I`m returning to a theme, because on my last two return trips to Brazil I had to pass through customs and immigration not once but three times! When I asked the ladies at the immigration desk whether I was having to pass through immigration a second and third time because the great state of Minas Gerais (where I was headed) had ceded from the Union, I only received the dead pan expression of a semi trained automaton. What else might one expect from someone whose sole purpose in life is to operate a rubber stamp!
Why? Well because from abroad you can only check your bag to Sao Paulo and not to your final destination. Therefore, when you get to the shithole that doubles as Brazil`s defacto capital you have to check in once more and pass through customs and immigration again. But the ultimate joke is that inside Brazil you have to go through immigration for a second time in Sao Paulo to board your domestic flight and then a third time when you land at your final destination. They are damn suspicious of us Gringos you know! I think they`ve all been watching too many repeats of Outbreak and Contagion. They are still running the recorded messages about reporting yourself to the authorities on arrival in case you have a cough or developed a temperature during your flight. This is a remnant from the 2010 Swine flu outbreak. The only sure thing is that if you are stupid enough to report to a medical official at a Brazilian airport you`ll most likely die of something you catch whilst in quarantine in a Brazilian state hospital!
You have to ask yourself how the 7th largest economy in the World hopes to cope with the influx of foreign tourists who are going to be f***ing and blinding and waiving their fists at all the delays and the sheer incompetence of public officialdom during the forthcoming World Cup and Olympics in Brazil. Huge queues at arrivals, rude staff, medieval conveyor belts, crap signage, broken down lifts and escalators, and no one fluent in Esperanto let alone English. And of course that nonchalant, almost French attitude of `We don`t give a shit Gringo, you`re south of the Equator now, so you just dare complain and see what we can do to you!` Public officials, still have a mindset from the military era, are still far from accustomed to being told they are a useless bunch of f***wits, and will most likely arrest people in droves. That will make for excellent TV and no doubt do wonders for foreign tourism numbers, which have flat lined in recent years in anycase. Most will be arriving at Sao Paulo international airport, which is just as awful as it was nearly 20 years ago when I first landed here. On a recent trip to the poorest country in the EU, Romania, I found that even they have managed to build a brand spanking new and efficient airport for their capital. So why is the Brazilian government so totally useless and why does it continue to torment its citizens, its long suffering foreign tourists and business travellers with such as a developing world experience at its major international airport?
Simple the politicians have stolen all the money. The new president can`t sack her ministers fast enough, as the local media gets better at highlighting what a thieving bunch of bastards so many of the politicos are.
What else is worth reporting to those planning to travel to or within Brazil? Well, while recently attempting to plan a trip for family members from the UK to come to Brazil I was simply dumbfounded to discover that many Brazilian tour operators and airlines still don’t accept international credit cards, can you believe that! So if you want to go to more exotic places like the Pantanal then you`d best find a buddy in Brazil with a Brazilian credit card to pay for your trip and who trusts you to pay him/ her in local currency when you arrive! Travelling in Brazil, two years out from hosting the World cup, still largely remains the preserve of adventurous, accomodating souls who carry cash. In that vein I embarked on another Brazlian journey to the shores of the north east.
I was heading north to escape the ceaseless damp and dreariness of the central and southern rainy season. My wife and I had decided to try out the new, and as luck would have it, quite functional services of TRIP (one of the newest and fastest expanding internal airlines in Brazil – using our Brazilian credit cards naturally!) and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of their service both during check-in and whilst on-board. We were headed for an unpronounceable village on the coast (it had an indigenous name) half way between Maceio and Recife. Recife airport is the best thing about the town (to find out more about how they`ve totally screwed a once fine city you`ll need to read my book!). It never ceases to amaze me that places like Recife, Salvador and Curitiba have decent national airports when the international ones in Sao Paulo and Rio remain so utterly shite.
We embarked through the slalom of roadworks leading out of the city and eventually came upon a half decent dual highway. Sat-nav was switched on and told us we had 194Km to our destination that would take us 2.34 hours. Everything seemed just balmy and I was beginning to think the north east of Brazil had really changed. We were relieved of that delusion after about 45 minutes when we hit our first enormous pothole; how the chasse did not snap in half and the tires all blow up I don`t know; not least as we were being driven by a wild eyed Brazilian, whose response to driving into a danger zone was to speed up. Perhaps he thought he could clear the increasing number of potholes by defying gravity, or that Chitty Chitty bang bang would magically sprout wings and we`d all burst into song! As I was in charge of the I-pod music selection I put on ACDC`s Highway to Hell to see if he`d get the hint. However, that and the wailing of the women on the back seat did nothing to dissuade him from his belief in himself and his unique driving abilities!
Trucks were now slaloming to avoid the earthquake like craters in the road until the main highway south actually turned into a field of craters in a field of sugarcane. How we made it through to the coast in our 1.0 piece of shit Fiat Palio rental car I don`t know but thankfully we did.
Our sat-nav gave us one more piece of good advice to turn `Leftchie`, as we left the main `highway` to branch off for the beach. It was a Brazilian sat-nav set to English, which would invariably say `In dois centos e cinquenta metros turn leftchie!` Infact she only ever told us to turn `leftchi` which made me think that this was some kind of politically inspired Commi sat-nav! Even more so, as from that moment on she kept telling us to turn `Leftchie` up a mountain, through a field of sugar cane, or down a sheer ravine into a river! The thing was totally bloody useless off the main road and just goes to show that in December 2011 sat-nav in Brazil is still a waste of money if you want to use it to go anywhere other than a major city with less than 2 million inhabitants.
We eventually reached our unpronounceable destination by stopping and asking over a dozen people and because our driver (who was born and has lived his entire life in the interior of Brazil) told us he could smell the sea. Now no sat-nav can do that!
The town itself was a throwback to how I remember Brazil being over 20 years ago. They even had a TV locked in a cabinet in the main square so that those locals, who were too poor to have their own, could watch the nightly novellas or a big footie match.
The Pousada itself was perfect. Six rooms, all right on the beach and run by a couple who had owned the best restaurant in Maceio. The food was superlative, stupendous, simply to die for. The price was unusually cheap, with breakfast, a wonderful dinner and the room for less than £100 a night. Service was friendly, drinks were nicely chilled and the prawn tiragostas (snacks) were out of this world.
The sea was azure blue, and the tide came in and went slowly out across a near 1km long shallow shelf up to the reef, so you could walk out for half a mile (even at high tide) and look like you were walking on water. There were rock pools to snorkel in and the water was bathwater warm in the shallows. But above all it was clean; no turds and toilet paper mixed in with usual condoms that I`ve witnessed in many a so called `eco resorts.` The main reason being the place is not developed and there are only a handful of Pousadas along the sandy palm tree strewn beach.
Suffice to say it was idyllic, super relaxing, with no satellite TV, no phones in the room, no internet and if you want to know the address you`ll have to buy the book! :-)