12 December 2006

A corner of Brazil

The north-western corner of Brazil has revealed itself to me. Not a planned trip, but after the initial Argentina-Brazil border crossing at Iguazú was met with ease, a second, more lengthy trip into this country seemed to make sense.

First stop: Foz do Iguaçu, and its enormous shopping street inhabited by cute little pigeons, quite unlike their ugly European cousins. Music played loudly from speakers set in front of many of the stores, and amateur DJs (or professional salespeople – this job seemed to be exclusively held by male 40-somethings) kept an amplified commentary of the great deals their store was currently offering. As I stepped over the black cables lining the front entrance, another salesperson (this time, usually a skinny, young woman) attached herself to me. With my broken Spanish and her mysterious Portuguese, we managed to understand each other. And in three separate stores, I found exactly what I was looking for: Jeans, made in Brazil.

A trip to the grocery store revealed the joy of Brazilian stoplights, reminiscent of Formula One’s variety. The store was bright yellows and reds, and left me in a cheery mood until checkout, when I watched three armed security officers guard a malfunctioning cash machine. They scanned the crowd with menacing expressions and kept their fingers on the trigger of their guns. I failed to make eye contact.

And then it was a drive to Cascavel. The scenery was incredible, but the traffic culture was even more fascinating. Everyone shared the highway: cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicycles, baby strollers, and horses pulling any of the above (except the first two). But the passing, my god, the passing. With two lanes each way, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But narrow the road down to two, and suddenly cars were passing each other with literally inches to spare. The scariest moment came when a semi-truck, carrying a cargo of possible gasoline (but let’s hope it wasn’t) veered into oncoming traffic, realized he couldn’t make it, and veered back, sending the car to his right into the shoulder and almost off the road.

I survived with more fun stamps in my passport, and even made note of the unconcerned police checkpoints, the toll receipts with missing children information printed on the back, and the green and groomed land all around me. It’s delightful to have a small, completely unknown corner of the world revealed in all its glory.

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