Hitchhiking out of Rio de Janeiro toward Belo Horizonte
Find a bus, or use your feet, to get to the Rodoviaria, the main bus terminal, which is called “Novo Rio”. From the main entrance, that is, the entrance opposite the one adjacent to the large covered city bus terminal, you will find a pasarela, a pedestrian walkway. It is rust-colored. Walk to the other side of the highway, where the buses are all different colors instead of the simply Cidade do Rio white and green. Walk against traffic until you find the blue and yellow minivans that say “Xerem”. It should cost 6.50 reais. Ask them to let you off at the gas station just beyond the pedagio, or tollbooth. The gas station is small but eventually you’ll meet someone.
With this new knowledge I left Rio behind. I couldn’t stay longer at the hostel, where everything reminded me of her. At least on the road, everything had a hint of newness that distracted me. That, and humoring rides too.
I had my Portuguese pocketbook at the ready, and when I arrived at the small gas station, which was completely empty of cars or trucks, I sat reading in it, but my mind was elsewhere, to be sure. She was gone now, and here I was alone. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be alone, with my thoughts. They’re damned horrible, thoughts in loneliness. My mind had won this round, the last round, of the Conflict War, and now I was on the road again.
A man I had asked for a ride, when traffic began to arrive at the gas station, and who had said he wasn’t headed that way, came up to me.
“Are you alone?” he asked.
“I am,” I said.
“Alright, I can take you a bit further.”
The sweat glistened on his forehead, contrasting sharply with his deep black skin. We rode together into the steep, hairpin turns of the coastal mountain range, where every glance over the edge gives you a glimpse at the road you just came up on. The tops of distant hills were craggy, and we soon summited out own to find more on the other side.
Exciting moments are brief, and soon I was alone again at t a highway crossroads of sorts. The side-of-the-road hitching was no good, but there was a gas station, and another one around the bend. This gas station was in the direction of Belo Horizonte. The other, across the highway and in the city of Tres Rios apparently, would be where truckers headed to Salvador would stop.
Were I to choose Belo Horizonte, it would be because it leads north to Brazilia, and onward to the Transamazonica highway and Santarem, and from there a boat to Manaus. Were I to choose Salvador, it would take me east to the coast once more, and I’d head north to the white sand beaches of Fortaleza and then west to the Transamazonica and the same route.
I decided to try for Salvador, so I crossed the highway and began walking into Tres Rios. The first gas station was under construction, and several inquiries landed me the information that there was another one “just down the road.” So I walked.
It was 4 kilometers of winding hills beside of Tres Rios’ rivers before I finally arrived to a Petrobras, which was completely empty of vehicles and served more as a deterrent to heading east than anything else. It took a little more convincing, but after the sole trucker I was asking for a ride had turned mid-sentence to show me his back and mutter under his breath, I was already resolved to head north to Belo Horizonte instead. I don’t have time to putz around Salvador and beaches, I actually have a date I need to be home, I said to myself. Besides, the beaches were supposed to be with her, and she’s gone, so fuck; fuck it all. The rest of Brazil would have to wait, or would never, because it’s too big to try to see it all on a clock. So, I walked back across the city. At a restaurant I asked for work and landed and large meal with meat, beans, rice and coke to boot. Exhilaration is also brief.
I spent the better part of the day and well into the night at the first gas station before finally I met a trucker who agreed to take me on after I’d told him that I’d been there for 7 hours. He was a large man, and made me feel insignificant for it. That happens–they never mean for it to.
He called his president and the ex-president Lula liars, talking about poverty or something or another. I remembered in the airport seeing a campaign poster for Brazil, and the motto read “There’s no poverty here.” A bit weird, I’d thought, or I think I thought, thinking back now and thinking if I’d thought about it, my mind being so distracted by other thoughts.
I was lucky with this trucker, as he let me off at the exit of Belo Horizonte toward Brasilia. Belo Horizonte, you should know, is the country’s third largest. When I awoke in the morning from my tent, that little green REI tent I’ve had for so long, whose small size had required us to buy a new tent to travel together, I looked out over the humid city and saw it’s horizon. Tall buildings, like every other big city, scraped at the sky. Belo Horizonte indeed.
Hours passed. Thumbing would be no good on this road, so I was left the slim pickings of the gas station once more. Something happened then that I hadn’t yet experienced in 2.5 years traveling.
When a BMW X5 pulled in, I thought not to bother. But then I remembered the Mercedes E-class that had picked us up from Colonia in Uruguay. The man was older, and was dressed normally enough. He got out of the car, and his girlfriend as well, or his trophy wife, either one. Her breasts were bulging and I imagined her insecure, but not for her breasts; for her make-up.
“Excuse me, hello,” I said. He turned around to look at me. “I’m hitchhiking toward Brasilia and–” I couldn’t finish the sentence before he grabbed my shoulders and tried to turn me around saying, “no no, I’m from Sao Paulo ask someone else.” I shoved him off and he gave me his back. Well, anyone from Sao Paulo reading this, my impression of your city has inadvertently worsened thanks to this dick.
After more hours of small talk, indifferent replies, shrugs, smiles, lies, closed windows, surprise and fear, I finally met someone who was headed to what I’d learned was a twin pair of gas stations a bit further down the road. The man looked exactly like Obama.
The ride lasted a short while, as the gas station was only 15 kilometers outside the city, but I couldn’t help sneaking glances over at him. I wanted to ask him about the White House carpets or something quirky like that. Alas, it was only a brief thing. The highlight was when I said I was headed to Santarem and he exclaimed “My Para!” Apparently he was from that state.
At the new gas station I was well outside of Belo Horizonte, and everyone was headed toward Brasilia. Really, there isn’t much in between Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, so I was feeling safe in the bet. I was also moving relatively quickly. Ah ha, this must be my road, I thought. The Salvador road would be killing me right about now no doubt.
It wasn’t long before I asked a young fellow sitting in the cab of a truck. There was a group of obvious truckers behind me, and he called over to one of them. They all stopped what they were doing and looked over at us.
“What?” the one older trucker said to the younger.
“This guy is traveling hitchhiking to Brasilia, he just asked for a ride.”
After the short introductions and explanations, I had become somewhat of a novelty for not only the two truckers, but all of them in the group. The group dynamic, I thought. I would be a pest to some of them, no doubt–not al–but some, were I asking them individually. That’s the way of things. The group dynamic. My image now well in their minds, the truckers each started to offer me rides in turn, until finally the original older trucker I was speaking with claimed above the rest that he, not them, will take me to Brasilia. And so it went.
They were Jarbis and Thiago, the latter the younger, and in fact my age, and the other the skinny man who looked a bit like a mix between Ned Flanders and, believe it or not, Obama. That’s a hard one to picture, I realize, but bear with me.
They were happy to have me tucked between them in the cab. Whenever they opened the glove box I couldn’t hide a laugh at their magazines: “Fist Fucking Magazine” barely hid the next periodical, “Bible Study Guide.” It wasn’t long because we were referring to ourselves as the “Three Brothers,” and Jarbis was inviting me to his home in Goiana. The ride would be a ten hour one, and like every hitchhiker will do, I became comfortable happy in my luck.
And that’s exactly how you must feel in order to feel like total crap when the truck breaks down and you realize that you might have to walk the highway and stick out your thumb, abandoning your two brothers with thoughts of bitterness against you floating around their minds.
But when our truck made a thunderous exploding sound on an ascent in the middle of the now Safari-looking countryside, I held to loyalty and patience.
I sat on the white of the curb as the two went to work on the driveshaft, whose connection to the axel had blown off, fucking up the metal seal and grinding flat a few of the gear ridges.
Fires burned beside the road nearby, probably from a discarded cigarette. It sounded like people. I don’t know why fire does that, but it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to fathom without humans to stoke it; it’s so alive. The charred remains of burned plants blew in the wind and swirled around my feet. Thiago sat with his arms locked around his knees, the both of us watching and squinting as Jarbis smashed at the driveshaft connection with a hammer. “Welcome to the real Brazil,” Thiago had said. “It’s not the cities and the developed parts; it’s this.” Then, for lack of the right wrench, Jarbis pounded the hammer on the top of a screwdriver he had pressed to the nut. Despite the slight tearing apart of the metal, it worked to unscrew each one. He then filed the gear ridges, pounded some more at the metal plate of the connection that had warped this way and then, and when he was satisfied with the pounding, he and Thiago lifted the shaft back into place, screwed on the screws the best they could, and like that, we were underway once more.
The sun was now low at the horizon, but in these lands the light of day lingers for far longer than in the southern regions. Thiago and I were listening to his phone’s music, huddled together so as the buds wouldn’t fall from our ears. He played the likes of Madonna, then Michael Jackson, and finally Adele; damn it Adele, why do you always find me?
They asked me to teach them English, and told me why should they teach me Portuguese, I already speak fluently–a surprise compliment that’s far from the truth but appreciated all the same. It became a funny scene when we were learning how to say “I want to sleep with you,” because these guys were very engaging and would look me directly into my eyes when they said it, “I want to sleep with you.”
Then we stopped for beer and cocaine. It was a roadside home, and it was a toothless man running a makeshift shop. We drank two large beers between us in the shade. The little old man disappeared into the back and reappeared with a small block of cocaine no bigger than a matchstick box. The diced it up and snorted from atop the silvery pot-marked surface of a standing refrigerator. They continued to sniff and snort and cough the rest of the night; I had declined the coke, as I always do, but held my tongue for why.
Back in the cab and on the road again, they became jittery fuckers, and talked at each other across me, helpless in the middle to understand their Portuguese, which is not only already difficult to understand when spoken amongst native speakers, but which becomes much more difficult when the native speakers are sniff and snorting the residue powder still stuck to their nasal cavities. Obama-Ned, or Jarbis, looked especially high, but I knew not to worry about his driving; if anything, coke’s gonna help the man keep us alive when night falls.
Our last stop was at a Shell mechanic, who rightly repaired the driveshaft before releasing us back to the beastly road. The light was still in the sky, and I could make out that we were in a pink country. On the horizon the sun had sunk, and the red and orange were closely hugged by the surrounding purple and blue such that it made the thing look like a omniscient crown. I thought back to the mechanics, who were soiled in grease and dirt. Gritty work affords a satisfying walk; the dirtier you get the more refreshing the shower. Think about that the next time you take three showers in a day of sitting around, wasteful punk.
The light finally disappeared, giving my mind a rest, and my eyes began to shut. When Jarbis offered a bed in the trailer, I happily agreed. We pulled over, I climbed into the side door, Thiago set up the blankets and sheets scattered about that are used to keep the items they move from state to state from damaging, and again we were underway. I slept.
We stopped several times and each time they opened the door to see if I was well. It was actually quite comfortable in the trailer, and when finally we had arrived to a gas station on the outskirts of Brasilia five hours later, I was well-rested.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come to Goiana, meet my family, eat well?” asked Jarbis.
“I need to see Brasilia,” I said. I usually never pass up an offer of this kind, but Brasilia is something different, and my nature would keep me from returning were I to head to Goiana, which is closer to the highway north than Brasilia is.
“Brothers,” said Obama-Ned, and he and Thiago disappeared.
The night attendant had allowed me to set up the tent between the two bathrooms, since we were well inside the city of Luziana, and there was no safe-looking grassy area to speak of, only small cars filled with young people blasting music and looking out the windows at me. It was around 1 am.
5 hours later I was awake and packed, and at the gas station, still covered in the darkness of morning, I found Enrique, who agreed to take me into Brasilia. It was with Enrique that my good fortune helped me to find my exact destination, and would you believe it, the bastard looked exactly like Obama as well. I was beginning to suspect something of it.
As we entered the city he pointed out things of interest; the TV tower, the enormous urban park where I might be able to camp, the ministries, the congress; and there, he let me out.
It was around 7, and the streets were still quiet. It made for an eerie feeling, since Brasilia is something different from the rest. This city of 4 million people is only 50 years old. How, you ask? A brief history, which I learned later in the day when I’d discovered that a tour of Congress was free, I give to you now.
Brasilia was the brain child of one of Brazil’s presidents. He believed highly in “interiorization,” wherein they would transfer the capital a third or fourth time to the interior of the country, to a brand new place where they would break land for that very purpose. It was in 1960 that the city was complete, a grand envisioning of architects and politicians. A whole planned city. I had to see it.
And here I was, sitting in front of the peculiar congress building, a white structure with two towers flanked by concave and convex domes–each representing something important, yes? Well, I drew it, to be sure Then I drew the long expansive central green park that lead from Congress to the TV tower. The park was on a slight incline, such that from every point, you were looking down at congress and over the valleys beyond the city. On either side of the green space, which is very similar to DC’s Mall, the ministries were building in symmetrical formations one across from the other. The flanking avenues were wide and connected in a loop on the other side of congress, which I’d find out when I walked there and found a flat space of modernistic sculptures and 1960’s idea of space-age spidery-leg architecture.
All across the city you can find large white modern structures, from the dome planetarium to the spiny cathedral, which really looks like a wraith’s horrible crown but inside is actually quite pleasant, albeit loud–I wonder why people will be loud and obnoxious in a cathedral like this, round at the edges and bright with natural light and whiteness, but at an old gothic construction they observe respect. But eventually, further out on the long grassy line, you can see that symmetry gives way to randomness. It serves, actually, as the perfect metaphor for human growth. We cannot keep everything to our rules. We will always find ways to make sense of things, because if we follow our own rules to the T, we are denying ourselves an explanation for our own nature. Consider the case of Esperanto, the language created that was supposedly supposed to be the combination of many languages, and was meant for merchants. It worked, for a time. But then, merchants taught the language to their children, who used it amongst themselves, and filled in the gaps with exceptions where the language was lacking. We can never plan for it all, only for a part of it; and plans are meant to change.
And so here I was, in Brasilia, a UNESCO World Heritage site in and of itself. I drew everything, from the insides of congress on the tour to the expansive view of that iconic building with the ministries surrounding it. I even found the “cheap” market, where I drew an obviously energetic restaurant manager and received a soda in return when I handed it to him.
I was more introverted and introspective than normal as I walked countless kilometers to and from, criss-crossing the city “center” several times. I decided, for instance, that “Travel Bloggers” (see the anti-blog disclaimer int he about section of this webpage) are like motivational speakers, telling other people they can make it work, like a kick-the-can sort of circular advice that simply means that if you do what they do, you will make money. Then, thinking back to the Shell mechanics, I thought, “what if the material with which you work has something to say in the development of or character?” A mechanic-metal, a baker-dough, that sort of thing. Does that make sense? Of course not, no rambling does; but it must be done otherwise you’re a god damned vegetable.
In a public bathroom I learned that the back of stalls in Portuguese is not different than in other languages; Jesus and phone numbers to call if you want head.
I was somewhere looking at the symmetrical ministries again, when I began to think that, actually, they’re very unattractive. They’re communist block design, and the teal-colored windows were marked by protruding air conditioners here and there. A few other symmetric buildings looking decidedly Middle Eastern were there as well, surrounded by water. It’s too bad, though, that they chose to build them with the kind of concrete that succumbs to the battering of a humid climate, and which is cakes in black mold.
Beside these there was another building, and obvious thing of the 1960’s or 70’s, whose paneling was colored grandma yellows and browns, and whose top floor port hole windows coupled with the curving ventilation shafts of the roof made it look like a boring submarine.
This new city feels old, but not yet old enough to be appreciated. It’s an old, unlike castle old, that feels outdated and dirty. But maybe one day, if they hold out against critiques like this one and make no structural or design updates, then the buildings will regain the worth people considered them at their construction.
But all in all, the space feels fully devoid of life. It seems appropriate, then, when we remember that here, politics reign. Indeed, on the tour inside congress, the main room between the two chambers was a wide, open space with a puke green carpet and separated leather chairs, and I thought, this place is made for whispering.
Later I saw a Ford GT racing with a Ferrari. Does that make sense in Brasilia?
When it was time to sleep I found the urban park Obama #3 had pointed out. It was filled with people, it being Saturday night. Inside I found that despite the “interiorization” of the country’s capital, its tendency as a beach nation ring true even here, as people run, walk, bike and roller skate lightly clad in beach wear or almost nothing at all. Bodies are formed and shown off, and there’s free water in the form of shower, drink, and a mist machine. I found public toilets too. There was a small theme park with roaring roller coasters and people screaming above the pounding club music, and everyone was moving in time with their cultural readiness to appease their bodies’ desire to be noticed, it seemed.
When I’d walked a kilometer or so down the trail into the park and found an appropriate spot to pitch my tent, I waited for nightfall before doing so. Once in my tent I was alone again. Maybe I should jerk off. Yeah, that’d get my mind off things. But then, how am I supposed to do that with these damn hookers coming up to the tent very ten minutes and fishing for a response. Once I even had to open my knife loudly and unzip my tent as if upset to scare off a man, I think. Oh what a world when a good jerk off is inhibited by hookers, what a world!
In the morning the sun was blazing hot. I fixed some sandwiches with some vegetables and bread I’d bought the day previous, then walked to a lagoon, where I washed a few clothes. I washed my face, too. The cold water felt almost stinging, and when it rushed over the contours of my nose and cheeks, I just thought about her, and about Rio, and about how god damned foolish I just might well be. But so be it–the road calls for it now, and if it’s loneliness that I have to try well then damn it I’ll try it and see if it will suffice. Otherwise who knows–maybe total heartbreak, and maybe something entirely different.
I found a trail of ants as I walked out of the park, and I sat to watch them for a time. I killed one and watched one of his mates pick up the still-twitching corpse to carry off in the wrong direction. I threw out some garbage I had in the tin, but felt like an idealistic bastard when I saw trash discarded all over and around it. So it goes.
At the exit I passed a masseuse rubbing down large, hairy men, and also I found a demonstration of Capoeira, that Brazilian manifestation of martial arts plus dance. I might’ve drawn something as well. Then I came here, to the National Library of Brasilia. Whether it’s because I’m not in the mood or because I simply feel the words, I wrote this quickly, and to my pleasure. It’s a grand, grand distraction.