keskiviikko 13. kesäkuuta 2012

At the Tropic of Capricorn

Brazil. Football, samba, coffee, jungle. Nope, mostly work. And beach and food and people.

Day One - Passaporte

Travelling for work surely can be exhausting but not that much for me yet. So of course I was feeling excited to go to Brazil - albeit only for a few days. About 90 minutes of sleep before heading to airport was too little and still it all started that way. I happened to end up in a cab with a bit weird driver. He gave me candy, not once but twice. And almost half of the drive he was wondering if Talvivaara (a much talked Finnish mine) is in Ranua (a town at northern Finland) or not. My answer was no but he would not take it.

This time I was travelling with a colleague of mine - which was nice. On the connecting flight to Amsterdam I tried to get some rest in a jar of economy class seat. Next to me was sitting a guy from Ghana and we had a nice little conversation. It pays off to have read the geographic maps for fun as a kid. The Boeing found its way down to Schiphol and my visual observation revealed loads of fields, channels, windmills and greenhouses. The Dutch naturally.

Next it was an exhausting twelve hour flight to the other side of the world. How to spend such time in a too small seat? Try to recognize some parts of world far beneath you. I got the peninsula of Troia (my first ever southern experience took place there), Canary Islands, one of the Kap Verde islands and reservoirs et cetera stuff in Brazilian plateau. What else? Enter the ten kilometre club - of people having prepared their Powerpoint presentation up in the sky. Try to learn some phrases in Portuguese. Talk so much with your colleague that the guy sitting next to you starts to talk himself.

Finally the flight was over and the soil of South America was below our feet. Clear the formalities and find your driver. We had a good two hour drive still ahead. Tropic warmth could be felt although the winter was approaching below the equator. The travellers that we were suffered from acute case of too little sleep which brought the semi-hysteric laughter at times. Our driver luckily played some good stuff from 70's and 80's in the car stereo. What A Feeling, More Than A Feeling, Staying Alive. Yep, staying alive would have been even more describing if we had seen the crazy serpentine motorway that was our path from the plateau to the coast. But it was too dark to really realize the ravines behind guardrails.

Day Two - Churrasco

A night in bed helps. Especially when there is a work day waiting for you. The hotel was really nice and the breakfast very fine. It's worth a lot to get a chance to sip Brazilian coffee and freshly squeezed fruit juice on a balcony next to white tropical beach. And then it began, work that had brought me to the Tropic of Capricorn. I'm not going to tell any details of business there. It started out well - which was nice. That much I'm giving in.

After a day of issues it was time to head out for some team dinner. Apparently churrasco. So pack Europeans and locals to minivans for a short drive from Guaruja to Santos. Along the way there was a really weird ferry fleet. Up to seven ferries taking people in their cars and motorbikes back and forth over a sound. How about building a bridge (over troubled water)? Well, maybe the road taxes are better this way.

The dinner was, well, meaty. First some greenery and stuff. And then the meat kept on coming until the toughest meat eaters had to give up. Beef and chicken with deep fried starchy things. Yes, in the process I broke some half a dozen chick hearts. This meal was a real vegetarian hell - and next to me was a such colleague of no meat diet. Luckily he was a good sport with the situation! I noticed again that I start to thrive in these sorts of happenings. Good food and beverages accompanied with some nice folks gets me to good humour with unique shades of fling.

Finally back to bunk in our colonial style hotel. You really cannot properly watch American entertainment dubbed in Portuguese with the background that I have. So close the telly and your eyes.

Day Three - Caipirinha

Now I started to feel more acquainted with the place. Another three plate treatment for my stomach as the waves kept on pleasing my ears. Fruits, salty protein and starch, sweety goodies. And more work of course after my first quick visit to the beach. I had to try and focus on the task at hand although the surroundings were tempting me all the time.

Once daily dose of issues was covered it was time to do some shopping. I had some reais to be spent. So it was first walk around the neighbourhood. No imminent feel of danger there if you stayed on the right side of the city. Guaruja is the closest beach resort to the more well-off people of Sao Paulo. I had to buy some havaianas with brazilian flags and naturally local beer.

Tropic darkness fell down and the ladies left me behind. My colleagues, that is. So I took off to the beach boulevard for some brisk walking in my white outfit. Maybe not that neutral but I'm not going to fade to the back always. And yes, what you leave behind you comes back to haunt. My colleagues did not get me lost. After a really nice stroll along the beach it was suitable to go for local caipirinha in the lobby bar. Only one since it hit the head pretty good. Liquor made of sugar cane, lime and ice. Nice. Then jampacked stomach again and to bunk. I could work like this. For a while.

Day Four - De nada

Last work day of this travel started with a sore throat. The flu had caught me finally. Well, I kept on hanging and seizing the day. How many times you really get to choose from five freshly squeezed juices and eat your way to the day? Sore throat or not, it was no time for regrets. One day of listing issues and learning stuff of local business was still to be cleared.

Workshop was eventually completed and I managed not to look too stupid in the team photo in my reds. Yes, again I was wearing noticeably colours. Me from past wouldn't have enjoyed that but me of today did. As the evening arrived it was time to go and destroy some local currency. My last night below the equator for this trip it was. Maybe I was being a fool to go shopping with the ladies, not once but twice. I managed to make up my mind and buy some shorts and Santos FC shirt. Women, they had much more difficulties in making up their minds. Well, I had a fast approaching deadline to speed me up.

Dinner for the last evening was again plentiful. Men went crazy for the excess meat, women lost it with half a dozen chocolate based desserts. I tried to cherish the moment and not to be too quirky with my humour. As to cap off the night, we got to see some distant lightning over the sea in the tropic darkness - which was nice. Tropic thunder, I mean, from safe distance.

By the way, Brazil is no real beer country. Of course you have the basic simple bulk lager brands (Brahma, Itaipava, Skol etc.). So I was not continuing my daily beer tradition. Let's just say here that Itaipava tasted like most regular lagers do. Nice when served cold but not special. My other pick, Nova Schin Malzbier (maybe imported), was though something else. Really sugary malty liquid candy that was not that much into my liking. But if you cap it off you drink it down.

Day Five - Feijoada

I had one half a day to just relax before heading back north. So last plentiful breakfast in the fresh Brazilian sea air for starters. Then it was time to stroll around again, shoot some photos and do some shopping. And of course it was my last opportunity to get to the beach. So trunks on and some white Finnish skin under UV exposure. The waves of Atlantic ocean was also something to experience. Like a little boy I was jumping on the roaring water and getting bounced around. With that salty water taste in my mouth. Nice.

They apparently do a lot of beauty surgery in Brazil. Let's just say that local beach fashion can be demanding on your looks. At least if you are not OK with yourself.

All things come to an end. It was time to pack my bags and head for one last lunch. Finally it was feijoada time - not to forget all the other porky goodies. The tradional feijoada is made of pig ears and tails and some other parts. Sounds harsh and hard to swallow for spoiled westeners. Actually it was really good, although I just took a few bits. Black beans with rice, another local specialty, was also very good. And it was worth trying Portuguese sausages and deep-fried lard. Yummy.

Then it was a good two hour drive to Guarulhos airport. My way back home was to be taken alone. Funny thing happened though when I started conversation with my designated driver, Luis. It started from Mika Häkkinen and Ayrton Senna, went to football and approaching World Cup in Brazil. Then I was surprised to hear that the fellow had been a missionary in over 80 countries before returning home. So we had a swirling conversation along the same serpentine motorway I had waited to see in daylight. Being a husband in Latin America, raising kids, relationships to siblings, pollution, forgiveness... As Luis put it: Man, it's tough! With a smile in his face and warmth in his voice.

And off she went, the aluminium jar of a plane. Brazil, I just briefly met you but hopefully our paths cross in the future...

Day Six - Obrigado

Twelve hours in the confined space of an economy class seat puts the ache on your feet. Travelling alone is so darn familiar to me and it brings forth plenty of thoughts and feelings. Luckily I was able to get some sleep. And then I had to amuse myself with KLM entertainment system. I went for J. Edgar - a thinking man's choice of a movie. Finally I got to see it, although from a crappy monitor.

My way from Brazilian beach side hotel back to home in Finland took some 23 hours. I had plenty of time to think things over. It was nice to come home as my sister was there. I got to tell some of my stories immediately and gave my presents.

What did I learn? Professionally this kind of workshop travel was first for me. I think I did my part well and got new contacts in another continent. Personally I got to do many things that I had been hoping for since a little boy. I enjoy when I can work somewhat successfully with people that I wouldn't have been able to co-operate some years ago. The possibility of individual and social development is endless and yet fragile. None of these kind of opportunities feel self-evident for me.

You will cherish things much better when they haven't been given to you easily.

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