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Night 1 - Part Deux - February 27, 2013

The Houston to Såo Paulo flight did depart right on time.  The aircraft had a very nice set of movies, TV shows and games in the on-board entertainment - all free of charge.  The dinner service was very quick, and they made the cabin dark just after dinner cleanup.  We watched some TV and dropped into a fitful sleep.  No matter what position you assume while reclining in an airline seat, within an hour or less you become uncomfortable.  Shifting positions ultimately results in an arm or leg poking out into the aisle, where someone will bump or trip over it.  All of these factors plus random noise and movement from neighboring passengers will disturb your sleep patterns.  I used some eyeshades and earplgus and made the best of it while K used earplugs and curled up against the window.  After a while I woke up and was wide awake - done for the night.  A glance at the watch showed that there were still 5 more hours to go.  I watched movies and played some games on the entertainment system to while away the time.  The cabin was quite dark and a bit cold, but at 6 AM I peeked out the window shade and saw that we were over the Brazilian countryside, and too high to make out much detail,  other than it was very green.  Broad daylight.  A few hours later we saw this and began our descent and approach into Såo Paulo, Brazil.  Night 1 was finally over, and we have finally arrived in South America!

Day 1 AGAIN - Deja Vu! - February 27, 2013

Sleep is overrated.  That is what I keep mumbling to myself after a fitful 2-3 hours last night.  My brain is foggy and concentration is difficult.  K, on the other hand, slept like a solid rock.  She will have to be the brains of the operation today.  Frankly, we are in better hands now.  I will try to fight to stay awake today, so that perhaps I will be forced to sleep on the flight tonight.  Quick check of the airline showed us booked on two flights today, so I called United and got that cleared up - no worries there, despite my total freak-out on seeing us booked to Chicago as the final destination today!  The Houston-Sáo Paulo trip was also still in the system and ticketed, so all is fixed now.  We will skip breakfast today and try for an early lunch at Vivace Cucina Toscana at the airport today.  I am headed for a hot shower to try and wake up. 

More on Day 1 Redux later...

OK, now it's later.  Our trip to the Salt Lake airport was identical to yesterday.  Bob was in good spirits and showed us his new iPad. Very cool piece of hardware.  Our trip through TSA was also identical to yesterday, including the extra groping.  We had our late breakfast at Vivace, and it was quite nice.

Flight to Houston was on time departing and a bit early arriving, leaving us with 5 hours to spend in George H. Bush Intercontinental Airport, a place as lifeless and boring as it sounds, with lousy internet to boot.  We had an adequate dinner of sandwiches and Greek salads for the bargain price of $40, and we have now had our visas and passports re-checked by the airline folks.  We should be boarding for Såo Paulo in about half an hour, and our adventure begins!

Night 1 (Repeat) will be on board the airplane, hopefully, so no report on that or Day 2 in Brazil for at least 24 hours.

Night 1 - Back Home in Utah in Our Own Bed Again! - February 26, 2013

You read it correctly.  We have returned to our home, having completed our journey today.  I cannot believe how fast our 40 days and nights went by!  We are both exhausted, but I wanted to give you all an update before I crash into my pillow.  With our good neighbor, Bob, driving us in his car, we arrived at the Salt Lake City airport promptly at 10AM, exactly 3 hours ahead of our 1PM departure time.  It took a few minutes to show passports and visas and get our boarding passes.  The United Airlines agent was very friendly and helpful, and changed our seats to have a better chance at getting an empty seat for the overnight Sáo Paulo flight.  All good.  About a 20 minute wait to go through TSA and millimeter-wave "naked scanning." Because we had small metal buttons and snaps in our clothing, both of us got some extra groping at the checkpoint.  Both pockets of my cargo pants, and the lower part of K's blouse.  Could have been worse.  K had left an elastic pony-tail tie in one pocket, and that was detected by the machine and inspected by the agent.  No questions on our liquids, pills, or powders, and K even was thanked for having the powders out of the luggage and ready for inspection.  I called Bob and let him know we were through.  He was a bit preoccupied, having decided to go to the Salt Lake Apple Store and get himself an iPad.  12 hours later, and he is fully addicted now.  Bob - the newest member of the Apple cult family!

We had plenty of time, so we made the long walk from the B concourse to the entrance to the E concourse and arrived at Vino Volo.  There we tried several flights of decent wine along with some cheeses, nuts and fruits.  Very delicious, and amazing to be served wine in Salt Lake City before noon - it's illegal everywhere but at the airport.

After about an hour and a half we headed over to our gate, a long walk back to the B concourse.  We had plenty of time, and arrived and found seating nearby.  About 15 minutes before boarding time, the airline announced a 15 minute delay due to bad winter weather in Chicago.  15 minutes later the delay was incremented by 45 more minutes, making an hour total.  We had 4.5 hours to make our connection to Sáo Paulo, so no worries.  Then the delay became a total of 2 hours.  Then 3 hours.  At 4PM we boarded the plane, and at 4:15 we left the gate and started across the ramp towards the taxiway.  About 30 seconds later the pilot shut down the engines and we were parked less than 200 yards away from the gate.  The pilot informed us that he had been ordered to hold another 30 minutes.  We still had hope, as the total delay would leave us an hour to make our connection - easily achieved since we had no checked baggage.

After 30 minutes more, the pilot announced that the delay would now be an ADDITIONAL 4 hours and 15 minutes.  He assured us that all other flights leaving Chicago would also be delayed, but the internet told us our Sáo Paulo flight was at the gate already and would depart on time. (Ultimately it did depart and arrived in Sáo Paulo only 1 hour late.)  Then another 15 minutes delay until we could go BACK to our gate.  We managed to be first in line to be assisted for re-booking.  The agent was very helpful, and after reviewing several choices, we decided the best thing was to return home and try again the next day.  The agent booked us on a Sáo Paulo flight out of Houston (avoiding Chicago) and managed to get us upgraded seats (Economy Plus) and in a row to ourselves on both legs.  With nothing to lose I asked her, "Since we are losing the first day of the trip, can we add an extra day at the end?" Surprisingly she said that this is often done, and proceeded to make that change for us also.  So we may still have 40 days and 40 nights ahead of us!

All this was working out OK, and we were ready to accept it and go home to try again.  We called Bob, but he did not answer, so we called another friend Barbie.  She was happy to send her husband Rick to come to get us at the airport, and it was good because he was just leaving work and was closer to us.  We thanked him by buying him a dinner at In-N-Out Burger in Centerville, and we had a nice meal and drive together - Rick and I both ordered a 3x3.  Upon returning home, we went to change the reservation for our flight from Sáo Paulo to Curitiba, which we had obtained for $115 for both of us.  Their English website was mostly in Portuguese (one or two words in English), and it looked like it was telling us that there is a "no show" penalty of $150 - more than the original tickets.  If we were to cancel the tickets or make any changes, the penalty dropped to $120.  Alternate airfare was about $315, so we looked at making the change.  Shockingly, the change fee of $120 was added to the fare for the new tickets of about $210, making the cost of the change $330 and bringing the total for this 45 minute flight to a whopping $440.  Such a deal!  And just to walk away with nothing would cost $150 more.  And if we miss the new flight, the same rules apply AGAIN!  Talk about a Brazilian wax job on my wallet!!!

We called our friend Gerusa who is from Rio, and she looked at the website and agreed that it could be saying that. And she decided to call the airline directly.  They confirmed that we were correct.  If you get a cheap fare, there is a penalty for EVERYTHING you do or don't do afterwards.  I checked GOL, a different Brazilian airline, and they have the same policy.  I hope this penalty for doing nothing does not become normal in the USA.  So I went back to the website and made the change and tried to pay for it.  Transaction DENIED by my credit card company - fraud alert.  Really annoying, since they had no problem with the first payment to the same vendor a couple of weeks ago.  I called and went round and round with their fraud agent, who instructed me to try the website again.  But the airline had also flagged my record, and would not let me even attempt to pay.  Catch-22.  The website said I must call a number in Brazil.  So I hung up on the less than helpful credit card agent, put on my headsets, and made a VOIP call to Brazil (only costs 2.8 cents per minute that way) using LocalPhone.  The person answered in Portuguese - imagine that. But I was semi-prepared with some handy Portuguese phrases and responded, "Desculpe-me. Náo entendi.  Fala English?" which means, "I am sorry, I do not understand.  Do you speak English?"  The lady responded, "Moment please" to which I responded "Obrigada" which is the correct way to say "Thanks" to a female.  A helpful man came on who spoke English and I explained the problem in detail.  He pulled up the reservation and let me know that the change had been processed and booked, but the payment was still pending.  I gave him my credit card, but it was declined again.  So he told me the best thing would be to pay it at the airport when we arrived, and it would be no problem.  I thanked him and we chatted a bit before disconnecting.  I still think my credit card is blocked, despite repeated assurances from their person that the hold was removed and would not be applied to future purchases.  I guess we will see tomorrow, when we will repeat Day 1 again!

Now, time for me to crash...

Day 1 has Finally Arrived!!! - February 26, 2013

After six months of planning and designing flexible solutions for various "what if" scenarios, Day 1 has arrived.  In a couple of hours Bob will swing by to take us to the airport. Last night was one of tossing and turning - S was in high productivity mode, and coiled tight like a spring.  Got maybe 6 hours of fitful sleep, and K was not much better.  Yesterday (Day 0) was spent entirely with bringing all the planning together.  Forwarding phones so we can receive calls to any of our USA numbers on my cell phone in South America - done.  Took me hours to work out the scheme, and over an hour to implement it yesterday. And it works like a charm when forwarded to my USA cell number, kindly provided by a T-Mobile pre-paid SIM card on an ancient iPhone 3GS.  Getting my work phone forwarded to someone trustworthy (Connie), who will find someone to address urgent matters as they arise.  Providing our emergency contact information to Connie and some other reliable folks.  Reassuring family that we will not be out of touch.  Taking out the garbage.  Getting  a haircut that may need to last 6 weeks.  Talking to the neighbors, and advising them to watch out for things here.  Getting the salt washed off the vehicles which will sit idly in the garage for over a month.  Cleaning the house.  Eating the last of the food.  And packing.  

We had a bit of a setback in the packing arena.  Indeed everything on our detailed list did fit inside our four small bags - a backpack, large satchel, medium satchel, and tiny purse.  But the satchels were pretty well full, the backpack looks like it has a goiter, and the tiny purse looks like it was filled with expanding construction foam.  We decided to take a small gym bag to hold the purse and a few contents from the other bags.  So now our luggage looks like this:

Not too bad for six weeks, and the purple gym bag can be folded down and carried, or abandoned, as we use some of the consumables we are taking.

For the morning we still need to shower and dress, eat breakfast, take out last minute garbage, turn the furnace and water heaters down to low, forward one last phone, and disconnect our roof heating cables - Bob will reconnect them if we get ice forming while we are gone. I will also take digital photos of the contents of the house for a sort of makeshift inventory, just in case. Oh yes, one inch of fresh Utah powder snow to remove from the driveway and walks.  Tomorrow it will be summertime for us!

Our trip routing today takes us from Salt Lake City to Chicago, then an overnight flight to Sáo Paulo, Brazil.  We are scheduled to arrive in Brazil at around 10:30 AM local time tomorrow, which is 5:30 AM here. The new United Airlines (mostly Continental Airlines in flavor) has decided that everything is for sale.  So it looks like the Boeing 777 is full in 1st Class and Business Class, nearly completely empty in the middle, and nearly full in the low class rear.  We, of course, are in the front row - of the low class rear!  Moving up just one row to get an extra 3 inches of legroom will cost us $100 apiece, so no thanks to that.  Not sure how much extra money they will charge for carry-on bags, oxygen masks, seat belts, the in-flight corporate magazine, or water.  I expect we will be quite groggy upon arrival in Brazil.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

It seems like I had just one more thing to do.  What was it?  Oh, I remember.  Turn off this computer.  Bye!

A Shot in the Arm - February 22, 2013

I took a day off work this week to do some medical stuff.  A visit to the family doctor in the morning to get a routine physical and refills on my recurring prescriptions, then a trip to the dentist for routine cleaning.  None of this was in preparation for the trip specifically, but I did need more of one of my prescriptions to last the duration of the trip.  For me the two appointments would take the better part of the day, requiring over 100 miles of driving from place to place, including the pharmacy.  The physical exam was quick and the doc agreed to renew my two, daily prescription medications, which is less than average for an American of my age.  Why write about this, since it has nothing to do with the trip?  Because my doctor came to life and went into full emergency preparedness mode when he heard about the trip.  He showed me how to field dress a wound and seal it up with super glue, which was kind of cool.  He gave me 4 courses (2 for me and 2 for K) of Cipro, an antibiotic, to address severe gastrointestinal distress or other bacterial infections - just in case.  He further recommended that each of us take one Pepto-bismol pill per day to guard against strange foods, and to carry some Imodium with us.  He also suggested taking along some electrolytes containing potassium to help recover from any issues with "Montezuma's revenge."  I also learned that potassium loss is the greater danger than other electrolytes, should this occur. And he absolutely insisted that we get fresh inoculations for tetanus and whooping cough.  My doc is a good guy, and not particularly pill-happy.  He knows his stuff, and recommends only the minimums.  I balked at the DPT vaccine.  He said the ones we got as kids wear off after 10 years, and that he had personally diagnosed over 15 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in the past six months.  Then he told a fanciful story about what it would be like to get lockjaw (tetanus).  I have not had one in 40 years or more, and K is definitely 30 years plus since her last.  So I begrudgingly agreed.  No way I was going to do a full panel of shots, and he did not even suggest those.  He promised a sore arm for two days, and that has indeed been the case.  K even has a two inch diameter nasty greenish bruise from hers, which she got at the state health clinic later that same day.  While I think America is pretty drug-crazed these days, some vaccines actually work.  So we went with the minimums.  On the way home I picked up bandages, super glue, generic Pepto-bismol, Cipro, and even a small calculator for helping check currency exchanges. All of it was quite inexpensive, and good insurance.  I blew off the electrolyte mixes, since you can get a sports drink pretty much anywhere to help replenish your potassium, as I found out first hand in Cairo, Egypt, a few years ago!  I still have Imodium left from that trip.  For the record, it did not help at all, but the sports drink surely did.

This part did not hurt much, but 12 hours later... OUCH!

Preparing for TSA - February 19, 2013

One week from now we will be loading our little bit of  luggage into our neighbor's car for the 40 minute trip to Salt Lake City International Airport.  And on that day, the word INTERNATIONAL will actually be meaningful.  No idea how much worse the TSA will be since our last trip, which was to Mexico in 2010.   Since we had only carry-on luggage then, I recall it was pretty simple and painless.  A minimum of radiation and no groping of people, although one piece of luggage was probed.  Since then the airport has gone to full backscatter millimeter wave (which is "non-ionizing"and has no millirem rating), and so there will be lots of radiation virtual nakedness.  We can only hope that the groping and probing will be minimized.  Unfortunately we are bringing with us 6 weeks worth of dietary supplements and vitamins, mostly for me, which involves a few pounds of various powders and pills.  So our friends at the TSA may choose to provide extra scrutiny to our persons, our belongings, or even our finances - a recent "mission creep" by the TSA who are actively competing to become most-despised government agency (displacing the IRS).  I fly around the USA a bit, and the only airport (in my experience) that has special extra procedures for powders (instead of just liquids) is Salt Lake City.  To that end we are going really early, and I may ask Bob (our helpful neighbor) to stick around for a while in case we have to send something back home with him.  Lest you think I am overly pessimistic, I offer the picture below.

The two large bags in the background are powders for various things.  The small bag in the foreground is my allowed liquids - all TSA-legal sizes and contents.  The bag and bottle on the right are pills.  Nothing to see here.  These aren't the droids you're looking for.  All of it is perfectly legal, easily explained, and packed in TSA-friendly clear bags, which will be removed from luggage for ease of screening.  So I will allow extra time to go through security, just in case.  Planning to be flexible.  That is my mantra. My real hope is more optimistic - that we will clear security quickly and easily and have plenty of time to enjoy some of the fantastic new restaurants now locked away inside the airport, such as  Vino Volo or more probably Vivace.  Both great ways to begin a trip!

I always try to remember that TSA agents are human beings doing a thankless job that is unpleasant for all involved.  A cheerful attitude, positive and confident, goes a long way to help making the process faster and more efficient.  Those that chafe about it tend to get stuck inside of the process for much longer periods.  I try to keep the bigger objective in mind - not maintenance of security theater (after all I am no threat), but to get to where we are trying to go.  Not saying what we have in the USA is good, but at least we still get to go places.  Contrast that with the former USSR, where going places was not an option at all - with or without radiation, groping, or poking.  Thanks again to Mr. D for that perspective!  

You can practice by training yourself not to react to examples of TSA-porn.

OK sir, turn your head to the left and cough.

Preparation - Sep 2012 - Feb 2013

When one is a compulsive planner, it is difficult to resist the urge to over-plan everything.  While the resulting plan may be good, any time when things don't go to plan becomes an annoyance.  Remove the plan, and often the annoyance will be removed as well, or at least reduced.  This very logical approach is entirely against my nature.  Early on in our travels we would scour all the guidebooks for a new destination until we thought we knew the place well before we got there.  It became evident after several trips that this approach does not work - not only do you NOT know the place very well, you often learn things that are completely wrong.  For the big trip to Hawaii, we researched a very large number of things to do, and each day we chose whether to do something from the list, something else, or nothing at all.  This gave tremendous flexibility to adapt to weather, mood, or whatever.  We had no schedule at all except the return flight many weeks in the future. It was refreshing, total freedom!  

For this trip we have a situation where the trip dates were locked 6 months before the event.  How to indulge the compulsive planner?  Spend 6 months planning to be flexible, of course!  Instead of guidebooks, research went into establishing contacts in most of the probable destinations, determining best things to take with us and what to leave home, and figuring out how to do it all with 3 small pieces of luggage - all carry-ons, to guarantee maximum flexibility.  Unlike Hawaii, this trip would be in multiple locations, most of which will be determined on the fly.  I did end up researching travel costs, and there are economic reasons to choose some routings over others, so we do have some constraints.  But even those are flexible. The rough plan is to start in Brazil, continue to Argentina, then to Paraguay, then Chile, and back to Sáo Paulo for the trip home.

As for what to take with us, we will be trying a number of things and will report on what worked well and what did not after the trip.

Luggage was the first consideration.  What we have always used in the past was inexpensive stuff procured at a discount store like Costco or WalMart, or even from the flea markets.  This stuff is fine for domestic travel and hiking around well-groomed trails in national parks, but not durable at all.  We needed something both durable and versatile.  I consulted a globe-trotting friend of mine who goes by "Mr. D" and he advised:
Buy Tumi luggage - it is the best luggage. Let me repeat so you get the idea in your head: Buy Tumi luggage - it is the best luggage. Yes it is very expensive, but it is so well made, it lasts forever - I have some 10 year old Tumi pieces which I used heavily all over the world and they still function like new. I love Tumi so much, I buy their other products especially made from ballistic nylon - in addition to extensive collection of travel bags or various styles and sizes, I have a winter jacket, wallet, reversible belt, passport case, TSA locks, flashlight, and toiletries bag. There is no better way to ruin the trip than to have a broken zipper or a ripped off strap on a cheap-shit travel bag you got at a discount shop. With some luck, brand new Tumi luggage can be purchased on eBay at substantial discount. Do I have to repeat it one more time, or you get the idea???
You really have to appreciate candid advice like that!  Taking the hint, I procured 3 items (2 used and 1 new) from eBay - Tumi Alpha Travel large satchel, Tumi T-Tech Forge Lambert medium satchel, and a small Tumi backpack.  A tiny purse (not from Tumi) was added for tissues, sunscreen, and other items generally not worth stealing. 

Clothing was the next order of business, and Mr. D again advised us, "You can be stylish but you do not need a separate outfit for every day. Keep in mind that you are traveling to enjoy your destination and not to put up a fashion show." We will target 4 days of clothing maximum: 1 to be worn, and 3 to carry.  This may be too much and could be revised down to 2 to carry later.  Need to be able to wash nearly everything in the sink or shower and hang to dry.  Everything was subject to scrutiny - pants, shirts, shoes, socks, and underwear.  We bought stuff and wore it around the house, to work, etc. to field-test fit and function.  Several things failed and were scrapped or returned.  What we have now seems OK.  We will report after the trip what worked well and what did not.  Be advised that in our upcoming photos, we will often be wearing the same clothes.

Last are accessories and electronics.  Less is definitely more here.  No jewelry except nondescript (and cheap) watches and wedding rings, plus some very plain ear studs for K.  Only a few "toys."  For example,  I bought some ancient iPhones from friends who had recently upgraded, and my brother provided a couple of old non-smart GSM phones from his collection to serve as backups.  Very small and inexpensive, used laptop.  Everything that was not already ugly was made to look ugly and undesirable to thieves - both to "snatch and run" thieves as well as muggers.  Are we planning to get robbed?  Not at all.  We are planning to be flexible.  Thumb drive and used for data backups.  Color scans of all important documents.  Encrypted files to store sensitive data. Web mail access.  Internet phone service.  All that stuff was meticulously researched, implemented, and tested.  Some things have backup and contingencies, others do not.  Again, we will report later on what was needed or not as well as what worked or not.  Overkill?  Absolutely!  But it all served to entertain my planning nature and keep me out of guidebooks and misinformation.  I should mention that K, however, did not feel constrained and is surrounded by a large stack of guidebooks borrowed from the library.  My only concession was to load a few e-versions of some guidebooks onto my ancient iPhone, just for future reference.

Check out the sum total of our luggage for six weeks out of the country:

 Do you think you could do it?


The purpose of this trip is to experience the real culture - the people, the food, the drink, the music, etc. - of at least four different countries in South America.  We are S & K, a long-married couple from the USA.  S, the husband, is from St. Louis, Missouri, and K (wife) is a native Texan.  S married her anyway and quickly exported her to St. Louis, then San Jose and Gilroy, California, and now we live in the beautiful state of Utah.  Like most human beings, we are products of both genetics and environment.  As US citizens, we are armed with a shockingly vast ignorance of geography outside of our national borders.  S is predisposed to be a compulsive planner, and K is willing to try almost anything - once. K tends to watch weather forecasts and reports obsessively and frets about things in anticipation.  K also loves to watch birds and catalog each new interloper, while S thinks they all look like birds.  It is said that opposites attract, and we may be living proof!

Why would we undertake this big journey?  We have no children, and so we are free to travel whenever work, other commitments, and finances allow it. Our pattern has been to take long weekends, or perhaps a week or 10 days now and then, and go travel to interesting places in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.  S has also been privileged to travel for work to Germany, Turkey, and Egypt.  And when one works for a large company like MG*, the vacation can accumulate very quickly.  If one accumulates too much, they stop giving you more (the modern version of "use or lose").  Ten years ago we decided to use most of vacation balance by taking an extended trip to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and so we stayed in Kona, Hawaii in a rented house for six weeks.  It was a legendary experience.  The plan was to do something similar 5 years ago for our 25th in Europe, but medical issues and finances worked together to prevent it.  Things are much healthier now, so the target was to do something this year for our 30th anniversary.  Europe was still a possibility, but a lot of people we know have been there and done that.  We wanted to do something more unusual. Utah snow is beautiful and powdery, but after a while it also becomes a burden to move off the walk and driveway.  So we decided to get two summers this year - one in South America and our normal one in North America.  Avoiding the peak tourist season and the madness of Carnival celebrations moved us into late February and March.

The decision made, S tried to use his frequent flier miles to book "free" air tickets to Buenos Aires.  Thanks to the incompetence of his preferred airline following a recent merger, this destination proved to be quite impossible to book, even though it was connecting with a Latin American subsidiary of itself!  Plan B was to see where the airline goes in South America by itself, without connecting to anything.  One answer: Sáo Paulo, Brazil.  Then S had to determine what dates one can use the "saver"awards, which cost only half the miles.  Several days later we have the answer: Depart Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb 26 and return leaving Sáo Paulo 6 weeks later on Sunday, April 7.  Both legs use overnight (redeye) flights for the intercontinental portion.  All told we will have 40 days and 40 nights in South America.  Hmmm.  40 days and 40 nights - where have I heard that before?  Maybe here...

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

For those unfamiliar with this story, after the 40 days and 40 nights, Noah emerged to find the entire world had changed.  We hope that expanding our horizons for this timeframe will help us to change our view of the world.  Perhaps after reading along, it will help you to do the same.

*Mundane Ginormous - a pseudonym