Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Long and Disappearing Road

The road from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador is long . . . and winding . . . and often just not there anymore. The first “just not there anymore” came in the form of a landslide that had taken a bite out of the road, leaving just enough room to scoot by, which we did.

About every 100 miles or so there’s a billboard that tells you how many people have died on this road this year. You know those national deficit tickers that look like they’re spinning out of control. This one was going faster, I think. Oh, Mom? Stop reading here.

Unaware of the danger awaiting us, we set off from Rio early one morning so that we could be in Vitoria by 10 (about 500 miles away). What on earth we thought we were going to find in Vitoria, your guess would probably be better than mine; what we found was an unimpressive industrial port town. Oh well. It was a Monday morning, so we hoped to be able to exchange money for a good rate at the local bank.

I got in line with the locals and was soon ushered into a room the size of an olympic-size pool. I sat down at a desk where a nervous bank manager started whipping out every form in his desk.

“Gracious. I just want to exchange money, not buy a house,” I said and chuckled.

He smiled because I had smiled, but otherwise our languages—albeit both latinate and cheerful—had yet to cross cognates.

“Passporto,” he said.

Ah, I understoodo. I handed him my passport and prayed this would speed things up. I was sure Horst had parked the car in a disabled parking space.

“Momento,” he said and disappeared for ten minutes. Well, actually he didn’t completely disappear. I could see him talking to a woman across the room, then another woman on the other side of the room. As he was about to show my passport to the cleaning woman, I walked up to him and asked him to give it back.


“I want my passport back. This is taking too long.”


I grabbed my passport and stormed out of the bank. Yes, a bit dramatic, but drama is like a sneeze with me. I have to get it out; otherwise I’ll just be looking up into lights all day, going “Ah, ah, ah . . . damn. Almost. Ah, ah, ah . . .”

It was already early afternoon, but we got back on the road anyway—sure we’d find a Holiday Inn or similar before dark (there are very few lights on the road from Rio to Salvador). What we found was the literal definition of “The End of the Road.” The road ended. We had to turn around and backtrack about fifty miles.

As we crested a hill on a bumpy dirt road, below us the umbrellas and palm roofs of a little resort emerged. Naked children were playing in a lagoon of sorts—although to be frank, I’m not really sure what a lagoon is.

The resort was deserted except for a few locals who were having lunch in the restaurant shed. When they spotted us, they started shouting joyous gibberish and waving for us to come in, sit down and spend lots of money. We did. The food (salmon grilled in aluminum foil with a spicy sauce of peas, red pepper and tomatoes) was exactly the feast we needed. I think the meal set us back three dollars.

Sadly, it turned out that the resort wasn’t open, but the owner told us how to get back to the main road. He looked worried for us, though.

The treacherous roadtrip continues...although obviously I lived through it (a bit of a spoiler, I know).

I must be off,