Despite these 3 months of long service leave and exposure to several airlines, airports and lounges, I hesitate to boast that I am a veteran, at least when it comes to air travel. Some of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, are true travellers, modern Marco Polo’s, in first class style. Of course he (Marco Polo) travelled by camel for thousands of miles and if there was such a thing as a “first class hump” on a camel, then Marco Polo deserved it. Of course, in ancient times, many oriental travellers, after countless months of isolation, found a first class hump on a camel the only option. Heaven only knows what sort of seating Hannibal was assigned on his regular trips by elephant.
Anyway I digress. When it comes to VIP lounges, many on this trip seem to have left off the “V”! Rio is no exception! Criticism that I am a Qantas Club snob, are justified and understandable. Indeed I eventually left the lounge in Rio and joined the masses in McDonalds! Let me explain.
I shall make several comments about airports in Brazil, in general. Firstly chaos! At peak travel times, the check-in areas rival Grand Central Railway Station in Delhi, India! Snake like lines meander for kilometers, in a realistic display of the art of static queuing. Brazil does indeed have the facility to check in on-line the day before or to check in and print your ticket at an electronic stand in the terminal on the day of departure. Astoundingly, these attempts at smooth efficiency are utterly undone by the requirement that with newly printed ticket in hand, one still joins the same static queue to do a “bag drop”! Here the clerical person basically goes through the process of checking name, flight and ticketting before weighing and labeling your bag. Time saved- zero, zilch!
The lounges have no reading material that a bored english speaking tourist can understand other than a cafe “menu”! For example the portuguese word for “hamburger” is “hamburger”! All of the airports provide free Wi-Fi. However Brazil mandates that all users must be “registered”. This requires a laborious log -on, asking such details as name, DOB, gender (thankfully they could cope without disclosure of sexuality), passport, home address , mobile and email and finally a unique password. Once completed, you are acknowledged and prompted to log on again with your newly created account and to now key in all 15 digits below a barcode on your plane ticket. The font size of this number is so minute that one is forced to move to a well directed down light and seek out a powerful magnifying glass. This convoluted maneuver takes up so much time that just as you are successfully connected, your flight is called.
Food and beverages in the VIP lounges are rather sad and sorry. A ham and cheese triangle sandwich of white bread, crusts off, suffocatingly sealed in the Brazilian equivalent of Glad-Wrap is not designed to get one’s digestive juices flowing. Anyway even if one relents, the task of finding where the Glad Wrap starts and ends, so to unwrap the tasty morsel, takes as long as setting up the Wi-Fi. I am both disconnected and unsatiated, a murderous combination.
Finally the coffee – abysmal! Why is it so? Brazil is the home of coffee beans, pop songs have been written about Brazil and coffee! It has been explained that, somewhat akin to the export of all our best Australian lobster to Japan, so the best coffee beans are exported and poor Brazil is left with the equivalent of “International Roast” instant coffee!
Hence I leave the lounge and wander aimlessly past McDonalds and the Duty Free.
As I commented in an earlier blog, duty free shopping has lost it’s shine, if ever it had one for me. Tobacco is a smoke screen, and the choices in alcohol are limited to two major categories: spirits and liqueurs. Spirits I don’t enjoy whilst my bottle of Tia Maria lasts at least 5 years. I use a third of a cup in my unique annual Xmas cake and sniff the cork mid year.
Electronic goods and perfumes are more expensive on conversion, than one would pay at home on the High Street. Besides which I have rediscovered a fabulous company in London, Cezch & Speake! Their Neroli range of cologne, after-shave and other masculine lines are sublime. A bottle lasts me a year and is far too good to even add a few drops to my Xmas cake. I am content to splash it sparingly on face and armpits after shaving (face that is, armpits not included).
If one is left with say the equivalent of $15 in local currency, burning a hole in one’s pocket, the only option around this price is a 12 kg family pack of Toblerone chocolate. Which begs the question, why does Toblerone seem to have the world wide duty free chocolate market cornered?
I write this blog on an iTouch at 32000 ft between Rio and Santiago. Indeed all my blogs have been created and churned out on an almost daily basis, using the right index finger on my iPhone, until it’s theft. Now I use Osley’s iTouch (no camera), which I shall post back to him upon my return to Australia.
I shall end this rather unexpected lengthy blog with a few final thoughts and reactions to Brazil. To set the scene, even though I had read the guides, other than a vague perception of a rapidly disappearing Amazon rain forest, home to semi naked Indians, boa constrictors and piranha infested rivers, I had absolutely no bloody idea of what to expect. In any case I did not include the Amazon on this trip!
I travelled to 5 different places and still only saw small percentage of this immense country.
From an international tourist perspective, Brazil needs to make some dramatic improvements. This is happening spurred on by Brazil’s major involvement in hosting several soccer world cup matches in 2013 and the Olympics a year or two later.
Getting around is best done by air. A planned itinerary booked and paid in advance is relatively cheap! There are at least 5 or 6 domestic and regional carriers. To give you an idea, 5 sectors across Brazil, cost me about $650 in total.
There’s no well developed rail network. I doubt there ever will be. Buses are the only alternative. But finding the right bus and from whence it departs, is a nightmare. Signage in English is non existent and hardly anyone speaks English even the younger generation.
To give the government credit, they are aware of these deficiencies in infrastructure and a dearth of English speaking people in the service and tourist industries. Plans are in place to greet the anticipated influx of hundreds of thousands of international visitors over the next few years. I was fortunate to have Osley as my clever local guide, otherwise I may have disappeared up a narrow dirty street in the Favola, never to be seen again.
What I can confidently state is that no matter where I travel in future years, the time spent in major cities shall be kept to a minimum. Globalization has sadly converted most capitals to monotonous lookalikes. Skyscrapers, Subway, motorways and McDonalds. Finding the heart and soul in these cosmopolitan cities is difficult, many I would argue, have lost them completely!