Class Of Brazil - 7th Lesson: Curitiba - and the Meaning of Means

As you might have noticed, I'm travelling quite a lot. Obviously - I'm a travel blogger. But I'm also travelling a lot when I'm travelling.

Curitiba - Botanic Garden: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Curitiba's landmark, the greenhouse at the botanic garden - as iconic as the tube shaped bus stations.

Since I'm not driving - I explained in an earlier post why - I'm familiar with public means of transport basically around the world.

Public Transport

I'm even familiar with public means of transport in places where people who live there don't know that there is public transportation (this of course was in the US - in Florida: When I told a lady at the mall in Naples that I had to hurry to catch the bus, she looked at me in awe and admitted: "I didn't know we had a bus." Well, the number of people on the bus proved that she isn't the only one; the public bus in Naples seems to be one of Florida's best kept secrets).

Curitiba - Bus Station: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Curitiba was the first city that implemented a subway-like bus system with buses that are only accessible from special platforms and bus lanes separated from individual traffic. The benefits are quite obvious.

Funny enough, my daughter wrote her bachelor theses about this topic, i. e. about implementation of bus systems in South America respectively in Lima. However, it all began in Curitiba - where I am now - and where they implimented a very efficient bus system.

Before I've known her thesis, I was a bit sceptical whether riding a bus can really be a scientific topic for a thesis, but reading her explanations, I realized how important public transport is - not only as a mean for getting from A to B, but it also has a high impact on people's life and the city's development. It's only logical: if there is a bus going along a dark, sketchy street on a regular basis, it grants a certain monitoring and control and decreases crime. A functioning bus system offers many people access to other parts of the city and is often the only way to hold a job, hence it grants a better outcome. It can improve city life dramatically.

Curitiba - Poty: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
On his mural made of tiles, local artist Poty (Lazzarotto) of course also depicted the iconic tube shaped bus stops....

Curitiba - Poty: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels well as the archetypal Paraná pine.

So now I'm a true expert: Not only empirically because I'm familiar with all these buses and subways and trams and minibuses and shared cabs around the world, I also have a scientific theoratical knowledge.

So Curitiba was the first city who implemented this very elaborate bus system. According to my Portuguese teacher Marcie, Curitiba is not only leading in this aspect, but in many other aspects like healthcare, education etc. Marcie says, it's the model city of Brazil.

Curitiba - Perfeitura: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
The former town hall was made into a community center with many cultural activities, a library, free computer and internet access for everybody and a classy café.
In front you see Maria Lata d'Água, a memorial of the slaves being part of the multicultural and multiracial formation of Brazil.

Curitiba - Bondinho da leitura: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Another great service for the people of Curitiba is this ancient street cart, now housing a library. You can even leave your kids there while shopping.

Curitiba - the Model City of Brazil

I don't know about that, but I can see that it is a pleasant place: There is an old city center which is pretty well maintained and not falling apart like in Rio or a bit sketchy as in São Paulo. Within walking distance is the so called civic center which is not what we would call a civic center, but a business neighborhood where all the big companies and banks are located - and the civic center, too.

Curitiba - Presbyterian Church: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
First Presbyterian Church of Curitiba.

Curitiba - Casa Edith: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Haberdasher "Casa Edith", founded by Lebanese imigrant Kalil Karam, who came to Curitiba in 1909 and named his store after his daughter who was born in 1913.

There they have also a museum desgined by the everpresent architect Oscar Niemeyer which is housing an exhibition on his work as well as modern and contemporary art - when I was there, the Curitiba bienal took place.

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
I guess Oscar Niemeyer designed this original building in a blink of an eye.

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Moon outside: sculpture by Chen Wenling "Autumn Moon in the Sky"

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer - Bienale 2018 - Ding Hau: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Moon inside: Ding Hau "The Moon Palace"....

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer - Bienale 2018 - Ding Hau: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
....consisting of countless lacquered wooden tenements,....

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer - Bienale 2018 - Ding Hau: bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
....that can also be row houses. Ding Hau "Floating City"

Curitiba - Museu Oscar Niemeyer : bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Walking sort of towards the light: on my way out off the eye into the main building.

Another truly iconic place is the botanic garden, and visiting this site gave me the opportunity to experience the wonderful bus system of Curitiba.

Curitiba - Paraná PIne : bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
The majestic Paraná pine - to be found all around town,
hence at the botanic garden, too.
On the walking tour I took on my first day, the guide explained the different kind of buses that can be identified by their color. Great system for illiterate people. Well, I'm actually not illiterate, still I ended up in a wrong bus. Actually, it wasn't really my fault since I had asked a lady whether this bus goes to Guadalupe station and she said yes.
Turns out she was wrong. And I was wrong, too, by being on this bus.
By the time I figured that out, I was already two stops too far. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but unfortunately this was a rapid bus (that even illiterate people can easily identify by its silver color, as I learned the day before...) that stops like every eight minutes. So two stops is a lot.
Some lovely ladies tried to help. Unfortunately they did it simultaneously which made them a bit difficult to understand, but at the end I filtered from their explanations that the best way was to stay on the bus and take another one to the botanic garden at the final stop.

I'm a nervous, highly impatient person and riding a bus for about half an hour in the wrong direction drives me totally bananas. When we reached the final stop, I found out the only advantage of my odyssey: The final stops are closed stations. So once you're in - for instance because you got there on a bus you never had to take...just an example - you can get on whatever bus you please. So I wasted about one hour, but I actually Dollar. Hence if you have very much time and really very, very, very little money, this is my tip how to save on public transportation: just keep on going from final stop to final stop.

Curitiba  : bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
The pines are so special to Curitiba's residents that they are even adorning their walkways with a stylized version.

Obstacles and Quirks

So although in Brazil - by far not only in Curitiba - the number of public transport means is quite good, the system sucks the big one; it actually does not deserve the name 'system' - it's a bunch of different means that are not compatible: If I buy a ticket for the subway and have to take a bus eventually, I have to buy another ticket. That makes trips where you have to change very expensive; for Brazilians that is. The average income is about 2000 Reais (about 500 US$). So when you have to pay about 8 Reais to go e. g. to work - one way that is - that's a fortune! I first thought that they have some sort of season ticket since you can buy plastic cards and charge an amount of your choice on them. But that's it - the only advantage is that you don't have to stand in line every time you need a ticket; but you don't save any money with it. And since the subway, the street car and the bus are not compatible, even I, who spent only two weeks in Rio, had two different plastic cards. They have an ok system, but they definitely should make it more affordable.

Another thing that's totally crazy is how you board: it's always through a really tight turnstile. It's already pretty difficult to go through when you're wearing nothing but clothes. It's a huge challenge when you're carrying anything, let alone e. g. a big bag or a suitcase.

Bus Brazil  : bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Look how tiny the turnstile is. And it's in the middle which makes the whole bus a maze.

These turnstiles are not only at the entrance of subway station, no way, they are in the middle of the bus, too. They make getting in so complicated. And that the drivers as well as the cashiers are unfriendly and not helpful at all makes things even worse.

Serra Verde Express to Morretes : bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Read on another really very special trip by public transport in the next post.

Rio is Rude

After I've been to Rio for two weeks, I had the impression that people in service jobs are neither very fast nor very friendly. Every employee seems to hate his job and the customers that come with it. Because once you get to meet and know them outside their job, most of them are really friendly and fun. They are just not friendly - sometimes even really rude - with customers, clients and guests. I know this phenomenon from Cuba - the Brazilian working tempo is very similar to the one in Cuba. The Brazilian treatment of customers is as unfriendly and irritating as the Cuban. What I don't get is how they get away with it in a capitalist country. In Cuba it's evident: most stores, shops, restaurants and hotels are owned by the government. Employees don't make more if they are more efficient. There is now point in being ambitious - it takes you nowhere: you don't make more money; and even if you made more money, there is hardly anything nice you could spend it on. So why bother?! But Brazil is a capitalist country, there is competition, there is not Mr. Government, there are private owners and managers.

Now that I've been to places outside Rio de Janeiro, I must say, that it's pretty Rio-specific; people in other places were much friendlier and more helpful and polite. I'm afraid it's the same disease they have in Paris or Berlin: Tourists are coming, anyway, even if you treat them like dirt. Unfortunately they are right - we do go to these places just the same. Anyway, I wouldn't like to live in a place were everybody is constantly unnerved and rude.  My advice: Go to Rio, have a quick look at the attractions that are not to be missed and leave as fast as you can to other Brazilian destinations that will make up for the Carioca's rudeness big time.

Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous lessons:

Class of Brazil - 1st Lesson: We Have it Good

Class of Brazil - 2nd Lesson: Danger Seems Closer from Afar

Class of Brazil - 3rd Lesson: It is a Hellish Path to a Heavenly Place

Class of Brazil - 4th Lesson: I Am What I Am

Class of Brazil - 5th Lesson: I Call Them Like I See Them

Class of Brazil - 6th Lesson: Bonito - Nomen Est Omen

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I'll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.

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  1. Reading your explanation about the public transportation in Brazil, it kind of makes me jealous as I'm from Indonesia and the public transportation in some cities here are not that advance. It's pretty much only Jakarta that's got an 'okay' public transportation. But as for public services in Rio that you find rude though, I figure that it's probably the character of having to deal with them in some developing countries. Again, I'm from Indonesia and the fact that I wouldn't even want to deal with the civil services unless I really had to sort of explains how the services goes from down here. :/

    1. I've been only to Bali and was pretty irritated that there was hardly any general public transport - even most of the buses (if there were any) were meant for tourists. Yes, cabs and drivers are very cheap, but this individual transport is sooo bad for the environment. However, I'd love to go back to Indonesia to explore more of it - and practice my rudimentary bahasa a little ;-)

  2. Interesting post! I think the thesis on public transport is a great idea. I am actually a city planner and the benefits of buses is huge. We have a bus service run by the city, it is cheap and goes everywhere and everyone uses it, and they win multiple awards. It makes my city a great place to live!

  3. Found this to be an interesting read about the public transportation in Brazl (I work on the railways in london, UK). Its a shame the people in Rio are rude after what the city has done in the last couple of years with the Football World Cup and Summer Olympics.

    1. Ups, public transport in London is great - but pretty expensive, too. I think that people in Rio are unfriendly for the same reason people are unfriendly in touristy cities such as Paris or Rome. London is a great exception to this rule....

  4. I have visited Brazil twice but not been to Curitiba - it looks great. I used to be a transport planner so I understand how important good public transport is, especially in large cities. If the public transport works well, people are far more likely to use it which can lead to a whole host of other benefits. I love your photos too.

    1. Thank you, Louise, I'm glad you like my pix. Yes, good public transport does not only mean that you can get from A to B fast and easy, it also has a huge impact on other aspects of urban life.

  5. Public transport facility is a big boon. I am surprised how people are not aware of it. Didn't know Rio is rude, but great explanation for that. It helped me understand their system better. Hope things change for them and people become more friendly.

    1. The place is pretty rough and tough - I think that people only respond to this certain hardship. They become friendlier once you interact with them, though.

  6. Enjoyed your unique perspectives and how fortunate to spend enough time in the villages to investigate the bus systems so thoroughly. I enjoyed visiting Brazil but saw only the touristy sights as our Brazilian daughter in law set up the trip. She had a different travel style than mine. Public transportation is a great way to mingle with locals - for better or not. Sounds like you had some great help.

    1. Yes, often locals are keen to show rather the 'sunny', pretty sides of their city or country - especially in countries like Brazil. I do understand it, but as a matter of fact I'm rather interested in less polished sides.

  7. So cool that you are using public transportation. I love all the architecture and art its so amazing to see the different styles.

  8. I have yet to make it to South America countries. And this is the first time I heard about a city named Curitiba. I am amused that the turnstile inside the bus looks so complicated and takes a lot of space inside the bus. Never seen something like this before. I love taking public bus because it's the best way to mingle with the locals. Thanks for the tips. It will come handy for my visit to Brazil (hopefully next year) :D

    1. Thanx for your lovely comment. Yes, these turnstiles are terrible - it's a crazy system that you get on the bus, have to pay in the middle of it and eventually have to squeeze yourself through these terrible things that in addition always get stuck 🙄

  9. I love that her thesis was on this elaborate bus system! That's helpful to know how the busses work, such as different colors being identified by their colors. That would be easy to spot if you're about to get on the right bus or not.

  10. I think there is definitely a big city mentality to rudeness and also, as you say, tourist places don't care that much because when you leave, another batch of tourists will be arriving. I think it depends on luck a little too. I have been to Paris twice and never had any problem at all with people. Whereas most people do. Luck of the draw I guess.

  11. I have done little travel in Brazil so I appreciate seeing other areas I am not familiar. Curitiba is a lovely looking city. Appreciate your views on public transport - it definitely creates an impression about a city and how they plan and organize their city plans. We have those turnstiles on some of the local buses in Colombia too -- impossible to get through with a bag!

  12. Love all the colorful murals and fantastic architecture in Curitiba. Brazil is such an amazing destination, and you certainly seemed to enjoy a fabulous visit to this cultural city. Taking the bus sounds like a bit of a challenge, but at least you got to see quite a bit along the way.

  13. I’ve got to be honest – I’ve never even heard of Curitiba but love the idea that it’s the model for Brazil. The subway-like buses look so modern – I wish more cities upped their transport game. I grew up in the US – and like the like the lady in Naples – never even think to use them when they are on offer. Happy travels.

  14. I also like to explore places using the public transport as much as possible. It may not be the most convenient sometimes, but it's less expensive and it's a good way of observing how the locals live their daily lives.

  15. This is very interesting we had no idea Curitiba was first to implement the bus system. And your insight on how buses help reduce crime and how it helps people access other parts of the city and in turn helps hold a job is amazing, we had never thought it to be that way.

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