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Bye Bye, Bidet

Back in Brazil and it doesn't look like there is any worry about whether or not it will remain my favourite country on this trip. I am on the southern island of Santa Catarina, which is only 60km long and 10km wide... and has 42 different beaches on it. In one day here I have already lounged on the shore and got a nice tan, turning my back into a beautiful palatte of various colours - red, crimson, crimson-red, red-crimson and deep magenta. If I can manage to stand more than 30 seconds out in the sun today, I will head back out and for a swim.

Stephanie and I got into the country last Wednesday and I immediately noticed one critical difference between Brazil and Argentina: No bidets. For whatever reason, bidets are everywhere in Argentina but are completely ignored on this side of the border. Another, slightly more minor difference I have noticed between the two nations is that they speak Portuguese here. After working hard on my Spanish for the last 4 months, I am now back to learning a new language all over again and I am finding it frustrating. Despite the similarities in the languages, the pronunciation is so different that I can not understand anything that is being said to me, and at least now I have SOME Spanish to help me out; it makes me wonder how I ever got around here when I arrived in June.

I have been practising hard, though, and managed to engage in one conversation with a local on the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls. I threw the few words of Portuguese I knew out at him and he was responding fine and I was understanding him; I was very happy with myself. Until he said to me "Wow, you speak very good SPANISH!" It turns out he was Peruvian and my Portuguese is so non-existant that he just took it for granted that I was speaking another, entirely different language to him. So much for self-education.

Stephanie crossed the border on Wednesday afternoon and were let off by our bus to get our passports stamped and documents filled out. As we walked, looking for the immigration office, I heard the omnipresent "Pffft!" of the Brazilians. The noise is a loud half-whistle, half-spitting drone that you hear constantly in Brazil and is their way of calling each other, much like us whistling at each other in Canada. As we heard someone making the noise behind us, I was explaining to Stephanie that it is only a signal and that, despite the fact that to us it seems quite rude, it is just common here and may actually be being done to signal something very important that the other person should know. The noise continued behind us as we stumbled on further, realizing that we had not a clue where the immigration office was. Finally realizing that for perhaps the first time in my journey that what I was saying actually had a tiny bit of merit, we turned around to see who was whistling and why - sure enough, it was the immigration officer trying desperately to signal us that we had passed the office and were now entering the office of the military police. Feeling both smart and stupid at the same time, I got my documents done, hopped back on the bus and into the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguacu.

We spent Thrusday back at the Iguazu Falls, this time on the Brazilian side. While also impressive, it pales mightily in comparison with the closer Argentine side. The highlight of the day was having my soft drink attacked by a coati, a raccoon-like animal that obviously has a taste for Grape Fanta. I hear coatis hunt Grape Fantas in the wild, too.

Back into town where we had our bedroom invaded at 11 pm by a crazed 60-year old Egyptian man who accused of us of stealing his prized collection of random business cards from around the world. He found the cards, which were stuffed in our pillowcase (ex- his pillowcase, it turns out) for safe-keeping, then accused of us taking his money which was supposedly stuffed amongst the business cards. The hotel manager was there and quickly put an end to that, stating that it was very obvious that the man had no money for us to steal. I think he could have made the argument that man couldn't have had any cash simply by virtue of the fact that *I* was staying in the hotel.

Off the next night for a terrible bus ride to the southern city of Curtiba, which offers what Lonely Planet calls "The most spectacular and breath-taking train ride in all Brazil." On the overnight bus ride to Curitiba, Stephanie and I were treated to absolutely no sleep but were fortunate enough to see an amazing buddy-cop film starring Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov; I wished I was dead.

We got into Curitiba Friday morning and opted to stay the night before taking the 3-hour train ride the next day. We spent Friday night in a hotel called "Cristo Rei", or "Christ the King". It rented rooms by the hour, which you have to think is kind of how Jesus would have wanted it; I think Stephanie and I shared the Mary Magdelaine suite.

Up early on Saturday and I was very excited for the train ride. The train left a little past 8 am and it waited until it was out of the city for it to get going, so to speak. Just at the moment that it had started to pick up speed it came to a quick and grinding halt. We waited there for an hour, with no sense of imminent movement and no explanation from the staff as to what was going on. (Not that I would have understood it anyway, unless it was in SPANISH) Another hour passed, and still no word but at least it had started to rain heavily. Two and a half hours passed before an attendant came by to tell us that the train ride had been cancelled, busses were coming to take us BACK to Curitiba, he wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and then went on his way. I don't know, Lonely Planet, I didn't think it was SUCH a breathtaking ride.

We waited in the rain for the fleet of busses to come and take us back into town. Then, once on the bus, we were nearly instantly caught in a traffic jam caused by a garbage truck that had crushed a pick-up against the centre partition. Cars swerved along the sidewalk to get by while our big bus sat there, stagnant, for another half-hour or so. I began to feel like I was traveling in Bolivia again where you would only remotely hope to arrive at your original intended destination, and the chances of getting there on the same day as or via the same mode of transportation that you had started out on were just dreams. Five hours after starting we ended up exactly where we began having witnessed absolutely nothing save for the critical difference between Distance and Displacement.

We gave up on the train ride and hopped on the first bus down here to Florianopolis - a good choice. Only 41 beaches to go... And then Rio and then home unless I can somehow get paid for being a very bad suntanner. I keep looking in the classifieds down here. I bet once I learn to read Portuguese, there will be tonnes of openings...