Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More amusement at the supermarket. Regular readers of Maps and Legends will know that I have a thing about the supermarket employees who bag groceries here in Brazil. I've just come back from the weekly shop. Today, my bagger was "Soccorro". This strange and popular name for women in Brazil is actually the common word for "help" or "aid". So, it was somewhat ironic that the somebody called Soccorro helping me with my bags turned out to be, frankly, quite unhelpful...

Soccorro, a lady in her 50s probably, bags very vociferously as she possibly attempts to simultaneously break the number of plastic-bags-per-item-of-shopping record and tries to win the Nordestao bagger of the month award. Half-way through the routine she noticed a small packet of curry powder I had bought. (NB. Brazilian curry powder is so mild you have to empty the whole lot each time you want any flavour in your cooking). Soccorro was convinced the curry packet had a hole in it. She picked up the small plastic envelope and proceeded to pummel it repeatedly against the till counter to demonstrate. The cashier was mildly unimpressed when, after a dozen smacks, the bag gave way and curry started flying around the vacinity. I don't know if the packet really had a problem to begin with, but after such rough treatment, it wasn't entirely unexpected that it would split. In any case, I would happily have taken the curry packet home to use as it was (before the beating) but now there was nothing left to do but wait as Soccorro summoned for help.

She called over one of the guys on rollerskates who stocks the shelves to bring a new packet of curry. But, he was busy sorting out a problem at a different cash register (possibly caused by another overly-keen bagger, who knows?). So, after waiting for five or ten minutes with my paid and heavily bagged (ready for nuclear fallout) shopping, Soccorro herself sprinted off to find me another packet of curry... and she came jogging back spouting many "desculpes" and handed me the curry packet (which, of course, she had bagged). Problem solved. But, my question, was there ever a problem in the first place?

I shouldn't be too harsh - I suppose. These guys really care about customer satisfaction and they do work very hard for very little pay. It's just that maybe it's possible to be helpful to the point of unhelpfulness.

Things I miss about England #41: The drive from York to Grange-over-sands in the Lake District. I must have driven that route a dozen times with international students, with my parents and even for a stag weekend, but it was always a gorgeous drive the two hours through Harrogate, over the dales and moors, and up into Cumbria past lakes, pubs, sheep and the best of the glorious English countryside.

Things I love about Brazil #40: The drive from our house to Tataruga Guest House on Tabintinga beach. On Sunday, Rachel and I, her folks, Amy and Herbinho drove out to our favourite little spot to relax - a Norwegian-owned guest house facing the sea about half an hour drive from Natal. The drive is stunning and I always reach for the car keys before anyone else to be the one to take us there. The journey starts as you skirt Natal's most famous and populated beach - Ponta Negra - with a view of bald man's hill and then past the ABC football stadium and down the coast. Once past the police check, the road takes you through a string of quiet seaside towns with quaint Catholic chapels and brightly painted shrimp restaurants. Cruise past the stunning Cotovelo, Piringi and Buzias beaches on the left and mountains of lunar-like sand dunes to the right. At one point, you have to hit the breaks as you nudge past the world's biggest cashew tree (it really is the biggest - this is not a figure of speech) which has grown to such an extent it encroaches on the road. As you approach Tabitinga beach, the road rises sharply and you are left with a postcard view of the Atlantic ocean. Just before the turning to the guest house you can stop at Dolphin view, take pictures and try to spot any fins peaking out of the water. The guest house is off the main road, and so you have to take the car out onto bumpy red soil for half a mile before you get there. I love this final stretch, it reminds me of driving Dad's LandCruiser in Chad.

The view from the Andes.
Chile is a very strange shape. It's like a sliver, a needle, a hockey stick on the western edge of the continent (see outline above). To drive the 2400 miles from the icey southern regions to the desert-like border with Peru is meant to be thrilling. I would love to do this one day, perhaps on a motorbike like
Che Guevera. Chile is split into 13 states positioned head to toe, like the back of a dinosaur skeleton down the side of the Andes. The States are named, in true military fashion, from north to south, State 1, State 2, State 3 etc. According to Bob, most of Chile's population live in the central regions around Santiago - States 5 and 6 or so. Administering this bizarrely-shaped country is a nightmare and the government is trying to encourage people to spread out and populate the extremities by offering tax breaks so as to put less pressure on Santiago which is expanding and becoming more polluted as it houses over 50% of the country's 11 million people.

And there concludes the According to Bob series... thanks to the main man Roberto Troncoso for his razor-sharp insight.

Shorter posts please. If you've read this far, you're a saint. I keep getting carried away with my posting on here, and some of these entries are getting obscenely long. Shorter, to the point posts, I promise.

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