Day 26 -- Monday, July 23 - Morrettes, Brazil
For the third time on this trip, I spent the night in transit with no hotel. The previous two times, my bed was in the First Class section of a jet. Tonight, my bed was on a luxury bus.
I'd never had a bed on a bus before and was looking forward to finding out what it would be like. It turned out to be a double-decker bus. My seat was on the 2nd floor. (In hindsight this was a bad idea since there's nothing to see with all the shades drawn shut and the upper floor of the bus sways more from side-to-side than the lower floor does.) My seat reclined to almost horizontal and my footrest folded down to form the front of my bed. It was certainly the most comfortable bus seat I've ever had. I got a reasonably good night's sleep. The bus pulled into the station in Curitiba right on schedule at 7am.
As soon as I arrived in Curitiba, I bought a ticket for the 9:15 "Serra Verde Express" Tourist train to Morretes (www.serraverdeexpress.com.br).
Once I had my ticket, I checked into my hotel for that night, the Vernon Palace Hotel (http://www.vernonhotel.com.br). Fortunately, my room was already available so I was able to grab a quick shower before catching the train.
My guide book promised a "four hour trip, including 67 bridges and viaducts, 13 tunnels, jungle covered peaks, and sweeping views." I had been looking forward to this trip, since it is one of the few passenger trains in all of Brazil.
Well, it lived up to everything except the "sweeping views" part. The "jungle covered peaks" are due to this being one of the last original-growth rain forests in the world. And, we learned earlier what frequently happens in a rain forest. Yup, it rained the whole time. For most of the trip, the fog was so thick that we couldn't see more than about 20 feet. But, what we did see was very nice and the trip overall was enjoyable. I just wasn't able to capture it in pictures.
I've seen small rain forests before (in Puerto Rico and in Hawaii). What made this rain forest interesting to me is the forest canopy. The classic rain forest has an entire ecological system way up at the tops of the trees. I'd never seen one before today. For those who haven't seen one, I'll attempt to describe it. Think of the most dense forest you've ever seen. Now imagine the trees being three times as tall with all of the branches and leaves up at the very tops of the trees. Finally, fill in every available point on the ground with bushes, ferns, moss, etc. I wish I had time to explore it more. I guess I'll have to come back here some day. :-)
The trip was supposed to have bilingual commentary. It turned out that I was the only one on the entire train who wasn't from Brazil. So, the guide spoke to the rest of the tourists through the microphone in Portuguese. Then, she would walk over to my seat and repeat it in English. So, I essentially had my own private guide. Her English was limited but more then sufficient to answer any questions I had. I helped her learn a few English words that were giving her trouble. She told me that, when she first started, she announced that she would soon be handing out snakes to everyone. She soon learned that the correct pronunciation is "snacks" not "snakes".
The train ride ended in the small coastal village of Morretes. This is a popular summer vacation for Brazilians. But, since this was the middle of winter, the town was rather quiet. I wandered through the town visiting the local grocery store and small shops. I had lunch at a restaurant overlooking a river. Overall, this was a very pretty town with lots of parks and, since it's in the middle of a rain forest, everything is green even in the middle of winter. I could definitely enjoy staying here as a base station for exploring the rain forests.
After visiting Morretes, I returned to Curitiba by bus. The ride was very bumpy, since much of the ride was inside the national park with cobble stone roads.
At this point, I've given up trying to speak Portuguese. No matter how hard I try, no one seems to understand me when I try to say more than one word sentences in Portuguese. When they do eventually figure out what I'm saying, they repeat it back to me. To my ears, what they say and what I just said are identical.
So, rather than continue to struggle with pronunciation, I do what I did when I visited Spain. I write everything down. Using the sample phrases in my guide book plus my electronic translator/calculator, I'm able to put together short Portuguese sentences and the locals have no problem reading what I've written.
For example, when I reached Curitiba, I needed to buy a bus ticket to Sao Paulo for tomorrow. Prior to going to the ticket counter, I wrote down what I wanted and the questions that I would need to have answered. For example: "Sao Paulo, amanha, 24 julho, ida" (Sao Paulo, tomorrow, July 24th, one-way). I would need to know: "Quanto e?" (How much does it cost?) and "Que horas sai?" (At what time does it leave), etc.
I approached the ticket window with my usual starting question: "Voce falo ingles?" (Do you speak English?). I got the standard response "nao" (no). Then, I showed him my Q&A sheet. He quickly checked and wrote down all the answers to my questions. I handed him my credit card; he handed me the boarding ticket. Done! At least I had a system that worked for me.
Ticket in hand, I retired to my hotel room for the night.