Long way to Rio
Especially when you go by bus. I'm talking twenty-four hours straight kinda long, direct (-ish) from Foz do Iguaçu. My first bus experience in Brazil, from yesterday evening to this evening, was not a positive one: very tedious; quite uncomfortable; and outrageously expensive. All in all, a really rude shock, especially after the "sheer bussing pleasure" that is backpacking in Argentina. What's going on, Brazil? Why do your buses suck so bad?
The fun and games began yesterday afternoon, when I returned from my visit to the falls, grabbed my bags from Hostel Paudimar, and headed into town on a local bus. Well, it turned out to be three local buses, all up, to get from Paudimar to the long-distance bus terminal: the first, the free round-the-block bus from the hostel to the main road; the second, the bus from the main road to the urban bus terminal; and the third, the bus from the urban to the long-distance terminal. What with the waiting, the stopping and starting, and the weird routes, it took a ridiculous 2½ hours to make this journey! Plus, the local buses here have turnstiles inside: try getting a 20kg backpack through one of those — it's not very fun.
Anyway, after I grabbed some (all-you-can-eat buffet) dinner across the road, and stood around waiting for about ½ an hour, I finally got on the bus to Rio, and we took off. But our first major delay on the trip didn't take very long to come about. We'd been driving all of 10 minutes — we were barely out of the town — when one of the passengers randomly decides to open his window, and to stick his entire upper body out of it. For about 10 seconds, he was flapping in the wind out of his window, apparently holding onto the roof (somehow), and screaming out cheers and hurrahs. Then the guy next to him (his father, I'd say) managed to pull him back inside.
Immediately, the bus screeched to a halt. The door to the driver's compartment opened, and the conductor marched down the aisle, looking furious. There followed a long and drawn-out argument in Portuguese, between conductor (drivers soon came to support him) and these two passengers: I couldn't understand what they were saying; but clearly, they were trying to kick the crazy window guy off the bus. All the other passengers joined in as well: some clearly supporting the conductor; others supporting the window guy; most just debating and arguing with each other.
Like I said, I couldn't follow what everyone else on the bus was saying: but it soon became clear what the outcome of their discussion was, because immediately following the talking, the bus turned around, and drove right back to the terminal. Once there, the window dude and his friend/father were escorted off the bus. I have a feeling that the window dude was suffering from some kind of mental disability — he didn't appear able to say much, and he couldn't walk straight without help — if so, I can't help but feel sorry for him, and think that the conductor was a bit harsh in making him exit the bus. But then again, I guess the conductor was also justified in not wanting to risk the window dude doing anything stupid again — if he fell out the window at 100km/h, that would probably be big trouble for the bus company.
Considering how expensive this bus was — more expensive than my super-cama rides in Argentina! — it wasn't particularly comfortable. The seats definitely weren't super-cama; actually, I don't think they were any-cama. They were small, cramped, and lacking in padding. What's more, we had no TV screens on the bus (sorry, no movies), and the air-con was up ridiculously high for the entire journey, turning the entire bus into a big rectangular iceberg. The value-for-money is clearly quite lacking, here in Brazil.
Not only was the bus uncomfortable, it was also slow. We made numerous passenger stops, including a stop in Cascavel (a nothing little s$#%hole town near Foz); and another one in São Paulo, which really slowed us down (due to the heavy traffic we crawled through, to get in and out of SP). Plus, there were an insanely large number of food and toilet stops along the way. We stopped for dinner, breakfast and lunch, as well as at least two more times in between each of these breaks. Bloody Brazilian lightweights: can't you just sit it out, so that we can get there a bit quicker?
One thing that I really started to notice, each time that we stopped for a meal, is that these Brazilians can't get enough of all-you-can-eat buffets. They have them everywhere! As well as the all-you-can-eat deals, they also have a lot of places where they weigh your plate, and charge you per 100g of food that you've piled onto it. Can't say that I'm a massive fan of buffets these days — I find it hard to trust them, if you know what I mean — but it seems that I'm going to have to get used to them.
The scenery along the way was also quite interesting. Not as beautiful as I'd hoped, but it certainly told a story. For most of the daytime journey — travelling between São Paulo and Rio — the countryside was extensively developed. Everywhere I looked, I saw bare grazing-friendly hillsides, small but populous towns, and pine plantations by the hundreds. Almost no untouched wilderness land around here at all. Very different to most other parts of South America — particularly Peru, where huge areas of the highlands are still pristine — Brazil, it seems, has left no patch of land untouched.