First Impressions Of Brazil

Parrot in Bonito, Brazil

Swimming in Pantanal, Bonito, Brazil

If my secret destination on this round-the-world trip was to get to California then, for the Portuguese half of our team, their ambition was to reach Brazil. Three weeks ago, we finally crossed the border from Bolivia at the town of Corumba in Matto Grosso de Sul state and we have now we have reached the edge of Sao Paulo state, 800 km away from the coast. This area is best known as the Pantanal, a vast tropical wetland area – and here is are our impressions so far of Brazil.

The Border

I don’t think I have ever seen such a relaxed border crossing in my life. The guards were plain-clothed beyond their sunglasses, a pistol and a police t-shirt. They were waving the mostly Brazilian vehicles through – joking and calling out greetings to their occupants. They told us to park round the corner and hurry to the passport control which closed a few seconds before we arrived. It was only 5pm or so but we were heading east and hadn’t bothered to update our time-zones. Maybe it was seven. No problem, sure, we could spend the night at the parking lot. But, no, one border guard said – “Go into town, it’s five-minutes up the road; eat some food, drink a few beers, come back tomorrow.” The smiling was infectious and the banter between us all spread: Oh, we don’t want to waste diesel, we can just hang out here and they replied, “You come all the way from Europe and you’re worried about a few kilometres more? Welcome to Paradise!”

Bonito

This town is one of the hubs for tourism in this region – tours out to the rivers made crystal clear by some natural chemical reaction, for water fun and nature watching. Access to these is limited and you have to book yourself in – and, for that reason, it’s high-end tourism which the classy but boring-looking restaurants and hotels reflect. Just out of town there is the municipal river access which charges an unbelievable 25 Rs per person to get in for a day. We got there on a Sunday and we sat outside watching a stream of cars go in, thinking we didn’t really want to pay that just for a few crowded hours even though we were desperate for a swim. Next door, however, is the Rio Formosa Camping and we checked it out, guessing maybe they had river access too. Turns out they did – for the same price, you can stay overnight and until 6pm the next day; you get Wi-Fi, hot water, electricity and a nice little gazebo thing with a barbeque and kitchen – and you can swim at a few beautiful places that are under-populated enough to attract monkeys and parrots. We stayed there nearly a week.

Heading East Through A Friendly Country

Heading east, past Campo Grande, the landscape becomes less lush and more farm-like – enormous fields with a few scattered, lonely trees sheltering the cows from the afternoon sun. The place is scorching hot, hotter than normal, we were told and parking up for a break becomes an exercise in finding shade for the vehicle. In the towns and out on the highway, the story is the same: There are so few trees that when one sheltered parking space opens up, another vehicle will stop there in a few seconds time. And even fewer trees that were high enough to let our 3m of bus under. Why don’t they have more trees in Brazil? I could only wonder how the Amazon looked. We arrived at Battaguasso one late afternoon and headed down the bright, wide streets to the enormous town square, the size of four football pitches. With, like, one tree on it that offered any kind of shade that was crammed full of vehicles like the poor cows out on the fields.

But what they lack in trees, they make up for in ants. I have still to de-bunk that myth that the total weight of ants in the world is more than the total weight of humans. And I don’t think I’ll be doing that in Brazil.

Back on the highway, there’s a 24-hour truck stop here where you can get free Wi-Fi, refrigerated drinking water and showers for free. The manager even showed us where we could plug in and even showed our truck to his little girl who’d apparently been asking about right-hand drive vehicles only a few days previously. In three weeks, already, it has been an increasing trend: Brazilians are damn friendly; they’ll come up to satisfy their curiosity about who we are, what we’re doing and why the steering-wheel’s on the wrong side. But it doesn’t stop at question-and-answer sessions: Restaurant owners will give us pizza at the end of a day; the kids on the river-front will share their beer and weed; cyber cafes will let us plug in the truck and switch on the Wi-Fi; camping weekenders will trade a place at their barbeque for the use of a sharp knife – even truck drivers will offer their own limited, cooking facilities not realizing we got, like, a full kitchen in the back of the bus.

Firsst impressions of Brazil: friendly people!

Until we find ourselves parked up in the wrong kind of flavela, of course, the thing that most worries us about Brazil are the prices. We’ve had years of listening to travelers telling us that it is an expensive country to visit. Just a little worried, mind, knowing that half our money goes on diesel anyway and the kilo of rice costs pretty much the same everywhere in the world. Our self-catering, self-accommodating, overlanding life style protects us from the hikes in price most tourists suffer and we’re not too much bothered about visiting all those must-see attractions that none of the locals have ever been to. But also, we know, that most richer countries can actually be cheaper to overland through than the poorer ones. It’s difficult to compare, of course but restaurants may be way more expensive but the food in the stores is cheaper. And things that you should be paying for come free-of-charge, like town-square Wi-Fi zones and drinking water. As I write this, we’ve been at the beach for a few days just outside the town of Presidente Epitácio on a wide river that marks the state border. It’s the local, municipal recreational area and, during the week, we get the place to ourselves – shade, toilets, showers, electricity, friendly guards and their friendly cat, a couple of bars on the pretty, little beach… and it’s all paid for, presumably, by the local government. Even if you could find somewhere like that in a country like Bolivia, you’d be paying mucho dinero for it.

For us, our first impressions of Brazil are easing us a little into the thought of having to go back to Europe soon. After the Andean countries and the alien altiplano, this country is so much more Western. Now, we’re on the main road to the coast, the highway traffic is busy and fast and they employ the Western model of side-indicator usage – you know, when the truck in front signals that it’s safe to over-take, they’ll flash their right indicator and not the left like they do in Southern Asia and the Andes. There are supermarkets everywhere but it’s damn hard to find good quality vegetables. The towns are pretty American, laid out on a side-walked grid too big to actually negotiate on foot, and that just speaks of the incoming modernity and development to us Europeans on their way home…

Hire Our Motor Home For The World Cup In Brazil

UPDATE: Our motor home is now booked up until August. Thanks for all your interest!

hire our motor home for the World CupSo you’ve bought some match tickets for the biggest show on earth and booked a flight to get there. The only thing you’ve got to work out now is where you’re going to stay and how you’re going to get around. Brazil isn’t one of the cheapest places in the world for any visitor – one question remains, then – a half-idea, a passing thought: How do I rent out a camper van in Brazil?

Well, here is how you can hire our motor home for the World Cup.

We’re not sure how it’s all going to work out – but from today we’re offering to hire out our camper van for the World Cup in Brazil. The camper currently sleeps three (but this can be increased), has a shower, kitchen, desk and solar-electrical system with enough power to run laptops, charge cameras and phones, etc  – and will come with an experienced chauffeur and a Portuguese/English co-pilot.

At the moment we are located on the Bolivia/Brazil border and, of course, we are able to drive to any of the cities that are hosting World Cup games. The internal configuration and specifications of the vehicle can be customized. Therefore, at this stage, we’re inviting everyone to register their interest and submit their ideas, requirements and itinerary.

Possible scenarios:

  • Luxury: Combine the camper van experience with hotel stays, using campsites and restaurants and short internal flights where required.
  • Overland: Live on board and experience the adventure of overland travel, exploring the complete Brazil as well as the opportunity to visit neighboring countries such as Uruguay and Argentina.
  • Media Support: We can become a mobile support vehicle for your media activities. You can live and work from the vehicle and you’ll have a Portuguese interpreter and a driver.

The interior can be customized according to the requirements.Four years ago, Earthcircuit left Europe, crossing Russia, the Far East and shipping to Canada. Since then we have traveled south through the Americas and after the World Cup we will ship everything back to Europe. The vehicle is a 5.5 ton Renault Dodge 50, a tough, reliable machine that makes the perfect overlanding RV – big enough to live in comfortably, yet compact enough to get anywhere. Your crew have years of experience in living on the road and dealing with all kinds of situations and environments. We can cook, clean, fix and guard – we can organize, arrange, translate and help out with any photography, video or copy writing. Get in contact using the form below to register your interest in joining us for our last adventure in Brazil and hire our motor home for the World Cup!

[customcontact form=1]

 

Panama Paved With Gold

Balboa and Panama beer cans discarded

Aluminum can recycling in Panama. With the first step I took in Panama I heard a crunch and felt the collapse of an aluminum can under my foot. With the second step I managed to miss a plastic bag with the remains of a polystyrene fast-food container, plastic forks and soggy napkins half inside. I looked around me – we had just driven an hour from the border with Costa Rica to reach Almirante, arriving at the docks where there’s a ferry across to the touristy town of Bocas. There was garbage strewn everywhere; more plastic bags, cans and random junk littering the long grass by the road and, close by the entrance of a boat yard, piles of black trash bags together with broken push chairs, umbrellas, bottles and engine oil containers. Almirante, our first real taste of Panama, was truly a mess.

We crossed to the Isla Colon and stayed just outside the town where the buildings by the sea give way to a proper beach. Just where there is another enormous pile of crap, bags of it, slowly disintegrating under the tropical sun. I couldn’t understand it – of course, I’m familiar with the less than perfect waste disposal and recycling systems that you find in some countries. But this was a gratuitous level of garbage in a nation that should be able to do better.

It was the aluminium that first broke my normally cool restraint: I don’t know, I couldn’t help it – the sight of so many cans just waiting to be picked up and converted into hard cash – the attempt to prove, at least to myself, that there was a point to tidying up a bit, that the cumulative effort of every individual moment of rubbish retrieval meant something – I started to collect every empty, metal beverage container that I could see, crushing them, adding them to a rapidly filling plastic sack. Beginning on the beach, it took me an hour to get a hundred of them.

Two hours worth of work

And then the next night there was a bit of a festival in town – everyone had sunk a few beers, the kids had had soda, and you could see the remains scattered all over the place – I started, almost automatically, going around picking up these small pieces of metal. Of course, people were staring at me, slightly bemused and confused but then a few began to come over and offer me their recently drained can personally, while older people would call me over to point out a few that they had seen hidden in the shadows. And on the slightly wobbly way home, I, Dunia, Melissa and Jackie managed to double my collection. It wasn’t a chore, it wasn’t hard work – it was fun; something, maybe, that echoed an instinct to be attracted to bright, shiny things, to an elemental metal… That crunching noise that I heard the first time I stepped out of the truck onto Panamanian soil; I sure heard it again and again that night.

So the next step was to weigh it all in at a scrap dealer. There wasn’t one in Bocas, that much was obvious – I googled what I could and found out about the sorry state of the recycling situation in Panama. Apparently there is no recycling in Panama. Apart from a few organizations that have put together a neighborhood scheme that seeks to educate and promote greener living, apart from a few charities that accept gifts of profitable waste and apart from crackheads and alcoholics doing their utmost, driven by necessity to earn their next fix and, I assume, happy to be able to combine this service to the environment with their own particular chemical passion; I couldn’t find anyone that might be interested in my sack of aluminium cans. And then after a few days of driving, crossing the continental divide and cruising the beautiful countryside of the Pacific lowlands, the PanAmerican highway heading towards the capital, we happened upon Chitre, a busy town close to the coast.

Weighing up the sack of cans

It had been a smooth journey –at first I had noted every discarded can hidden in the lush, green bushes as we sped along; each discarded item only briefly recalled to importance as I mentally counted them up, knowing that it would be foolish to stop and actually retrieve any one of them. Eventually the tropical heat and the excitement of exploring a new country had driven the whole aluminium story out of my head for a while. But suddenly, as were investigating the possibility that Chitre had a beach, we found instead the town’s landfill site and spotted a scrap dealer who’d had the foresight to hang a great big “Aluminio  – 30/lb” sign by the side of the road. We screeched to a halt and I gave the guy my sack of cans to weigh and pay us its worth. He didn’t seem phazed at all by these foreigners turning up with their horde of metal, in competition with the usual rag and bone types that came his way. To him, scrap was scrap, surely, and he lifted the bag with hardly a word and hung it on his scales. It was weighed at 11.5 lbs., paying me $4.11 at his 30 cents a pound price. I reckon, in British Columbia, say, with a 5 cent deposit on each can, I would have got $15. But, of course, I would never have been able to scavenge so much in just a couple of hours – put a deposit on the cans and everyone recycles, nothing is wastefully thrown away. But, clutching four bucks – enough to buy six cold, cold beers – I had proven, to myself, and now to you, that Panama is paved with gold…

During my short investigation into aluminium recycling I learnt some interesting stuff:

  • Aluminium is found naturally bound up with other chemicals everywhere in the world. It is the third most common element and the most common metal – 8% of the Earth’s solid crust is aluminium, although, until humans started throwing the stuff away, it is never found in a pure state.
  •  However, it is only extracted from bauxite, a mineral that is dug up from otherwise beautiful places in the world such as Suriname and Jamaica in a process that is pretty destructive to the immediate environment.
  • It takes a lot of energy to separate the aluminium from bauxite – 5% of all the electricity in the USA is used in its production – in comparison it takes only a fraction of this energy to recycle it.
  • Aluminium is one of the more profitable materials to recycle – it can easily pay the costs of recycling everything else normally thrown away by the average household.
  • It is very easy to recycle – simply melt the stuff down. It can take as little as six weeks from the moment you put a can in the recycling bin to the moment it reappears on the supermarket shelf.
  • It can be recycled over and over again – much of the aluminium ever produced is still being used.
  • Brazil manages to recycle nearly 90% of its aluminium
  • Aluminium is not very toxic. A hundred people would have to eat half a kilo of aluminium sulfate each for fifty of them to die. However, there are suggestions that regular exposure to pure aluminium can lead to various problems such as Alzheimer’s disease although studies have been inconclusive.