According to Wikipedia, Porto Alegre translates as “joyous port.” Which seems fair enough. I’ve had a good time here. It’s Ronaldinho’s hometown, so I’ve been trying to expose my gums as much as possible in his honour. After a seven-hour bus journey from Florianópolis, I arrived late on Tuesday night, checked into a hotel, had a quick beer, then fell asleep watching “Scent of a Woman.”
The restaurant here is on the 16th floor, so it was lovely that my first daylight view of Porto Alegre was a nice panoramic view of the city and the lagoon, Lago Guaíba.
I was in for a nice surprise, too, when I checked my hotel’s location on Google Earth, the red dot which marks the city is right on top of the hotel. Woo hoo.
So, what’s the city like? Well, it seems to be nothing out of the ordinary. I’d been told it was “great,” “okay,” and “dangerous” by different people. I’d say “okay” is closest on this very briefest of visits. I dunno what it is, though, but there’s a slightly New York-ish feeling about it. Maybe that sounds ridiculous; but the streets, the height of the buildings, the early morning sun and shadows all made me feel like I was in a city designed by someone who’d seen New York as a child and had tried to remember it through Brazilian eyes as an adult.
I was up and at ‘em yesterday, and I’m glad I was: the temperature was 30°C by 9.30am, and I’d already done a huge chunk of the sight-seeing to be done in the downtown area by midday. I’ve never seen so many people handing out leaflets in one city centre in my life. You can barely walk twenty metres without getting something thrust into your hand. Please, insert your own lewd joke here if you want to. Had a look in an art museum. Quite nice. A couple of churches. Ditto. A military museum. Yep, cool. I saw a cool nine or ten year old kid doing keepy-ups for what must’ve been a minute, (watch out in the future, that lad’s gonna be playing for Brazil one day, but probably not called Nineortenyearoldkidinho, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) And I just, y’know, looked around at the people and the buildings.
Wanting to experience more of the joys of this state capital of Rio Grande do Sul, to soak in the atmosphere of daily life in gaúcho country; I went to McDonald’s for lunch. Now, it’s easy to scoff at this, but, now and again, it’s nice to have something familiar. Plus, I’ve not eaten in a McDonald’s since I was in Panama City. I approach the counter, and there’s a woman with a clipboard a couple of metres in front of the desk. She asks me something, with a pen poised to write something down. I tell her I don’t speak the language. She smiles at me and turns to one of her colleagues behind the counter and tells her that I don’t speak Portuguese. The lass behind the counter says something to another lass behind the counter. This girl goes off into the kitcheny area, shouting something. A minute later, another woman appears in a slightly different uniform; a supervisor or manager. She says “Hi” and explains in English that I can choose something from the menu. I struggled with the pronunciation, but eventually managed to ask for a “Big Mac, por favor.” I look up from the laminated menu she had thrust in front of me, and there are five McDonald’s employees behind the counter staring at me. I felt like a diplodocus skeleton in a museum. Aaargh! Why are you all looking at me? Or are you all being trained to interact with gringos in their own language? For me, the funniest part of all is that McDonald’s is probably the one place where I don’t need help in my own language. I can pretty much work it out, what with everything looking exactly the same as in a British, American, Panamanian, or German McDonald’s franchise. Still, it was nice that they cared. When my tray of food was handed over, I got five smiles, too. Which was nice.
Back to the hotel for a refreshing shower. I see five seniors waiting by the lifts. I saunter up and notice that none of them have pressed the button. Well done. I press it, the door opens straight away. Not one of the old folks acknowledges that a) they were idiots, or b) that I wasn’t. They just piled into the lift without a glance towards me, and then one of them seemed slightly miffed that my presence meant he had to move further into the elevator carriage than he wanted to. The noise! My God, the noise in there when five seniors are talking at old people volume. I thought my nose was gonna bleed like Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” And on my way back out of the hotel, they were in the lift again, coming back down from the restaurant. I closed my eyes and channeled my post-Santo Daime calmness.
Out back into the heat, and I went off in search of a park that looked pretty good on the map. I got lost, though, and gave up when I saw a bar showing football on telly. Sat there, on the ubiquitous plastic chairs, watching a replay of the Inter Milan v Juventus game and the first half of the Egypt v Argentina game. By that point I was a tad drunk, having had a few Skols in the sunshine. And I had one of those “fucking hell, you’re in Brazil, Craig!” moments that come along now and again.
Early evening was on its way, and the Wikipedia article about Porto Alegre mentioned that the sunset over the lagoon was rather nice. Indeed it was nice.
Before that, though, I met up with Guilherme. He’s a guy that, way back in September when I was beginning to plan my trip, left a comment on the blog mentioning Porto Alegre. So we met up in his book shop, had a quick beer, then I went off to watch the sunset, and we made plans to go and eat and watch some football afterwards. I knew that his team Grêmio were playing an away match, so I was just expecting to watch it in a bar, but the match was only half an hour down the motorway, so he invited me to join him and his three fellow Grêmio-supporting friends. And what lovely fellows they all were, too. Brazilian friendliness and hospitality at its finest.
Before the football, we had to eat. We went for churrasco. I’d had this before in Brasilia with Juliana and her father, so I was looking forward to having it again. There’s a salady buffet to make you feel healthy for a nano-second, then several waiters come roun
d with skewers of various types of juicy, delicious meat and they cut slices or chunks of it for you. It’s a festival of flesh, a carnival of carne, if you will. I’m pretty sure my colon is gonna be angry with me one day, though.
After eating, we drove to a small town called Campo Bom, home of Grêmio’s opponents, Clube 15 de Novembro. Snappy name there, chaps. In Brazil, they have regional league tournaments before the main national league begins. This was one of those regional Campeonato Gaúcho games. The stadium was tiny. Probably holds a couple of thousand people. But it was ace. Grêmio’s fans far outnumbered the home team’s, and they made an impressive amount of noise. And I got to see four goals. Hurrah. A peach of a volley, a nicely-taken penalty, a comedy own goal, and a gorgeous curling free kick. All within 20 minutes of the kick off. And all this from Grêmio’s second string team. The home team pulled one back a few moments later, but I was doing a wee so I didn’t see it. Second half was a bit pedestrian, but, y’know, 4-1 isn’t a score you can sniff at, is it?
Here’s a couple of clips. First, the fans singing and jumping around; then the penalty kick.
All in all, a fine time was had in Porto Alegre. Anyway, the backpack is packed and I’m off to the bus station. I’m rockin’ some new deodorant today. Rexona Extreme. Grrr, tough. So we’ll see how that works out. You’ll be waiting for the verdict with bated breath, right?