Meet Tom Sluberski, from the USA, who has both worked and travelled in Brazil. Read the following interview where he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

My name is Tom Sluberski here on a temporary visa to do research and reporting on doping and drugging in athletics for the Associacao Brasileira de Estudos e Combate ao Doping. This is particularly relevant as the Pan American Games are to be held in Rio de Janeiro this July. I am also on the National Faculty of the United States Sports Academy and have been judging Fitness and Bodybuilding contests in the United States, Russia, and now Brazil.

In connection with ULBRA, the huge (over 100,000 students on more than 20 campuses) university, I also made some major presentations to Mercosur and Mercosul conferences, ABRALIC (the Brazilian Comparative Literature Association), went on a month long medical/research/governmental ship in the Amazon region (Rio Solomoes, Negro, and Amazon), and travel widely in Brazil.

I grew up in Ohio, but spent much of my career as a full professor at Concordia University in New York with teaching Sabbaticals for example in Russia (St. Petersburg, Siberia, and the Far East); Kuala Lumpur, Malasia; Hong Kong; Singapore; Germany; and study and travel in a lot of other places.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

My first trip to Brazil was in 2002 and a total revelation! I had led numerous student travel tours to Europe and the Caribbean. Then a student travel company awarded me a free trip to anywhere in the world they had tours since the tour I led for them was a very successful bus trip form Milan to Capri with 4l students. I had already visited most of the places listed except Vietnam and Brazil. I am not sure why I had not visited Brazil before, but within three days after arriving in Rio de Janeiro in June of 2002 I knew Brazil was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I went to the airport early in the morning and bargained for day trips to places like Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, and São Paulo just to be sure my first impressions were accurate. When I got back to the States, I began working on ways to return full time.

In 2004 ULBRA (Universidade Luterano do Brasil) offered me a position, a free apartment, and a range of incredible experiences. After that I kept returning on the 6 month tourist visa. ULBRA tried getting me a Guest Professorship, but the Federal Police implied I would be taking a job away from a Brazilian. That led to my asking the most important fitness and bodybuilding Association in Brazil to help me get a longer term visa which they did.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

The motto” of ULBRA has become my motto. BRAZIL: WHERE THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN! I see Brazil as going in the direction I would like the future to be (politically, religiously, racially, socially). Oscar Niemeyer’s Monument to South America in São Paulo (which probably most tourists and residents miss) literally changed my life. He designed a huge topographical map of South America covered with Plexiglas over which you can walk. If you know Niemeyer, he is NOT just an architect! He is a propagandist in the best sense of the word. Half way across the map I realized THERE WERE NO BORDERS. There was no way of telling where specific countries were. He did indicate the incredible riches of South America. And as a Gringo, I realized that IF South America were united, it would be one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

4. What do you miss most about home?

After almost two years here I can honestly say I miss only my family and friends. I resent any time I have to be away from Brazil! And I say that even after studying and living in some of the most wonderful places in the United States and the world.

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Getting a longer term visa has been the most frustrating! I have offered to work for free as a university professor with outstanding credentials and experience, but even though I would not be paid, the Federal Police believe I would be taking a job away from a Brazilian. At one campus I was the ONLY native English speaking faculty person with a student body of 30,000. The rules are the same. A Brazilian “COULD” possibly fill the position.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

There are so many, but certainly that trip into the far reaches of the Amazon to document, inoculate, and register countless Brazilians who were in “no man’s land’ left an indelible impression. I almost wished I had studied medicine. I think I would have stayed on that ship as it plied those almost uncharted waters in a little known region of the country.

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

THE PEOPLE! If you have already printed it, skip this paragraph, but the BRAZILIAN CREATION MYTH is absolutely to the point! When God set about creating the world, the angels were all looking on. He began by giving Brazil the longest rivers (l0 of the 20 longest are in Brazil), the largest rain forests, the best beaches (5000 miles of them), oil, uranium, precious gems, no earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes). The angels were more than a little concerned wondering what was left for all the other nations.

Finally the Angel Gabriel asked, “God, what is left for the rest of the world? You have given Brazil the best of what there is?”

God waited only a moment to respond, “W A I T U N T I L Y O U S E E T H E P E O P L E!”

That is certainly the REAL treasure of Brazil. The earliest explorers’ written records comment on the beauty of the natives (see Americus Vespucci’s journal for example) not the gold or treasure they hoped to find.

At the first fitness and bodybuilding competition I was asked to judge (in 2004), as the teenage contestants (beginners) came on stage, I was astonished! I had judged and seen contests like this just about all over the world, but these were absolutely the most perfect human beings I had ever seen. Was the racial mixture perfecting the human form and figure?

Oh yes, fitness routines include music! And the Brazilians generally have rhythm and can dance (not necessarily the case elsewhere – the Olympics for example).

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

Kilo restaurants anywhere in Brazil!

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

The smaller ferries on the larger upper rivers of the Amazon are completely enclosed. I had no sooner asked why they would do that in such a glorious environment than a tropical storm hit almost completely engulfing the ship in wave after wave of water. The captain just smiled and continued steering the ship toward Codejas. I did not care much about the scenery in the midst of that storm.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

The upbeat, positive, almost joyful way Brazilians live their daily lives, sometimes in circumstances that are far from ideal. What a contrast between the barefoot, laughing, singing children playing football in the favelas of Rio and often those in the slums of New York or Cleveland or Detroit!

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

DIFFICULT! I lived in Geneva, Germany, Russia, Malaysia – and none of those languages seemed this hard to master!

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

Try to spend time in a variety of places Brazilians live, study, work, and enjoy! Spend time on a university campus, live with a family, participate in a Samba School, take part in athletics, attend a Candomble ceremony and one of the newer Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

See and experience as much of the country as you can! Be sure to include the historic, natural, and architectural wonders of Brazil. I would hope that at a minimum visitors should absorb as much of Rio, São Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Forteleza, Recife/Olinda, Natal, Iguau as their time permits, knowing there is more, so much more!

Try to be part of a Samba School in carnival. Take a tour of a favela (or better yet work with a group involved with them). Be part of a birthday celebration, a wedding, even a funeral if you know a member of the deceased family, a football match.

Try to attend a fitness and bodybuilding competition. Luis Henrique, Marlene, and Fabio Norte hold annual “Monarch of the Beach” contests in February in Vitoria, Espirito Santo. They are FREE and often a beach rock concert follows with a great chance to mingle with absolutely gorgeous and wonderful people!

BRAZIL: WHERE THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN! I am only sorry that I waited so long to visit and now live in this glorious country. To quote some lines from their national anthem (by the way one of the best in the world ):

“Brazil, a dream sublime. Thy future mirrors this thy greatness. MORE LIFE IS TO BE FOUND IN THY GROVES. MORE LOVE IN OUR LIVES IN THY EMBRACE. Beloved land, Brazil. Patria Amada, Brazil.”

Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to with “Interview” in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Peter Kefalas
Sylvie Campbell – UK
Kathleen Haynes – USA
Matt Bowlby – USA
Alan Longbottom – UK
Eric Karukin – USA
Eddie Soto – USA
Kieran Gartlan – Ireland
Bryan Thomas Scmidt – USA
Emile Myburgh – South Africa
Bob Chapman – USA
David Barnes – USA
John Milan – USA
Chris Coates – UK
Matthew Ward – UK
Allison Glick – USA
Drake Smith – USA
Jim Jones – USA
Philip Wigan – UK
Atlanta Foresyth – USA
Lee Gordon – USA
Carmen Naidoo – South Africa
Lee Safian – USA
Laurie Carneiro – USA
Dana De Lise – USA
Richard Gant – USA
Robin Hoffman – USA
Wayne Wright – UK
Walt Kirspel – USA
Priya Guyadeen – Guyana
Caitlin McQuilling – USA
Nicole Rombach – Holland
Steven Engler – Canada
Richard Conti – USA
Zak Burkons – USA
Ann White – USA
Monde Ngqumeya – South Africa
Johnny Sweeney – USA
David Harty – Canada
Bill McCrossen – USA
Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson – USA
Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark
Sean McGown – USA
Condrad Downes – UK
Jennifer Silva – Australian
Justin Mounts – USA
Elliott Zussman – USA
Jonathan Abernathy – USA
Steve Koenig – USA
Kyron Gibbs – USA
Stephanie Early – USA
Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

Internet for Amazon Indians
The federal government is intending to supply the Internet to several communities of Amazon Indians via satellite. Local government will be required to provide the computers for the Indians. It’s part of a plan to increase communication between communities, as an attempt to spot illegal logging.

Lula Swears in Ministers
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva swore in five ministers this week. Alfredo Nascimento will head up the Ministry of Transport, Carlos Lupi will be in charge of the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Marinho will take office as Minister of Social Security, Miguel Jorge will be Minister of Development, Industry and Trade, and journalist Franklin Martins will run the recently created Ministry of Social Communication. The first challenge facing Martins is to set up a nationwide public television network.

Unemployment Rise
The unemployment rate has risen from 9.3% in January to 9.9% in February, believed to be partly fuelled by retailers laying off start after Christmas.

Federal Police Strike
On Wednesday the Federal Police staged a 24-hour strike, citing the government’s failure to deliver a salary increase. Around 9,000 officers took part in the strike, although essential duties were still carried out. Brazil’s bank employees are also holding a 24-hour strike over pay conditions.

Gol to buy Varig
Gol announced on Wednesday that they will buy Varig in a cash and stock deal worth around R$570 million, which includes around R$90 million of debt. Gol is the country’s second largest carrier.

Half a Million Criminals At Large
The National Security Secretariat released figures from a study carried out by the research firm Infoseg, which show that there are half a million outstanding arrest warrants, ranging from murder, robbery, kidnap and corruption. The number had previously been estimated at 250,000.

Housewife Fried Husband
A housewife was sentence last Friday to 19 years in prison for killing her husband, chopping up his body, and frying it. Rosanita Nery dos Santos, 52, had initially drugged her husband in his sleep, then stabbed him to death two years ago, in Salvador. The body was cut into around 100 pieces, boiled, fried, and then hidden in plastic bags below a staircase. Police discovered the body parts following an anonymous tip.

Cargill Amazon Port Shut Down
A port owned by the US agriculture business Cargill, located in Santarem on the Amazon, was shut down last Saturday. Both Federal Police and Environmental Agents were involved in the operation based on a lack of suitable environmental impact statement from Cargill, required by law. An environmental impact statement had been produced, but failed to meet federal standards.

Italy to Partner on Biofuels
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, on a tour of Brazil this week, stated that both Brazilian and Italian energy companies are planning to build four biodiesel plants in Brazil. The deal will be between the partly state owned Italian company Eni, and Petrobras, also partly state owned.

Landing System Functions Again at Guarulhos
The Instrument Landing System at Guarulhos airport, used by pilots to land during low visibility, only returned to working order this week, after being out of order since the beginning of the month. Guarulhos has had to defer flights during periods of low visibility while the equipment has been out of order, with huge impact on flight delays.

This article was sponsored by TABU, located in Sonesta São Paulo, the lodging answer for all your business and leisure needs.

Tabu Restaurant São Paulo Sonesta Hotel São Paulo

By Ben White
This article is the third to win our competition to submit an article and win a R$150 voucher for the Tabu Restaurant located in the Sonesta Hotel, in São Paulo. For more details on how to enter our current competition read here.

Every visitor to São Paulo will be forced to use the roads sooner or later. Unlike a city, such as London for example where the Tube network’s extensive reach makes most locales accessible without recourse to a car, São Paulo’s sprawl will remain largely unknown should the newcomer refuse to get behind a wheel of some kind. Trusting that most Gringoes readers will possess sufficient initiative to research the practicalities themselves, this writer instead seeks to offer some advice – some observations from experience – that might come in handy (if only with the result that you never leave your hotel).

The traffic is one of the most frequently cited complaints by São Paulo residents, but for the foreign guest, I would like to hazard a guess that the biggest impression is left not so much by the number of drivers but by how they go about their driving. For example, should you be so thoughtless as to be going about your business at a moderately sensible pace, you are sure to be passed by a fellow motorist who, unsatisfied with the horn’s traditional purpose of indicating imminent danger, has expanded its repertoire to include ‘Get out of my way, you incompetent excuse for a driver’.

Complicating matters still further, core elements of the Highway Code are observed with an alarming degree of ambiguity. A red light at a junction seems more of a suggestion than a command; as if on one’s theory test the correct answer was in fact ‘c’, “Stop. Well, unless it’s night time, and maybe there aren’t so many other cars around or perhaps you’re just really in a hurry”. The ‘hurry clause’ seems to cover a multitude of sins, ranging from cutting across a 4-lane highway for the right exit, to creating a brand new lane altogether.

Should the prospect of renting or buying car for the duration of your stay in the city be now filling you with dread, may I offer the reassurance that with a little practice, you too can be driving as terribly as the locals. But if it really all sounds just a bit too much then you can always take a bus. So far, bus-riding in São Paulo has remained by and large a pleasant and problem-free experience. That said, if you need to travel during the morning or evening rush hours then you may find yourself playing a game of ‘see how many sweaty commuters we can fit in a box on wheels’. And of course, there isn’t a timetable, just a sizeable fleet of buses despatched one-by-one from headquarters at seemingly random intervals.

Probably the most disconcerting aspect of bus-riding I found personally was the fact that one’s ticket is purchased not from the driver or an electronic machine, but from a conductor usually seated in the middle of the bus, dividing the vehicle into the ‘unpaid’ and ‘paid’. This system’s sole advantage, locals have explained to me, is that it provides employment for those filling the role of conductor, but for the passenger, it means that payment must occur at the same time as the bus lurches off again.

When you remember the normal patterns of driving as described above, this makes for a tricky balancing exercise. Standing legs apart, preferably wedged against the metal turnstile, I fumble for the right change, while holding notebook between elbow and ribs, all the while praying that the driver won’t decide to suddenly decelerate, thus sending me staggering and my coins rolling. Locals never seem to have this problem, and I have often watched, red-faced from my seat, straining to spot something in their body posture that’s the secret of their success.

A final note on São Paulo’s roads – leave the keys hanging at home if there’s one of the city’s torrential downpours. A mere 20 minutes of rain produces complete gridlock, if you’re not actually merrily floating home in your car-come-raft. This article may not have provided much by way of car rental contact details or petrol prices, but for me, knowing all of the above beforehand would have saved a lot of minor heart attacks, near misses or humiliations. Enjoy!”

By Pat Moraes
Frequent readers of Gringoes might recall that I wrote a short article last November about shipping some household items from our home in California to our home in São Jose dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo. We used a company, Confianca Moving, and shipped twelve boxes including two large leather recliners, two bikes and two wheel chairs to donate to the Saint Vincent De Paul Society in the town where my husband grew up, in addition to the usual assortment of small household items that I felt would make our move to Brazil a little easier. I reported at that time that this company offered the opportunity to ship as little as three cubic meters without having to ship a whole container of goods, and that the price including insurance and fees was less than US$1500. With a shipment this size, the service included pick up at our home in California and delivery to our home in Brazil. Packing was available for an additional fee, so we happily did our own packing. At the time that I wrote that article we were very favorably impressed with the company and their staff. I promised to report back after the items were delivered with the rest of the story.

I am pleased to report that we are still pleased with the services that we received from Confianca Moving. The items were received reasonably close to the time frame of 90 days that we were quoted, which is remarkable since they were shipped over Christmas and New Years and came into the Port of Santos which is incredibly busy and chaotic. In addition to the timeliness we were relieved that we were not required to fill in any additional paperwork whatsoever and that there were no final hidden fees that we had to come up with. The boxes looked exactly like they did when they were picked up at our house. One would never guess that they had traveled anywhere. The only damage was one broken vase, which was easy to glue, and which was totally our fault for the way it was packed.

Of course, my honesty compels me to add that the service we received in the States was in accordance with what one would expect there, and the service that we received in Brazil, was to say the least Brazilian. friendly but not as efficient as one would hope in regards to returning phone calls and giving accurate updates of what would really take place. I resorted to calling my contact, Max, in California, and he always went the extra mile to get to the bottom of things and let me know what was going on.

Right at the end, things took an interesting little turn for a day or two. We had received a phone call saying that the boxes would be delivered on Saturday. This wasn’t really good, as our apartment building does not allow any Saturday deliveries. We cancelled the planned family BBQ and made arrangements at my brother-in-laws gated subdivision to let the truck deliver the boxes to his house. We waited all day, and nothing happened, not even a phone call.

On Monday morning my husband called the company to find out what happened and they told him that he should call the contractor that was making the final delivery. Well, to say the least, he cussed them out to the fifth generation (translation of a Brazilianism). At that point we were promised that someone would find out what was going on. Before anyone could get back to us the doorman at our apartment called with great excitement because our boxes had finally arrived. The driver explained that on the Saturday he was stopped by the Federal police at Bom Successo, outside of São Paulo, for an inspection of the goods on the truck. In addition to our items there was a shipment going to Taubate which included a box marked that it was a used washing machine. It was actually full of computer parts. This resulted in the whole shipment being held up until a rather large fine was paid. We don’t know who actually ended up paying the fine, but it wasn’t us.

Overall I give the experience Nota Dez”.

Just as a note to those who might be considering using one of these services. If you sign up for the minimum shipment of three cubic meters and have some room left over, please consider shipping a wheel chair or two for donation to a charity. The most inexpensive wheel chair, made in China and sold at Harbour Freight (a chain store that sells cheap imported power tools) is far superior to most of what they are using in the old peoples asylums here in Brazil. You can also sometimes find good used wheel chairs at the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores.

Article by Patricia Moraes, American, married to Sidney Moraes, Brazilian, both recently retired and experimenting with living part of the year in California, USA and São Jose dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil.

Previous article by Pat:

Brazil: A Moving Experience

By Tamashin
Here is part 4 of Tamashin’s article about João Pessoa. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the end of the article.

Billboards around the city advertised concerts on the beaches, parks and theatres. I thought this was just for Christmas and New Year but my new found friends confirmed that the events were a regular feature throughout the year. This was confirmed when I was given a leaflet of future events.

One night I heard some opera being performed on the beach stage in Tambau. I thought I would lend support to the other six or seven people there. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the beach as full as the previous nights Forro” concert. The following evening I watched the excellent “Quinteto da Paraiba” a violin/cello/drum combo which set the stage alight with some electrifying music. Forro will never be the same. I was an instant convert to their music.

There was a downside though. The following week “Cidade Negra” would be playing live but we would be on our way home to Minas, so I would never hear “Onde voce mora?” played live.

What about when things go wrong and you need a hospital. Well, JP seemed very well catered for and several of the public hospitals I saw were in very modern buildings though I didn’t have occasion to use them. On one of the streets just off Tambau, the busiest beach, there was a very large public clinic.

We did pay attention to Unimeds very large hospital as we are members of their medical plan. My wife and children used the hospital twice and had no complaints about the service or conditions. It looked to be quite new or was that because it was well looked after? I couldn’t compare it to The British NHS because its such a long time since I used that service.

We also looked at several schools, previously researched on the internet, notably PIO X , PIO XI and GEO. These turned out to be quite famous and were well known even in our small Minas town and by friends in São Paulo.

We spoke with teachers, parents and pupils. Obviously, no one is going to say “our school is rubbish” but we were encouraged by the variety of well kept facilities and answers to our many questions. There was a point of concern regarding the educational year structure which is a year behind Minas Gerais. This would mean our eldest daughter having to go in a class where she would be ahead of the other students. She is also bilingual. We have been told that she will have to sit a placement exam which should resolve the situation.

We were very impressed by the number, quality and variety of restaurants. JP is a capital city after all so it was to be expected but you could find a place to fit your budget and lifestyle.

We found American, French, Italian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese restaurants as well as those specialising in local cuisine. Perhaps the most famous was Mangai which boasts 40 local dishes, including the famous sun dried meat. You eat in an area surrounded by local paraphernalia, though there is a separate part which is fully air conditioned. It caters for children and has a little park. However, there are others too numerous to mention and all the ones we tried served generous portions.

As in all cities the quality varied and our most expensive meal definitely wasn’t the best. Certainly, there were numerous Japanese bars and restaurants and we were very impressed with a sushi bar in one of the big shopping malls. We tried a “nobs and swells” restaurant away from the sea front and though it was frequented by the glitterati the food was only as good as the shopping malls. I remember looking at the photos of famous models adorning the walls. One caught my eye so I said to the waiter “isn’t that.?” but the waiter interrupted me and said “yes it is, she’s a regular”. When he left, my wife asked who the model was but I couldn’t tell her because the waiter had interrupted me. Its very annoying when that happens.

The music varied from place to place too. Someone tinkling a grand piano in one place, in another a guitar, yet another a band with the music varying from forro to pop. Some places even had karaoke.

Without a doubt, if you like sea food you will love JP. It is there in abundance. I tried many fish that I had never heard of until my visit.

Final part next week…

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 3
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 1
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1

By Ricky Skelton
This was possibly the most amazing ‘road’ journey that I’ve ever had, mostly because it was so normal for the locals. We left Jeri at stupid o’clock in the morning with me thinking that we’d head along the beach, but no, we went inland. We didn’t miss any scenery though, because as well as it being dark, it was pouring down, and the surprisingly cold rain down my back kept me from sleep. It only looked like 200km on the map, but a whole day of travelling and waiting got us through Camocim, Parnaiba and Tutóia, where we had to break the journey with only 30km or so to go. There were no late evening buses for some reason. No problem, we could set off early morning, get to Barreirinhas and get a trip out to Lenois Maranhenses before celebrating my impending birthday. Little did we know.

We caught another 4WD bus-truck combo down the sand roads, waving at the kids, reading the signs prohibiting motorcyclists to wear helmets (due to robberies in the area!) and dangling our legs over the back, enjoying the ride. Elevenish, we stopped in Paulino Neves and watched the big Rio Novo drifting slowly by as a woman washed her clothes in the river. It was such a tranquil scene, and she looked so relaxed as she scrubbed, sitting half-in half-out of the water while singing softly. We ate freshly picked starfruit as we waited for our next ride. That was when the fun really started.

The 10km Paulino Neves to Barreirinhas (check it out on a map) journey is incredible. It is a complete cultural experience as to how other people live. Mainly because there is no road! Not even a sandy one! Straight out of town, we headed between two fences down an ‘area’ of grass, hillocks, ruts, puddles, sand, holes and streams. The open truck, full of 20 or so people, wobbled slowly and precariously down the non-road. The fence then disappeared and the whole place opened up. Where the hell do we go now? The driver and his assistant knew vaguely. Poor assistant had to walk ahead and check the depth of every ditch, every puddle, every river. It appeared that the road changed every day because they also had to exchange info with the few vehicles making the opposite journey across the sandy moor. The burrow owls stood and watched in bemusement as we shook our way through the bog. A man walking to the side overtook and left us way behind.

We drove down ruts so deep, making us travel at such an angle, with screams and slides from the passengers on the wooden benches that, sitting on the outside, if I had put my arm out straight from my shoulder, I would have touched the floor. Easily. So many times, I prepared to jump ship as we reached tipping point. So many times everybody had to jump out to push, to lighten the load for bridges, or to help dig us out of the bog. Or was it a flood plain? Passengers were going swimming in the water as we waited for the truck-bus to negotiate an inland sea! We made it to the dryer dunes without much more than wet feet. No tipping, no crashing, nada. A real feat of off-road driving and navigating. Those two should take up rally-driving.

We rolled up and down and around the dunes until we reached more sand roads. The last hour of bouncing along while getting whipped by thorny branches became a little wearing, and I was glad to finally make it into Barreirinhas four hours after setting off. I loved the journey though. Like nothing else in India, Africa, Cambodia, Bolivia, anywhere. And some people probably do it every day! Twice! Maybe it’s the school run! Perhaps mums drop their kids off at school, go home, then turn around immediately and go back to pick them up. Probably not though.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

By Hal
I have previously described the bare bones of Natal. In the next series I will offer up sketches of specific activities that have caught my attention. For example:

Not surprisingly Natal is blessed with two major status symbols of our 21st century: cars and rush hour traffic. In addition, motorcycles (motos) are everywhere.

A favorite sport among some owners of snappy new cars is the Red Light Challenge; racing top speed to the next red light. Satisfaction in these block long spurts is measured by how many slowpoke cars one is able to pass/cut off before the next red light stops you.

GREEN LIGHT! They roar down the block, engines straining, and screech to a halt at the red. There they re-rev their engines, inch up on the light, lunge on the green, scream to a stop at the next red. In English this is referred to as: Hurry up, hurry up – – – w a i t.”

A more competitive aspect of this machão (male and female) driving is personalised: a challenge is offered by a driver waiting at a red light who revs his engine a few times (translated: I will beat you to the next red light). If the driver beside him responds by gunning his/her engine, the challenge is accepted. “They’re off!”

My contribution to this chaos is modest: I own a scratched and dented, 1996 royal blue Fiat. (The above photo shows my Fiat resting between races) No power steering, no air conditioning, no radio. It drives like a dream. It shouts out to car thieves, “Not this one, it’s a mess, worth nothing.” I think it gorgeous. Occasionally I win a race.

Cautions: This is a very machão activity often practised after a driver is a bit gone-by with slowed reflexes; check out the competitor.

Burro drawn, two-wheel wagons are frequent on Natal’s streets; making local deliveries, scavenging saleable stuff. Even at top trot, they are slower than fog off a swamp. I’m told they always win in court.

Potholes: The main streets in Natal are in good shape, but sometimes a hole in the road will suddenly appear 10 feet in front of you. Also, watch for a tree branch sticking up from such a hole; a warning that someone has kindly stuck there.

More interesting to me are the motos, much less expensive to buy and operate, much more maneuverable. Thanks to our benign year round weather motos are everywhere; in your rear view mirror, in the side mirrors, in your armpit. They are driven by helmeted men, boys, women, girls and children. These weaving machines are used to deliver bodies – from commuters to grandmothers and babies – and everything from sofas (takes a bit of skill), LPG tanks to 20 liter bottles of drinking water and take-out lunches. (This morning I saw a Harley with two milk crates full of clucking chickens piled one-top-t’other on its luggage rack. I would have been clucking too.) Think of the wild west of the pony riding cowboys.

My recent memory of the USA is that nowadays a very large percentage of motorcycles are recreational vehicles. They are driven by sedate paunchies, usually in groups which used to be called gangs. But in Natal motos are working vehicles, their jockeys are individuals.

The analogy that comes to mind about the motos amazing progress through the obstacle course of bulky automobiles is the trick horseback riding that awes you at a rodeo. They weave through traffic and at red lights they slither through jammed cars to the front of the pack, accelerate to freedom a split second before the green shows. It takes me twenty minutes to get from Nova Parnamirim to Tirol in rush hour, these trick riders make it in five, eight minutes at the outside. The above photo shows the motos jockeying for position.

Heavy footed machão car drivers don’t stand a chance against a moto.

Caveat: I am aware that activities similar to those described take place in other garden spots of the world, that is Red Light Challenges in economies that can sustain this important ego activity, and motos in countries blessed with benign weather. Whatever, they are a part of the world of Natal.

Previous articles by Hal:

Around Brazil: Natal Part 2
Around Brazil: Natal Part 1
Brazil: A View from Rio Grande do Norte

Brazil has a beautiful new theatre with the beginnings of an important new acting company on the just-opened TEATRO SOLAR stage in Rio’s bairro Botafogo. And the company is preparing to become Brazil’s first bi-lingual theatre company with the help of an American playwright/English teacher.

The Solar’s inaugural production, CAMPO DE PROVAS, a new play by São Paulo Playwright, Aimar Labaki, is playing until late May. Theatre fans with a good grasp of Portuguese should make it part of any Rio visit.

The indefatigable SOLAR impresarios, Leonardo Franco and Claudia Lira, built the theatre without government subsidies, are starring in its first production and had their first baby, Valentina, last October, the week the theatre opened!

And as if that were not enough, the producing pair decided to host an exciting new English language workshop, ActingYourWayToEnglish in its premiere in Brazil. They plan to turn their company bi-lingual in Portuguese and English using the system in the near future.

ActingYourWayToEnglish is the brainchild of Lance Belville, himself a playwright who first came to Brazil as a foreign correspondent for UPI. Mixing playwrighting and teaching English as a second language (TESL), Belville developed a method of developing English language fluency and the understanding of spoken English joining modern English teaching techniques with actor training methods to help students overcome speaking phobias.

According to Belville, “My ‘Eureka!’ moment came several years ago as I was myself studying Spanish at a nearby college while teaching English to recent arrivals at a local community center in California. It struck me that the classroom was a great place to “study,” a language but not so great at helping a student acquire it.” (Pictured left, Solar Theatre’s producing directors Leonardo Franco and Claudia Lira take a moment off from planning the ActingYourWayToEnglish with Playwright/professor Lance Belville on the stage where the workshop will be held)

According to Belville, “The problem is, how can you turn your foreign language active so you can actually speak it and understand when it is spoken to you while you sit in a classroom surrounded by a world that does not use that language?” When Belville “acquired,” his Portuguese he did so in Rio where he could hear it spoken all around him every day.

Belville continues, “I was also working on a new play at the time and I began to think of actors having to play roles taking place in worlds apart from where they stood, on a stage attempting to create another place and even another time.” And it struck him that the development of actors creating a role and students trying to “acquire,” a language had similarities. “At that moment,” Belville relates, “ActingYourWayToEnglish was born!”

The system did not happen overnight, Belville explains. He experimented with parts of it as adjuncts to teaching along conventional English language systems. “It worked well in tandem with regular lessons,” according to Belville, “but with students for whom speaking and comprehension of spoken English were paramount, it worked best.”

Solar Producing Director Leonardo Franco has plans for following up on Belville’s workshop: “This will be the beginning of the Solar Theatre Company becoming Brazil’s first bi-lingual theatre company! We are very enthusiastic about this!”

Belville will use as the basis of the course his English translation of the present Solar production, CAMPO DE PROVAS (English title, PROVING GROUND). According to Belville, the play is a perfect modus operandi for his system. It is a contemporary urban drama. It deals with questions in modern society and uses language from a variety of social strata. Workshop participants will not be studying the play but rather interfacing with its world. (Pictured right, a scene from Solar Theatre’s production of PROVING GROUND. Portuguese title, CAMPO DE PROVAS)

The workshop culminates in a gala dramatized reading of the play in English on the actual set at the Solar Theatre.

ActingYourWayToEnglish takes place Tuesday and Thursday evenings, 6pm to 8pm, April 17th to June 6th on stage at Solar Theatre.

Rio residents interested in participating may call the theatre at (21) 2543 5411 for more information.”

By Boris Goldshmit
So, you’ve finally decided to go ahead and buy that nice flat in Brazil. As the proud owner of the apartment you will also become an owner/member of the condominium association and the owner of a proportional fraction of the common areas and the land on which the building(s) is located.

You will acquire rights as well as responsibilities. In order to fully enjoy your property and to be able to stand your ground” in case of virtually inevitable misunderstandings and conflicts with your neighbors and the condo administration, it is important to understand the basics of Brazilian Condominium Law and the logistics behind thecondominium inner-workings.

The Condominium is usually established by the act of incorporation by the initial unit owners and involves, amongst standard registration procedures, establishment of the Convenão de Condomnnio (Declaration of Condominium).

Convenão de Condomnnio
Convenão de Condomnnio is the most important legal document that (within the Lei do Condomnnio) guides and regulates how a particular condominium association is run and administered. Convenão de Condomnnio is usually inaugurated after the construction phase is over and the developer hands over control of the property to the unit owners. It is not uncommon to use a standard Convenão de Condomnnio offered by the developer as the basis for the Declaration of Condominium.

It is highly recommended that you or your agent obtain a copy of the Convenão de Condomnnio for the property you intend on purchasing as soon as you start to seriously consider making an offer. A copy of the Convenão de Condomnnio can be requested from the property owner, property administration company that runs the condominium, or the condo executive administrator – the Sndico.

It is often said that buying a condo unit is the equivalent of buying a lifestyle. It means that you will find an already established way of administering the common property, implementing its security and maintenance procedures as well as other rules and regulations of using the playground, the garage, the pool, and any other common areas.

Familiarity with the Declaration of Condominium, meeting the building administrator, and having some heart-to-heart chats with the other condo owners and the company that is administering the condo association you are planning to join might spell the difference between full and practical enjoyment of your property vs. having some unpleasant surprises that thwart your plans on using and enjoying your new possession.

Convenão de Condomnnio is not written in stone. It can be altered by a majority vote at an assembly specifically called for the modification or alteration of the document. Quorum requirements can be established by the very Convenão de Condomnnio or guided by the Lei do Condomnnio.

Boris Goldshmit is the founder of Lifestyles Brazil, a licensed Real Estate Broker, and a Residential General Contractor.

He can be contacted at:

+55 21 2255-6068
+55 21 9149-6856

Catholic Farmers Berate Lula
The Catholic Farmers Pastoral (CFP) have criticised President Lula Inacio da Silva over comments he made two weeks about farmers whose sugar cane is being used for ethanol. In the comments Lula described them as national and world heroes”. The CFP have said that these are rich landowners, and Lula has not identified the exploitation of the poor who work on the farms.

Lula Cites Economic Improvements
On Friday, President Lula Inacio da Silva stated that the economy has improved under his term. He cited data from IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatstica) and DIEESE (Departamento Intersindical de Estatstica e Estudos Socioeconmicos) that showed salary increases above PIB (Produto Interno Bruto) in the last 10 years.

Preaching Homophobia to Become Crime
As part of a strengthening in anti-discrimination legislation, it’s going to become a crime to discriminate against sexual orientation. Judicial consultants have flagged up that many religious groups, Christians in particular, do preach this and may be arrested under such legislation. This in turn has caused a furore in Christian groups who say that it goes against their right to free religious expression. The House of Representatives has opted to not vote on the bill, and formed a working group to study if further.

Orkut Community Taken Off Air
A community in Orkut that titled itself “the Prostitutes of Canhotinho”, insinuating that all women in Canhotinho (near Recife) were of a less than reputable reputation, was taken off the air for 8 days in Canhotinho. Canhotinho is only served by a single Internet service provider, who blocked access to the particular page voluntarily. The community was being used to publish photos of teenage girls from Canhotinho. The particular page has already returned to the air though, although Federal Police are investigating who created the community and published the photos.

Gilberto Gil Takes Time Out to Tour
Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil is currently taking time out from his job to do a solo tour of his latest album “Gil Luminoso” in the USA.”