The Wheels On The Bus Go…?

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Brazil loves its buses. Not in the same way that Peru loves buses, with their cracked windscreens, dodgy sandwiches and terrifying overtaking. Not in the same way that Bolivia loves buses, with their cliff-hugging ruggedness, wild temperature swings and unfathomable toilet stops. Not even in the same way that Argentina loves buses, with (as yet unconfirmed) reports of their wine swilling, bed-seats and coverage of vast distances.

No, unlike their long-haul all-terrain specialist neighbours across the continent, Brazilians seem to be enormous fans of the humble urban bus. Conductors man turnstiles on every vehicle; taxis are outnumbered. In Rio, drug gangs pay for buses to run in favelas. Meanwhile in Sau Paulo it’s more than likely that, to add to another startling but unproven fact about that staggeringly gigantic metropolis, there are more buses there than any other city on the planet.

On the beautiful island of Santa Catarina, where we’ve been for the last week, the buses are efficient and regular. What this infrastructure shares with the rest if Brazil though, is its complete lack of information and incomprehensibility to the stranger. You need a map of the area burned into your retinas to match the place names with your intended destination. Bus stops are desolate, timetable and route-mapless places.

Why does this really matter though? Obviously for the slack-timed loafers like us it’s not important. Surely if we waste an hour getting on the wrong bus and then another walking down a very back road strewn with discarded TVs and dead animals, only to find that the next bus takes us five more miles in the wrong direction, we’ll still have time for a delicious caipirinha and a fresh plate of prawns? Well yes, and we were advised to get a car, but it’s not really us who we’re worried about. Olympic Games anyone? FIFA World Cup?

If you’re perhaps an employee of a media organisation, looking for a little trip out to one of these tournaments (we know you’re out there!) then you need to do at least a few things. First, get your Portuguese phrase book out and get swotting – the language, and no doubt the accent are both pretty tricky. Second, do like Zezinho and get some maps (and maybe bus routes) tattooed onto your limbs. Third, have a little preliminary visit to Santa Catarina and wash down your seafood with a caipi. It’s got to be worth it, even if you don’t have the free time we do…

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