Sunday, 16 February 2014

Days 329 to 330: The Porto Alegre Pie

Travelling is like being presented with a series of pies. There's chicken, chicken curry, steak, steak and gravy, mince, macaroni, and the magical mince-and-mealie. You want to nibble some chicken curry, gorge yourself with steak, sample the mince, and really, what the hell is mince-and-mealie? So many choices, so little time. And so it goes with travelling. Just as I would love to spend my days eating pies, without concern for working or socialising or even moving, I would love to travel without time restraints or agenda. But we can't always get what we want. Danielle and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay and arguably enjoyed them too much, for suddenly we find ourselves without time. A somewhat crazy locked-in schedule looms, covering five continents in a month (I will explain the reasons for this in a future entry), and this has meant things are getting rushed. We had - criminally - just nine days for Argentina. For Brazil, we have just seven. And poor Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil, just one.

Ultimately, the moral of the story here is: three months in South America is not enough. It's not even remotely so. The more you travel, the more you realise you haven't seen, and that truly is the tale here. Our time in South America has been no more than a pie sampling session, perusing a lovely selection of pies, only to realise the bakery has hundreds of other varieties that you'd love to taste. I'm not sure what kind of pie Porto Alegre is, but I know that it has a tasty crust and tempting meaty aroma, but that's all I know, for we regrettably only had time for the quickest of chews.

We arrived on an overnight bus from Montevideo at about 11am and left around the same time the next day. Our hotel, the Eko Residence, was terrific - we've become used to rather varying qualities in our accommodation, as budget will dictate, but this was a hotel straight out of my time working offshore. Slick, professional, comfortable, and with a wonderful breakfast buffet that tops our league table of breakfasts on these travels (this league table hasn't been formally drawn up but I have no doubt that it will set the catering industry alight. Bottom of the list, by the way, the otherwise decent Los Andes Hostel in Arequipa, with stale bread and coffee dregs). It seems we got lucky and managed to get a lucky, heavily discounted deal - perhaps the hotel is trying to pack in the customers in rehearsal for the World Cup. Porto Alegre is a host city, with teams like Argentina, Nigeria and France playing there. The hotel has been named an official World Cup hotel, and while I don't think Lionel Messi and his teammates will be staying there, a whole tons of supporters will be. Not sure if they'll all fit in the pool though.

No doubt, the Eko Residence made our brief Porto Alegre stay more comfortable. At first it seemed as though it might be the only highlight of the city. We took a wander, with rain sporadically showering us, but wandered into a rather drab district of the city. Is this really Porto Alegre? we asked ourselves. Sure, it wasn't touted as a South American highlight, but the crumbling, empty, anonymous streets held no appeal whatsoever. It rained again. Perhaps we'd just return to our hotel for the day.

But luckily we persevered, found a tourist information place, found a good map of the city, and found that Porto Alegre was a delight. On cue, the rain disappeared and the sun shone. Plonked on a small hill by the coast, the historic city centre was filled with charming old buildings in various states of decay, cobbled streets, open areas, a grand old iron-frame market, and a lively sense of bustle that gave the streets meaning. For an afternoon, it was very diverting. We wished we had another afternoon.

But we didn't. Better planning would have seen us slice a day from Montevideo and add it to Porto Alegre. For the next day we were locked into a flight, to Rio, and a date with my next Wonder - the Christ the Redeemer statue.

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