Curitiba, USA... doubtful

Curitiba Travel Blog

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Curitiba is indeed a well-planned, marvelous city, just as all of it admirers have noted. The transportation s not only appealing to the average eight year old because of the futuristic space tubes you get to wait in, but it is actually amazingly efficient. The setup of the buildings coincides with the bus system, which obviously leads to easy access to many businesses and stores. The bus lines are even designed such that day care centers are strategically placed on the way to many businesses at which mothers work for their convenience. There are also great environmental policies, such as the recycling programs. This program exchanges recyclable materials that families accumulate for fresh vegetables. Curitiba has a number of other social aid programs including giving food, aid, and money to lower income families. To many people, visitors and citizens alike, Curitiba is seen as a model city. I do agree that the way in which Curitiba operates is exceptional and admirable. However, I do have some reservations about putting this well-planned modern city on a pedestal. It was a great idea that worked well at the time, but I have serious doubts as to how well this system could be implemented in the United States. One of the main issues involved in making a replica Curitiba is the lack of space for expasion. In order for this transportation system to work, you first have to plan the transportation system, and then let the buildings develop around these roads. However, many cities are too far into their “troubles” to reverse and start anew. Aside from the lack of space and starting over, there would likely be a bit of opposition in the funding required to actually make a difference. For these kinds of plans to work, people would have to be willing to take government program cuts in other areas for the time being as well as be willing to simply have patience. They would need patience to adjust to changes in roads, walkways, buildings, etc. Aside from patience, there would need to be some governing body willing to enforce the plans and deal with all the related disputes. As much as this kind of a city would greatly improve America, I really doubt that there will be any opportunities for this kind of expansion to happen. Many Americans are not always open to change, especially when it directly involves their homes, community, or tax funds. For this reason, I am happy to have seen Curitiba and am positive that I will not be seeing any look alike cities in the next decade in the United States. Maybe two decades from now? Sure hope so.
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    Although this may be a little late in the trip to mention the Argentine college system, I recently spoke to Norberto about his college years and was quite surprised at how different it was in general to the past four years I have spent in college.  In America, the typical college career path includes moving away from home after high school graduation to attend college for four, five….. or six years.  While there are some exceptions, many parents provide their children with some financial assistance or they are allowed to take out loans and receive state funded scholarships.  
    My parents did not have one of these magical funds set up for me at birth to pay for college.  I made good enough grades in high school to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship, which covers tuition and fees for public Georgia colleges.  I also took out some low interest loans and worked a number of less than desirable part time jobs, which added together to cover rent, utilities, food, and shoe shopping.  I thought I had it “rough” because I had to wait tables a few nights a week and miss a Friday or Saturday night.
    As it turns out, that would have been the ideal schedule for most Argentine students.  Most Argentine students do not move out of their house once they graduate high school.  Instead, they live in their parent’s home during college to save money.  In addition, Norberto said that he, as well as most other students, work full time jobs during the day to pay for tuition.  
It is not as easy to borrow money in Argentina as it is in the USA.  There are countless banks and loan companies that make a special effort to create loans and programs to assist students in paying for their higher education needs at home.  However, Norberto said that there were no such loans in Argentina, hence the need to work full time jobs.  With these jobs taking up nearly the entire day, the class options are restricted to night classes.  I had a Chemistry lab until 9pm on Fridays freshman year, and I can personally vouch for the difficulty of concentrating and being your most efficient at the time of the afternoon/night.    
I know that some kids in the United States have a much harder time than I did making ends meet in college.  I also know that many kids in Argentina have a much easier time than did Norberto in making ends meet in college.  However, I find the general difference shocking.  If there are people out there willing to take an hour and a half train ride, work a full eight hour day, attend four hours of class, and then take an hour and a half train ride back, how it is possible that so few young people in the United States are inspired to go to college?  Seems kind of ridiculous with a bit of perspective.
    On one of first days in Curitiba, we decided to take the long, scenic train ride to Parangua.  While the bus back only took one and a half hours, the train ride there takes well over four hours traveling at unheard of speeds of 10 and 15 mph.  However, I suppose that I would have been dissatisfied if the train went much faster, because it gave me ample time to enjoy the scenery.
    The landscape on the ride from Curitiba to Parangua thoroughly surprised and impressed me.  The majority of the train tracks were located on the edges of mountains.  With this view, we were able to look down into the valley and forest.  Multiple times during the trip we actually got to ride through clouds!  In my mind, Heaven look exactly like this ride.  
    In my Lonely Planet travel book, this train ride was voted one of the top three most beautiful train rides in the world.  After a matter of minutes, I knew that my travel book was oh so right.  The end destination, Paranagua, was hardly an attraction.  It only covered 10 or 20 street blocks, and seemed for the most part only to be there as a stopping point between the train ride and the Ilha de Mel (Island of Honey).  The extent of my excitement in the city of Parangua was really the ice cream buffet- a do-it-yourself style, parade of never ending ice cream selections.  
    Aside from the clouds, mountains, and ice cream buffet, the rest of the journey was a bit of an eye opener for me.  I know that we have been told that in Brazil the top 1% of the population owns 40% of the wealth.  This figure does seem phenomenonal, but it really is just a number until you can see it with your own eyes.  In between mountain and jungle lookout points on the train ride, we passed through a number of small homely villages.
    At every village we passed, there were always children alongside the railroad tracks smiling and waving franticly at us.  These happy kids could have fooled the most skilled of detectives.  They looked as if they could not be happier and were in need of nothing more colossal than a playmate or two for a pick up game of soccer.  However, when I looked around at their surroundings, I suddenly felt like a horrid, ungrateful bitch for wanting my own bathroom in my new apartment.
    Most of the “houses” that these children and their families were living in were barely the size of an American bathroom!  Their residences more resembled a shack than a house.  These shacks were so ill-constructed that my father would not even use them as a shed in which to store his twenty year old lawn mower.  The walls were made out of a thin layer of plywood, and the roofs were pieces of thin, crinkly metal that were barely attached to the walls.  There were of coarse no bathrooms inside the houses, but I did notice a few sinks in their yards.      
    Although I hope that the Brazilian government is doing everything in their power to cure this poverty, I cannot help but visualize the reactions of people all across the world if they saw these shacks sitting directly next to one of the few elite in this country who owns a heliport.  I know that I am in no position to judge.  While I am not wealthy, I do make enough money to pay for college expenses, rent, and then have funds left over for leisure spending.  However, I did not donate my extra funds to a homeless shelter or Hurricane Katrina fund.  I am simply noting that when the wealth discrepancy is that large, it is usually simply impossible for a country to continue peacefully functioning for an extended period of time.

    On our way from Floripa to Curitiba, we took a two day pit stop in Iguaçu Falls.  I knew that these waterfalls were supposed to be a magnificent sight to see.  Many people and resources even told me that Iguaçu was one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  However, I was a bit skeptical of the grandeur of the falls, because there had recently been a drought in the region.  Due to the lack of rain, the amount of water rushing over the falls was said to be about one third of the typical amount.
    The minute we arrived, I could hardly fathom how much water would be involved in a “normal” day at the falls if this amazing sight was a light day.  Iguaçu Falls was not only a very steep waterfall, but it also extended quite a distance along the extent of the canyon.  True to form of sites being unnecessarily beautiful in Brazil, there were of coarse numerous rainbows decorating the waterfalls.  
    Once we gazed at the falls for an hour or so, we took a jungle tour that ended in a raft trip up to the falls.  We rode in a raft boat that had a motor attached to the back and two drivers who were there to escort us through this landscape.  They drove us through rapids and down the river towards the falls.  They also drove us up to and under the waterfalls, which obviously left me drenched in chilly Iguaçu water.  
    This trip to Iguaçu Falls would definitely be classified in the list of the ten most beautiful sights I have seen.  The unusual thing about the trip was that I had not even heard of Iguaçu Falls before I signed up for this study abroad trip.  Most of the highly notable natural sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Stonehenge, are well known and publicized around the world.  This phenomenon leaves me quite puzzled.  
    I know that the amount of tourism in Brazil is increasing rapidly, and I would think that this wonderful sight would add to that effect as well.  I noticed a good amount of tourists from adjoining countries such as Argentina, so it seems that the population in Argentina is well aware that Iguaçu is worth visiting.  I also understand that Niagara Falls is a Mecca of tourism and that many Americans venture there every year in search of one of nature’s most powerful works.
    Why don’t Americans take more vacations to Brazil in order to experience the culture and spend some time at Iguaçu Falls?  The town surrounding the waterfalls could be a large factor in this case.  While there are a few hotels, restaurants, and bars, not much else besides the actual waterfalls exist to attract and entertain visitors.  Perhaps if the Brazilian government invested in making the city a more visitor-friendly place, the tourists would be more easily persuaded to travel there.  
    Aside from the lack of entertainment and a more developed city to promote the falls, I think that the lack of promotion in general is also a major factor in the lack of American knowledge and desire to visit in regards to Iguaçu Falls.  I cannot think of a single time that I have come across a flier, commercial, or website endorsing a visit to the falls.  This poor marketing strategy needs some help if they ever wish to expand their tourism base.  However, perhaps therein lays the logic of it all.  I cannot comprehend why, but Brazil may not desire more tourism.  Maybe they are overbooked as it is or they do not currently have to resources necessary to handle a major influx of tourism.  Either way, I am definitely going to increase the word of mouth advertising for Iguaçu Falls when I return to America!

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photo by: joesu