29 January 2009

In Country: On the Road to Sao Paulo

Early this morning David, Fernando, Hope and I left Curitiba on an intra state bus headed for Sao Paulo. We had deliberately chosen to travel during the day this time (all of the other bus trips have been under the cover of night) so we could see the lay of the land. Since Curitiba sits in a bowl shaped valley, the bus had to wind its way through verdant mountain passes for most of the 410 km (roughly 250 miles). At many points we came around hilly peaks and saw banana plains undulating below us. There was lots of evidence of deforestation, including some sad examples of clear cutting, and the consequent erosion that comes with it. Even though this is not the Amazon, historically this region along the eastern coast of Brasil has also experienced a tremendous amount of deforestation since the Portuguese first began colonizing the region in the 1500s. Many experts claim 95% of the old growth forest has been destroyed. Initially the colonials cleared the land to make way for corn and coffee. Now it seems that much of it is used for banana plantations. Waves and waves of banana trees flow across the hillsides between Curitiba and Sao Paulo. As a result most of the roadside vendors and truck stops have massive amounts of bananas for sale. For banana lovers it is a veritable heaven on the road.

The bus was traveling along at a good clip when suddenly it pulled off to the side of the road. At first I did not take much notice as I thought we were at a brief truck stop, and so I continued practicing my Portuguese by podcast. But after a while I asked David, who was sitting across the aisle from me, what was happening. It was at that point that I learned our bus had been stopped by the federal police and they were even then searching the luggage compartment under the bus. A few moments later one of the officers came on board, located Fernando and sent him off the bus. Oh yes, my heart was pounding and my imagination was racing. Every bad movie and every true documentary I had ever seen about jails in foreign countries came swimming before my eyes. David, on the other hand, was very low key. I tried to model his demeanor but it was very hard to do. This was made all the more challenging when the officer began to question David about the contents of one of the bags in the compartment above his head. I passed the officer our U.S. passports, he examined them for several minutes, and then he exited the bus. Fernando was still not back yet. David suggested we would all get off the bus if the officer did not let Fernando back on. We weren't going anywhere without him.

Thankfully Fernando got on the bus shortly after the officer got off. Apparently Fernando had a lock on his luggage and the feds wanted to look inside. Of course Fernando was clean so once he unlocked it and they checked out his bag they allowed him to get back on the bus.

This was not the fate of some other guy who was pulled over in a private vehicle. Through the bus window we watched a man in handcuffs walking with a wife and small child in her arms toward a police car. Busted. Guilty or innocent, I hope that guy gets religion tonight!

After the bus was rolling again, Fernando reported that a man had shot a police officer in Sao Paulo last night. This might explain the checkpoint and a crack down on highway traffic into the city.

No, I did not take photos of this event.

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