Monday, 14 May 2007

Bem vindos ao Brasil

Bem Vindos, of course, is both leader of the rebel alliance and "welcome" in Portugese.

Portugese, or at least the Brazilian version, is like badly pronounced and ungrammatical Spanish, so I'm having no trouble being understood here - I'm doing better than in the Spanish speaking countries, in fact. For those of you that have never heard it, Portugese sounds a lot like Sean Connery speaking Spanish in a Russian accent.

By rights I should now be out in the jungle, tracking jaguars and wrestling crocodiles. Sadly, there's a strike by the Federal Park Rangers and we couldn't get in - though this didn't stop us spending a day getting deep into the rainforest and then turning round and spending another day coming straight back out.

After three of us (myself and a Dutch couple) spent two and a half hours arguing with the guy who booked the trip, he agreed to a partial refund and turned out his pockets to show a couple of crumpled, small denomination bills. This is all I have, he said. This was late Friday night, and the banks all close for the weekends, though the ATMs work, we reminded him.

The guy kept on complaining about the expenses he'd incurred to organise the trip, how out of pocket he was and it wasn't even his fault, even telling us he wouldn't have anything left to get a mother's day present after giving us all his cash. I may have looked pretty p*ssed off, but inside I was weeping for him, I really was.

At one point he got really aggressive and was squaring up to me, shouting in my face an inch away from my nose. This was sparked because he was insisting that he had no money in the building, and I pointed at the safe and said "Open that, show us there's no money in it, and then I'll believe you". He made a big deal of pretending to call the police, shouting and screaming, and then came across the room as if to hit me. I was almost hoping he would, to be honest, because then things would have gotten really interesting. However, the Dutch girl started crying and the moment passed.

After that he spent ages pretending that he was going to open the safe but being unable to, fetching a girl with another set of keys who was also unable to open the safe, until it just became pathetic to watch and I told them not to bother.
I wanted all of our money back, but in order to get any kind of settlement and get to bed we agreed to split the costs of the trip between us and the agency - after all, there was a note in our contract to the effect that in the event of cancellation due to circumstances beyond their control, they weren't liable to give us anything. I wasn't convinced at the time but the strike is genuine because it's been on the news, so they could have tried to wriggle out of it completely. I was unhappy about this compromise, but was one vote in three.

When we started to break down the costs the guy plucked some random numbers out of the air, even on items we'd seen purchased so knew he was lying, and implausibly high on others - for instance insisting he'd spent 300 Reals on food, which would feed Bernard Manning and a kennel full of rottweilers for about a month over here. This tiresome charade continued for quite a while.

My favourite part of the argument, though, was when I said I didn't believe him about his expenses and he said "Well, maybe I don't believe you, eh, eh?". If he was from the US I believe the phrase he'd have used would have been "So how do you like them apples?". But we're not saying anything, I said.

Eventually we agreed a sum of about two thirds what we'd paid in compensation, and we'd get it in small installments over the weekend. We weren't really convinced we'd get anything, a suspicion not helped in that every time we were supposed to meet him for money he wasn't there.

As I write this we have most of the money he promised, and in about half an hour we're supposed to go back for the rest.

I think that if he wasn't planning to pay us, the turning point came when we turned up at his house on Sunday evening. Ostensibly it was to tell him something about the hotel the Dutch couple were staying in, but really what we were telling him was "We know where you live", and also "We're not going to give up on this", and a little bit "We're going to hassle you until you pay up".

One thing we did manage to get out of the whole debacle was a swim with pink dolphins on the way to the park. There's a family in a small jungle town that have been feeding a family of dolphins for nearly ten years, and now they're tame enough for paying guests to swim with. As long as you feed them fish first.

There were half a dozen of them, and when I got in the water they were all swimming around me, nudging me in the back and being generally playful - and none of them were paying any attention to the other two. However, I was finding it difficult to swim with all those tails, snouts and dorsal fins in my way, and I found myself wanting to say "Do you mind, I'm trying to have a spiritual moment here?"

The woman that runs the place said "They like you, you must have a good spirit", which normally I'd have dismissed as a piece of New Age claptrap and assumed that they were fascinated by me because my swimming technique most closely resembled an animal in distress. In this case, though, I was willing to believe her, until I found myself thinking that the pink dolphin isn't the prettiest member of the dolphin family and on cue all of them swam off to play with the Dutch guy. "You've changed", they seemed to be saying.

Anyway, soon I'll be taking the next boat down the final leg of the Amazon to Belem, from which point I shall be heading South down the coast.

All the best

Nathan (friend of the pink dolphin)

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