The Pantalan

M
Warning to travellers in Brazil, for domestic flights you need to be at airport at least 2 hours before departure. Come back Heathrow, all is forgiven . However despite the maddening crowds, once processed, things are straightforward and most flights leave on time if not early. I connected with Osley at the departure gate and we flew to Cuiaba, on an Airbus 320. I had assumed that Cuiaba was a “town” but it is a very big city, looking larger than Adelaide from the air.

We were met at the airport and driven in a big black offroad “hilux” vehicle to our lodge. We stopped for lunch at a cafeteria style establishment. The road was sealed for about 90 km then rocky, dusty red dirt unsealed for another 50 km or so. Reminiscent of unsealed roads around Alice Springs the major difference being the presence of swampy wetland marshes beside the road teeming with birds, alligators and wild large rodents. We navigated many rickety wooden bridges, successfully. The most common animal, by far, is the Capybara , the worlds largest rodent!

The most common bird is what I would call a red capped finch. These are so domesticated that hundreds of them hop around you at meal times on the tables. And will brazenly eat crumbs from plate whilst still eating yourself! ( that is terrible grammatically but you know what I mean!)

Arrived at the Aracas Lodge about 2.30 pm in time for quick swim, cool drink then we left in a safari type open vehicle to catch the wildlife, of which we saw plenty arriving back after sunset for dinner.

The lodge is surrounded by lush wetlands and these “waterholes” are also teeming with fish and hundreds of alligators! At night one of the guests almost fell over an alligator at her door! I could cope with a wallaby, a wild goanna, but an alligator!!! Frogs everywhere one needs to check bed before hopping in at night!

Sunday morning we rode horses around the countryside. I rodey horse at a gentle walk, Osley shot off like s cowboy on his! Then in the late afternoon had a walk through the wetland and forests to a 25 m bird lookout tower then back in the setting sun.

The next day we took a kayak down a river and saw numerous water birds, an alligator and 3 giant otters. The most common bird was the Cormorant. We also saw, from a distance, a Jabiru standing in its giant nest built in a large, dead tree.

Given that the lodge is far removed from civilisation, it was a great place to spend 3 days. The rooms were basic but clean and the water hot , the food home cooked and we had a different roast or baked dish each night: pork, lamb, fish, whilst on the canoe trip we had a great BBQ beef! It was all the more appreciated when one realised that one was a few hundred kilometers from a big city!

We had a very knowledgable guide who stayed with us for all the day and evening trips.

We left at 6 am for the drive back to Cuiaba. It was dawn and consequently we saw even more wildlife as we drove back in the marshes, fields and trees.

Off to the Foz do Iguaçu today and getting there is another story! If Osley was not with me who knows when and where I may have slept tonight!

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Brasilia Day 3

I have taken an afternoon break and joined a guided tour. This is I admit, a variation of a travel rort.

Uniquely the whole city of Brasilia is a UN World Heritage site. Over the last few days and with this guided tour, I have come to appreciate the concept and design.

The JK memorial as it is known fondly in Brasilia goes not refer to the American President, but the Brazilian President! Another creation in cement beneath which he is buried and with such a load on top of him, never to rise from the dead!

Our Lady of Fatima is a quaint local church, one of the first buildings constructed in Brasilia in 1958 – designed by Niemeyer. It has a small roof sail like and peaked to evoke the hats of the nuns of the St Vincent’s Order. I recall it was the same thing that Julie Andrews wore in the Sound of Music?

Another church The Dom Bosco Sanctuary surely was inspired by Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona ? Built in 1970 it has an amazing intense blue light from floor to ceiling stained glass.

The Museum Honestino Guimaraes is a white cement dome graceful in its simplicity.

The Cathedral is also a rather unexpected architectural creation which I suspect provokes division amongst observers given its ribbed lightshade appearance.

What is really marvelous in the literal sense is that all of the Niemeyer creations in cement,outwardly robust rather than delicate, are remarkable from the inside, creating a sense of softness, light and space.

A significant number of the major buildings are undergoing renovations and a huge new football stadium is being constructed, all in preparation for World Cup Soccer in two years.

I explained previously that Brasilia was a cross between Canberra and Alice Springs. After 3 days here, I would like to add any third world tropical city to the mix! Each afternoon huge dark grey cumulous clouds build up, threatening a tropical downpour, which if it does happen passes in 20 minutes and the sun reappears. The huge expanses of natural space are covered in either fine dusty red soil or that very characteristic broad leaf, coarse buffalo grass that grows so prolifically and ubiquitously in the tropics (and Sydney)!

The third world feel comes about because of the overall sense that public infrastructure is always behind in terms of maintenance. So roads, kerbs, gutters, paths and parks that from creation in 1960 would have been spotless and perfect, show multiple minor signs of age. Potholes, loose or missing paving, collapsed kerbs combined with a mix of significant graffiti and the discarded rubbish of our take-away world.

Whereas the threat of litigation in Australia, means that potholes, loose paving, cracked kerbs, fallen suburban trees or branches are, relatively speaking, rectified quickly.

I was about to write – Not a single cyclist sighted. “Motor cars rule, OK? Cyclists ride, KO”! However within a few seconds, TWO zipped past me on the main thoroughfare. There is no such thing as a cycle lane. It was dusk and the first, on a hybrid, had no helmet, no lighting and travelled at the general speed of the traffic anyway! The second was on a road bike with bright blue lights attached to the spokes of both wheels! Looked like a catherine-wheel. Effective and not something I have seen before. It still would not get me on a cycle in Brazil. Suffice it to say, I have not seen anymore cyclists since!

Two differing eating experiences-

The Bar Bierut – Lebanese food the menu described several dishes including “worn out meat” and “mussarela cheese”. The meaning of the latter is obvious, the former I reckon is their translation of “aged beef”.

The second was so totally different and decadent. A smorgasbord of BBQ meat and salads. Handsome young men dressed like Spanish cowboys with black pantaloons, black riding boots, shirt and red bandana, pranced amongst the tables each carrying a huge skewer of a particular “cut” of meat. Your drink coaster served as a signal to these macho waiters: coloured green indicated “give me more, yes please”, turn it over, to show red – “no thanks had enough at present” … how much meat can a man handle?

Given my bird like eating habits and propensity to “graze” , it was eat as much as you like for about $75 – they made a huge profit out of me that night!

It’s 3 weeks till I arrive home, I am meeting Osley at the airport tomorrow and I shall spend the last weeks travelling with him. Weird and wonderful places without Internet I suspect! We start in the Pantanal region.

Oh God have just read that Yellow Fever is endemic there!

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To Brazil

To Brazil – I left Monday morning arrived Tuesday morning.

The day started badly and did not improve. American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Miami delayed by about an hour. We board, then sit strapped in for another 45 minutes as The President lands in Air Force One – which I witness from my window seat.

Eventually with doors closed we sit and sit and sit, till the pilot informs us that we are not allowed to move till all the President’s men have left in their 2 mile motorcade. Possibly as much as another 45mins. As I write this, my scheduled connection to Brasilia is problematic.

We have landed in Miami and to give the pilot his due, we made up quite a bit of time. Connection made. I write this sitting in transit at Miami.

It’s user pays principle in America even in the airline “lounges” where other than percolator coffee and biscuits, one pays for everything else. At SF airport, Internet was ubiquitous and free, at Miami, it’s $4.75 for 30 minutes.

The Miami airport has the same feel and layout as Singapore – a brisk long walk or Skytrain along the concourse but without the frenetic 24 hour shopping, eating and general sense of entertainment! In fact at 11.30 pm (night) it was positively dead!

My blogs may not be daily now as my Internet access is rather problematic now! That could be a good thing for many of you!

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Brasilia

The Frommer’s guide to Brazil is quite open, if not mildly scathing, in its opening chapter on Brasilia by stating ” as the attractions in Brasilia are architectural, one can dispense with this city in a day”.

Brasilia is a “designer city”.

A rather desolate, hot, red-soiled plateau in the centre of Brazil was chosen in 1956 as the site for the new capital. My initial reaction having walked a few hours is that this city is a cross between Canberra and Alice Springs. You can interpret that anyway you like!

There were two famous Brazilians invited to create this metropolis. The town planner Lucio Costa and the architect Oscar Niemeyer.

The first consultant made 2 momentous decisions, firstly, given that it was 1956, the motor car obviously ruled! Secondly that the city plan (layout) resembled a giant crossbow. Running due East-West through the centre is the “arrow” – the world’s widest thoroughfare! 6 lanes of one way traffic, a central nature strip more than 100m wide then 6 lanes of other way traffic! Imagine Port Road Adelaide multiplied by four! The “bow” is a slightly less wide street, intersecting north-south but in a gentle arc.

With wide, one way streets, Costa designed a system of turnpikes, tunnels and overpasses that brilliantly eliminated the need for traffic lights!

By 1960, within 4 short years, the first humans moved in and the city was declared “open”.

I suspect that it was at this time, that the penny dropped with respect to other means of transport other than the car or bus – specifically “feet”! (Not to mention pedal power). Footpaths seem to be an planning oversight if not after thought. Moreover the only way to get to the other side of a road some 750m wide in Brasilia is to be born there!

Those footpaths that do exist, abruptly stop at the turnpike or access road! So rare traffic lights have been added principally to reduce pedestrian mortality as there were a significant number of people on foot, who, initially dodging death by hit and run, reached the wide lawn covered central nature strip, only to die of starvation, when it proved impossible to complete the journey to the other side.

The architect, Oscar Niemeyer, is still alive at age 104 and practicing! He is world renowned for using cement in his creations. He has a passion for smoking cigars! What is it about cement and cigars that makes a human pass a century?

A person aged greater than 80 is an octogenarian, more than 90, a nonagenarian. What the hell is some one aged greater than 100? I know it’s not a centurion.

Rather than describe his “fluid, feminine” creations in cement, “google” his name or Brasilia and see for yourself.

There is thus, like Canberra, a definite symmetry to the city. There are three main distinct and separate districts : government, residential and hotels/commercial. These areas are laid out along the main east west thoroughfare and as well split into two – a north and south section! So for example there are hotels in both the north and south side of the city literally across the main road from each other! Identical high rise office blocks, housing government departments run down each side of the road , at least a dozen on each! ( I hope you are taking notes because there will be an exam on this later).

So logical and seemingly intuitive is the layout devised by this Costa chap, that you could be forgiven for assuming that one could never become lost in Brasilia! Well you are forgiven!

This layout gives new meaning to “deja-vue” or a “mirror image”! I surely am in the right place I think and yes I am – but 800m away on the opposite side if the road! Familiarity is rapidly breeding contempt for this Costa chap. I would not be surprised to discover that he was one of monozygotic twins.

At about 3 pm a sudden tropical downpour cleared as quickly as it appeared. A little bit like Ireland. Difference one has an ambient temperature of 32, the other 12.

A colleague at the conference has suggested a few things I may also visit. Like Canberra, Brasilia has a man made lake and a great botanical garden.

Another late afternoon tropical downpour!

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Thoughts from Stroke Conference Day 1 Brazil

Questions from the floor, invariably bring out the occasional “nutter”.

Such performances at the microphone usually are a variation on two types. The first, with which I can cope if not empathize, is a request for a comment on an anecdotal case, provoked by a preceding brilliant discourse and objective lecture on a specific subject. The lecture may have been on “Current evidence based guidelines for anti coagulation in atrial fibrillation”.

The unique scenario presented from the floor goes something like this: a patient, from Eucador, a man aged 48, who for the last 12 years has, after 3 bottles of beer at night, followed by vigorous sexual intercourse, taken his prescribed Warfarin tablets and 20 minutes later develops severe palpitations….. Would Professor Bickersdorf care to comment?

The other is more of a dissertation. Following an eloquent, lucid lecture on “Current Theories of the Mechanism of Headache after a TIA”, a member of the audience approaches the microphone and explains that over the last 25 years he has gathered a cohort of 121 women who have had a TIA involving the carotid artery and has found in 29, calcification of the nipple. What is even more fascinating, the speaker theatrically emphasizes, is that it is only ONE nipple that is so afflicted and invariably it is the nipple contralateral to the diseased artery!

Having brought the auditorium to a stunned silence, including the guest lecturer, the man who has the floor, finishes his own presentation with an impassioned plea that ALL women who present with a TIA should have mandatory palpation of both breasts. It would, he exhorts with a flourish, be negligent for the audience to do otherwise. It has been, he states with a degree of pride, a routine part of his physical examination since he made this initial discovery more than 15 years ago.

Day 2 awaits me!

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SF Weekend

Yesterday was a day of rest, in fact the first since I left Australia! I did a walk of a few hours to justify the Tartines Cafe double” chocolat-au-pain for breakfast. The double referred to not just the chocolate – it is the U.S of A remember! I walked to Golden Gate park – again not just an urban park but a huge area of hundred of acres near Haight-Ashbury. I stumbled across two baseball pitches at which games were in progress. One looked like baseball, the other did not! Closer inspection revealed that the vaguely familiar game was in fact Cricket! The teams were Indian! Not American Indians but subcontinental indians.

As I seem to oscillate between becoming hopelessly lost and vaguely disorientated, I shall declare that on this day, being the latter rather than the former, I also stumbled across the San Francisco World Vegetarian Expo in the park. This had a universal feel about it – stalls with samples of apparently edible roots, tubers leaves, seaweed all of which have been vigorously homogenized into the consistency of baby food. Consuming any or all of these products will absolutely “prevent” Alzheimer’s Disease, a heart attack, a stroke, diabetes, reflux – the list was encyclopedic!

If by chance the taste was not to your liking one could add a powder of some description. If that did not improve the oral experience, then give up, dry the bloody stuff in the sun and smoke it! Mind you there was a stall espousing the benefits of colonic irrigation.

A booth announced that several talks on “Herbs and Your Heart”, “Dandelion Tea and Dementia”, “Seaweed and Stroke” and finally “How to Ginger up your Life”, were scheduled over the next week in the Bay city area by one Dr Steve Moskovitz.

I picked up a flyer and the rather unassuming man behind the table, ( drinking take-away Starbucks Coffee – I guess a coffee bean and a Dandelion Flower are both vegetable in the broad sense?) taking my reading of his brochure as an expression of interest, started upon his friendly soft selling. I feigned both ignorance and interest. He introduced himself as the very same Dr Steve Moskovitz! The good doctor in person. His leaflet described his qualifications as “DSc.” I presumed this was a Science qualification. After a few minutes of chat, he asked if I was a “doctor”? He explained ” you look very intelligent” paraphrasing “you have white hair and glasses”. I denied it – the medical qualifications, not the look! “well” , he said ” man, you look professional and experienced – you could play one on television”!

Well what could one do after this interaction other than buy a $100 tin of “Dr. Steve’s Remarkable Ginger Powder”! I could feel a spring in my step as I carried the tin home, even before consuming it.

A friend of Guy for lunch on Saturday so we had a lazy long afternoon then walked to a nearby park then in the evening started to watch “Angels in America” – for me the umpteenth time, but I never tire of it !!

The vast majority of street people and beggars, have at least one dog – all them with a bit of pit bull terrier in them! The canines I mean. Guy explained, believe it or not, if you have an animal, your social security payment increases.

Speaking of animals, their rights were a major theme at the expo. Even rabbits had a booth! Save a rabbit, adopt one, sponsor a rabbit, pet a rabbit, sign up for a “companion rabbit”! Suddenly I understood the signs on the SF public transport “guide dogs and companion rabbits, travel free at all times. Please ensure your dog is on a leash and muzzled. Your rabbit’s ears must remain within the compartment at all times”.

Now it is Sunday and I am on the ferry to Angel Island in the Bay. It is at 9.30 am still blanketed in fog. I climbed to the top of the island Mt Livermore. The island was home to nuclear missile silos in the 60’s As I ascended I disturbed a deer, we both jumped in fright!

I plan to visit the Museum de Young later as there is a retrospective on Rudolph Nureyev.

As Jake is flying out at midnight to Hong Kong and I leave for Brazil in the morning, we are eating out tonight.

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SF Friday

I have “done” Fisherman’s wharf! It embodies all that is America in one experience – the good, the bad, the ugly, the loud, the tacky, the tasteless, all on steroids. I readily admit that Australia has similar “attractions” but boy oh boy do the Americans do it do much better!

I also saw the California Sea Lions they come into the harbour during autumn and winter and sun themselves on wooden pontoons placed around the jetties. These seals are twice as big as the seals on Kangaroo Island.

I had a clam chowder in a cup. One can choose to have it presented in a sourdough bread bowl so that you eventually eat that as well .

The Cable car museum is fascinating and is part of the actual working powerhouse with the huge wire “rope” cables constantly turning on a system of huge fly wheels. These cables, of which there are 4 separate systems ( 4 cable car routes) snake for miles as one continuous loop buried in the road. An average cable about 4 cm in diameter is replaced every 4 months!

I do like the concept of “downtown” or “outbound” to describe the direction of travel. Certainly in San Francisco the term “downtown” has literal as well as figurative meaning, given the geography!

The Google company is based in San Francisco and one sees dedicated google buses in peak hour taking employees to and from work.

The symphony concert last night was Bartok piano concerto and the 2 symphonic pieces by Respighi. Very dynamic and tumultuous – ideal to show off one’s Hi-Fi system. I confess the pieces do not belong in my century, but there we are!

It’s Saturday and I am, you guessed it, back at Tartines. The queue at 9 am snakes for 50 m out the shop and down the pavement! It makes the queue at Bongornios look like a mere hiccup in the world of waiting!

I have sampled all of their most decadent pastries. The big decision is what will I have Sunday – my last day in San Francisco?

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