Friday, 16 December 2011

Trying time...

It's been a long time since my last post. A lot happened but nothing I wanted to talk about.

The never ending saga of our visas... An email with bad news, a rushed return to England... a funeral... that's life.

The day day before we came back from the UK, the friend who was looking after the dog in my flat contacted me to tell me that the electricity had been cut in the flat. That was nearly the last straw.
"What the hell are we doing (in Brazil)" was my 1st thought. I was so stressed with everything by then.
Anyhow, we came back on a Saturday morning and we went through the bills. They were on direct debit with the owner until about 3  weeks before, when we switched the bills to our names. I then paid the November bill at  the bank but we assumed (wrongly) that the bill for October had been debited.

Anyhow, it was not and hence the electricity was cut off! We spent the weekend using candles and most of the food in the fridge was binned or eaten. Too hot to keep.
The following monday morning by 9am I was at the nearest office of "Light", the electricity company. I asked to pay October's bill if it was due and why on earth it was not added to our November bill?
Well they don't add the bill to the next month. Typical of Brazil, I could not pay the bill at their office because some machine was broken (that happens a lot around here!) so I had to queue in the sun for a bank to open at 10am, pay the bill, then go back to Light to get the electricity reinstated.

Now, few comments if you plan to rent a flat in Brazil: best to keep utility bills at the owner's name. As my neighbour told me, it is so complicated to get them back to the owner name when tenants leave that it is probably best not to change anything. Utility companies have bad reputation about stuff like that! Crazy bureaucracy again maybe???

You may be surprised that I go to the bank to pay my bills? Well, we cannot put the utilities in direct debit, as, without a permanent visa (of at least 1 year) you CANNOT open a bank account in Brazil.
If HSBC bullshit you on their wonderful Premier Account "Ideal for expats", it is a lot of lies and BS! No visa of  over 1 year, no bank account... unless of course Jeitinho... do you know someone high up in HSBC Brazil that can arrange this for you? One of my friend does, and despite the fact she has no visa, is not leaving here, does not meet any of the requirements to get a Premier Account... she still has one! Jealous me?!

The thing is, everything is very difficult  to get done in Brazil but nothing is impossible.. If you know the right personne in the right place. Jeitinho. You will hear often this word in Brazil. It's all about who you know.

Anyhow, we finally got some godo news yesterday. Our visas (after about 3 months of incompetence by someone not to be named here) have finally been approved! We can go back  to the UK in January to pick them up! at least some progress. We  can then get our container shipped to Rio. That, again, I fear will be quite a  saga... for what I've heard from other expats it is a real racket business run by custom. And stuff often get stolen as well.
We'll see. I keep saying, we live in hope! :)

Happy Xmas anyone!


Thursday, 10 November 2011

What happened to our visas??????????????

Well that’s what we keep wondering!
We were supposed to go back to the UK on the 26th of October to pick up our visas but… someone along the line f**cked up seriously and for what we understand the visas application had to be cancelled and redone.  With friends like these….  Well colleagues really, people who should be able to do  their jobs but seem incapable of such a thing, once again!
So we delayed, and re-delayed our flights booking. We were supposed to leave on the 15th of Nov. but then again we had to cancel that. We did a provisional booking for 1st of Dec. although there is no guarantee that the visas will be ready by then. But in another hand, flights between Rio and Europe are so full that you have to book well in advance!
It will be a year by the time we get our container! I don’t expect it to arrive before March /April.. so yes a year for Alistair as he arrived here on the 5th of April.
Talking of container, our friend Adriano who is Brazilian and, after 10 years in the US relocated to Rio, finally got his released by Custom, after a looong time!
Now here is the funny thing about importing appliances from overseas.
If you import from Europe the 1st hurdle will be that in Europe it’s 220V/ 50Htz while in Brazil it is 110V/60Htz.
Don’t gloat if you are North American. You may get the voltage right but there is still another issue that just happened to Adriano.
Well you see, unless you have a big fat expat deal that pay zillions for your accommodation, the chances are, (even like that!) that you end up in a small flat. Kitchens here are tiny. Adriano finally got his appliances but could not get them in his kitchen. He had to demolish a wall to get them in….
Of course the alternative is to buy Brazilian electronics…hmm…
Then you have to find furniture, and hey! Flat packed furniture is cheaper…  Well I can confidently assure you: It ain’t Ikea!!!!!
We bought a flat packed Wardrobe from Ponto Frio. It came with 66 bits of woods of various sizes and HUNDREDS of nails, screws, bits and pieces including glue…. It took a full Sunday and a bank holiday afternoon for Alistair to do it! And we were still left with unidentified bits of wood! ????
The pleasure of that is, you must love jigsaws! You see, the pieces of woods had numbers in the instructions, but none was printed in the individual pieces. Nice game of guessing what is what.  J

Monday, 7 November 2011

best teacher in Rio for Portuguese!

Vivi is GREAT! I studied with her 4 weeks intensive course where the 2 last weeks were on a one to one basis. I learnt a lot and had great fun. Also the stories she tells you about daily life in Rio will immerse you into the Brazilian culture and way of life! Gripping anectdotes too! Ask her about the BOPE invading the favela near to her house! Jaw dropping!

http://portuguesewithvivi.wordpress.com/

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Here we go again!.... and don't miss these 3 movies!

Here w ego again! We have more news on the Visas front! Apparently (!) the visas should be ready to be picked up in the Brazilian Embassy in London sometimes early November! As I continue saying: “we live in hope!”.  We’ve only been waiting since err…. 4th of April. Ok I exaggerate!
It took 4 months to get the company registered. Then it took 6 weeks for the directorship to be registered with the authorities… so in theory the visa application should have gone out end of August and 4 weeks later they should have been ready! Of course someone sat 4 to 6 weeks on their fat arse doing nothing before waking up and starting the application for the visas.
I’m saying nothing else than… HR  are as useless and incompetent in Brazil as they are in France or the UK.
Anyhow, on a lighter note the dog is now better and the vet has stopped the treatment. We still cannot vaccinate it until the steroids are washed out of its system. We had a bit of an issue there, as, without vaccination, we cannot put him in a dog Hotel but we MUST get back to the UK for the visas! Luckily we found someone to stay at the flat while we are away!

My language school has a week night where they show Brazilian movies. I have seen 3 so far and they were all absolutely brilliant!
Here is the list and I totally recommend you try see them to get an idea of modern Brazil!
Gripping story! Set in Rio!
I have not seen  Tropas de Elite 1 which tells the story of how the tropas de Elite (BOPE) was created and the war in the favelas to clean them up from the traffic of drug in Rio.
The second one is more political as it shows the corruption at the highest level of government. Most of the characters there are based on real politicians I was told! It is VERY GOOD but warning, it is very violent! I loved it!
This is the story of Ayrton Senna and his rivalry with Alain Prost. Somehow the French don’t come out looking very good! ;)
Again very good movie, if you can find them where ever you are you will not be disappointed and it will show you the real Brazil!
That’s all for now! J

Monday, 17 October 2011

Only in Brazil!

Strange day yesterday!
We went food shopping and took the dog out for a walk at the same time. AS dogs are not allowed inside any shops, I was holding it outside HortiFruti (super market) while Alistair went to buy some stuff.
A young man, blond with blue eyes, in his 30s max, passed by and started talking to me and asking questions about the dog. Fairly normal, anyone stops to talk to me about the dog! 
When I answered he heard my accent and switched to English. I asked him if he was English (based on looks and good spoken English) but he kissed my hand very gentleman-like and said he was Brazilian. I mentioned then that I was French but my husband was English. He looked a bit disappointed  then added… “ Oh you have a husband?!” (I don’t wear any jewellery here and that includes wedding and engagement rings!). He continued saying he found me very beautiful and despite having a husband in the background he was still trying to get my phone of email and insisting we should meet some time…. Jeezzz! I had been warned that Brazilians are flirty, but not that upfront! I was all blushing!
Oh well very flattering in any case!
Then an old woman came to talk to me too and the young lad vanished. By the time she left , I saw 2 women coming toward me in  the street with very heavy make up and towering heels. One was wearing a dress so short it was going over her crotch. I thought they were prostitutes … but as they got closer I saw that the tall one with the “short dress” was not wearing any underwear, only fishnets tights and I was clearly able to see her … testicles….  Jeez… only in Rio!
On the Permanent Visas front we have finally good news. They should be ready to be picked up from  the Brazilian Embassy in London at end of the month.  On less good news a couple of friends recently got their 5 years visas, but the wife did not have a work permit. We’ll see how it goes. I was hoping that with an investor visa I would have no restrictions, but it seems that now the spouse cannot get a work permit!
After 3 weeks of intensive treatment and daily injections, our dog seems to be fine and the vet has suspended all injections and reducing the steroids. This is good news, we think he will make it! As the dog is not vaccinated yet and won’t be until he is clearly cured, we cannot put him in a kennel while we are back in London. This has been a big worry for us but finally one of our friends volunteered to look after him!
Since we know that we are going back to the UK I have been shopping on line for stuff I cannot find in Rio (or would be way too expensive).  Not important but useful stuff including mattress covers (the one the bed had here is awful and plastic-like!).  I am quite exited to go back to the UK even for only few days!
As soon as we get the visas we will contact the shipping company to get our stuff on  the move asap. We will try get our driving licences changed quickly as well when we are back from the UK. Then we can order our bikes.
When we are in the UK we will try to test ride some bikes. I would like to try the ER 6N. Very similar to the Versys I had in London but more sporty. If the ER 66N is as good to ride than my Versys I will get it as soon as I can! I think Alistair is still torn between the ridiculously overpriced F800GS or now considering the ER 6N as well for him! We’ll see. I miss not having a bike!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Are my upstairs neighbours printing false money...????????

There is a lot of noise coming from the flat upstairs.
We already complained once via the agency.
It is not ordinary noise though! They seem to have some machine that keeps going all night and all days at times! Like a printing press type of noise!
As the building is for families to live in,  I don’t think they would be allowed to have some sort of workshop up there in any case. But there are very weird gossips  about them!
First, they don’t seem to work.  I heard from a neighbour that the woman who lives there used to do the tax stuff of the owner of the building. That may explain why they get the flat virtually for free! They may know a lot about the tax affairs of the building’s owner!
Then the guy seems to be shifting VERY heavy furniture across the wooden  floor for hours at time!
When the building got renovated and painted, they refused for ANYONE to enter the flat.  Actually no one is ever left into their flat…. There is something really strange going on!
They definitely have some sort of illegal workshop above our bedroom…

Are they printing false money? Whatever is going on is weird…

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Good news... bad news...

Well this is official now. The process for our permanents visas is finally being processed following many delays.
In the end we have to go back to the UK to pick them up at the Brazil embassy. We were thinking to fly off soon… but then!
Last Saturday we took our adopted puppy to a vet to start his vaccinations. It’s only the 3rd vet he sees in 3 weeks! Anyhow, now we have an explanation for his increasing spams: Distemper (Called cinomose here).  We wait for the full blood test for more on that. The blood analysis also revealed he had a secondary infection following ticks bites. He is a mess.
We started him on a severe treatment, which includes a full range of drugs and vitamins and daily injections. Every day I have to drag him across most of Copacabana to the closest vet stocking it for a jab!  The injections leave him crippled in pain for several hours. I wanted to stop these but further research and talks to the vet convinced me it is the right thing to do. Today he had a day off and tomorrow I will try another painkiller with the injection. Hope it will be better.
The outlook is not great but our Scruffy is in good shape (with the exception of the spams) and we keep hope that he may pull through, although the vet told us the odds are against us on that one. He’s got a truly nasty virus!
So, with all that we cannot leave him; and also even if he starts getting better, without vaccinations, we cannot leave him in a Dog Hotel. However we have to pick up the Visas soon….
We will see what happens in the next few days. On Saturday we should know if he is still having Distemper or if he had it and showing only neurological damage (via the spams).
In 3 more weeks he will be done with most of the treatment. So the last solution for us would be to hire a”Dog-nanny”! Basically find someone to stay in our flat with the dog for the 10 days we will be away!
Oh well we still have few weeks to see how things go! We remain optimistic that Scruffy can make it!

I have finished my advance Portuguese class (since last Friday) so I can spend all my time looking after him.
Friday is Alistair's birthday, but with all that I have not been able to find time to get him a present! Planning to do this tomorrow after I come back from the vet.  Maybe I will have a look around Uruguainas tube station. There are lots of shops and a market selling anything at decent prices, or so I was told! SO I want to investigate that! I have to find a good copy of a Botafogo football shirt for Alistair!
I would also like to explore more the centre during the week now I am off school. But I cannot leave the dog alone for long at the moment.  

Meanwhile, our container with all our stuff is still in the UK. Once we get the permanent visas, it will be released and we can hope for it to arrive about 6 to 8 weeks later. So if we get to the UK by end of October, it means the container may turn up in Rio about end of the year, the worst possible time.
I can’t see how we could get our stuff released by custom until after Carnaval. My most optimistic date is for early March.  If lucky! Customs here like to take their time to release stuff.
Few amusing anecdotes on that!
Last year a big (huge, massive!) public owned company imported a piece a machinery (small, could fit easily in a suitcase!). It has been stuck with custom for at least 7 or 8 months now! Why they did not smuggle it in a suitcase, I ask! ;) – especially as they are desperate for it!
Another big piece of machinery was also imported by (again!) a big public owned company, 2 years ago, worth over 2m pounds. Again, it has been retained in Customs for ever. The last they heard about it, someone was trying to sell it on eBay. There was no bidder!
It is impressive to see civil servants working so hard against PUBLIC owned companies! Oh well not my country but I hear many of those tales and although I find them amusing, it does not bid well for the future development of Brazil. Either severe reform has to be made across the entire civil servants system or the country, with the help of computers, will end up in a complete stand still through dreadful red tape. I say no more….

Monday, 12 September 2011

Tales from Rio

This is the stories I have been told by various cariocas, and it is so interesting to understand the favelas and how it all happened that I decided to write it down! I may be wrong so feel free to correct!
In the 60s & 70s, during the Generals dictatorship, those guys had the brilliant idea of putting common criminals mixed with political prisoners, in Ilha Grande, which used to be a big jail. They hoped that the political prisoners would be killed by the criminals…. Well, as usual the law of unintended consequences applied! What really happened was that these political criminals mixed with the local thieves and murderers and started spreading their communist/socialist ideas within the favela people.
When the dictatorship eventually came to an end, the political prisoners were released. Those guys then took refuge in the favelas where thieves and criminals were usually coming from, and  they started setting them as “socialist” states within the state. Then came the discovery that drug money would be a great source of funding.   As a result nowadays there are 2 big Traficant groups: one called the Comando Vermelho (red commando). I cannot remember the name of the other faction.  In any case favelas are controlled by one or the other.
If you live in a favela you will never be victim of crime. Petty crime, theft etc  is dealt by the drug lords… it usually involves a bullet on someone’s head… hence  a big incentive, you don’t rob your neighbour! Also the commando controlling a favela would provide lots of freebies for the locals: cable TV,  if you need money for medical treatment you would go to your local drug lord who would give you the money for treatment, etc… 
During the pacification of the Complexo El Alemao (circa 400,000 people live there) the police found about 4000 stolen motorcycles, left in streets of the complex (which include various favelas) for the locals to use.
The other side of the coin is that if one of the Traficant asks you to do something for them, you comply, you don’t argue with a guy who carries a gun!  This puts people, who live in favelas and have honest jobs, into an odd situation.  
Many cops live in favelas too, because their salary is so poor that they cannot afford to live elsewhere. This is very dangerous for them as if the local drug lords find out, they would be killed. As a result they would not even dare to wash and dry they uniform at home. Obviously, outside family members no one knows what job they do. It’s insane!
One of our teachers told us this story which happened few years ago.  She lives near to a favela, in the north of the city. Actually the favela starts at the end of her street. One Friday night, one Traficant faction invaded the favela which was controlled by the opposite group. They wanted to take control of the favela and the income from drug traffic that comes with it. The war started at midnight and continued until 8am. My friend was staying well away from windows as she could see bullets throughout the night. People from the favela, who had been going out on  Friday evening, just slept on her street and waited, as they could not enter the favela and go home!  The police was just waiting, very happy that the drug lords were killing each other. Eventually at 8am the BOPE arrived. These are the Special Forces. Within 2 minutes the war was over. Mainly because the BOPE just shoot to kill and ask questions after!  That is the reputation anyway.
Now this is just stories I hear and I find interesting.  However nowadays I don’t think that Rio is more dangerous than many other big towns. The big shoot outs occurs between drug Traficants  as it does in London and many other big towns. Unless you get involved with that sort of crowd,  this is just the sort of thing you read in the newspapers.
My friend, the one who live next to a favela, tells me that it is actually very safe for her to walk around even at night, because crime is not tolerated within and next to the favela! I know of one French girl who takes Capoeira lessons in a favela which apparently is not pacified yet. She goes there in the evening and tells me it’s very quiet.   
Locals have mixed feeling about the pacification because they lose all the help that the traficants provided and this is not replaced by the government social programs. Also the pacification itself can be very heavy handed. Apparently the BOPE was shooting at traficants from helicopters or even from the streets during the pacification of the Complexo de Alemao. Mind you the traficants have so much weaponry that even the police don’t have the sophisticated stuff that the drug lords can afford, including rocket launchers!  I was told that many mothers in Complexo Alemao, were so worried during the pacification that they took their teenage sons (involved with the drug lords I presume) to the police to be arrested because they were so afraid that the boys would be shot down instead!
On a slightly lighter note, when Amy Winehouse came to Rio, she stayed in a Hotel in the favela Santa Teresa. Apparently, just in front of that hotel is another favela where you can buy the best cocaine in town! You can draw your own conclusions… I said nothing!
That’s all for now! My Portuguese lessons and the puppy are keeping me rather busy! I leave you with few pictures:
Churrasco (=BBQ)at Thiago's house in Niteroi with his wonderful family!

BBQs in Brazil are AMAZING!




And of course more pictures of Scruffy:




Sunday, 4 September 2011

We adopted a dog...

We went to Suipa yesterday as we were thinking to adopt a dog and wanted to have a look at the process of adoption. Since our cat died last year (she was over 20 year old) we missed her so much and wanted a pet.
So we went to the local Animal Shelter located in Benfica ... and came out with a puppy! Unexpected but hard not to.

Suipa compound is a grim place but they do a tremendous job. They have over 3000 dogs and many cats too.

We were given sort of VIP treatment and given the dog, getting the Vet coming out of his clinic to check out the dog so we would not wait. Really kind people working there. If you can spare few reais I would encourage anyone to make a donation. Or even better, get there and adopt one of their abandoned pets, if you can!

For now, just a couple of photos of our new family member. This is Scruffy, about 3 or 4 months old, of unknown origin:




Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Weird facts about Brazil


If you have a runny nose, under no circumstances should use a tissue and blow your nose in public. Apparently it is considered a disgusting thing to do and people will stare at you in disgust. My Portuguese teacher knows of one occurence when one of her students was marched out of a restaurant because of this!
So if you need to blow your nose you should go to the bathroom! That explains why when people have colds here they just keep sniffing in the most dreadful manner! But when in Rome...

Same thing about tooth picks. Never use one in public, it's disgusting apparently.

If you have Brazilian guests at your home, when they are about to leave, they will wait for you to open the door. They should not open it themselves as it means you did not enjoy their visit and do not want to see them again! It is offending!

Bikini wear is actually a minefield for foreigners. There are the right bikinis to wear and there are bikinis that makes you look like a "puta" ( a whore) and people will stare at you! Our teacher explained the difference but I am not sure I get it. All bikinis here as so tiny! I am now tempted to bring to school ALL my bikinis (for my teacher to inspect!)  to ensure they are all fine! And showing almost all your bottom is NOT considered slutty... I'm confused...

If your neighbour brings a pot with some delicious stuff cooked in, don't just return it washed and empty. Your poor neighbour will be wondering why you hate her/him! You are expected to do the same a cook something nice back to them!

Don't ever describe someone as "open" (aberto) as it has a negative meaning and imply someone who has sex with anyone. It is offending!

Dont ever describe someone as "relaxed" (relaxado") as it means someone dirty. Brazilian are obsessive about cleanliness. They are usually impecably clean and their homes totally spotless so telling to someone that he is "relaxado" is very insulting!

That's all for now! :)


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

How to get a CPF number if you're foreigner? 2 Easy steps!

In Brazil, without a CPF number you are nothing, you do not exist. You will be asked for it for anything!
Anyhow, now I have one I will tell you how to get one too. it's actually very easy! Only 2 steps!

Step one: Get your passport and some bill that hold your current address. This bill  DOES NOT need to have your name on it! Without a CPF number you probably won't have any bills at your name anyway! So it does not matter that this proof of address carry "Mickey Mouse" name!

Anyhow, with those 2 things go to the post office. Tell them you come to pay the CPF tax. They may ask you if you live at the address of the said Bill! Say yes.

Pay the tax (about 5.60 reais) and get the piece of paper that the Post Office Girl will give you and go home.

Wait for a couple of days!

Step 2: Go to the Receita Federal building. Post Office Girl would have told you the nearest address. If not ask her or Google it!  Bring your passport and the piece of paper given by Post Office Girl.

Get there early morning as not to queue for hours!

Tell the security bloke at the entrance you come for the CPF number. He will point you to a desk where you pick up a number. Wait for your number to be called. Hand over your passport, the CPF document given to you by Post Office Girl when asked and smile. After 10 minutes of imputing stuff in the computer, the personne there will give you a print. Keep it. Congratulation, you now have some sort of official existance in Brazil and can even join a Gym! Lucky you! :)

Rio Cooking etc...

I did an afternoon cookery class at this place:

It was brilliant.  Simone is a great chef and great gal! I love her!
We learnt about the traditional Feijoada.  I have been experimenting since on how to cook the  rice Brazilian style, cooking aipim (manioc),  couve etc.. and will do the beans tomorrow (they are in a water tonight!)….
I can’t wait to do the Moqueta class!


Also learnt how to make great drinks:


Recipes on request ! but best do the day class! Great fun! And you will stuff your face with food! How cool is that?!

For now I am back at school for another run of intensive Portuguese lessons!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Bike Porn and what you have to know before you come to Brazil!

If you come to live in Brazil you may have done your research and realise that everything is horribly expensive in this country (or at least Rio and Sao Paolo) ! White goods are wildly overpriced if you want modern technology, or just insanely expensive if you want type 1950s tech!
So you may think “Let’s buy everything in Europe (or wherever) and put in a container". Well the problem with that is that you cannot get the container out of your country (or out of custom) until you have all the paper work sorted. That includes the permanent visas + a long list of documents and “random numbers” (that I have no idea what they are but will require yet more bureaucracy!). So in conclusion it could take 6, 7, 8 months or more before you get your stuff.
Aware of this we took about 120 kg of stuff with us on the plane in June (including a bicycle!). For the rest, you either buy it locally or do without for a long period of time.
So we had to bite the bullet and buy a washing machine, a fridge and a TV  that was required to get internet sorted in the flat! Don’t ask!. Everything else Techy is in the container: vacuum cleaner ( I can use a broom stick), steamer ( I can mop the floors) HiFi (we have our laptops), some books ( I brought a Kindle!)…
OF course the alternative is to live in an apart Hotel but this is not our cup of tea and finding a long term place to live was a priority. We were lucky to find our flat very quickly, the rent market in Rio is crazy at the moment. So we snapped the flat but as it is unfurnished….  At least last week we finally got delivered a sofa and on Monday we got chairs. We can sit at the dinner table now! J
Furniture, like everything else is horribly expensive again. Although we found a street in Lapa lined with lots of antiques furniture shops. They also make new stuff. Price is a bit more reasonable. We sourced our chairs and TV unit from there.
Most expats coming will not speak Portuguese. This is a priority. So you will go round trying to find where to learn the local linguo! Well, again, expats means lots of money for the locals so prices can be bonkers. I found a really good school, reasonably priced, in Ipanema. It’s a charity and the money from the school supports an orphanage. By the way if you want to have a flavour of Brazil the school is always taking on volunteers on a 6 months minimum basis. You do not get paid but I think they provide accommodation in Copacabana and maybe living expenses. Pretty good I think!
If you are interested here is their website address:

Now about motorbikes! :D
Is that ok to browse the internet for hours looking at bikes? And then write down the specs of various bikes to compare? And do it again just to look at the pictures?
Or is this like porn? Bike porn?
I remember a good repartee from one of my brother’s friends, who was asked by a teacher why he liked riding his bike: “ I like to feel the beast between my thighs!” . :D
Well I used to ride horses in my 20s. Well, I tried to learn, but it is hard when you start in your 20s. After almost 10 years of lessons, few close encounters with death and visits to emergency departments of various hospitals around Paris, I decided I would never be able to actually learn how to control those beasts!  I think a bike is MUCH safer. At least it won’t try to kick you out of the saddle when you least expect it!
So I miss my bikes. I miss taking the bikes out at the weekend for a long day excursion here or there… or going away full weekend. I miss the feeling of freedom it gives you.
I was never the cool kid. At school I was the invisible kid who makes her home work and get very good grades all the time, especially in maths. That did not make me popular. I was rather geeky, or even nerdy I suppose! Anyhow, my” coolest” moment at school was when I joined the “Dungeons and Dragon Club”. With all the other nerds at school! J I was even a “Master” at some point! And being geeky I was a very good one!
But now, when I get my helmet on, get my leg over the seat, start the engine, check my mirrors and pull out, I just feel like the coolest kid in town! Truly! And then, when I stop somewhere, remove my helmet, and get some bloke on the street make a double take; “Yes!The midget on the Versys is actually a woman!”. That is priceless!
So I have been looking at bikes. A lot. I have traced all the local dealers online. I have looked at all the prices. I found out yesterday that the Harley Davidson Sportster 883cc cost only 28,000 Reais. A bargain, even cheaper that the Yamaha XJ6! I told Alistair last night about this. Usually, Harleys are so bloody overpriced. But as he commented: “Yes it is very cheap (for local price!) and it is a very nice bike…. If you like to break down by the side of the road all the time!“.
 Well I’ve been there before with my BMW! SO it’s a no then.
I am down to the Yamaha XJ6 or the ER-N6 (Kawasaki – same engine than my Versys!).
Or the Honda CB Hornet.
Now I just need my bloody Container, my Visa and all my bike gear AND a bank account so I can transfer money and buy a bike! It is going to be a long wait. In the mean time I will continue lurking on line at the Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda website, looking at the bikes. Look at that exhaust! The shape of the tank, its curve…. Definitely bike porn! :D

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The truth about expat life….

I stopped language school 10 days ago. That kept me busy and socialising a bit.
Being an Expat WAG is not all great all the time, even when you live in Paradise.  Last week I felt rather lonely. When Alistair went to work I had no one to talk to, no company. It can feel lonely. The weather wasn’t great either.
Going to the grocery shops can be frustrating as well. I can’t even start of a conversation with the cashier, because I really do not understand what they tell me. We don’t have pets yet and we don’t have kids… so yes when you move abroad in a country where you do not speak the language it can feel lonely in this big empty flat. Still! Don’t feel sorry for me folks, things are starting to pick up nicely!
But the really annoying thing is that I really look local. I mean, after 14 years living in the UK my beautiful olive skin had turned pasty white from lack of sun. But now, after almost 7 weeks here, I am starting to be fairly tanned, and I do not look like I’m out of the “Thriller” video anymore! So people talk to me all the time! In the aisles of the shops old ladies and folks will start conversations with me. Even in the street! The look of surprise in their eyes when I tell them that I do not understand!
The most annoying thing is that Portuguese speakers can understand Spanish, but Spanish speakers CANNOT understand Portuguese!
The funny thing is that Alistair looks so obviously like a Gringo that when we go to shops together, the shop assistants don’t even bother to talk to him! They come straight to me. We have been in many furniture shops, and even when Alistair asked a question, the shop assistant would ignore him and answer to me. Now he knows how I feel when we walk into a motorcycle shop! God that used to drive me crazy in the UK! I’m the one who want to buy a bike, never mind, they would still talk to Alistair and ignore me! Grr!
AS I have discussed previously it would be nice to meet locals. So we are starting. Today in the lift I met an old lady who lives in the 10th floor. She spoke good Spanish and we started talking. People love doing that all the time here. She is soon retiring and was learning Spanish at the Cervantes centre. We agreed we should meet from time to time to talk Spanish / Portuguese so we can both improve! How cool is that?
Last week was slow but this week, so far, I have been very busy. I saw my doctor again today and she wrote an explanation for AXA as to why I need a mammography. So again I will have to talk to some fat American bloke on the phone about my breasts! Don’t you love that!  J
Let’s see how that goes!
Last night we had a birthday party in a bar in Ipanema. It was a good turn out and we met another  couple of expats who live next door to us! We also drank way too strong Caipirinhas and got quite drunk!
So after finding a moment today (hey I’ve been busy!) I decided to go down the beach to work on my tan for half an hour. After that I was meeting Marnie. She was “introduced” to me by email. She is a friend of a friend. Both Canadians, both airline pilots.  And when Marnie  is not flying airlines she lives in Leme, just round from my flat. So we met for a drink in one of the bar/ restaurant by the seafront.
There, again another new friend! She told me she wanted to buy a plane in Rio. She can hire small planes too and fly round the town. Sounds cool. I told her to let us know when she wants to go for a flight!
Tomorrow I am doing a cookery class to learn to cook the Feijoada, with an American friend (another O&G WAG!) ! And more caipirinhas! Oh my poor head! I think I will have to spend Friday lying on the beach! ;)
I wanted to talk about my washing machine. It’s unbelievable! Honest.
Few weeks ago we went to a shop and bought one, for a prohibitive price. Hard to ask any questions as no one spoke any English (or else) and we do not speak enough Portuguese.
Anyhow, apart from the fact that the machine’s technology is from … hmmm. ..about the 1970s, it did not cross my mind to ask about hot water. Well I just found out, I opened the bloody thing while it was washing… and I can confirm.. it’s only cold water. I mean, this is not even 1960s tech… that must take us back in time to the 50s? At least?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Red tape and the joys of private Health Insurance for Expats!

We have some news on the Visas front. We were hoping to get the permanent visas sorted by end of the month but…. It seems now that the Directorship of Alistair has to be processed by the authorities before we can apply. This is going to take at least 3 months! Oh dear!
We were hoping that as he is the director of the company in Brazil (by default as the director has to be in Brazil!) we could apply quickly without a need to go back to the UK, now that the company is registered. 
Well, we will, but only once the role is processed. So in conclusion, as Alistair’s business Visa (and my tourist Visa) expires end of September, we will need to get out again.
We “hope” that we can get the temporary visas renewed from Buenos Aires rather than having to go back to the UK. I don’t fancy an 11 hours flight twice in a week!
Anyhow, time will tell.
Meanwhile there is a container with all our possessions, stuck in some harbour in England. We have not had much news from the relocation company, so we hope all is still there. The container will not leave the UK until we have the permanent Visas sorted! So it seems we won’t get any of our stuff until at least Xmas time! Oh dear!
That is, if all our stuff is not already on sale on eBay. As I said, the relocation company we use does not seem particularly responsive ….

Anyhow, I have now finished my 4 weeks intensive “intermediate “course on Portuguese. I have had some time this week to pursue some other issue.
2 or 3 weeks ago I went to see a doctor for a minor issue (women stuff!). Anyhow, my Portuguese teacher recommended me her gynaecologist who had her clinic in the same building than my language school. This put me in contact with the “International Health insurance” company. Namely for that AXA! Oh dear!
If you are American you will be familiar with dealing with those “people”, but for us Europeans it is quite a SHOCK! When I phoned AXA, which for South America means calling a number in the US (!) I talked to a bloke and had to detail exactly why I had to see a doctor. Go explain in details your menstruations problems to an American bloke on the phone! Oh dear!
Anyhow, he came back telling me I was allowed to see a doctor. “F*ck you mate, I see a doctor if I want! “ was my 1st thought!
Anyhow I saw the doctor. She requested blood and urine analysis and also a mammography and ultrasound of ovaries and breasts.
On Monday I went to give samples for the Blood and urine test. I then phoned the Insurance Company. I had been naive on that one.  I should have checked with AXA BEFORE getting anything.
It happens that they allowed me to get the blood and urine test but then the guy kept asking why the doctor asked for a mammography and ultrasounds. The answer: “Well I am not a f*cking doctor mate and  I do not speak Portuguese!” was in my mind but I restrained myself (Am I turning into a “grumpy ol’ woman” before my time?)! I explained politely that not being a doctor I did not question her requests. In any case they tried to call her but failed so I had to cancel the ultrasounds and mammography.
In Europe those sort of tests are done and usually free for women of 40 and over. It did not come to my mind that for these companies, anything that is not strictly necessary to keep you barely alive is not allowed and prevention is not a word that is included in their vocabulary!
Knowing AXA on reputation I must admit I would NEVER had taken any contract with them on anything. I always avoided them when buying insurance via brokers, always asking who the underwriter was.
So in conclusion I would very much like to get local private insurance that seems much better (and is probably much cheaper!). In any case, Alistair is trying to get his contract local rather than in the UK. It would simplify in term of tax, insurance etc… and after all if we live here, it makes sense to get pay here as well.  Again this is in progress and we will see.
As you can see there are lots of question marks and stuff pending. It is going to take a long time to be completely settled and feeling “at home”.
In the meantime I will try to investigate the Brazilian health care system which seems free. For what I heard it seems similar to the NHS in quality and delivery (i.e. medieval!) but knowing the Brazilians I am sure it will be more caring. In any case I would like at least to know how it works in case I need to see a local GP for small ailments. I really don’t want to talk to AXA anymore if I can avoid!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

It's been a month already!

Well I have been here for a month now.  What have I achieved or learned so far?
-          I realised that the bikini I bought in England is way too conservative for Rio, so I went to get  an “itsi-bitsi” bikini that blends more with the locals! And NO! It’s not a thong! I’ll have some way to go before I get there!
-          We now go to the beach with our own folding chairs and pareos (under no circumstance should you use a towel in the beach!)
-          If you’re a man you should wear a speedo, unless you want to stand out (only tourists would wear bermudas – or surfers!)
-          Coco juice is great but don’t forget, once you drink all, to ask the girl with the machete to cut the coconut open so you can eat the flesh!
-          If you expect delivery at home of some piece of furniture on Tuesday at 3pm you will be
-          lucky to get it the next day at 11 am, without warnings! Very much like the UK then!
-          The cycling/running lane along the beach is not for morons to stand in and chat while  getting off tourist buses, and block the path! Get the hell out of my way!

After 4 weeks here I have met many expats through my language school.  Being a foreigner is easy for me, after all I was already “abroad” when I lived in the UK. However I have come to realise the differences.
When I met Alistair in Paris in 95, he could use my network of friends from university to get an instant social circle. When we moved to London in 97 I fell back on his circle of friends and colleagues in town for our social life, to start with.
However, here, we are both foreigners and we don’t know anyone. It can be lonely, especially for me as I do not work.
SO far we have met many fellow expats, via my language school. Most of them however are like &$&Y%$ year olds ( some are in their early – mid 20s!). Makes me feel like a granny!
Anyhow, it will be nice to eventually get to know people more of our own age range and with shared interests!  I don't wnat to stick exclusively to "expat circles"! I hope that once we can buy a couple of motorcycles we could join a local motorcycle club and meet fellow bikers!  So far we only have been visiting bike dealers in Botafogo.
There is even a BMW dealer now! Alistair went there to investigate! The F800GS is “only” 65,000 reais (= 26,000GBP or a measly 43,000USD!). But hey! They may reduce the price as it is going to be assembled in Brazil soon! It will be only a very affordable ....  45,000 reais soon (= GBP18k or USD 30k). I have used 2.5 and 1.5 respectively for GBP and USD vs Reais.  
Hmmm….
Anyone who knows my history with BMW (I had the privilege ride 23,000 miles around south America on an F650GS for a year!) will understand why I will stick to Japanese! “What part of “Honda” don’t you understand”?
I will make my point with this:
You may as well cut the middle man and get a pile of rust instead! J
That’s all for now folks!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The O&G expats WAGs are coming into town!

Non British readers won’t be familiar with the WAG concept.  The WAG term is widely used by the press in the UK to describe the Wives and Girl Friends of (very rich) footballers. Most of them are like their partners, not particularly bright! Anyhow, read the  British tabloids for more on that!
What I have noticed in the last 10 days is that about 90% of the expats I met are linked to the oil and Gas industry. Only for 2 couples was the husband/boyfriend working… in finance.  In my Portuguese school, of the 5 WAGs there,  4 of us have our other-half working in the industry. The last one her BF works in finance (but still for Petrobras!).
So many are arriving that I am tempted to create the O&G Expat WAGs club! (O&G being for oil And Gas !). J
 At the moment there is an enormous influx of expats linked to this industry. Not surprising considering that only yesterday, Petrobras (the Brazilian government owned Oil company) announced that their investment budget for 2011 to 2015 is going to be…. 225 BILLIONS dollars!! (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/petrobras-unveils-225-billion-investment-plan-2011-07-23)
 Now, you should start to understand why pretty much any company linked to the oil industry is sending a representative to Rio.
But why Rio could you ask? Well about 4 years ago, end of 2007, was discovered a massive 800 square kilometre of oil reserve  offshore, not too far off from Rio.  Last year one reserve was found to be the biggest reserve found for decades. Brazil is bound to become one the top 10 exporters of oil. (http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/299602)
However, the investment required to reach the oil (I understand it will be deep drilling!) and bring it to shore will be massive and require a lot of machinery, engineers, expertise, etc ….. Hence why we and so many others are invading Rio!
So there, if you fancy working in Rio and have experience in the Oil and Gas industry, you should be able to be sent here by your company at some point! Start learning Portuguese! ;-)

On another subject we had some good news. The company is finally registered so we can FINALLY start our Visa application! Alistair wants to try for a 5 years Visa straight away (instead of the 2 years one). We will see how that works!  We live in hope ;)

and here few pictures we took this morning in Urca (near famous Sugar Loaf Mountain!)







Monday, 18 July 2011

Busy days in Rio

Someone asked me how we proceed regarding our Visas (Troy!).  As I have been unable to comment in my own blog (!  Seems to be stuck in a loop!) I will answer here.
Many people immigrate to Brazil but this is not easy! For us the company for which Alistair works is opening an office in Rio. Alistair is doing this with a lot of help from the Parent company which is already present in Rio and the help of agents employed by the parent company to help for proceedings. Even with all the logistic help from the parent company (lawyers, finance etc…) we are not finding the process easy. After 4 months the company that Alistair is creating is not event registered. As such we cannot apply for a permanent Visa.
So far he was on a 3 months tourist visa, and when he went back to the UK at expiry, applied for a Business visa of 3 months.  I am currently on a tourist visa. Once the company is registered, we will be able to apply for a “permanent visa”. That is 2 or 5 years.  On non-permanent visas we can only stay 6 months a year in Brazil.
Other people are coming because their partner is Brazilian. Even like that it is rather complex to obtain the permanent visa. The best bet is to employ an agent (extremely costly) and create a company (not easy!).
We met last Saturday with various expats and from their experience the same things came out:  the bureaucracy in this country is incredibly complex! Be patient and get through the hoops!

Anyway, last week was very busy. Through my language school we visited a favela that has been recently “pacified” in the complexo Alemao.  The process of “pacification” of the favelas started few years ago. Now the police (or often the Military Police”) takes control of a favela, root out the drug dealers and remains there.  I was interested in the point of view of the people living in the favelas. The tour was guided (in Portuguese) by an artist who was born and still lives in one of the favelas of Complexo Alemao.
In one hand they are happy that there is no risk of getting shot in a cross fire between cops and dealers, but in another hand, for what I understood, the police was rather heavy handed and people who have members of family involved in drugs were targeted. Angelo told us of the cops coming into houses and destroying TVs for example, saying it was the result of drug money from a family friend or member….
The inhabitants of the pacified favelas also fear that once the world cup and the Olympics are over, the police will retreat and violence will return.





It was interesting to walk through the favelas and visit our guide’s house. If you expect cardboard houses you would be wrong. As you can see from the pictures, these are mainly like town houses built in bricks over 2 or 3 levels. There is for what I saw running water, electricity, TVs and more or less modern facilities. As Angelo told us, nobody goes hungry. The main problems there are similar to any inner city town or, in France, to the suburbs council estates:  bad schools, poor teaching, low expectation, and lack of opportunities…
 Although to be fair, Brazil has now a growing middle class which 10 years ago would have been categorised as poor or very poor.


nice bike in the favela! Honday CB300... sexy toy! :)

Policia militar I think! with BIG guns! We saw few patrols around... 
Street where Angelo, our guide still lives with his family and his grand mother. His father was a drug dealer who got killed in a shot out when he was a baby.  

Angelo, a painter and artist, and Otovio Junior, a writer from the same complexo Alemao. Otavio wrote a book about (his happy childhood, honest!) growing up in the favela and his love of books.... He runs a library to get kids into books.

Standards of living have definitely been improving a lot, but there is still a lot that needs to be done and changes are slow. I read this morning in the local “Metro” that internal flights are now up 230% y-o-y as flying is not anymore the privilege of the rich but also accessible to a very new and  growing middle class!

On Saturday we met with some expats living in Rio (and Sao Paolo!). It was a guided tour of the city centre organised by Jim, an American blogger living in Niteroi! His partner was our guide as Ruiz  is Carioca (i.e. born in Rio). It was very interesting to get a guided tour of the city centre and hear about the history of Rio, but also to meet and compare notes with some expats who have been herefor some time.
(Jim's blog is very interesting by the way: http://qualidadedevida-jim.blogspot.com/)

Rio town centre.



The cathedral is such a monstrosity that I could not bring myself to take a picture. Here it is reflected from the British Gas tower!
That's all for now!

Monday, 11 July 2011

After a very cold spell last week, the weather turned to a better 25 degrees and sunny. Normal winter day in Rio! Locals have been complaining that this cold was not normal and blaming global warming! By cold weather I mean about 16 to 19  degrees during the day … maybe a drop down to 14 at night, so pretty much similar to a damp British summer J
In any case last weekend was glorious and we went to the beach in Copacabana yesterday to meet Alistair’s new BFF (Best Friend Forever – Sorry Steve, see how BA replaced you so fast!). His name is Yanis and he is coming from London as well to open an office in Rio. While the boys played a bit of futball I did my best to get a bit of a tan and stop looking so much like a tourist!!
We had some good news last week. Alistair finally has his CPF number! This number is asked for everything! You buy a fridge and want it delivered, you need the CPF number, you want a phone, you want a bank account, rent a flat, buy a washing machine or even adopt a dog and guess what! You need the bl**dy CPF number! So now we may try to open a local bank account and not have to pay our rent in cash! Walking in Rio with one month rent in cash in your pocket IS NOT a good idea!
But we also had some bad news! After 3 months of paper work, the application to register Alistair’s company was rejected by the government! In the UK it took us about 10 minutes to register our company online. Here God knows how long it will take. So now he is providing more info and we hope we can get it registered by end of this month. Only once the company is registered can we apply for a permanent (i.e. 2 years!) visa. So we hope it won’t take forever as otherwise we will have to go back to the UK to apply again for a business visa of 3 months in September! We live in hope! This is Brazil! They love their bureaucracy almost as much as the French do!
Today I started my 1st class in Portuguese. I joined the intensive course (3 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks) at Casa de Caminho in Ipanema (http://www.casadocaminho-languagecentre.org/).
It’s a charity that supports an orphanage, so the money goes to a good cause. Also the tuition is reasonably priced and of very good quality. I am very pleased with my choice! Also I am lucky. I joined the intermediate course ( as I speak Spanish!) and everyone in my group (with the exception of an American lad) are Spanish speakers,  so the course should move fast!
That’s all for now folks as I have 14 irregulars verbs to memorise in Present and simple past form for tomorrow!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Few pictures of Leme

 Living room with dining room on the left side.... Not much furniture yet!
 balcony that runs along the bedrooms
 Nice big fitted Kitchen....
Leme's beach

 Terrace next to the dining room
Leme's beach again....

And Guarana Antartica... my fav drink in Brazil! :)