Brasil at last


After many conversations with Vantuil and an aborted attempt after Vanessa died, I have finally gotten my chance to go to Brasil.  I feel well prepared with the smell and taste of bacalhau, the sounds of Jobim and the conjured images of exotic places  imprinted in my memory.  I will be conducting a course for doctors and our third non-North American (NA) instructor training course.  Although I have 8 straight days of teaching, I will be living with and teaching locals so it should be fun.  The only problem is that somehow it does not seem right to go to Brasil for the first time without Vantuil.

I will be hosted by and work with Sam(anta) Chu.  She is our sole Brasilian instructor.  What Sam lacks in medical background, she more than makes up with outdoor experience, enthusiasm and hard work.  With some editorial support (including some from Vantuil), she has translated all of our teaching materials into Brasilian Portuguese.  Sam has really done a terrific job in a totally new field for Brasil.  That she is a woman doing this in Brasil is no small feat.  Although she can be a little shy and quiet, Sam is a lot of fun to work with.  Her father had a big hemorrhagic stroke just over a week before my arrival.  In spite of the fact that he is still in the ICU, she insisted that I come.


São Paulo

This is an enormous city with 10 million (20+ million metro), residents.  It is busy and crowded with high rises everywhere.  Despite stories of smog, the sky is clear and blue with temperatures in the mid-20s C (70s for Americans).  Of course it is late winter here in the Southern hemisphere.  The main highway from the airport is busy but traffic moves apace.  Off the main streets in town their are few typical rectangular city blocks.  The side roads follow circuitous routes over undulating and sometimes surprisingly steep grades.  Drivers follows rules better than many congested places I have visited.  Still, this relative civility does not take away from what can be a hair-raising experience.  I am happy to be safely strapped into the driver’s side seat of a substantial SUV driven by a reasonably prudent driver.

For me, the most amazing aspect on the roadways is the motorcycle traffic.  They drive almost exclusively between the lanes of traffic, both with and against the flow.   These are not the cautious efforts we see in NA when motorcyclists try to gain headway when traffic comes to a standstill.  The drivers (all helmeted at least) weave in and out of moving traffic at speeds notably faster that the cars, honking to warn car drivers and other slower moving motorcyclists of their approach.  Civilized?  At least the car drivers yield, somewhat, and never seem to purposefully cut the motorcyclists off as they do in the US.

The first night here, Sam took me to a downtown restaurant featuring a very good jazz quartet (piano, bass, electric guitar and drums).  Aside from one Duke Ellington classic, most of the repertoire they improvised off consisted of Brasilian tunes, many of which I recognized.  This place is also open Saturday morning with a far different feel.  They serve brunch and offer live music, all with a family focus.  Kids eat, run around inside and on the sidewalks, and play while their parents talk and listen to music. Sounds like a wonderful scene that I would love to experience.  Still this can be a rough section of the city.  In spite of the government’s efforts to rehab its decay, at night the area was a seedy, dank neighborhood with many sex workers out and about.  Still, I felt relatively safe.

I had my own room in the hostel where I stayed.  After a pretty restful sleep, shower and good food, Sam and I headed to Ibiuna for the first course.


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