Staying off the beaten tourist trail and heading for another urban experience, I left Campo Grande and took an afternoon bus to Goiânia, which cost a mere 120 Reais with Viação São Luis under the name of Paulo Tomaz. The bus driver noted that the name on the ticket didn’t match that on my passport, but shrugged and let me on anyway. I stuck to the seat indicated on the ticket and ended up next to a rather sweaty youth, but I resisted the temptation to take one of the double seats elsewhere and was vindicated as the bus got full at the next town. Fourteen hours of intermittent sleep later and I got to the bus terminal in Goiânia, which unsurprisingly was a dump, given that bus stations aren’t really a prized asset in South American cities.
I stayed at Hostel Gyn, a green building about a half-hour walk from where I was dropped. Indeed walking was to be the theme of the day. If only I had one of those steps and calorie counter things, I’d beat everyone. Ever. The hostel was 40 reais a night, though it can be got for 35 if you book online. It’s simple, with bunker style dorms, a decent breakfast and an empty swimming pool beside the TV lounge. As it was, I was the only one there for the night I stayed. Job done.
When I asked the receptionist if it was alright to go walkies in the city without problems, he merely replied: “You live in Rio, no problem,” and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d hear such a comment. Rio provokes terror in the hearts of non-carioca Brazilians, and those belonging to the middle class and beyond are just plain freaked out by it in my experience. And that includes bourgeoisie Brazilians from Rio too. Fear of the favela, etcetera. Something of a sweeping generalisation, I must admit. However, during my brief stay, I had a good chat with the hostel workers, who in keeping with the pattern I’d felt in Campo Grande, conversed with me as if I were a normal friend, chatting about music and politics, rather than treating me as a foreigner.
Via the help of Google Maps, I managed to see Parque dos Jubitis, the civic square, and from there walked all the way to Parque Flamboyant and back. A good five hours walking. The aforementioned attractions were simply parks with artificial lakes and nice walkways, nothing as amazing as TripAdvisor posters would have you believe, though I have learned to take such comments with a pinch of salt.
Anyhow, and onto the main purpose of my stop in Goiânia, to meet a friend, Carlos, a Peruvian-turned-Brazilian who had stayed at Valter’s house (kind of functions as a hostel too) during the Olympics and told me that if ever I were to pass through his city…so I took him up on it.
For the next two nights I stayed at his house and the highlight of the first day was buying a sponge while he was at work in his shop. Talking of shops, Goiânia is absolutely rammed full of them, many being multi-purpose stores which sell everything at very good prices compared to the bigger cities, much like Carlos’ shop, which had unfortunately burned down in a fire caused by an electrical fault the previous year, but been resurrected soon after. An interesting story is Carlos’, starting from nothing, selling pens and calculators in the street from a backpack, and ending up with a two-floor shop that brings in a fair whack of money. During which time he’d also been shot in a robbery, which put paid to him participating in various triathlons as an amateur living off just rice, eggs and potatoes for many years as he grew his business. This is why I like travelling and meeting people.
On the Wednesday, which happened to be a public holiday, we went to a Resgate, run by Carlos’ friend, a police officer and priest combo. Basically the Resgate is a farm about 100km from Goiânia, on the outskirts of Jaraguá where drug users and dealers amongst other criminals go with the objective of ‘recovering’ from their problems. Accommodation in dorms and food is provided for free, and the ex-cons can help out with maintenance of the farm or even contribute to the small clothes manufacturing business manned from manual sewing machines. The idea is to stay at least six months without consuming drugs or alcohol, isolated from the temptations of the city, and eventually be in a position to return to society. If they wish, as was the case with one individual, they can stay indefinitely, and even bring wives and children to live with them. Biblical readings and study, as well as workshops aimed at giving the criminals a more rounded perspective of life, contribute to the day-to-day of life on the farm.
As we arrived, the priest was on his way to the mountain top to partake in paragliding, so we joined him in the combi and watched some of them float off into the sky from the edge of the mountain before going fruit-picking. Despite the dry, perhaps even scorched nature of the Serrado (a word used to describe the geography of this part of Brazil), there is an abundance of fruits, and in the place we were there were scores of juicy red cajús (cashew fruit) ready to eat. We collected a bucketful and made juice later, but a word of warning; they are laced with a mild poison, so sucking or chewing on the nut is not a good idea, hence why they are roasted before being consumed.
When we returned, it was decided that Carlos would give an inspirational speech in order to incentivise the inmates, though it became a touch awkward when he began to reference me and cite my wisdom from previous days, as if I were an exemplary role model to the criminals, someone to look up to who had surpassed all the problems life can throw at you. Nevertheless, I received a bunch of handshakes at the conclusion from tear -struck hard men, who in actual fact were all extremely cordial and not at all threatening towards me.
Next, we played peteca, a weird sport which follows the rules of volleyball, but instead of using a ball, a cylindrical piece of plastic with a feather attached is hit to and fro over the net. Five minutes of fun. And then on to a friendly game of football.
Except that I don’t understand the concept of friendly sports, as many of my friends who witnessed me insisting on not letting tiny kids beat us in kick-abouts, will testify. I wasn’t afraid to be strong in the tackle and on one occasion I shielded the ball out of play from rather a distance, to which I was referred to as a big massa. One wouldn’t normally nutmeg or maradona twirl someone who has been convicted on multiple occasions for stab attacks, but I dared to, and even threw in a cheeky lob to leave a retreating goalkeeper on his behind. I must admit these Brazilians weren’t the cream of the crop in terms of footballing ability, but even so, I showed them where football was invented.
Needless to say nobody drowned me in the swimming pool in the post-match bathe.
With that we drove back, and Carlos still went at 140km/h (not that I don’t too) while attempting mad overtaking moves, despite having lost his rear view mirror to a stray tree branch on the way out.
With that, we arrived back, took a little drive around the city, though without getting out of the car, all while leaving Carlos’ wife at home and alone all day on a public holiday. He insisted she’d get over it and that as I was only spending a few days there, he’d take a hit so as to make the most of my visit.
And that was that. For the average tourist, I’ll be honest and say that there is no reason for you to stop by Goiânia. Yes, I already had the contact in the area, so it wasn’t as if fate took hold of me much as was the case back in Venezuela, but sometimes the most worthwhile experiences are to be found when and where you least expect it.
Next stop Brasilia, the oh-so tourist-unfriendly metropolis. If online forums were to always be believed.