Archive for August 2011

An Innocent in Brazil - Part 3

My second trip to Brazil was no less eventful than the first:

Brazil hosts a lot of congresses. You name it, however obscure, and you can just about guarantee that a major congress on that very subject has taken place in Rio or Sao Paulo. From Chiropody to Chlamydia and Brain Surgery to Brassicas they have all been discussed by earnest groups of global specialists selflessly giving up their time to spend a week in Brazil.

When working for a Brazilian airline one of my jobs was to escort large groups of such boffins from the UK to Brazil and back to ensure that their travel arrangements went smoothly enough for them to appoint us for the next congress. This task usually was quite uneventful until my number finally came up when escorting a group of ‘agricultural economists’ to their congress in Sao Paulo. I was a bit worried because I did not know what agricultural economists were but I felt reassured when I discovered neither did they.

I met them at Heathrow airport and they were very easy to spot. They looked like a blend between country yokel farmers and the university lecturers they actually were. Most dressed like they had just mucked out their pigs and most wore baggy old tweed jackets and corduroy trousers which displayed interesting stains including bull semen apparently.

One thing blindingly obvious was that they were dressed for a severe British winter and heading for the hottest season in Brazil. I mentioned this to one guy whose heavily meshed string vest was poking out of his plaid shirt and, right in front of the check in desk, he stripped his top half bare, removed his vest, tied it by its arm loops to the handle of his suitcase and off it went down that black abyss known as the baggage chute. At least I was pretty sure no one in their right mind was going to ransack his bag with that grubby mass of string vest tied around the handle.

As there were quite a few of them we were using two desks for check-in. Suddenly a loud commotion came from the other one. I got there to find two legs sticking out of the baggage chute and the sound of a West Country accent saying ‘don’t worry love I’ve got the bugger’. It turned out that a member of my group had packed his passport in his suitcase and only remembered as it tipped out of sight. He pounced like a spring lamb after it and was dragged out from between the rubber curtains brandishing his cardboard suitcase by its home made string handle. It belonged to my granny he told me afterwards. What is your name I asked? Colin he replied.

It was a long flight to Sao Paulo or ‘Sayo Payolo’ as my companions pronounced it. Fortunately most of them attacked the free drinks so fast that they sank into sleepy oblivion whereas I sat up next to Colin who was putting the world to rights on subjects ranging from crop rotation to artificial insemination which explains how I knew what the stain on his trousers was and how he got it. Oh what laughs we had, especially as he would persist in pressing my chair recline button instead of his own all night. If I had only had the slightest inkling of what was to befall me the following night I would have turned down this assignment.

We arrived at the Sao Paulo Hilton reasonably easily apart from a short delay when our friend discovered his vest had been lost in transit and insisted on filling in a lost baggage claim there and then. I am sure that to this day the offending article is causing the main baggage belt at Heathrow to break down regularly as it jambs the works. But now we were here and we were unleashing forty British farmers in full winter gear into the maelstrom that is down town Sayo Payolo. Most of the group had not left their county let alone their country and here they were, at a hotel surrounded by the most extreme flesh pots of South America. Like a fussing sheepdog I herded them into the congress centre and left them in the hands of the organisers.

After such a tiring flight of bouncing back and forward in my seat like a yoyo, courtesy of Colin I fell into my bed and a deep dreamless sleep only to be woken, what seemed to be seconds later, by the telephone. It was one of my charges and he breathlessly informed me that a fellow agriculturist from Bogota had told him about a ‘hot’ nightspot called ‘The Orchid Club’ a few streets down and he, Colin and a bunch of others were setting off from the foyer right now. Wait for me I screeched as I could only imagine what might happen to them alone in such a place, so on went my clothes and off I rushed.

We arrived about ten p.m. on an intensely hot and humid evening. I was sweating in my thin shirt and these guys were still wearing the very same gear as when I first saw them at Heathrow. It must have been the first time that anyone sat in such a club with bull semen on their trousers but you never know in Brazil. The club was full of punters, very muscular fat bouncer types and a plethora of scantily clad multicoloured ladies. After a few caipirinhas one of my flock proposed marriage to a girl who I thought was a boy, but thankfully she looked him up and down and declined. I presumed someone had warned what Norfolk is like in winter.

‘Its show-time’ screamed a loud announcement and my flock grabbed chairs and sat down about five centimetres in front of the small stage. You do not get this in Grantham announced Sid whilst busily cleaning his glasses. Colin looked visibly uncomfortable even though he had grabbed the seat nearest the stage and nervously lit his pipe. A bit strange really what with the exotic location, heady atmosphere charged with anticipation and perfume now smothered out by Colin’s ‘Old Holborn Shag’ pipe tobacco.

First on stage was our man’s ‘fiancée’. ‘Great,’ he said, ‘I will get a chance to look at the merchandise before the wedding night’ and sat back arms folded with a smug death head grin on his face. It soon faded however as his hearts desire tamely twirled and gyrated a few times, grappled herself through her clothes and marched off with a bored expression.

This was an outrage and I was dispatched to the manager to find out what it was all about. The man told me that they were complying with local ‘decency’ law which stated that the ladies could only ‘express themselves fully’ after midnight. I relayed this to my horny new friends. Drinks were ordered and the wait commenced.

Colin was silent. He was drinking too much and puffing his pipe a great deal but he said nothing. Not even about his beloved bulls. As the acts went on he got redder and redder and I had my first nagging fear that something was going to go awfully wrong. It did. Midnight came and bedlam ensued.

It was the ‘fiancée’ that started it. On to the stage she came and her ‘act’ started naked and got ruder by the second. ‘Bloody Nora’ said Sid. ‘Last time I saw a pair of bosoomers like that it was on a Jersey cow’ said another whilst Colin went crimson and his pipe glowed like the flames of hell. Seeing this shy gnome-like apparition sitting in front row the girl decided to play up to him. Down she went into a limbo dance position and started edging forward. The atmosphere was electric and I heard someone dropping their glass. By the time the ‘lady’ was about twelve inches from Colin he exploded into action with great speed and accuracy he pounced on the lady yelling something like “now then my dear” and spitting his pipe which hit and burnt her nose. There was silence for a second followed by a scream and the sound of the doormen clambering over tables to get at us.

It all became a bit of a blur. Five of the boys, including Colin, and Sid were grabbed and I was physically picked up and pinned against the wall with my feet dangling below me. The police were called and the five of us spent a night in a Sao Paulo jail along with drunks, pimps and God knows what. How do I keep this quiet I thought as I was sure my boss would not understand why I had ‘coerced’ my charges into a den of vice? I could see my future life as a travel leper opening out before me.

After the most uncomfortable and dangerous night of my life they let us out and we went back to the Hilton. Lets have a drink said Sid, I am having a bath I said. Colin said nothing except ‘How can I get my pipe back’ as it had finally ricocheted off the startled young lady and bounced off the stage. I ignored him and said that from now on they could look after themselves.

When we flew back Colin looked very uncomfortable and studiously ignored me. I had heard that he had gone in search of his favourite pipe but no more. I heard nothing for two weeks until my boss called me into his office to discuss a letter that he received from the mother of a man called Colin. She complained that he had picked up a very nasty rash on his private parts and Colin said it was my fault. Tell her to ask where he left his pipe I suggested.

We never heard from either of them again.

Do we need another Industry Association?

Surely we have enough associations? Do we really need another one? I think the answer is probably no…if those we have provide greater focus on the re-engineering and industry strategies that are developing as I write. But they don’t.

Corporate travel industry evolution is predominately run by it’s suppliers who then create a further strategic reaction across the rest of the supply chain. It has always been so and sadly decisions are made not by the sellers who attend industry conference but executive well removed from them.

In fact I would say the travel supplier strategist liaise as little with their own salesmen as they do with their customers. In addition the airlines have another vehicle (IATA) who are even more removed from the corporate buyer and justify their existence by introducing policy changes that pay for themselves and earn airlines more money. The money comes from tinkering with the rules that were created by airlines for the airlines and are mainly unknown to the other end of the supply chain. Amongst them are things that impact corporates cash flow data fares and rules.

So what is my point? What I am saying is that the whole industry needs to have input and understanding travel evolution and I do not think this is getting any kind of priority by the existing associations. I think there is still too much smoke and mirrors and too little hard information.

Do not get me wrong. GBTA, ACTE et al all provide a useful and valuable service but how deep do they delve into the shadowy world of industry development. I think the trouble is that they have to be all things to all men. If you rely on supplier income from advertising and sponsorship for your very existence can you really afford to challenge your benefactors? Can you really have those suppliers represented at the very core of your own executive grouping? Although I admire these associations greatly for the excellent job they do in their field I do not think the answer lies with them.

So what else is there? I never thought (in my old life) I would say this but the nearest thing we have is Kevin Mitchell’s Business Travel Coalition. For some reason, as a TMC, I found them rather galling but now I have looked closer I realise a developed model could possibly do the job. It represents a key group of large corporations with little or no outside influencers. The problem is that it is not big enough and needs to be more global. It also needs (in my opinion) more subtlety when dealing with international suppliers.

I guess the organisation I am hoping for is a group of key global corporate customers who are strong enough to win serious attention and prepared to invest both brains and power into understanding and contributing to the market they spend so much money in. Could it possibly happen? I hope so. Otherwise we can continue to evolve the way we currently do which is that suppliers such as Lufthansa and American come up with their own strategies and savvy corporations invest in finding an antidote.

You may think I have a point or you might not. May I suggest you take a look at the conference agendas of the major association players and see how little time has been given to the key issues relating to distribution, regulation and other industry developments?

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 2

After an eventful first 24 hours in Rio things began to settle down, probably because I was confined to bed with an acute bout of diarrhoea which is pretty par for the course for foreign visitors. I am not sure if it is the water, food or whatever but if you ever need a complete cleansing of both your bowels and the rest of your digestive system then go to the hotel Gloria and order a burger and a local drink. There were things coming out that I never saw going in and at one stage I thought I spotted my tonsils.

It was awful and everybody on our course had it. Our German tutor suggested that he ought to station himself outside the toilets in order to have a better chance of teaching us. ‘I would put microphones and speakers in the cubicles if I could bear the noise coming back’ he said. We laboured on and I learned very little except where the toilets in head office were and exactly how long it took to run to each one. At one time the gripes were so bad we staggered hunched and sideways like an obscure type of mutant crab.

I woke up after the third night and suddenly it was all gone. I felt great and well rested and even my whimpering Dane neighbour had failed to keep me awake with her nocturnal activities. ‘I am cured’ I exalted and resolved to go out and celebrate that very night. I linked up with some colleagues and marched out of the foyer right into the arms of my taxi driving friend who was dropping people off from the airport. ‘You wanna go see Gloria’ he asked? ‘Sure, why not’ I replied and in we jumped.

There was me, the groaning Dane and two Dutchmen and we were up for a good time. My taxi pal was keen to advise us so he drove on a tour around all the clubs who paid him backhanders to deliver gullible tourists. The first was so vile that we immediately fled back to the taxi. The second was barely better and the third likewise. In the end we got through to him that we were not sadist, masochists or fans of bestiality but a group of young people out for a laugh and a few beers. He seemed deeply disappointed but visibly cheered up when he remembered another club on the edge of the slum quarter. ‘Maybe we find Gloria’ he confided as we sped through the night.

We arrived at the ‘Holiday’ club. It looked in imminent danger of falling down but the deep throb of base and the sound of female laughter drew us in. I am not sure what hit us first, the wall of sound, the smell of bodies or the bright red spotlights shining over the stage. I cannot tell you what was going on under those lights but it made the Paris Hilton sex tapes look like Sesame Street.

We eventually found a booth and ordered drinks. It was strange because every time we ordered beer they came with bottles of ‘champagne’ which we promptly sent back until the manager came over and told us in pigeon English that he insisted we drink champagne. The human gorilla behind him finally persuaded us to agree when he started cracking his knuckles while staring at us.

All of us agreed we were not safe here and decided to leave. Almost like a genie our taxi driver appeared at that very moment. ‘You cannot leave’ he cried, ‘I have brought Gloria and her friends’. Behind him were a bunch of the most beautiful young women I have ever seen before or since. ‘I am Gloria’ the prettiest one said. ‘Do you want pokey pokey with me’ she asked demurely.’ I don’t think so’ I muttered uncertainly while wondering if she was a mind reader, ‘but I would like to dance with you’

We squeezed onto the circular stage which now served as a dance floor and joined the other wildly gyrating couples. The smell of sweat, cigarettes and cheap perfume was heady and the red lights continued to blast down on my already sunburned head, I must have looked like the devil. I sure felt like him as I was flung forward into the arms of Gloria. She was a bit taller than me so I ended up with my head burrowed into her neck while our thighs were jammed together. Is this heaven I thought as we became entwined together? ‘I wonder if my mum will like her’ I mused.

Then the mood suddenly shattered. I am not sure which lump I noticed first. Was it the enormous ’Adam’s apple’ I was kissing or was it a lump further down that should not really have been there. It turned out that Gloria had what I can only crudely describe as a ‘hard on’. I catapulted back and crashed into our Danish lady who had at least found someone of the right gender. This caused a ripple across the whole dance floor with the person at the end falling off the stage.

I dragged Gloria back to our booth where we were greeted by our madly grinning driver. ‘You go pokey now? He enquired gently. NO!’ I yelled over the music. ‘Gloria is not a lady’ I shouted while thinking of all the lingering kisses I had given her. ‘I am Ramon’ Gloria advised me, ‘I am pleased to meet you’ he continued. ‘That is it’ I stormed and fled alone from the club and into the first taxi I could find. Back at the hotel I brushed my teeth until my gums bled and fell into an uneasy sleep.

The next morning I met my fellow adventurers. One had obviously been punched as it was him that had received the final bar bill which was astronomical. He wanted to discus it item by item but the manager’s assistant had resolved it with one blow of his fist. Our Danish nymphomaniac was apparently still upstairs with the ‘gentleman’ she had been dancing with and was probably the only person who had enjoyed the evening.

Never again I thought. But there is more to come!

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 1

Well I was pretty innocent when I first went there. I felt pretty mature and worldly in Twickenham UK but nothing really had prepared me for Rio and Sao Paulo. These places made Twickenham seem like a mother’s union headquarters in an old people’s home. A bit like what I thought my perfect woman would be at that time, beautiful, exciting and a little bit dirty.

I was only 20 when I first went. I had just started working for a Brazilian Airline and they were sending me on an induction course mixed with a familiarisation tour. I was packed off with dire warnings ringing in my ear. My boss at the time gave me sage cultural advice which was ‘drink little, trust nobody, particularly your local colleagues’ and finally, ‘don’t dip your wick out there as it may well end up falling off’. Silly man I thought, I can look after myself, and have a good time.

It did not start too well. The flight was full between Lisbon and Rio so my boss insisted I should travel in the ‘jump seat’ situated directly behind the pilot. This cockpit seat may sound exciting as you get the best view of the plane and its flight crew but the thrill fades when you have sat on what is really a thinly covered tiny wooden seat for nearly 12 hours. It also does not help when the senior captain resents your presence so much that he has instructed the whole crew not to speak to you in protest.

My final memory of that flight was when the co pilot panicked. The captain (Bligh I called him) demanded that his number two land the plane in Rio for the first time. It was dark, visibility was bad and Galleo airport is surrounded by mountains but Bligh assured him that even a useless pilot like him should be able to do it. The poor chap froze about three quarters of the way down. I just sat, frozen too as Bligh grabbed the controls. I expect that poor chap needed counselling and a new job afterwards. One day I might chronicle all the things I have seen or heard about in cockpits but you might not want to fly again!

We landed and my lift was not there. In this case the "Mañana" attitude really meant mañana as the guy reportedly turned up the following day and waited five hours whilst cursing me and all late and lazy English people. In the end I just got a taxi which was hard as the only Portuguese phrases I had learned in advance were ‘a cold beer please’ and ‘leave me alone’ which were not much good at that time but essential later.

It seemed the taxi driver understood a few more words of English than I his language.

You want ‘pokey pokey’ he asked giving me an exaggerated man-of-the-world wink.

‘’No I replied’ I want the Hotel Gloria’. ‘Ah, you want Gloria’ he nodded enthusiastically.’ I know this Gloria’ he said smugly, ‘she is my sister’s cousin’. ‘I do not want her bloody cousin you moron’ I raged. ‘I just want my bloody hotel! ‘Why you say you want poke pokey’ he asked clearly hurt?

The hotel Gloria sounds as good as it looks but it felt like Nirvana when I finally arrived. It was then a dark shabby place that was full of airline staff, cruising ‘ladies of the night, boys of the night and the occasional transvestite. It seemed ‘pokey pokey’ was a local pastime and the sound of groaning, yelping and ‘oh yessing’ from next door kept me awake all night.

My alarm went off about 6 a.m. as work seems to start and finish early in Brazil. It felt as though I had had no sleep and I was yawning repeatedly as I stood outside the hotel waiting for our minibus. The squealer from the next door room arrived and it was a very demure middle aged Danish lady. It annoyed me that she looked so relaxed especially as it was partly at my expense. We ended up next to each other again on the bus as we motored around Guanabara Bay to the local airport where the courses were run.I could not help staring at a very large bite on her neck which she had clearly not got from any mosquito.

The room was stuffy and very hot. I had grabbed a window seat before realising my mistake. Out there you avoid windows as that is where the blazing sun shines through. I quickly learned that seats further in the room are stuffy but window seats are both stuffy and excruciatingly hot. My lack of sleep started to show and when combined with the soporific atmosphere and direct heat caused me to fall into a deep sleep.

It was here that I got the nickname ‘sleeping beauty’. Apparently I drew attention to myself when starting to snore. I heard the course leader tried valiantly to wake me by roaring in my face and squeezing my nose to no effect. Then they decided to have a little fun with me. They went to the medical room and got a blanket and pillow and wrapped me up like a baby with my head resting on the desk. They then managed to get my thumb in my mouth. Somebody wrote ‘sleeping beauty’ across my forehead in lipstick and then the cameras came out.

I woke and was deeply embarrassed, but even more so when I saw all the Polaroid shots of me on display in the staff canteen, company notice boards and, most humiliatingly, behind the hotel swimming pool bar. ‘Ah, meester sleepy’ the barman greeted me drolly. There was no escape. ‘Things cannot get worse’ I exclaimed. But they did.

That night I had my first brush with the local drink of choice, Caiprinha. It is lovely stuff made from the local cane based fire-water called Cachaca, ice and lime juice. The Gloria pool bar had justly earned great renown for its heady blending of these ingredients and any Caiprinhas I have tasted since are pale imitations of these ‘stingers’. I sat there in the heat of the night talking to my new found friends and drinking a stream of these drinks. I remember saying that I must have an early night to avoid further public humiliation in the morning.

I have often wondered about the expression ‘legless’ when it comes to drinking too much. Unfortunately I and this expression became well acquainted that night. You see those drinks were so cool, fresh and tasty that you really do feel better the more you have. The danger is that you honestly feel stone cold sober. My mind was clear and I thought I was talking lucidly and sharply. Others argued differently later.

All was well until I tried to stand up. You see my head was sober but my legs were not. I honestly could not stand up. Below the waste I was like jelly. I was ‘legless’ and the staff left me there until I got over it. Again I nodded off but this time on a cane seat flopped across the table. I had to bash on the glass doors until the night porter came and grudgingly let me in on the agreement I would not be sick in his hotel.

So that was my first 24 hours in Rio. Want more? Want to know how I survived further scrapes? Want to know how I met Gloria or Ramon as ‘she’ turned out to be?

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of ‘An Innocent in Brazil’!