Monday, 24 November 2014

A trip to the ATM


I wanted to withdraw some money from the bank.  A quick google search told me all sorts of things about using ATMs here in Brazil.  This varied from Brazilian banks not talking to European bank networks, to a daily limit of R$300 (circa £75.00), to the risk of mugging, being tailed etc, etc.  It makes perfect sense to take care when using an ATM regardless of the country, (I once had money snatched from me on a busy road during the middle of the afternoon in the UK). Also ATMs here appear to only work during certain times of the day (usually between 06:00 and 22:00), presumably to reduce the risk of mugging.

Further searches on the internet initially suggested that I may be limited as to where I could use my Visa card in Brazil, one site implied that I could use it in an HSBC teller machine, (the nearest such machine being some 7km away), however, there was a Santander bank and tellers just a few hundred metres away.  One would expect to be able to use their teller machines?

Sure enough, a search for "Use UK Visa card in Santander, Brazil", returned a page from Santander's Brazil website, in English, confirming that I could indeed use their ATMs.

So, now having relatively reliable information that I would be able to use my card at a local teller machine, the next question being will the machine detect the bank of origin and offer me instructions in English, the prospect of not being offered English and somehow messing up the transaction made me a little apprehensive of the pending process.

The Santander bank near me, is located within a Commercial complex consisting of a number of stores, a bakery, restaurant and offices.  The ATMS were located inside the branch only and not outside as is common in the UK.

So, I attempted to enter the bank, that proved more complex than I had ever imagined, the bank had revolving doors, another client was exiting as I attempted to enter and she left as I entered, the doors rotated part way and then stopped, locked. Unable to move the doors forward, I managed to retreat back outside and thought that I would try again. This time I was able to progress a little further, but once again, the doors revolving door stopped and I was unable to progress further, this time (and perhaps during the previous attempt, but I did not notice) was rather urgent/aggressive message being played sounded through a PA speaker located somewhere in the ceiling of the doors.

There was a security guard just beyond the doors, I stood locked in the doors, probably looking a combination of confused and mildly annoyed and promptly gave the guard what can probably be only described as gallic shrug... The guard approached and spoke in Portuguese, once again, that familiar phrase "eu não falo português" was uttered.  The guard then gestured to my ruck sack on my shoulder, which contained little more than water, keys, a book and a can of antiperspirant (kind of required around here in 31c weather conditions), he wanted to see the contents of my ruck sack, presumably to ensure that I was not about to hold the bank up.  After a quick cursory glance through my temporary glass holding cell, the contents of my ruck sack and I were deemed to be not a threat to the bank and entry was granted.

Finally arriving at the ATM, everything went smoothly, I was prompted for instructions in English and was able to take out the requested funds without glitch (more than R$300, but do not know if there was an upper limit, if there is, one would presume it is approximately the same as the UK limit in local currency).

And so, another lesson in Brazillian culture was learnt, with I am sure, many more to come.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

An adventure to Parque Roberto Burle Marx

Parque Roberto Burle Marx
So, after being in Sao Jose dos Campos for a nearly a week, it was time to start seeing some sights on my own.

The park above itself dates to the 1950's, when a business man planned the house and the park for himself and his future wife, however, the romance did not last and for a time the house remained unfinished.  The park was landscaped by Roberto Burle Marx, a world renowned landscape artist.

The park is approximately 27 acres and consists of lakes, historic buildings and parts of Atlantic Rain Forest, with a wealth a of fauna and flora to be seen during a walk, many of which I had not seen before, so apologies for not identifying them below. ;-)

Stunning lakeside walks
Anyway, I digress, the park was indeed very beautiful as I found out on my second visit there. On my first trip to the park, I had travelled by a pre-booked taxi, upon arriving at the park, I checked with the driver the number to call the taxi for the return trip. The number was confirmed and I set off for walk in the park.

While in the park, I had chatted to both my girlfriend and brother using Whats app. During the conversation with my girlfriend, she informed me that the park was due to close in around an hour. I could have easily spent a lot more time at the park, however, I started to head for the exit. 

During my time at the park, I had seen plenty of other visitors walking around with DSLR cameras around their necks, (and a good many of them looked better than my own), so I did not feel uncomfortable in anyway with my camera on show.  

As I walked in the rough direction of the exit, along a path running down the side of a large open green, two men approached me and a brief conversation in Portuguese was attempted; to which I replied, "eu não falo português", they then spoke in broken English, shook my hand and attempted to explain that they worked for the park.  Immediately, I was suspicious of their claim, they did not appear to be wearing any type of uniform, they were smartly, but casually dressed, but still nonetheless alarm bells were starting to sound.  Why would park staff ask me to follow them away from the exit?  Was I about to be mugged? If they wanted my camera, then why didn't they just snatch it and run, or were they trying to lure me into a part of the park near the forest to mug me?  I asked why I should follow them, to which they were wholly unable to answer in English, their demeanour was not hostile but slightly bewildered.  As luck would have it, a Police car was passing along a track near by, at this point I took the opportunity to hold my hand up showing 5 fingers and said that in 5 minutes I would be meeting friends at the park exit and a pointed in that direction before walking towards the Police car and the exit.

Thankfully, this seemed to do the trick and they did not follow me, I walked a good 100 metres or so before even looking over my shoulder, by which time, they had disappeared into the park somewhere or another.

Arriving at the gate house of the park, it transpired that the park would actually be open another 90 minutes or so according to the printed signs in poly pockets on display.  So, I had the option to returning to the park, but the thought of going back in now was less than appealing as I had no idea as to the intentions of the two people I had encountered or if they would be waiting again if re-entered the park.  So, time to go home I thought, taking my cellphone from my pocket, I was a little perplexed to discover that while I apparently had a good signal, the phone screen was scrolling "Emergency Calls Only" and the data signal was non-existent! Oh dear, what now?

Taking stock of the situation; I am around 10km from home, (but not certain of the route, but knew the rough direction, but of course unable to use Google navigate to find my way at this stage), my cellphone is currently out of order (and judging by the low battery, the signal had bombed out some time ago while in the park and the phone constantly searching for a signal and data signal had hammered the battery), unable to make calls, or contact people via whats app, I thought it best to jot the number of the taxi down and that of a friend in the city who had offered to assist me if ever I could not get hold of my girlfriend.  I walked up and down the road a few hundred metres to try and get a signal, but to no avail, restarted the device several times, removed and cleaned the sim card etc, but still nothing. Concluding that using my cellphone was not an option, plan B; a payphone located outside the park entrance seemed a good contingency. But no, I had a load of coins, but seemed that the phone required a phone card (and no idea as to how to use call collect here).  So still no way of contacting the taxi or indeed anyone else at this point.

Finally, I went to the gate house and managed to explain the situation to the park attendant my predicament sufficiently to persuade him to call me a taxi.

During the journey home, I kept checking for a cellular and/or data signal, but still nothing.  It was only when I got home and connected via wifi, did I receive a bunch of messages from my girlfriend asking if I was ok, had been mugged, battery died etc, etc.  Also that she had called the taxi driver who having confirmed that I had not called him was then dispatched to the park to look for me and he kindly abandoned his car, telling the police/staff that he was looking for a lost foreigner, he walked around the park for 15 minutes but did not find me, as at this time I was already on my way home in another taxi - a big thank you to Joel here for going above and beyond the duties of a taxi driver!

Shortly after arriving home, cellular and data service was available again!

So, in short, a little adventure, reminding me that one should not rely exclusively on cellphones and also that I am still new the country, culture will have many, many more interesting experiences to come. (The next visit to the same park was without incident, however, the journey home was interesting, more on this to come in the near future).

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Solo Food Ordering

After spending a spending some time with my girlfriend and also her family during my first few days in Brazil, the moment came when I was going to have to try and get by aloneattempt to make purchases and so on.

So after finding a table in a local restaurant, I managed to order picanha, salad, fries and rice.  I was asked what I would like to drink, but was not able comprehend the question, (the owner was summonsed and offered assistance at this point).  So first meal out alone was pretty much what I had ordered and what I had expected, an encouraging result.

The next day saw me looking for a lighter bite to eat lunchtime, so I decided to try a "Subway" sandwich to take away.  Immediately thinking that this would pose a challenge or two, partly because I so rarely visited Subway in my native UK, along with the sheer number of choices involved when ordering a Subway, coupled with the obvious language barrier, the difference between the ordered food and the delivered product could be substantial, perhaps even hilarious.

Having managed to select the bread, the main filling and size of sub, the main fun came when trying to convey my preferences for the salads and dressings etc.  In essence, I wanted pretty much all the salad items bar the chilli peppers.  At this point in time my language skills were woefully inadequate to articulate this, so sweeping hand gestures over across the salad bar followed by "Sim" and then pointing to the chilli pepper and saying "nao", did not seem to be understood.  It was fortuitous that the customer behind me in the line spoke English and stepped into the breach and helped out - special thank you to him, whoever he was.

Burger King the following day also went without a hitch, with exception of being issued with a ticket to collect your food, the process was remarkably similar to the UK, including the outrageous staff doing nothing to staff working ratio and down to the preposterous delay from ordering my fast food to receiving it.

Presumably, food ordering can only get better from here on in, but hey, what does this gringo know, only time will tell...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Welcome to Brazil

A journey to Brazil

Having fallen in love with a lady from Brazil, discussions led to the conclusion that in the short term, the best option would be for me to relocate from the United Kingdom to Brazil.

This would inevitably present various problems along the way. The first and foremost challenge that I would face is that I could not speak more than a few words of Portuguese.

Having chosen a date to travel from the United Kingdom and after considerable deliberation over flight schedules and carriers, the selected carrier involved a short flight from London Heathrow to Paris (CDG), with a minimal layover (circa 1hr 15min), then an onward flight to Sao Paulo of around 11hrs.

So a coach ticket was purchased from my home town to Heathrow, in an attempt to keep costs to a minimum.

To further complicate matters and to make the journey that little more arduous, a last minute change in plans due to personal reasons meant that I had to start my journey in Cardiff.

So, finally here is the journey;  On a cool November Tuesday afternoon in South Wales, a lift to a regional train station to catch a train to Cardiff, then a further train to Bristol, followed by a taxi ride to Bristol coach station.  This then left me with around 2 hours to kill near the coach station.  Question: what does one do when faced with the possibility of not knowing where or when the next real ale would be available (more on ales to follow), Answer: decamp to a friendly hostelry and enjoy a pint (or two) of Old Speckled Hen (other ales are available, of course) and a sandwich.

Early evening saw me board a delayed coach to Heathrow and arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 shortly after 21:00.

My flight to CDG was not due to leave until 06:40 the following morning. I had not booked any accommodation as my ticket implied that I should be at the airport around 3 hours before the flight was due to depart.  Although this would be quite a time to kill, I thought that while being landside at the airport, there would still be enough to keep my occupied until I was able to check in - wrong!

Those of you who have travelled from T4, will probably know it is the terminal with the least air movements and passenger numbers.  Consequently, in the main concourse has very little to keep you occupied, the ubiquitous Costa Coffee and a Wetherspoons pub. After a snack at the pub, which then promptly closed at 23:00, all that was left was Costa Coffee. Which offered limited seating and was a popular hub for the various contractors and maintenance staff working through the night.

There is only so much coffee one can take on board and to make the evening even more uncomfortable, it seems that the air conditioning at T4 is shut down at night, which made for a very warm evening indeed.

As the night progressed, at least I was able to pass some time by chatting on line with the love of my life (also knowing that come the morning, communication was to be near impossible due to flights).  Eventually, even my girlfriend needed to retire for the night. Finally check in opened around 1 hour 40 minutes prior to departure.

This left very little time airside, bar another Costa, very little was open.  I had been asked to pick some products up by my girlfriend, however, the one store that I was able to get to advised that they did sell the product, but only at T2, 3, and 5.  What had T1 and T4 done to offend the supplier/retailer, I do not know.

So boarding the flight to CDG was painless enough with luggage checked until my final destination.  Prior to the journey, I had read some mixed experiences about changing for onward flights from CDG, but I have to say, it all went without a hitch.  It would have been even easier, had I had been a little more awake.  I had to pass through security at CDG, which was made a little more interesting as I completely failed to remember to pull my laptop out of the hand baggage, or take my cellphone out of my trouser pocket, or metal belt buckle, and shoes.  So after passing through the metal detector machine three times, I was patted down and then allowed to pass, this left me with around 20 mintues to arrive at the boarding gate.

Finally, boarding the flight to Sao Paulo International (GRU), taking my seat, I managed to sleep a little while we waited for some final baggage to be loaded.  The flight was fairly turbulent, but on the whole a good one. Despite a little delay at departure, a tail wind meant I arrived at (GRU) nearly an hour earlier than expected.

My concerns about immigration control entering Brazil were completely unfounded and I was granted a tourist visa with the maximum initial stay without any question or hesitation.

Finally coming through the arrivals gate, I was tired, sweaty and so looking forward to seeing my girlfriend for the first time in three months.  As I passed the line of expecting friends and relatives, chauffeurs holding name plaques, my eyes were peeled for my girlfriend, so much so that I completely failed to notice the name plaque that she held aloft with the pet name she had for me.

After a taxi ride to my new home town of Sao Jose dos Campos, I was finally able to start to relax and unwind.  Having gone some 36 hours with a little more than a few hours sleep, I finally felt that I was home...

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Welcome to James Kirk's Blog


Thank you for taking a look at my blog.  It is here that I will talk about my experiences of moving and living in Brazil as a British expatriate.

I do hope that you will find the posts that follow to be informative, helpful, possibly amusing and above all enjoyable to read!