8/06/12 – 11/06/12 – Curitiba, Brazil
There’s a whole number of things that complicate the matter of traveling. We were due to leave Sao Paulo on an 8am bus to Curitiba, some 6 or so hours away, from Tiete bus hub. To get there we need to crawl the the heart of the Metro system, changing trains once. Not a big deal normally but it would be a Monday morning, peak hour, in one of the worlds mega-cities. Poorly planned? No.. maybe. To compound this, it was due to thunderstorm at around oh.. 7am. The time we’d planned to be walking out the door of the hostel. So we face these odds armed with the following strategy: Use the most front, or most rear train cabin so our luggage has least chance of upsetting other people. Adorn our wet weather jackets and shoes and cover our bags in garbage bags.
We had about a 20 minute walk uphill to get to the Metro station and thankfully it was only a kind of light rain/drizzle. Ok.. so far so good. We’re trudging along toward Paulista Ave and I notice there’s a tenth of the traffic there should be.. strange.. but we were heading toward Paulista, Brazils business boulevard. When Paulista arrived it was the quietest it had ever been. Even better, the trains were vacant as well. We couldn’t believe our luck; we’re still to this day not sure what happened but it presented as a public holiday or something. Regardless we had to pay out that good luck with the expected 6 hour, actual 9 hour bus trip to Curitiba; delayed as a result of horrendous traffic out of Sao Paulo.
Both of us were kind of relieved to be leaving Sao Paulo. You really want to love the place, you do, but it’s just so hard. He’s an example; you don’t expect outbound city highways to be pretty but Sao Paulo’s straddles this brown water cement canal and is encased by these horrible utilitarian residential apartment buildings that must have been purchased and built on special some decades ago and then were planted just about everywhere and then left vacant. I shut my eyes for 5 minutes on this highway, when I opened them the scenery hadn’t changed. It goes on forever. Anyway, Curitiba.
Curitiba is elevated at about 1000m above sea level and is a city of about 2 million. It’s a convenient stop on the way to Foz De Iguazu breaking up a 15 hour bus ride into a 6 and a 10 one. But it’s got a couple of nice things to see as well. We emerged from our bus as cryogenic humanoid samples. A little tip for the South American traveler; the buses can be notoriously (apparently) cold so dress like you’re mountaineering and pack a sleeping bag. We didn’t, so not only did we endure a longer tenure on the bus but in freezing conditions as well. Lesson learned. Curitiba was cold, something like 7 degrees C when we got off. So rather than mess around trying to find the local bus stop we jumped in a cab and found our way to the Ibis. Thanks Ibis, you’re such a cheap, new, well-facilitated hotel.
Curitiba most definitely loses that on-edge vibe that Sao Paulo has; you feel safe walking around, particularly at night. It still retains some of the urban landscape, utilitarian apartments, chipped block paving, some great graffiti (and some horrible tagging stuff too), but it’s quieter, better behaved. The old quarter around Largo da Ordem has some fantastic old buildings, beautifully preserved and colored in these soft tones of yellow and pink and light brown and blue; with that same old marzipan fashioning. There’s some buildings that have been left to rot too; forming a weird contrast, those building are tagged with this weird neo-alphabet style graffiti. Even some of the advertised tourist attractions are completely scribbled over. And in amongst those attractions are those horrible apartment style buildings. So it was a great moment to find an ornately decorated-in-blue-tiles downtown mosque, with a chap at the front reciting the Qua-ran in that wonderful singing tone. But the thing we’ve noticed so far in Brazil is that there’s a great attention to preserving some of the eco-landscape of the area; Curitiba is no different, trees line and encase the streets, and there’s plenty of parks.
The newer areas of the city are great too, some of the shopping malls are world class, with some great restaurants; we went to this place called ‘Chopp’ (which was right near an Outback steakhouse) had a really friendly waiter help us order a fried chicken basket with garlic, lime and Tabasco, washed down by a heady draft beer. Delish! Pastry shops are everywhere too, we’ve managed to figure out that ‘frango’ means chicken so we can at least organise for Rebecca to eat pastries. We’ll often get a coffee and a fresh ‘suco’ or juice, or occasionally get the mythical acai; like we did at a little boutique art cafe in old-town Curitiba. Acai is an amazonian berry, marketed by the likes of Oprah for it’s medicinal effects (not scientifically proven). Either way it’s delicious mixed with a bit of milk, honey and granola and sure-fire way to kick start that metabolism (if ya know what I mean).
The remaining day we had in Curitiba we used to visit the botanical gardens. It took us close to an hour and half to get there as they’re just outside town, but we happened to get on the wrong bus and ended up in some dodgy industrial estate where smashed toner cartridges and pornographic DVD cases littered the nearby bushes. We legged it toward the gardens which turned out to be a horrible waste of time anyway. There’s this domed structure that has a few tropical plants and pre-fab waterfall thing inside, and you can walk a flight of stairs and circle the structure from the inside on a slightly elevated platform. But that’s it.. the plants only look about 5 years old so it’s more like a municipal park-land. The upside is that the garden is near the market, so we headed in that direction, and ate some beautiful pasta prepared before your eyes at the marketplace food court. Despite Brazilian red-wine being bloody horrible up to this point, it was really a great experience to have a fresh bowl of pasta, some bread and a glass of red for lunch in the middle of busy marketplace.
We had a 10 hour bus ride ahead of us, so we thanked the Ibis again, wrapped ourselves in layers of clothing and set off to complete the journey to Iguassu Falls.