Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires... The Home Stretch

My time in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil was coming to an end. It was time to go home. I could feel it in my heart. And, I needed to figure out how to bring Emi, my motorcycle, with me. I was considering selling Emi in South America at the end of my trip. However, Emi had been such a good ride that I really did not want to leave her behind. I decided that I would take her back home with me.

I inquired with a few air cargo companies in Brazil to see what it would require and what it would cost to ship my moto from Rio to Houston. One company told me up front that they simply could not do it. A second company gave me a quote that was simply outrageous. The last company gave me a quote that was incomplete and could not promise a shipment date. It looked like it was going to cost over $2000 to ship my moto out of Brazil and there was still a chance that there would be some mystery fees at the port. It was not looking promising.

I looked into an alternative. I knew about a place in Buenos Aires called Dakar Motors. They have helped many motorcyclists over the years import and export motos in and out of South America. I sent Dakar Motors an email and requested a quote. They replied within 2 days with an estimate of $1750 and said that the shipment could be accomplished within a week of drop off.

So... it was time to hit the road... Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. 

According to my map it would be 2922km (1815 miles) and an estimated 5 days of riding. That is a distance roughly equivalent to riding from San Francisco, California to Austin, Texas... a nice little leisure ride... let the adventure begin!
First I rode from Rio de Janeiro to Curitiba... 850km and an estimated 12 hours in the saddle. I arose early in the morning at 7am and hit the road. I watched Rio de Janeiro disappear in my rear view mirror. Some great memories in that city. I reached the outskirts of Sao Paolo by mid day. I thought that I was making good time, then got caught up in the maze of freeways within Sao Paolo. I probably lost 1 or 2 hours getting through the city. Once I broke away from the city it was easy riding. I arrived in Curitiba at about 8pm... it was a full day of riding... the longest day of riding during my entire journey.
I knew that the next segment that I would ride would be a fairly strait and easy segment. From Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu... 637km and an estimated 8 hours. Turns out that I knocked it out in 7 hours. I checked into a hostel and planned my route for the next day. I knew that I would have to cross the border and hoped that it would all go smooth.
I decided that I would cross the border and ride until I got tired. I crossed the border on the Brazilian side with little trouble. As I was processing my motorcycle paperwork to enter Argentina I noticed that the aduanas (customs) officer typed in my VIN (chassis) number incorrectly. He typed in my title number instead of the chassis number. I pointed out the mistake. He said that it would not matter. He said that he was the chief at the station and if there was a problem I could give his office a call. He refused to make the correction. I felt uneasy... I decided that I would take my chances and rolled away.

I eventually rode from Foz do Iguacu to Santo Tome... 442km and and estimated 6 hours. The weather was perfect for riding... not too cold... not too hot. There was one segment of the road that was closed, so I had to take a little detour. It added some time to my ride, but it ended up that the views along the detour were really beautiful... sometimes it just works out like that.

Santo Tome was a small town along the border of Argentina and Brazil. Across the border lie the town of Sao Borja. It appeared that there was not much going on in the town, but there was a casino. Gambling in Brazil is illegal, however it is legal in Argentina. I suppose that the casino existed so that Brazilians could cross the border and find a little entertainment. I dropped into the casino for an hour and walked away a winner... at least enough to pay for my hotel room.
I started my fourth day with an early start once again. I traveled from Santo Tome to Concepcion del Uruguay... 697km and an estimated 8 hours.

The ride was uneventful. I kept reminding myself to pay attention. I realized that my ride... my trip... my adventure was coming to an end. I did not want to let my guard down, but I found myself reflecting on all that had transpired over the past year.

I arrived into Concepcion del Uruguay late in the afternoon. I rode around the town for a little while to see what I could see. Concepcion was a town along the Uruguay River. It attracted tourists from the small towns in the north and from the city in the south. For me, it was just a stop on my way to Buenos Aires. I found a hotel at which to stay and a restaurant at which to eat. I bedded down.
The last ride of my ride. The last segment of my adventure would be from Concepcion del Uruguay to Buenos Aires... 296km and an estimated 3:30 hours. It would be an easy day. I would not even need to start early. I left Concepcion at around 9am and rode toward Buenos Aires. I was almost there!
Well... almost. 

About 15 minutes outside of Concepcion I ran into a police checkpoint. I had passed many police checkpoints on my journey... never a problem. I pulled over and presented my documents. The policeman asked for my license, my permiso (temporary license) and my title. I turned all the documents over to him. He examined them, found them in order and returned them to me. Then he asked for my insurance. I turned over a copy of my insurance. It was actually my insurance policy from the USA. It was in English, not Spanish. I didn't think that it would matter. After some examination he returned the document to me. Then he said that the insurance was expired. Really!
This was the first time in all of my travels that I had been asked for my insurance. The document that I had passed to the policeman did indicate that my insurance was expired. After all, I had been away for over a year. However, I did have a valid insurance document... but it was in electronic format in an email in cyberspace. It was not going to help me in this situation.

So I thought to myself... This was just a shakedown. How far did he want to take this? How far did I want to go? How much was he going to ask for? How much was I willing to pay? I realized that it was early in the day. I had all day to reach Buenos Aires. Let's see who would have more game. So.... I decided to play along.

I explained to the policeman that my insurance was valid, just that the document was expired. I explained that I could provide him a valid document if he would allow me to access the internet in his office. Predictably... he said NO.

I asked him if I could return to Concepcion to visit an internet cafe to print out a valid document. He said... NO.

I asked him if he would call the insurance company to verify that I had insurance. He said.. NO.

I asked him how much the ticket would be for expired insurance. He said that it would be 817 Pesos (about US$185). I asked the officer that if he issued me a ticket, where would I have to go to pay the fine. He said that I would have to pay the fine in cash, today and directly to him... or he would be required to impound my motorcycle.

At that moment I knew for sure that it was a shakedown. Let the game begin!

There are many techniques that adventure motorcyclist use to get out of tickets. Some hire a fixer. Some pretend to not understand the language. Some slip a small amount of money into one's documents for the policeman to palm. Some provide lots of irrelevant documents and information. Some pretend to be sick. Some carry around legal documents. Some simply try to stall the conversation with the hope that after some time passes the policeman will eventually let them go... realizing that they could be extorting money from other vehicles.

I usually pre-empt the situation and ask the policeman for assistance. I tried this technique, but it was not working. Therefore, I attempted to stall.

I told him that I did not have that much cash. He said that he would have to impound my motorcycle. I asked him to explain the law about impounding my moto. He went into an explanation that basically ended with him stating that he would have to impound my moto. I asked if he could issue me a ticket that I could pay to the city government. He said...NO. I asked if I could pay at the next city. He said...NO. He pointed to a little shoe box in the corner of his office and said that I had to pay cash directly to him... today. I asked him a number of other questions. I could tell that he was getting frustrated. By this time, probably an hour had passed.

Other cars were passing by and being pulled over for various traffic violations. Sometimes the police officers would write them a citation and they would continue on their way. Sometimes they would make a contribution to the little shoe box and continue on their way.
I noticed that the police officers would often show the traffic violators a card. The card contained a list of violations, the amount of the corresponding fine, the al contado (in cash) discount of 25% and the price for paying in cash if one chose to take advantage of the "cash discount". Nice of them to do the calculation. 

I asked the policeman if I could see the violation card. Surprisingly he obliged. I looked it over and it was quite extensive... it listed all the options... just like a menu in a restaurant. Choose your violation... seguro obligatorio vencido... no uso de luces bajas... falta chapa patente... it went on and on.  

I pulled out my iPhone. When the policeman saw me, he asked what I was doing. I told him that I wanted to calculate how much my fine would be and convert the amount into US Dollars. I did the currency conversion calculation. Then, I snapped a picture of the menu... uh... violation card.
And... I snapped a photo of the policeman... Officer Guilletti P. 

As you can see, I was holding the card in my hand to hide the fact that I was taking a photo.

I thought to myself... Officer Guilletti you are in for a long day.... I have nothing but time.

I had a million questions to ask Officer Guilletti. I asked him about the violation card. I asked him the difference between the fine of driving without insurance versus driving with expired insurance. I asked him about the al contado discount. I asked if he could translate a few words for me from spanish to english. I asked him about riding without lights. I asked him about the law. I asked him about the impound facility. I asked him if there was a supervisor that could explain the legal system to me. I asked him about the weather... I went on and on.

By this time it was almost noon. We had been talking for over two hours. I knew that lunch time was approaching and that soon he and his crew would want to take a break for lunch. I could tell that he was visibly anxious. 

He wrote me a ticket.

After some time, he finally said that I either had to pay the fine in cash or he would impound my motorcycle. I pulled out my wallet and showed him that all I had was 243 Pesos. I explained that I did not have the full amount in cash and asked if he would allow me to ride into Concepcion to get some money from an ATM. 

Amazingly... he agreed!

I hopped on my moto and headed back to Concepcion. I rode strait to an internet cafe, logged on, downloaded my valid insurance document and printed two copies. I stopped by an ATM and withdrew 800 Pesos... just in case.

I rode back to the police checkpoint. As Officer Guilletti saw me approaching he directed me to pull over. He looked really happy.

He asked me if I had the money. I said that I had something better. I said that I had a copy of my valid insurance document... and handed him a copy.

I watched his smile turn into a frown. He was fuuuuuuurious. He said... NO NO NO. He said that he had sent me back to Concepcion to get money. I played innocent. I said... but look I had proof that I had insurance... that's better, right?

He handed me back my documents and told me to get out of his booth. Probably 3 hours had passed since I was first pulled over. His frustration was getting the best of him.

At about this time, another policeman approached the group of policemen who were issuing the traffic violations. He called them into the main office to eat lunch. I could tell that he was their superior by the way the other officers responded to him. As the policemen were moving from the road into the main office, I approached the superior officer.

I explained my situation. I told him that I was pulled over earlier in the day, that I presented all of my documents, that I presented my insurance document that was expired, but now I had my insurance document that was valid. I explained that the policeman had written me a ticket, but now would not tell me what I needed to do to cancel it. The officer took the ticket and said that he wold discuss the matter with the other officer.

About 5 minutes later, Officer Guilletti returned outside. He directed me to his little booth. He said that he was going to help me out so that I could continue on with my journey. He said that he was going to reduce the fine of the ticket. I asked him what the fee would be. He said that it would be 243 Pesos.

243 Pesos was the exact amount of money that I had previously shown him that I had in my wallet. Basically, he wanted all the money in my wallet. Ironically, when I went into the town to print out my insurance document I had to pay 2 Pesos for the internet service and the copies. So I actually only had 241 Pesos in my wallet, plus the other 800 Pesos that I had withdrawn from the ATM.

I told the policeman that I appreciated his help and the "discount" on the fine. I said that I would like to say thank you to his supervisor for his assistance. At this point, I think that I broke Officer Guilletti.

He asked me for my ticket. I handed it over. He wrote something in his ledger. Then he scribbled something on the ticket and said that this note would verify that the ticket was cancelled. He handed me  the ticket and said that I was free to go.

I asked if I still needed to pay anything. He said... NO.

I didn't need to hear anything else. I hopped on my bike and rode off toward Buenos Aires.

What an interesting day.


An Adventure

An Adventure should be exciting,
It should tease the senses,
It should challenge the norm,
It should be risky,
It should introduce one to fascinating people.
It should taste spicy
It should smell fragrant
It should make one stand in awe,
It should bring one to his knees in humility,
It should etch unforgettable images in the mind
It should take ones breath away,
It should replenish the soul,

When the surroundings appear common,
When the names and faces become a blur,
When the food becomes bland,
When the smells are pungent,
When a sunset just signifies the end of the day,
When the road ends and there is nowhere else to go,
The Adventure Ends.

- Troy

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rio de Janeiro... Splitting Lanes

While living in Rio de Janeiro, I rarely rode my motorcycle around the city. To me, the roads often felt like a maze and the traffic felt oppressive. However, I did take a few excursions outside of the city by motorcycle. It always seemed easy to leave the city, but to return to the city posed problems. It seemed like there was always lots of traffic flowing into the city. So... when in Rio... I often found myself riding like the Cariocas... Splitting Lanes.

I do not recommend this. I probably will never do it again. But it does make for interesting video.

Take note at 35 seconds how cars change lanes abruptly and without signaling, at 45 seconds how challenging it is to be a street vendor, at 1:10 the truck pulling the mobile home during rush hour, at 1:50 the squeeze between two trucks and every so often you will hear a horn. That would be me tooting my own horn to warn the cars and trucks in front of me that a motorcycle is approaching. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rio de Janeiro... Centro Cultural Justicia Federal

There was a film that I read about online that I wanted to watch. It was showing in an area called Cinelandia in the central area of the Rio de Janeiro. The film was screening at a place called the Centro Cultural Justicia Federal (Federal Justice Cutural Center). I ended up watching the film, but it is what I discovered inside the building that I found truly amazing. The best part is the last part.
I thought that it was odd that a film was showing in a building dedicated to justice, but I decided to check it out. From the outside, the building did not appear to be anything special. In fact I had walked by this very building previously without noticing it.
However, on the inside it was actually pretty ornate.
And there were multiple floors beautifully lit up. I was early to the film screening, so I thought that I would stroll around the building.
I came across this chamber, which was designed as a court or hearing room.
From floor to ceiling it contained some intricate and complex patterns.
 I walked around to some of the other rooms and found some cool collage art.
A collage of faces
I thought that this might be an interesting way for me to present some of my photos.
 Photography of urban decay
 A collage of birds
 Wood patterns
 Geometric string on wood
Geometric close up
 Post-modern art of ashes
And then I came across this exhibit. All of the pieces were amazing patterns transferred onto large panels about 10 feet by 8 feet in size... huge! I believe that these patterns were digitally produced and printed onto these huge canvases.
 Some appeared to be indigenous art.
 Some images had more of a religious symbolism.
Just really thought provoking art.

Who would have thought...

Rio de Janeiro... Underground Art

While in Rio de Janeiro, I often traveled by the metro (subway)... and discovered this underground art.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rio de Janeiro... TexMex Dinner Party

My time in Rio de Janeiro was coming to an end. My friend Roxanne and I thought that it would be a fun idea to share a little taste of Texas with some of our friends. So... we hosted a TexMex dinner party.
It was a little challenging finding all the needed ingredients, but we made due.
We decided to serve make-your-own tacos, both hard and soft, with filler ingredients like beef, chicken, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and guacamole. Also, a side of seasoned rice and some fresh pineapple for dessert.
I think that most everyone enjoyed the meal, or at least they were very polite.

We have a saying in Texas... you can take the Texan out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of a Texan.

Rio de Janeiro... Flying With The Wind... Parapente (Paragliding)

On a clear day in Rio de Janeiro one can look across the bay... and in the distance... one can see on the other side... the city of Niteroi. In Niteroi... there is a hill where people jump off the edge... and parapente (paraglide). I had to go check it out.
A fellow traveler and friend named Philip joined me.
There are various ways to travel across the bay to Niteroi. One can take a bus, a car, a slow ferry or a fast ferry. We chose the fast ferry.
We landed on the beach of Niteroi. From the beach we hired a cab to take us up a mountain to the Parque da Cidade (City Park).
Not such a bad view from the City Park.
From the park, we could look to the right and see the city of Niteroi.
And, we could look to the left and see a fishing village.
And at a certain place within the park, there was a scenic overlook point... and a ramp to paraglide.
We met a man named Luciano, who was a former military airplane pilot, but now is a paragliding pilot. He provides instruction courses and tandem flights. In this photo Luciano was demonstrating that the wind was not very strong and blowing from the wrong direction for a good flight.  
I was happy to know that he seemed to know what he was talking about.
There are people that hangglide (fixed wing) and people that paraglide (parachute wing) from this point. But when the wind and weather are not ideal... people go to another mountainside point to launch.
We went to this other location and when we arrived there was one pilot that was ready to go.
He launched off the point... he glided for a while... then he landed safely on a nearby beach. It was not a long flight... maybe about one minute... the wind was still not strong.
And then another pilot got ready to test the wind and his luck.
His flight did not end up so well. He launched off the cliff... did not catch a good air current... could not direct himself toward the beach... and splashed down in the water. He struggled for a while with the weight of his clothes and parachute impeding his ability to swim. It was a serious situation for a while. Two people jumped in the water to rescue him. Luckily there was a lifeguard at the nearby beach and he completed the rescue. 
The three people dragged the downed pilot and the parachute to a nearby beach. The beach was probably only 300 yard (300 meters) away from where the pilot went down, but it took the trio about 30 minutes to swim to the shore because of the strong current and rough waves.
Everyone was a little wet and tired... but safe.
After everyone was already safe on the beach, the bomberos (fire department) arrived.
Luciano and the downed pilot eventually returned to the launch point with the parachute in tow.
The bomberos were hanging around for a while talking.
So this nut thought that it would be a good time to try to fly. Let's get it on!
Luciano gave me some instruction. One usually starts with the parachute behind and uphill of the pilot. The lines are actually twisted 180 degrees from the harness.
Then one pulls the lines to inflate the parachute. At this point the lines are still twisted.
Then one needs to twist the lines to get the parachute to flip around.
When the parachute is inflated by the wind and directly overhead it is a beautiful sight.
When the parachute gets twisted or collapses it is ugly.
There is a fine line between flight and folly.
Okay, let's try this again.
Parachute inflated... lines untwisted...
Approach the edge of the cliff.
All systems go!
You'll have to watch the shaky video to see what happened next.

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