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Published: April 27th 2016
I arrived in Brazil through the Bolivian/Brazilian border on a hot sunny morning with blue skies and birds singing. Sounds nice? Not really….. Leaving the ‘Death Train’ at the last village on the Bolivian side, I jumped into a taxi with 3 French backpackers that didn’t speak much English but was pushed in by the taxi driver trying to make a bit of extra cash. It was half past 6 in the morning and although I had a decent nights sleep, there was no food in the buffet car so I arrived at the border itself very hungry. As we arrived to where we were meant to be, there was already a queue of 40/50 local people waiting for the border control to open. It was strange as there was no doors or wire fences and it was possible just to walk through but I guess it probably wouldn’t be worth the stigma of being an illegal immigrant in a country that takes that sort of thing seriously. The french people decided that they were going to go and grab some food from a cafe but looking around while driving there, there was nothing open or even anything that looked like a cafe so I decided that I would just stand there, just behind a few other backpackers. None of us spoke for the first 15 minutes, for me I was still trying to wake up and work out what was happening as there were no signs or anything to let us know what was to come.
At 8 o’clock the borders guards came along and opened up and we slowly started to move forward and I mean slowly. There was one person to process the paperwork and put in the passport stamp. I discovered that the backpackers in front of me were a Dutch couple and a German girl, who were also trying to work out what was happening. The queue by this stage was about 80 people and majority of them being Bolivian. Getting to the front of the queue, I stood outside the small building and went inside and got a Bolivian exit stamp and then had to then walk 200 metres to the Brazilian border guards and this is where a sense of humour and a hell of a lot of patience is needed. There was a look of bemusement on most of the European faces when we saw that this new queue was as long as what it was when the border had opened and it looked like the Brazilians were taking their time, so all the people that had been processed in the half hour entering were all still there. Thats when we discovered that the Bolivians that were attempting to cross were being scrutinised by the people behind the glass partition. Every bit of paperwork was read carefully and there were a lot of raised voices. The small group that I had attached myself to, had been approached by an English speaking South American, and I still have no idea where she had come from. She informed us that there was a separate queue for ‘foreigners’ at the other end of the building and it was a hell of a lot shorter but not faster. So we took our chances and headed down. For the next 2 hours we sat in the blazing sunshine with no shade, trying to work out what was happening. One of our group, a German guy, decided to test his Portuguese and asked a random passing guard if this was the right line for getting into Brazil to be told that NO, this was actually the exit from Brazil into Bolivia. Without trying to scream while translating back to us, he explained to the guard that we had been misinformed and was there anyway he could help us, as the original queue had now grown into around 150 people. The German guy was successful! The guy examined all our passports to ensure that we were all European and told us to wait 10 minutes. For some reason the queue we were in actually started to move quicker and before we knew it we were at the front. 4 border guards were at their counters with 2 for entry to Brazil and 2 for the exit, obviously when we got to the counter, we were told that we were in the wrong line and told to go back outside and join the correct one, when our saviour guard came up to him, had a talk and we were allowed to get processed which only took a couple of minutes each.
After all the confusion of the previous couple of hours, we were finally allowed to enter Brazil legally. There were smiles and a spring in our step as we went towards the bus stop that would take us into Corumba the border town that I had now planned to stay for a night in. One thing that I noticed walking through the border is that there are no customs or big men with weapons at all to check belongings or sniffer dogs patrolling the area seeing if anyone has any drugs. In fact anyone could have easily just walked through from Bolivia carrying 100 kg of cocaine and not even been stopped or searched! Not that i would condone such behaviour. We walked to the bus stop which was a few hundred yards away from the border and found that there was a bus into the nearest town every half an hour. The dutch couple and the German guy had decided separately that they were going to stay in Corumba for a night to work out their next stage of travelling and I thought it be best to follow their lead. The bus arrived and with a little confusion over money and backpacks getting on, we were finally travelling in Brazil.
Arriving in Corumba, I will admit I was a sheep in that I was just following my new friends and letting them show me the way. This was a bit foolish, as experience has shown me that when you arrive in a new location then you find a hostel first to get rid of your heavy backpacks and the best way to do that is ask a local taxi driver if its a small town, or check online with wifi if its a city. The German guy had a Lonely Planet book that was a bit old and informed us that the hostel recommended in the travel guide was not that far. After 25 minutes of walking in the heat he admitted that he was a bit lost, so as we were outside a bar we should rest and have a beer, which lead to a couple more. By this stage I was getting a little bit impatient and wanting to know where the hostel was, although I did keep it calm and happy saying it. So off we went again to the address he had and found that the hostel had closed about 2 years earlier. I was not happy! The group then decided that they wanted to find a bank to get some cash and I made the small suggestion of finding a taxi and getting to a hostel, where we could then find a cash point, but it fell on deaf ears so off we went again for another 20 minutes into the centre and a bank was found where we discovered did not like any of our bank cards. We had a brief moment of aircon to cool down before heading out into the sun this time and having been given some rough directions, I was still following them into nowhere. As we walked past one building, the German realised he had wifi and needed to check his emails! Thats when I took over….. seeing a supermarket across the road, I took the assumption that there would be a cash machine in there and surprise surprise there was. I got some money out and while the dutch couple were sorting out theirs, I took the opportunity to ask the customer services guy if there were any hostels in the area, he didn’t speak English but understood hotel, so started giving us instructions in Portuguese with lots of hand movements. I stopped him and said the magic word of ‘TAXI’, he understood that word as well and was leading us out of the shop and shouting for one of them to come up. We bundled ourselves into the vehicle with our backpacks taking up most of the room and stopped off by the German who was still checking emails to get in. The taxi driver took us to a hotel and found out it was well out of our price range but the receptionist spoke English and knew what we were after and spoke to the driver who had waited for us and 5 minutes later we were outside a hostel. I’ve probably explained more about this experience then I have about most, but it still annoys me now looking back that I should have gone with my instincts from the start and lead the way instead of arriving drenched in sweat, tired and grumpy!
The hostel was a strange one as it hadn’t properly opened and was still having the ‘finishing touches’ sorted out, but it was a bed with aircon for the night. It was being run by a family that seemed to have an endless number of children running around. The main figure was an old man who spoke perfect English and was from Greece. He had a sarcastic sense of humour and sat watching tv all day while directing the family around. Within half an hour of being there I had arranged a bus leaving the next day to go to Campo Grande and then decided to go out and see what was in the local area, especially to find a supermarket to get food as it was siesta time and all cafes and restaurants were closed.
Corumba is a small quirky run down town that doesn’t seem to have any tourists. I know that some Europeans that we got the bus with had just gone to the bus station to head to Campo Grande. I can imagine that in the days of old that it would have been a lot busier as a stop off point from people coming or going to Bolivia but with with that in the past. There didn’t seem a lot going for it. However the people were friendly and accommodating even if they didn’t speak English and it had a certain charm that you get when you find somewhere that doesn’t rely on tourism and finds its own way to survive.
After getting some food and having a bit of a nap, we had decided as a group that going out for a meal was a good idea and it was cheap! We relied on the German with his knowledge of Portuguese to help us out with the menu and had a good night. A good night sleep was needed and in the morning managed to get out with the Dutch couple to see a bit more of the town and made our way to the river and found that Corumba did have some really beautiful spots. Going back to the hostel, we said our goodbyes and I was then on a full minibus heading towards Campo Grande, a short 6 hour trip and once again I was on my own, this time going into the unknown once more. This time i had booked a hostel the day before and arriving outside the city’s bus station I grabbed the nearest taxi and showed him the address. Driving through to the hostel, I realised that I had arrived into a really big city that just seemed to go on and on. The hostel was on a back street protected by a tall wall with razor wire on the top and got in to be met by a French receptionist who was so glad to have an English speaker as he didn’t speak Portuguese. I asked him how he survived when he had Brazilian guests staying and told he relied too much on google translate, he had been doing the job for a few weeks but was leaving that weekend without telling the owners he was going. Thats the backpackers way of life I suppose and he had been traveling for a few months. After being showed where my bed was I went out and grabbed a subway and found a shop that sold wine which i shared with the French receptionist.
The next day I headed out to see what Campo Grande offered. There was no metro and a hell of a lot of buses but the receptionist girl gave me directions to the city’s famous park! This seemed to be the only interesting thing about the Campo Grande as all the guides I looked at said it was a business city and not that many tourists go there. When you think of Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind in Rio and the beaches, this was a long way away and it showed. The park was enormous and it really wasn’t that special, but I discovered a new animal that I hadn't seen before. There were loads of capybaras all around the river that went through the middle of the park and seems used to humans walking past them. These animals were the size of a dog but had the features of a beaver. They were in family group size and I was fascinated by them but found that when you did get too close to them, they would trundle off towards the river bank and then flopped into the water to get away. Going back to the hostel I asked if there were any walking tours of the city which was met by blank stares. I knew it wasn’t the place to stay if I wanted to get the most of an area, especially if I was on the outskirts and getting local transport would take too much effort.
That night I sat down and looked through my finances and realised that I didn’t have enough to get to Rio, which was the place I was eventually going to fly from. Brazil was a bit more expensive then the rest of the South American countries I had been to. For example a bus ride of 18 hours in Chile would cost me about £8 but a journey in Brazil of about 8 hours is roughly £30 which was above my budget which was now severely depleted. It was time to book a flight to go home and it would be from the next place Sao Paulo. It was emotional pressing the enter button to confirm my details knowing that the end of the journey was coming, even though I had known it for a while but never thought about it. It had been done and I had to be sensible about it. There is no way I could have carried on roaming round the world on what I had in my bank account. The flight was booked for 3 days time and I had to make a move to go to the next city from where I was flying from. The next day I packed knowing this would be the last bus journey I would be making the final journey to a new place, I tried to get it out of my head as Sao Paolo was the capital and hopefully more exciting then the previous 2 Brazilian places I had been to.
Getting off the bus I grabbed the metro and followed the route that I had been given by the hostel to get there. Sao Paolo I discovered was full of STEEP streets and found that my fitness had deteriorated over the last few months as I was out of breath by the time I got to where I was going. I was greeted at the hostel at reception by 2 happy Brazilians who spoke perfect English and were keen to know what I was doing, where I had been and what I was going to do. I found out that this was because everyone in the hostel was totally bring/quiet/uninterested and I seem to have been the first person in days that would actually communicate with them. When they found out it was my final few days, they joked that i should miss the flight and carry on…… Oh don’t tempt me lads, its gone through my brain already.
The rest of the day was spent looking around the area and to say there wasn’t actually a lot to see as it was more residential then anything and my legs were tired after going up and down these steep streets, it felt like the City was built on a mountain range! Returning to the hostel I sat down and started to work out what I was going to do when I got back, jobs…. house…. family etc. Feeling a bit down I ordered a pizza in and sat with a couple of bottles of beer and then had an early night in.
Waking up the next day I got straight out to a walking tour to see if there was any new information I could but into my brain and discovered that although there was a lot of history in Sao Paolo it wasn’t really that interesting, especially as the guide taking us around was Italian with pretty good English skills but had a sore throat. I did walk around with a young English guy who was a journalist working for the Independent and I think his journalistic brain kicked in when he found out how long I had been travelling.It was actually refreshing to be asked different questions to what I had been asked at every hostel. This helped make the 3 and a half hours walking pass the time while being interested in the guide as he coughed his way through his talk. After the walk I got the metro back to the hostel area and had a walk down to a prominent hill where I had been told where the best sunsets of the city was. I got there just as the sun was setting and it was a park of some description where a number of other people had turned up. There was a distinct smell of weed going around and people juggling, chilling and talking. There was a student vibe going around and everyone was just relaxed, even though I had been warned that I was to be on my guard in Sao Paolo as they had a high rate of killings. That fact went through my head as I went back to the hostel as it was now dark and I was going through back streets and alleyways, I passed a number group of small gangs of kids but dressed as I was, I don’t think they would have taken me for a tourist…. more felt sorry for me with my hands in my pocket clutching my iPhone and wallet and flip flops that looked like they had days left before they disintegrated.
It was my last night of my journey and I entered the common area to find a group of people all with their heads into their mobile phones. I made a comment of “it’s a bit quiet in here’ and I think I heard someone grunt but no one looked up and I knew that this was probably not the best hostel to end my adventure on. I had one beer to celebrate and then went to bed feeling a bit down thinking of some of the better nights I had had over my time away. This was the end and I didn’t have anyone to share my experience with or listen to theirs while swigging away on a bottle of red. I had a bad nights sleep that night and probably the worst I’ve had and it was my brain that couldn’t switch off, with the good side saying that UK would be good for me and the bad side saying ‘MISS THE FLIGHT’…..
The final day and the flight was not till the evening and I woke up to the free breakfast and saw 2 new guys who had arrived that morning. I sat near them and struck up conversation and was surprised that one of them talked back. The guy was Belgium and was travelling with his friend but working along the way, I’m not sure what they were doing but he asked me so many questions about me. I discovered later on that he had put a small blog on his Facebook page putting my 14 months in a few paragraphs. It was strange reading it, knowing that I was at the end and he had just started his, but I wished him luck as he went back to work, still not knowing what he was doing. I didn’t really know what to do for the remainder of the day so I just pottered around in the local area and eventually picked up my backpacks for the last time and headed to the airport.
After 20 countries, god knows how many towns and cities I was heading back to England and I knew then and there at the airport I would be back. I was going back because of money and problems with my house, I would go back and get a job, sort out the problems of my home and save up. So maybe this is not my last blog….. maybe in 4-6 months on I will carry on my adventures….. Who Knows!
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