I made my way from St. Barths at around noon last Saturday. In order to get a flight out of town and to Brasilia I had to take four flights: to Saint Maarten, to San Juan, to Miami, and then to Brasilia. Neither the flight to St. Maarten nor the flight to San Juan left anywhere near on time and I was very very nervous about that.
Here is a shot from the 6-seater airplane landing in St. Maarten.
However, it worked out and I arrived in Miami with time to spare, right in front of a Cuban cafeteria there. I had a delicious meal: a Cuban Sandwich, a plate of plantains and a Materva yerba mate soda. The Cuban was a little dry, but I wasn’t complaining. The plantains were delicious and the Materva tasted like some sort of ridiculous bubble gum carbonated thing (not like mate, but good anyway).
Delicious dinner last Saturday looked like this:
When I made it to the gate I found out they were offering a handsome sum to anybody who would consider changing their flight. I turned out to be the only American to take it, which was something that the Brazilians noticed very quickly. To me, it was most of the cost of a return flight, so I couldn’t say no. I got on a flight two hours later to Sao Paulo with a connecting flight to Brasilia about 6.5 hours after arriving there. I was willing to put up with that inconvenience because I didn’t have a fixed schedule Sunday to deal with. I did have to get a hold of my host because I was worried about an errant trip to the airport. He may have gone, and I don’t know.
I arrived in Sao Paulo exhausted and, to my surprise, without luggage. I didn’t find out till later that my luggage had already made it to Brasilia. So I spent about an hour and a half dealing with that and left the concourse to find out that it was about $120R each way to take a cab into Sao Paulo proper from this suburban airport – which was something that I couldn’t afford. Plus the traffic there is legendarily unpredictable and I couldn’t be sure that I could get back if I went. I just found out last night about some sort of incredible record bazaar that is offered in the middle of town. I am pretty annoyed that I missed that, but am also fairly comfortable with the choice I made: I went to get a SIM card at a suburban Sao Paulo mall, which helped smooth over my arrival greatly.
I spent another hour dealing with my luggage in Brasilia, but they found it rather quickly and I had it by 10:30 Monday. Afterward I went to an industry news organization (kind of like Bloomberg) and hung out in my host’s office digging around with emails and telling my bank at home to chill out re: purchases I made in St. Barth (gift for Jess, mailing academic stuff back to PGH), Sao Paulo (internet), and Miami (internet). All of these were unscheduled stops in my trip. Welcome, but unscheduled.
My host doesn’t have the internet, so I found several ways to get a plan. Unfortunately none had panned out until yesterday. All of the options were incredibly expensive except for getting a monthly rate.
First I tried to get a data plan for the BlackBerry I borrowed for this trip. I used the service provider Tim, which appeared at first to be very flexible. They offered me a prepaid plan for $36R (about $20) and a data plan for $.50R per day. However then they took it away from me because they don’t let BlackBerries use prepaid wireless. I found this out the hard way when I tried to communicate with Jess via email on the 2nd day of having the service. My email wouldn’t send. They explained the problem when I took it to the the Tim Store to try to deal with it. I made the lady explain the problem three times not because I didn’t understand, but by the end, because I was so annoyed at their inflexibility and wanted to be inflexible myself.
I don’t have a Brazilian social security number here and they wouldn’t let me use my passport number like I could in Venezuela. It was killing me. For the reasons above I couldn’t get a prepaid data plan with a BlackBerry and I couldn’t get a billing-style plan that would accommodate a BlackBerry because I don’t have an SSN. I can’t get my own internet plan with any company because I lack an SSN and I can’t get even a prepaid plan without one. I shopped for a wireless modem for almost an entire afternoon, and the only one that is offered prepaid also requires an SSN.
For 20 miraculous minutes Monday night I was able to get my phone to tether and serve internet to my computer. During that time I was (barely) able to send Jess an email telling her that I am alive and OK. It hasn’t worked since.
I went Tuesday to try to get a prepaid plan and my friend and I went to the wrong store (an authorized reseller). They couldn’t help me get a prepaid plan there because they weren’t a real store. By the time I went to the correct mall, the real store was closed because it is a local religious holiday. I accepted my loss and went with a friend for a caipirinha (it was huge, too) at a Lebanese restaurant. We also had some kibbe, kufta, and hummus. That helped greatly.
Basically the same thing happened Wednesday – then my phone signal died when I was in the mall and I couldn’t get a hold of my friend until it was way too late. However by then I was resigned to being patient. I found several internet kiosks including a shack near the house. The folks there were super helpful and even told me about how to navigate the bus system.
The “communicating with family, friends, and colleagues” aspect of the trip has been frustrating. However, I have had interviews and am finally getting somewhere on that front.
I changed wireless carriers yesterday. My host and my friend joined me for lunch. We went to the mall an in about an hour and a half I had the best possible phone plan and the best possible internet plan. They’re both regular monthly billing plans. My host generously vouched for me. However, unlike the US they are “sem fidelidade” which means you don’t get penalized for cancellation. I will cancel my monthly plan at the airport on the last day I’m here in Brazil. I split the cost of the wireless modem that I’m using with my host. He’ll keep it after I take off. He’ll also keep the plan, but I’m pretty sure he can cancel it if he doesn’t want it. Total cost of switching everything over ran to about about $240 Reais, which is $150. Total communications cost to date on this trip is about $175.
Meanwhile, this is what I get to see every day when I make my way past the capital buildings. The block buildings at the sides are government ministries. The building at the end is the national congress building.
Brazil is great but every step of the trip here has been truly complicated. Fortunately my Portuguese only benefitted from using very similar words and grammar in Venezuela last month. I am pretty comfortable speaking and thinking in it right now. Of course people are very patient too. They keep asking me “where did you learn to speak Portuguese?” like it’s an anomaly. It is, but with close to 190,000,000 people living here, there’s plenty of reasons to study this thing.
I’ve got a bunch of food pictures coming. I’m really stoked to show them to you. I also want to talk about some of the cool food things that I haven’t yet photographed so I will get to work on that.
Tonight there is a samba show on the big yard between the ministries. It was National Samba Day this week and the celebration in the capital is this weekend. STOKED