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6 Hours on BR-101, From Rio Grande do Sul to Santa Catarina

“Wanna go out for a smoke?”


“Bus is stopping for lunch.”

“I was sleeping…”

“I was sleeping too, mommy.”

“I know, sorry. But everybody is getting off.”

Still sleepy, Mark and I got off. Feng followed. We had gotten used to the air-con in the bus and the midday heat hit us suddenly.

I looked around us, fumbling around for my lighter I had put away because I didn’t think the bus would stop. Passengers had split into three groups: the I-need-to-pee group, to the bathroom. The I-need-to-eat, to the freeway restaurant. The I-need-to-smoke, in front of the bus, swapping lighters, cigarettes and looks of relief.

“I remember now,” Feng said. “In Brazil, buses stop for lunch.”

I nodded. “Yeah, me too. Makes sense. Lunch is their main meal of the day.”

Now, I remembered too. I remembered everything. I remembered these backpacking trips, before Mark, with Feng. The long bus rides, the breaks in the middle of nowhere to pee, eat, drink, smoke, the rush back to the bus, checking the time, the hours ticking by, the scenery going by, the road, kilometres of it, going further, always going.

“I was sleeping and not moving, mommy!”

And now, Mark is with us.

This trip is the first time we are truly backpacking with Mark. Not including the several trips to France and the trip to China, which were more family visits, this is our fourth trip with Mark.

In Mexico, when he was just a one-year-old baby, it had been a tiring trip. Looking back, he was so young! I had to run to the nearest convenience store at various times during the day to find hot water to make his milk bottles and putting him to sleep was difficult. Showering as well, since standing on his two feet was still a new skill for him. We had rented a car and we didn’t go too far, just enjoying the Yucatán Peninsula. The year after was a bit easier. Mark had morphed into a toddler and his needs—eating, napping, etc.—were a little bit less pressing. Last year, we still had to deal with diapers, the pacifier, a needy kid and the irrational tantrum stage.

But now, the world doesn’t revolve around Mark anymore. He is finding his place in it.

The baby/toddler paraphernalia—diapers, bottles, baby soap, pacifier, etc.—is a thing of the past. Naps as well, and we are generally more relaxed about everything. He needs more sleep than we do but he is fine with a late bedtime and sleeping in in the morning. He understands the world better, where we go, how we do things, etc.

Sometimes, I wonder what he thinks of the fact that most of the time, I speak languages he doesn’t master. In Rosario, one night, as we were waiting for take-out food, the cook talked to him in Spanish.

“I don’t speak Spanish,” he replied. “I’m not from … from…”

“Argentina?” I prompted.

“Yes. I speak English.”

The cook switched to English.

“How about your mommy?” he teased. “She speaks Spanish, but she isn’t from Argentina!”

Mark sighed. “Yes, she speaks French, English, Chinese, Spanish…”

“So, why do you think she knows other languages?”

Mark sighed again. “Well … she is mommy.”

I think that’s one of the cutest quotable things that ever came out of his mouth.

To Mark, we are normal. We are mommy and daddy with backpacks, mommy who swears and daddy who watches action movies that are kind of scary-but-not-too-much-I-can-watch, mommy and daddy who like to go to a new place every few days.

“Is there a beach here?”


“Let’s check.”

“We are inland, buddy. I guarantee you there is no beach.”

I had to explain Mark the difference between a river (“the river starts in the mountain and finishes in the sea!”), the sea (“just water”) and a beach (“the sea and the sand!”).

But mostly, he follows, watches and learns. And he handles long-distance bus trips just fine. This is the main difference compared to last year’s trip. We flew a lot because it was easier than dealing with Mark in the bus. He couldn’t sit still and had a short attention span but needed to be kept busy, which was exhausting for us.

But this year, we discovered he was doing okay in the bus. He watches movies on the tablet, chats with me or just look out of the window. He does his own thing. He is more independent.

Three, four, five hours fly by.

Or six hours.

Originally, we were considering flying from Porto Alegre to Florianópolis. But when we checked again a few days ago, tickets were more expensive and we had to go through São Paulo.

“Between going to the airport and stopping in São Paulo, it’s probably almost faster to take the bus.”

Well, not quite. But it’s cheaper and we are backpackers and that’s what we do—we bus around.

As I’m typing this draft, to be posted later today, we are five hours into the trip. Mark is watching The Secret Life of Pets (add downloading new releases to my criminal record) and after miles and miles of green fields and palm trees, we’ve just crossed the Lagoa do Imaruí. The bus drove on a narrow, flat, sea-level bridge—it felt like we were driving on water.

In the distance, I saw sand dunes, but for now we are back to green, lush hills.

I’m listening to Crowded House.

You’re still so young to travel so far
Old enough to know who you are
Wise enough to carry the scars
Without any blame, there’s no one to blame

Boarding the bus in Porto Alegre
Lunch break somewhere between Rio Grande del Sul and Santa Catarina states
Scenery along road BR-101 in the State of Santa Catarina
Scenery along road BR-101 in the State of Santa Catarina
Scenery along road BR-101 in the State of Santa Catarina
Scenery along road BR-101 in the State of Santa Catarina
After four hours in the bus…
Crossing the Lagoa do Imaruí, State of Santa Catarina
Crossing the Lagoa do Imaruí, State of Santa Catarina
Crossing the Lagoa do Imaruí, State of Santa Catarina

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