Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Long and Disappearing Road...Part II

Full-bellied and pointed in the right direction, we were back on the road to Salvador in minutes. It was around four in the afternoon, so we had plenty of time to reach the next village-with-hotel by nightfall.

Yet no sooner had this ambitious goal crossed our minds than our car rolled to a stop behind a traffic jam that wound up the hill ahead of us for what could have been dozens of miles. When I got out of the car to get a better look at the situation, I noticed that most of the cars were driverless; the drivers were sitting on the side of the road, having lunch. And laughing. And talking.

Incidente bombastico,” (or something like that) someone hollered my way. I’m sure I’d transformed my body into a human question mark: one of those head-to-toe What gives? looks.

“What gives?” asked Horst when I returned to the car.

Incidente bombastico,” I said. “I think we’re supposed to get out of the car and join the party in the grass.”

The party lasted two hours. As we inched past the scene of the accident (why is it human nature to gape at destruction?), we learned what bombastico really means. A truck carrying unprocessed lumber—essentially enormous trees without limbs—had taken a curve too fast, dumping half of its trees on top of several little houses on the edge of the road. They were all flattened. To make matters not worse perhaps but definitely more bizarre, another truck, which had probably been following the lumber truck too closely, had apparently come to an abrupt stop, sending most of its load—loaves of bread wrapped in particolored plastic—in every direction. The scene was bombastic and . . . pretty.

And the sun was setting.

“The Lonely Planet says not to drive on this road at night,” I said.

“Don’t be such a sissy,” said Horst.

So we drove on. For dinner we stopped at a gas station. Horst had a large bag of potato chips (the Portuguese brand name on the package had to mean Greasiest Potato Chips on the Planet), and I ordered the Magnum ice-cream-on-a-stick, the one covered in chocolate with vanilla ice cream in the middle.

“It’s your turn to drive,” said Horst.

“Why is it suddenly my turn?”

“Don’t be such a sissy.”

So I drove, eating my ice cream, listening to the music on the radio and dodging oncoming cars. Are headlights optional in Brazil? Is one a sissy if one uses them at night?

“We have to stop,” I said. “I don’t care if this makes me a sissy. We have to stop.”

“San Mateo is just up ahead. There will be a hotel there.” Horst, the psychic.

And there was a hotel. The lights were off and the lightless parking lot in front of it was deserted, but it was definitely a hotel—unless Portuguese is like French and this was the city hall.

We rang the bell. Well, Horst rang the bell. Of course we didn’t both ring the bell. A few second later a light blinked on over our heads.

“Oh my goodness,” Horst said, pointing at my shorts.

The front of my shorts was smeared with—not just a little, but a whole lot of—dark chocolate. This is not a good look. In fact, this is quite a bad look. The only thing that saves this look from being a horribly revolting look is the position of it on the crotch rather than the seat.

I spent the rest of the evening washing my shorts in our enormous but prison-gray hotel room. The only light in the room hung baldly from a cord near the sink. We slept that night in bunk beds on mattresses that were no thicker than cardboard. It was heaven.

Get back on the road to Salvador with us in the next installment of “The Long and Disappearing Road.”

I must be off,
Christopher