Part 21. Salvador, Brazil
Monday, 16 February, 2009
The peninsula is dense at the southern tip, but not so up north. It still had a lot of traffic.
Another head-on crash between a car and a truck had caused another long backup. We rode to the front and waited for the heavily-armed police to redirect traffic going our way.
We wanted to go first to the cargo airport, so we followed the first sign we saw. That was also the last sign we saw for a long time. Through several more major intersections and overpasses, just trying to keep going the same direction. We finally started asking people, and each time we asked, we got sent a different way. We spent an hour going zig-zag. I finally asked three people in a row, and they all gave me the same route, so we went back south again toward the east coast of the peninsula. When we saw another airport sign, we were saved. I don't know why there were so few signs on the highways.
The final exit off the highway took us through a nice long bamboo tunnel to the airport.
At the main terminal area, we learned where the cargo terminal was, so we rode back out to the highway and fooled around there for a while before figuring out how to turn around and get to the exit for the cargo area.
Variglog was the cargo business Don was looking for, but it was closed. It'll open tomorrow at 07:00.
Traffic was very heavy and slow. My clutch hand started to hurt as we struggled into Salvador.
We stopped at a gas station for something cold to drink. I had noticed that my headlight was out, so I also replaced that in the parking lot. I was also still having fits trying to start the bike at times.
We rode along the coast, and finally found some hotels that were really too expensive for what we wanted, but we were tired and it was late, so we just stopped at one that had a garage. Since it was in the city near the beach, it was intended more for bigger spenders than us. The manager seemed insulted to deal with us, and he had a snooty demeanor. He rolled his eyes and sighed before he answered any of my questions, but at least he spoke a little English.
The room was okay, and it had Wi-Fi, but we had been in such rooms for a third the cost. When Don took the key card from the wall socket to go down to the garage, all the room lights went out behind him. I fumbled in the dark and found an LED light that I had with me. I learned that the only way to have the lights working was to put the key card in the wall switch socket.
We made Skype calls and I did a report update. After doing emails, I was done for the night.
Tuesday, 17 February, 2009
We were up early and headed along the coast toward the airport again. Light drizzle, of course. That didn't keep people from enjoying the beaches.
Off the beach road and back on the highway. Here's a shot of some suburban area away from the main part of the city.
The cargo terminal was a busy place, now that things were happening. Lots of stuff being rolled out of the customs building and loaded into trucks and cars. Most of it looked like food, since it was usually marked for refrigeration or freezing. Motorcycles were picking up stacks of newspapers and magazines to deliver. While Don went looking for someone in Variglog to ship his bike, I waited with the bikes.
After Variglog declined to handle Don's bike, he went next door to the TAM Express building. A clerk there went out with us to look at the bikes, but it seemed that they didn't have any experience shipping motorcycles. We eventually understood that they would ship the bike, but the motor had to be removed first. Maybe it had to go in a separate crate? The oil seemed to be the problem, but he told us that draining the oil was not acceptable. So much for that idea. Don wasn't going to remove the motor and reinstall it in Miami or Houston.
Someone pointed us to a small white building that was off by itself near the cargo terminals. We went there and found that it was an office that arranged shipping agents for clients.
The guy inside had a long list of agents on the wall behind him, and he finally got one to come meet with us.
While we waited, we removed Don's front wheel and he slopped some grease into his speedometer hub, which had started squeaking again. This was the speedo hub that Laurie had removed from my Ol' Blue KLR and brought to us in Buenos Aires. It had a lot of grease in it already, but the squeak was unmistakable. Maybe another legacy of Don't crash in Peru was that his front axle was slightly bent or something else was still out of whack and causing a strain on the speedometer hub. Doesn't sound likely, but I've never known even one speedo hub to strip out the way Don's had done in Patagonia, and now this one was acting up. Anyway, it stopped squeaking after getting more waterproof grease, which I had been carrying in a plastic bottle since the very beginning.
The agent finally arrived, and we met Helio. Helio took us to a small American Airlines shipping office to make arrangements. We didn't see the doors at first, so Don walked around the pre-fab office, much to the amusement of those inside.
Helio gave us a bad vibe. When Don was trying to get an idea of the cost from the AA personnel, Helio kept them from answering and told them that they didn't know what it would cost. He was telling the airline that they didn't know what it would cost? What?
We later learned that the shipping agents are independent operators who want to maximize their profit, so they alone decide the final cost. That seemed odd to us, but the AA people told us the same thing. They are only allowed to give price quotes (for the flight) to the agents, and not to customers directly. Okay, this isn't the States, I get it.
Helio first wanted the bike to be taken apart and put into a small crate, but we convinced him that it could be strapped to a large pallet as had been done in Panama. The AA personnel agreed, and they went out to measure the bike's dimensions. The cost will be based on size and weight, but only Helio knew the formula. Helio is the short guy, second from the left.
There was a lot more haggling between Helio and the AA people, and we didn't follow it at all. Helio told us that we would need to get an official certification from the downtown police office stating that we had no outstanding traffic citations. He also said that it would take two days to get through the Customs procedures. We didn't know if that was all a sales pitch for his services or not.
Helio also decided that we needed to have a pallet made for the bike locally, and it would need to be fumigated to clear international customs. He said the cost was minimal, and that he would find a place to make the pallet. He and an accomplice then rode off with us following on our bikes. He went to several different carpenter shops, but none would do the work. We were going someplace else when he suddenly pulled over to talk with us.
Helio told us that he had gotten a cell phone call with the flight cost, and he wrote out a list of the final charges for Don. The cost was over US$3300, which was far too much. Helio wished us good luck, and he drove away with us still standing on the sidewalk in the freshening rain.
Well, okay then. How about lunch?
We rode across the street and parked on the sidewalk in front of another buffet restaurant. Gotta love the buffets; they are usually pretty good and reasonably priced. While we were eating, the cashier came to warn us that the police were at our bikes. I went out to find that this particular sidewalk area did not allow motorcycles to park there. The serious police officers had their ticket books out, but when they realized that I was just some tourist, they allowed me to move my bike to the street. After I returned to a plate full of food, Don went out to move his.
Don realized that he didn't know if Helio's price was to Miami or Houston (he had given Helio both options), so we tried calling the number he had given us. Whoever answered hung up on us, so we decided to go back to the American Airlines office. My bike's starter problem came up again, and I had to rock the bike back and forth with the starter button held down to get it to turn over. The people watching probably thought that I didn't know anything about how to start a motorcycle.
The people we dealt with most at the AA office were Tony and Chago, but Juliana was also helpful. They all spoke pretty good English, so that made things easier. They were also a lot more casual and talkative with us without the shipping agent around. They confirmed that they always have to work with whichever agent shows up, and different agents negotiate different costs for clients.
Juliana, Don, Tony, Chago in the photo. I showed them my ride report website, and they opened the site on three different computers at the same time to each look at the photos. They didn't have a fast Internet connection, so the simultaneous browsing slowed things down more. Still, they were very interested to see our travel photos. They were all very nice and helpful. Tony and Chago gave us advice on where to go to see Carnaval, which starts Thursday night.
Tony called Helio to ask about his price quote and which destination it was for. While they waited for his return call, they called another shipping agent. We finally got a quote from some agent over the phone, and it was US$2600. The Tony and Chago said that it was definitely best to use an agent, otherwise it was too complex and would take too long.
If we could get the Customs process started today, it might get done tomorrow, which would be good since Customs will shut down along with most other things for the Carnaval holiday. American Airlines would still be flying, but the other stuff had to be done by tomorrow. It would take some luck for that to happen.
Luck is not what we got. We got the opposite of luck.
When Juliana, Chago, and Tony went with us into the Customs building, they tried to get things started for us. What they learned was bad news.
Our bikes had not been imported into Brazil, and were now here illegally. The first Customs agent they spoke with got very emotional and told them that our bikes are subject to seizure as soon as they see them. Not good.
Apparently, we should have gone to the nearest Customs office after entering the country and having the import paper done there. We hadn't know that, of course. We had thought that it all had been done at the police window when we had entered Brazil.
Our AA friends then took us up to another office and spoke to a tall, severe-looking woman who seemed to be more senior. She only confirmed what the other guy had said. We tried to explain that when we entered Brazil, the police had taken all our bike papers and passports, and they had stamped us into the country and given us a paper that we thought was the import paper. No matter, she said in passable English. We had no import paper and the bikes were illegal.
Tony and the others suggested we leave the building immediately, so we did. They were as bummed as we were, and once back in the AA office, we all sat around a while wondering what to do next. The situation was that since the bikes hadn't been imported properly, they could not be exported and were subject to seizure at any time.
I remember thinking that Brazil had been easy to get into, but now we were worried that we might never leave with the bikes.
Our best bet was to ride all the way back to the border with Uruguay where we had crossed before and leaving the country there. All other crossings were more risky, and leaving by air or sea were out of the question, since there are more rigorous checks. I had the time, but Don needed to leave as soon as possible.
While we were commiserating in the AA office, a guy walked in wearing a badge-tag around his neck that seemed to say something about Customs on it. Uh-oh.
He talked fast and direct with the AA folks, and it was a while before we learned what was happening. Just in case, I went out and removed my computer from the motorcycle, hoping that it wouldn't be seized along with the bike.
When Tony and Chago told us what was going on, we were slightly relieved. This man was not from Customs; he was another shipping agent that someone had called to come help us with the bike problem. He was also interested in doing the business of shipping Don's bike, of course, so his help would come mixed in with his final price tag. None of the AA people knew the agent, but they knew whoever it was that had called him, so they told us that we should trust this man. That's how we met Jairo.
Jairo suggested that he could take us to the seaport Customs office tomorrow morning, and he could probably get someone he knows there to do the import papers for our bikes. We agreed to meet Jairo tomorrow morning at whichever hotel we found at that night, and that became our new plan.
We rode with little sense of where we were going for a while, wanting to stay fairly near the airport. We rode along the beach a while, then finally found a small plaza in the Itapua area that had a few hotels near it. We settled into the Itapua Palace Hotel, which didn't really deserve the grand name, but it was a decent place. We planned on being there one night--maybe two-- if all went well. Yeah, right.
The hotel had an underground parking garage and a small swimming pool.
The room was small, with a single bed next to a set of bunk beds. Ceiling fan... check. Air conditioner... check. Bathroom with all the fixtures intact... check. Okay, it was a small room, but all else was okay.
We got the friendly gal at the desk to call Jairo and tell him where the hotel was, and he confirmed that he would meet us there after 08:00 tomorrow morning.
We went to the small diner/ice cream shop next door for the things we needed. Ice cream, water for Don, beer for me. I really like that you can get beer pretty much anywhere.
The plaza had an odd sculpture. At first, I had thought that it was a piece of wreckage from a building or a ship, but I came to see that some freaked-out guy with a welder and a cement truck had actually made this thing to look like this.
Evokes a sense of harmony and oneness with nature, doesn't it?
The plaza was just off the beach, but the beach was rocky in that immediate area. The plaza was actually pretty nice, in my opinion. It had several places to sit, eat, drink, dodge traffic...
Every few hours, it would rain. Sometimes lightly, sometimes nearly flooding the place.
There were three of these tapioca shops next to each other. They fried the tapioca into a bread-like bun, and filled it with whatever fixings you wanted, including some odd paste, some odder gravy, something else that looked odd, and a few other odd side dishes. The only thing they offered to go with the tapioca loaf that I recognized was steamed shrimp.
The fried tapioca was pretty good by itself. I wasn't in the mood for the oddities that came with it, but I did get one shrimp from the girl who was managing the stuffings. It was crunchy and pretty good. Gotta get some more of that another time.
We sat in the plaza and the nearest waiter took our drink orders. Well, water for Don, of course. Beer for me. Of course. Don had also gotten some caramelized fried coconut, and I had gotten caramelized fried peanuts. Yummy.
When the rain came, we moved under an umbrella after asking the guy there if it was okay to join him. He said it was okay, not bothered at all. I looked around and saw that most of the people were now clustering under the umbrellas, regardless whose table that was. Nice and casual, no problem. A more casual sense of personal space down here.
Lots of people were just walking in the rain, paying it no attention. Some of them were still in swimming trunks and were already wet. Virtually everyone was wearing flip-flops. Life in flip-flops... must be nice.
When the rain let up, we strolled back to the hotel. While walking along, I had a weird thought about the cobblestone sidewalk. It must be difficult, I mused, to shovel snow from these stony surfaces. I had this vision of the snow shovels snagging up on the uneven rocks.
Then, naturally, I felt like an idiot. The last time it snowed here was like... never.
Back in our tiny room, the phone rang and the clerk chattered something about something, and them something about something else. Don said, "Huh?' into the phone at her, so she hung up. Then she came to knock on our door and explained that Jairo had called the hotel to let us know that his partner, Claudio, will meet us in the morning, and he will bring us to the seaport Customs office where Jairo would meet us.
Okay, that became the new current plan.
The wires to the electric showerhead had been cut away, and Don's shower was cold. Mine, for some reason, got hot after a minute or so. I suppose that they had installed central hot water, so the old electric shower head was no longer needed. It just took a while for the hot water to get to us.
The air conditioner didn't seem to do anything but hum, but the ceiling fan did, so it was manageable.
Wednesday, 18 February, 2009
We paid for another night at the hotel, and when we mentioned the air conditioner problem, the owner went back to check it. Being service-minded, as he was, he kindly switched it from 'vent' to 'cool' for us, and made sure that it was putting out cold air. We sheepishly thanked him.
We took a bunch of stuff off the bikes in case they got seized, then waited for Claudio.
He had called to say that he would be a little late, so that was nice of him. Claudio spoke a fair amount of English, which helped. He had lived and worked illegally in the States for a few years ( many years ago), so he had learned English then.
At 08:25, Claudio showed up and we followed him to the port facility. He had warned us that it was a long way to go, and traffic would be bad. He was right on both points. We kept up with him for over an hour, and we eventually parked on the sidewalk in front of the Customs office. There, Jairo met us and Claudio had to leave to go someplace else. Lots of passengers were exiting the Customs and Immigration building, having just arrived by sea. They were coming for Carnaval, as would be expected.
We went in with Jairo and he spoke with one official who immediately and clearly told Jairo that he could do nothing. We went back outside, where Claudio returned and met us.
Don, Claudio, Jairo in this next photo.
While Jairo went back inside to work again on our problem, Claudio talked with us a while. He said that Jairo had been in the shipping agent business a long time, and if it could be fixed here, Jairo could get it done.
Apparently, it couldn't be fixed here, because Jairo came out and told us that no one could do anything to help us. Our bikes were still subject to seizure.
Jairo and Claudio gave us basic directions to the U.S. Consulate office in Salvador, so we thanked them for their time (we hadn't paid them anything) and rode off.
We had to ask people for the street we were looking for, and although I knew we were in the right area, I couldn't find the place. When I cruised off the busy street and into a gas station to ask directions, my rear tire suddenly went to the right and the front wheel turned left and I dumped the bike into the side of a shiny new car parked in the lot. What the hell...?
With a lot of people watching, I got the bike back up and walked back to see what had gone wrong. It had felt as if someone had hit the side of my bike, but there was no one there. What I found was that a long metal grate that spanned a drainage trench in the pavement was missing some of its small cross pieces. The front tire had managed it, but the back tire had slid sideways on the grate. That had happened just as my front tire was going over a raised bump of concrete that ramped up to an access cover (that went to something under the pavement). The net effect was my bike being twisted in two directions unexpectedly. I had not seen either hazard, since I was looking at the people and cars around the gas pumps as I rode into the lot. There was also some antifreeze or something spilt there, and I'm not sure if that contributed or not.
No one approached me to claim the car I had hit. The side of the car had been scraped by the windshield and there was a small dent from where the mirror had hit it. Minor damage, but it was a new car.
I asked the attendants whose car it was, but they made gestures that I should just leave. That's not my nature, so I kept asking about the car. Don took some photos of the car while I started to go inside the convenience store. A policeman with a rifle slung across his chest watched me the whole time but never moved or said anything. Maybe he was working off duty, providing security for the store.
A customer whose car was being gassed up asked if I spoke Spanish, and I told him that I spoke a little. He then told me that the gas station attendants had told me that the car had been abandoned there two days ago, and they had no idea who owned it. He also told me that the attendants were suggesting that I just leave. Nobody cared about the car.
Folks, it was another one of those small moral dilemmas. If I stayed longer, any police involvement might get my bike seized, but there was no known owner for the car and everyone was casually waving their hands for me to just go.
I just went. I admit it.
Down the road a ways, I asked some men working on a truck's flat tire for directions to the street I was looking for, and they pointed and gestured. I followed their points and gestures, and eventually found the tall office towers we were looking for.
As we parked, I was still feeling like a total doofus for dumping the bike. It was about then that I noticed that my windshield was broken. Not all the way across, but partway across the bottom. It could be made more stable. Duct tape would suffice.
Acrylic is damned fragile stuff. The Lexan bracing behind the windshield is probably the only thing that saved it. That's three tall windshields broken. Being taller makes them more vulnerable, but it's worth it for the extra wind and rain protection. Just my opinion.
We found that the U.S. Consulate was a small office space on the 14th floor. Heather Marques was the official here, and she did what she could in the short time she could give us. The office closed at noon, and we had walked in just before closing time. After we explained our problem, she explained some things about Brazil, and she made a couple of phone calls for us. She also had her assistant do some research for us, and found three Customs offices that had officials with enough oomph to maybe fix our situation. One of those was clear across the bay, so that was no good. One was at the seaport, where we had already been. The third was at the airport, but she wasn't sure if he would be at the main airport or the cargo terminal, where we had already been.
Heather also gave us a map of Salvador and we managed to get a little coaching on some Portuguese language that we hadn't understood. She had been in Brazil for twenty-five years, so she certainly did understand. She gave us her cell phone number in case we needed to call her to help with translations, and she wished us good luck. If necessary, we would come back here another morning.
We had a buffet lunch in the same office complex, then headed back to the seaport. It was another slow, rough ride. Once in the port area, we asked people where the main Customs office was. Three people agreed that it had moved from this area. They gathered around my map and pointed to where it was now. Right across the street from the U.S. Consulate building. Doesn't that just seem natural right about now?
Another person pointed to a big yellow building, and it was some kind of government office. We worked our way there and found that it was something else, but they told me that the Customs office was in the same place that Jairo had taken us to that morning.
We got back on the highway and headed back to the U.S. Consulate area, but there was nothing that looked likely in the area the group near the seaport had pointed out. We kept on going to the airport.
At the main terminal, we left the bikes out in the parking structure (a bit more out of sight) and went inside. We went to one of the police kiosks and asked for Senhor Vicente by name. They knew who he was and they directed us to a small Customs office where a woman told us that Senhor Vicente works at the cargo terminal.
This was starting to feel like a game of Pac-Man.
We didn't dare take the bikes to the exposed Infraero cargo terminal area, so we took a taxi. The driver was a crazy person who even made me nervous.
At the cargo terminal, we went back to the office where the tall, severe-looking woman had spoken very briefly with us yesterday. She was in jeans and a t-shirt today (instead of a business-like pantsuit), and also had a more casual attitude. We talked with her a bit and asked to see the senior official, Joâo Vicente. She told us that he was still at the seaport (figures), but was coming back here later. She asked us to wait.
After a while, Jairo came in on other business and asked us how things were going. He didn't speak much English, but he completely understood the situation. He also knew who we were here to see. Jairo finished his business at the Customs counter, them came back to us and gave me the name of an official in the Recife Federal who we might talk to next. This official was in an office across the street from the U.S. Consulate. Maybe the same building others had tried to point out on the map? Jairo then pointed down the hallway and told us that Senhor Vicente had arrived.
We saw the tall, thin man in the expensive suit coming, and he was the only person dressed so professionally. His attaché case also looked like it was the most important one in the building. The tall, now-less-severe-looking woman went into his office after he had passed by, then came out to tell us he would see us shortly.
It was, in fact, only a couple minutes before the tall, less-severe-looking woman escorted us in to see Senhor Vicente. He greeted us in English, but he didn't speak it well. He did understand it better than he spoke it, though, and he listened as I outlined our problem. He first said that it was a very difficult problem. He seemed doubtful that much could be done. He agreed that the border officials had done a poor job, but he told us that it was our responsibility to find the nearest Customs office after entering the country and having the import papers done. I told him that we had no way of knowing that, and that the police who had taken our bike papers and passports should have given us some direction. He agreed.
Senhor Vicente had an assistant make copies of all our bike papers, and our passports. We had told him that when we applied for the visas in Buenos Aires, they had made us write out statements of our itineraries and intentions, and had made us describe the motorcycles we would be entering with.
Senhor Vicente said that he would try to contact the Brazilian Consulate in BsAs tomorrow, and would see what else he could do for us. He seemed doubtful, but he also seemed sincerely interested in solving our problem. He asked us to call him back in his office tomorrow afternoon, and he gave me his office phone number. We shook hands and we left feeling a little better.
Don and I walked over the the American Airlines office and talked with Tony and Chago. They had seen us come out of the Customs office and were waving to see how things had gone. We talked with them a while, then asked them to call us a taxi, telling them only that we needed to go to the airport. I trusted these guys, but Tony had told us yesterday that his fiancé worked in the Customs building and had told him that she heard Customs agents talking about seizing our bikes if we brought them there again. We just didn't want anyone to know where we might park the bikes again.
Tony said that he could give us a lift to the airport now, and we agreed. He stopped first to pick up his aforementioned fiancé at the Customs building. She was very pretty. After Tony dropped us off, we went into the terminal and had some ice cream. Our spirits were greatly lifted by Senhor Vicente's assurance that he would look into it.
We rode back to our hotel, then walked around the area looking for another hotel that might be cheaper or better. We didn't find one, so we resolved to staying where we were for at least another night. If we got bad news tomorrow, we still might still ride south to Uruguay, then back to BsAs.
We did our best to chill out, and we sat in the plaza for a while. We had some small skewers of meats, enjoyed the cool breeze, and I had another beer.
Don found a food stand that made some kind of tapioca/cheese crepe that can be made with a variety of fillings. We were too far from the beach to see it, but we could sometimes smell the ocean.
I watched a group of men play a very spirited game of Dominoes. They took turns slapping the tiles down on the table as I had seen men do from Oklahoma to Germany. I think it must be rule #14: "Thou shalt slam thy gaming tile mightily onto the playing surface with great drama and glee. It is optional to yell, Boo-Yah!" or mayhaps, "Ka-Zah!"
Other craft and food vendors were working through the crowds at the tables. One gal selling roasted peanuts came up next to me and deliberately spilled a few peanuts in my lap. Okay, so that worked to get us talking. Don seemed interested in the peanuts and she sensed a kill. He didn't have any cash on him at the time, and she picked up on that, too. She then rubbed my earlobe and pointed her peanut scoop at Don until I got out some money. It was three Reals for the peanuts, but we didn't get a lot of them. Nuts must be expensive down here.
Sorry, legumes must be expensive down here. Better?
I fetched the computer to see if there was a Wi-Fi signal in the plaza, but there wasn't one with an Internet connection.
We sent some text messages and headed back to the hotel right after a sudden, heavy rain zoomed through.
Thursday, 19 February, 2009
We didn't have much to do today aside from calling Senhor Vicente at 13:00. After breakfast, Don cleaned his air filter and I duct-taped the bottom half of my windshield to support the side that wasn't cracked.
I wrote for a while, and got the ride report caught up to within a few days of today. I might not get it uploaded to the web site today, though.
At 13:15, I called Senhor Vicente, but he wasn't in yet. He was in another meeting, and I should call back at 16:00. If nothing happened with this today, we knew that Carnaval would keep anything from happening for the next week. We again considered riding south, but would wait until after the next phone call.
I never could get the hotel's Wi-Fi connection to work, so they let me plug their Internet cable into my laptop. I looked up Chuck's blog and saw that when he had entered Brazil from Uruguay (at a different location), the border police there had stamped his passport, given him the same entry paper they had given us, and had done nothing else. He wrote that he was concerned about not being given any sort of import paper for his bike. I emailed him to let him know what we knew at that time, and cautioned him. We didn't know what he would find when he tried to enter Venezuela.
I also posted our concerns on a few Internet forums and asked advice from the South America forum on the Horizons Unlimited Bulletin Board.
In Chuck's blog, he described his experience in Belem, the local contacts he had made, and his arrangements to take a boat up the Amazon to Manaus. He intended to ride north from there to Venezuela. It was nice to get a preview of what I hoped to do.
I emailed one of the people Chuck had met in Belem, and hoped that he had advice.
It was probably the tall, possibly-stern-looking woman who spoke with me when I called the Customs office at 16:00, since she had some English. As she was telling me to call back later, she interrupted herself to say that Senhor Vicente had just arrived. After a moment away from the phone, she asked me to call back in five minutes.
When I called back, I spoke with Senhor Vicente and he got right to the point. It was good news. He told me that he had spoken with the Federal Police, and that our problem could be fixed. He told us to be at his office next Wednesday at 14:00, and they would do a special procedure to make our bikes legal. It wasn't clear who "they" were--the police or Customs. In either case, he seemed sure that there would not be a problem. I thanked him and returned his wishes for enjoying Carnaval.
With lighter hearts, we decided to go down to the southern tip of the peninsula and see what Carnaval looked like in Salvador.
Salvador was the original capital of Brazil, and it has an old, historic area near the ports. We had seen parts of it, but only as we had ridden past. Many people in this part of Brazil had told us that Salvador had the best Carnaval party, but that's to be expected. Rio had the best-known party, and the one that is purported to have the most sexually-themed parades. Fortaleza was also supposed to be a wild place for Carnaval. We had not heard such things about Salvador, but this is where we found ourselves.
Tony and Chago had warned us not to have anything in our pockets at Carnaval, since the thieves take advantage of the crowding to pick you clean. I took only my neck wallet and camera, which I either wore on a strap around my wrist or tucked in my pocket and clipped to my belt. Don had his typical slew of devices, pockets bulging.
We waited over an hour for a bus, mainly because we weren't sure what bus to take from our small plaza.
I had asked one guy, and he said he would show us the correct bus, but his bus came first and he had to leave. Don had a map, and we decided to take any bus that would get us closer to the south coast, then look for another bus if needed. In the end, we hopped on a bus marked Barra (along with other stops), and that appeared to be what we needed. It was a long ride.
After another 90 minutes of riding, our bus was near the south coast. But then it was either diverted due to streets being closed off, or its route wasn't what we thought, because it turned north and went past some parts of the old city that we hadn't seen yet. We went past a large lake that had a nice group of fountain statues, then around some traffic circles that got us disoriented. It had looked like a pretty area, and it might be nice to get back there to look around.
When the bus get into the port area, we recognized where we were and waited for the best place to hop off and walk. The bus started south from the port, and when it looked to turn inland again, we got off.
We walked a mile south with lots of other people, many dressed in their party clothes. Which is to say that they were mostly in t-shirts and shorts. Flip-flops, of course.
When we got near the road along the coast, the crowds got heavier. Vendors were everywhere, selling things to eat and drink, things to wear, things that lit up, things that made noise. I saw one vendor that I thought was selling bras or blindfolds for sleeping, but they turned out to be security wallets to be worn around the waist.
Several temporary police stations, and lots of small teams of police walking around.
When we finally got to the coast road, it was all lit up. The main parade is supposed to go along here, we didn't know where it started or ended. We just followed the crowds. Eventually the massive music trucks came by, pounding out an incredible amount of volume. Our clothes were vibrating from the huge speakers. When the trucks were right in front of you, you could feel the rhythm pounding your lungs.
Carnaval photo interlude:
We took a break from the main street and walked another of the side streets. Don had a snack that consisted of a grilled piece of cheese that he couldn't get the guy to stop grilling, so it came a bit burnt.
We saw a gal walking through the crowd carrying a giant foam penis. Later, we saw another tourist with a pair of sunglasses that had a penis attached as a fake nose. People thought that was funny, and he enjoyed the attention. Other than that, I didn't see anything that was openly sexual as I had expected. Maybe in Rio.
Back at the coast road, we were lucky to find a spot on the sea wall where we could sit and watch the crowds get thicker, the crowds get drunker, the dancing get wilder, the costumes get funnier. The weather held, which was nice.
It was popular for men to dress as women, and it wasn't (usually) a gay thing. It was just fun to do. There was some openly gay behaviors that I saw, but nobody seemed to mind. The large groups moving along with each party truck had matching shirts, so I assume that each was sponsored by one of the local breweries or banks or whatever logo was on each truck. Each truck was surrounded by a battalion of rope-bearers who moved their big rope circle along with the truck. The truck's party crowd surrounded the truck within the rope, but often the people would run in and out of the circle to meet other people, get something from a vendor, etc. You had to have the special shirt to get back through the rope and party with your truck.
We saw people making their way down to the rocky beach below to pee. Men and women. You gotta go when you gotta go.
When one truck stopped right in front of us for a while, I though I would lose my hearing and my balance. It was impressive, the way the bass notes seemed to want to push me right off the sea wall and over the edge.
We saw one group of police go by with several men in custody, being marched along in various arm-locks, but none were handcuffed. Another team of police went by with a guy being carried on a blanket. Couldn't tell if he was injured or ill.
There were fireworks near the lighthouse not far away. That might be the best place to be, but it looked like there had been some viewing stands built there. Those might be for ticket holders only.
I had expected to see a more organized parade with people in bright wild costumes and other regalia. The image I had of Mardi Gras was what I expected, but that's not what this was. It was mostly just crowds of drunk people and big, loud trucks. We were later told that they do different things on different nights, so we thought we'd come back after the weekend to see what they were doing then. Carnaval lasts through Tuesday.
We were done before the party was done. People were still arriving after midnight, so we had a very hard time fighting through the crowd to make our way out. The warning we had gotten about the thieves in the crowd were true. I had already been searched by one guy in the crowd when we had first arrived, and when I turned to stare at him, he just shrugged. When Don and I stopped for a while, the would-be thief stopped near us, possibly interested in the things that were sticking out of Don's pockets. I stared at him again, and again he looked at me and shrugged. I just kept looking at him, and after a few minutes he and two people he was standing with moved on. Don had also been warned by other people to watch his pockets. So if you go, take care.
We finally swam against the current of humanity and got off the main street. On the side streets, the going was easier, but it was still crowded.
We walked back to a place where we could catch a bus back to Itapua. As the bus went slowly on, I took a few photos of people still heading for Carnaval.
Once it was away from the coast, the bus went a bit faster as it started to rain. At one stop, over a hundred people (male and female, in their teens and twenties) stormed onto the bus, hopping over the small gate where you stop to pay the fare. The guy who collects the fares tried only briefly to keep them out, but they calmly ignored him and just kept coming. The bus was packed then, and they were sitting on the floor in places. My first impression that there might be violence quickly faded as the bus driver and fare-taker just sat back down and went back to business as usual. I suppose that there is a policy to avoid conflict when this happens, which is probably best. It certainly looked like the pirates had done this before, since they were so well organized and practiced at hopping over the gate.
The bus ride was a bit faster back to Itapua, since it was later. Don and I pushed our way to the exit (at the front of the bus), and our seats were quickly snapped up. None of the youths standing in the aisle seemed to mind when we pushed past them. Many of them got off the bus when we did, but most stayed aboard. We walked to the plaza, but everything was closed at this hour. Some bars were still open along the beach, so we went there for something to drink. One of the local panhandlers followed us around for quite a while, having recognized us as tourists. He kept chanting "Louie, Louie," from the song, but he needed to learn the other lyrics. He was persistent, I'll give him that. He almost followed us back up to our hotel, but it was a bit uphill and that was maybe too much work for him.
The air conditioner in our room was working well, so we didn't need the fan.
Friday, 20 February, 2009
We slept past breakfast. When we got up, we met Mike, who was married to the hotel owner's niece. Mike was from New York, and he told us that he was interested in doing a ride like ours in the future. I gave him my card with the web site and this ride report, and we agreed that if we got the chance, we'd talk more about the ride.
We walked down to the beach a while, settling in a restaurant near the rocky shore.
Mermaid there. The one on the left.
The food there was maybe pretty good (based on the prices they wanted), but we settled on some empanadas, which they called pastels here. I had one of each; shrimp, beef, and chicken. Here's the shrimp one. Very tasty.
While we were eating, I felt an itch on my right inner forearm, and idly scratched at it. When I looked closer, it looked like a mosquito bite. Then I noticed the area around it was getting all bumpy, as if from a rash. Within five minutes, an area the size of my palm was bumpy. I thought that maybe I had brushed up against some irritating tree or bush, or had leaned on something that had caused the rash, but I couldn't account for it. After a while, the irritation subsided and all but the place where I thought I had been bitten had gone smooth again. Maybe it was a small spider bite? Don't know. (As I write this a few days later, it appears to be okay, with only a small red spot where I must have gotten bitten by something.)
Don bought some roasted cashews from another wandering vendor, and again found that it was an expensive snack.
After eating, we rode back out to the cargo terminals to talk with the guys at the American Airline freight office. We were less concerned about our bikes being at risk, since the head guy was on the case. The AA office was closed for lunch, so we went out and found some oil for Don's bike (in case he has to drain his oil prior to shipment), and sat for a while in a small shopping center and had ice cream. Back again to the cargo area after that.
Chago was the only person there, and he called Jairo for us. As it turned out, Jairo was across the road in the Customs office, and he came over to talk with us. Don was interested in whatever he could get done during Carnaval. Maybe we could get the pallet made, perhaps? Jairo seemed to be handing over our case to Claudio, so he called Claudio. While Don waited there, I returned to the hotel to try to get the ride report caught up and uploaded to the web site.
I was so sweaty when I got to our room that I took a shower and washed some clothes while I was at it. I was online when Don returned. He hadn't learned much from Claudio, since there wasn't much happening during Carnaval. The cost was also undecided because Claudio was still trying to get the bike classified as regular freight rather than hazardous freight. Don was feeling okay about these guys giving him a good rate, though.
Assuming all went well next week with the bikes, Don needed to start arranging a flight for himself. Laurie is a whiz at this stuff, so we plugged into the hotel's Internet cable again and Skyped her. She was able to find some options for Don, and he rode off to the airport to make reservations. It looked like he would fly to Sao Paulo first, and that limited how much baggage he was able to take with him. He had some packing decisions to make regarding what he takes with him and what he ships with the bike.
When we had shipped the bikes from Panama City to Bogota, it was with a company that did that regularly, so there were no real snags. Now, there might be issues with the weight of the bike, what Customs or the airline would allow to be with the bike (such as oil in the motor), and it was suggested that Don clean the bike thoroughly before shipping it.
Some countries, such a Australia, have very strict controls on how clean a vehicle has to be. They don't want any foreign bugs, seeds, or bacterial coming to their isolated land. I've read reports of riders having their bikes sent back to where is was shipped from if it wasn't clean. I've not read that about the U.S., though, so it might not be such an issue. Don wasn't sure and didn't want to take chances, so he will clean the bike.
While I had been online, I had gotten an email from Chuck. He would be entering Venezuela the next day and was hoping to get through without difficulties. I also had a few responses from others, and for the most part, they seemed to think that getting out through any land border was no problem. Some were surprised that anyone cared about our bikes. Our only problem, it seemed, was that Don was trying to leave via the airport, and that is what got the Customs people all excited. No one person who answered me online said that a land crossing would be difficult.
I spent some time on a few rider forums, and when Don returned, we headed out to eat. We hit the tapioca stands again, and this time I got one with some of the fixings. There was a bit of salad, some shrimp, and some of the odd paste stuff that didn't have much flavor. In the lower-left corner of the Styrofoam tray is some really hot sauce that the lady who served it to me seemed to recommend. I like hot sauce, and this was certainly hot. On the left is another tapioca thing, this time it was chewy and almost rubbery. Rolled in sugar, it was a nice dessert.
There was a brief light rain, and we didn't need to move from our open table to one under an umbrella. Other people walking around just ignored it, too. It least it didn't get cold when it rained.
We were still a bit hungry, so Don ordered a mixed grill with rice from another stand while I was planning on more of the skewered meats. But no, the skewered meat stand wasn't there tonight, so I waited to see what Don's meal looked like before ordering something. It looked pretty good when it eventually showed up. Beef, chicken, and a small sausage were accompanied by rice and beans, and a dry powdery stuff that seems to be a local condiment. It only adds texture, and it's very dry, so I don't get it. It looked okay though, and I ordered the same. When mine eventually came (not fast food), it had everything but the sausage, which I think the waitress had said they had run out of. The beer was good.
Next, we went back to the tapioca crepe stand, where I had one with bananas, chocolate, and cheese. It was pretty good, if a bit messy. They make these crepes with a scoop of something that looks like small plastic pellets. It must be a mix of tapioca and cheese, since it melts into a crepe.
We sat there a long time, watching the people and doing nothing much at all. It was nice.
We finally went back to the hotel, made Skype calls, and I spent some more time online. When I started uploading photos to the web site, Don headed back to the room. Uploading a lot of photos takes a long time.
I was still uploading files at about 02:00, when there was quite the racket outside. Apparently a local Carnaval parade going by. A guy dancing on a truck, lots of people in the street, music blaring. It was over pretty quickly.
I was done uploading the ride report at 03:00, and was packing up the computer when another, louder parade went past the hotel. This time, it was many more people, and most of the men were dressed as women. Some of the men's behavior was a bit more overt, so maybe this was a gay parade. Don't know, don't care. It was quite colorful. A bit swishy at times.
A couple thousand people eventually went by, and one big music truck (not as big as the ones downtown, though).
Several men in drag were roughing up another guy in a bikini top and short dress. It almost looked like they were actually beating him up, and he tried to escape a few times but he was too drunk to fight back much. They pulled him along in the parade, and no one seemed alarmed, so maybe it was some kind or ritual hazing or initiation. Or something.
I took the above photos through the locked gates at the front door of the hotel. The night clerk refused to open the gate when some of the revelers wanted in, so he must have known they weren't going to be customers.
Saturday, 21 February, 2009
We got up early (too early for me), since we wanted to have breakfast in the hotel. After that, we went back to snoozing.
Don later got up and went out for a long time. When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I learned that he had started washing his bike and making lots of small adjustments and maintenance tasks in the garage.
I did some writing, did some Sudoku puzzles, and basically chilled out.
We went along the beach again, but none of the places to eat there were appealing, so we headed back to the buffet near the plaza.
Along the way, we detoured through a fish and meat market. Boxes full of live crabs suggested that some restaurant around here would serve them soon.
After eating, we hung out near the beach until sunset.
The mermaid again. People leave food here, so I assume that it is an offering to the sea.
Back in the plaza, we sat and relaxed for a while. A parade with a giant whale float went by. That was different. It was still early, only 18:40, but we had nothing to do.
All that 'doing nothing' is tiring, so we went back to the hotel where we each flopped down and fell asleep. I had this intention to wake up later and make some calls, but I didn't wake up until 03:00 when Don's wife Bev called my cell phone. We hadn't been in touch today, and she was worried. I must have sounded pretty groggy, because she didn't think it was really me. After hanging up, I tried to go back to sleep, but then Laurie called and said that she had promised Bev to check and make sure it wasn't someone else using my phone.
Yes, it's me, I told her, and I'm going back to sleep. She laughed and said good night, but I never was able to get to sleep again.
Sunday, 22 February, 2009
Since I hadn't been able to fall asleep again, I was awake when a heavy rain came and went, pounding the hotel. Don slept through it, but that was easy for him to do because he was asleep.
The hotel was busy for breakfast when we finally got up. Must be a full house. Don went back to work cleaning his bike and reorganizing things. I wrote and got the ride report updated again. In the afternoon, we went back to the plaza. We had more of the tapioca crepes, mine with salami and cheese, Don with shredded meat and cheese.
We were still a tapioca mood, so I had another of the fried tapioca balls with a few more of the odd accompaniments. Still don't know what some of them were.
We took another bus to the Barra area, and walked the side streets to the coast. They were still setting up some of the big party trucks since it was early. The crowds were building, though, and we didn't see anything new that made us want to hang around.
We walked a few miles north and managed to get into a long dead-end road that ended at some kind of security building with guards. Back on a better road, we passed more and more people heading south. I was looking for a lake with some fountains that I had seen from the bus when we had come down here last time, and it took a while to find. It is the Fonte Nova, the new fountian. Dramatic statues in the water surround the central fountain, each representing some important historical figure. They were so stylized (and mostly Oriental looking) that they didn't seem to represent anyone in particular.
The lake was a nice area, but the immediate surrounds could use an overhaul and remodel. It would be a good place to put some upscale shops and restaurants. A couple were fishing from one of the decks, and caught some small wiggly fish.
We caught another bus back to Barra, then managed to stumble onto an air-conditioned bus that had recliner seats! It was a bit more expensive, but worth it. It didn't make as many stops, either. Back in our neighborhood, we walked the last half mile and saw a party going on near the beach. It wasn't for us, and the drizzle had cooled things off, so we headed for the hotel.
Monday,, 23 February, 2009
We were up again fairly early again, since Don wanted to get information from Jairo or Claudio on his shipping cost and destination. It still hadn't been determined if he could get the bike shipped to Houston, which would be his preference, or to Miami, which would be cheaper but a longer ride home.
After I got the ride report updated, we used Skype to call the shipping agents, and we got Jairo, who would meet Don at the American Airlines office. So Don rode off there while I stayed at the hotel and handled a lot of email and forum responses to our problem. Lots of people had suggestions, and most offered their best wishes. I was surprised at how many riders who had been here before suggested that the import paperwork wasn't very important. The consensus seemed to be that the land crossings were no problem, but since Don had to fly his bike from here, that was definitely a problem.
Typing is sweaty work, especially in a room that faces the sun. I had to plug their cable into my laptop, so I had to do that in the dining room that was next to a big window that faced the big ball of burning gas in the sky. When I was done on the computer, I needed a shower, so I did that and some laundry at the same time.
Don came back with no news. The details of what the shipping agents can arrange will have to wait until after Carnaval. So, not willing to do nothing, he went back to cleaning the bike. Me, I lounged in the air-conditioned room and did Sudoku puzzles and listened to music.
When he was done working, Don showered and we went down to the plaza to try a different empanada/pastel shop, and then more of the tapioca crepes.
We walked by the beach and around the small amusement park near the plaza, then went back to sit under an umbrella and watch the people go by. It was nice, but it was getting monotonous and we were both a bit bored. He went back to the hotel to do email and Skype, and when I had finished my beer, I followed.
Lounged some more. Did some more Sudokus. Yawn.
Tuesday, 24 February, 2009
Didn't do much of anything. Did some planning for my ride, intending to go to Recife, Fortaleza, Belem, up the Amazon on a boat to Manaus, then north to Venezuela and make my way to Caracas. Might try to ship the bike from there to Miami, maybe to Panama; depends on how I feel at the time and what the timing is.
Don worked more at cleaning his bike. I worked on trying to learn more Portuguese from a book I had.
Later, we went back to the buffet and then sat in the plaza for a couple hours. The constant noise from traffic and all the people reminded us how hard it is to find quiet down here. Every now and then, some other jerk with huge speakers strapped to the roof of his car would ride by slowly blasting everyone with his lousy song selection. There is no noise ordinance here, so it's open season on your ear drums.
Don mused on ways to open a tapioca snack stand in the States. They were doing a brisk business.
I mused on all the pretty gals going by. Well, Don did too.
Wednesday, 25 February, 2009
At breakfast, we asked Mike about the fruit he had on his table. One of the women in the kitchen called it a 'piña' but that must be a local variation, since they have pineapples here, too. The scaly skin removed very easily, and the inside was segmented. You pulled the segments out and sucked the pulp from the seeds. It was very sweet.
When I asked, Mike told me that there was some SCUBA shops north of where we were staying in Itapua. I might go check out a dive on Thursday, if Don can't use my help. I had brought my C card along, just in case.
We lazed until it was time to head out to meet with the Customs people at the cargo terminal. They were closed for lunch when we got there, so we went over to the main airport terminal and had ice cream and a small pizza. At least the pizza at the food court was better than most we have had in South America.
At 13:30, we went back to the cargo terminal and went to wait in the Customs office. Jairo was there on other business, and he told us that Claudio would be coming soon. I took a photo of our bikes in the Customs parking lot (a secure, fenced area), in case we never saw them again.
When I went out again later, the two customs agents seen above were still standing with the bikes. I went out to see what they were doing, and they asked me which bike was being shipped out. They obviously knew all about us. When they went back inside, one of them used his laptop computer in the lobby, and I was able to look over his shoulder to see what he was doing. He had opened the Horizons Unlimited web site and was browsing around. He had apparently seen one of the HU stickers on my bike.
We waited until 14:20, and Senhor Vicente greeted us when he arrived. The tall, stern-looking woman (looking almost perky in a bright green tank top with some bits of flash on it) went into his office and came out to tell us it would be a few minutes. She went back to helping a shipping agent who had very long dreadlocks. Goodness, those things must be difficult to take care of.
The few minutes turned into a couple hours, during which time I can only imagine what was taking place. Nothing obvious. We waited in a lobby by ourselves for a while, but eventually other people showed up. Someone turned on the TV, and we got to be annoyed by Woody Woodpecker cartoons dubbed into Portuguese. Those were followed by a show where people lifted heavy objects with various pierced body parts. I really didn't want to watch yet another guy lift a keg of beer with his pierced earlobes or pierced forehead. Next came a Candid Camera-type show that was too campy and staged to be worth watching.
The tall, not-quite-perky-looking woman came to us to confirm the make and model years of our bikes, so that was encouraging. Not that it made anything go faster.
At 17:30, we were given a copy of the "Special Procedure" document that was designed to address our error of not properly importing the bikes. Senhor Vicente himself warned us before he left that we must properly export the bikes before leaving Brazil or the special procedure they had opened for us would be a big problem if we ever wanted to enter Brazil again. It was ironic that from all the riders who had written me during this week of waiting, I learned that crossing at a land border would not have been a problem. Now, since I had fully (and "Specially") imported the bike, I would have to take care to export the bike when I leave. If I had not done this procedure (which Don definitely had to do), I could have just ridden out of Brazil with nary a care. Oh, well.
We waited another 45 minutes before we got another form to fill out and sign, then we were given a copy of that and told to wait down in the lower lobby for someone from Customs to give us the final form. They had created thick folders for each of our bikes, and I was amazed to see the amount of paperwork involved. This can't be normal. Oh, yeah... that's right. It's "Special."
Don had a long talk with Claudio during this wait, but very little was achieved. It was as if every time they talked about shipping the bike, they had to start all over again, and there was always some misunderstanding. No, we haven't already found someone to build a pallet--why would you think that?. No, you haven't yet given a price or a final shipping destination yet. What? You don't have the dimensions or weight of the bike? Didn't we already do that? Aaarg.
The Customs office had closed at 18:00 (which is why they sent us to the lower lobby), but some people were still going in and out of various offices. When Jairo came out with some import papers for the bikes, I had to wonder why it was the shipping agent that was doing that. It was all very confusing. In the end, we had our papers and were assured that exporting the bikes would not be an issue. I guess we'll see.
Don agreed to meet Claudio at the cargo terminal again tomorrow morning, and hopefully they can focus on getting the bike out of here in the next two days.
Back at the hotel, Don booked the very last seat from Sao Paulo to Houston on Saturday. He is still taking a chance that the bike will ship without much problem to Houston, although that still hasn't been resolved. His time pressure is making him make some guesses, and if it gets to be unmanageable, he might have to abandon the bike here. That would suck.
We went down to the plaza for food, and hung out at a table under an umbrella in the rain for a couple hours. Before we left, some wild-talking guy came around and just got right to it. We had no idea what he was talking about, but he thanked Christ at one point, and seemed terribly happy to be alive. He shook our hands several times, then he then started pounding on his chest with one fist while blathering non-stop and with great enthusiasm and joy. He did it several times with increasing speed and impact. It's a mystery. He was either thankful for his beating heart or he didn't like his shirt.
I took his photo while Don was still laughing at his antics, and the guy absolutely loved that I did so. He shook our hands again, laughed and started in on some other topic that also seemed to involve hitting his chest. Our night was about over anyway, so we got the waiter's attention and paid our tab. I have no idea where the old guy went, but I'm sure he was still having a good time at someone else's expense.
Thursday, 26 February, 2009
After breakfast, we headed for the cargo terminal to meet Claudio at the American Airlines office. He was there when we got there, and we discussed getting a pallet made. He then took us to the TAM office, where we had gone last week. At that time, the guy we had talked to said we had to remove the motor because it was full of oil and gas.
Today, we talked to another official that Claudio knew, and he assured us that the motorcycle would be no problem, and it would be cheaper than AA. The snag there was that they could only fly it to Miami. Nothing was certain at any point during any these discussions.
Claudio then led us to a couple wood shops, one of which was one that Helio had led us to last week. At the second shop (an actual pallet-making business!), we spent an hour discussing with the foreman the size and construction of the pallet, that it was for a motorcycle, that it would have to be strong enough to have tie-down straps attached to it, etc. He understood and showed us how he would make it. The cost of the pallet was R$/50, about US$21. The snag here was that having it fumigated (necessary for international shipping) would be R$/150, since the spray truck would have to come to the lumber yard just for our pallet alone. So, the pallet was going to cost almost a hundred dollars. It should be ready tomorrow morning, and they would deliver it to the cargo terminal.
Claudio (on the right), with the shop foreman.
Back at the AA office, we tried to get clear answers to the total cost, but Claudio wasn't able to give a final price. Too much was undetermined, such as the weight of the pallet. Finally, there was nothing to do but come back here at 14:00, when Claudio would hopefully have answers from TAM and able to give us a final cost.
We used the time to re-locate the pallet shop (so we could find it again tomorrow without following Claudio), and then rode up the coastal road from Itapua. Mike had said that the best resorts and hotels were up there. We did see some nice security-gated residential areas, and lots of small beaches. Along one beach, there was a campground that had some motorcycles parked in it.
After a few more miles, we came to a road that buses were using to drop off tourists and beach-goers. These gals got off the bus like that. Yummy.
We parked the bikes and I walked the beach a little, but I was very obviously not there to enjoy the sun so I got some stares. The beach was huge. Miles long and very pretty. Great surf rolling in, several food and drink stands spread out, vendors with rolling carts. It wasn't crowded either, which was a bit of a surprise. I never did see a SCUBA shop anywhere, though. With a beach like this, there probably wouldn't be any decent diving nearby.
Watching all the drivers in Brazil, we've noticed that they use hand gestures out through the windows as often as they use turn signals to indicate lane changes, merging, turning. Another thing that is impossible to miss with all people in Brazil is the frequency with which they use the "thumb's up" gesture to indicate "thanks," or "okay," or any other positive response. You'd think the gesture originated here. Maybe it did.
We stopped at a small bar along the road to have a cold drink, then went back to the cargo terminal. Claudio never showed up, but we talked with Juliana in the AA office. The first thing she said to us when we walked in was that there was bad news. "Great," Don said. "What we really need now is bad news."
Juliana was very apologetic, but she said that the American Airlines security person had insisted that the motorcycle be disassembled and X-rayed before it could be loaded and shipped anywhere.
Disassembled? As in taken apart? Yup.
Tried as we did, there was a very clear wall here. The motorcycle had to be inspected for drugs, and every part of it that could contain anything had to be physically inspected or X-rayed. Never have I heard or read anything like this anywhere.
Juliana told us that the security woman was very annoying, and that there was nothing that could be done to by-pass this inspection. Even the motor had to be removed and opened for inspection. Don tried to explain to Juliana that if the motor was running, there could be nothing hidden in it, but he was talking to the wrong person. Juliana apologized again and said that it was an American Airlines security policy in Brazil. She was getting off duty, but she handed us off to Robson to keep trying to help us.
We had me Robson (pronounced Hobson) in passing when we were here last week, but we hadn't had much interaction with him a the time. His English was good, and he also shook his head in frustration when the issue of taking the bike apart came up.
Jairo came to the AA office and told us that Claudio was at a hospital with one of his kids, so he couldn't be here. Jairo's English was not good, so he and Robson talked a lot. Apparently, Jairo is hard to talk with in Portuguese, too, because Robson told us that it was very difficult to get much from him. Jairo also advised us that TAM had decided that they could not ship the motorcycle at all. AA was our only option. What the hell?
Do any of these companies know what they're doing?
Jairo left, and Don went to find him to get more information about Claudio's final costs. If it was too much, he would have to abandon the bike here and go home without it. If the security inspection fiasco proved true, the same would happen. There was no way we could take the bike completely apart and reassemble it tomorrow.
It was ludicrous.
While Don was gone, I expressed some strong disappointment to Robson. He said that he understood, and echoed Juliana's sentiment that the security people were not good to deal with. I asked him if everything that shipped out of this terminal got taken apart and inspected. Did every box and can (millions of them!) get opened and checked? He said they either got opened or X-rayed unless they were sealed from the manufacturer. No way could I believe that. We later learned that the large X-ray machine here at the Customs building was broken, so what were they supposed to be doing now?
It was insane.
Don returned, but without news. We had a very serious talk about alternatives if the bike could not be cleared and loaded tomorrow. I think we were both psyching ourselves up for Don having to abandon the bike here. I suggested leaving it in the Customs parking lot and giving them their Special Procedure papers back. "Here, do whatever you want with them. The bike's outside and I'm going home."
Robson got Don on the phone with the AA security woman, and he talked with her a while. He told me later that she sounded like she was ill, and she was at home. She confirmed that the bike had to be inspected while a security agent stood by, and would then be kept in their safe-keeping afterwards until it was loaded onto the plane. She gave no indication that there was any leeway on the issue. In the end, she agreed to be at the cargo terminal at 09:30 tomorrow to oversee the inspection of the bike. Then she added that she got off duty at 11:00. Did she think we could take the bike apart in 90 minutes and get it back together so they could secure it?
It was preposterous.
The AA security woman had mentioned something to Don about using a YATA (?) company to facilitate the bike's inspection. Apparently, any YATA-certified business can attest to half the bike's surety, so that it doesn't have to be taken apart. The motor, included, I would think. When we asked Robson about it, he said that yes, a YATA-certified agent from one of the companies on a list can help. Help to what degree wasn't clear. He did admit that he wasn't allowed to recommend any YATA company, but he could provide a list. He never produced a list (because of the distractions that followed), but he said that DHL and FedEx were among these companies.
Jairo came back and said that he had talked with Claudio again. He and Robson had to have several long, strained discussions before Robson was able to give us the final news. According to Claudio (through Jairo), the final cost of everything to ship the bike to Houston was under $1500. That was good news, especially since it included the destination agent's fee and all local costs aside from the pallet. It was also good news, because it meant that Claudio was still working on Don's bike problem.
Jairo then added that Claudio was also talking to the main AA security people in Sao Paulo to see what he could do about getting the bike cleared through security.
There was nothing else to do today, and everything depended on tomorrow being a good day. We thanked Robson a lot and invited him to come visit us in Colorado if he ever gets to the States.
We left the AA office and met Tony and Chago outside. They were aware of the security problem, and said that they had never heard of such a thing. They had nothing to offer but optimistic vibes that all would be okay. "Tomorrow, it will get fixed," Tony assured us.
It was late, after 18:00, and the only thing we had actually accomplished (aside from getting the pallet ordered) was burning up a whole day's worth of sunlight.
Back to the hotel. Back to the plaza. Back to the tapioca crepe stand after some empanadas. I had a crepe called Romeo and Juliet, and it had cheese and a mixed-berry jam filling in it. It was pretty good.
Another early day tomorrow and lots to do.
Friday, 27 February, 2009
My wife's birthday. Happy B-day, Laurie.
It was going to be a dramatic day, regardless what happened. We got up early, had a quick breakfast and headed for the pallet shop. The pallet was supposed to be done and ready at 08:30, but this is what it looked like when we got there.
Not good. When I asked when it would be assembled, the foreman said it would be two hours. Also not good.
I stayed with the pallet (sorry, the pile of wood) while Don headed for the airport. He wanted to be there to take advantage of anything he could. And the security woman was supposed to be there at some point in the morning. I walked around looked pissed off, which was partly an act, and the foreman sent a couple of his guys to start assembling the pallet. At least the wood had already been fumigated, which is why it was covered in plastic.
It took an hour to get the main pallet done, although I don't know why. When they carried it out front, we got to work fitting it to my bike. There needed to be blocks of wood trapping the tires. The main guy who did the finish work on the pallet never did understand the purpose for blocking in the tires, so I had to explain and draw out everything. He knew how to use a hammer, but that was it. He wasn't stupid, understand--he just had no experience with any of this.
When I put my bike on the pallet, the thin boards bent under the weight of the bike, so the first thing was to reinforce the top of the pallet under the wheels. With cross-pieces in place, I put the bike back on and we started on the blocking. This took half an hour. Should have taken 10 minutes.
I had to roll the bike off the pallet twice so they could drive nails, and the first time I rolled the bike back, one of the helper/watcher goons grabbed my bike and knocked me over to the right. Crash. At least he helped me pick it back up.
When all seemed done, we test-fitted the bike and it looked good. As I rolled it back off, I failed to raise my sidestand which hit the pallet and knocked me over again. They probably thought that this was how you rolled a bike off a pallet. You flopped it over to the right and picked it back up.
None of the trim and blocking pieces they used had been fumigated. No one cared. The main pieces had been stamped with the fumigator's mark, so they were good.
It was 10:30 when the pallet was done. A van had arrived, probably arranged by Claudio to take the pallet to the cargo terminal. I gave the Four Stooges a tip (which kinda freaked them out), and they put the pallet on the van.
The Stooge on the left mostly watched and handed nails to whoever needed them. The Stooge in flip-flops did absolutely nothing except watch and point at stuff. The third Stooge did all the nail-driving and head-scratching. The fourth Stooge (with only one flip-flop...?) pushed me over once, and cut pieces of wood. Quite the team.
I paid R$70 for the pallet. Not sure why it was twenty more than agreed on. When I asked about paying for the fumigation, the foreman waved it off. (Of course, Don ended up paying for the fumigation later at the cargo terminal.)
The van and I arrived separately at the cargo terminal, and Don told me that he was still waiting for the security woman to arrive. Nothing had been done in all that time. It was after 10:30, and the security crew supposedly only worked until 11:00.
Eventually, a whole team of security people showed up. The leader was Vanya, with whom Don had spoken yesterday. She explained that the bike had to be reduced to fit though a 1-meter X-ray machine. After nearly an hour of haggling and negotiating with us, the shipping agents, the American Airlines crew, and with several other mysterious strangers that wandered in and out of the conversation, it was decided that nothing could be done to alter this decision. We said, "Okay, let's get started. Where do we take the bike?"
This became a separate problem. They tried but failed to get Don a clearance to enter the secure part of the airport where the only remaining X-ray machine was. That meant that we would have to disassemble the bike here, load the parts onto a trailer and they would drive them to the X-ray machine. Then they would return the parts to us, and we would put the bike back together again while the security people supervised (once the bike was examined, they had to assure that it wasn't later jam-packed with Wheaties, or M&Ms, or drugs, or something.
We were astounded at the silliness and unnecessary work this would require, but we knew we had no choice. "Okay," we said. "When do we get started and how will your people get a 400-pound bike through the X-ray machine?" That cause them to go into a new series of conversations and arguments. It was as if none of them had the ability to imagine the next step involved in any process. Vanya admitted that they had never flown a motorcycle from here before, and they were only following their boss's directions. Well, that made everything better.
They had Don ride the bike up to a loading platform, near where the pallet was waiting. The bike just sat there a while. Don paid R$/40 for the van driver, and R$/150 for the fumigation.
The optimist, Claudio, went away to finalize some shipping paperwork, and to get a copy of the fumigation document. We stood around with tools at the ready, just waiting for someone to make a decision. More and more low- and mid-level bosses got involved, and each time they did the process stopped and got more confusing. It was maddening. It was also 13:30.
Chago came from the American Airlines office and started trying to force people to let us get started on the bike. Some boss seemed to chew him out for a while, but eventually, we were allowed to start working on making the bike smaller. We measured, and found that after the luggage was off, we would need to remove the windshield, mirrors, rotate the handlebars down, and remove the forks and front wheel. Not so bad, so we did that.
When we pointed out that once the front wheel was off, the bike couldn't be moved around very easily. This was totally unexpected by all the professional American Airlines security fuckwads, so they had to have another conference. Vanya there with three other useless people.
They rolled a trailer up to the cargo platform, and Chago finally got things moving again. We rolled the bike onto the trailer, put it on the center stand, and they ran a strap over the back of it. One of the bosses had to get involved again to make them run that one strap just the way he preferred, so that slowed everything down again. They then had us remove the front wheel and fork tubes. With the front tire off the trailer, this was easy enough, but it still took a while. Don was going to be paying overtime for all the security people who had to supervise this mess, so this could get expensive.
All of this was so they could push it through a small X-ray machine without letting us help. It was crazy.
I strapped the luggage boxes and tire and fork tubes to the bike, just to keep them from bouncing off the trailer. I thought they would add another strap to the bike, but no. At 14:30, they backed up a tractor and away they went with it.
We waited in the AA office, and Jairo came to get Don's flight info. This was needed for shipping the bike, to make sure someone was going to be there to claim the bike.
At 15:00, Chago returned and soon after that the bike did, too. It was back on the center stand, one strap across the back, and everything else was just piled on the trailer. It's amazing nothing fell off.
We started putting the front end back on the bike while our personal security guard (a serious, silent, cute gal) watched like a hawk. Chago helped as much as he could, just to keep things going as quickly as possible. It took 30 minutes to get the bike ready again, and we then rolled it into the Customs controlled area. Our security guard followed.
Suddenly, Chago asked if we had drained the oil. No, I said, no one told us to. He decided it was no problem. Any gas in the tank? Essentially empty we honestly told him. Again, no problem. He never asked if we had disconnected the battery. We volunteered nothing.
At 16:00, Chago started strapping the bike to the pallet with AA straps. This wasn't good. These were straps used for securing cargo to the modular floor of a plane, and one of them was for cinching wooden crates. Totally wrong for this. Chago did his best, but his tie-down job was not good. I showed how the bike can still fall over when you only run straps over the bike without a 4-point tie-down. He went and found more useable straps, and together we got the bike so secure that when I rocked the whole pallet side to side, the bike didn't move. Now he understood.
Chago was great, make no mistake. He just didn't have experience doing this.
Don went with Jairo during all this time, getting the final paperwork done. Go to this window, to that desk, to another office, wait for some information or paperwork over here. When Claudio showed up with the fumigation certificate, all seemed to be about done. We were much relieved.
In the end, it will cost Don about US$1800 to get his bike home, and that includes fees at both ends of the flights, the security guards fees, all the tariffs and regular fees, the agent's fee, the pallet and fumigation, etc.
We waited for the final blessing, and it came wearing a very large, flowery muu-muu. I don't know what her function was, but I suspect she was the final Customs inspector. She casually looked at the bike (never looked at the VIN or any numbers) and then she told me that I needed a shower. Her important job done, she waddled back into some back office.
That seemed to be that. We said our good-byes to Jairo and Claudio. Claudio said that he doesn't think he will ever take a customer with a motorcycle again. Too much trouble, and it had kept him and Jairo from their other clients for too long.
We went to the AA office, but only Chago was there. Don tipped him for his help, but he tried to give us the money back. It was only his job, he insisted. He was a great guy. So were Tony, Robson, and Juliana.
I discovered that during the work on Don's bike, I busted my cell phone. That was an expensive mistake--it wasn't a cheap phone. We tried my SIM card in Don's phone (the "stolen" phone he had bought in a shady shop in Santiago), and to our surprise, it worked! AT&T must use a phone band that Don't phone had. I was able to make and receive calls, and Laurie sent me a text, but I never could get a text message out. Some problem with Brazil's cell phone circus.
It appeared that we were done. Everyone seemed surprised that we had succeeded.
Don rode on the back of my bike to the hotel, and after showers, we went in search of food and drink.
With that accomplished, we went back to the hotel and did calls online and I did this very report update. Now, time for bed.
Don will fly out of here tomorrow.
Saturday, 28 February, 2009
Didn't need to get up early, but we couldn't sleep past 09:00. We ate and Don got his final packing done. With his first flight leg to Sao Paulo, he was limited to a single 50-pound checked bag and a 10-kilo carry-on. He just barely managed that. Of course, he was the only guy in Brazil wearing a heavy motorcycle jacket that was stuffed with stuff. Good thing they didn't weight that.
His big bag on the back of my bike, he wore his carry-on backpack, and we were good to go.
I dropped him off and went to park my bike.
With a few hours to kill, we sat in the food court and talked and reminisced about the ride so far. He regrets not being able to ride up to Belem and take a boat up the Amazon river to Manaus and then ride into Venezuela, but his available time had run out. I saw him off at the departures gate, and we did our good-bye hug there. I think I have him talked into writing his own thoughts about the ride at some point, and I will include them if/when he does that. (On one of the forums, someone referred to Don as the Teller part of the Penn and Teller act. He was seen, but never heard from.) One more time, he stuffs his shirt and pockets with all the things he's carried all this way.
I had some things to do, so I went back to the hotel. I needed to fix the headset in my helmet (again), bun in the end I just pulled it out and replaced it with the one that Don had removed from his helmet. He hadn't needed it anymore, anyway.
I did some other minor work on the bike, but couldn't bring myself to take it apart and try to find and fix the starter problem. When it happened, I had always been able to shake and kick the bike until the starter motor started working, so I just assumed that that was how it was going to be. I hoped that I wouldn't have deep regret about that decision, but as I wrote this, I was resigned to having starter issues now and then.
I expect to have a lazy afternoon and evening. There will probably be beer and good food. In fact, I'm sure of it.
I'm out of here tomorrow.
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Part 21 - Salvador Brazil
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