By Brazilian standards, Curitiba is classed as a small city, but small is very much relative here. The bus journey was pleasant and uneventful, and our Couchsurfing host Marcos had kindly offered to pick us up from the bus terminal. We knew we’d made a great choice of host when we met him – he was incredibly friendly, spoke great English and was happy to take us to a mall to get some reais exchanged into dollars as well as getting some food. He recommended Madera, a place which claims to serve the best burger in the world. It might not have reached the heights of Vietnam’s Kangaroo Café, but it was magnificent for sure.
Marcos lives in a two-bed apartment in Santa Candida with his affectionate cat Senhõr. Thanks to his programming lead job at IBM he is able to work from home full time, making it very easy for him to host backpackers and get to meet people from all countries and cultures. He is also a fan of gaming, RPGs and Marvel, which meant we all hit it off immediately. So much so, that we spent the entire evening binge-watching Jessica Jones. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Sao Paulo’s hospital and our time in Floripa, my ear was still not better. It was actually getting worse. I talked to Marcos, and he suggested that I visit a specialist in Curitiba. I was at the point where I just wanted to get better and the thought of jumping through the public health system to satisfy the fickle bureaucracy of our insurers was too much to handle, so I decided to take the cost on the chin and Marcos arranged to take me the following evening.
That left most of the next day free whilst he worked, so we took a trip to the botanical garden in the morning. The sky was once again grey but it stayed dry, and the garden was compact but pretty enough to get a few photos here and there whilst I played around with different shutter speeds on my camera, practicing taking shots of water and examining the world's campest park path.
Saute Gastronomia beckoned us to more por kilo action down the road and the place needs to be commended for its honesty – I left my camera dangling from my chair and only realised five minutes after we’d left the place. We legged it back fearing the worst, only for the waitress at the entrance to reassure me that they’d found it and everything was fine. Incredible. Curitiba has a reputation for being one of the nicest, safest cities in the country and this definitely helped reinforce that opinion. In Rio, I suspect the camera would probably have changed hands three times before we’d even left the restaurant.
We got back in mid-afternoon so that we could avoid rush hour on the way to the private hospital Marcos had booked me into. The place was a sprawling labyrinth of marble floors, with each doctor having a specific secretary sat outside their office. The contrast to the public sector offering is staggering, even more so than in the UK. My doctor was a chap in his late 50s called Marcelo who spoke pretty good English and seemed very competent to my non-medically trained eyes. He diagnosed me with another ear infection pretty much straight away, pooh-poohed the medication I had been prescribed before, and gave me another set of tablets and eardrops with specific instructions for usage. By the time we got back it was almost 8pm thanks to the remainder of the rush hour traffic, and I was £80 poorer but more hopeful that I might actually be able to get over this illness.
One of the great things about Couchsurfing is experiencing things you’d never have found on your own. Most hosts are keen to show visitors the best parts of where they live, and give them a taste of the local culture. Marcos was no different, and took us out in the evening to what could only be described as a seasonal wine-deli extravaganza. It combined a tourist-friendly, fairylight-strewn building with wine-tasting and a huge variety of cheeses, meats and other delights, all topped off with more Christmas decorations than should feasibly be possible to fit in a shop. We’d sampled the acquired taste of Brazilian wine back in Paraty, so we weren’t expecting the wines on offer here to be that much better. Granted, some of the reds were pretty “interesting” and the one white I tried was pretty much undrinkable, but there were a couple of bottles of red which were fine, and the cava equivalent was great. The grappa interlude may also have helped adjust the tastebuds somewhat, and when the wine staff lined up a second line of six reds we could probably have drunk anything put in front of us without complaint. It’s clear to see why all of the Santas on the stairs appeared half-cut.
All of the wine worked up an appetite, and the morsels of genuinely enjoyable cheese and meat on offer weren’t sating us, so Marcos took us to a local place he knew called Casa dos Arcos where we shared a fantastic dish of lamb and roast potatoes between the three of us. It was meant for two people; it could easily have fed four and it took its toll as I nodded off in the front of the car on the way home like an old man. It was definitely not the alcohol, OK?
Curitiba plays host to the Oscar Niemeyer museum, which was the next day’s destination. The creator of Brazil’s capital loved his curving architecture, and he was responsible for pretty much all of the most interesting buildings in the country – including the museum itself, shaped like a giant eye. Niemeyer never retired, and carried on working until his death at 104 years old. Hopefully he took a holiday at some point. The museum’s exhibitions were as variable as any modern art collection, i.e. whether you like them or not will be entirely down to personal taste. For me, they ranged from the bad (several walls of overexposed Polaroids) to the good (spooky figures made from clay) to the excellent (a series of kinetic light-based installations). Curitiba may not be high on Brazil’s list of tourist destinations, but the museum is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in the city.
After lunch at Bolhero over the road, we took a walk to the centre afterwards to look at some of the colonial buildings, a few monuments that had been sadly defaced with graffiti, and an impressive cathedral. Ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery took the edge off the unexpected heat of the day, and before we took the bus back, we explored the nearby Passeio Publico which is a kind of miniature zoo filled with hundreds of exotic birds and some rodents.
We finished the day back at Marcos’s place to round off the day with the final two episodes of Marvel’s new series and a farewell photo (Senhõr was feeling sulky and didn’t want to take part). Incidentally, the mural in the background on Marcos’s wall was painted by another Couchsurfer in just two days as a thank you for letting her stay.
And that rounds up the CS culture completely - what could have been a sterile stay in a business-focused city was turned into a memorable experience by our wonderful host, and we are incredibly grateful to Marcos for letting us share his apartment for a few days. In typical generous fashion, he even offered to take us to the airport bus stop the next morning. We’d decided to fly to Foz do Iguacu rather than get a bus since the flights were relatively cheap – the Iguaçu Falls on the Brazil and Argentina borders awaited, and we were keen to see if the hype would be worth the wait.