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At the End of a Long Drive

Shreesh and Neena Taskar

We didn't make the decision, the decision made us. On October 20th, 2007, we left our comfortable city of San Francisco to follow a simple algorithm - go North till the road ends then turn around and then go as far South. In between those two points was the stage, the timeline, the space, where we made things happen and things happened to us.

The past is fleeting and the stories, the sights and the feelings are perishable. One sees what one wants to see, and perhaps we are not capable of more. We saw that people are kind and helpful even if they were not materially rich. Some we could understand even though we didn't speak the same language, the motivations of others were incomprehensible even though we did. In the end fragments remain - the smell of roasting chocolate, a flock of snow Ptarmigians on snow, the creaking of the rainforest, the rough feathers of penguins, and the intoxication of Curanto.

So these are our stories. Every time you visit the site you will see a random post below. Each starts with Lo que pasa es que...

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With Dalva

Visiting Panambi – Community – A talk. (Map this!)

“Panambi?, Where’s that?” The immigration officer at the border at Saõ Borja asked us. Panambi is a small town of 30,000 people in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The residents are mostly German immigrants, the Portuguese spoken here varies quite a bit from the language we heard in the Northern states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná. Set in a hillside among trees, the town, with its German architecture, is quite pleasing.

We were visiting our friends from the Camino Santiago, Dalva and Luis Ribeiro, who we had met in 2002.

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A talk at the Scout’s building

We have managed to keep contact over the years, unlike most traveling buddies, mostly thanks to the MSN Instant Messenger. With eight days left on our 30 day Brazilian visa (this is the amount they give you at the Brazilian consulate in Puerto Iguazu) and unsure whether an extension would be possible (we did manage to get a 90 day extension at Policia Federal) we decided to visit Panambi, which was conveniently close to the Argentinian border. We could make it on a tank of Argentinian gas!

Panambi is a very tight knit community, as is often the case in small towns where the residents have been living together for a long time. Everyone was related to everyone else. At parties, “Who is your mother?”, was a common question, reminding me of the close knit communities in India. For a few days, we became part of the Dalva’s close circle of friends and acquaintances.

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We met Shirley, the vivacious owner of the language school where Dalva works and her aunt Heidi who also teaches there. When I visited the dentist, I got whirled into the adjoining law offices where Maria Rita (the dentist’s mother-in-law) showed me pictures of her husband’s visit to India through the Rotary Club. We sipped chimarrão everywhere, at Dalva’s house, at her mother’s, at the law offices.

For a moment, we found ourselves in the slightly uncomfortable position of being celebrities. People were very curious to meet these crazy Americans who had been on the road for a year driving to Brazil. Dalva had arranged for us to give a talk on our travels, advertised in the local newspapers. The talk was at the local Scout’s building where we met Oscar, the Scoutmaster, (and also Shirley’s brother), an outgoing, friendly guy who loves to travel. The talk was in Spanish, which we muddled through, which the audience hopefully understood. At the end, we had a picture session, which remined me of a tango performance we had attended in Buenos Aires when the audience had lined up for pictures with the dancers.

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The group from Panambi

We have been missing community and Panambi gave us an opportunity to get immersed in one. Now its time to move on. But I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of the daily life of regular people in a different culture, which travelers so rarely get a glimpse of. And in spite of the foreign food and customs and language, I was struck by the similarities in characters; for every person in Panambi I could find a twin character in the Bay Area.