Keith Irwin

Altamira Firehouse

Apr 21, 2014

Brazil, Hitchhiking, Travel, Latin America 2014

This is part of my story of hitchhiking from New York to Buenos Aires and back, which I did in 2014. I may publish the entire tale in a book someday. Until then, you can read it for free here. To see other parts, check out Latin America 2014. 

April 21

The next day, I slept late. It was raining and I was feeling lazy. I washed some dishes and swept the kitchen. I also introduced myself to some confused roommates. The rain subsided later in the afternoon, so I set out. 

It was a long walk to the edge of town. I passed many houses built on stilts, and some which had been flooded. By the time I got far enough from town to get the right traffic, there weren’t any good places to hitch. I started to thumb it outside a federal highway police station, but a buff cop came out and suggested I try from a place a little further down the road. So I walked on. There was a sort of tourist marker designating the start of the original transamazonian highway. Some folks were stopping to look at it, but nobody was going my way. 

After a few hours, the sun started to set. I didn’t want to camp out, considering the hole in my tarp. So I decided to walk back to town and maybe find a porch to sleep on. 

By the time I got back, it was dark. I didn’t want to go back to the house where I’d stayed the night before, because I was afraid I’d overstay my welcome. So I asked some folks who were standing around if I could sleep on their porch. They said “no”. 

There was one accommodation I’d read about, but had not been brave enough to try. Someone wrote on hitchwiki about how firemen in Central America sometimes let travellers sleep on a bunk for the night. Maybe this was true in Brazil too. So I got directions to the firehouse. There was a little restaurant across the street, and I went there for a meal first, and also drank a large beer. One of the nice things about Brazil is the size of the beers. They are also served as cold as possible. Beer ads are always bragging about being the coldest. Someone later told me “It’s to cover up the taste.” 

I finally finished my meal and paid, and mustered up the courage to go to the firehouse. A homeless person inquiring for shelter at an American fire department would certainly be laughed at, so my apprehension was justified. I nervously walked up some steps and entered the vestibule. Two guys were sitting around, watching a little TV. They looked at me quizzically. 

“Hi,” I said in my sloppy Portuguese. “I am American, travelling with hitchhiking. And I search a safe place to sleep… is there a place for sleep here?” 

To my surprise, they nodded. “Let me go ask the chief,” one said, and walked off. I talked to the other about my trip. He knew a few words of english. 

The chief was a woman. “How long do you want to stay here?” she asked. 

“Oh! Only one night.” 
“OK..” she spoke to the other guys. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I believe she was explaining where to put me. 
“Yes, you can stay,” she told me. “But you must leave before six o’clock tomorrow. Is that OK?” She spoke slowly to make sure I understood. 
“Yes,” I said. “At six in the morning, I leave.” 

The chief made some arrangements and left. Only the two firemen who had been there originally remained. 

“Do you want… eat?” one asked in english. 
“Sure,” I said. 

He led me to the kitchen and made a plate of rice and chicken, which he microwaved. He also offered me juice. After I’d eaten, I washed my plate and one of the huge pots on the stove. Then I went back to the vestibule and inquired about showering. Who knows when I would have this opportunity again! There was a large room with many sinks and showers. I washed some clothes in a sink and hung them up to dry. The shower was cold and I had no towel, which was no fun. 

I brushed my teeth and was shown a small room with a bunk bed and mattresses piled in the corner. It seemed like they were using this room for storage. But now, I had the whole room to myself! I set the alarm on my watch, piled up a bunch of mattresses, and slept comfortably. 

There was once a time when a weary traveler could knock on a castle door and the inhabitant would be obligated to give him a meal and a place to sleep. The opening scene of Ivanhoe comes to mind. It was good to know the firemen were keeping the spirit of the law of hospitality alive! 

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