Friday, December 3, 2010

Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Mile 711, December 3, 2010

Greetings, again, from Porto Alegre.  This is an interesting city, and I like it here.  Yesterday evening, I went walking looking for somewhere to eat, and found something that could, if I do not discipline myself, cost me a LOT of money.  The Brazilian Army´s historical section has a bookstore here.  I went in, presented myself as a former NCO in the US Army (which I am, if you count the National Guard.) and spent quite a bit of time looking around.  They had books on the Paraguayan war, Brazil´s participation in the Second World War, the 1964 military coup, and the modern Brazilian military.  I ended up buying one and only one book, and got out of there.  I could have spent several hundred dollars with no problem at all, and then would have had to Fedex everything home.  Leaving the bookstore, I went and got a pizza and, finally, did not get mistaken for an Argentine.  They asked me if I was Uruguayan (¨You speak with a Spanish accent...¨); I guess I am now close enough to the border that more Uruguayans than Argies make it up this way.

This morning, I went on the hotel´s computer and used to get a map and directions (of the same high quality you can get for American addresses) to the bike shop, which, according to its web page, opened at 9:30.  It was a distance of two and a half miles from my hotel, and I got there, after riding (with no rear brake...) through positively suicidal morning traffic, at 9:25.  At 9:30, nothing.  9:45, nothing.  I started to get uptight.  At 9:50, I heard noises behind the closed metal doors, and a few minutes later, they finally opened.

I took my bike in, explained its defects, and they promised to fix it and have it ready at 5PM.  I then walked back to my hotel, passing through the beautiful Parque dos Moinhos de Vento (windmill park), which looks like a much larger Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, and went and had lunch.  I then wandered through the municipal market, which was jumping, and bought Zero Hora! and a Coke and went and sat for a while in another little park reading the paper.

At about 4:15, I headed back to the bike shop, stopping along the way at a Bradesco ATM to replenish my funds.  At exactly 5PM, I was back.  My bicycle had had the following done to it.
     One new spoke was installed.
     The front and rear brake shoes were replaced.
     The rear derailleur had been adjusted; I had been having trouble shifting up from lower gears to higher gears.
     My baggage rack, which had started to bend on one side, was unbent.
     The bike was significantly cleaner.

All of this cost me R$51, which, at the prevailing exchange rate, works out to a few pennies less than US$30.  It would have cost well over a hundred bucks in San Diego, and I would probably have had to leave the bike overnight.  If you are ever riding a bike in Brazil, Bike Tech in Porto Alegre (  is  the place for you to visit.  I then road my bike back, through equally insane traffic, and parked it in my hotel room, where I was happy to see that my cloths had been washed and left on my bed.  My riding gloves had become so sweaty that they would not dry overnight, and were starting to stink.

As I was rolling up my clothes (To save space, I take a T-shirt, lay it out on the bed, place a pair of underpants and socks in the center, double it over, and then roll it up.) I encountered something interesting.  I found a 5¢ coin, dated 1994.  Big deal, you say.  It is.  I believe that this is the first time since before the Second World War that 16 year old coins are circulating in Brazil.  The pre-1994 inflation ate up the value of money so fast that, for example, in 1993 when I was here there were NO coins at all in circulation, only lower value banknotes worth pennies that had been worth $20 or $30 dollars a year before.  This is a sign of how far Brazil has progressed.

Tomorrow, my plan is to head south on my old friend BR-116 towards Pelotas, which should take two days.  I will then decide where to go from there.

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