The Epic Journey North

Listen, Mr Rodoviaria Buteco Man. 31 hours on a bus, plus a 5 hour wait with nothing to do but contemplate the next 10 hours you have to spend on a bus makes me want to drink beer. I don’t care that its only 8:30am. Now stop looking at me like that and serve me the god damn cerveja! I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long on public transport before, and I don’t think I ever want to again. Ricky had come with me to what felt like every fucking travel agent in Belo Horizonte to see if I could get a cheap enough flight to the north but there was nothing within my rapidly dwindling budget so I resigned myself to the bus trip of epic proportions, and this is how I found myself in Imperatriz attempting to numb all of my sense with beer.

I will bet money that the estate agent description reads: “Rustic”.

It was quite eventful too. I don’t generally like my bus journeys to be eventful. Right at the start I was hit on by a staff member on the bus who took a seat next to me and inspected my fingers for any sign of a ring. I explained to him in my best Portuguese (which is basically really bad Spanish combined with sloooowww, en-oun-ci-a-ted English) that I do in fact have a fiance and he’s meeting me in Imperatriz. Either he did’t believe me or the whole being engaged thing didn’t make a blind bit of difference if the actual human male wasn’t present, but he fetched his pillow and blanket and sat next to me again. I made the international sign for “sleepy”, pulled my hat over my eyes and hoped he’d just go away.

São Luís Centro Histórico

I was befriended by a guy who gave me his name, address and phone number. Brazilians are a friendly lot, you’re never alone on a bus journey whether you want to be or not, but at least this bloke wasn’t weird and creepy. Though I did also meet an Austrian man during the aforementioned five hour wait between buses who spent a significant amount of time telling me that god is “super cool” and “beautiful” whilst my face froze into that grimace you get when you don’t want to be rude to the guy but you really don’t want their beliefs forcing onto you thankyouverymuch. How would they like it if I started pushing pamphlets detailing the next big gay party into their hands whilst chewing their ear off about the finer points of dildos? I sipped more beer, tuned out and hoped nothing he said to me would require a response.

Oh yeah, I also got stuck in the fucking toilet on the second bus and two large Brazilian men had to force the door to get me out. I had images of being cooped up in there for the ensuing 10 hours whilst piss swished around the floor because someone doesn’t know how to flush. I might need to burn these flip flops when I get to where I’m going. Though I might have been better off just locking myself in there, what with the two babies that I don’t think stopped screaming for the whole trip. My eardrums are never going to forgive me for this.

A local São Luís man peers out from his doorway, probably whilst muttering, “Fucking tourists.”

Anyway, I eventually made it to São Luís and had the shower I’d been craving for too long. You accept pretty quickly that you’re never going to be dry here, you’re either showering or sweating and you just have to deal with that. Sweating makes you thirsty though. I needed a drink and I spotted a water dispenser on the wall but on closer inspection I realised it was broken. I had no other option but to go to the pub. I wandered out of the pousada and stumbled onto this mental party thing where a heap of people in full costume were dancing. Apparently it was the São João Do Maranhão festival, I think that’s something to do with the saint of the state I was in. It was pretty awesome anyways, I just chilled in the street with a few beers and watched the show before dragging my slightly drunken carcass to bed, positioning the fan right at the foot of the bed and lying as still as I possibly could.

Pretty much spent my first night caught up in this.

So here’s a point to note: Weight gain plus tropical heat equals unpleasant inner thigh chaffing. I discovered this the hard way whilst wandering round São Luís which, if you consult your handy map book, is right near the top of Brazil, closer to the Equator than I’ve ever been. It’s hot. Like, seriously fucking hot. I mean, I’ve been in Cairns, Australia, for the build up to the Wet and that was hot but this is Sweat Your Box Off And Don’t Expect To See It Again Until You’ve Moved Somewhere More Sensible hot. I love it.

In Cairns, despite the humidity, everyone is still on the go, on their various missions for stuffed koala toys and novelty boomerangs. Here in São Luís, everyone just lounges around in the butecos or chills out in the streets in the shade, selling or drinking beers and soft drinks or juice stright from the coconut and generally not moving much. My kinda place. And my staple diet is no longer coxinas and caipirinhas, its ice cream and anything in a can that’s been pulled from a bucket of ice that I can press to my face and neck before opening and consuming.

Yeah so my standard São Luís pastime was mainly locating these guys and procuring cold drinks and ice creams.

Aside from the heat, other things you notice about São Luís are the hammock shops. Every other shop is a hammock shop. So I bought a hammock. Good to see the art of the Impulse Purchase still isn’t dead and I’m sure it’ll prove very useful when I find I have the urge to swing in a piece of cloth between two trees getting savaged by mosquitoes. And then there’s the cats. The place is full of cats, there’s shit loads of them, it’s a veritable Andrew Lloyd Webber musical right there in the centro histórico. More pussy than even a lesbian can handle.

The streets were largely deserted in the daytime, possibly because the air is lava. But you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen. (Or women).

There’s not really much to São Luís but I still really like it. There’s only the Historical Centre to look at and that’s… well… its historical init. And by “historical” I mean “could use a plasterer and a few tins of paint”. The award for the most feral place I’ve ever stayed in goes to Pousada Internacional an all. I mean, I’m not saying its unpleasant, in fact its quite the opposite. Marcio is lovely and did his best to get around my complete lack of Portuguese whilst plying me with beer but the showers could do with a clean once in a while so you don’t come out feeling dirtier than when you got in.

These traffic lights are definitely worth a mention.

I could easily kill a couple of days here just sitting on Rua Da Estréla with a cold drink or four though, watching the world go by. Watching it go by very, very slowly.

Bonus photo: I love my girlfriend back in NZ, I really do, but right now I love Mallory more. Ok, so she’s not the most attractive, she’s dusty and she’s loud but shit she’s cool and I know if the mrs came to the Tropics and met her she’d love her as much as I do. It’d be nice if she were here though, so we could lie as far apart as possible and bitch about the heat.

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São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil
Stayed at: Pousada Internacional

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