Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Sao Mateus do Sul, Parana, mile 100, NOvember 16, 2010
Last night, I (wisely) bought a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water. I then poured half of each bottle into my magic water bottle, which has a type of sweater on it that you pour water on before leaving, and then, as that water evaporates, it keeps the contents cooler than they would be otherwise. I then poured the rest of the water into the gatorade bottle, and presented both of them to management at the hotel, who froze them. This morning I retrieved them, put the gatorade bottle inside my Camelback, and for the first three hours of my ride had cold drinks. I also last night went and got a pizza for dinner; I had wanted lasagna, which was on the menu, but there was not. Oh well. The pizzas, curiosly, came in three sizes: ¨pequena¨(small), ¨grande¨ (large) and ¨Big¨, which, I guess, means ¨Big¨. I ordered a grande; I should have ordered ¨Big¨.
Today dawned chilly, overcast, and smelling of rain. I left my hotel at about 8:15 this morning, wearing a sweatshirt, something I have NEVER done even once on any of my previous three trips down this way. I rode a mile down the street, passed lots of Field Artillery guys doing their morning PT, passed the giant cannon, and got back on BR 474. I then headed west. Today´s ride was VERY hilly; the watch I am using has an altimeter on it (it uses changes in barometric pressure) and I was constantly riding up to about 3,000 feet, descending to 2,800 or so, and then climbing back to where I was. The first 20 miles or so went very slow because of this. Then, it got really fun. I started descending to 2,500 feet, or even lower, and climbing back up. Here, the ascents and descents were each a couple of miles, and I got really flying coming down. Going back up was less fun... Finally, about ten miles out of S. Mateus, things more or less leveled out, and, except for one last climb coming into town, the ride got easier. Midway through the ride, I stopped and removed my sweatshirt. Within minutes, it started to rain, lightly, so I stopped (again) and retrieved a very useful yellow windbreaker that an uncle of mine got for me some years ago. I assume it would have worked perfectly to keep the water off of me, but, of course, as soon as I put it on, it stopped raining. By the time I arrived in town, the sun was out.
Arriving in town, I found a hotel ($R60, blechh), and had another experience with those stinking electrical hot water heaters. Then I headed out and found a bike store where they kindly sold me a tube of some vile substance which lubricates bicycle chains. If it lubricates as strong as it smells, I am sure all will be well.
My room today is on the second floor, and I had fun getting the bike up the stairs. I bought a Trek 7,500 in March, and it is much heavier than any other bike (including my 2003 Trek 7,500) I have owned. It has, among other things, a shock absorber on the front. Because of the bike´s weight, I took drastic measures to limit how much stuff I am carrying. My load is the following:
--One pair of long pants, one pair of shorts, one bathing suit, two bike shorts, and one long bike pants.
--Four (plus the clothes I wore on the plane, so five) sets of T-shirts and under clothes.
--One sweatshirt and one windbreaker.
--One ¨commando tent¨, which is a one man tent that stands about 22 inches high and weighs three pounds.
--One poncho liner, courtesy of the US Army, and one mini Redskins blanket.
--Several books (which I bought for 25 Cents each, and which will be discarded as they are read) and maps.
--My cell phone/Nextel radio, which works down here, in some places, but not here, not today.
--A collosal device which steps Brazilian 220 Volt electricity down to 110 Volts, so I can charge the cell phone without blowing it up.
--My AM/FM radio, camera, an IPOD, and Camelback.
All of this goes into two saddle bags, one on each side of the rear wheel, except things like water, the IPOD, camera, map of whatever State I am in, plus passport, wallet, and Nextel, which all go into the camel back. Every fifth day, obviously, I am going to have to find someone to wash my clothes. To say that I sweat them up is an understatement. The commando tent, and attendent liner and blanket (courtesy of a credit card I signed up for once at FedEx Field) are there in case I find myself in a situation where the next days lodging is over 100 miles away. This will not be a problem for the forseeable future; Parana and Santa Catarina, as well as the northern half of Rio Grande do Sul are quite populated, and I think I can continue my 50 mile or so a day rides indefinetly. However, once I get closer to Uruguay, and into Uruguay itself, the population thins out quite a bit, and I could find myself outside if, say, I get a head wind. If that happens, at least I have somewhere to sleep.
One thing I do NOT have is a helmet. I will only say, charitably, that helmets are for mountain bike riders, who´s biggest threat is hitting a rock or a root or something and going flying head first into a tree. My biggest danger is getting ground into a thin red slime by a truck, and if that happens, a helmet is not going to help a lot. I wear a baseball cap.
I got onto my credit union´s page today, and discovered that, after fees, the 520 Reais I took out of the ATM in Sao Paulo came out at an exchange rate of R$1.695 to the dollar. This is even worse than anticipated. As an example of costs, cans of Coke cost anywhere from R$1.70 to R$2.35, with most of them going for 2 Reais. Dinners are in the R$25 range. Gasoline costs about R$9 a gallon if you find it cheap, and alcohol (most Brazilian cars run on both, but alcohol gets worse mileage) costs about R$6.50 Gatorade costs R$3.25 for a 20 oz bottle. Instead of heading west a bit before turning south, I may just make a beeline for the Uruguayan border if these kind of expenses keep up. On the other hand, Uruguay is probably not much cheaper.
Tomorrow I plan to continue on to Uniao da Victoria, which is about 55 miles further west from here, and on the border with Santa Catarina. Tomorrow night should be my last night in Parana...
More will follow.
Sao Mateus do Sul, PR, mile 106
Greetings from, again, Sao Mateus do Sul. I stayed over today because it was raining heavily when I woke up this morning, and did not look to improve (it didn´t; it is still raining now.) During the middle of the day, it stopped raining (for a while), and I figured I would grab my bike, remove the saddlebags, and ride about the town. I got very wet coming back to my hotel. The ride through town was interesting, I found a two mile or so long bike path through town leading from the river and paralleling, about two blocks down, the main drag through town. From entrance to exit of S. Mateus is only about two miles; this is not a particularly big place. It is, however, quite prosperous, and if you factored out the language, you could imagine easily that you were in some rural town in the midwest or south.
Brazil has five ¨regions¨, and the southernmost one is called, curiously, ¨South¨. It comprises the States of Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. (Directly north of Parana is the State of Sao Paulo.) It is the richest region, by far, in Brazil and if it were an independent country, would be the richest (measured by per capita GDP) country (by far) in all of Latin America. It defies every stereotype Americans might have about Brazil. Everyone is white, for one thing. (I wander around, and no one looks twice at me, they all look just like I do, only not as handsome.) Slavery was never economically profitable this far south, so it was never practiced, and so the black population (and culture, music, etc) that you would find in Rio or Bahia never took root. With the exception of a Lebanese presence in Foz do Iguacu, the Arab and Japanese immigration waves passed this area by. On the other hand, the largest Octoberfest in the world outside of Germany is celebrated in Blumenau, Santa Catarina. This place actually has SEASONS, and it snows here in the winter. People do not listen to Samba or Rock music here, most radio stations play ¨Sertaneja¨ music, which is a Brazilian adaptation of American country music; just like in the US, 90% of the songs concern somebody´s girl who did him wrong, or the rotten S.O.B. who took his girl. Crime rates in the big cities (Curitiba, Florianopolis, Porto Alegre, Pelotas) are, by Brazilian standards, very low, and they are negligible in places like where I am riding. I am watching out the door at an expensive motorcycle parked with the keys in the ignition. The owner is nowhere in sight. On my travels through town today on my bike, I saw no slums, and every house seems to have either a car or at least a motorcycle in front of it or in the driveway.
I also, having lots of free time today, bought (for R$2.50) a copy of O Estado de Sao Paulo, and spent a while reading it. The articles in the business section were interesting, and not what you would have seen in the Brazil of 20 years ago. One was a discussion of whether Brazil´s foreign reserves of US$300 Billion was enough, or if the Central Bank should keep buying more dollars. That number would give Brazil the fourth or fifth largest foreign reserves in the world. Another was an appalled article worrying about whether the multi billion US dollar remittances that illegal aliens are sending out of the country (and back to Paraguay and Bolivia, principally) is an economic danger. Again, 20 years ago, you would have been laughed at if you had said that someday Brazil would be importing, not exporting, illegal aliens. The exporters federation was also screaming at the government to do something, because they are getting killed by the strong Real, and having trouble competing in international markets. I agree wholeheartedly, and hope the government does something too, preferably by tomorrow afternoon, which is when I am going to have to exchange more dollars.
On my bike ride through town, I found a decent looking restuarant, and wandered back down on foot once it stopped raining again. I got the typical meal of some bland cut of beef and rice; the best that can be said about Brazilian cooking of meat is that it is hot. They certainly lack the talent that Uruguayans or Argentines have for producing great steaks. Since I was laid over for a day, I gave all my dirty clothes to the hotel to wash, Heaven only knows what that is going to cost.
Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny, so I will be writing from someplace else tomorrow night, I hope.