Saturday, December 18, 2004

Week 25 - "Bus Somewhere in Bolivia" to Fernandópolis, Brasil

December 11-17, 2004


Kiko and I spent 17 extremely grueling hours on a bus driving down unpaved roads so bumpy that my brain hurt. The dirt clouds from the gravel roads were so thick inside the bus - as if I were sitting front row at a rock concert with a fog machine blasting out dense waves of smoke. The seats were covered with dust powder as if sawmills were operating inside the vehicle. Due to construction, the bus was forced to re-route through dried river beds.


Regardless, we arrived safely to our destination of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. In addition to the tough ride, this portion of our journey also marked the end of great weather. From Santa Cruz on, hot weather will prevail. I cannot lie; the change did feel a bit nice…maybe I will get used to heat and actually like it. At least I hope so – seeing how where we will be in Brasil is anything but cool.

Santa Cruz is the second largest city in Bolivia. Since Potosi, we descended over 3,500m (almost 11,500ft), thus the hot weather and obvious change in more Andes, but rather, hot jungle. This city is a very wealthy community and is a tropical land with great people. Here we met Wendy and Bram from Holland. We spent a great day with them sharing travel stories. Bram is a television journalist and Wendy has been a hair dresser for over 11 years. This couple reminded us so much of our great friends in Portland, Oregon, Amy and Spencer. Right before Kiko and I left, Wendy gave me the best hair cut I have ever had in my life! She cut me right there, in the courtyard of our hotel, using only a razor.


After my fabulous new "wig," Kiko and I boarded the train for Quijarro (last town before Brasil). This 20 hour train ride was really awesome! It was totally packed, the entire way. The commotion was like that of a Guatemalan "chicken bus" with people selling clothes, food, flashlights, cigarettes, flowers, soda, chicken, fish...a good crazy busy. At night, the isles of the train functioned as make-shift beds as many sprawled out everywhere - including a boy with half of his body under our bench seat.

On this train ride, we met a father-&-daughter team of vendors. The 12 year old girl works with her father during school breaks. Now, during her summer vacation, she and her father travel the 700+ mile two-day round-trip (Santa Cruz-Quijarro-Santa Cruz). They make this trip twice a week which means that they spend four nights sleeping on the train per week. They leave on Mondays and Thursdays from Santa Cruz. They sleep at home Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. They sell anything from yogurt, pop, and snacks, to cigarettes, lighters, and candy. They worked non-stop, the whole ride while taking turns for sleeping. Between the two of them, they only had a seat made for one person.

Here you can see me and the girl in the window…

It was a great train ride!


The train reached the end of the line early morning…close to sunrise…

Kiko and I then hitchhiked to the border with Brasil – our 16th and last border. After paperwork was done in Bolivia, our yellow fever vaccination certificates were checked in Brasil – a requirement when entering Brasil from any country with a presence of yellow fever, such as Bolivia.

A public bus then took us to Corumba, where I had to wait for the immigration office to open after lunch so I could get my passport entry stamp for Brasil. While in line for almost three hours, we met some really nice people from Bolivia and spent the time chatting.

From Corumba, we caught a bus to Campo Grande (Big Field), the capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul (Thick Woods of the South). This bus route borders the southern edge of the Pantanal Matogrossense. This is one of the world’s greatest wildlife preserves. The enormous wetland is 230,000sq km (88,804sq mi). Hunting in this area is punishable by four years imprisonment.

Since our bus arrived to Campo Grande at 11pm and we wanted to catch the earliest bus possible towards Fernandópolis (city of Kiko’s grandfather and aunt), we decided to save money on a hotel that would only give us less than 6 hours of sleep…and so, Kiko stayed up all night and I caught a few hours of sleep on the bus station floor.

Wednesday to Friday – FERNANDÓPOLIS, BRASIL

Three more buses and 12 hours later, we arrived to Tia Bel (Aunt Bel) and Vô Nelson’s (Grandpa Nelson’s) in Fernandópolis. In Brasil, means grandpa and means grandma.
A cool thing that I found very useful in my learning of Brasilian Portuguese is that, to remember the difference between these two words, kids are taught that grandpa gets the “hat” and grandma gets the “bobby pin.”

For the first time in almost 6 months, we did not have to find a place to stay…a place to eat…almost home…almost home. And funny enough, our trip started in June going to my parent’s home in Minnesota – about 8 hours from South Range. Fernandópolis to our final destination in Goiás is about the same distance as our starting point, South Range, to my parents’ house in Faribault, Minnesota. Coincidentally, we crossed the same number of state borders in both countries on our first and last leg: Sao Paulo (Saint Paul), Minas Gerais (General Mines), and Goiás in Brasil; and Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the United States.

In Fernandópolis, we got our clothes washed (about the third time in six months – scary but true), ate well, relaxed, visited many of Kiko’s cousins, and chatted lots. I got a quick tour of Fernandópolis, a city founded by Kiko’s great-grandfather. Being one of the three city founders, there is a statue of him in a local public school.

Late Friday night, we went to the weekly dance…a forró dance with a live band (pronounced fō-hō). It is just as awesome as a South Range polka dance, but the cool thing is that people of all ages dance like crazy…all night long…until 3am.

The trio of forró instruments, an accordion, a shallow drum, and a triangle…

The following information about forró is taken from the sleeve of the CD, “ASA BRANCA: Accordion Forró From Brazil – RYKODISC – RCD 20145.”

“For decades Brazil has had a brilliantly diverse pop scene which artists and listeners the world over have returned to for refreshment. Whether it was the bossa nova craze of the early 1960’s, the Brazilian pop-jazz scene of the 70s and 80s, or today’s bounding interest in samba and Afro-Bahian forms, Brazil has so much to offer. And more still.

Enter forró. Call it roots accordion rock, call it tropical zydeco, call it rhythm and Brazil-blues, call it what you will, just listen to it. This stuff is hot. And it’s little known outside of Brazil.

What samba is to Rio de Janeiro, forró (pronounced fō-hō) is to the Northeast. It is a music of the people, steeped in their traditions, dreams and sensibilities, and like all Brazilian music, it is a fusion of unlikely forms into a music that is greater than the sum of its parts. Part Indian inflection, part European song form, and increasingly part African and Caribbean, it is a vivacious musical style that is immensely popular among the working classes in Brazil.

The great sambista Beth Carvalho believes that like samba, forró is ‘the origin of practically everything.’ It is a well from which popular musicians continue to drink.

Forró evolved as a trio of instruments, an accordion or sanfona (button accordion), a zabumba or shallow drum, and a triangle. In modern times, however, it has been supplemented by modern instrumentation: electric guitars and bass, keyboards, brass and trap drums. Yet the feel remains deeply traditional. And how refreshing it is in this age of synthesizers to see the variety and soulfulness that forró’s main instrument, the accordion, is capable of. No wonder styles like Lousiana zydeco, an obvious forró relative, have met with such avid approval in recent years.

As part of popular culture, forró tells tales of romance, of the very hard lives of Northeasterners in a region of near-perpetual drought, and the equally hard lives of those who flee to the south to work at menial jobs and constructions. In fact it was during just such a latter arrangement in the early years of this century that the term forró appeared. Multi-Nationals had come to Brazil in full force, and on holidays and during festivals the English-speaking employers would invite their workers to parties intended “for all.” With the typical Brazilian knack for improvisation, this was soon slurred to forró. The name stuck.

In reality forró isn’t a single rhythm but the umbrella term for a panoply of styles known to the Northeasterner: the baião, the xote, the xaxado, the maxixe, the frevo and many others. You might say it’s more of a perspective or attitude than a specific beat, the way rock and roll is…”
Click for another site on forró.

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