Friday, June 29, 2007

Hay Corumba!!!!!

Here is Kevin identifying the City of Corumba on a map of the Pantanal
"Hay Corumba!"

After leaving the Foz de Iguazu we headed northwest towards the southwest part of Brasil, if that makes any sense. We did a long but easy 312 miles through fields of corn, corn, beans and more corn. It was a Thursday, Corpus Christi Day in Brasil, and all the stores were closed except a few gas stations and eateries. On Corpus Christi Day many humans go out to big religious parades with yellow flowers and colorful processions. The insects on the other hand know it as “Invade Kevin’s Helmet” day.

We were regaled with bugs all day, flocks, swarms and individuals. For some reason the wind current seemed just right, perhaps a 10 mph or so up current, to push the bugs just over the lip of my windshield but not high enough to put them over my helmet into my slipstream, or a bit lower to splat on the Taiwanese agro-design on my helmet, but just right, straight into my open face shield. Of course, my sunglasses had disappeared that morning from our hostel so I was wearing Clara’s tiny sunglasses which allowed for more epidermis area for the bugs to aim for. I was bombarded by groups of tiny gnat like things, pinged by big black hard beetle-ish types, and one wasp of the close encounter with my ear kind. Luckily it seemed that his negotiators and my negotiators worked out a mutual non-aggression pact while he was buzzing in my hair, and I was smoothly but frantically pulling over as fast as I could. While I was stopping I could feel the chemicals of his sting gently rubbing and irritating my skin, whether this was psychosomatic or not, I’m not educated enough to know, But I Felt It! Upon my stopping I gently removed my helmet where sure enough he was in my lining. I carefully removed the yellow native by the wing and let him fly away. I am a full supporter of using all the avenues of diplomacy before resorting to foreign wars!

We arrived in Dourados around dusk and headed to the gas station to fill up. As we were completing our transaction a man with woman and kids in his pick up truck pulled in, got out of his truck and came excitedly over to talk to us. Through the language difficulties, he essentially said “where are you staying tonight”, when we answered that we were looking for a hotel, he said “you wait here, I will be back in ten minutes and you will stay with me. I am from Brazil Riders.” Um, Ok!??!

So we waited. Clara took mental note of his license plate and whispered “we’re going to die.” I smiled and got out a rag to wash the aforementioned critters off our bikes. Sure enough, 10 minutes later Edson Luiz O. Abovalo, known as “Edinho” local chapter president of Brazil Riders ( came back to collect us, where we followed him to his parents beautiful home in town just a short ways away. Behind the security door was a driveway with private courtyard, porches opening up to it, with a Honda 200 decked out in transport attire waiting eagerly for the next ride. There was also a beautiful home with granite steps, home office, leather furniture and two adorable dogs.

Edinho introduced us to his girlfriend and gave us his room, which was more of a suite with walk in bath and shower. We offered to take him out to dinner, but he insisted on having a churrasco (brazilian bbq) on his wonderful outdoor electric spit and he quickly invited all his acquaintances over. Soon the house was filled with aunts, motorcyclists, cousins and a journalist from Dourados News who interviewed us and took pictures of the whole group, our bikes, and combinations thereof. The language barrier was hard enough for Clara, extremely difficult for me, but after we and the gang started enjoying some delicious roast meat and pork, special made carretero, and especially muchos Antarctica beers the conversation, smiles and jokes flowed smoothly. Interestingly they thought that the Argentineans were the most fanatical about futbol, although I made the correct choice when deciding that Pele was better than Maradona. We exchanged gifts: us spreading the New Orleans cheer with glass beaded necklaces from Mardi Gras, and they giving us a soccer jersey and very cool Dourados Motorcycle Club stickers for our panniers.

Clara was amazed at the hospitality, being a relatively new biker, but I soaked it in as I had full confidence that nights like these would be found on our trip. Events like this vindicate for me the thought that the world is full of good people, who can always find common interests (beer, babes, bikes and ball!) and want to share their good fortune with others. It seems that motorcyclists in particular are very accepting and helpful, evidenced by the people from around the world we’ve already met on our trip who have lent a hand, a kind word, information, or a home to. At the end of the evening Edinho got on the Brazil Riders website and sent a message to everyone in Brazil letting them know that “the Americans are coming, the Americans are coming!” and to help us out along the way. We’ve only been in Brazil a few days but the helpful, relaxed, friendly, self confident atmosphere is infectious.

The next morning Edinho helped me find some replacement $5 dollar sunglasses, showed us around town on his bike, gave us both Dourados MC T-shirts, and escorted us to the roundabout on the way to the next town. A true gentleman whom we tried to get to commit to come to Boston so we could repay the hospitality; I hope our paths cross again someday.

That day was a short 150 miles to Camp Grande, the capital of the State of Mato Grasso de Sol and the jumping off point for the Pantanal. For those not as fluent as I in Portuguese, Campo Grande means “Big Campo.” The Pantanal is a vast flat land, a unique ecosystem about half the size of France which floods every year, and is full of plant and animal life. It is mostly in Brazil, with parts in Bolivia and Paraguay as well.
The three Brazilian cities of Campo Grande, Cuiaba, and Corumba form a triangle around the area from which most travelers use as a base. We made arrangements to meet our guide and transport about 200 miles along the road from Campo Grande to Corumba, which is on the Bolivian border, the next day at noon.

For the last 6 weeks or so Clara has been trying to get me to work on a particular aspect of my Spanish. Whenever I would ask for directions to a bank, for example, I would have the tendency to say “Es un banco?” which means “are you a bank?” Usually the poor soul talking to me would understand me which only reinforced my habit. Clara has been castigating me to use the correct term which is “Hay un banco?”, translated “Is there a bank?” (“Hay” in Spanish sounds like “aye” or “hi” with a silent H)
This language puzzle (pronounced Puzz-Lee by a certain Peruvian guide) became clear to me the next morning. We woke early to make our rendezvous on time and were on the road by 8 a.m. As we cruised down the mostly straight highway built up about 20 feet from ground level because of the flooding and often lined with nice trees on either side, I had time to contemplate. Around the time that two beautiful Toucans flew by, the funniest joke since the “knock, knock….Exactly” repertoire unfolded itself before me. The correct way to ask the direction we were going was to say “HAY CORUMBA?!” I almost couldn’t wait to stop at the gas station to fill up, and I was secretly happy that Edinho had warned us to stop at every opportunity to get gas because fuel is few and far between here. I was snickering under my helmet and practicing my straight face so as not to tip Clara off at the impending unleashing of such a powerful double entendre.

Sure enough, 100 miles down the road we found a gas station with a young woman and a short wizened older man. After filling up, exchanging pleasantries and answering some questions about our motorcycles to their adoring and amazed eyes, I looked down at the map on my tankbag, pointed down the road and clearly, strongly asked and exclaimed at the same time “HAY CORUMBA?!” to which the old man happily answered, “Si, Si Senor, Corumba es 300 Kilometres.” It worked perfectly! I looked over at Clara but for some reason I didn’t see the “positive reinforcement for using the language properly face” but instead seemed to get a sort of blank, rolling the eyes face. I wasn’t completely surprised, because in my experience sometimes Columbian women have a hard time understanding good humor.

I have also found it is best practice to repeat a joke as often as possible to try and get the Columbian women to understand it. So, whenever the chance arises I am sure to look to the west and question “Hay Corumba?” Whether it is in the back of the truck with the farm workers, or after dinner while looking at the map on the wall, in this part of the country there are nods of understanding from the locals about the importance of “Hay, Corumba.” Next time you see Clara, I’d appreciate it if you point towards this latitude and see if she remembers the fond memories here.


BIGjim said...

That's not funny at all! least not as funny as the knock knock joke...

Aye carumba!

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.