Friday, May 30, 2008

Chocolateless, Flirty Men in Skirts, Being Without Transportation, and Other Disasters

Since I've managed to keep everyone's attention this week with my promise of sad tales, I suppose now I can tell you all about how our trip to Espírito Santo almost didn't happen. And then how everything we planned or tried to do went wrong. You know, since people thrive off others' misery and all . . . I'll end the week with a thrill for you.

So, the trip started looking ill-fated sometime in the middle of May. I was trying to buy bus tickets for our trip there and the websites of both companies that sold tickets online were not working very well. The buses were really starting to fill up, so I knew I needed to get ours reserved right away. But the websites kept timing out on me, popping up with error messages, and all the other things that occasionally makes me want to drop-kick my computer right out our 5th story window. On May 16, I finally was able to purchase bus tickets for our Wednesday night departure on May 21. I printed out our payment confirmation and then the website messed up again before I could print out our seat confirmation. But I saw it on the screen before it disappeared.

On May 18, Eric and I went down to the train station in town to purchase our train tickets for the beautiful ride back on Sunday. (Which was, as you might recall, the whole reason for us going to Espírito Santo right now in the first place.) We were told all seats were already sold out for Thursday and Sunday. We came home and called the train station in Vitória, hoping the woman in Belo Horizonte was lying to us, but the other station confirmed everything was sold out. We were told Sunday afternoon by a friend that often times tourism companies will buy up tickets for holiday travel and then re-sell them at an inflated price, so we maintained some hope that we would still be able to get on the train.

On Wednesday afternoon (May 21), less than 8 hours before we were scheduled to leave, I jumped online to try and print out our seat confirmation in case we ran into any problems at the bus station. After entering my account info, the website told me I had no pending travel. We called the company and they confirmed they didn't have any record of us buying tickets. We were also informed that all seats were sold out now. When we explained that we had printed out our payment confirmation and gave her all the numbers off of that, and she just said, "Yeah, well, sometimes our website doesn't work. We've got people working on it, but sometimes transactions don't go through." (I later jumped on our bank's website and, sure enough, the transaction didn't go through and we were never charged.) In a bit of a panic, I started calling around to other companies and found a bus with two empty seats, which happened to be together. But, I couldn't reserve them over the phone, I would need to go to the bus station here in town right away if I wanted the tickets. Since Eric was still at work and he had the car, I would need to hop a taxi downtown. And then I realized I had R$2 in cash on me . . . so first, I needed to walk 10 minutes down to the ATM and then catch a cab, and then hope that my bus tickets weren't sold before I got there. Thankfully, it worked out. But at one point while stuck in traffic in the taxi, I started wondering if we were supposed to even go on this trip!
Once we arrived at our destination we had several other things that tried to ruin the trip for us:

- Once we were in Vila Velha Thursday morning, the taxi taking us to our pousada almost killed a man. Some guy jumped out into the middle of the street from behind a parked vehicle, and the taxi driver, along with Eric and I, nearly had a heart attack as she hit the brakes, swerved, and skidded a bit just barely missing the guy. Of course we got off pretty easy, since I am guessing the guy in the street needed to go change his britches after that!

- Thursday afternoon we decided to go over to Vitória to check out the historic part of town. We decided to use the city buses instead of dropping more cash on taxis. I have this policy about city buses: when I am riding a new bus, I always confirm with the driver that the bus is going where I need it to go. Regardless of what the side of the bus says, it is always a good idea to double check the route. My husband, who has no experience up to this point with city buses, wants us to figure it out on our own. After seeing a lot of the city, he decided to believe me about the talking thing. And then we discovered that bus drivers there aren't like the super (sometimes almost too) friendly drivers here in BH. Every time we asked a question we got this totally blank stare back from the driver. Sometimes we got a head nod or a finger pointed in one direction or the other, but nobody wanted to talk to us and help the Portuguese-fluent gringos find their way. We spent about 4 hours on the city buses for what needed to be a 15 minute in each direction trip.

- While taking the extended and unintentional tour-de-Vitória by bus Thursday evening, we ended up being in the company of a couple transvestite prostitutes at different times. Both of which, given that they never took their eyes off of him, seemed to really like my poor hubby. Remember how excited he was about the grain bins? He puts that same enthusiasm into being not excited about tall, muscular, shaved men in micro-miniskirts and wigs checking him out.

- Thursday night, about the time the train was scheduled to arrive in Vitória from Belo Horizonte, we took a bus over to the train station to see if anyone was hanging around advertising return tickets for sale on Sunday. Upon finding the station pretty much deserted and learning that the tourism companies can't buy up tickets anymore (you have to present a picture id and tickets are issued in your name at the time of purchase), we decided to go over the bus station and just buy a bus ticket home for Sunday night. Since it was dark, we decided we'd take a taxi the 1 km over to the bus station instead of walking. We hopped in a cab that was hanging around the train station and asked to go to the bus station. Once in the car, he told us it would be R$20 to go there. We told him that was ridiculous because we knew the station was only 1 km away, but he insisted, so we immediately got out of his cab. Another driver quickly offered to take us. Once inside his car, he said it would cost R$15. We argued a bit and I told him I wanted him to turn on the meter. Then it occurred to me that as insistent as these guys were about charging ridiculous prices, this guy would probably take us all over creation before going to our destination. So, after a little more arguing, we just got out of the cab and ended up spending R$3.80 for both of us to take the city bus the 800 meters to the next stop.

- We planned to go over to the big yellow Garota Chocolate Factory (see picture below) on Friday to take the factory tour and indulge in lots and lots of chocolate. While talking to the front desk at our pousada, we were informed that Friday was a city holiday in Vila Velha and everything (including the factory) would be closed, but on Saturday they would be open for the morning.

- Friday afternoon we ended up going to Convento da Penha. We got up to the top just in time to be told they were closing.

- Saturday morning, we headed over to the chocolate factory. We were met by this sign at the main entrance (which takes you to the factory or to the factory store where you can buy super fresh chocolate.):

They were closed (both factory and store) for maintenance on their electrical system which meant no chocolate for me. And in my opinion, this is much more atrocious than any flirtatious man in high heels and make-up (despite how strongly Eric disagrees with me on this one.)

- We were super excited to read that, what is considered by many to be, the best churrascaria in town only charged R$22 per person. Saturday night's adventure over to Churrascaria Gramado proved that it was, indeed, too good to be true. It was still not a bad deal and totally worth the R$40 each that we paid, but not quite the steal we were expecting.

- Sunday morning we wanted to take a bus over to Guarapari. We found out that a bus leaves on the hour all day from the Vila Velha bus station (bus stations here are called rodoviárias.) We originally planned to take a city bus over to the rodoviária , but they weren't running many buses since it was Sunday, and we got tired of waiting. So we hopped a taxi instead, and Eric told the driver we needed to go to Terminal Ibes. He had figured out during all of our city bus riding during the weekend that the Vila Velha Rodoviária was also called Terminal Ibes (or well, so he thought.) When the taxi driver went past the chocolate factory, Eric looked at me and expressed his concern that the driver was taking us to Terminal Vila Velha (the other city bus terminal in town.) He questioned the driver and shared his worries that we were heading in the opposite direction of Terminal Ibes. The driver asked, if we wanted Terminal Vila Velha Terminal Ibes. Eric confirmed Ibes, and the driver said that is where we were going. After dropping us off, Eric realized he had the two names confused. And after asking at the terminal about the bus to Guarapari, we were told we needed to catch that bus at Rodoviária Vila Velha (which is distinctly different from either terminal.) Oops.

- Since we were going to be at the beach all day before catching an overnight bus home to Belo Horizonte, we really wanted to be able to get a shower and clean up before departing Vila Velha. In the past, we've had no problem either getting a late check out or negotiating a half-day rate or something with the pousadas and hotels in Brasil. We tried to do the same thing Sunday, but we were told we would have to pay the full rate - not negotiable. They said they would be happy to watch our luggage for us though and that they had a shower in one of the restrooms in the common area of the pousada. We decided that would have to work. They had a shower alright, but there was no water heater attached. So we took very brisk, very cold showers. Have I mentioned that I really despise cold showers? It wasn't a lot of fun, and I couldn't make myself stay under the frigid water long enough to get all the salt out of my hair. So I still ended up feeling a bit grungy for the 8+ hour ride home.

- And then there was the ride home. I think we had the Mad Hatter as our bus driver. I am not sure exactly how much a bus can lean while zipping around a curve on the edge of a mountain at a high rate of speed without actually tipping over, but I am quite certain we were right there on the cusp. I had a real hard time sleeping what with being thrown out into the aisle and listening to the tires hum/scream as the weight of the bus was all on the outside edge of the tire and all. (I can say almost without a doubt that the wheels on the inside of the curve left the pavement on more than one occasion.) Every time I thought the bus was about to tip over and we would all plunge to tragic deaths, I reminded myself that vehicles rarely flip over simply by taking a curve to fast. And then my mind would take me back to November when Eric and I drove this same stretch of road ourselves and I recalled scenes like this:

And then I started wondering, hmmm, you know, if the main reason you were taking the trip (the train ride) didn't come to fruition, you almost didn't even get a bus ticket there, and nothing worked out quite as planned, maybe that was your sign you weren't supposed to go on this trip right now. Maybe we weren't even supposed to be on this bus that is about to take us all over the edge of the mountain in a fiery crash. And then I pretty much gave up on even trying to sleep.

- And then, to top it all off, the bus was over an hour late getting in to the bus station here in BH because of all the bus traffic coming back into town Monday morning. So we didn't even get the one hour of sleep in our own bed we were so looking forward to before going to work.

Luckily, we are really getting better at just rolling with the punches and taking it a day at a time. Normally, we both would have been extremely frustrated with how everything went down, but, instead, last weekend we just looked at each, laughed, and said, "seriously, we're calling this adventure the trip-where-absolutely-everything-that-could-go-wrong-did-go-wrong-and-we-had-the-most-fabulous-time." Of course, I'm chocking that one up to the cloudless blue skies, time spent napping on the beach to the sound of crashing waves, drinking fresh coconut water while my husband eats meat on a stick all the while with soft sand between our toes and a gentle salty ocean breeze cooling our suntanned bodies. Oh yeah, life ain't so bad at all really . . . even when you don't get any chocolate.


Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

Hi Emily!

I just found Rachel's blog today and she suggested I check yours out.

I am from Indiana/Kentucky and living in Maringa-Parana, Brazil. We came on an assignment with my husbands employer as well. We have been here about a year and have a year or so to go.

I look forward to reading more of your blog and explore the similarities and differences with my experience. Feel free to check mine out.

Corinne said...

If all that stuff didn´t happen it would have been just a humdrum trip to the beach. As frustrating as all that sounds, it is what will make the best stories and the trip memorable. Still, better than my feriado - moving and fighting off bronchitis!!