BRAZIL: VISA PERSERVERANCE PAYOFF

You might remember from the past couple of posts that I grumbled ever so slightly about the complications of the Brazilian visa application process. On top of all the red tape was the final insult: $160 apiece for Americans, the highest price charged for all countries except Angola. Just taking advantage of us “rich” Americans, I complained.

I gently brought this outrageous gouging of Americans up to Carlos, our host. Unfortunately for me, he explained Brazil’s reciprocity policy: It treats other countries as other countries treat Brazil. American visas are extremely expensive ($160) for Brazilians, so Brazilians charge the same. They call it reciprocity; it feels like retaliation. Carlos travels fairly frequently to the States; he’s had to jump all the hurdles getting into America that we jumped coming to Brazil. He understood our pain. Well, call it reciprocity if you want; it still feels like retaliation.

By our second day here I exclaimed to Joy, “Think what we’d have missed if our visas hadn’t come through on time!” Complaints forgotten, replaced by deep appreciation for Carlos and his wife Malu. They gave us an unforgettable experience.

About Carlos. I’m being too familiar. He’s Dr. Carlos Fernando Franco, Jr., agronomist, professor, entrepreneur, business consultant and coach, leader in his church in Campinas, and Christian Missionary Fellowship’s (CMF’s) liaison/leader in Brazil. Malu is a dentist; she has been practicing here for twenty years. We first met the Francos in the 1990s when they visited Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. They hadn’t come to see the pastor, but good friends Chip and Teri Stauffer. Chip and Jeff Greene were CMF missionaries in Campinas, where they established the church the Francos joined. The Stauffers and Greenes returned to the States in time and the Francos later. Carlos has continued in Christian leadership, now as part of five-year-old church  that numbers 7000 in weekend attendance on several campuses. In more recent years Dr. Franco and I have become better acquainted through CMF; he’s on the board and I’m on staff.

The Franco family: Carlos and Malu, their daughter and son-in-law Rebeca and Alexei, and grandson Henrique with his nanny, Lucia. They routinely take a midday break from their professional work for lunch together.

You don’t want to invite the Lawsons for a visit. We accept! It’s Carlos’ fault, though. Because of our CMF association, I was eager to know him better. We had first come to Brazil in the 1980s; we were eager to return for another look and to spend some quality time with the Francos. But we did not expect to be feted so lavishly by Carlos and Malu.

The distinguished Doctors Franco. I think their guests wore them out. Here they are on the sunset cruise on the Paraná River.

We flew from Key West to Sao Paulo via Ft. Lauderdale. Carlos had rented a car and driven to the airport (an hour-and-a-half from Campinas). From the moment he greeted us we relaxed; we were in competent hands. This is his country. And he speaks Portuguese and fluent English.

The first night was the promise of more to come. Carlos took us to dinner at D’Autore Restaurant, where Malu’s nephew Tulio is a chef. We ate too much—as we would for the next several days. Appetizers: beef tartare—special recipe and a special fish hors d’oeuvre. Main course: Argentine beef (which, Carlos explained, was probably raised and grazed in Brazil). They know Carlos here. Waiters hovered. Chef Tulio came to our table to confirm that everything was OK; the Manager materialized. We concluded that we’d be able to adjust to Brazil, so long as Carlos and his Portuguese were with us.

Iguaçu Falls

The next morning we boarded another plane bound, this time, to Fos do Iguaçu. On our own we’d have missed this treat. Carlos booked the four of us into the Bourbon hotel for a couple of nights. Our goal was to see the famous falls here, larger than our Niagara. No, that’s not quite accurate. Our goal was actually to ride to the falls—and into the falls. We were warned we would get wet. (Something was lost in the translation from Portuguese to English. We didn’t just get wet; we got drenched.)

The Hat and Mrs. Hat with the Drs. Franco. Picture taken just before plunging into the falls.

It felt like coming as close to drowning in the boat as you can and still be afloat. Religiously speaking, it was a rite combining sprinkling and immersion.  Joy and I had envisioned a quick ride through the falls to safety behind; we’ve done that elsewhere. The practice here is to plunge into the falls, wallow around in them until nothing dry remains anywhere, then retreat back out into the river and just, as evaporation is beginning to offer a little relief, turn around and plunge in again, as if to guarantee that nothing, absolutely nothing, escaped the inundation.

We had taken the warning seriously, so we secured our valuables in a locker. Most of our valuables. I forgot about my glasses, so they took the plunge with me. As did my iPhone. And my hearing aid.

Joy’s black-and-white photo of Iguaçu Falls.

In bouncing around in the falls I broke my iPhone case, but the instrument survived unscathed. My glasses will come clean one day (Iguaçu’s water is brown). My hearing aid battery gave up the struggle very quickly, but it was soon replaced and this instrument, also, proved itself a hardy traveler. Altogether, the experience warranted an A+.

As if that wasn’t entertainment enough for one day, the Francos then packed us off for  dinner and show at Hotel Rafain’s Churracaria (a barbecue or steak house). The food was, again, outstanding, the buffet a rich array of the finest in Brazilian cuisine. What we’ll remember most, though, was the floor show with song, dance, and vaudeville acts representing several Latin American countries:

This harpist gave us a dazzling display.

From Uruguay: Traditional dances and musicians featuring a virtuoso harpist and “bottle” dancers, two young women who stepped forward from the dance troupe. One by one wine bottles were stacked upright on their heads until finally they were balancing five of them—while never missing a dance step.

Andes mountain people (Bolivian and Peruvian) presented their colorful traditional songs and dances. From Argentina came the tango followed by an alpha male “gaucho” (the man) who whirled a couple of  gauchos (round metal balls that look from the distance like yoyos at the end of a metallic rope). From Mexico came the mariachi band and traditional dances, always a favorite. Brazil’s carnival music and dance from the 40s to the present climaxed the show. Can you tell we enjoyed the evening?

Carlos was eager to see Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam. Not just Brazil’s, but the world’s. It is located about an hour-and-a-half from Iguaçu. We went by bus. You know how, when you travel, you frequently see people who for some reason or other remind you of people in your past?  Our driver reminded me of one of my best friends, Bill Sherman. Bill’s gone now, but every so often I spot his likeness. This man, except for his brown skin, could have been Bill’s brother). He drove, though, more like a young Jeff Terrill, our oldest Velcro son. It was easy to imagine Jeff pushing that bus to the speed limit and beyond, careening around curves, tossing passengers around with glee, racing to get to the next stop, stomping on the brake, roaring off again. It was fun, if you were properly braced. (Jeff is mature now. Still, he could be tempted…)

Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant

Back to the dam. The Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant stands as evidence that sometimes nations can get along. The governments of Brazil and Paraguay built it (1975-1982). The cooperation was probably made possible by the fact that both countries were under military dictatorships; no messy congresses to contend with. The result is a plant that leads the world in renewable energy production. In 2016 Itaipu Binacional (operator of the plant) produced more than 100 million megawatt hours of clean and renewable energy. If it hasn’t done so yet, the Three Gorges Dam in China will surpass this record. Still, record or not, a pretty impressive output.

Blue and red macaws.

While in the neighborhood we spent too little time (I could have devoted a day instead of a couple of hours) to Fos Do Iguaçu’s Parque das Aves. It is, hands down, the best dedicated bird sanctuary we’ve seen. A tropical paradise in itself. It looks and sounds and feels like the jungle. The collection of South American winged life, carefully protected and provisioned, quickly grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go. The park has three aviaries, a butterfly house, and some reptiles (no pictures—not Joy’s favorites). So many birds: macaws, toucans, scarlet ibises, jays, thrushes, eagles, owls, and more. Our favorites were the macaws, dozens of them, who put on an aeronautics show without parallel, accompanied by their own brand of ear-splitting “music.”

Carlos treated us to a sunset cruise on the Paraná and Iguaçu rivers to their junction at the point that Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet. There the captain treated us to a 360-degree view of the three nations’ shorelines. To be honest, they all looked pretty much the same, a reminder that, in spite of our prejudices, we humans–and our nations–are more alike than different.

Have you noticed how many photos the official photographer has taken of the Hat in repose? Is there a message here? This one was on the sunset cruise. Joy, who was usually on this love seat beside me, must have sneaked away in the one moment I might have dozed off.
Here’s the proof. Same love seat. Both lovers present.

Unfortunately, after these two days together Malu had to go to work back in her dentist’s office. The rest of us went on to Rio.  “It would be a shame to come to Brazil and not at least see Rio,” Carlos said. We agreed.

Rio de Janeiro, looking at Cristo Redemptor mountain–after the clouds lifted.

We only had 24 hours. So many options, so little time. For sure we planned to go to the top of the mountain to see the famed Cristo Redemptor statue. While we waited until the fog lifted we took in another magnificent botanical garden. You wouldn’t believe it possible to dedicate so many acres in the heart of the city to simple natural beauty, but Rio did it. This was another bit of serendipity.

Just one of so many possible pictures taken in the botanical garden.

We didn’t see the world-famous statue. The low cloud covering simply would not cooperate, stubbornly covering the hilltop until we were back down the mountain. Then, as if gloating, the clouds lifted to show us the mountain top, as you can see above. This picture is of the other side.

We couldn’t remain disappointed, though. On our tram ride down the mountain we met Veronica, a delightful Russian from Siberia (now living in London) who was in Brazil for a three-week holiday. She was traveling alone. I admired her spunk but couldn’t keep from wondering how I’d feel about it if, at her age, daughter Candy or Kim had taken off on her own across the ocean to a strange land. There are some things protective fathers don’t want to think about! This chance meeting happened after friend Carlos had carefully made certain we were always kept of harm’s way; Brazil has another side we aren’t highlighting in this report. He kept us safe. He even drove us back to the Sao Paulo airport, whether to guarantee our safety or keep us from getting loss, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that he made all the hassle of obtaining our visa worthwhile. It’s a ten-year visa, by the way. Carlos, beware! We can come back.

Joy takes a selfie of her with her delightful new acquaintance from Siberia, Vernonica.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Bridge connecting Brazil to Uruguay over the Paraná River
White flamingos at rest in the bird sanctuary.
The Hat has many tasks. Here he holds “the hat” behind this orchid for your better viewing pleasure.