A Boring Vacation?
Getting a free trip is a dream for many. Going to places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, even the tourist areas like Disney, Bush Gardens if one doesn’t go to the usual places like the beach or mountains. But travelling to other countries like parts of Europe, the Caribbean, even parts of Asia can be an exciting adventure. But the free trip for me and my wife was to travel to a remote part of Brazil. So remote that it took all day by plane and bus to get there.
At the time we were living around Berkeley, California near the San Francisco and Oakland airport but we had to drive six hours to the Los Angeles airport being that the travel agency forgot to check the map. But my wife enjoyed the trip across the state especially going over the mountains as we entered the Los Angeles metro area. From the airport we traveled to Brazil with a stop at Peru that gave me the first clear sign that I could be killed at any moment.
The plane landed in Peru for refueling and letting few of the passengers on or off. By this time my wife is sound asleep as I saw three military people board the plane and proceeded to walk through the plane checking passports. He eventually approached me and as he was studying me and my passport I noticed the guards behind him holding their machine guns as if they were prepared to use them. He asked me a few questions relating to my reason for traveling, my final destination and how long I plan to stay in South American area. After our little chat he made it very clear that I was not to disembark the plane and to continue on to my final destination. Twenty minutes later the plane was back in the air heading for Brazil.
After we left the Peruvian airport a few passengers came up to me wanting to know what happened. A little puzzled but I told them what I told the military officer. Then a deep fear washed over me when the other passengers told me that while the officer was talking to me, from behind me were two other military personnel holding their guns at point blank range behind me. And as one of the flight attendants testified, I was the only one that was singled out. I was very popular on that flight as I heard a few other passengers murmuring that I was probably a spy. All the while my wife was snoring away, unaware of what had happened.
We arrived at Rio de Janeiro by morning and a few hours later we were on another plane heading to Campo Grande airport located right next door to a military base. Leaving the plane we walked across the Tarmac into the airport and after grabbing our luggage off the hand cart and proceeded to the waiting taxi that carried us twenty minutes to the bus station that was two miles from the airport. There we waited four hours in an area that looked more like a farmers market than a bus station. And seeing as I grew up on a farm I truly felt at home here.
In Hollywood there is a saying called ’The Cattle Call’ were actors would go to audition for a movie. But here, in the middle of Brazil, that saying took on a more literal meaning. And for the next nine hours we traveled through the country as passengers exited and left the bus as my wife tried her best in getting use to the animal smell and the road system that wasn’t exactly paved with asphalt but more like compressed red clay with lots of pot holes and little warning of the speed bumps that can easily send a bus airborne higher than in the movie Speed starring Keanu Reeves.
By late that night we arrived at the town of Jardim. Not a soul in sight. There were only a few street lights on but overall the night time sky was truly lit up like a Christmas festival of lights. We found a phone booth and called the number given to us and within an hour a rather small compact car shows up . Bags and all loaded up we proceeded to recreate a NASCAR race as we drove for about 30 minutes as my wife cut off the circulation to my hand as she held onto it for dear life. Arriving at our final destination we found our room and within an hour we were sound asleep. By morning our two month stay in South America area was filled with lots of adventure, danger, excitement and a great desire to stay alive long enough to get home. Just like shopping at Wal-Mart or the Mall on Black Friday. Overall it was we had a great time there.
We did horseback riding, fishing piranha and Baku fish on the Amazon River, exploring caves, swimming in waters with carnivore fish, explored huge ant hills that looked like small boulders and just as hard. The guide said that there were enough ants in one hill to cover and kill a man very quickly. We also took a ten hour boat ride through waters that had alligators spaced a few feet apart from each other. The guide informed us that we needed to keep our hands out of the water so the alligators wouldn’t try to jump into the boat. Spiders that crawled around everywhere to the point I still keep my socks inside my shoes when I take them off but my favorite was the Boa constrictors.
After we arrived in Jardim, we were told about a man who was killed and swallowed whole. The next day the locals searched the area and found a huge Boa that was sleeping with an obvious bulge. They killed the snake, taking it back to town where they cut open the snake and found the man dead inside. Nearly every bone crushed. Luckily, I only got to see a small pig being eaten. And every night I would go to sleep with the sound of millions of frogs all sounding like cats meowing away into the night. Leaving only the last day of my Brazilian vacation the most rememberable of them all.
We began our early morning trip to the bus station followed by a nine hour bus ride through blood, sweat and tears. For almost an hour we traveled behind ranchers herding their cattle on the main road that leads to Campo Grande while the passengers wanting to strike up a conversation not knowing that I don’t speak Portuguese. Little did I know, at first, that most of the men on this bus were heavily armed. The bus driver who spoke some English referred to them as Rebels looking for easy targets. But luckily we made it to the airport in time to pay an extra twenty dollar airport tax for being in the country as we board the wrong plane on the tarmac. The correct plane was an hour late due while the one at the airport was also an hour late from taking off leading to the confusion.
With a lot of luck we did make it to the Rio de Janeiro airport with a nice one hour wait, instead of our planned four hour stay before our plane back to Los Angeles was to leave. We just grabbed some junk food real quick plus a few post cards as we proceeded to pay a forty dollar airport tax for being in the country as we boarded the plane. With a quick stop over in Peru for the usual refueling and changing of a few passengers I was delighted that the military police didn’t show up. By then a few passengers began to inform everyone on the plane to the presents of three jeeps with mounted automatic machine guns parked on their side of the plane. But we successfully arrived at Los Angeles airport only to realize that we had no way to get home.
We originally drove to Los Angeles with a few friends who were basically passing through the area. With all that was happening we totally forgot on how we were to get back home to Berkeley. As luck would have it we remembered our debit cards as we were advised never to use them while in Brazil due to the potential credit card fraud so we were able to get a two hour flight on South West Airlines for only ninety dollars each. Charging about the same amount for a small bag of peanuts during the flight but I didn’t care the least. For while we were waiting for our flight to leave we stopped at the book store where I purchased the most funniest and serious books that I had ever read in my entire life.
No Shirt, No Shoes... No Problem!. by Jeff Foxworthy. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. The stewardess though I was having an emotional fit till I showed her the book which lead to a lengthy conversation as she had read the same book as well. That plane ride home was like a reward for all that we went through. My wife slept all the way home while I had a real discussion with someone that didn’t require a translator or pointing to pictures in a book. We made it home where we proceeded to unplug the phone as we slept for almost two days followed by a trip to a restaurant for a real American meal.
A t times it felt like hell being in Brazil but over the years we can only remember those experience as the best parts of our life there. We may never go there again but looking back I’m glad that we did. We led a life outside of books, TV shows and from other people’s experiences. For while we were there, we lived.