South Korea to Brazil

Here is an article the documents, in a nutshell, how I came to Curitiba.  I could have linked to the original article, but there were about three mistakes in that article, that I have since corrected. The version on the Curitiba in English website still has those typos.

South Korea To Curitiba



By Rick Ruffin

The cargo ship Otello,entering the Pacific Ocean after leaving the East Sea.

My journey took me on a cargo ship across the Pacific from Busan, South Korea to Buenaventura, Colombia. From Buenaventura I took a series of buses passing through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay finally to Curitiba, where I arrived on the morning of June 12, 2013, nearly four months after leaving South Korea.

The cargo ship Otello that brought me across the Pacific, a 8,200 TEU vessel (capable of carrying 8,200 20-foot containers) is almost 300 meters long, too long to pass through the Panama Canal. It was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan, South Korea, and commissioned in 2005 to the French company GMA CGM, based in Marseille. The crew, half French, half Romanian, needed just 17 days to cross the Pacific to Manzanillo, Mexico, and another week to reach landfall in Buenaventura, Colombia. It took 27 people slightly more than three weeks to deliver me to Colombia from South Korea.

Along the way I travelled from the humid rainforests of coastal Colombia to the Pacific coastal deserts of Peru to the mountainous Andean highlands to the altiplano of Peru and Bolivia and finally to the chaco of Paraguay and the semi-tropical forests of coastal Parana. For one month I did volunteer work for La Ceiba, a non-profit based in Wisconsin, USA, that manages a “bosque seco” in Manabi, Ecuador.   I lived in a bamboo hut that I dubbed “The House of Spirits.”


Cargo Ship Otello leaving Balboa, Panama.


The House of Spirits, at least when I was there, was surrounded by mud, even though it sits in what is called a “bosque seco” or “dry forest. “ The Lalo Loor Dry Forest Preserve, where the House of Spirits is located, gets about 1,000 mm of rain annually, but in June the drought starts, and the trees lose their leaves. However, for me it was rain every night, and mud every day. It was a full-on “jungle experience.” It was also full of howling monkeys, buzzing bees and insects of every persuasion. I was constantly swatting spider webs from my face, swatting roaches and cicadas out of my way, and stepping on strange beasts in the dark. I say dark, because after 6 pm it truly was dark as The House of The Spirits had no electricity. On nights with no moon, the sky got pitch dark, and when I say pitch dark, I mean black. As black as one can imagine.

One morning, descending the trail to the main road, which was only one kilometer from the bamboo cabin in which I lived, I came across a strange creature. Although it was the size of a snake it had no eyes, but it did have a fat tail and a brown body. It was about 30cm in length, and from what I could tell it was a giant earthworm, and not a snake, as it had no head (at least not a head that was easily distinguishable). I was always running into strange creatures in the dark. We even had an albino bat hanging from the rafters above the kitchen, which prompted the cook, Bigote, to say, “I have never seen a white bat before.”

Maria Fernanda,, Maximo “Matador de Anaconda” Aguinda, and Gabriella at The House of The Spirits in Manabi Province, coastal Ecuador.

Living in the bamboo hut House of Spirits was a good experience for me, but after one month I had had all the mud and insects I could stand, so I headed South. I visited Huaraz, Peru, and stayed in a hostel with a view of Huascaran, at almost 7,000 meters the highest mountain in Peru, and the sight of a devastating earthquake and corresponding avalanche in 1970. I partied with people from around the world at the Pariwana Hostel in Lima, Peru, most of whom were young enough to be my children, and some young enough to be my grandchildren . In Cusco I took in the sights of one of South America’s oldest cities, and shopped in the local market where vendors sold all sorts of mind-altering substances, including ayahuasca, a vine that creates hallucinations and that everyone seemed to be taking at the time. I also attended a pisco tasting event at the South American Explorer’s Club. To me, pisco tastes like grappa, which is common in many parts of Europe, and is also made from grapes.

But I had one destination on my mind, and that was Curitiba, Brazil, so it was time to head south, and I did, stopping at 3,800 meter-high Lake Titicaca where I stayed a few days on the Island of The Sun, the birthplace of the Inca empire, and another couple of days in the small town of Copacabana, where one gains access to Island of The Sun, and where I read my first Paulo Coelho book, 11 Minutes.

A bird that the French captain of our ship, Jocelyn Rapp, referred to as a “fou.”

I passed La Paz, Bolivia, the highest major city in the world, and descended the Death Road, “the most dangerous road in the world” by mountain bike. In Potosi, Bolivia, which, at 4,000 meters above sea level is actually higher than La Paz, I learned about all the riches taken out of Cerro Rico, the mountain that overlooks the town, and all the heartache that it has caused. I finally made it to Curitiba after crossing Paraguay by bus, spending one night in the capitol city of Asuncion.

And why Curitiba? Basically, I had heard a lot of good things about Curitiba on the news, and I admired the work of Jaime Lerner, who had marshaled the people of this city to build a downtown area that would be free of cars. And I do not like cars. In fact, one of the reasons that I chose to live in South Korea is that it is such a small country that one doesn’t need a car. One can travel everywhere in South Korea by bus or train or even by bicycle, and taxis are relatively cheap. When I heard that Curitiba, while being a “green city” with a superior public transportation infrastructure, also has one of the highest, if not the highest private car ownership ratios in Brazil, I was disappointed. I hope to raise more awareness as to the virtues of public transportation while I am here, and I hope to find people who share my values of simple living. That is why I chose to come to Curitiba — I wanted to see if it’s possible to live simply in this modern world that threatens to engulf us all.

Chart room and chart showing Panama Canal

I have a secret to tell you. I am married (still, I think), and I have a wife that I left behind in South Korea. I came here partly because living with her had become very, very difficult. We were arguing all the time. But now I miss her – I miss her terribly. I hope to be with her once again. Women, as the saying goes, you cannot live with them, and you cannot live without them.

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