Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brazil '08, Day 5 - Morretes, PR

The bus from Sao Paulo to Curitiba (capital of Paraná state) was spacious and included blankets, pillows and snacks, but the six hour ride itself was bumpy at times, which kept waking me up. We arrived in Curitiba just before sunrise and set out to find the office of the Serra Verde Express, the scenic train that goes to Morretes and Paranguá through the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic rainforest) and the Sera do Mar (“mountain range of the sea”). The office and the train station itself turned out to be in the building right across from the bus station. It was, however, locked. There was no sign to indicate the hours of operation but around 6am we saw a man moving around inside turning on some lights. This made us hopeful and so we spent about half an hour thinking that the office would surely be opening soon. We asked a number of different people, passerbys as well as employees of the bus station, when the office would be open and each, speaking with conviction, gave us a different time. One person even went as far as to suggest that the office was closed on Sundays. Bummer. Eventually we went and got some breakfast – hot cocoa and cookies, and looked into buses to Morretes, which take about and hour and half to reach the destination, as opposed to the 3 hours by train. When we returned to the train station a line had formed, and the doors were opened at 7am. While waiting in said line we met two men from England traveling with their Lonely Planet guide. They were planning to take the Litorina, which is the more expensive tourist train that runs only on Sundays at 9:15am, as opposed to the daily tram that departs at 8:15am. We opted for the less expensive tram (R$55 per person) and got some of the last seats available. The Litorina, we heard, had only four seats left as well. It is therefore advisable, I think, to make reservations in advance.

The train ride was definitely an experience. The train shook a lot and emitted a brain damaging screeching noise, which is apparently due to sand being applied to the rails for extra traction. The car, in which we had the last two seats, was filled primarily with students on a field trip. Our senses were suitably dulled by sleepiness, however, allowing Husband and myself to not go mad. In fact the ride was still worth it, I think, for the close up look of the Sera do Mar. When leaving Curitiba it is immediately apparent that not a single mountain is in sight. This is due to Curitiba being on an elevated plateau, and the train is therefore a descent through the mountains. A guide at the front of the car told many interesting stories about the construction of the railroad and the forest itself, none of which was understood by me. What I did glean from Husband’s translations was that the railroad is one of very few in Brazil, built by about 9000 men, half of whom died during construction. As far as the flora, two things are of interest. First are the pinheiros (pine trees), at least that’s what I think they are called, the official trees of Parana (or so I believe anyway). And the second is that the bananas here grow up instead of down, and half pink flowers instead of purple. Pretty cool!

All along the railroad are squatters (it is no longer politically correct to call them favelas). We were asked to please not though food or money at them because it encourages kids to come too close to the moving train, a potential disaster in the making.

The only other stop before Morretes was the station of Marumbi, which is accessible only by train or foot and is the drop off point for hikers and mountain climbers intent on scaling the rock faces in the Parque Estadual Marumbi. We could see a campsite right by the train station, and I am not certain if any other amenities were available.

The train ride ended up taking 4 hours and by the time we rolled into Morretes we were at our wits end. Tired, hungry, disoriented, and entirely unclear about what our plans were, we looked out over the 10+ buildings that were apparent on our ride in and I honestly thought, “What the hell did I get us into?” My only hope was that we might be able to catch a bus out of town back to Curitiba or something.

As we exited the train station I was approached by a woman who asked me, in English, if Husband (who had gone ahead to sit down on a bench) was Frank Muller. "No," I told her, and went to join Husband. As I was telling him about my encounter the woman came back, and began telling me, this time in German, that we needed to go catch a bus that was leaving in 15 minutes and that it was the last bus today etc. Now technically I speak German, but at this point I began to suspect that what with the sleep deprivation and the hunger and the heat, I was beginning to hallucinate. Cautiously I asked the woman if she wasn't perhaps confused and was she looking for someone in particular. It thus transpired that the woman in question was the owner of a pousada outside of Morretes, that she was at the station waiting for an American guest, Frank Muller, whose physical description she did not have. While initially thinking that we looked American she inquired if we were of the Frank Muller party, but after talking to me she had run into some German tourists who were horrified at finding themselves in Morretes and eager to get out of town. She had then assumed that perhaps we were in fact part of the German tourist group (because of our backpacks) and thought she would correct the mistake by telling us how to catch the last bus out of town. I had seemingly substantiated her mistake by both speaking and understanding German.

In the end it was a stroke of luck because now we had a place to stay - the Pousada Cabanas do Curupira, outside of town but fairly close to a bus route and within taxi range. The woman, Maria, instructed us on where to get some food and not to let a taxi driver charge us more than R$15-20, and then she went to search for the still missing Frank Muller.

The restaurant or buffet we ate at, Rota do Sator, was quite packed and we stood out a bit as tourist, what with our backpacks and my pale skin. A woman asked me, in English, were I was from, and after finding out that I lived in the States she told me that her son was American (little 5 year old hiding behind his mom and giving me dirty looks), because he was born there. "Enjoy my country," she said, " I love yours". Weird...

Morretes is famous, among a few other things, for it's local food specialty - barreado. It is a type of meat dish, cooked over gentle heat for many many hours until it turns to essentially meat mush. I absolutely loved it! It reminded me of a similar Russian dish, called stoodin', which unlike barreado is served cold. We had heard so much about the dish that despite being a vegetarian Husband tried and liked it.

Getting two full dishes of food to go (the pousada does not yet have a kitchen, nor is it near any restaurants or shop as it's in the middle of the rainforest) we took a taxi to our new abode. Once there we proceeded to pass out immediately and slept until dinnertime. While reheating the leftovers in the owner’s home we listened to their life story. Maria and Nikolas come from Spain (Maria’s mom was German which is why she speaks it fluently), where they left 15 years ago to retire and raise children “their way”. They came here and started a farm, which they then lost, along with everything they owned. Since then they have built this pousada and are hopeful that it will be successful. In case any of you are interested, I definitely highly recommend the place.

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