Our opening stanza in Brazil provides a real mix of experiences. We struggle with language and with illness, but are helped by a huge number of people. In this episode, the quality of Brazilians is on full display!
Wednesday, July 4th
Alas, there were no Americans around to welcome me with unnecessary explosions. The smell of burning sulfur would once again be an ingredient missing from my Independence Day activities. Still, today was special. Though I had been in Foz do Iguaçu for a few days, this would be my first day actually in Brazil.
I felt an interesting sense of symmetry on this day. I remember vividly the first time that I met Brazilians on my trip. It was at the big Alaska sign at the Yukon-Alaska border, less than two weeks into my trip. They took this picture of me:
They were so giddy to be there, having reached the final destination of their epic journey. I remember feeling a real sense of inadequacy in that moment. I had never met, in person, anybody who had ridden a motorcycle so far. Their bikes were weathered and rugged, adorned with flag stickers from at least a dozen countries. They seemed like real professionals, even wearing special pants with padding in them. (I should have taken a hint!)
It hurt my head to even try to think about how far away Brazil was, both in distance and time, at that moment. Additionally, by this point it had become clear that I really had no idea what I was doing. In that instant, completing my trip almost felt like an impossibility.
Fast forward one year, about 40k miles and 60 song places later: I started rolling into Brazil, more confident than ever. Now, not completing my trip seems the greater impossibility. It’s funny how things can change.
This would be my the first day where I would have to rely on my Portuguese. I’d heard a whole mix of opinions on the relationship between Spanish and Portuguese. Ranging from, “Just speak Spanish slowly and you’ll be fine.” to “It’s a completely different language, you will not understand anything.”
I had been doing some study for a couple weeks, mostly listening to podcasts and using duolingo on my phone. I had probably totaled about 12 hours of study by the time I entered Brazil. Surely that’s enough time to speak fluently, right? 🙂
I made sure to memorize some of my more common phrases:
“Can I pay with credit card?”
“Is there a safe place for my motorcycle?”
“What percentage of ethanol is this gasoline?”
“Yes, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
I thought I would have a day of simple communication. I would just need to acquire a few tanks of gas and find a place for the night. But, perhaps expectedly, I would end up having a day full of complicated conversations.
At my first gas stop, I had to give an impromptu presentation about my trip. The guys at the pumps were super friendly and interested in what I was doing.
The roads were in good condition. The scenery was mostly cornfields rising from the red dirt.
At my second gas stop, I made lots of more new friends and had to give another presentation about my trip. 🙂 I also met a guy named Italo on a Yamaha and thankfully had enough vocabulary to say “nice bike.” He took a great photo of me trying so hard to understand someone:
We chatted awhile with varying levels of success. I actually misunderstood him and thought he was going the other way. I saw him in my mirror at one of the toll booths and I pulled over so we could ride together.
Through a few more shouted stop-light conversations, I learned that he lives in Foz do Iguaçu, but that his girlfriend lives in Maringa.
We stopped at a station when we reached Maringa and I had to give my third presentation on my trip. Everybody was so friendly!
Even at a stoplight you can buy a Brazil jersey, as long is it is a #10 Neymar:
Italo told me about his local motorcycle club and told me they were having an event that night. He invited me to come and we exchanged info.
I found a pousada (like a bed and breakfast) on Booking and navigated there. It was a small place, just a few rooms, and nobody was home. Using my full vocabulary, I approached a couple of guys at the neighboring body shop. They were super helpful. They contacted the owner and even called some other places to check on prices for me.
The owner, Nubia, arrived and got me all set up. I was the only guest there that night, so I had the whole place to myself. It was $13/night.
My stomach had been bothering me all day. At this point it was at the worst it had been, as I was also getting the shivers a bit. Part of me thought that I should just stay in and rest, but I was eager to see Italo again and meet the rest of his “gang.” I decided to muster my strength and head out.
Look out! Totally normal motorcycle coming through:
I had such an enjoyable evening. I learned so much Portuguese, as I labored to understand and make myself understood. I had to laugh at how my plan for a day of simple vocabulary had ended up. 🙂
They served a meal of noodles and rice, which I thought would be pretty easy on my stomach. I stayed well clear of the beer!
The nature of the bikes in Brazil is really different from the rest of Latin America. They are generally bigger and run the full gamut of styles.
I even saw one of Annie’s sisters:
Similarly, there was lots of variety among the attendees and club members. There were the “typical” looking bikers, with tattoos and leather vests, but there were also families and people from all walks of life.
I really felt like part of the group, despite my difficulty in communicating. The guy pictured below, Everton, was going through a difficult break-up. He was so genuine and friendly, despite the way he was feeling.
I was having a great time, but I kept feeling worse. At around 10pm, I had to call it a night and head back to my place. Thank you for a wonderful evening, Dignos MC!
Thursday, July 5th
Welp. Here we go again.
I woke up feeling miserable, with sharp pains in my stomach and head. I vacillated between feeling shivering cold and burning up. After about two hours, I decided to try to make myself throw up, but I could only heave.
Nubia came to make me breakfast around 7:30, but I told her I would not be eating. She was very motherly and compassionate and made sure to let me know that she was available in case I needed anything. Italo also let me know that everyone from the Moto Club was willing to help me out. I decided to just take the day to rest and see if I could beat my illness by sleeping and pushing fluids. It was a thoroughly miserable day.
Friday, July 6th
I hardly slept at all and Nubia came by in the morning again. She made it pretty clear that she was going to take care of me, that I needed to either get some medicine or go to the doctor. I thought about trying to get my hands on some Cipro, but she called the pharmacy and found that it required a prescription. I was hesitant to go to the doctor because of the cost, but Nubia told me I didn’t need to pay. Late in the morning she took me to the hospital to get looked at.
The whole experience was really positive. It appears that the hospital is where anybody goes when they are not feeling well, whether it is really serious or just a cold. One of the doctors spoke some English, but otherwise I got by in Portuguese with Nubia’s help. I must have still been running a fever, but I never asked the number. The doctor seemed eager to get an IV in me to administer some medication.
Below was the only picture I took during my illness. I actually thought I was smiling, but it turned out that my expression was a little less pleasant:
I made a slight mistake in posting this picture on facebook a couple of days later. I think my expression, coupled with the IV in my arm, made it seem like my illness was more serious than it actually was. People were super sympathetic though. Thanks for all of the well wishes!
The staff at the hospital were super helpful and Nubia picked me up later and helped me get my prescription. I went back to my room and watched Brazil’s World Cup match against Belgium. Unfortunately, they were eliminated from the competition in this game. I never got to watch one of their matches with a big crowd. 😦
I felt progressively better throughout the day and was able to eat a decent amount of food by the time evening rolled around.
Saturday, July 7th
I woke up feeling surprisingly well. Nubia made a nice breakfast which I shared with a couple from Sao Paolo. I was eager to get back on the road again, so I decided to try to make some progress. I can’t say enough about everything Nubia did for me. She’s really one of those “Super-Moms” who just always knows how to take care of somebody. Despite our difficulty with a language barrier, I could clearly understand the quality of her character.
“Progress” on the day:
Within about 15 minutes, I could tell that it was a mistake to get back on the road. Though my stomach felt better, the illness had taken quite a toll on my whole system. My head was really “cloudy”, for lack of a better word. I could tell that my balance was compromised and I was having difficulty processing all of the data required to ride safely.
I took a two hour break at a gas station to watch Sweden’s final World Cup game. Just like Brazil, they were eliminated from competition this day. What a valiant effort though! It was nice to have a team to cheer for since the US didn’t qualify.
I tried to ride a little further after this break, but it was obvious that I needed to shut it down for the day. The last 20 minutes were a real struggle. I had to stop about every five minutes just to catch my breath and regain my focus. Reaching Londrina was a real relief.
I found a home at Hostel Pousada Universitaria. This was a great place and just $8/night. It had a real college feel to it, as many of the residents were students at the university.
They even had a bin for dirty dishes, where someone would wash them for you:
I met more wonderful people here, including an American named D’Andre. It’s always a real treat to hear a true American accent! He had a really interesting story too. He is a basketball player, currently playing in the Brazilian league. His journey has led him to playing in tons of places: England, Malaysia, China, Germany….
We didn’t get a picture together, so here’s one from his instagram (he’s on the left):
He plans to continue saving money during his playing career so that he can return to the US, invest and start a business. He also has a real heart for helping youth and plans to incorporate that into his future as well. It was so nice to chat with him….and to wish someone happy 4th of July in person!
Sunday, July 8th
I was determined to not make the same mistake from the previous day, so I planned to just take it easy and stay another night. Annie got some more signatures and I got some more typing done.
I’m going to leave the narrative there for now. Though these days were not a lot of fun, physically speaking, I had to feel so much gratitude about how I was cared for. So many people went out of there way to make my first act in Brazil a memorable one.
Stay away from street-food, everybody (just kidding….it’s totally worth it) 🙂
Realtime update: Ola, São Paulo! I’m in the heart of the biggest city on my trip. My main goal here is getting Annie all set to ride across the continent in a couple of weeks. I’ve already made some good progress. I’ve made many new friends, learned a lot more Portuguese and became a minor celebrity in Lençois. There are lots more stories to tell!