In spring 2008, I undertook a business trip to Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre, Brazil for about four weeks. The following is a loose and personal writeup of my experiences.

Belo Horizonte


Getting up at unhealthy 3:00 AM local time. My taxi leaves at 4:15 AM and, to my surprise, costs 30% less than was written on the company’s website, but I can’t complain.

First mishap: The airport is not even set up yet and there are almost no people — unsurprising at 4:30 AM. The day before, a guy from my airline’s call center told me to be there “at least two hours in advance”. Someone tells me the check-in counters would open at 5:15 AM. At least I get to see how an airport gets set up in the morning, including display panels and queue barriers. Shortly before 5:00 AM people start building a queue and I enqueue myself.

Second mishap: Apparently I’m not on the passenger list, but I brought the booking confirmation on paper. Twenty minutes and a clerk running to my airline’s counter later I finally got my boarding pass, but only for the first of two flights. I’ll have to get the other one in Lisbon.

At least the metal detector doesn’t go off this time, unlike when I went to London via Paris by train.

So this is my first flight since more than a decade and the first thing they do is deice the plane (we had snow in Zurich at the time). Wishing to’ve travelled on another day, I hoped we wouldn’t have any problems.

Fortunately, the only irregularity was an air hole shortly before landing in Lisbon.

After the security checks in Zurich, I bought an overly expensive bottle of some tea in the hope of being able to take it to my second flight after buying it after the check. That was an error in reasoning because they had another security check in Lisbon and took it away.

Once at the gate in Lisbon, I tried to get my boarding pass, but apparently I should’ve gotten it somewhere else. However, they somehow managed to organize one there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the seat I reserved weeks ago.

I expected a presentable airport in Belo Horizonte, but it turned out to be a bigger provincial airport (At least that’s what it seemed like after having been in Zurich and Lisbon; I even thought it to be smaller than Altenrhein airport, but it’s not). There were exactly two passport inspection counters, one for Brazilians and one for foreigners.

Coming from a place with snow, I brought rather warm clothes with me and I was under the impression that it would be getting fall there. Oh, was I wrong. The temperature during the day was regulary above 25°C and the leather jacket was of no use.

With some effort I was able to buy a bus ticket, but people don’t seem to speak or even just understand English, even at an airport (later this would prove itself several times). To buy water, I had to finger-point on a list.


During the bus ride into the city I got a first impression on how traffic in Brazil would be like. For example, there was this boy on a bicycle holding himself on the back of a driving truck. Or people on roller skates in the traffic. Or people walking on a highway. Traffic-wise, every city in Switzerland, including Geneva, is like a village compared to Brazil.

Sitting in a bus is one thing, but being in a local coworker’s car during rain while he drives is quite scary, especially if people crack the joke about his driver licence being a killer licence.

Ouro Preto

On the first weekend, we went to Ouro Preto, an old, nice looking city located approximately 100km from Belo Horizonte. I counted at least three churches. And then there was this loud music in the street at 3 AM …

Porto Alegre

Until now, I spent my time more or less either in the office or hotel, but for the last week I travelled to Porto Alegre.

To start the day, I had some fun with a taxi driver in Belo Horizonte. In general, taxi drivers in Brazil don’t speak English, so I had some trouble to tell him where to go. Luckily, I had it written on a paper, so he managed to get me there. During the ride, he asked me something which I didn’t understand, let alone being able to answer.

The one-hour bus ride to the airport was interesting. There were people washing themselves below a water pipe, proably rain water, sticking out of a tunnel wall. Or the shabby trailers drawn by horses.

Security checks for domestic flights in Brazil are nothing compared to those for international flights. Many signs tell you to remove laptops from hand luggage and to put them into the X-ray machine separately. As soon as I wanted to remove mine, they told me to leave it in, leaving me slightly confused. They also didn’t take away my water bottle.

The clerk at the checkin counter told me I could eat after security. I shouldn’t have listened to him. What they had were 40g of nuts for 3 R$, which is utterly expensive.

My previous observations on people not speaking English at all got confirmed again at all three airports I was at today, including Congonhas in São Paulo.

While driving through Porto Alegre plenty of things could be seen. At one place, huge bones were lying on rain soaked soil and a dog tried to chow off some meat.

Virtually every house has a fence, often electrical.


I’m going to attend the FISL 9.0 conference from Thursday to Saturday. The organizers need to have the programme printed on paper to be handed out to other attendees.

The task seemed to be easy at first but turned out to be a bit more complicated. In the end, the workflow was something like this: save schedule website using Firefox, run it through an XSL transformation (XSLT) to convert the input HTML table to six tables (this required me to write code to calculate the absolute position of a cell using the rowspan attribute, in XSLT), then some text replacements were done using sed and in the end, a Perl script tidied it up. The result was loaded in Safari and printed to a PDF file.

First conference day: Standing for 12 hours straight is very exhausting. Again, only very few people speak English. At evening, all speakers were invited to a barbeque place. Nice food, but the music was a bit too loud.

Second conference day: Today I held my 50 minute talk about Ganeti. Feedback was positive, but some people wanted to see a demo.

Taxi ride to airport

The day after the conference was a travel day again, now back to Belo Horizonte just to go back to Switzerland the day after.

The taxi from the hotel to the airport was quite scary; an old Fiat car. One could get the feeling the car would fall apart in the next curve and the driver never went faster than about 65 km/h even if was allowed.


After a meal with a coworker in Belo Horizonte, I took the airport bus for the last time. Sleeping during the 8:45 hours flight was almost impossible due to the noise (yes, I had earplugs).

After waiting some time and boarding another plane in Lisbon we were informed about a “small technical problem”. Unfortunately, they never told us what it was specifically. The plane left one hour later than scheduled.

At the Zurich airport, I was stupid enough to put the baggage cart back at an escalator — I was sure the trainstation wouldn’t be far. I was wrong and had to wear my baggage through half of the airport.