Friday, June 14, 2013

Back from South America!

Well I have returned, somewhat enervated, from a couple of weeks in South America. My first week was in Brazil, a country I had not been to before. I was hoping for a nation full of curvaceous, sensual women, exotically infectious music, delicious food and a lot of tropical Latin flair. What I found was dull looking women, unhealthy and indigestible food in a country that reminded me of a rather dirty (and not in a good way) Germany. But maybe that's because I met too many engineers and government people. They certainly do bang on about their architecture a lot. Maybe that's because its the only thing they are really good at. 

First stop was Sao Paulo, one of the most unpleasant cities I have had the displeasure to ever visit (worse than Manila, worse than Taipei, worse than Seoul). Polluted, dangerous (one of the staff got mugged outside the Consulate at gunpoint just after we had left a reception there) overcrowded and quite claustrophobic due to the prevalence of tall concrete buildings which prevent any sort of vista. The women were dull too, except for the IT lady at the Governor's Palace who was rather fine. 

Very few people speak English in Brazil. It’s the only country of the 61 I have visited where this is the case. Now British people are rotten at languages; partly because everybody else speaks English (maybe ruling a sixth of the globe helped here) but also because we don't learn proper English grammar at school (or at least we didn't in the seventies) so learning anyone else's language is difficult as we have no knowledge of formal grammatical structure.  Still, it must be most unfortunate to be a country of 200 million people whose language was inherited from a tiny country that hasn’t been a world power for five hundred years and which almost no-one else, apart from a couple of the shabbier corners of Africa, speaks. It seems that Brazil has one of the worse language skill rankings in the world (probably just above Britain). Also Portuguese must be the ugliest Latin language on earth. It’s all “bish bem bosh” which bears no relation to the written form of the language whatsoever. 

Several days in Sao Paulo saw the Legatus in a very bad mood, therefore. This was exacerbated by the poor breakfast at my hotel. I’m sorry, but who eats cake for breakfast? Well, my particular friend S, who arrived from Peru and obviously, thought the addition of gold leaf to the cake was sufficient to make it acceptable.  But then she is a girl and Canadian.

Brazilian food is full of sugar, even the bread. The cooked breakfast (at my rather ordinary business hotel) consisted of scrambled eggs and slices of processed ham boiled (and floating in) water. Worse still was the total lack of proper tea. I know that it’s a coffee growing country but coffee gives me arrhythmia and so my doctors (I seem to have an increasing number) won’t let me drink it. This is fine because it is a disgusting, barbarian’s drink but I do need tea to keep me sane. All they had were those appalling substitutes made from fruit (tastes like that orange water which collects in a rusty wheelbarrow) or flowers (tastes like a particularly unpleasant Lentheric body spray). 

I did have some Brahma Beer which was also dull.  I also had, surprisingly, my only Vodka Martini of the trip which was not bad, actually.

Belo Horizonte

Next stop was Belo Horizonte. This I liked rather more than Sao Paulo. It was warmer for a start (33 degrees) and the girls wore a lot less as a result. A few slightly more attractive examples and many more displaying that appealing characteristic of the local wildlife, which we had been seeking to observe since our arrival: the Brazilian bottom. A lot of ladies were pretty plain from the front, however, but, in some versions of the world, this may not necessarily be important. 

The hotel was nicer and we had a view from our room of the city. There were hills. And trees. Breakfast was a bit better and they had proper tea (well, for one morning they did). The Legatus started to relax. We went out in the evenings and felt reasonably safe. It was warm and we could sit outside a bar and listen to some good local bossa nova (very sixties) from a band playing in a square (maybe that’s something else the Brazilians are good at). A bit more of the Brazil I was hoping for as passing lovelies (and some not so lovelies, admittedly) demonstrated their dance moves before moving on. Then it started to rain and we had to go inside where everyone was watching the local team play football (alright, something else they are good at, worthless though it is) and discovered they really do all jump up and shout “Go-a-a-l” very loudly when their team scores (which, thankfully, they did twice). 


Moving on to my main destination we arrived in Bogota (after a six hour flight). Although I have been there twice before I had never spent more than two days in the city. This time I had a weekend, however, so we got out and about a bit more. The weather was supposed to be bad all week, with constant rain forecast, but we were lucky and it was sunny all weekend. Starting off in the main square I observed many llamas with saddles for giving rides. My new expert on Andean matters told me that they must be imported for tourists as they don’t have llamas in Colombia. Disappointed at this inauthentic experience we wandered into the surprisingly restrained cathedral which was built by the Spanish around two hundred years ago, just as they were losing their grip on the country, but more of that next time in my post on the military museum which we discovered by accident whilst looking for a cafe which could dispense cake to my companion. 

The Gold Museum

After lunch at a cute but (bizarrely) Italian restaurant we went to the Gold Museum. This is a world class museum, by any standards, and is full of examples of pre-Hispanic gold and other artefacts. I’m not that interested in gold (unlike my companion who relieved the shop of quite a lot of it) but the way the different regional cultural stories was told through their surviving artifacts was very well done.

Bogota from Monserrate

Next day we ascended the funicular (I demurred on the cable car – in films they always seem to get stuck, with homicidal maniacs either on board, on the roof or disabling the brakes in the winding house) to Monserrate (you can walk but you’d have to be an idiot or a local, as the 3200m altitude means anything faster than a slow stroll leaves you completely breathless) for a fantastic view of the whole city. Usually touristy places like this have horrible catering but there was a splendid French restaurant at the top where we stopped for a very long lunch.

Old Bogota

A week of intense meetings (for me) and intense shopping (for S) followed.  I did feel slightly guilty that my 12 hour working days did not allow for enough time with my lovely companion but we made up for it when able.

I had a terrible trip back which took 26 hours door to door.  Too much turbulence on the aeroplanes due to the effects of the US hurricanes.  When I left Houston for London they didn't turn off the seat belt signs for two and a half hours after take off.  I really need to investigate banana boats.   So, it would be nice to say that would be it for travel for a bit but I'm in Poland next week and back in Colombia in three weeks time.  Good for my air miles anyway...


  1. LH, your travel stories are second to none in entertainment value. Sorry it seems to have been a less than enjoyable trip. Anything to report on the local wines? Some people claim Brazilian wine is going to be the next big thing.

    Also, can we resolve to actually meet up for lunch when you're back in the UK? :^)


  2. Glad you're back and in one piece. Work can be so inconvenient!
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon

  3. Pity Brazil was a disappointment, though I have to disagree with you regarding coffee. Of course, I am a Canadian.


  4. "Travel broadens the mind"... so the saying goes, yet, for the most part, I have found the opposite... it narrows the mind... I have rarely been anywhere I enjoyed more than being at home, and invariable can't wait to get back... its dodgy water you cant drink, dodgy power supply, naff shower/bathing facilities, food you are scared of getting food poisoning from, and very wary of either being accosted by people who want you to haggle for some piece of crap you don't want anyway, or terrified of being conned/mugged in some way... nor do you know the area, so don't know where the safe areas are compared to the no-go area without a chaperone..., and before & after that there's the delights of 'cattle-class' of the flight, airports to deal with, expensive taxis etc etc... everyone sees you as a tourist and targets you for your perceived wealth by fair means of foul... Travel? Nah you can keep it, leave me in the comfort of my home any day!

    The only foreign country I have visited as an adult, that I felt comfortable in, after an admittedly horrendous flight, was NZ... hence we migrated...

  5. How sad that the Brazilian women weren't as gorgeous as expected. They're starting to make an effort to export wine to the UK and had a big stand at the London Wine Fair (complete with some Brazilian stunners) - they are hoping the sporting events there over the next couple of years will lead to an uptick in exports. Unfortunately the wine I tried was bloody awful - but the girl serving it was so nice I didn't want to be honest when she asked me what I thought!

  6. Sounds like you're glad to be home, good unrestrained read!

  7. Your posts are great and I absolutely love the uncensored view of life.

    Although I have traveled quite a bit, I have never been keen to go to South America, you put the nail in the coffin for ever changing my mind.

    Particularly disturbing about the women.


  8. Welcome back... HMG pleased with the outcomes?? :o))

  9. Love your very honest report, and for confirming my view that South America is not worth my time or money. Cake for breakfast? The Americans do it rather well; I once had 5 doughnuts for breakfast at a conference in Dallas as there didn't seem to be anything else, except rather good coffee!

  10. Amusing and entertaining blog entry as ever ...worth the Wait! Brazil has never featured on my list for visiting & their ministry of tourism web site looks very dull to!

  11. "... who eats cake for breakfast?" Well... who doesn't want to eat cake for breakfast?

    Thank you for this very entertaining travel story! The fact that the llamas were imported was a real let-down, though... you should have lied and told a grand story about riding them down the main street at a dangerously high speed.

    And @Scott: Hear, hear! After a few weeks in some strange country you always start to remember the cool bed in your own home, the sweet smells of not-garbage and the good, cold tap-water.