Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Brazil May 2013

Having been pondering doing Brazil since 2007 I finally got round to doing it; and not before time!

Places visited:

Natal, Joao Pessoa, Recife (Olinda), Maceio & Sao Paulo

Our entry into Brazil was from Cuba on the back end of a visit there. We booked a return trip through Copa Airlines, via Panama City and would ultimately fly back to the UK via Cuba & Spain; a long trip which neither of us was looking forward to upon arrival into Brazil but it was by far the cheapest option to get home from Brazil!

Natal Day 1 (Friday 17th May 2013)

We were early into Sao Paulo, which is what happens when planes depart early. Our next flight, to Natal, wasn’t until 1120 so we had 5h30m to kill before our onward journey. The declaration cards for arriving into Brazil were worthless in the end as I ended up going down the “Something to Declare” channel as I’d got some food in my bag. All they did was X-ray my bag and send me on my way, not even wanting to see the contents inside, or the declaration slip.

Check-in for our TAM flight to Natal was done on a self check-in screen, which then made it easier for me to take my overweight bag through customs, without the potential for it being weighed.

Once airside the services are very limited at Terminal 2, with only one shop selling coffee and soft drinks etc. There are however plenty of charging sockets which we used to recharge virtually everything we had as since leaving Pinar Del Rio we hadn’t been able to charge anything as all the plug sockets had the flat pronged connections and we’d only got the European style round pinned ones between us. While I’d almost flattened my computer battery, along with one phone battery and one camera battery, I’d probably have managed the rest of the trip without charging anything camera & phone wise as I’d got spares; still it was nice to start a fresh, all fully charged.

Our 5 hours flew by and we were on a bus out to our plane’s remote departure point before we knew it and up and away with TAM, our third on time departure in a row.

The City of Natal is visible as you come in to land, quite a variety of high rise buildings, spread out over quite a large area. The airport was a breeze and for the second time that day we found ourselves having time to spare before we needed to be somewhere so we chilled with a drink for half an hour watching all the Brazilian tourists being gathered together by the tour reps for transfer to Ponta Negra we assumed.

We got ourselves a pre-paid taxi from the airport to CBTU Natal‘s Parnamirim station. Getting that wasn’t very straight forward as the woman couldn’t figure out where we wanted to go. Thankfully I’d heard a guy speaking, what I thought was Portuguese, who was English. It turned out he had actually been speaking Spanish but his Spanish managed to get across where we wanted to go and R$28 later we were in a taxi.

Parnamirim station isn’t central to anywhere and is literally down some dirt road, back street. People were already waiting for the train when we arrived and there was music blaring out from some local house, along with the odd vendor selling bits n bobs. I instantly recognised the place as I’d spent a bit of time on Google Maps before we’d come out. The station we were at is shown as Jardim Aeroporto on Google Maps but it was clearly signed as Parnamirim! It explains why the tracks beyond it, towards where Google Maps actually shows Parnamirim, were all disused.

The fare on all CBTU lines is a flat R$0.50 and you enter the station premises through a turnstile, without being issued any form of ticket at all. It was a nice sunny afternoon and we’d only been on the platform for a few minutes when Alco RS8 6017 arrived, bang on time, with the 1518 Natal – Parnamirim. It was detached in seconds and run round onto the other end ready to go in 5 minutes; trains are given only 7 minute turnarounds at both ends on the Parnamirim line.

The train wasn’t full but the good thing was it wasn’t full of reprobates and general other types that you didn’t want to be sharing a train with in Brazil, especially when you had your big bags with you. There were however two security guards on the train, who did the rounds, one actually stayed in our coach throughout the whole journey; whether because of us I don’t know but he was friendly enough and attempted to speak to us in Portuguese.

The loco seemed to be making a bit of job of getting us to Natal, the line was downhill virtually all the way but there was one hilly bit near Pitimbu where it was flat out and the train was almost down to walking pace.

All the stations en-route to Natal look similar, concrete platforms, turnstiles, down back streets and generally looking like local stations for local people. Even at Natal the place didn’t have the feel of a big station and outside it there was hardly anything at all shop wise; the place just looked run down yet the station had been given a face-lift both inside and out.

There isn’t a taxi rank straight outside Natal station but taxis seem to hang about diagonally opposite the station entrance, to the left. The one we got took us to our hotel on the beach for R$10, on the meter.

The Hotel Bruma sits just above the roadway, overlooking the beach at Natal. It was booked online through and while the staff on reception didn’t speak a great deal of English they used Google Translate to communicate some things to us, like where local restaurants were and the fact that it would cost us $300 if we lost the safe deposit box key! The room was fine, clean and with safe deposit box. It had hot water, a mini bar and TV, with some English speaking channels as well.

There are quite a few restaurants to choose from on the sea front, we opted for the nearest as the heavens had just opened and it was hammering down with rain. No menus were in English but a Portuguese translation book helped out.

It was still pounding down when we went to bed that night, May & June were apparently wet months in Brazil. It was the first rain we’d seen on the whole trip…..

Natal Day 2 (Saturday 18th May 2013)

A second day for us travelling on the CBTU Natal line. As the service on all CBTU lines is limited on a Saturday we were up for breakfast at 0700 and at the station by 0745 for the 0816 Natal – Parnamirim. We eventually departed Natal on the 0944 Natal – Ceara Mirim due to the fact that the Parnamirim service was cancelled, and not just the 0816, all of the trains on the Parnamirim line. It was a good job we had got it in the previous day! The woman behind the counter at the station front was gesturing something about waiting for a phone call about the Parnamirim service but we couldn’t understand what the problem was and assumed it was something to do with the rain, which was still pouring on and off.

With time to kill we wondered round the roadway outside the station to find a load three set of stock in the bay platform, while the main platforms were empty. Nothing loco wise was visible on shed so we walked round the main square outside the station, to find nothing at all, then sat it out in the booking hall, before being told to go round the side of the station to pay and enter the station premises for our train.

We were travelling as light as was physically possible and I only had a carrier bag with a bottle of water, some biscuits and a small Sony NEX camera. Everything else was left in the hotel safe deposit box, other than enough money to get us through the day.

As we were stood at the end of the platform we got photos of 6005 arriving without any issues and there was nobody around us. Once down at the blocks end we became braver and took more photos, the security guards not being bothered at all. Once finished though the camera was straight back in the carrier bag and out of sight. Although on board the train was a group of folk travelling together who all had mini cameras and were photting each other, there were plenty of smart phones visible so security on board the trains didn’t really seem to be an issue.

The run up to Ceara Mirim has some steep bits and once the train is over the road/rail bridge where cars run alongside and the walkway is right by the train, the climbing begins. The old railway bridge can be seen just alongside which can actually be seen on the CBTU Natal Timetable, with an RS8 crossing the new bridge!

The seats on board the trains are as basic as they come, bench seats down the sides of every coach. The windows are all plastic, due to the regularity that the trains get bricked. Our trips being no exception and one hit that hard that it knocked part of the frame out and actually sounded more like a gun being fired.

Upon arrival at Ceara Mirim we went straight trough the turnstile and straight back into the station again after paying our R$0.50 each. 6005 was already off the train and running round by that time.

That was Natal done, only 3 more CBTU lines to go. A taxi to the Rodoviaria (R$28) got us our tickets to the next city, Joao Pessoa, costing R$40 each on the 0930 Nordeste bus the following morning. There were regular buses every two hours with Nordeste so we had plenty of options, none of which were full.

Another taxi then took us back to the Hotel Bruma costing R$25 where it was still raining on and off but it hadn’t put the surfers off on the beach.

Food was done at the same place as the previous night, followed by a few beers, before an early-ish night, at 2200.

Joao Pessoa Day 1 (Sunday 19th May 2013)

The sun was out again, just in time for us leaving. It was just as well we booked the 0930 bus and didn’t opt for a lay-in as we didn’t get one. The whole of the rest of the hotel, all female, was up and had decimated the breakfast area before we’d even managed to get any; and that was 0800! They were all dressed in gear for the beach and I’m guessing after the washout the previous day they were making up for lost time. It was only 27 degrees while we sat eating our breakfast……..

As there were no taxis outside, possibly due to it being a Sunday morning, we ordered one through the hotel reception and it turned up in moments. The driver was unfortunately an idiot and spoilt our Sunday morning karma en-route to the Rodoviaria. He was piping his horn at anything resembling a female and racing down the road with some other idiot, who thankfully gave up, leaving us to mind our own business as we made it to the airport in one piece!

Our 0930 bus rolled up, loaded up and departed on time, from stand 6 as per our tickets. All very efficient it was. Even more efficient was the fact that the bus was virtually empty leaving everyone on board to spread out. There were a couple of pick-ups as we headed out of town and then it was right away Joao Pessoa.

I didn’t see much of the 2h30m journey as I was checking my eyelids for holes, when I saw the Joao Pessoa skyline in the distance it was only a matter of minutes before we were alighting at the Rodoviaria.

First things first, we could see Joao Pessoa railway station from the Rodoviaria, only about 100m up the road, in the platform of which were two sets of stock; we couldn’t see any engines though, the depot being at Cabedelo we assumed they’d all be there over the weekend.

Second things second, bus tickets to get to Recife on Tuesday. These were easily purchased from the Progresso ticket stand, which is outside the bus station with all the other ticket offices. Each displays the routes they run but not all display the times. Progresso did and buses run daily, on the half hour, every hour, to Recife from 0530-1930. On some days there is the odd one on the hour in the morning and evening. Tickets cost R$43 for both, including the bus station departure tax that has to be paid; a lot cheaper than the tickets down from Natal, possibly due to more competition?

Taxi’s are a plenty outside the Rodoviaria and we managed to get the worst of the bunch to take us to our hotel, a bloody Fiat Uno, and what a wreck it was too! It cost R$13 door to door, dropping us at the Lagoa Park Hotel, about a mile from the station 5 minutes later.

The Lagoa Park Hotel was booked through and is right on the edge of a lake in the middle of Joao Pessoa. It was basic but not a mess, had AC, a fridge and a TV in the room but the hot water wasn’t so hot in the showers. The restaurant only served breakfast so we had to venture out to get something to eat. None of the hotel staff spoke a word of English but we managed to establish that there was a shopping centre just up the road, which I located on Google Maps through the hotel WiFi before we ventured out.

It turned out the Shopping Centre was only about 400m up the road and there were plenty of people about so off we went. Inside it was packed with locals, just like you’d expect at Meadowhall on a Sunday. The third floor had the eateries and there was plenty to choose from. A decent meal finished off nicely with a rather large helping of ice cream before heading straight back to the hotel to sit the afternoon out and relax for a bit; which mainly gave me chance to catch up on my trip report and do some washing.

Joao Pessoa Day 2 (Monday 20th May 2013)

Up at 0630; traffic on the street outside had been roaring by since about 0530 so there was no need for an alarm. Breakfast in the hotel was quick but at least there was a decent selection to choose from, including scrambled eggs and rafts of fruit and by 0725 we were standing outside the CBTU Joao Pessoa station having paid R$8 in a taxi with no meter!

The gates to the platform had cardboard notices attached giving the times of the next trains to both Cabedelo, 0853, and Santa Rita, 0807, the latter being the 0757 departure running 10 minutes late. There was no 0744 to Cabedelo. At that point we assumed that the loco in the sidings was the other set that should have been out and either it, or the stock, had something wrong with it. The loco itself had a pile of sand on the running board at the front and was covered in leaves and grass, the coaches also having leaves in amongst the window frames etc.

We paid our R$0.50 to get onto the platform, when allowed, and Yellow Alco RS8 6013 soon arrived with the 0725 Cabedelo – Santa Rita, on load 5. We managed to get photos as it arrived, and of 6011 in the siding, without any hassle or glares.

The front coach to Santa Rita seemed to be loaded with teens going out for the day somewhere and it was a little rowdier than we’d been used to on the Natal system. All behaved though, the presence of the two security guards seeming to do the trick. The stock was set out slightly different to the Natal based sets with there being some seating at right angles to the coach sides, although there was the odd coach with seating down the sides only.

En-route back to Joao Pessoa the shunter who’d run 6013 round struck up a conversation with us; he obviously seen us photographing and spoke decent enough English to be able to have a conversation with.

He confirmed that the first train from Joao Pessoa to Santa Rita had made it there and the loco then had to return light to Cabedelo for maintenance; a mechanical problem apparently. That would explain the stock that was in the siding at Santa Rita. 6011 at Joao Pessoa had arrived from Recife the previous day, which we though could be the end of loco-hauled trains on the Recife network but we later found out from the net that night, as posted on CBTU’s own site, that the set had been sent up from Recife to allow a Joao Pessoa set to be used on the Trem do Forro at Campina Grande (120km west of Joao Pessoa) during the month of June, where one of the biggest festivals in Brazil takes place. Finally the guy confirmed that 6008 & 6013 were the only working locos on the Joao Pessoa system; yet another system with only enough equipment to run the service if it had 100% availability every day they ran trains!

Our plan upon arrival at Cabedelo was to do the 0948 Cabedelo – Santa Rita back to Mandacaru, where it was timetabled to cross the 0943 Santa Rita – Cabedelo; CBTU had other ideas……

We nipped straight out of the station to try and get a photo but the whole place is fenced off and there isn’t even an option through the fencing. When we returned to the station to get back onto the train the sign at the gate to the platform said the next train to Santa Rita was at 1101, the thumbs down from the security guard when we asked about the 0948 confirmed it was cancelled. We had no idea why but during the time we had at Cabedelo 6013 was fuelled and watered and then shunted a coach out of the set, replacing it with another, before shunting the whole set into the sidings and then being shut down on the run round road, in the shade.

We had a decent run all the way back to Santa Rita, where the on train security staff then seemed have a problem with us. They seemed to be gesturing that we couldn’t return to Joao Pessoa on the train and when I went to pay one of them told the woman at the counter not to take my money. They eventually got us back onto the platform via the exit gate and let us go on our way to the front coach; where we fully expected some sort of issues on the return journey. However our shunter guy from the morning was running round 6013 again and he came to have a chat with us. It turned out that the security guards were trying to tell us we didn’t have to pay again to return to Joao Pessoa and that once you were on CBTU property you could ride around to your hearts content and didn’t have to pay per journey. So basically we could have ridden about all day for R$0.50. We had only paid for two of our three journeys that day mind but we didn’t pay for anymore at all! 

The midday trains had been teen/child free but the rowdiness had returned and I was glad to be going back to the hotel upon arrival at Joao Pessoa. 6013 was already sat in the bay platform waiting for us to depart before it continued on its way to Cabedelo with the 1432 Santa Rita – Cabedelo. It made for a nice photo backing out of the bay in the late afternoon sunshine.

We found plenty of taxi’s at the nearby Rodoviaria to take us back to the Hotel Lalgoa Park, the meter reading R$8.50 when we got out. A quick check of all our baggage confirmed everything was still there before we headed up to the shopping centre again for something to eat.

The streets outside were a complete contrast to the previous day, a Sunday. There were cars everywhere, all the shops were open and people filled the pathways on both sides of the road as we made our way to the shopping centre. The choice of food was from a help yourself Chinese fast food place, which charged based on the weight on your plate. I have to say the food was bloody good too, as was the overindulgent ice cream afterwards.

Back in the hotel the WiFi proved useful to resolve an issue that had been ongoing for a couple of days. Our flight from Maceio to Sao Paulo on Friday was up in the air as the connecting flight from Basillia had been cancelled by TAM. They’d offered us a later flight but it didn’t arrive into Sao Paulo until 1938, which was later than we wanted. An e-mail advised that we had three options to choose from, after I’d asked if we could depart earlier, they were departing at 0350, 0517 or 0950. The first two being a bit rancid but the 0950 being direct and arriving into Sao Paulo at 1300. A bonus in three ways, one we didn’t book that fight in the first place as it was twice the price of the 1235 departure, two it got us to Sao Paulo with time to get to Luz and book our tickets for the CPTM Expresso Turistico the following day rather than having to turn up at Luz at 0600 on the Saturday morning and three because it was direct and allowed us to arrive Sao Paulo in daylight instead of just after dark. I snapped the girls hand off for the 0950 flight, all we needed was confirmation.

Recife (Olinda) Day 1 (Tuesday 21st May 2013)

After a quick breakfast at the Hotel Lalgoa Park we had no problem finding a taxi to nip us to the Rodoviaria. A quick scan at the station on our way had revealed that CBTU were running a one train service again that morning, the other set being visible at Joao Pessoa station; we couldn’t see a loco though.

The 2 hour bus journey was harmless and empty, there were only about 15 people on the whole bus. At Recife we quickly bought tickets for the last of our Brazilian bus journeys, from Recife to Maceio the following day, each ticket costing R$44 with Real Alagoas on their 1130 service.

As Recife had a name for being a little “dodgy” we opted to leave our bags at the left luggage, on the ground floor of the Rodoviaria. This cost R$3.50 per bag for 12 hours then R$1.75 for each 12 hours after that. Anything valuable was locked up in Si’s bag and off we set with our carrier bags, with just a camera, to the adjoining CBTU Metro station for a train to the next stop at Curado. Our afternoon would be on the CBTU Recife Curado – Cajeiro Seco line; that was until a nice shiny new VLT was provided for the service, which had us heading towards Olinda and an early bath.

As with every CBTU line we’d used thus far there are no tickets issued but there are options to transfer between lines for a higher tariff so the fare structure is slightly different to the flat R$0.50 we’d been paying on the other lines. To get through the barriers to the platform we were handed a credit card sized piece of plastic to feed into the machine, which then allowed us through; the machine keeping the “token”. At Curado access to the CBTU Diesel line to Cajeiro Seco is at the Rodoviaria end of the platform, where there is no barrier at all.

Annoyed, we contemplated what to do, briefly. Had we not had accommodation booked in Olinda we’d have probably gone straight to Maceio on the next bus but off we went to Olinda, in Recife’s suburbs.

Taxi’s were plentiful outside Recife Metro station and we were dropped at Pousada Praia dos Milagres about 15 minutes later, the fare being R$23. No English was spoken at all by any of the staff. We were given room 1, which was right by reception, which had 3 beds, two singles and a double. The room looked a little rough around the edges and was quite imaginatively decorated but for the rancid green paint on the walls. It was full of mosquitoes, which had unfortunately tried to chew through my legs before we’d realised just how many there were. Hoorah for Google Translate though; we were in possession of their mosquito spray shortly after arrival and went on a mosquito murdering spree, until every last one was dead; they all deserved it for the dot to dot patterns they’d left on my legs, which were itching like mad.

With the rest of the afternoon to kill we took a wonder down the road to try and find some life. It seemed Olinda was a bit of a sleepy hollow with most of its bars/restaurants either closed or not serving any food. Our search did take us into the old town though, which is very colonial and relaxed; there were quite a few Brazilian tourists roaming around taking photos on their Ipads etc so it seemed a popular place.

The views from the top of the town are excellent and with it being a nice sunny afternoon we could see all the way to Recife, the high rise buildings standing like matchsticks all the way round the coast, as far as the eye could see.

Having tried three places for food and just ending up having a drink, ultimately we ended up back at the hotel where Google Translate had the woman on the front desk ordering us pizza’s from the local takeaway; menu’s for which are on display at the desk. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in the room, without any more mosquito related issues, watching crappy Brazilian soaps on the one and only TV channel. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the Pousada so we weren’t disturbed at all by excessive noise, however if it had been full the social area and pool were right outside the window of our room.

Recife to Maceio (Wednesday 22nd May 2013)

A taxi had been booked for us the previous night for an 0600 departure and after a cold shower (no hot water) our driver was already waiting for us the moment we walked out of the door. The traffic into Recife centre was starting to build up and it took a little longer to get into town than it had out the previous afternoon.

Before boarding a Metro out to Curado we had a quick scan at the old railway station, which now housed 3 locos:

Henschel 1952 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 #612

English Electric A1A-A1A 1954 #710  

North British Loco Co 2-6-2T Works #17228 of 1906, numbered #17

As our plans had gone down the pan with the new VLT’s working on the Curado – Cajeiro Seco section of the CBTU Recife Diesel line we headed for the Rodoviaria in attempt to get an eralier bus to Maceio.

Real Alagoas operate buses from Recife to Maceio at 0715, which we’d missed by 15 minutes, then 1100, which is a stopper and then our 1130 express; so we had to sit it out and wait for our booked bus at 1130. The 4 hours being killed sat around just watching the world go by really…..

The bus eventually departed 10 minutes late and was almost full. When we’d booked our tickets the previous day there’d only been 6 spaces taken. Unfortunately the 4 hour journey ended up taking 5 hours, four hours being a bit optimistic in the first place and hindered by some idiot that had ploughed into a power line mast, bringing the cables down all over the road. Judging by the state of his vehicle the occupants would be lucky to be alive…..

Again taxi’s were plentiful outside Maceio Rodoviaria and we were at the Hotel Enseada about 10 minutes later, having gone quite a way down the coast; which looked very civilised indeed. Maceio looked like any other seaside resort with a main road down its coast and a walkway on the beaches edge. It actually reminded me a little of Nice in the south of France; it certainly didn’t look like any other place we’d visited in Brazil thus far, at all. Locals were playing volleyball by the beach while we had food at one of the restaurants on the main road and the relaxed pace and environment that Maceio offered was very welcome as our trip was nearing its end.

The Hotel Enseada was a typical beach hotel with a terrace outside, including small pool. It had a large reception with plenty of relaxing areas. The restaurant was open and the place was busier than any other hotel we’d stayed in during the whole trip, including in Cuba. There wasn’t any English spoken though but Google Translate came to the rescue. WiFi is free but not very strong in the rooms but excellent downstairs in the reception area. The rooms are well equipped as well, with free toiletries and scolding hot water, which was used to wash clothes for the final time on the trip. Thankfully both the SD cards I’d managed to wash in my shorts pockets survived the ordeal and all the photos were still on them! How ironic would it have been that I’d spent the whole trip trying to protect them, only to break them through my own stupidity? All in all a decent hotel choice by anyone’s standard.

Unfortunately, due to it being off season, we were limited to one place for food, other than the odd hut scattered down the beach front. Further down the coast there’d been plenty of places to eat, including the first McDonalds we’d seen in Brazil. The place that chose us though, as opposed to us choosing it, turned out to be a decent place and once we’d deciphered the menu with our phrase books we were well away. By the time we left the restaurant it was very busy, with hardly a table spare.

As all the plug sockets in the hotel room were sunk into the wall, made specifically to fit Brazilian plugs we had to go downstairs into the relaxing area to charge anything; where there just so happened to be a socket beneath the large TV. Two Brazilian teams were playing football while we charged our stuff. We only watched the first half but the tempo of the game was amazing, completely different to anything we see in Europe, no wonder the Brazilians win World Cups on a regular basis; 2014 likely being their next triumph, especially on home turf?

Thursday 23rd May 2013

As our trip out didn’t start until 1030, we had a leisurely morning and left the hotel just after 0900, having managed some breakfast from the buffet in the hotel restaurant. A taxi to the CBTU Maceio station only cost R$9 and was more of less a straight journey down the coast.

CBTU Maceio’s station building is very nice and colonial and looked as though it had been recently painted in the light yellow & white that it was sporting. The booking office was closed when we arrived but had two girls inside preparing to serve. Despite there being an hour to the next train, our 1030 departure, there were plenty of people waiting around for the train.

The whole of the station area was spotless and very civilised with no graffiti anywhere and no riff-raff about. It could have been a station anywhere in Europe. People began to queue for tickets at 1000 and we joined them.

The tickets were small card tickets the size of Edmondson tickets but not as thick. They had a list of the stations en-route and a picture of the Alco RS8, 6002, that was sat by the shed. Unfortunately they had to be shoved into the ticket machine to access the platform!

While the train wasn’t very full ex Maceio, it was wedged by a few shacks out of town and the reason for the train remaining loco-hauled and not going over the VLT soon became apparent. The train was made up of 5 coaches, the front and rear ones being older and more knackered, with less seats. The middle three were all recently refurbished and in a lot better condition. The outer two were used by locals to transport their buckets of mussels from a few shacks out of Maceio, where they’d picked them, to stations at the Lourenco end of the line. It seemed the railway didn’t want their nice shiny new VLT’s being subjected to the mess that the mussel pickers left. Another possible reason was because the VLT’s only had access to one door at most stations due to the old platform levels being too low. Those that were had a metal platform erected which only gave access to the one door, which would have caused a nightmare where the mussels were loaded.

The line immediately outside Maceio used to run through a market that encroached on the railway; this was no longer the case. During their modernisation CBTU had built a fence round to prevent such things occurring. Reports had suggested that the thrash on the Maceio line was the best to be had on any CBTU system, I disagree. While there are a few steep bits on the line the thrash was far from great, even when being able to lean out of the door. Towards the top end of the line its all been re-ballasted and relayed with concrete sleepers and is faster than the bottom half of the line.

Lourenco station looks like it’s been refurbished recently and has new high level platforms; the old low level one still remaining on the opposite side. Once all the passengers are off the train it has to shunt forward to clear the run round loop at the rear of the train, so the loco can hen run round. We didn’t bother going out of the station to spend another R$0.50 and just got back into the front coach for the run back into Maceio.

Again the train was empty from origin but filled up to wedge factor en-route. Even though there was a timetable advertised at Maceio there seemed to be extra trains running. One of which was sat waiting to go, loaded with people as we arrived into Maceio. This did give us a bonus chance to get ourselves a souvenir for the trip as the booking office was open. The women behind the counter looked a bit dumbfounded as we purchased two tickets and admired them as we walked away from the platforms and out of the station; not towards the train. That was it, our whole CBTU experience over…….

Back at the hotel Google Translate helped me get the hotel staff to print out our boarding cards for our Maceio – Sao Paulo flight the following day. It had taken an age to check-in online and download them, then to e-mail to the hotel but it made life a bit easier the for the following morning.

As it was a bit overcast outside we sat beneath some trees over the road from the hotel, where the nearest bar was, just whiling the afternoon away. I’d decided that my shorts would remain well and truly in the bag for the rest of the trip anyway as I’d been bitten to death, on my legs, by mosquitoes on the train and it was getting quite annoying now, so much so that I had to take an antihistamine to prevent the swelling. The little things weren’t playing the game fairly; at night I can expect it but during the day is not playing by the rules.

The hotel WiFi allowed us to check the CPTM Expresso Turistico availability for Saturday, there still being 56 seats available; two of which would hopefully be sold to two English folk the following afternoon.

Maceio to Sao Paulo (Friday 24th May 2013)

As our flights had been changed from 1235 to 0950 ex Maceio we had to be up at 0645 but it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Once checked out we were away in a taxi, which we accosted right over the road, and airport bound. The journey took 25 minutes and wasn’t on the meter; it seems there’s a set fee of R$60 for airport runs in Maceio. Guide books claim around R$55 so it sounds about right.

As we’d almost spent up all of our Reais we attempted to get some money from a cash machine at Maceio airport; not one supported any form of foreign card! We’d be buggered if it was the same in Sao Paulo. All we could do was wait in the empty departure lounge, our plane being the first one on the list.

By boarding time the waiting area was full but there were still a few free seats on the plane. TAM delivered us early to Sao Paulo Guarulhos airport, where we decided that leaving the big bags in a left luggage locker, available at both Terminal 1 & 2, was probably a good idea and having paid our R$12 for the first 24 hours we were soon in a taxi to Luz Railway Station to buy our tickets for the Expresso Turistico for the following day. Despite us trying to cut down the taxi costs by getting a fare to a near-ish CPTM station, we ended up with the taxi all the way to Luz as it was the same price to both locations; which was ching in the first place at R$96.96! The only taxi’s from the airport are all operated on a pre-pay system, tickets being bought at the booths outside the terminals, so you have no option but to use them I guess.

The journey to Luz only took about 25 minutes and we were deposited outside the very prominent station building, built by British folk back in 1901, evidence of its origins still showing on the iron work outside, made by Walter McFarlane & Co, Saracen Foundry, Glasgow.

The ticket office for the CPTM Exprersso Turistico is not where the main office is at the station entrance. To get there having arrived by road, turn right out of the main entrance and about 50 yards along the pathway is a set of stairs which lead down to the Metro, follow these down and at the bottom is the booking window for the Expresso Turistico, all on its own. If arriving by Metro there’s a long tunnel linking the Metro platforms from some lines to the main line platforms of the others, this tunnel leads you straight to the booking window for the Expresso Turistico, once you’ve exited through the barriers.

There’d been 56 seats still available the previous day and the moment the screen came up to show availability we were relieved to still see plenty of green seats on the page. Moments later we were in possession of our tickets, which had to be paid in cash only. The good thing about the bookings is the more in your group, the cheaper each ticket gets. An individual ticket being R$32 but the second ticket was only R$16. All the details of pricing are on the CPTM website.

Tickets safely in hand we made our way to the CPTM Metro, Azul line, via the long tunnel and at least three sets of barriers; having purchased a ticket from the main ticket window back up stairs at the stations main entrance.

Our hotel of choice was the Ibis Budget at Paraiso, which is a few stations south of Luz on the Azul Line and is right outside the station entrance, set back from the main road. There were people queuing to check-in when we arrived and two guys who’d turned up on spec got turned away as the place was full. Check-in was straight forward but unfortunately we’d managed to get a room with a double bed and they had no twin rooms left. They were more than happy to offer a second room for a further R$175, which was politely declined. Armed with an extra set of bedding from reception, we made do with the double bed. The room was small, the shower smaller and the bog miniscule but it sufficed for what we needed and at least had a TV.

As we were in a bit of an unknown area of Sao Paulo we didn’t stray far and didn’t have to for food anyway, there were plenty of places to eat within a 60 second walk of the hotels front door. The remainder of the evening, after dark, was spent in the hotel room; there was no real reason to go out at all, despite the fact that it was cold and raining on and off.

Sao Paulo (CPTM Expresso Turistico) (Saturday 25th May 2013)

0630 alarm call, shower and on the road; well the Metro to Luz anyway. We had grand plans of getting some form of breakfast at Luz, until we found two Alco RS3’s already in the platform when we arrived and that put pay to that; the cameras were out.

It was a nice morning and the sky was relatively clear, contrary to the previous nights weather forecast and while 6001 bathed in the morning sun, 6004 unfortunately didn’t but the station front did; offering some far better pictures than we got the previous afternoon.

Photting done we accessed the platform via the entrance that is clearly marked for the Expresso Turistico, which usually departs from platform 1. Tickets are checked as you board the train and you’re directed to your seat. Both the coaches used for the operation are very clean inside and look newly upholstered. One is done out in leather with a typical commuter lay-out with low backed seats whilst the other, the one we were in, is cloth seats with high backs and felt the more sociable of the two to sit in; the toilets were pristine on board too. Whilst the coaches may seem like air conditioned ones from the outside the windows slide open at every seat, allowing for fresh air to circulate and bellowing to be done.

Both 6001 & 6004 were in very good condition both outside and in the cabs. The paint jobs were almost immaculate. There’d certainly been some money spent on the old RS3’s and long may there be more spent on them. So with a half empty coach, nice seating, open windows and an Alco RS3 to boot; off we set through the suburbs of Sao Paulo.

The run to Jundiai is more of a potter than a fast run, the scnery isn’t anything to write home about but it does give an idea of what life is like in the Sao Paulo suburbs; the high rise filtering out the further out of town you get.

Whilst the trains passengers all did their own thing we got plenty of photos of 6004 as it ran round and then shunted the stock from platform 1 to 3, where it was stabled for the remainder of the day, then we headed off into town.

When in Jundiai you could do what we did, which was phot the RS3, not go on the Expresso Turistico bus to wherever it goes, bumble around town trying to find the railway museum (which we of course didn’t), then try a couple of different bars to pass the rest of the afternoon away by making the beers last as long as possible. Or you could go with the Expresso Turistico bus to wherever it goes and have a great afternoon. Better still you could even print off a map of Jundiai so you know where the hell everything is and prevent yourself ending up bumbling round town, like we did! Had the on train staff actually spoke any English or even took half a stab at telling us what should happen at Jundiai then maybe we’d have spared ourselves a very non-productive 5 hours in Jundiai. Still we made it through the day alive and with all our belongings so we hadn’t done too bad. Jundiai itself looked like a decent enough place and we had no bother walking around the places we did.

We were the first back onto the platform once the stock had been shunted from platform 3 back to 1 and the gates were opened an hour before departure at 1530. The photos weren’t great in the late afternoon, the sun being directly behind the station building that shelters the train from it. Our coach was almost empty on the return from Jundiai, which is something to take into consideration if you do turn up on the day and there are no tickets available. The journey was even more of a totter on the return than it had been on the way out; we were 27 late into Luz.

As we bode farewell to the Expresso Turistico at Luz and made our way out of the station we were officially on our way home. The taxi we found outside being the first step in a very long journey that would ultimately take me approximately 46 hours to get home. The taxi journey to the airport only cost R$72.50, on the meter, and not R$96.96 as it had done on the way out! It at least gave us a few more notes to spend on food at the airport; that was until we saw the prices and ended up having to use a card anyway…….

The Way Home Day 1 (Sunday 26th May 2013)

We managed to check-in at the counter by 01:45, even though Copa Airlines weren’t supposed to start checking in for our flight until 02:25. Unfortunately Copa were about the only airline of the Star Alliance bunch that used Sao Paulo that didn’t have self service check-in available.

The departure areas, once we breezed through immigration, were empty but it was a change of scenery and I even managed to get on the plane with a nice freshly charged spare battery for my Sony NEX, which someone had kindly left plugged into one of the plug sockets; clearly forgetting it as they boarded their plane. The irony of it was it had the Brazilian connections that we’d been lacking over the last four days, to charge our own stuff!

Our 10 hours at Sao Paulo airport ended as we took off at 0525 on plane number 1 of 4 of our long journey home. It wasn’t full though and we had three seats between the two of us to spread out.

Concerned a little about the transit fiasco that could occur when we reached Havana the free WiFi was put to good use upon arrival at Panama City and within 15 minutes I’d checked us in and saved the boarding cards for our Havana – Madrid – Gatwick flights, with Air Europa, onto my flash drive. The problem then became getting someone to print them out for us. The first Copa desk had a knackered printer, the second was completely closed and the gate where our flight departed from only had a dot matrix printer. In the end I walked back through the airport to try the other desks again and when the first I came to managed to get into the folder I’d save them to I thought we were in; only to be scuppered by the fact that the computers Adobe wasn’t up to date and wouldn’t open the files. The one and only final hope, the desk that had previously been closed, managed to open the files and print them within seconds. Not that she was actually going to bother in the first place until I told her that her colleague had tried but couldn’t open them, then she reluctantly put the flash drive in and hey presto!

Our second flight of four, from Panama City to Havana, had an interesting start. The pilot clearly didn’t want to fly through the deep layer of cloud that had formed since we’d arrived and guided the plane round as much of it as he could while climbing to cruising altitude. Unfortunately I was sat on the wrong side of the plane, both arriving and departing Panama, as I’d wanted to get some pictures of the City as it glistened in the sea; something I’d glimpsed on the way in, from the opposite side of the plane. Well worth looking out for if you fly into Panama, even at night time.

Once on the ground at Havana we weren’t allowed through the transit gate until our passports had been taken from us in the immigration hall. Some woman then took them to an office before returning and handing over a transit card and leading us back to the transit gate. We were then allowed into the departure lounge but our passports were kept, only to be handed back once our flight started checking in; the transit card being proof of receipt and proof of transit (having not had our boarding cards stamped to confirm we’d paid the 25 CUC exit charge) and was taken off us as we boarded the plane.

Luckily we had a few CUC’s left to be able to get something to eat at the airport, there were two exchange booths inside the departure lounge should we have needed more. As we left Havana, we could see light at the end of the tunnel, as far as our lengthy journey was concerned and once the evening meal was over some sleep followed.

The Way Home Day 2 (Monday 27th May 2013)

Having slept solidly until the breakfast trolleys appeared I was feeling quite refreshed, despite the fact that we had quite possibly the worst seats on the whole plane. Row 1, right behind the bulk-head, where the staff prepare their stuff in the kitchen, noisily, where the staff insist on flapping the curtain as they walk past, every time it ending up hitting me and where the leg room is actually less than anywhere else on the plane, just because of the way the three seats are orientated; the natural position for your legs would actually be in the aisle but of course you have to prevent yourself putting them there for fear of being bashed with a trolley. Still at least Air Europa deposited us into Madrid on time; shame they couldn’t do the same at Gatwick; the bit that counts!

We were 30 late from Madrid, for no apparent reason really, the plane had been on the stand since we’d arrived 3 hours before take-off. The anticipation of seeing UK soil was greater than it had been throughout our transit from Sao Paulo and once we hit land we knew our journey was almost over; and it was familiar land too. We were able to make out such places as Arundel Junction, Littlehampton station and we followed the coast to Brighton before turning left, inland to Gatwick and passing over Tonbridge Yard, which had 3 class 73s in the yard!

Immigration was a breeze, but for the fact that neither mine nor Si’s passports would activate the chip operated barriers but at least we were then allowed to the front of the queue to get through. And that was us; back on home turf. My bonus for the evening was being allowed onto the 1830 ex Kings Cross with my ticket for the 1930!

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