Brazil, November 2015

Very, very minor news: I had 'pizza dolce' in Sao Paulo.

Back in 2008, someone in the north of Brazil mentioned pizza as a dessert option.

It's called 'pizza dolce' and is made from pizza dough, but instead of putting cheese and tomato sauce on top of it, you put on chocolate or fruits.

I wasn't quite sure at that time whether this was a real dish or whether they were making fun of me. But they gave me the address of a restaurant, I ordered a chocolate pizza and it tastes quite good.

I could also say it tastes a lot better than it looks, but that would a backhanded compliment, as it looks like this. So, independent of the appearance, it is a nice dessert, but one best shared with friends, since it comes as a full sized pizza, which is usually a bit much to have after a meal.

But I was never sure whether this was just a regional speciality or something that is available all over Brazil. So when I went to a restaurant in Sao Paulo that had pizza, I looked for it in the menu - and, yes, they had two kinds of 'pizza dolce'.

This time I did go for the banana/cinnamon version of it and it was quite good.

Banana Pizza

It seems it's not just a speciality in Ceará, but also known in other parts of Brazil.

And while I was in Sao Paulo, I not only ate a pizza, I also watched the Formula 1 race.

Formula 1 sign Formula 1 pit lane display

I've never been to a Formula 1 race before. (I went to a "Spa Summer Classics" event in Belgium in 2012. But that was a rather informal affair. More like something to do for families on a summer weekend than serious racing.)

But as the Interlagos Formula 1 race turned out to be in Sao Paulo during the time when I was there, I took that as a sign and got tickets.

Formula 1 Tickets Formula 1 wristbands

The 'racing weekend' has three days - the first one for practice sessions, the second for qualifying and the races on the third day. (Besides the Formula 1 race, there were also supplementary races - the Mercedes C250/CLA, Porsche Cup and Porsche Challenge - the function similar to those of a supporting act on a rock concert.)

As I hadn't been to a Formula 1 event before, didn't have any other plans and also spent a lot on the tickets. So I didn't want to miss anything, I went there on all days, watching all the events.

Which, on Friday morning, meant pretty much that I was the only one watching from the grandstand.

Watching practice sessions Watching practice sessions

Nobody really cares about the supplementary stuff - and especially not about a bunch of Porsche or Mercedes cars doing practice laps.

It's mostly just background noise, gives spectators something else to watch but an empty track and allows TV operators to work on their settings and from which camera it's best to cut to which other camera.

And the very few spectators that are die-hard fans were probably sitting somewhere else.

Most of the grandstands in Interlagos are next on the main straight, opposite the pit lane. That's where the fans (and the fan clubs) sit and where you find the serious motorsport enthusiasts as well as the people who go there for the atmosphere.

But I was at one of the smaller grandstands located within the track.

The advantages were a covered grandstand (Sao Paulo sometimes has heavy rains in November and I wanted to avoid looking mostly at umbrellas), food and drinks included (as I didn't know the conditions at Interlagos and neither wanted to go there with a picnic basket, nor spent most of the time standing in line at a food stand) and visits to the pit lane (more about that later). And there was a good view of large parts of the track.

Track seen from grandstand Track seen from grandstand

But many of the seats on the expensive grandstands are 'sponsor seats' and given by companies as incentives to partners, employees or customers, so for many people around me it was just some event to go to, so they watched the big events (Formula 1 qualifying and racing) and not much else.

How little Friday actually counts was also in evidence by the lack of information available.

It took me a while to find the right entrance (there's no sign to tell me which gate I needed to go through) and the internal grandstand entries weren't labelled, so there was a lot of shrugging the shoulders and pointing involved before I arrived where I wanted.

They put up signs on Saturday morning, so the implicit assumption seemed to be that anyone who shows up on Friday is probably a petrolhead and knows the way around. And people who have never been to a racing weekend will presumably not show up before the Formula 1 qualifying on Saturday afternoon, so it's enough to set up any information signs before that.

Friday morning signage Saturday signage

To be fair - everyone was friendly and helpful. It wasn't really difficult to find the right gate (eventually), get to my seat or find out when the time for the pit lane walk was. It was just surprising that they didn't provide the information earlier.

But then, Friday doesn't really count.

Even people who get there for free don't actually watch.

There was a school class visiting the grandstand on Friday, probably as some sort of PR and 'local community outreach' activity. And it kind of makes sense. For the covered grandstands, you could only buy tickets for the whole weekend. And as many people are working on Friday, few bother to go to the track, leaving the grandstand mostly empty. So why not use the opportunity to show some public spirit and invite some local children to see Formula 1 'close up' for free (even if it's not the actual race) and make the place look less deserted on TV?

Good idea.

But then again, there was also free food, free drinks, free ice-cream available behind the grandstand. And PS4 driving simulators (one on a motion control platform). And photos being taken and printed to keep as a reminder.

So they did what any average twelve-year-old would do - watch the Formula 1 practice for long enough to take a picture with a smart phone. Send a text message or status update to everyone else. And then go behind the grandstand and enjoy the free stuff.

So not many people did see much of this.

Mercedes Cup Mercedes Cup Mercedes Cup
Porsche Cup/Challenge Porsche Cup/Challenge Porsche Cup/Challenge

Not many at all...

Near empty grandstand Near empty grandstand

But then - to repeat - Friday doesn't really count.

Even for the Formula 1 practice sessions few people turned up.

Grandstand during F1 training Grandstand during F1 training Grandstand during F1 training

At least there were 'real' racing cars on the track now (as opposed to revved up street cars).

And watching the cars during the training sessions and seeing them on the screens at the same time helped a lot to get 'oriented' for the next two days.

So while it was a training day for the drivers, it was also a training day for me in respect to recognizing and remembering the 'main players'. While it is quite obvious which car belongs to which team, it's hard to tell the two cars of a team apart. The cars do have numbers somewhere on them, but they are inconsistently placed, small, often only visible from the front and hard to spot in all the advertisements. (Take a look at the pictures below - the only car where the number can really be seen is the first image on the fourth row.) And while the helmet designs of the two drivers in a team are usually different, they are often different to spot as well.

The best way to distinguish between the two cars of a team is usually the colour of the 'camera bar' above and behind the driver's head - for one car it's black, for the other a bright yellow. As it's the highest part of the car and its colour is visible from most sides, it's the most useful noticeable difference.

But it still takes a while to memorize the colours, even just for the top teams. So the training sessions came in handy for the qualifying and the race later on.

And it also helped to map camera views to the actual track.

If a car could be seen on the TV screen to pass a specific advertising banner, you knew that it would come into view about three seconds later. And so on, for all the landmarks on the track. So if the TV showed to cars going head to head, after a while it was easy to figure out whether this was a part of the track I could see from my position and then look at that place to see the real event going on. Even though it took a bit of adjustment, as the video feed was (a bit less than) a second off. So if the video showed a car on the track, I needed to look a bit ahead of that spot to see the real cars. Easy to do, but convenient to learn to do this before the actual race.

In any case, here are some practice session pictures.

Sauber car during training session Massa during training session Hamilton during training session Lotus car during training session
Ferrari and Sauber cars during training session Mercedes and Williams cars during training session Rosberg during training session Rosberg and Räikkönen during training session
Ferrari car during training session Ferrari car during training session Ferrari car during training session Lotuscar during training session
Saubercar during training session Red Bull car during training session Red Bull car during training session Rosberg during training session
Rosberg during training session Räikkönen during training session Räikkönen during training session Hamilton during training session

One of the practice sessions had the only (minor) 'red flag' incident of the weekend.

There was some smoke coming out of one of the McLaren cars and about one corner later that turned into a bigger cloud of smoke and the car had to retire to the side of the track.

Smoking car Smoking car Smoking car
Smoking car, parked Smoking car, parked

So they stopped the session, the safety car came out to collect the driver, the racing car was moved away from the track and the practice session continued.

Driver, frustrated Driver, frustrated Session stopped Safety car picks up driver F1 car removed from track

Though the most interesting thing about the pit walk on Friday was that Formula 1 cars, if they are not actually on the track, look a lot like Lego or Kinder Surprise car models.

You have a basic plate with some axles sticking out, but almost everything else (wheels, 'nose', steering wheel, seat, car body) is scattered in parts around the place and only plugged together when it's 'time to play'.

Marussia car in box Red Bull car in box Red Bull car in box Sauber car in box Ferrari car parts

The only time there were assembled cars to be seen on Friday was when they were pushing one to the end of the pit lane for checking by the stewards, who make sure that the car fulfils all F1 regulations.

Pushing a Ferrari Car Pushing a Ferrari Car Pushing a Sauber Car

Another noticeable thing on the pit walk was that there are racing teams and then there is Ferrari. There were crowds of people around their box, even when nothing was happening there.

This is what it looked like at the Mercedes box - by the time of the Brazil Grand Prix, they had already secured the constructor and best driver trophies and were aiming to get the second best driver title as well. So it's the star team of the 2015 season...

Me and Mercedes box

And that is what it looked like at the Ferrari box (second in the constructor standings and, ultimately, place three and four in the driver ranking):

Crowd at Ferrari box Crowd at Ferrari box Ferrari sign

Other teams tried to make spectators happy by allowing them to get closer to the cars (with photo-bombing mechanics in the background) or letting people have a close look at their steering wheel,

Me at Red Bull Box, mechanic in background Me at Red Bull Box
Me with Lotus steering wheel Me with Lotus steering wheel
Me with Williams steering wheel Me with Williams steering wheel

But Ferrari drew crowds just by being there. Even though a lot of them didn't even look at the box. (To be fair - I didn't do that in the preceding pictures either, so maybe I shouldn't complain.)

During the pit walk on Saturday, more 'assembled' cars were on display. Most teams did 'pit stop practice', where they put a mechanic into the car, had two or three other mechanics push the car and then practiced the tire changes (and sometime the replacement of the cars noses).

A lot of it looks like someone once heard "if 10 people can build a house in 100 days, then 100 people should be able to build a house in 10 days or a 1000 people in a single day" and didn't get the sarcasm.

So they assigned three people per tire and introduced a very well-choreographed routine to get the tires off and on in about three seconds. And practice them again. And again. And then add another bunch of people to change the front wing...

Mercedes pit stop practice Mercedes pit stop practice Sauber pit stop practice Red Bull pit stop practice Red Bull pit stop practice Lotus pit stop practice

Of course, they don't use any new tires for practice (presumably someone might scratch them...), so they roll out old scrap tires for this.

Used tire for practice Scrap tire for practice

Generally, everything about the boxes gives the impression of work flow optimization gone crazy.

Not only is everything labelled with the driver names (which obviously makes things a lot easier when unpacking and setting up the stuff in the box), but everything that might be needed in a hurry is additionally colour coded. (Like the edge of the trolleys or their handle bars.)

Named boxes and generators Named boxes and generators Step labeled K.R. for Kimi Räikkönen

colour coded trolleys colour coded trolleys

It makes sense, of course. If two people reach for the same trolley, it requires some quick communication to have one of them indicate 'ok, you take the first one', the other one acknowledge and grab it, and the second mechanic take the next one.

Even without any 'you go first', 'no, you go first' troubles, it might cause half a second of delay. So it's better to colour code the trolleys and make a clear assignment on who is allowed to touch what colour.

It all is kind of sensible in the context, but I wouldn't have anyone responsible for things like that come close to my office...

In many respects, Formula 1 is an odd mixture of old-fashioned stuff and high-tech.

On one hand, there are rows of high-tech displays in the boxes and on the other side of the pit lane, along the main straight.

Red Bull box monitors Qualifying information Mercedes info screens Mercedes lock screen Mercedes lock screen

A slight oddity is the name of the Mercedes network: BARF1. I'm pretty sure it is some acronym that makes sense to someone, but it still looks odd. (I assume the 'ARF1' part is "AMG Racing Formula 1", so maybe it's an acronym for "Benz AMG Racing Formula 1", but that's a bit far fetched...) The network name would have made sense a decade ago, when there still was a BAR F1 team, but for Mercedes, it's a bit strange.

And while there are all these team info screens and high-tech steering wheels (see pictures a bit higher up), on the other hand, there are also still the old fashioned pit boards to show to drivers.

Sergio Perez pit sign Lewis Hamilton pit sign Felipe Massa pit sign Sebastian Vettel pit sign Nico Hülkenberg pit sign

The main concern, however, seems to be with the tires.

Different available types of tires Different available types of tires Different available types of tires Freshly balanced tires

All teams have some sort of 'intensive care monitoring unit' for their tires, making sure that they are all cosy and warm and their conditions are monitored at all times.

Tire racks Tire racks Tire racks

Not that it always helps...

Even with all this monitoring, they screwed up badly during the race and gave Felipe Massa tires that were too hot. They are only allowed to pre-heat the tires to a certain temperature (110°C) and one of his tires was at 137°C on the starting grid, leading to his later disqualification. Not a good result for the 'local hero' (he was born in Sao Paulo) on his home race.

Here are some more pictures from the pit lane that don't really fit anywhere else.

Bits and pieces from racing cars.

Car spoiler, sides and top Red bull spoilers Mercedes racing seat Lotus

The safety car(s). (Yes, there's more than one; presumably there's safety in numbers...)

Safety car Four safety cars

And the podium (which was polished by three cleaners, so it looks good and shiny on TV...)

Podium, empty Podium, being polished

Obviously, the pit lane was closed for traffic during the pit lane walks.

Pitlane closed

But that didn't mean that nothing was happening on the track. Usually there was some support event (Porsche/Mercedes practise/qualifying/racing) going on at the same time.

Mercedes qualifying seen from pit lane

That was possible since they didn't use the same pit lane, but had slightly less permanent 'boxes'.

Senna-S and support event boxes

Actually there were two additional 'bit lanes', on at the side of the Senna-S (see above) that was used for the Mercedes events and another one, for the Porsche events, pretty much on the other side of the track, next to the lake (but that was pretty much out of view from where I was sitting, so there's just a bit of it visible on the left side of the next picture).

Second set of support event boxes

So, on the next two pictures, the cars driving across the 'green' haven't lost their way or are experiencing steering problems - they are just on the way to their pit lane.

Mercedes to support pit lane Mercedes to support pit lane Senna-S and support pit lane Senna-S and support pit lane Cars in support pit lane

But it was time to end the pit lane walk and head back to the grandstand.

Inner track grandstand

Time to get some lunch.

Buffet lunch

Saturday afternoon had the Formula 1 qualifying, which drew a fair amount of spectators, so about half of the seats on the grandstand were taken.

The actual qualifying results - not much of a surprise. The two Mercedes cars came up first and second (the only interesting bit was which one would be ahead this time) and the two Ferraris came up on third and fourth. So pretty much the same order that came up for most of the races. (There would almost have been a small surprise with Bottas (Williams) squeezing between the two Ferraris, but he got a penalty (he did overtake another car during the red flag on Friday), so he ended up starting from seventh place.

By Sunday, the day of the race, I knew my way from the Autódromo.

The way from the Autódromo train station to the Autódromo race track is not that obvious, especially if you go there early and can't just follow the crowds. (There is a slightly larger road that can be followed, but that's a bit of a detour.)

Street to Autódromo

In the morning, there first event was the Porsche Challenge race. (If one of the cars in the second picture looks a bit disoriented - it had just spun around and tried to get off the track to be out of the way. The other cars just went around it and once they had passed, the misdirected car turned and followed.)

Porsche Challenge race Porsche Challenge race

After that, there was the opportunity for another pit lane visit.

This one had a bit of a 'feeding time at the zoo' feeling.

Every team send their drivers out for a short autograph walk, so there was a tendency in the crowd to look for the next box to feature a racing driver and rush over there.

(I think I even did see someone with a complete list that had ten minute time slots and which boxes to visit, but I'm not sure where that came from and whether it represented 'character showtimes' or something else.)

But it was a lot like a crowd in a zoo rushing to the animal enclosure that has public feeding (or rushing to an area in a theme park that has one of the characters walking around).

At least for now, though the trend seems already to be abating a bit, the drivers see mostly the backsides of their fans in selfie mode...

They also give autographs. This is well choreographed - they clearly applied the same efficiency planning they use for their car maintenance for that as well.

A PR assistant walks ahead of the driver and hands out autograph cards. The driver follows a few meters behind, signs the cards and poses for pictures.

Daniil Kvyat and PR assistant on autograph walk Daniel Ricciardo and PR assistant on autograph walk

The clever thing about this is that the PR assistant can control the crowd pretty well by limiting the amount of autograph cards she hands out.

While it's not stated (and I assume the driver would pretty much autograph anything that's handed to him), people with an autograph card are fairly assured that they will get an autograph, so they patiently wait in line and don't rush or push towards the driver. And anyone without a card will either just snap a picture from the second row and usually not try to push forward.

And if there's any pushing and shoving at all, it's were the autograph cards are handed out, leaving the area around the driver reasonably calm and controlled.

And, if it takes too long or the driver wants to leave, it's the PR assistant who stops handing out autograph cards (or distributes them more sparsely, so the driver is still seen to go all the way to the end of the enclosure, even though he does so more quickly and interacts with fewer fans). So any frustration is potentially directed towards her, leaving the driver to come out as the good guy (and not somebody who refuses to interact with spectators).

So, all in all, it's a smoothly running, well organized system.

So here are some of the drivers.

Sebastian Vettel Sebastian Vettel Sebastian Vettel Sebastian Vettel
Kimi Räikkönen Kimi Räikkönen
Daniil Kvyat Daniil Kvyat
Daniel Ricciardo Daniel Ricciardo
Valtteri Bottas Valtteri Bottas
Felipe Massa Felipe Massa Felipe Massa
Felipe Nasr Felipe Nasr

After a while the feeding autograph session ended, the animals drivers went back to their cages boxes and the crowd moved on.

When leaving the pit lane (the race time was getting closer and the pit lane was to be closed to spectators) there was another low-tech oddity. There are probably temperature sensors all over the track, but there was still someone kneeling on the asphalt to take the current track temperature.

Measuring track temperature Track temperature log

By the time visitors had to leave the pit lane on Sunday, the Mercedes race was about to start.

I didn't quite get the idea behind it - the Mercedes CLA/C250 racing series comprise the Mercedes Benz Challenge, which is specific to Brazil - there are individual training and qualifying sessions for the Mercedes CLA Cup and the Mercedes C250 Cup supporting events, but then there's only one race for both of them (unlike the Porsche Cup and the Porsche Challenge, which were two separate races). I'm not sure what the point of this is. Either CLA and C250 are roughly the same - then why not have them as one class? Or they are quite dissimilar, then racing both of them at the same time is about as sensible of running a bike race and a car race at the same time - both just get in each others way.

But whatever the idea is, it meant that there were a lot of cars on the track, so at least this resulted in pictures showing more than two cars at the same time - and that's even further during the race, not just for the first lap.

Mercedes Benz Challenge cars leaving pit lane Mercedes Benz Challenge cars leaving pit lane Mercedes Benz Challenge cars leaving pit lane
Mercedes Benz Challenge cars on track Mercedes Benz Challenge cars on track

Time again for some lunch and something to drink. Conveniently, one of the sponsors of the event is a champagne manufacturer, so there enough free champagne available for those spectators who had lunch included in their tickets.

Champagne by the (pick-up-)truckload

Due to the odd effects of sponsorship, there was also free whisky available, though it's probably not a good idea to actually drink that at 30°C. But as a whisky manufacturer was another sponsor, they put their bottles on display and offered it freely.

But as no soft drink manufacturers were sponsors, their products or logos were nowhere to be seen. Of course, water and soft drinks were freely available, but they were discretely hidden away in unlabelled boxes. The little white box on the lower left of this picture; that's where the soft drinks were kept on ice.

I was fairly happy with this arrangement. One of the reasons for getting the expensive 'all inclusive' kind of ticket was to avoid having to stand in line for soft drinks (and in Sao Paulo, even on an overcast day, you want to drink lots of them). And being able to just grab them from the box, without even leaving the front of the grandstand was great.

But difference between the big presence of the sponsor names (which is, admittedly, what they pay for) of the products and the hiding away of everything else was surprising. I can understand that they don't want to make non-sponsored products too visible, but the amount of effort to remove any other product from view was unexpected, especially since they weren't in direct competition with any of the sponsors. If some other soft drink manufacturer was a sponsor, I'd understand that. But soft drinks aren't really in competition with whisky and champagne.

On of the side effects of sponsors being present and providing some stuff and services for free was that Nikon / Epson had a photographer there to take pictures of spectators, print them, put them in a plastic pouch on a lanyard and hand them to the people on the pictures.

This was, was far as advertising goes, surprisingly low-key. Instead of putting their company name into the picture (either as a picture element or some overlay during printing), they just relied on the 'visual identity' of their current advertisement campaign.

So people could just take a souvenir picture home, without it being too obvious just a marketing picture.

Which was, in theory (and for most people also in practice), a nice thing.

But I wanted to do one picture per day (more than that seemed greedy...) though I didn't want the same standing pose on all of them, so I tried for a bit of variety.

Which, of course, automatically leads to silly pictures better not taken. But then, there are worse things...

First day posed picture Second day posed picture Third day posed picture

Another odd effect of sponsoring was the label at track observation post 11.

On the first day, there was a "Prefeitura de Sao Paulo" sign. On day two, there was no label at all (and, from the look of it, it hadn't just been removed or covered, but painted over). And on the day of the race, a sponsor banner was hanging there.

Post 11, day 1 Post 11, day 2 Post 11, day 3

Strangely, there's another "Prefeitura de Sao Paulo" sign at the exit of the pit lane (which, as far as prominence on TV goes) is most likely a more desirable position, but that remained there all three days (even though that was just a banner, so it could have been more easily removed or replaced than the painted sign).

But, 'getting back on track', about 90 minutes before the race starts, there's a "Drivers Track Parade" where all drivers are driven around the track on a truck, so spectators have a chance to actually see them, before they get into their cars and only the top of their helmets remains visible for the race.

Due to terrorist attacks in France a day before, there was a French flag on the truck as a memento. (The fact that the chairs on the grandstand are also red/white/blue is just a coincidence.)

Drivers parade Drivers parade Drivers parade

As could almost be expected, the race itself was a bit anticlimactic.

The 2015 season was already considered one of the dullest for decades, as Mercedes was dominating the field and most of the time the only question was which of the two drivers would be first and which one second (they did get the first two places in 12 out of 19 races).

And in a dull season, that was probably the dullest race, with no significant incidents during the race at all.

The only thing that happened in the first corner was that Valtteri Bottas managed to get from position 7 to position 5. And from that point on, the first five places never changed and the cars crossed the finish line in the same order they emerged from the first corner.

So there was almost no overtaking (even in further down the field) and no car retirements after the first lap. Carlos Sainz had already problems getting to the starting grid (his car stopped shortly after leaving the pit lane and needed to be towed back) and had to start from the pit lane, but only managed less than half a lap before it just stopped and was pushed behind the tire barrier.

Toro Rosso car out of race

But all other cars just made it from start to finish without any problems, so it was just cars going round the track like steps on an escalator. And, essentially, about as exciting.

While it's nice to have been there and seen it live once, Formula 1 is not really a spectator sport. It's clearly a 'for TV' sport where the spectators on-site are more like a background audience for a TV show.

It's also difficult to follow what's going on, unless you get additional information. So having the TV screens nearby (or people having apps on their smartphones), was useful. Otherwise it's just cars going by and after a couple of laps they are so far apart that it gets difficult to tell who is ahead and who's behind. (Though, generally, assuming that the two Mercedes denote the front and the two Ferraris are the ones behind them, did help to make sense of the order of cars. But then, that's figuring out the current standing from the (presumed) result, which is a kind of the wrong way round for sport events.)

How much the monitors helped became obvious when they broke down about 15 minutes before the end of the race and it was impossible to tell on which lap the drivers were and how long the race would continue. But on lap 70 (of 71) the monitors got on again, so everyone could see the last lap while knowing that this was the last one.

So the opening lap was the only one that still had lots of cars close to each other.

Cars in opening lap Car off track in opening lap Cars in opening lap Cars in opening lap Cars in opening lap

After that, it was just individual cars going by - pretty much the same as in practice and qualifying - and only the information on the monitors made it a race.

So the most interesting team to watch turned out to be Marussia.

Because they were unbelievably slow.

I knew that they weren't a top team (not gaining a single point in the whole season, while even the second-to-last team has 27 points is a clear sign of this). But I was surprised when, even in the first round, when all cars were more or less a group, the two Marussias were trailing so far behind that I assumed that they had started from the pit lane.

At the end of the race, only the two Mercedes and the two Ferraris were on the same lap, about everyone else was a lap behind (except for a single Sauber, being two laps behind). But both Marussias were four laps behind!

So everyone had to overtake the Marussias a couple of times during the race. And even though these were 'blue flag' overtaking, so the Marussias needed to move aside and let the other car pass, this at least meant that most of the times were one car passed another, there was a Marussia involved, which made them the team to watch.

But most of the time the cars were just going in individually, so here is a bunch of pictures of single cars going by.

Red Bull car at Interlagos 2015 Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos 2015 Sebastian Vettel at Interlagos 2015 Kimi Räikkönen at Interlagos 2015
Valtteri Bottas at Interlagos 2015 Marcus Ericsson at Interlagos 2015 Nico Rosberg at Interlagos 2015 Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos 2015
Kimi Räikkönen at Interlagos 2015 Daniel Ricciardo at Interlagos 2015 Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos 2015 Kimi Räikkönen at Interlagos 2015
Felipe Nasr at Interlagos 2015 Jenson Button at Interlagos 2015 Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos 2015 Kimi Räikkönen car at Interlagos 2015

In the end, Nico Rosberg won the race, waving to the audience during his victory lap.

Nico Rosberg victory lap

And that was it.

An interesting experience to see a Formula 1 race and worth going once, just for the sake of it.

And, even though costly, the initial decisions about which tickets to buy turned out to be the right ones - the pit lane visits were at least as interesting as the race, having a grandstand with monitors was a good decision and being able to just grab something to drink was also useful.

On the way back to the train station, the streets were a bit more packed than earlier that day (as the fans slowly arrive all through the day, but then all leave right after the race), but they had trains coming in every five minutes and I got onto the next train after I arrived at the station, so it was surprisingly easy to get back to the hotel.

Interlagos street

Although, in spectator terms, the race isn't really that big an event. Even though it is a worldwide series and it only happens once per year in a country, it drew 'only' 55000 spectators, which is less than the top five football teams in Germany each draw every week. So it's a manageable amount of people in a region with an infrastructure for about 20 million inhabitants.

I felt a bit guilty after being just a lazy spectator at the Interlagos race, so the next day I flew to Porto Alegre to get a bit more active (though, ultimately, in a somewhat lazy way).

I rented a car at the airport and drove to a small vacation site about 150 km away.

Most of it was on regular roads, but the last ten kilometers or so was a gravel road with potholes. Not the nicest thing to drive on, but at least it was a firm surface, had no loose rocks and no washboarding ripples, so with a bit of careful avoiding the potholes, it was easy to drive on, even with a small car.

Dirty road

The destination was the Parque da Cachoeira, the 'waterfall park'.

Bungalow at Parque da Cachoeira

Of course the primary attraction was neither the bungalow or the fact that I had the holiday camp all to myself (it was still pre-season), but this, this and this:

Parque da Cachoeira waterfall Parque da Cachoeira zipline Parque da Cachoeira steel cage

Given that the name Parque da Cachoeira means Waterfall Park, it was obvious that they had a waterfall.

But the main attraction was that they turned the place into a zip and rappel site.

So there was the option to rappel down the waterfall, there was a zipline from one side of the river to the other (not quite as long as the one in Pedra Bella, but great views). And they also had an open 'gondola' on a wire - not only to get to the other side, but also to stop in the middle and then rappel down to the river, with views all around.

Some fun things to do!

Preparing equipment

We started on the waterfall viewing platform for basic rappelling training. Clayton Willrich, the guide, explained the basic equipment and the guidelines to follow. And then I practiced a few small descents (just a few meters) to make sure that I did everything correctly.

Rappel gear

Then we took the yellow 'gondola' to the other side of the 'canyon'.

Yellow gondola

It looks a bit ominous, without any walls and just a railing bar in the middle, but you only enter it wearing a climbing harness and get clipped on, so it is fairly safe.

The riskiest bit, anyway, is at the beginning, since it starts with a bit of a jolt. Once it gets moving, it is steady and stable and you can enjoy the view. (They used to have a banner at one side of it, but then it got a bit unstable whenever it was windy, so they removed it again.)

Once on the other side, I got over to the zipline and returned to the other side of the river a bit faster...

Zipline ride

(The clip is 17 MB large and lasts 30 seconds.)

After that it was back to the yellow gondola, but this time going only halfway across.

And then down.

The idea is to go to the middle of the 'canyon' and then rappel down form the gondola to allow the unusual feeling of doing a rappel in 'free space' (as opposed to going being right next to the side of a house, a cliff, a waterfall or something similar.

So, in theory, it's rappelling with a great view. Although, when actually doing it, I was too focused on the rappelling to really stop and enjoy the view. Looks nice on video, though...

Everything was set up at the side of the river valley. The ropes were laid out in wide loops on the ground and my abseil-eight was clipped in. Then the gondola was moved a bit away from the valley side for a small rappel to get used to the technique.

You start with the feet against the edge of the box and then you don't just glide down, but you lean back into the rope until your head is below your feet, before you pull your feet away and swing under the box. But you want to avoid your feet slipping or pulling them down to early and crash with your head against the steel frame. So it's better to give train that only a short bit above the ground than high above it.

But everything worked fine, so the gondola was moved to the middle position, trailing the ropes behind it. And then it was time to do the descent for real.

There's lot of safety built in - instead of one big rope for descent, two smaller ones are used (the kind I've heart referenced as 'caving ropes', but that's presumably not a proper name). And there's an additional belay line from above, just in case there is a problem with the abseil-eight. And there is someone else standing below at the end of the ropes, so if the person on the rope somehow lets go of the rope, he can pull the ropes tight and slow the descent.

Going down the rope was fun and, slightly unsuspectedly, not scary at all. (But then, it would be a bit of a downer if I had come all the way to this place and then find out that I would be too scared to do this). But I was surprisingly focused on properly feeding the ropes through the abseil-eight and not getting anything entangled. (You don't want to try to undo a knot or tangle in the ropes while being 35 meters above the ground.)

Moving into position Gondola in place Gondola in place Leaning back below steel frame, feet still on gondola
On the way down Halfway down Nearly there...

In any case, it was a fun experience! A really neat and unusual set-up for a rappel.

It's roughly 50 meters of straight down abseil, (The description on their web side says 50 meters, a video on their web site states 70 meters. As a standard length for climbing ropes is 60 meters and I probably would have noticed if the ropes ended 10 meters above the ground, I think that 50 meters is more likely).

View of steel frame from below

Next morning it was time to use a more natural site for descending - the waterfall.

Parque da Cachoeira waterfall

After attaching the ropes and throwing the other end down the waterfall, we were ready to go.

Guide Clayton Willrich securing ropes Guide Clayton Willrich lowering ropes

The set-up differed a bit from what I've seen before. Instead of letting me go alone, belaying me from the top or securing the rope from below, both of use were going down in parallel, on separate ropes, but connected with a safety rope. (When I was going down a frozen waterfall earlier this year, the guide also went down in parallel on a seperate rope, but he kept a bit below me to be able to grab my rope and pull it tight, in case I'd let it go somehow. Here, at the waterfall in Brazil, we were descending at about the same height.)

Going down this waterfall was really easy and comfortable.

Right below the edge was a little ledge, so instead of having to stand on the ledge and then lean back (always a bit uncomfortable moment), you just sat on the edge, stepped on the ledge, turned around, adjusted the rope protector at the edge and then just leant back and walked down the waterfall.

Nice and comfortable, especially since there were some leafy plants growing on the cliff side that weren't moss or algae. So instead of walking on something slippery, always slightly concerned about losing grip, this was like walking down a vertical carpet!

And there was a wider ledge halfway down, so there was a moment to pause and enjoy the view.

I liked that waterfall route a lot!

In theory, it would have been possible to stay out of the water for most of the time and arrive at the bottom mostly dry - but where's the fun in that?

If you go all the way to climb down a waterfall, you might as well climb down in the waterfall, so I stayed right within the fall as much as possible (and as long as you keep your head down when you breathe, there's not a problem doing it).

And while it was an overcast day, it was still quite warm (and the water not remotely as cold as I suspected), so it was also a nice bit of refreshment.

I didn't manage to take any pictures along the way, though, so there's only one of me at the bottom of the wall, already off rope. (Pictures along the way wouldn't have shown much anyway, as there'd be even more water on the lens.)

After waterfall rappel

As an additional rappelling option, there's also a cliff nearby, which has iron rungs to climb before you abseil from the top, but that had bees nesting on it, so instead of going up there, we went back to the top of the waterfall (there's a trail at the side going up there, so we didn't ascend on the ropes) and rappelled down again on a slightly different route.

Climbing/rappel cliff with bees

There was still a bit time left before I needed to drive back to Porto Alegre to catch my flight home, so we visited another waterfall a couple of kilometers away. Didn't do any rappelling there, though, just a quick look and some pictures.

Other waterfall at Parque da Cachoeira Other waterfall at Parque da Cachoeira Other waterfall at Parque da Cachoeira

That must be a great place to be on a hot, sunny day!

You can relax in the shade under the overhang behind the waterfall, have a refreshing shower in the smaller waterfall at the side and then go for a swim in the pond under the waterfall.

But it wasn't a hot, sunny day and I had to move on, so I did.

Nothing interesting about travelling back, but I did pass through a place called Gramado, which was a bit unusual, since they didn't just have shops, but large sculptures in front of most of them.

I have no idea why this is the case. I didn't see that anywhere else. I have also no idea why a big dragon is advertising a chocolate store. Or what the 'grey hulk' is promoting. Or why they have painted shoe sculptures.

The painted shoe seemed at first to make sense, as it is in front of a shoe shop, but I did spot at least two others while driving through and the others were just standing somewhere, for example in the middle of a roundabout. So I assume it's more about public art than advertising.

Grey Hulk Chocolate shop Grinning dragon Painted shoe

There were a few more unlikely large objects in front of houses - a locomotive seemingly crashing out of a building, a Sphinx in front of a car dealership, a giant rabbit or a huge bowling pin, but I didn't stop to take pictures of all of them.

I asked someone from Brazil about it, but the answer I got was "In fact, Gramado and Canela are unique cities in Brazil." (Canela is the next city a couple of kilometers down the road.)

I'm not quite sure what this is supposed to mean, but that was all the explanation I got.

And that's it about eating banana pizza, watching a Formula 1 race and rappelling in Brazil.

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