Getting Around

Post by Donna

Heres an amazing fact: Before coming to Brazil my family was spending over $1000 a month on getting around. Now, we spend about $60 a month. And let me put a wet blanket on any fiery capitalists by quickly adding, No, this is not something that someone had to pay for just because Im not paying for it (like my free dental work). In fact, not only is society at large not paying a price for our cheaper transport, the world is taking a breather from all the fossil fuels the Schillingers have been putting out for the last seven years. As many of you know, we live(d) out in the country, a 20-minute drive from the closest town and John was 35 minutes from work (and Gwens school). We burned from $250 to $400 a month in gas, depending on price of gas and how many trips into the big city or to see my family we might make that month; our car payment was $571 (Honda Element financed for three years) and insurance premiums for two vehicles were $115 a month. Add in oil changes, new tires and other maintenance on two vehicles, and theres a cool grand.

Here in Brazil, we live a 20-minute walk from the center of town, and we have no commute to work. We walk into town and ride the bus back, to the tune of $1.40 per person (Chaise is free until age 5). We have been going to town about two times a week to run errands and for Gwens dance and then making a third trip to town to grocery shop. Between visits to town, if we need anything, we have a bakery and a small store that has a little bit of everything, just a few blocks away.

As you can see, the bus isnt that cheap, and theres not a significant price break for a monthly pass. Yet a lot of people ride the bus because its cheaper than owning a car, by a long shot. The buses have never been so crowded that we couldnt get a seat (not here in Joaçaba, that is). They come by about every half hour, and if theres some more precise schedule, were yet to ascertain it.

A lot of people also walk and ride bikes. Theres no shame in it at all. I am really enjoying walking. Gwen likes to walk when she doesnt have anywhere to go, but the thrill of walking with purpose is gone for her.

Chaise has now learned to walk everywhere too. We havent had the stroller out in six weeks or more. He seems to like walking, and hes learned to hold hands and stay on the sidewalk. Our first week here, when we were in the urban area of Florianopolis, I recall waiting for a bus at a stop that was right near the edge of a busy street. Chaise was not understanding how dangerous it was and he wanted to go hither and yon. And in our attempts to rein him in, he got mad and threw a fit. A young man was standing nearby with a confused look on his face, like whats wrong with this kid? and I felt compelled to tell him (as best I could) that Chaise was a country boy. He had never had to deal with traffic and waiting for buses and such that other kids here, smaller than he, seem to be well conditioned to handle. It didnt help that he looks four years old and was at the time only two.

Our first day in Joaçaba, we took a walk around the neighborhood with Cris and Vanessa. We took Chaises stroller with us, which we did use, but with great difficulty as the sidewalks here are very poor and the streets range from kind of OK to cobblestone to just crappy. This is a great irony to me: In the United States hardly anyone walks (compared to the rest of the world, that is), and yet the US has such wonderful sidewalks. Yet here and many other places Ive been, where so very many people walk, the sidewalks are perilous, if there even are any. As Ive said to Gwen a number of times, You cant put on make-up and walk on these streets at the same time. (She didnt believe me and had to trip and stub her toe a few times before she gave up that practice.)

Gas is expensive here about $6 a gallon (?), which actually is about what the rest of the world pays for gas. So, you can imagine that Hummers, RVs and Suburbans havent really taken off here. In fact, most cars are what we would classify as economy or compact cars. Every now and again Ill see a truck not for commercial use or an SUV, but they are rarities around Joaçaba. What is really popular here is motorcycles. The picture here shows motorcycle parking outside of Gwens dance studio. There are long lines of motos like this all over the place. Pizza delivery, mail, company cars and more are motorcycles. I wish we had one! Its the first and probably only time in my life Ill feel this way about motorcycles.

When contemplating dependency on public transport, the one thing I hoped was that we would live very near a supermarket. But we dont! Were a 30-minute walk from our market. Fortunately, there are so many of us carless people around that the grocery stores are quite accommodating. In fact, you dont even have to leave your house. A lot of people just call in their orders and a store employee shops and they deliver to you. Personally, I dont think my language skills are going to get to the point where I can understand and make myself understood over the phone to order groceries. So well not be experiencing that. Anyway, I like going to the store.

If I spend $60 or more, my trip home costs only $3. If I dont, its a cost-prohibitive $9! I found this out the hard way not that I had to pay $9 once, but that I had less than $60 in groceries once and the clerk held up the line trying to make me understand that if I would just spend a few dollars more, it would be like getting the groceries for free because my ride home would go down by $6. This, friends, required something more than the elementary understanding of Portuguese that I had at that time. I was sweating bullets trying to figure out why this woman wouldnt take my money and just let me go. It took a community intervention to get me to understand, and then once we finally got it, Gwen and I sprinted back out into the aisles to quickly grab another $5 or $6 worth of random food. That was my most embarrassing Portuguese learning experience to date, by the way.

But now when we go through the grocery line, with more than $60 worth of groceries, were asked, as everyone is, We take or you take? and we answer, You take it. Then they ask, Are you going with? to which I respond, Sim. We get our receipt that shows we paid for the groceries to be delivered and then I go to the customer service desk to get a Vale Taxi or Good for one taxi ride ticket. Then we go down into the parking garage with our groceries and wait until it makes sense to take us home. There are three vans, and they try to fill them with people or orders before taking off, unless its just plain slow. And they want to group people logically to economize time and fuel. I think the longest weve had to wait is about half an hour. Sometimes, the van is really packed and Gwen has to sit on a grocery crate. Other times, like today, it was like my personal limo. Our groceries are put in plastic crates instead of bags and the drivers bring our groceries in the house and unload them to the counter. (I would pay someone $3 just to do that!) I like the grocery van, as you might be able to tell.

Well, this has been a long post, thanks for reading. In sum, all this money were saving on transport and how little I miss a car is really causing me to think seriously about 1) having only one vehicle between John and me when we get back to the States and 2) living closer to the places we trade or work. The Honda is paid off now, but I would still rather have those several hundreds of dollar a month we spend on fuel going to a better use.

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3 thoughts on “Getting Around

  1. I love your posts! I was getting scared there for awhile that you might like Brazil more than the states! LOL That truly is one reason Don was thinking of selling out and moving to town! I’m glad we don’t have a full-time job so we don’t spend too much money on gas!

  2. You’ve been enlightened! hehehe
    Having grown up in Japan, this sort of stuff is just so common-sense to me but incomprehensible to most Americans. I’m glad you’ve got to experience life without having to depend on a car 🙂

    I kind of did something similar in Austin this summer. I biked/walked to work or worked from home and did the rest of my trips with a combination of bicycling and bus (the buses in Austin have bike racks, as they do in most US cities). My usual grocery trip was a 10 minute bus ride just north of campus and they actually had the bus stop inside the shopping center near the grocery store (HEB). How nice! 🙂

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