Discuss longhaul
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Crabby Crew Blog <$BlogRSDURL$>

Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Just a quick bloglet this time. I was in Boston "last night" (or at least the last time I was in a bed and it coincided with darkness). Boston is a pleasant enough place - lots of bricks which is nice for a brickaholic like me - even the pavements are brick - lovely. It has the much-lauded historical stuff which we all did at school and promptly forgot and retains a fair few of its older buildings still and some nice C19th townhouses too. It also has trees and proximity to water of course but overall I was a bit disappointed. Everyone, both English and American makes such a gigantic fuss about the place and if it wasn't that America has such a paucity of old stuff then it would just be "nice" not "fantastic".

Having said that I enjoyed a four hour walk from the south to the north sides of the city in the pouring rain. I had to buy myself an umbrella as the functional kagoul attire couldn't protect my map, camera, rucksac and other accoutrements properly. I'd forgotten how intimate it is to walk under a brolly with the rain drops plopping resolutely down on the canvas. Like your own little world under there. I found myself singing Simon and Garfunkle songs.

I liked the Boston Public Library as it was a beautiful building and made me smile the way they have plastered the names of every famous intellect all over the outside walls - from Aristotle to Thoreau (talk about basking in relected glory). Boston (include Harvard) doesn't hide its intellectual light under a bushel. You don't have to look far to see the signs of self-conscious educatedness in the archtitecture. I found it slightly tiresome. I think it is because I need a proper holiday.....so.....

....I have booked an Easyjet flight to Glasgow on the 1st June and hope to make it to Colonsay for a few nights. I wont be at home for my birthday but would be thrilled and extremely surprised to see any of you step off the ferry on that day. You are all welcome - the drinks are on me. (I think I can safely say that). Colonsay looks absolutly beautiful - beaches, otters, flowers and a youth hostel. Hurrah - bliss. You get there by ferry from Oban and it leaves at 3.30pm if you fancy it. I am sick of flying around the world and am looking forward to a week in the UK among the best scenery in the world and hopefully (knowing youth hostels) the best company.

Before all that I have to go to Newark (south-west of New York) and back. I expect it to be devoid of all interest so probably wont blog about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

NEWSFLASH!
I have from 1 to 7 June off work - that's a Tuesday to a Monday. Anyone fancy coming on an adventure? I am thinking Scottish Islands. Stu? Cardiffians? Or, has anyone got any better ideas? It's half term I know, so the world's our oyster. I am not leaving the UK though.
AsurfeitofStoks
Boatman
Commutersbydhow
EntrancetotheSpiceSouk
Localgirlswithwindtowerbehind
OnthebanksofDubaiCreek
Ricesacks
Traditionalboatsandtraditionalbuildings
After a brief flit to Rye in Sussex where I saw various members of the illustrious van der Stok tribe, it was off to Dubai on Friday evening. As Rye is quintessentially English and Dubai the first Middle East/Arabic country I have visited it felt like even more of a teleportation/apparation experience than usual. (Forgive me, I have been immersed in Harry Potter's latest adventure for the past few days).

In a departure from the norm, I had also arranged to take sister Jo on the trip with me. Being an immediate blood relation she is entitled to 90% off air fares and most crew take guests along with them from time to time. This was the first time I had done it however but the flights were very quiet, Jo likes hot places and it was over a weekend so she only had to take a day and a half off.

Strangely enough it didn't seem that strange to see her suddenly pop up amid the crowds of kosher passengers in the middle of the boarding frenzy. She looked completely freaked out though, due to her imminent air-borneness. I had to leave her to suffer alone however as she was rapidly headed-off from the hell of economy seating and ungraded to First Class. I remained among those of more familiar economic scope to fight it out as best I could for the next seven hours while Jo very quickly learned to take for granted the privilege of about four square metres of plane to call her own. Had she had to pay for this it would have been £5000+ - lucky girl - I've never done it.

So, skip a few hours of work and sleep and we went out to explore Dubai - the second most important city in the United Arab Emirates after the capital Abu Dhabi. The area has been inhabited and controlled by successive tribes and nationalities for at least 5000 years, but since medieval times up until the 1930's, the mainstay of trade was the pearl fishing industry. The older buildings still to be seen strung alongside Dubai Creek which loops from the sea inland in a south-westerly direction, date from the 18th and 19th centuries but behind these traditional dwellings and souks the new high rise hotels and offices dominate the skyline. More or less within my own lifetime, Dubai has undergone a metamorphosis from busy but small coastal port to major player in the hierarchy of rich Arabian cities. Everyone knows about the swanky hotels, man-made luxury islands off the coast and all-year-round sunshine, but thankfully there is still a more interesting Dubai to discover.

Jo and I had two days in which to explore and on day one we walked around the area north-east of Dubai Creek called Deira. Mindful of being in the Muslim world, we covered up as much as possible of our unattractive European flesh and plunged into a world of flaked-out Arabs lounging on seats in the sun and dark, claustrophobic souks (markets) full of men trying their best to make us buy saffron, gold or lengths of cloth from their particular shop. The sacks of rice, alum, rock-salt, coriander flowers and turmeric roots were very interesting but sadly the modern era has brought with it a plethora of stalls selling plastic tubs, stationary, cheap nylon underpants and electical goods in addition the more evocative wares. Oh well, I suppose people need these things everywhere.

It was unbearably hot. The sun was positively evil and sweat ran in lines down our backs. My poor cabin crew feet puffed up like fat pink flippers and protested like mad. It was a relief when dusk arrived and it was no longer necessary to shadow-hop your way along the street. We heard the muslim call to prayer for the first time of many times and watched men in floaty white robes and headcoverings cross the streets to enter the nearest mosque while the strains of the muezzin (assisted by a handy microphone or two) meandered across rooftops and through streets. There was something very beguiling about it.

Eventually we collapsed in a small green park in the dark but even though it was eary evening it was quite busy in there and interesting as it was family day so apart from us it was mainly women and children relaxing or playing. There was an informal atmosphere and people didn't seem to mind us being there - quite a few mothers smiled to us. In fact all weekend we hardly encountered anything unfriendly - only one man who definitely didn't want me to take his photograph. Mostly Jo and I seemed to be a source of amusement for the locals and Jo's womanly figure (sorry Jo) came in for plenty of admiring and not-so-subtle glances. (In comparison, my knees came in for quite a lot of hilarity from a busload of schoolboys the next day when I gave up on the long trousers out of protest at the heat).

Dinner that night was at a Pakistani restaurant where we had the most delicious dhal and all-vegetarian meal which cost about £8 and was most graciously served to us by kind and friendly men. (The second night we ate in a more stylish and expensive Iranian place where the men were so welcoming and smiley Jo wanted to adopt them -especially the old man. They plied us with a ridiculously large tableful of food which we couldn't possibly have eaten. It was enough for six people).

On the second day Jo got up at the crack of dawn and went to explore the beach. This necessitated a taxi ride as did any journey you wished to make from the hotel. Modern Dubai is all spread out and there is no way you could walk anywhere because of the distances and the heat. I stayed asleep until the afternoon and her return. Then we got another taxi to the south-west side of old Dubai, called Bur Dubai. We had a good walk along the banks of the creek here and popped into various restored merchant's houses and the old home of the Al-Maktoum dynasty who still rule Dubai today. One of the more interesting features of the (I thought) quite boring architecture was the wind towers. (Wind as in crank not breeze). These are a rudimentary form of air conditioning and although I'm not clear exactly how they work, they managed to channel any wind coming off the sea down their square chimney-like construction and into the living quaters of the well-to-do family within.

Inside the houses are rooms for the family's women and separate sitting rooms for welcoming guests where women would not be present. Being a Muslim woman in UAE still didn't strike me as an awful lot of fun although undoubtedly less tortuous than having to live somewhere like Saudi Arabia. There were plenty of Arab women in the full abeyya body suit. We could only see their eyes and they did not look too friendly. We gave up attempts at cheery smiles quite quickly. Still, there were many younger Arab women in jeans and t-shirts though I saw no female legs apart from in hotels or those of tourists the whole time we were there. Legs seem to be more of a no-no then bare arms and revealing neck-lines. It is forbidden to take photos of women but I managed a few clandestine shots of younger girls. There are thousands of Indian workers in Dubai however so you see plenty of variation in dress and behaviour. We found the Hindus very sweet and dignified and we also met a friendly Egyptian who insisted we promise to visit his country one day as it is much much more interesting and historic than Dubai. (No doubt).

The nicest thing we did was charter our own dhow or perhaps it was an abra, for a ten-minute ride down the creek. It was lovely to be on the water which smelled very clean although apparently it isn't. Terns were diving into the water for fish and other heavily-laden abras chugged past us going up or down-stream. You could pass many happy hours just floating up and down the creek and should you ever find yourselves in Dubai for a day, that would be my recommendation. Forget the beach - which in fact I never saw except from the air. It is too hot to sunbathe. You will get skin cancer before you know it.

On the whole we did justice to our short time in UAE. Why people go there on holiday I do not know. Outside the cities there are camels, bedouin and desert, but most people wont see those things. If you don't like shopping and beaches then you'll exhaust Dubai in two or three days and Jo managed to pick up a stomach bug somewhere along the line too. (Probably Heathrow Terminal 4 in my opinion as Dubai struck me as very clean and hygenic. The pavements are dog-turd-free as dogs are sensibly regarded as vermin). If you're desperate to visit the Middle East though it is probably one of the more welcoming and less dangerous places to choose. I'd give it 6/10 for a short break.
After a brief flit to Rye in Sussex where I saw various members of the illustrious van der Stok tribe, it was off to Dubai on Friday evening. As Rye is quintessentially English and Dubai the first Middle East/Arabic country I have visited it felt like even more of a teleportation/apparation experience than usual. (Forgive me, I have been immersed in Harry Potter's latest adventure for the past few days).

In a departure from the norm, I had also arranged to take sister Jo on the trip with me. Being an immediate blood relation she is entitled to 90% off air fares and most crew take guests along with them from time to time. This was the first time I had done it however but the flights were very quiet, Jo likes hot places and it was over a weekend so she only had to take a day and a half off.

Strangely enough it didn't seem that strange to see her suddenly pop up amid the crowds of kosher passengers in the middle of the boarding frenzy. She looked completely freaked out though, due to her imminent air-borneness. I had to leave her to suffer alone however as she was rapidly headed-off from the hell of economy seating and ungraded to First Class. I remained among those of more familiar economic scope to fight it out as best I could for the next seven hours while Jo very quickly learned to take for granted the privilege of about four square metres of plane to call her own. Had she had to pay for this it would have been £5000+ - lucky girl - I've never done it.

So, skip a few hours of work and sleep and we went out to explore Dubai - the second most important city in the United Arab Emirates after the capital Abu Dhabi. The area has been inhabited and controlled by successive tribes and nationalities for at least 5000 years, but since medieval times up until the 1930's, the mainstay of trade was the pearl fishing industry. The older buildings still to be seen strung alongside Dubai Creek which loops from the sea inland in a south-westerly direction, date from the 18th and 19th centuries but behind these traditional dwellings and souks the new high rise hotels and offices dominate the skyline. More or less within my own lifetime, Dubai has undergone a metamorphosis from busy but small coastal port to major player in the hierarchy of rich Arabian cities. Everyone knows about the swanky hotels, man-made luxury islands off the coast and all-year-round sunshine, but thankfully there is still a more interesting Dubai to discover.

Jo and I had two days in which to explore and on day one we walked around the area north-east of Dubai Creek called Deira. Mindful of being in the Muslim world, we covered up as much as possible of our unattractive European flesh and plunged into a world of flaked-out Arabs lounging on seats in the sun and dark, claustrophobic souks (markets) full of men trying their best to make us buy saffron, gold or lengths of cloth from their particular shop. The sacks of rice, alum, rock-salt, coriander flowers and turmeric roots were very interesting but sadly the modern era has brought with it a plethora of stalls selling plastic tubs, stationary, cheap nylon underpants and electical goods in addition the more evocative wares. Oh well, I suppose people need these things everywhere.

It was unbearably hot. The sun was positively evil and sweat ran in lines down our backs. My poor cabin crew feet puffed up like fat pink flippers and protested like mad. It was a relief when dusk arrived and it was no longer necessary to shadow-hop your way along the street. We heard the muslim call to prayer for the first time of many times and watched men in floaty white robes and headcoverings cross the streets to enter the nearest mosque while the strains of the muezzin (assisted by a handy microphone or two) meandered across rooftops and through streets. There was something very beguiling about it.

Eventually we collapsed in a small green park in the dark but even though it was eary evening it was quite busy in there and interesting as it was family day so apart from us it was mainly women and children relaxing or playing. There was an informal atmosphere and people didn't seem to mind us being there - quite a few mothers smiled to us. In fact all weekend we hardly encountered anything unfriendly - only one man who definitely didn't want me to take his photograph. Mostly Jo and I seemed to be a source of amusement for the locals and Jo's womanly figure (sorry Jo) came in for plenty of admiring and not-so-subtle glances. (In comparison, my knees came in for quite a lot of hilarity from a busload of schoolboys the next day when I gave up on the long trousers out of protest at the heat).

Dinner that night was at a Pakistani restaurant where we had the most delicious dhal and all-vegetarian meal which cost about £8 and was most graciously served to us by kind and friendly men. (The second night we ate in a more stylish and expensive Iranian place where the men were so welcoming and smiley Jo wanted to adopt them -especially the old man. They plied us with a ridiculously large tableful of food which we couldn't possibly have eaten. It was enough for six people).

On the second day Jo got up at the crack of dawn and went to explore the beach. This necessitated a taxi ride as did any journey you wished to make from the hotel. Modern Dubai is all spread out and there is no way you could walk anywhere because of the distances and the heat. I stayed asleep until the afternoon and her return. Then we got another taxi to the south-west side of old Dubai, called Bur Dubai. We had a good walk along the banks of the creek here and popped into various restored merchant's houses and the old home of the Al-Maktoum dynasty who still rule Dubai today. One of the more interesting features of the (I thought) quite boring architecture was the wind towers. (Wind as in crank not breeze). These are a rudimentary form of air conditioning and although I'm not clear exactly how they work, they managed to channel any wind coming off the sea down their square chimney-like construction and into the living quaters of the well-to-do family within.

Inside the houses are rooms for the family's women and separate sitting rooms for welcoming guests where women would not be present. Being a Muslim woman in UAE still didn't strike me as an awful lot of fun although undoubtedly less tortuous than having to live somewhere like Saudi Arabia. There were plenty of Arab women in the full abeyya body suit. We could only see their eyes and they did not look too friendly. We gave up attempts at cheery smiles quite quickly. Still, there were many younger Arab women in jeans and t-shirts though I saw no female legs apart from in hotels or those of tourists the whole time we were there. Legs seem to be more of a no-no then bare arms and revealing neck-lines. It is forbidden to take photos of women but I managed a few clandestine shots of younger girls. There are thousands of Indian workers in Dubai however so you see plenty of variation in dress and behaviour. We found the Hindus very sweet and dignified and we also met a friendly Egyptian who insisted we promise to visit his country one day as it is much much more interesting and historic than Dubai. (No doubt).

The nicest thing we did was charter our own dhow or perhaps it was an abra, for a ten-minute ride down the creek. It was lovely to be on the water which smelled very clean although apparently it isn't. Terns were diving into the water for fish and other heavily-laden abras chugged past us going up or down-stream. You could pass many happy hours just floating up and down the creek and should you ever find yourselves in Dubai for a day, that would be my recommendation. Forget the beach - which in fact I never saw except from the air. It is too hot to sunbathe. You will get skin cancer before you know it.

On the whole we did justice to our short time in UAE. Why people go there on holiday I do not know. Outside the cities there are camels, bedouin and desert, but most people wont see those things. If you don't like shopping and beaches then you'll exhaust Dubai in two or three days and Jo managed to pick up a stomach bug somewhere along the line too. (Probably Heathrow Terminal 4 in my opinion as Dubai struck me as very clean and hygenic. The pavements are dog-turd-free as dogs are sensibly regarded as vermin). If you're desperate to visit the Middle East though it is probably one of the more welcoming and less dangerous places to choose. I'd give it 6/10 for a short break.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Abuja is the capital of Nigeria and it was invented in the 1970's as a replacement to Lagos. Hence it is all new, spaciously laid out, quite green still and surrounded by what looked like interesting scenery. Unfortunately I am scared of Nigeria, not without reason. As in Lagos, we were escorted from the airport to the hotel by armed guards. Twice during the 40 minute journey, men with large guns positioned themselves across the highway in a menacing fashion, but to my relief they were police roadchecks both times. After a bit of torch-shining and glaring we were allowed to continue. It is a little disconcering though to drive straight at men with guns in the middle of the night a country with a reputation like Nigeria's. I had already got my next move planned in the event of a hijack. Crawl under the seat and leave the talking up to the well-paid Captain I thought.

Monday was a lovely day if you like hot sun. The view from the hotel was mostly green and pleasantish with a great hill in the middle distance that rose like a brown tumour from the scrubby surroundings. What I could see of the city in the distance looked fairly civilised and serene but I wasn't taking any chances. I have never met anyone at work who could tell you what Abuja city is like and I suspect there are good resons for this. I didn't venture from the hotel at all - tempting though the hill looked.

Luckily the hotel was a lot better than in Lagos - I checked the wiring. It seemed quite respectable as international hotels go until you got down to the finer details like food which was not appetising and none too hygenic either - salad buffets and raw fish and meat left out unrefridgerated in the soaring temperatures. There was real coffee however unlike Lagos where the best on offer was Nescafe and condensed milk.

I'm sure Nigeria is a fascinating country. It is a pity I am too scared to explore it at all. Yellow parrot-like birds whizzed past around the pool, trailing streamer-like tails that stretched away behind them for about two feet. On the way back to the airport today, I could see mud-hut villages tucked away between trees and small fields that had been ploughed and planted. I would have loved to have wandered in to talk to the people about how they live - but until the locals calm down a bit and stop weilding guns etc I can't.

The Nigerians themselves are often very engaging. They flop about a lot as if they are tired all the time - very desultory in manner. But you can easily elicit smiles and gratitude from them. On the plane many people were deep in the Bible or other religious books and at the hotel the staff were extremely warm and relaxed. Strangers will strike up conversation with you in a lift - men and women and thank you for sharing the lift with them if they should happen to leave it before you do! The African clothes are magnificent and imposing. Rich Black Africans dress really well whether wearing traditional or African attire.

On the negative front though, they can be quick to take offence where none was intended (but just as quick to forgive if you explain the misundestanding). They smell - no getting away from this I'm afraid. Our plane was as high as a kite in more ways than one by the time we got home today and they have the least attractive way of enquiring for nearest loo I have come across yet - appearing in the galley and announcing "I want to ease myself" time after time. Not a pretty mental picture. A strange bunch. I haven't really made up my mind how much I like them.

No photos I'm afraid.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

House

Saturday, May 15, 2004

I may soon be a homeowner! Click here for a preview of the possible bolt hole which in true 21st Century style I first tracked down over the web. It's in North Petherton, Somerset, which is a medium-sized village near Bridgewater.

Good things: Bakelite switches, two real fireplaces, original pine doors, three sheds, friendly neighbours, 100 yards from the pub (which sells good ales aswell as locally produced cider) , 50 yards from a fish and chip shop, pretty lanes and The Quantock Hills in the near vicinity and a world away from the competitive and sneering south-east. Hurrah!

Bad things: A bit of a trek into work (2.5 hours?), everyone speaks like a yokel, there isn't room to swing a cat inside (so you'll all have to stagger any visits you may oblige me by making), entrance thorugh front door takes you straight into the sitting room, the centre of the village has been ruined by the fact that the High Street has become the A38.

Off to Nigeria tomorrow while surveyors survey and estate agents, banks and vendors plot to make my life more stressful than hitherto. Watch this space.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

BeetleinParanapiacaba
CopacbanaRio
Hairdresser'sinParanapiacaba
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Guns, shootings, muggings, banditry, drug barons and extremes of poverty and wealth side by side in the same city. This description could be of Rio de Janeiro or Sau Paulo according to most reports. The BA crew brief wasn't any more comforting. A number of crew (mostly men actually) have been drugged with Rohypnol. We were advised to avoid travelling on public buses as they are frequently robbed at gun point. The usual stuff about not wearing jewelery or watches was heavily underlined and finally the words "ABOVE ALL, use your common sense to make your judgement, but if any doubt, DON'T DO IT!"

If I obeyed all these frightening instructions to the letter I would hardly have dared leave the hotel. Luckily I didn't read them until after I already had done and decided that it wasn't the urban jungle out there that I had been lead to believe.

Sao Paulo is huge, (the fourth largest city on the world), mostly ugly and on an high plateau inland from the coast. Within it are undulating hills and distinct neighbourhoods, many with particular ethnic flavours. Surprisingly there are thousands of Japanese here aswell as ethnic Indians, Spaniards, Italians, and Germans but mostly everyone looks Portuguese and Portuguese is the national language. On the outskirts of Sao Paulo and also Rio are shanty towns called favelas, occupied by the very poor but also by drug barons who must be very rich. You wouldn't venture into one of these and expect to leave unscathed if at all.

The hotel in Sau Paulo is on the edge of the most wealthy and sophisticated area, surrounded by fantastic restaurants which are cheap by British standards and also designer shops and large houses. Nearby but in the opposite direction from the poshness is Avenue Paulistra - the main drag of banks, malls, general commerce and the equivalent of Oxford Street. Luckily for me the best bookshop in SP turned out to be two minutes and the metro station three minutes walk away.

I arrived very unprepared having had extremely busy days off with a trip down to Wales and a spot of house-hunting in Somerset. I hadn't had time to do my research and had even left without a guidebook. The best I could lay my hands on in SP was The Rough Guide and although not as clearly and easily presented as my old friends the LPs, it turned out to have one excellent tip that is absent from the Brazil LP Guide.

We arrived on Monday - half dead. It is a long way to South America from here and the Boeing 777 is the one that appears regularly in the press accused of making passengers and crew alike feel even more ill than flying long-range normally does. I fully support this observation. The air seems even dryer than usual and this combined with an hour and a half's bus ride into town at the other end clobbered us all. It wasn't possible to keep my eyes open as we crawled our way past favelas, swampy bits, along endless motorway and into the built up metropolis itself. I only know what we passed because of the return journey! My first time in South America and I couldn't even look at it for the first eight hours.

After a sleep and having eaten my carefully horded ration of Marks and Spencers fruit cake, I headed out minus camera, credit cards, jewelery etc. I bought the Rough Guide and found it far less negative about the security situation in Brazil than all other sources. Encouraged by this I spent the first afternoon exploring by metro and discovered the only really spectacularly beautiful building in SP - the Theatro Municipal. A combination of Baroque and Art Nouveau - it is uplifting and apparently the Paulistra's as the residents of SP call themselves are rightly proud of it. Apart from this SP wasn't as ugly as I had been lead to expect. There are still older buildings tucked in amongst the horrible concrete monstrosities and every now and again you'll find a spot of greenery or a park to break things up a bit. The metro was easy to use, clean as a new pin and heavily staffed by police with truncheons - so effectively safe.

Further reading of the Rough Guide that night provided me with the aforementioned top tip. A day's excursion to a place called Paranapiacaba was suggested as one of the highlights of the whole of Sao Paulo state. As I had seen enough of SP to think I wouldn't miss much by not wasting another day on it, I read on. In honour of my father I decided I could not pass up this opportunity as Paranapiacaba turned out to be a Railway Village built in the 1860's by British workers and engineers with old loco sheds and preserved houses and workshops to be seen. The Rough Guide assured me you didn't need to be a railway buff to appreciate it as it was charming, attractive and untouched by development. I was excited and hoped to please Dad by returning with a camera full of pictures of mouldering steam trains and signal boxes.

There were directions as to trains and bus connections in the guide, but as a precaution I decided to check with the hotel concierge before setting out. I began to ask her about the connection times but she interrupted me and said "I cannot reccomend you go there. It is bad trains. Bad People."

I was stopped in my tracks but unwilling to give up so easily asked what kind of bad people.

"I don't know. People travelling to work. Working people."

I got quite irritated as we are all working people and what's so bad about commuter trains? After a few more volleys of conversation it became apparent that the concierge had never heard of Paranapiacaba, therefore didn't know which train to take anyway and didn't really grasp the attraction of a load of old trains and sheds when I explained.

"Oh well.. You can try. I don't know," she finally admitted.

"If you never see me again, that's where I went," I said as a parting shot.

"Oh! Don't say that! That's what I worry about," she cried, obviously unnerved that she hadn't managed to head me off on a trip to a shopping centre or something.

I must say, I was filled with explorer's glee rather than fear as I travelled first by three metro trains, then for an hour by overground train until I reached the end of the line and had to find a bus. This would have been tricky had I not been befriended by two oldish men - fatherly types, who laughed like drains that I wanting to see Paranapiacaba which they said was a graveyard and not touristic. They poked and prodded me, roared with mirth and kindly accompanied me onto the correct bus which they themselves were also waiting for. All this took place without any of us speaking the other one's language. But Portuguese is quite easy to get the gist of sometimes so we got by.

The bus came, driven by a smiling handsome bus driver and we proceeded to climb winding roads for the next twenty-five minutes. The higher we went the thicker the clouds around us became. Back in Sau Paulo the sun had been hot and not a sniff of a raincloud, but up here it was like Britain's hills and moorlands. In the end you could only see twenty yards ahead but the bus charged into the ether at breakneck speed. At the sides of the road it had become rainforestlike. This area is the edge of the inland plateau and the vegetation is important ecologically as it is all natural cover still and termed Mata Atlantica. It is full of orchids (good) and poisonous snakes (bad) as well as amazing bird life. If you look up Paranapiacaba in Google all the links are to do with railways, then plants and beetles, then birds.

The bus pulled up. My new friends announced, "Paranapiacaba!" and laughed in a way which could have been sinister to a person of weak nerves. We were totally surrounded by white fog. Oh well, may as well go and investgate now I've made all this effort I thought.

Within a minute I was rigid with excitement. You will see from the photos how amazing it all was. Narrow cobbled streets wound up and down jungle-clad hillsides swathed in mist. The houses were tiny, wooden, charming and beautifully colourful. There was hardly a soul to be seen except for the local dogs but I could see electric lights were on behind shutters or lace curtains. It wasn't at all intimidating and I knew I was perfectly safe, but the mist did lend an eerie atmosphere to it all. For the next couple of hours I was hooked. I walked around as much of it as I could, but at one time 4000 workers lived here - many of them British until it was passed out of British control in 1947. That makes for a lot of photogenic little shacks! My new friends rediscovered me after a while and bought me tea and a bun at a cafe and after that I carried on exploring. Most of the buildings are still occupied but I think the last Brits left long ago. It would have been fascinating to find an ancient old-timer still in situ but if he or she was there I saw no sign. The larger houses which had been chief engineer's accommodation had fallen into disrepair and hulking wrecks of carriages and diesel trains littered the tracks. For a while I could hear train noises echoing up from down the line, but it was too cloudy to see them. The railway is still used to carry goods from upstate to the edge of the plateau and then down the steep funicular to sea level from where it goes on to the port of Santos. It started off as coffee, I don't know what it carries these days.

I got so carried away with the little houses, all thought of loco sheds and steam trains went by-the-by. I think that there must be certain days when such places are opened up to the public because various of the historic buildings had information boards outside them (all in Portuguese) and you could go inside a lot of them but not the day I was there. A school party was also looking around but apart from that I was the only visitor.

Paranpaciaba was perhaps the most interesting place I have seen since starting my travels courtesy of BA. I loved the look of the place and it had a frontier feel - a real outpost of old colonialism even though it is only 40km from Sau Paulo. While I was there I found myself thinking, I bet this is what Patagonia is like. It was great and I am sorry that no-one was there to share it with me. I would bet all my money that no-one from work has ever visited it apart from me and when I tried to impress on my colleagues (who were a nice bunch) how fantastic it was I could see they weren't all that convinced. I suppose it sounds more appealing if you are male and straight (not many of those at work) but actually I think anyone would have enjoyed it for a while.

I returned the way I came and as it was dark when I got back to the city I made a hasty return to the hotel, camera tucked away and trying to look as not-worth-robbing as possible. (Not hard when I had been drizzled on most of the afternoon and looked a mess).

This was the high point of my trip but there were other good things too. For a start I liked my crew enough to spend the evenings with them twice and ten of us piled into a minibus and were taken to a fabulous restaurant where we had typical Brazilian fare. This consisted of the best salad bar I have ever seen and waiters who came round with large skewers of succulent meat (sorry vegetarians) which they carve little chunks off onto your plate. The second occasion it was just two of us but an even more fantastic place which I certainly couldn't afford if it was over here. A massive fig tree grew right through the middle of it and you sat outside but under a glass roof which somehow the tree grew through. Candles, attentive waiters, great food and a buzzing Brazilian crowd of feasters guaranteed an experience.

On our third day we did a spot of light work, taking a plane to Rio de Janeiro and back but with six hours off in the middle. This meant we spent half an hour on a plane each way during which there was nothing more taxing to do than hand out a few juices in a desultory fashion. Then we were whisked to a hotel where we ate a luscious breakfast laid out in great style, changed, headed across the road to Copacabana Beach where we paddled about and gently worked off the breakfast before returning to the airport and travelling back to Sau Paulo. It was hardly like work at all and for once it did feel very glamorous indeed. I am amazed BA don't let us fester at Rio's airport for six hours instead. God knows why they waste all this money and luxury on us. It is all totally unlike shorthaul.

Rio is beautifully located of course and had it been a clear day I would have accepted the Captain's offer of a quick jaunt up to the Corcovado where the Christ Statue stands extending his arms over the city but as it was we shelved that idea for a better day. However, it is very easy to get mugged or pick-pocketed in Rio and that isn't relaxing. It is much harder to be mistaken for a local than in SP as the proportion of tourists is so very much greater in Rio you are much more likely to be one and therefore much more likely to fall foul of a criminal. In SP I was (as always) asked for directions in Portuguese several times which I knew wouldn't happen in Rio. Even with two of my colleagues walking on the beach I didn't feel safe.

All in all it was a great trip. I will get Jo to post some of the pictures of Paranpiacaba, but she wont be able to until Monday. I know this has been a long post but if you are not totally sick of reading about me by now, I urge you to drop in again and just look at them.

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