None of us was awake when we boarded the bus in Chuí.
“Mark, I don’t want to talk. I’m tired, I’m gonna sleep. You can sleep too.”
He put his head on my lap and I closed my eyes, hoping he would do the same.
“I love you, mommy.”
I hope I said “me too” before passing out.
We didn’t have any info, good or bad, about Pelotas. At this stage, after rural Uruguay and Chuí, we were hoping for a small city with a few conveniences—we needed to do the laundry, for a start. Pelotas was also on the road to Porto Alegre and a place where to break the journey. On a map of Brazil, most southern cities look next to each other but this is a big country—most of the time, they are a four- or five-hour bus ride from one another.
Four hours. This was how long it should take to reach Pelotas.
I never sleep with Mark anymore. He is too big for the three of us to squeeze in the same bed. Occasionally, Feng and he share a double bed and I take the single one when I need to work late at night. But I can’t remember the last time Mark slept on me.
This time, he did. I dozed off as well, barely aware that the bus was stopping everywhere to pick up passengers waiting on the side of the road. Now they were standing in the bus and it was getting crowded. Okay, so this was not a direto bus.
Indeed, it took longer than expected to reach Pelotas but Mark and I slept all the way through.
We had booked one of these apart-hotels and after two beach villages and a seedy border town it was the first time in a while we didn’t have bugs in the room. I truly appreciated the crisp white bedsheets. Ask Feng or Mark—I’m an anal bitch when it comes to beds. One of my greatest travelling pleasures is to sleep in a clean bed made by someone else. Sheets are tucked and folded in a way I can never achieve at home, at least not without ironing bedsheets and this isn’t going to happen anytime soon since I don’t even own an iron. I ban Feng and Mark from going on “my” bed or “my” side of the bed—Mark because he loves jumping around and putting the sheet over his head to be a ghost and Feng because he picks the skin off his heels. Oh, just in case you’re wondering, I don’t mind using the bed for other stuff.
Since we didn’t know anything about Pelotas and since it was our second day in Brazil, we had to play detective to figure out how the city worked—and remember how the country as a whole worked as well, not to mention that I had to retrieve some Portuguese from the bottom of my head. If you hear someone laugh in Pelotas, it’s because I’ve just said something in Portuguese. For instance, this is how it went at the bakery. I spotted a small pastel de nata, a custard pie I love, very similar to Hong Kong egg tarts.
“Um pastel de nata, por favour.”
“Ah ah! Não é um pastel de nata, é um pastel de Belém!”
Oh, silly me. Sounds a bit like the pain au chocolat/chocolatine debate in France…
We found the supermarkets, the bank and a laundry service. We were also reminded that in Brazil, shops close very early, around 6:30 p.m. By accident, we also learned that February 2 was a “feriado” a bank holiday—good to know.
Pelotas is apparently known for its doces, bite-size sweets with custard, chocolate, fruits and a lot of sugar. The brigadeiro and the pastel de Belém can be found throughout Brazil but Pelotas had sweets I had never seen anywhere else. We sampled at Rua do Doce from the street stands … and oh, boy, these are sweet!
The good surprise in Pelotas was how pretty the city was. The historical centre is full of cobblestone-paved streets with colourful painted houses with Portuguese ceramics on the façade. It reminded me of Antigua, Guatemala, or Granada, Nicaragua. Yet, for some reason, this city isn’t very famous among travellers. It should be.
The taxi driver had mentioned that Pelotas hosts two major universities, the Federal University of Pelotas and the Catholic University of Pelotas. This came back to mind late one night, when I took Rua Gonçalves Chaves, a street parallel to Félix da Cunha, where our hotel was located. There was a bar every five metre and hundreds of students drinking and partying in the street. Apparently, this is how it goes every night—or at least, it did during our weekday stay in Pelotas.
A quiet city was the perfect way for us to ease into Brazil. Now, time to tackle a more difficult one…