February 06, 2007

Back to Argentina

Iím really pushing the hand-baggage rules here at terminal one, Guarulhos, S„o Pauloís International Airport. My checked bag, however, was a professional 1.5 Kilos over the 23 Kilo weight limit. Better to suffer as the overloaded/overdressed Irishman in the sweltering Brazilian heat than pay the R$4/Kg. for second-hand books and leather jacket.

Itís been a lovely weekend in S„o Paulo thanks to Sandy & the beautiful Brazilian people. S„o Paulo, like my baggage, could be deemed overweight. It is bursting at the seams with 23 million people, however I like to put a positive twist on overpopulation. This is undoubtedly the worldís largest living collection of beautiful women (I was going to say T&A but my San Francisco self censorship kicked in). Tokyo may have a few million more women than S„o Paulo but, well letís just say Tokyo women are just not built like Brazilians.

Again, at the risk of offending some, I wanted to share an idea I had while in the S„o Paulo Metro. Itís a T-shirt design with three cartoon women each flying flags; from Ireland, Brazil and the USA. Under the cartoon images lies the caption: ĒWe are what we eat!Ē The Irish woman is a little top-heavy, roughly in the form of a pint glass, the Brazilian is all curves and consists of a wonderful assembly of mangoes and bananas, and finally we have the mid-western contestant who stands squat as a giant genetically modified corncob.

Someone out there design and produce the shirt and Iíll do the Portuguese translation and market in Brazil for the usual 10% :)

Why do I load myself down with books and duty-free?

The books? It's a language thing. The booze? Well partly it's because Iím a lush and have a lot of lush friends, but mainly it's because I never really buy booze in Argentina. It is all forged by cretans in Paraguay selling to idiots who donít know the difference. Buenos Aires booze is often incredibly expensive, but that doesnít guarantee that it is real; itís often not. Even in the ex-pat English bar of Buenos Aires, "The Gibraltar", they sometimes serve fake whiskey, which I am at pains to bring to their attention. Argentine cigars are also pretty lousy, then there is the bad coffee, but hey! I canít buy everything in duty-free. Anyway carrying coffee is somewhat of a no-no in Latin airports, the customs dogs have a keen nose for it. If you donít know why then ask a Colombian!

Fingers crossed at boarding time and in the customs in Buenos Aires.

Iíve been a month and a half on the road, in libraries, in bookshops, on beaches and buses, but mostly on couches and in hostels:

Buenos Aires -> Washington D.C.,
Washington D.C. -> San Francisco,
San Francisco -> Nassau Bahamas,
Nassau -> San Francisco,
San Francisco -> Washington D.C.,
Washington D.C. -> S„o Paulo,
S„o Paulo -> Buenos Aires

All those flights for less than $600 (US), if you donít count the taxis. Ah, the joys of devious air-mile travel and flying cheap. So much for my effort to curtail global warming? Bah humbug green boy!

Even if it will be stinking hot in Buenos Aires and the fridge probably smells funky (it did and it took me all morning to clean it). Despite the immanent exams and the fact that I am truly exhausted. No matter! Iím so looking forward to getting back to the land-o-carne and to sleeping in my own (rented) bed and waking to make my own breakfast from my own (rented and recently scrubbed) fridge.

Finally, just an hour late, the PA system announces (in Portuguese only) GOL flight 7454 to Buenos Aires leaving from gate 14B. I shuffle on sweating profusely hiding, my second bag. Above me the TV announces that the plane at gate 14B is going to Curitiba (the worldís first purpose designed carbon-neutral city that I know of) and then on to Asunciůn, Paraguay (winner of 2006, cheapest capital city on the planet). Iíve been to both, and donít feel like returning right now. Having verified the destination twice I board the plane to Buenos Aires.

GOL is another one of those upstart airlines that are eating the lunches (theyíre the only ones eating lunches) of their staid adversaries, the national airlines. The model is tried and tested and involves skimping on a lot of things, (like employee pensions), but I really hope the story I heard in Nassau about the mid-air collision is not true. Please donít look it up for me, there are some things one does not want to know.

In Brazilís case the national airline is/was called VARIG. It has been bankrupt for a while now and was recently sold. That sale didnít go through as the buyer didnít actually have the cash in hand and irate shareholders rejected their payment schedule. Bankrupt national airlines with huge debt and a negative net value in the billions do not a seller's market make. VARIG was again sold to another underfunded group, (this time not employees). In the US, VARIG flights were suspended when lease creditors turned up to repossess their planes which has lead to a severe curtailment of global services. The national airline of Brazil now flies in five countries, Brazil being one, and a flight each to Argentina, Germany, Venezuela and Colombia. Even GOL has more international destinations.

We boarded! The similarity to Britainís low cost airline EasyJet (mainly the orange logos), confounded by real seat assignments. The ground staff proceeded to fill the plane full of freight till I had to take a gulp of tequila from my hip flask to settle my beating heart as we hurtled down the runway desperately seeking lift. I swallowed but we were still there, accelerating on land. I did not take gulp two, instead I held my breath (partially because they had sprayed the inside of the plane, attributed to an outbreak of dengue fever). I prayed silently to the patron saint of Boeing shareholders, (George W. Bush) and he came through again with a very late take-off. It could have been Laura Bush's lucky night!

The trip has been quite fun and I have lots more stories to tell but Iíll keep them for later. Thank you to you all who helped me, apologies to all of you that I could not visit this time (I miss you all). Most especially I would like to thank Rory, Elena, Sandra, Sandy and Bob and Paula.

If I post this message I made it back to my puny 17 million-person city, Buenos Aires the little conurbation on the prairie.

Posted by Tony Phillips at 06:26 PM | Comments (8)