I was in Brazil last week, talking at the BA Brazil conference. My discussion of the conference can be found on the Software Education blog.

This is the story of the travel and social side of the trip.

Firstly, getting from Wellington to Porto Alegre is a long trip, and nothing makes longhaul air travel fun. My routing was Paraparaumu (thanks Air New Zealand for starting direct flights to Auckland, gives me an extra hour and a half before I must leave home) to Auckland on Air New Zealand, Auckland to Santiago and Santiago to Rio de Janeiro on LAN Chile, and Rio to Porto Alegre on TAM, for a total of 28 hours of travel.

Air New Zealand and TAM are Star Alliance carriers, LAN is part of the One World partnership with Qantas. The flight times meant I had five hours to wait in Auckland, and couldn’t check in until three hours before departure, which meant sitting around the airport. Once I had checked in I was able to use the Qantas lounge (I’m a member of the Qantas Club) to relax, and very importantly to top up the charge in my iPad. It’s amazing how aware you become of the power bar, especially when it starts to get low (6% right now, and we’re still about an hour away from Auckland – I will need to save this and write more when I’ve topped up the battery)

Auckland to Santiago is 12 hours flying, and in economy class that’s hard on the body. Fortunately the time of day for the trip meant it was sensible for me to sleep through it as much as I could, so I took a sleeping tablet after the meal service and knocked myself out for most of the flight.

Transit in Santiago was tight, and I didn’t have time to even try and find the LAN Chile lounge. The next flight was to Rio de Janeiro, where I had to clear customs and walk between the international and domestic terminals to get the final leg to Porto Alegre. I had three hours to wait and was pleased that the carrier TAM is a Star Alliance partner as I have Gold status with Air NZ which gives me lounge access, the only problem is there is no domestic lounge in Rio de Janeiro, so I was stuck with the food court and hard chairs. At that point I was really experiencing battery anxiety but did manage to find a plug point and topped up the charge while I indulged in a hot chocolate – warm liquid chocolate that felt like liquid velvet and tasted delicious, none of this powder and add milk nonsense.

The final leg was a relatively comfortable 2 hours and I was in Porto Alegre, just before local midnight. My friend Luiz was there to meet me along with Lisiane and Joao who I’m pleased to say are now most definitely my friends. The three of them are part of the team who organized the conference and had invited me to speak.

They took me to the hotel which was my home for the week and we chatted for a short while before I needed to collapse.

The next day (Sunday) was my only real free day in Brazil, and my hosts made sure it was well filled.

We first went to a market in a park (sorry, forgotten which park) and I did some Christmas and souvenir shopping. The market was great, lots of interesting stalls, buskers, bands and plenty of excitement. I tried two types of Empada (little pies) and was intrigued by people wandering around drinking chimarrao – turns out Lisiane is a chimarrao expert and she explained what it is and how it is prepared. Green tea with very hot water and an important part of the local culture. I got a genuine chimarrao cup to take home with me.

 

From the market we went to lunch – I had mentioned that I’m a fan of Brazilian BBQ so we went to a really good churrasco restaurant where the food was fantastic. Lots of meat, cooked many ways, everything from rump steak to lamb shoulder to pork ribs to chicken hearts. There was also a salad bar, but I managed to avoid that section. Desert was crepe with banana, honey, nuts, cream and chocolate sauce. I also indulged in a caipirinha, but only one as more could have had devastating effects on a jet-lagged system 🙂

We then took a leisurely drive around Porto Alegre so I could see a bit of the city. It feels very Old-world European, tree-lined streets and elegant villas. Some of the roads are interesting – cobble-stone surface that has had tar laid over the cobbles, smooth until the tar starts to wear away, then the road surface becomes interesting to say the least.

The guidebook mentions “the most beautiful street in the world” so it was out with the smart-phones and Google maps to find the location and we drove along it. Not sure how the ranking was made, but it is pretty with Jacaranda trees meeting in a canopy over the road, forming a flower-lined archway.

I was staying at the Ibis Hotel, basic but comfortable – the conference budget definitely didn’t stretch to luxury accommodations. After such a large lunch I didn’t need dinner and had an early night.

Monday was visiting the University where the conference and course were to be held, and an introduction to the University restaurants – a magnificent buffet with at least 30 different dishes. I had a few token greens and indulged my inner carnivore.

Lisiane taught me the correct way to prepare chimarrao:

In the afternoon we went shopping for course supplies (flipcharts and postit notes) followed by a drive around the southern end of the town. I finally got a look at the huge estuary that Porto Alegre nestles alongside.

Monday night was a quiet dinner in the hotel, which was a good thing as I was teaching the next day.

On Tuesday morning I met Paulo, who was also delivering a two-day course as part of the conference proceedings. Joao collected us from the hotel and we were off to the University. Over the next four days Paulo and I spent quite a lot of time together and we found ourselves kindred spirits; he teaches Business Analysis and Agile techniques and is deeply knowledgable, I really enjoyed our discussions, which would have sounded sad to someone not deeply involved in business process improvement approaches.

Tuesday and Wednesday were training days. Tuesday night Paulo and I continued our conversations over dinner alone as our hosts were finalising preparations for the conference.

Lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday were at a different buffet restaurant at the University – this one had at least 60 dishes of every conceivable style and flavor, for a ridiculously low price.

Wednesday evening we ate with the conference organising committee, some of whom arrived from other cities that afternoon. I found a group of kindred spirits and wonderfully welcoming people.

The conference was on Thursday and Friday – a great event which I have written about here.

Thursday night was the conference dinner, about 60 people indulged themselves at another buffet.
On Friday night the conference was finished and the organizers, presenters and volunteers went out to party.

After the party a few of us went out to eat, another BBQ restaurant. My fellow Agile Alliancedirector Samuel Crescêncio was able to arrange his schedule so that he could be in Porto Alegre and he joined us for dinner. One of the topic we touched on was certification, and we found what we all agreed was probably the most valuable certification we’ve found anywhere:

Saturday morning Luiz came and collected me and we headed off to the airport – my time in Porto Alegre was over. On the way to the airport we stopped at a supermarket and purchased a bottle of Cachaca and some green tea for my chimarrao cup.

At the airport I got my standard purchase – a fridge magnet. Nancy says the fridge is in danger of falling over due to the weight of the magnets I bring back. 🙂

The flight home was another lengthy trip – Porto Alegre to Rio, Rio to Santiago, Santiago to Auckland and finally Auckland to Wellington. In Rio I had a six hour stopover and paid for entry to the American Airlines lounge, so I could relax fairly comfortably and at least have a shower. In Santiago the wait was supposed to be an hour, but unfortunately the flight was delayed by two hours. It was 01:00 in the morning by the time we got on our way. Despite the flight being a code-share with Qantas I was unable to go into the LAN lounge 😦 Once we were on the way I took another sleeping tablet and slept my way to Auckland.

The delayed departure meant missing my planned connection from Auckland to Wellington, and I finally got home at 10:30 on Monday morning.

I really enjoyed my visit to Porto Alegre and hope to get back to Brazil some time soon.

Thanks to everyone who made my trip such fun!

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