public lice.  It was hard to feel threatened by the officer because he wore old man reading glasses that made him look like Bob Newhart.

CAMPO GRANDE, ALTHOUGH DESCRIBED BY LONELY PLANET AS “the lively capital of the Mato Grosso do Sul state” and “a major gateway to the Pantanal,” it was only allotted half a page in the abridged Shoestring guide.  Without a map I was clueless on my bearings and it being a Sunday, there were no touristy places with free tour maps open.  It started to rain and I hopped in a taxi which took me to the Hotel Americano in the city center, which was mentioned in the book.  Lonely Planet said it “has the cheapest rooms in the center at US$8/16, but it’s pretty grotty.”  However upon arrival, I found it wasn’t that bad — I’d had worse.  In fact, my small room had a TV, A/C, private bathroom and a mini-fridge with sodas and beers inside.  The manager of the hostel was a nice old grandmotherly woman who thought I was a bit too short to be an American.

After catching up on Blog duties on my laptop in the comfort of my “grotty” room, I went out to see what there was to do on a Sunday night.  Most of the places were closed on my main street (picture above), but I walked over to another and found a couple of restaurants open, including what I like to call the “American Embassy:” McDonald’s.  I resisted a Big Mac Attack and went to Disk Gugu instead, a diner-looking place that I figured was the place to go for greasy food after a night of boozing.  McDonald’s Big Mac had some major competition at the Brazilian eatery; my heart attack sandwich, inappropriately named “Pap’s Simple” sandwich, included hamburger, chicken, bacon and egg, all stuffed inside a bun, grease dripping from the edges.  There was no way to get it all down without a Coke.

BIG BROTHER BRASIL was on TV when I got back to my room, complete with a photogenic Brazilian cast that would give American reality show casting a run for their money.  As I tried to decipher what the model types were saying in their hoity-toity inflections, I reckoned Big Brother Brasil was a hit in the genre of Brazilian reality television, bigger than a show like COPS.  From my experience of the day — with federal police that just loiter around in an office or wear old man reading glasses — a reality show like COPS probably wouldn’t do so well, at least not in this part of Brazil.

Next entry: The Sims

Previous entry: Oi, Corumba!

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Comments for “COPS in The Pantanal”

  • A newbie first!  Enjoying your travels…loved the postcard from Lake Titicaca (hee, hee, hee)!

    Posted by marsha  on  02/01  at  09:57 PM

  • well if you need to curse anyone out refer to this:

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

  • MARSHA:  Hey there, I’ve always wondered if you were really out there reading, whenever I sent a postcard to “that stranger that pledged me money.”  Anyway, welcome online… hope to hear more from you and your online friends!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:03 PM

  • So, I guess the criminal treatment is a fair trade-off for comfortalbe buses?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:21 PM

  • Nice to see you’re back in civilization—McD’s and all. I always love travelling and tasting the local flavors, but after a week or so I’m craving familiar food. Invariably you come across a McD’s, and even if you normally shun the greasy slop, you simply cannot resist the opportunity to order one of everything and binge like you’ve been starving for a week. In Ireland I once ordered a 20pc nugget, choc shake, big mac, lg fries and inhaled it… Just because it was there. I wasn’t even hungry, or hungover.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:31 PM

  • Hi, son now we have an hour difference in time, huh? You are an hour ahead of us?
    It’s summertime here 36 degrees sso we are enyoying it till the rain/snow/sleet come back tomorrow. I heard it wrong this morning, the groundhog had a shadow so longer winter.
    Take care & God bless…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:37 PM

  • MOM: it’s 3 hours ahead of EST…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:51 PM

  • MARKYT/MOM:  Brazil lies in three time zones, I’m only 2 ahead of NYC right now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  10:53 PM

  • READERS PLAYING CATCH-UP:  The monthly archives are now in forward chronological order so you don’t have to scroll backwards.  Hope this helps!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:10 PM

  • oh, what you had sounds much better than mc d’s. now i want something greasy and gross. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:38 PM

  • was it good for you??? the encounter w/ “bob newheart”? hope all is going well. thanks for placing the archives in chronological order. it DOES help!

    as for me, i’ll be going to Costa Rica on Sat. (for just one week) ... woohoo!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  11:39 PM

  • hey erik, do they serve beer at the south american mcdonald’s like they do in europe? my friends always got a kick out of ordering a happy meal and a beer..

    fellow blog readers: i suggest listening to some brazilian bossanova while reading the blog.. i listen to the “woman on top” soundtrack and it makes me feel like i’m right there with erik =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/02  at  03:56 AM

  • Wait, you’re TWO HOURS ahead of us?  What’s the future like?  DO you have a flying car?

    Posted by Matt  on  02/02  at  04:15 AM

  • p.s. markyt’s a fish

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/02  at  04:20 AM

  • cristina - fu!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/02  at  04:23 AM

  • MATT:  The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. 

    (You totally set me up for that one.)

    No flying cars yet… still looking…

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

  • so what’s the translation for tampon?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/02  at  01:36 PM

  • Yeah Erik, Thanks for changing the archives to chronological order, much easier for us when we get behind.  And in case we haven’t told you enough,  THANKS again for sharing your journey with us!!!!!!!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/03  at  02:45 AM

  • CHERYL:  Sorry for the delayed response… tampons is absorventes internos…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/07  at  01:20 PM

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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 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.

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Next entry:
The Sims

Previous entry:
Oi, Corumba!


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