Week 42
Sunday, January 30th

Carnaval fever is descending on Rio de Janeiro.

A pleasant little open-air restaurant at an intersection two blocks back from Copacabana Beach has provided previous meals in relative peace and quiet, so we elected to give it another try last Sunday. Carnaval decorations strung from street-lamps were new since our last visit two weeks earlier. We picked a table at the edge, adjacent to the sidewalk and ordered the juiciest item on the menu, the filet mignon sandwich. Our taste-buds were about to pop. Just as our order reached the kitchen, a large truck drove into the intersection and parked, fully blocking one street. About the size of a vehicle Public Storage would rent to you for moving a house-full of furniture over the week-end, it was full of amplifiers and speakers, all of which were suddenly put to use, blasting Brasilian tunes to all who cared to listen and all who didn't.

Clever patrons grabbed their food and utensils and rushed for a table in the interior of the restaurant, as far as they could move away from the truck. We quickly followed. Paper napkins, stuck in the ear, provided little more than comic relief. Certainly the police standing near the truck would take issue with the noise or the interruption of traffic, but they continued to lounge around as though nothing had happened.

What to do? Give up on that terrific sandwich or "Grin and Bite It"?

Patrons still seated near the side-walk samba'ed to and from their tables, mimicking those dancing in rags in the street. Secure in the knowledge that the after-life would be even better than this, they gave thanks to the Catholic church for providing an answer to the very problems the church created: the evil step-mother, overpopulation, and the evil twins, ignorance and poverty.

The food arrived before our headaches became permanent. We wolfed it down and raced for the peace and quiet of the beach.

Monday, January 31
Day of rest.

Tuesday, February, 1
Took another tour-bus trip to Petropolis. The first stop was in front of an abandoned hotel, refreshing our memories of the Corcovada tour disaster. The casino inside, which outlasted the hotel, has since been turned into a Bingo Hall. There was a T-shirt sales shop in the parking lot, which made up for a lot. The Crystal Palace, an all-glass meeting room filled with cheap, plastic garden chairs, in the middle of a park, was another key attraction. The cotton-mill, situated along the stream running through town, must have ceased operation quite some time ago; every window had been broken by vandals. The fine Imperial Museum, summer home for Pedro Primero and his son, Pedro Segundo, made up for some of the tour's other short-comings. They died 150 years ago and were entombed in the local church, the last important thing that happened in Petropolis.

Wednesday, February 2
The Brasilian Plataforma Dance show started with bus pick-up at 7:00 PM. We were dropped off at a chiarasco-style restaurant for an all-you-can-eat dinner before the show. The show, a well-done Brasilian dance review, started at 10:00 PM. The bus picked us up promptly at 11:30 when the show ended, and proceeded to a similar show a few blocks down the street, where we waited for that show to end at mid-night, in order to pick up the second half of the bus passengers. All of the first group was steaming about the unforeseen delay, which ended up being 40 minutes. Leave it to the Brasilians to make it easy on themselves at the expense of all others concerned.

Thursday, February 3
Elsa got a life-long wish today... a Louis Vitton handbag. They were available in Managua, Nicaragua for US$1500 and Argentina had copies for $150. Finally, Rio produced a copy for 50 Brasilian Reais or less than US$20. Tears rolled down her cheeks, she was so happy.

Friday, February 4
We moved out of the Royal Rio Palace Hotel in Copacabana and into our final resting place in South America, Hotel Sol Ipanema. Our pre-paid voucher, purchased a month ago when rooms in Rio were still available, gave us four nights on Ipanema Beach before we fly to Germany.

Saturday, February 5, Elsa's Birthday
The Marius Crustacio Restaurant has the best sea-food buffet going. You name it and they've got it, from sushi to mussels to lobster to giant shrimp. Waiters bring trays to your table, chirasco restaurant style; you don't even need to stand up to keep your plate full. All you can eat cost US$30.00 each.

Week 43
Sunday, 6 February
The SambaDrome is a concrete football stadium a half-mile long. We thought we would be truly clever and purchase little lawn chairs with short legs to rest our weary bones during the 9:00 PM to 7:30 AM parade. Disappointed that none were available, we settled for foam pads to sit on, like the ones we used in Bogota at the bull-fight.

One hundred-thousand Brasilians cram themselves in, not to sit on the hard concrete benches and watch the parade, but to stand in front of you, dance, sing, wave their hands, wave their flags and wave their song books. When they all stand for the parade, you must stand, too, or you will be unable to see the dancers and floats below. Pads brought to sit on were useless.

The first samba school came down the chute at 9:15 PM, after a warm-up show of singing and fireworks that actually started before the appointed hour. Each school, with 3000 to 4500 students, gets an hour and a half to demonstrate style and enthusiasm. With seven schools scheduled to dance the night away, it makes sense to deduct points for running over the allotted time or the show would easily run past the 7:30 AM finish.

Costumes are limited only by what the mind can devise and what the body can carry, although the dancer dressed only in green paint and glitter attracted a lot of attention from the photographers moving among the performers.

We lasted through only four schools, leaving the SambaDrome at 3:00 AM.

Monday, 7 February
Packing and saying good-bye to all our Brasilian friends...

Tuesday, 8 February
Lufthansa's agent in Rio, who told us we had a direct flight to Frankfurt, was off by one stop in San Paulo, Brasil. That aside, the flight was uneventful, the best kind. Arriving in Frankfurt at 5:30AM, we sweated bullets in the Immigration line, then ran like there was no tomorrow to the far side of the airport to catch the 6:45 AM flight to Hamburg. Since we didn't sleep a wink all night on the plane, there was only one reasonable thing to do... check into a hotel, drop our baggage, and head to the port to rescue our Jeep, which had arrived 3 weeks earlier.

A phone call to the storage yard indicated all the papers were ready; all we had to do was show up with proof of auto insurance in hand and we would be on our way. Ah, the joys of civilization, where people could be counted on to do what they said they would, were back again. Our joy lasted long enough to get to the port, where the kid in charge indicated that he needed one more e-mail from the shipping company before he could hand us the keys. After an hour of waiting for the computer to cough up the message, another phone call revealed that the shipping company wasn't about to send a release until they were paid. One step forward had netted us two steps back. Working back up the food chain, we found that the shipping company hadn't been paid because the funds we wire-transferred to the shipping agent a week before hadn't been located. The only good news was that the car had actually made it intact; I could see it from the office window.

Fortunately, the person we had been dealing with regularly at the shipping company was at lunch when we called. Someone more capable found the money, informed the shipping company, sent the required e-mail, and got us going in minutes.

Naturally, the car battery was totally dead, but a near-by battery cart solved that problem. They gave us a gallon of gas, since the tank was required to be almost empty for shipping, but nobody offered to replace the two fine bottles of wine from Mendoza, Argentina, which had been stolen from their hidden location behind the spare tire.

We picked up our shipped luggage at an office nearby, cleared customs and headed for a gas station. Filling the tank (80 liters) set me back US114.00! The dead-battery hadn't gotten enough charge during the hour of running to re-start the car, so we asked for a boost from another person in the station. A crowd gathered as one attempt after another failed to get enough juice into the battery to start the engine. In desperation, we bought another new battery to replace the one we had purchased in Buenos Aires, only weeks before.

After 24 hours without sleep, we headed for the hotel and a nap.

Thursday, 10 February
Did a final city tour on a double-decker bus, seeing the highlights of Hamburg in a light drizzle.

Friday, 11 February
Got up at dawn to beat the traffic out of Hamburg, making the 650 km run to Bietigheim in 7 hours. Elsa knocked on the door and her Mom answered, but she didn't recognize her daughter without a helpful hint like, "Hi, Mom".