Saturday, October 27, 2007


fine young men

Curtiba is inland A four-lane highway climbs through a lush landscape of dairy farms and forest. The air is fresh and sparkling. I fill up with a gasoline advertised as containing an additive. The bike loves the gasoline. We whiz up steep inclines. The land flattens on the approach to Curtiba. I spot a big Honda bike agency. A mob of gleeful apprentice mechanics service the bike in their lunch hour. The side stand needs replacing. Who ever did the welding for Dakar Moto welded the stand at the wrong angle so that it touches the chain and sticks behind the main stand. Awkward, as I don't have sufficient strength to raise the bike on it main stand when astride and have taken a fall. The fall broke my camera.
The apprentices replace the stand at cost. The service costs me $3 for the oil. One of the apprentice's emails me a photograph. The apprentices are great kids.
I ride onto into Curtiba and park in the Historic Centre. The Historic Centre is a few blocks of nineteenth century pretty. The rest of the city is highrise. I don't like cities. I go up to London for three days on the early morning train and catch the afternoon train home. So why am I staying in Curtiba? I try talking with a man at the cafe where I drink coffee and soda water. We soon give up on the attempt.
I guess that Brazilians, surrounded by Spanish speakers, have determined to resist the slightest encroachment.
And, if I can't communicate, why am I in Brazil.
Because I want to ride across the Amazon forest.
Then get on with it.
I remount and ride towards Porta Grossa from where the highway to Brasilia runs north.
This upland countryside is breathtaking.
Imagine the perfect English landscape of rolling hills, fields and woodland. Multiply by ten the size of the wheat fields and paddocks and woodland, multiply by ten the height of contours. Wheat glows gold in late afternoon sunshine as I approach Porta Grossa. New factories and store houses and granaries abound on the outskirts of town. All depends on incredible agricultural wealth. The town is a nothing hodgepodge. Highrises stand beside modern bungalows, neither of any architectural merit. Sidewalks are pretty, black sets inlaid with white patterns or white sets inlaid with black. I find a $15 room with a good mattress and excellent towels. The Internet is free, flat screens in an aircon lobby. I have 28 emails waiting to be opened, many from Colette, the copy editor. And the publisher, Clare, has sent me proofs of the cover. I need to work on the final proof tomorrow. No chance of moving on. The receptionist recommends a restaurant two blocks from the hotel. I quail at the choice of menu: steak with an egg or steak without an egg. The egg is edible.


I ride and ride and pull over to let trucks pass and pull over and let trucks pass. Late afternoon and cloud cover darkens. I pull of the littoral and into a small village which is only part Costa Brava highrise. The beach is great. I take out my camera. Rain falls. I remount and ride a while before stopping at another beach. The rain has ceased. The batteries on the camera are flat. Please take my word that Brazilian beaches exist.
Rain begins spitting again. I have ridden 600 Ks which is an achievement.
I find a hotel room at $12. The towel wouldn't dry a damp mouse. I can feel the stitching on the mattress through the thin sheet. So now I have established a price range. $12 is too little. $15 to $16 is just right.


The lagoon comes to an end. The littoral approaches the shore. Ah, those wonderful beaches of Brazil. Of what am I reminded. The Costa Brava. Hundreds of kilometres of strip development. No, development implies a modicum of planning. This is strip chaos. Clumps of high rises interspersed with the warehouses of builders' merchants, car lots, manufacturers of every type of concrete conduit and beam necessary to the construction of the highway, gas stations and endless slow fast-food outlets hazed by construction dust.
I pick a restaurant on the banks of a small artificial lake. It advertises fruit of the sea.
The greeter seats me and enquires whether I wish to order individual plates or take the completo. I go for the completo. Plate after plate is laid in front of me. Here's the pick:
Tasteless wet black bean sludge.
Tasteless wet shrimp sludge - I recognise a shrimp.
A tasteless wet sludge that contains fish - I find a bone.
Tasteless semi-dry crab sludge.
Three fried fish - two of which are excellent. One is disgusting.
A large plate of soggy fried potatoes.
A large plate of rice.
Salad of which only the lettuce is tired.
I drink two bottles of water with gas. The bill is $11.
The bill is fine. I hope they spend the money on cookery lessons.


Out of the hotel and on the road by 8 a.m. Hit the littoral near Porto Alegre. The littoral? Six lane coastal highway. Easy riding. Except the highway runs for forty kilometres before degenerating into a Federal Government project. I ride all day, diversion to diversion. Worse, the highway is on the landward side of a huge lagoon. Hills creep close on the west of the road. Ahead I spy a double line of wind turbines. The breeze off the lagoon is accelerated by the hills - at least that is the theory of a man without any scientific training and dumb enough to be riding a small motorbike into a strong headwind for the rest of the day.
The breeze cuts my speed to 10 Ks less than the majority of trucks. Trucks are in abundance. every type of truck imaginable. I take to the hard shoulder and wave them through. Three in four drivers thank me with a toot on the klaxon or a thumb raised.


I hit the main East-West highway to Porto Alegre. The road runs along a ridge. The country is instantly greener: vast fields of wheat and rice interspersed with equally vast cattle paddocks, vast timber plantations along the hills. Grain silos come in groups and are as dominant as an Apollo missile. To a European, the agriculture wealth is staggering. How can people suffer hunger?
Two iguanas earlier in the day. I saw a lone white heron yesterday. Now a second flies very slowly across a patch of marsh. A sign on the right advertises Hampshire Down sheep.
I started late at 10 a.m. I have ridden 400 Ks when I pull off the highway to a small clean town, Minas do Leao, 130 Ks short of the coast. The architecture is nothing. However a small park is pretty. I find a clean hotel with parking, big towels, hot water and a comfortable mattress. Pricing a country takes a few days. I paid $26 last night. I pay $17 tonight. Dinner is chicken disaster.
I sit outdoors amongst other guests. We try and converse. Hopeless. Why am I here?


I stop at a gas station a short way out of Santana do Livramento. A smartly dressed woman in a smart four by four advises me to head straight east for the coast. Southern Brazil is poor. It is uninteresting. The coast is rich. I will enjoy the coast. The roads are good. I can ride on the litoral all the way north to Sao Paola before heading inland to Brasilia.
I doubt whether this woman's tastes and mine coincide.
I turn north at a town called Baje.
The road crosses hills that seem increasingly dry.
An iguana scurries across the road.
An hour later a second iguana scurries across the road.
Both iguanas cross from my left to my right.
Is this significant?
Meanwhile the road continues over dry hills.
I am becoming depressed. The distances are immense - 100 Ks to get anywhere. You get to anywhere and it might as well be nowhere...Unless you are excited by a lime or gypsum mine coating everything in white powder. How will I cope with the mammoth ride from Brasilia to Manaus and on across the Amazon forest to Venezuela - 5000 Ks?
I come to a crest and find the view spectacular. It is much the same as the views that depressed me from the previous ten crests. However a sudden flashback to riding early one glorious morning along the Pacific coast in Mexico last year puts me in tune with the road and the country and the bike.
The few trucks are harmless. We travel at approximately the same speed so they don't rush up at me from behind.
I stop at a gas station. The attached restaurant is for sale. I order steak. There is only steak. Steak with an egg or steak without an egg. Take your choice.
I chose the egg.
The steak is gristle.
The egg is edible.


Panic at the bank. The ATM machine refuses my request for money. A lady bank clerk tells me that the machine is doing something to its self. I should come back later. The machine finishes doing things to its self at 10 a.m. I get money, mount up and ride.
Brazil countryside is less tidy than Uruguay.
Individually a few priviledged Uruguayans may own vast acerages. However they are aware that their's is a small country. They use every morsel.
Brazil is vast. Ten acres here or there is unimportant. Hence the untidiness. The Argentine is similar - so is much of the US.
England is minute. Each square metre is a treasure.


I wake in a new country, Brazil. I miss Uruguay. And I miss my fellow Herefordshires. We Hereford men are a handsome, rugged, well-mannered lot. We are enegetic lovers and make good dependable fathers.
Hereford mothers are gentle, loving and caring.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. We Hereford men find our women remarkably beautiful.


Brazilian Customs officers are similar to my wife in doubting my capacity to fill in forms. The Customs officers do the filling in. The daughter of the head man spent six weeks in Cambridge, England, on a language course. She found the English kind and more sincere than Brazilians but much less outgoing. She commented that Brazilians kiss where the English shake hands - for the English, a kiss implies friendship.
The head man says that Brits are polite while people from the US are rude.
I counter that he has been exceptionally lucky in the Brits he's met and unlucky in the North Americans.
He condemns Argentines as equally arrogant.
Argentines believe they are the best.
Brazilians are always trying to come first.
I quote. Quoting is easier than deciphering the suttle differences.
Later a Brazilian with a business the Uruguayan side of town complains that Uruguayan are greedy. Unemployment payment is the fault. Pay double the unemployment benefit or a Uruguayan won't work. He complains that he has to pay US$ 400 a month. Thank God (or the Uruguayan Government) for unemployment benefit.
I stay in a modern hotel with dirty bedspreads.


A good road with few cars or trucks runs straight north to Brazil across gently undulating country. I rode south last years through Peru and Bolivia. Garbage littered the landscape, lay heaped beside the roads and surrounded every town. Uruguay is clean. Forestry is expanding - the dreaded Australian eucalyptus, devourer of soil, harbinger of erosion. A lone white heron watches me from a creek. Traffic cones narrow the road on the outskirts of town. Cops wave me through. How could I tell that I had entered Brazil? I spend the next three hours hunting Immigration and Customs. All directions take me to a main road which is closed for a fiesta. A team of single seater planes do acrobatics overhead. Drivers watch the planes in preference to the road. I find Urugayan offices first. They are beside the main road. For Brazilian Immigration I ride thirty blocks. Customs is five kilometres out of town.


Silvia, Raffa and Trindad (on horseback)

My cousin, Brian, has ordered Raffa, the gaucho, to stop me leaving unless I am absolutely fit. I argue that no man my age is ever absolutely fit. The bike starts. Dogs bark, gambol and try eating my hand. I kiss Silvia and Raffa goodbye and speed (10 kph) down the grass track to the dirt road. I have escaped the delightful comforts of Los Tajamares.
I am Latin in that I share the importance given by Latins to the wider family relationship. The Deannes are cousins at three or four generations distance. They are family. And I hate them. I hate them because I will miss them every day of what remains of my life. Hopefully my young and their young will extend our sense of belonging to each other.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


When not coughing, inhaling water vapour or downing glasses of Vitamin C the past few days, I have been working with Clare. Clare is copy-editing my book that comes out next March. Extraordinary to be able to work with someone in London while on a South American estancia some fifty miles from the nearest small town. Some emails have been delayed a day, few come in the order in which they were posted. The book and the emails contain many bad words. To name a few: Bush, Blair, terrorist, liars, torture, Halliburton, corruption.
Clare and I suspect that THEY are reading our mail. I have advised Clare to put a couple of bolsters in the bed and sleep on the floor for a while - better still, move in with an elderly relative who has always voted Tory and is a member of the Tory Party.
While waiting for mail from Clare, I skimmed BBC News. DynCorp is a splendid US corporation, very similar to Halliburton. DynCorp is training the Iraq police. Keeping records is an essential part of police work. DynCorp are unable to produce records for 1.2 billion US dollars of Government funds. Nor can they explain why they built themselves an Olympic size swimming pool in Iraq and purchsed a bunch of top of the line executive trailers ~ you know, those vast things in which movie stars have affairs. DynCorp also train the Afghan police. Both Afghan and Iraq police are notoriously corrupt - DynCorp must feel right at home. And DynCorp run the anti-cocaine aerial spraying in Columbia, another nice little earner. Over the past twelve months DynCorp shares have fluctuated between $10 and $25. If the President and Board bought and sold at the correct moment, they should be wealthy. Perhaps they can stop mislaying Government funds.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Five ostriches stalk past the house and down the slope towards the two ponds. I have my camera. I want them to look in my direction. I whistle and shout. Shouting makes me cough. The ostriches pay no attention. I curse them for being snobs. Long necks, they would be easy victims of the guillotine. Back in the kitchen I drape a towel over my head and inhale steam...and recall that ostriches are reputed to bury their heads in the sand. Communication between my copy editor's server and hotmail seems somewhat haphazard. Her comments on various chapters are lost in the ether. Pray God the chapters come through by tomorrow. I am determined to leave for Brazil on Wednesday.


Rain falls much of the day. I am editing OLD MAN ON A BIKE for the copy editor. The electricity supply cuts out a few times. I do the steam and towel routine, acorbic acid, and try not to cough. Sylvia fusses and prepares coffee and cooks too much lunch. I suggest that an egg would be perfect for dinner. A glass door opens from the study onto a terrace. The dogs sit on the terrace and watch me type. The dogs are trying to make me feel guilty. I feel guilty at staying so many days at Los Tajamares. Brian and Carmen called this morning and made me promise not to leave until I felt absolutely fit. Old men seldom feel absolutely fit. I would be here for ever.


I sit at the kitchen table, a towel over my head, and inhale water vapour. The steam eases my chest. I drink vast amounts of acorbic acid disolved in water. A covey of five partridge peck the far side of the garden fence. Carmen should plant a pear tree. Coughing hurts. My nose runs. So do my eyes. I sit with a roll of lavatory paper in my lap and watch the final of the Rugby World Cup on satelite TV. The players are disgustingly fit.


My cousins, Brian and Carmen, have departed for the vet in Montevideo with a very small, very sick dog, a miniature Yorkshire terrier. Poor beast won't eat and is very yellow. The dog belongs to their daughters. Brian and Carmen care for it. We have a Border terrier at home that belongs to our two sons. We look after it.