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Taxing the Poor

December 20, 2015

benI am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

Been a while since I posted anything.  I’m pretty busy when I’m at home, but I’m in Brazil again and I seem to have more free time…

It is a long-established fact that anything that the government subsidizes becomes more plentiful. Things that the government taxes tend to become less plentiful. It’s a fact often used by micro-managers in government to influence our behavior.

obamaThe government has been directly subsidizing the poor for over 50 years. How’s that working out? As expected, it seems. The poor are still there – perhaps in greater numbers than if the government didn’t spend so much money making it comfortable to be poor. Or not, who really knows?

Anyway, the idea to “tax the poor” in order to see their numbers reduced is an idea that I’ve always thought should be considered, seeing as how what we’re doing now just seems to be increasing their numbers.

One of the great things about spending a few months out of the country every year is that I get to see different societies and different governments and different approaches to problems. I’m in Brasil, where the leftist government has their hands full with a severe recession. Inflation is over 10% a year, driven by government spending – not consumer spending. Interest rates are well, just ridiculous.  Check out credit card rates in Brasil at this link.  The most popular banks credit card rates are about 500% APR.

Here’s the kicker – a couple of the largest banks in Brasil are owned by the government, so they get to profit from the interest rates caused by their economic mismanagement.

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Banco do Brasil – one of 2 govt owned banks.

Brasilians are among the highest-taxed citizens in the world – 36% of GDP and rising. The government levies taxes on virtually everything and also has huge import duties, besides income and property taxes. Most of the taxes are hidden – the price of your purchase includes the tax. These taxes alone account for about 30 percent of the price of many basic items including food and clothing. One food levy (there are others) taxes chicken at 7% and bacon (a luxury item) at 19%.

If you purchase a new car, over half of its cost goes to hidden taxes. The car companies have to figure out how to build a car for less than half of the list price, meaning that most of the cars suck.  For example, automatic transmissions on domestic cars are still very rare.  The car companies can get away with this because import duties on new cars just about double their price, too. You also can’t legally bring a used car into Brazil.

Taxing food means that the poorest people get to pay more taxes as a percentage of their income. Hidden taxes on everything means that everyone that buys anything gets to pay taxes. The ICMS — Impostos Sobre Circulação de Mercadorias e Prestação de Serviços tax on toilet paper is 40.5%. Good luck dodging that tax.  Here’s a link to more tax information.

What services the citizens get for all of those taxes is a topic for another time. But it isn’t much.

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On the shelf at Casas Bahia in Retiro

Here’s an example of how expensive it is to be poor in Brasil. Suppose your wife decides that she wants the latest kitchen gizmo. An “air fryer” for example. No male would consider buying one of these on his own because we all know it’s just a hair dryer pointed at a food basket hidden in a fancy case. However, marketing people know how to push women’s buttons, and if you wish to preserve domestic tranquility, you know that you’re going to have to buy one. The hidden tax on microwave ovens is 56.99%, so figure it’s about the same for this appliance (couldn’t find it listed). At Casas Bahia, a popular store that specializes in selling items to folks that can only afford to pay in installments, the appliance-that-she-can’t-live-without is in stock! It’s right there on the shelf, and the price is listed at 599 reais (meaning that your hidden tax is 341 reais.)

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From the Casas Bahia Web Site

Crap! That’s expensive! Checking the price at other stores doesn’t help at all – even Walmart has the same price. If you you haven’t got 599 reais (remember, you’re poor), you have to pay on credit, and the payment price (18 payments on the shelf tag) rises to 988 reais by the time the payments are done. That’s 350 reais in interest for your wife’s Christmas present. Sucks to be poor.

If you’re NOT poor, you can find exactly the same miracle appliance at Casas Bahia’s online store (example at left), where you end up paying just 377 reais (for 5 payments), but it’s 344 if you pay in one payment. Shipping is about 4 reais ($1 at today’s rates). You’ll have to wait a bit for delivery, but it’ll get there in a couple of weeks (no Amazon Prime in Brasil.) That’s 255 reais off of the price in the store.

Of course, this bargain purchase means that you have a computer, internet service and a credit card (preferably a gringo card with a nice 12% APR) – all things you’re not likely to have if you’re poor. What we have, essentially, is a poor tax. Added to all the other taxes that the poor can’t escape, it’s quite a burden.

If you’re a gringo, you’re in luck.  The crappy Brasilian economy and government corruption/incompetence have dropped the value of their currency from 2.5 reais/dollar last year to 4 reais/dollar today.  It’s about $87 US dollars to buy this gizmo, or half the cost of a similar appliance from Amazon in the states.  Merry Christmas, Monica.

So, does taxing the poor work?  Not in Brasil.  It seems that it just forces most people to work more and harder.  The middle class that pays the taxes truly gets screwed, as they have to pay high taxes on everything that they buy as well as income taxes, property taxes and car taxes.  The truly poor get enough benefits to keep from starving, but not much more than that.  What benefits that they do get get spent at the supermarket where the government takes a hidden 30% bite.  Although everyone’s got some skin in the tax game, it doesn’t mean that the taxpayers get much value for what they pay.

That’s a shame.

Second Half of our Road Trip – Aracaju to Volta Redonda

January 24, 2015
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Trip south, returning home. Thanks to Google Maps.

If you read my last post about our Brazilian road trip, you know that our trip north was a bit of a marathon.  We had secured hotel reservations ahead of time, locking us into a three-day travel schedule that really wasn’t much fun at all.  Despite what we thought,  BR-101 was not a great road for sightseeing, and the slow trucks and the need to pass them at regular intervals on the two lane road made for a stressful trip.  Enough bitching about the highway – I think I got my point across on the last post. On the return trip, we decided that we would make reservations just a day in advance, and I picked out a handful of beach towns based on the fact that they were a comfortable 4 to 5 hour drive per day.  We figured we would take a week or so, allowing for us to stay an extra day or two in a place if we liked it.  We really didn’t have a deadline to get home, but going much past a week would mean that we’d have to find a place to wash clothes.  Some time after arriving at our destination, I’d break out the laptop and search out a hotel for the next night.  Because we were only working with one day’s notice and we were staying in small cities, we often didn’t have much of a choice.  Trip Advisor, Decolar and Booking.com were very helpful in getting this done.  We did have one problem reserving a room.  You know when the web page says “Only one room left – book now!”…..sometimes they mean it.  I had reserved that last room after someone had already booked it and the internet site wasn’t informed of that fact.  We were able to get a room there anyway, and ended up staying a second night.

After about a week in Aracaju, we started our return trip.  Immediately after our arrival, we wanted to sell our car and buy plane tickets home, but a week of being spoiled as guests of Monica’s awesome Aunt Lais gave us a chance to forget the pain of our trip north……so we started our trip home.

Headed to Salvador

After saying our goodbyes, we headed south to Salvador.  Monica’s uncle,  Anacleto, was nice enough to guide us to a shortcut that would have saved us some time over using BR-101 for the southbound trip.  Since we had already seen (and learned to hate) BR-101, we gave it a shot.  It would have been great, but the morning rush, compounded by all of the vacation traffic left us stuck in traffic for an hour or two.  Punching up the destination on the GPS, we were routed out to BR-101 southbound for about 70km and then routed back onto the same shortcut highway.  Linha Verde (green line) was a terrific highway – for one thing, trucks were not allowed – so the crazy truck-passing stuff stopped.  This road was also flatter than BR-101, which also made for an easier drive. Of course, there was a down side.  We started looking for a gasoline station when the gas gauge hit a quarter full.  We didn’t find one until about 30km after the light came on.  Yes, that was a long 30km, but we made it without running out.  Just a few minutes after the gas light came on, we saw a sign that said 28km to the next gasoline station, so I knew how far I had to go…..

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Praia do Forte

On the way, we passed Praia do Forte in Bahia.  We had heard about it and decided that we’d stop, take a look and perhaps eat some lunch.  We had plenty of time to get to Salvador, anyway.  It was just a bit disappointing.  After turning off the highway, we were directed by municipal police officers into a big parking lot where we we saw lots of signs that said that we were going to pay R$20 in order to park. There was, however, no place to turn around if you didn’t agree with that.  This is about $8 in US dollars.  OK, so we parked the car and took the shuttle bus into the town where we were dropped off in a tourist area.  We wandered through the area – about two blocks wide and six blocks long, ending at the beach.  There were no cars allowed in the area and there were lots of families walking around, many of them munching on yummy stuff.  There were plenty of restaurants – almost all of them really expensive.  We found a reasonably-priced one, but no tables were available.  We chose another one, but got up and left after ten minutes of no one serving us while steam came out Monica’s ears.  We ended up at the beach-side restaurant, where we had lunch.  After some bad food and worse service, we paid our outrageous bill and headed for the quickest way out of that tourist trap.  Since we were both still hungry after that joke of a lunch, we stopped for some predictably overpriced ice cream on our way out.

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Monica at Praia do Forte

Well, we’ve seen Praia do Forte.  I don’t think that we’ll be going back any time soon, though.  Nobody got hurt – it just cost us a few hours and about a hundred reais.  No real harm done, and now we can say that we’ve been there.

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Hotel IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho

We arrived at IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho before dark and wandered out to get something to eat after cleaning up and setting up in our hotel room.  We had planned on seeing some sights in Salvador, so we arranged to stay for two nights.  Our room was modest but clean and modern and the hotel was everything that a hotel should be.  They even gave us a huge current transformer so Monica could use her 127 volt hair dryer in the 220 volt receptacles used in this part of the country.  Fortunately, our laptops have dual-voltage power supplies that worked and Monica could charge her cell phone using a USB port, so we were set, electronically.   We found a place to eat dinner and drimk a well-deserved beer or two and made plans for the next day.  Fortunately, there was an agent selling tours at a desk a few steps from the elevator’s ground floor exit, so that made it easy.  We bought a sightseeing tour for the next afternoon, and hoped that we’d get to see some of the touristy stuff.  Salvador is one of the oldest cities in the Americas and was the original colonial capital of Brazil.  The city dates to 1549, and has a really neat historical area where tourists can mill around like cattle without worrying about getting hit by cars while they’re looking at all of the neat architecture found on the churches.  We did some walking around ourselves before the tour bus got there, but it was cool and threatening to rain, so we didn’t get in any beach or pool time.  Ibis has an awesome buffet breakfast and we enjoyed that both days.

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Our tour guide in a restored church

Our tour guide took us on a nice tour, which included stops at a cheesy souvenir shop, a museum and a number of churches – most of which required a modest admission charge.  There was also some guy that followed us, snapping pictures that we could buy later (we did).  We did, however, have a nice afternoon and saw a lot of neat stuff – there must have been ten really old churches in a quarter-mile area.   The tour guide was a likeable guy and seemed to know a lot about the area.  He was also doing pretty well for himself.  The guy that sold us the pictures gave him a wad of money after unloading his photos on the tourists.  I couldn’t help wondering what his deal with the cheesy souvenir shop was – I’m pretty sure that the churches churchdidn’t split their admission money – it was only a couple of dollars, anyway.  In any event, we got to soak up a bit of culture, see the inside of lots of old churches – including more gold leaf than I’d ever seen in one place before….

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This lady REALLY wanted to sell Monica something.

We finished up the tour without getting rained on and were delivered back to our hotel by the tour operator.  IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho is in an area described as “Bohemian” with a lot of neat old bars and such.  Most of them, however, seemed to be located outside.  We walked a couple of blocks and found ourselves a seat where we had a nice dinner and waited for the rain to stop so we could walk back to our hotel. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to look around Salvador, but to do it properly, we’d need to hang with someone that knew the area.  Since that wasn’t available, we did the best we could and made plans to head for Ilheus the next day.  We made reservations at Hotel Ilheus, which was supposed to be in the historic area of town.  They also had a vacancy – important when you’re making reservations one day in advance. After another nice night at the IBIS, we headed out the next morning for Ilheus.

Ilheus

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Hotel Ilheus elevator, built 1930.

The Hotel Ilheus is the oldest hotel in the city.  It was opened in 1930 by a cacao baron who also ran a bank on the first floor.  It had the very first elevator in the area, and it is still there and in use.  Otis builds some amazing stuff, huh?  The drive, once we left Praia do Forte, was uneventful until the very end, where we found ourselves lost.  Hotel Ilheus is on Rua Eustáquio Bastos.  There are TWO streets in Ilheus with that name.  Our GPS sent us to the wrong one (of course.)  Not a problem, we asked for directions and phoned the hotel and found our way there – curiously, the GPS was a big help, as the hotel is next to a Bank of Brazil branch, which the little box had no problem finding.

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Hotel Ilheus

The hotel is next to a river and right in the middle of a historic area.  The interesting thing about this historic area is that the famous history happened in a series of novels by a famous Brazilian author, Jorge Amado.  I haven’t read any of his stuff (and I’m not going to find it in English while I am here), but I plan on ordering some of his novels from Amazon when I get back to the States.  Hotel Ilheus was right around the corner from a famous bar that was featured in Amado’s novels.  We found our buddy Jorge there and convinced him to let Monica take a picture with him….well, he didn’t complain about it, anyway.

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Monica and Jorge Amado. He seemed kinda quiet…

We scoped out some other famous locations from Amado’s novels, all of which were within a few blocks.  This only took a few hours, and soon we were ready to head for our next destination, Alcobaça, a beach town in south Bahia.

Alcobaça

The drive to Alcobaça was uneventful. We arrived at Pousada Verdes Mares as scheduled and went to the office, where we found out that the “Last room available” that I had reserved the night before was not available and that they didn’t have a room for us.  Actually, they didn’t have an air conditioned room – there was a room that would be available in an hour or two, but it didn’t have air conditioning.  I am OK without A/C as long as there’s a ceiling fan, and Monica agreed.  Actually, the inn was quite nice, and we decided to stay for a second night in order to see the area better.  The pousada had a back entrance that was just a block or two from the beach, so we walked over there while we were waiting for our room to be ready and had an adult beverage or two.

Alcobaça boats

We found this little bay after walking an impossible distance along the beach…

Alcobaça has a central square that is a kilometer or two from our pousada, where they have a party every night,  They had vendors, a stage with performers and even a big musical train that kids loved to ride around the area.  It looked like a place where people would stay a week or so on a beach vacation before heading back to Minas Gerais or Brasilia (two states whose license plates we saw at our pousada).
We found a nice place to have dinner, sitting on a table out on the sidewalk and walked around to see the town before heading back to our room.

For a beach town Alcobaça seemed a little sleepy during the daytime.  I liked the area, though, and it’s a shame that it’s so far from where we live.  We almost bought a small pousada just across the street from the beach, but that’s a story for another time.  We enjoyed ourselves and Alcobaça was the best stop on the return trip.  After two too-short days, we loaded up our Fiesta and hit the road for our next destination, Conceicao da Barra.
I followed the GPS to get back to BR-101, and it took us along this really interesting road,  We had to cross a bridge over a small creek that was little more than two planks nailed over railroad ties that were supported by who-knows-what.  We hesitated before going over it for a minute ( I had thoughts about taking a picture of the bridge, but there was no place to stand.)  We went over it without a problem, and the 10km of dirt road that followed it was packed pretty well, so we made good time – but it was an experience…..

Conceicao da Barra

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They spent all of their money on this nice sign.

Being prime vacation time, I had to take the accommodations that were available.  When I searched for Conceicao da Barra, they only had one place available with a room the next day.  We reserved a room at Pousada Beth Shalom because it was available.  Conceicao da Barra is a beach town located in Espirito Santo, the next state south of Bahia.  Upon first glance, the area looked a little like Alcobaça.  It was a beach town that had a long paved walking path along the beach, where you could rent bicycles, or just walk for exercise.

Our pousada was a bit of a disappointment.  The room was small and seemed like it was in a basement, although it had a window that opened up into the owner’s driveway.  There were no electrical outlets that we could use without unplugging something, and the electrical work was embarrassing.  Wifi was available in the room, but only for a few minutes after resetting their DSL router (good thing they didn’t change the default passwords.)   We got our stuff unpacked, went upstairs to check out the green (yuck) pool and headed to the beach, which was just a few meters away.

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Might have been a little windy….

We stopped at a beach side restaurant and immediately noticed that it was really windy.  There was a constant breeze from the sea that was strong enough to make us uncomfortable.  At one point, Monica’s beer blew over.  Not good.  We took a really long walk along the shore in the wind, enjoying the nice sidewalk and then went back to our hotel for a shower and dinner.   We went into town, where we found a similar square with a similar environment to Alcobaça, but because of the wind, it wasn’t nearly as pleasant.  It was nice to get back to our pousada and make the plans for the next day.  We fell asleep to the howl of the wind past our window and woke up in the morning to the same noise.
The pousada’s breakfast wasn’t bad.  No warm food, but lots of fruit (I had watermelon for breakfast at every pousada) and bread and fresh juice.
Due to the icky wind, we decided to get an early start on our way to the next stop, Marataízes.  As we were leaving, the owner of the Pousada Beth Shalom gave us a couple of her business cards so we could pass them to our friends.
Right.

Marataízes

We arrived early in Marataízes because we left Pousada Beth Shalom early,  Really, there was no reason to hang around Conceicao da Barra.  The wind was annoying and our room at the pousada reminded us of someone’s basement.  Our next  place, Pousada Palácio das Garças, was  much nicer.  We found the pousada without any trouble, checked in and got comfortable.  Wifi didn’t work in the room, though (this is not good), but there were some common areas where we could use it if necessary.  The wifi thing is a deal killer for Monica, though.

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View from our room. Pool wasn’t green, but it was too windy to use it.

The wind was still there.  According to the folks that we talked to, the wind is always worse in the afternoon – and it was almost as windy in Marataízes as it was in Conceicao da Barra when we arrived in the afternoon.  After getting comfortable, we drove into town, skipping the beach, as there was no need to have our lower legs sandblasted again.
Perhaps we were getting tired (and we were), but there wasn’t anything special about Marataízes.  They had the same center area, the same noisy musical train full of kids, etc.  It was Alcobaça again – we just didn’t like it as much.  We had dinner and went back to our pousada for a night without Facebook.

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Our room. It was great, but the wifi stopped at the door.

We left the next morning after a nice breakfast and a conversation (in English!) with Roger, who owns the pousada and lives there with his wife.  The wind had died down a bit, but we were already thinking about sleeping in our own beds at the end of the day and we just wanted to get on our way.  We abandoned BR-101 by asking the GPS to take us to Tres Rios on the way home, making sure that we would use BR-393 instead.  That way, we bypassed Rio de Janeiro and the traffic that we would meet there.

We arrived home in the late afternoon – 4300km and 19 days after we left.  We have a new appreciation for road travel in Brazil.

Unless there’s a really good reason, next time we need to go to Aracaju, we’re buying plane tickets.

Road Trip – Brazil Style, New Years 2015 Volta Redonda to Aracaju.

January 20, 2015
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Volta Redonda to Aracaju Road Trip, December, 2014

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Google Maps plan of the trip north to Aracaju

After spending Christmas, 2014 at our home in Volta Redonda, state of Rio de Janeiro, we were planning on visiting Monica’s Aunt Laiz in Aracaju, in the State of Sergipe, in the northeast of Brazil.  It’s only 2000km, or about 1200 miles, so we decided to do it by car.
Make no mistake, this was likely the most expensive way to make the trip.  I just checked Kayak, and round trip nonstop tickets for two from Rio to Aracaju are about $650.  We spent about $400 in gasoline (avg.about $5/US per gallon) plus 8 nights in hotels, meals, etc.  However, I thought it would be an adventure and give us a unique chance to view a good part of the country.

Trip Planning

Since we wanted to be in Aracaju for New Years, and we were going to leave on the 27th, we didn’t have a lot of time.  We decided to drive 8-10 hrs/day and get there in three days.  Google maps said that it could be done and our GPS concurred.  We decided to stop for the first night in Linhares, at the Days Inn and the second night in Itabuna, at the Hotel Beira Rio.  Since it is prime vacation time in Brazil, we made reservations in advance, pretty much locking us into the three day schedule.  I thought that sticking to BR-101, which follows the coast, would allow us to see lots of neat stuff, so we planned on going that way.

So, off we go!

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Rio-Niteroi Bridge

We had everything packed and ready to go early in the morning.  The day before we left, I caught a nasty cold and had a fever, so all of those last-minute details that usually get done just before you leave didn’t happen with the normal level of detail.   Regardless, we got in our little car and headed out on Saturday morning, guided by our GPS.
The GPS has some sort of algorithm that computes the best route by distance, traffic, the position of the moon, whatever.  It decided that the best way to BR-101 was directly through the city of Rio de Janeiro, across the big bridge into Niteroi, and up the coast.
The GPS, however didn’t consider that it’s prime vacation time, it’s Saturday morning, and everyone in Rio was going to use the same road to go to the beach towns north of the city.  We lost a couple of hours to the crawling traffic, but soon were on our way north.  The bright side was that we got to go through Rio and across the bridge to Niteroi,, one of Rio’s landmarks.

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BR-101 (hint: it isn’t anything like PCH)

BR-101 was the main road that we followed.  It is nothing like a US interstate –  it only has two lanes in most places.  It is also used by trucks.  Big, slow, underpowered trucks that have a lot of trouble going up hills.  This part of BR-101 is almost all hills.  You are going up, going down or going around mountains almost every minute that you are on the highway.  So are the trucks.  Even though our Fiesta only has a 997cc engine with 70hp, we still had to pass trucks.  In our underpowered little car, it was an adventure.
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Passing trucks in a 1.0 liter Fiesta requires a lot of planning, nerves of steel and the ability to ignore the screaming Brasileira in the passenger seat who believes that every passing maneuver is an attempt to introduce her to her ancestors.  For the most part, the center line was marked well with the appropriate broken lines where passing was allowed and solid lines where passing involved a death wish.  I tried to honor the line markings, but I think that I was the only driver that did.  Often, I would start to pull out to pass and find someone coming up behind me, attempting to pass not only the slow truck, but the line of cars behind it, forcing me back into my spot behind the truck, waiting for the next time.

The condition of the road varied.  During the southern part of the trip, the road was pretty nice – likely because they were toll roads.  There was some new asphalt, newly painted lines and smooth surfaces.  There were also extra passing lanes on some of the hills, put there to allow cars to pass the slower-moving trucks without endangering their lives.  In theory, this works great.  In practice, much of the time the passing lane was occupied by a slow-moving truck passing a slower-moving truck while both of them were belching full-throttle clouds of diesel smoke that enveloped the cars that remained lined up behind them who likely wouldn’t get a chance to pass either of the trucks.

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Once we got into the state of Bahia, farther north, the tolls stopped but the road became worse.  Guard rails disappeared, the road had a lot of patches and passing lanes on hills became hard to find.  We didn’t have to pay tolls anymore, however.  During the trip, I noticed that many of the slower-moving trucks that we had just passed blew right past us again while we were waiting in line to hand over our $2 (more or less) to the toll takers.  The trucks had the Brazilian version of EZ-Pass, so……  every time we had to stop and pay a toll, four or five trucks that we just had passed had to be passed again.  20km from Aracaju, BR-101 became a four-lane highway.  Wow, what a difference….

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First Stop:  Days Inn Linhares

Thanks to the traffic delays and my crappy cold, I was completely beat when we pulled into the hotel in Linhares for the first night.  OK, it was thirteen hours instead of ten, and it was approaching 9pm.  We could not have chosen a better place to stop.  The hotel was clean – spotless, actually.  It was a modern hotel with a restaurant at street level with glass walls.  My only complaint was the key card system.  For security, you need to swipe your RFID-equipped key card to open your door, even to get the elevator to work – unfortunately, you also need to have the key card nestled in a pocket near the door in order to have any electricity in your room.  No lights, no A/C, no TV unless your card (meaning YOU) is in the room.  Great idea, unless you left something in the car, parked in the underground garage.  You need to take the key with you to ensure that you can take the elevator back to the room, but your exhausted wife is only going to have 5 minutes until the room is plunged into total darkness.  I left her a flashlight.  Come on, hotel people, I can understand not having the A/C running, but could we spare a couple of more minutes?  Or maybe one little curly CFL light fixture in the room that isn’t going to go out?  Would that cost so much?
As we weren’t in any mood to go restaurant hunting, the hotel offered us a buffet dinner that we shared with a wedding party.  It was great, and allowed us to get to our darkened room early for bed.  We left on time the next morning, fortified by an excellent buffet breakfast (included in the room price.)  Oh, and my fever had passed during the night.  Yay!

Day 2:  Pass the Truck, rinse, repeat….

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Hotel Beira Rio in Itabuna

No changes in Sunday’s drive from Saturday, except that we passed into the state of Bahia, where the road got a little worse but the tolls stopped.  We drove BR-101 all day, arriving in Itabuna as it was getting dark.  We spent night #2 at Hotel Beira Rio, basically because it was one of two hotels listed on Trip Advisor in Itabuna, and it had the better reviews.  Hotel Beira Rio is next to a river “Beira Rio” and it is a little away from the center of town.  Unlike the gringo hotel that we had the night before, Beira Rio was a typically Brazilian hotel.  It was a bit older and the room was a little smaller.  However, it used the very same stupid electricity trick as Days Inn did.  Your conventional hotel key was on a ring with a card that had to be stuck in a pocket on the wall or you didn’t get electricity.  On the way home, we stayed mostly at small pousadas, so we didn’t have that problem again.
We had more time Sunday night (no Rio de Janeiro beach traffic), so we walked over a few blocks to an open-air-type restaurant.  We dined on cold beer and warm meat while the Globo novellas played on the TV above our heads.  Itabuna really didn’t impress us as a city that we would want to spend much time in – it was just a place to stop on the way to get somewhere else.

Day 3: Into Aracaju

Pass the trucks, pass the trucks, etc.  Monday’s drive was nothing new, except that the last 20km or so of BR-101 opened up into a four-lane road as we approached Aracaju.  Boy, did that make a difference!  Anyway, we were able to make it to our destination as scheduled. and we enjoyed a very nice visit with some very nice people.

BR-101 Recap:

A couple of things that I noticed:  Gasoline was about 10% less in Bahia than it was in Volta Redonda.  I’m not sure why – maybe because there’s more money in the south.  We buy a little over 40 liters at a time, and my credit card web site says that we spent $50US per fill up, so we’re looking at about $5/gallon avg fuel price.  I read in today’s paper that the government is increasing the gasoline tax by about 25 cents per liter starting Feb 1.  Could you imagine the US government making such an announcement?

We shared the roads with some of the most undisciplined drivers that I have ever seen.  Cars, even trucks, treated lane markings as mere suggestions.  We once had a big truck ahead of us swing wide through a curve AS I WAS PASSING IT IN THE PASSING LANE, causing me to brake hard, lose my hard-won momentum and my chance to pass as well (but I’m alive!).  We saw lots of aggressive drivers who thought nothing of ignoring the rules of the road in order to gain a two-second advantage.  There is little traffic enforcement on BR-101.  Traffic is controlled with speed bumps and speed cameras, which mail expensive tickets right to your door.  I got pretty good at spotting the speed cameras – or at least I hope that I did.  The official speed limit through the two-lane portions of BR-101 is 80 km/h or just less than 50 mph.  Right.

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Traffic Speed Camera

A word about fuel stations.  Three letters, actually – yuk.  Why can’t they have clean bathrooms?  Monica had to carry her own TP, and once she ran out, bought her own roll at the same gas station that didn’t have any in their bathrooms.  As a guy, I don’t get all that personally involved with gas station bathrooms, but I felt bad for Monica.  Also, one Petrobras station didn’t have gasoline – I suppose that’s not such a big deal – I could easily have put ethanol in our flex-fuel Fiesta.  Another couple of them accepted debit cards but not credit cards – others charged significantly higher prices for using a credit card.  In short, it was a surprise every time we stopped for fuel.  Hey, I just want to stop, pee, get a tank of gas without any surprises and get down the road – these guys need to work on that.
In short, the drive itself was the exact opposite experience of a trip down say, I-95, where you park in the right lane, turn on the cruise control and wait until you need gasoline.  It was exhausting and a drain on the spirit.  Not fun at all.

We chose the BR-101 route because it paralleled the coast, and I have some experience on the southern part that connects Rio and Sao Paulo.  On this part of BR-101, it’s different.  Except for a few short glimpses, we didn’t see any sea at all.  In fact, most of the time, we were 30km or more from the ocean.  I saw hills, curves and trucks with little variation through the trip.  There wasn’t anything particularly beautiful or exceptional about this particular highway – I guess I was wrong to expect that.  We did see lots of green, thousands of cows and a few hundred speed bumps, though……

Down the ICW – July, 2013

January 18, 2014
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We recently moved from near Philadelphia to SW Florida.  The very last part of the move was to get our sail boat to our new home.  Our Hunter 28.5 had spent the winter on the hard in Chesapeake City, where it received a lot of loving attention – including a new bottom job, a chartplotter, new through-hulls and a new bimini.Image
We had already moved all of our stuff to our new home and rented a one-way car to bring us north from Florida, staying with some good friends for a few days while we provisioned the boat.

For cockpit guidance, we relied on Moeller & Kettlewell’s Cockpit Cruising Guide and the associated spiral-bound ChartBook.  You can buy both of these for about $75 from Amazon.  These books were literally never out of my reach during the entire trip.  With these two books and a chartplotter, we always knew where we were and what was coming up next.  More-importantly, we could easily plan where were going to stop at the end of the day.  We always knew how far we were from the next marina.  That’s a good thing to know.

The length of our trip was about 1300 miles.  We set a goal of about 50 miles a day, based on our cruising speed with our little Yanmar diesel.  We were able to do the 50 miles, but it would have been more fun not to rush so much.  We were hoping to get in as much sailing as possible, but if we couldn’t sail, we knew that the diesel would get us there.

At the end of each day, after tying up the boat and hooking up, I wrote the log and planned for our next day’s destination, noting the marinas available both before and after our planned destination.  Originally, I thought that we could just treat the trip down the ICW like a car road trip, and just pull into a handy marina when we were done for the day.  Not a good idea, though.   It became obvious that there wasn’t always a marina handy when you wanted one – and during this part of the summer, many of them closed by 5 pm.  We had the phone numbers, locations, descriptions and VHF channels available in the Guide.  As I said, it was a great book to have.

We decided that we were only going to travel in daylight as we would be spending all of our time in unfamiliar waters.  Except for emergencies, we kept to this rule.  It was interesting to see how the loss of daylight through July into August affected when we could leave in the mornings.  At the end of the trip, sunrise was coming 40 minutes or so later than when we left.  We developed a routine.  I would wake up with the sun (or maybe a little before), grab a quick shower, walk Bonnie The Pampered Lhasa, fill the water tank. disconnect and stow the shore power, cast off and fire up the diesel.  Monica would wake up a little later and start breakfast.  I had coffee and a hot breakfast every morning because Monica is just that cool.

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Our plan was to spend every night at a marina, taking advantage of their WIFI, hot showers and restaurant – if possible.  There were plenty of opportunities to save money by spending nights on the hook, but the purpose of this trip was not to save money, but to get our boat home with as little hassle as possible.  At $1.75/foot, it was less than $50 a night to stay at the transient docks at most marinas  Some places were less, a few were more – but it averaged out to less than $50/night.  Less than a Red Roof Inn, in most places…

Some stuff we learned:

  • Alcohol stoves suck.  Our little ship came with an alcohol stove.  It worked.  It also made nasty fumes.  We had used it only occasionally until this voyage.  Early in the trip, we purchased a cheap ($27) 2-burner propane camp stove at a Walmart and some small propane bottles and never looked back.  It fit on top of the alcohol stove as if it was made for that purpose.
  • Always use your own water hose.  It was late and I grabbed someone else’s hose once and put what must have been month-old stagnant, stinky unchlorinated hose water in our tank.  Had to flush it twice.  Did I save time?  No.
  • Have lots of spares.  Some marinas had stores, but they were much more interested in selling you Budweiser than a 3/4″ plastic barbed hose repair fitting (we had the clamps).  It took us a couple of days to get one after the vent hose on our waste tank chafed through.  Duct tape was on board, though, so it wasn’t a total stink disaster.
  • A shakedown cruise would have helped.  We left our winter marina on the high tide an hour after we splashed the boat and didn’t do anything before leaving on the trip.  As it turned out, we had a small hose (new) in the drain hose from the anchor locker.  Unless there was a lot of rain, or we had waves over the bow (or someone overflowed the water tank), everything was OK, but the end of the V-Berth got damp a couple of times, and it took us some time to find out what was going on.  It took me a half-hour to replace that 18 inch piece of hose, but it didn’t happen until we finished the trip.
  • Salt water spray will completely mess up the coating on prescription glasses (self-explanatory).

We learned some other stuff that I’ll remember, I’m sure, as I write up the rest of the trip.  To keep things simple, I’ll put the posts, arranged by day, in the ICW section (see the tab at the top of the page).
If you’re planning to take this trip, I hope that you can learn something from our experiences.

The daily logs and such are in a separate part of the blog.  Here’s a quick link.

What Are They Smoking?

April 7, 2013

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The legislature in Colorado, where they just legalized dope smoking, has passed five gun control bills.  In case you were wondering about how well-informed the legislators in Colorado were, check this out.  Connecticut just passed another assault weapons ban, tighter than the one that they had in effect when that nutcase shot up that elementary school after killing his mom and taking her guns.  New York did the same.  Their new laws are even stricter (except that if you’re a billionaire mayor, your security detail can carry anything that they wish).  What really confuses me is Maryland.  NY is nuts – and the governor there was looking to score big lib points for a presidential run – I can understand that.  Colorado and Connecticut passed feel-good legislation that likely would have had no impact on the recent shootings there.

But Maryland?  No shootings there (except for the normal gang-banger shootings in the Baltimore area).  In order to own a handgun in Maryland, you would need to:

  • Provide fingerprints
  • Undergo classroom training
  • Qualify at target practice
  • Have a Maryland background check separate from the already-required federal check
  • Receive a photo ID from the Maryland State Police that would be required to be renewed every ten years.

How are you going to qualify with a weapon before you are allowed to own one?  Hopefully, once you have that card, subsequent purchases won’t require re-qualification on the range.

That ten-year expiration will pretty much guarantee that nobody older than seventy or so will be allowed to purchase or possess a handgun in Maryland.  You’re not going to be able to re-qualify for that card with old-people’s eyes unless you drop a couple of hundred on an expensive red-dot sight and learn how to use it.  So, it’ll be open season on old folks.  Follow that old guy home from the supermarket and kick in his door – you know he’s not packing – he’s too old.  Don’t these people think?  Are they stupider than the Colorado legislators?  Is that even possible?

They’ve also made a whole bunch of guns illegal – mostly because they look scary – that’s the most common reason that libs call them “assault weapons”.  Many of those weapons are popular.  I may own a few of them myself.

There’s a new magazine limit of ten bullets per magazine.  I have never understood the reason for this.  With thirty minutes practice, anyone can learn to swap magazines out in a second or two.  Is this really going to make any difference in a mentally-ill killer’s death count?  Especially one that perhaps started out his killing spree by killing his mom?  Are some civic-minded heroes going to rush and overpower the shooter in the second that it takes to drop one mag and pops another in?  After he’s already killed a bunch of folks?  I don’t think so.

In Maryland, if someone steals one of your weapons, you are now a criminal unless you report the theft promptly.  If you have no knowledge of the theft, well it sucks to be you.

policeI live less than 5 miles from Maryland.  Most of the folks that I know that live in Maryland are pretty good folks.  Lots of pickups with NRA stickers in the back where I work.  Too bad that their own government sold them down the river.  There have been 53 homicides in Baltimore so far this year.  YTD, 24 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.  All of the killings in Baltimore were done by criminals (duh).  Any guess as to how many of those criminals will be paying attention to these new laws?

Why I WIll Always Love the South

March 15, 2013

Why I WIll Always Love the South

..because they still have standards. Watch your mouth when speaking to that girl behind the counter. She’s somebody’s daughter, and you wouldn’t want to piss off a southern daddy.

The Gun Grabbing Hypocrites Have No Shame.

March 11, 2013

Here’s a guy that has seen his share of problems. His wife was shot by a nutcase murderer. Last week, he paraded his recovering ex-congresswoman wife in front of hearings in order to try to keep us from owning our “assault rifles”. Note that his wife was shot with a pistol.

So, what does he do?

http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2013/03/foghorn/gabby-giffords-husband-mark-kelly-testifies-against-ar-15s-then-goes-out-and-buys-one/

Liberals.

Aren’t they great?

Been a Busy Week.

March 9, 2013
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Everyone’s tired, including the dog.

Traveled to Elmira, NY yesterday for my grandfather’s funeral.  Five hours to drive up, two hours in the funeral home, and a five hour drive home.  Bonnie insists on riding on my lap, so I waited to change into the black suit until we arrived.  Interesting thing about funerals – everyone is so nice.  We met a lot of folks that once worked with him and many friends and neighbors.  Hank received a Masonic service as well as military honors.  One of the few remaining from the Greatest Generation.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  RIP, Hank.

Looking at another long drive to our southern house tomorrow.  We’ve got the van and trailer all loaded up.  Planning on a 4 am start.  Because of the funeral,we won’t be spending much time down there, but we will at least move more more stuff.

We finally had a decent day today!  It wasn’t bone-chilling cold and windy and it wasn’t raining or snowing.  For the first time in months, we could see the promise of spring.  Let’s face it, winter sucks.  Kids love it, people that ski love it, but the rest of us just sit around eating too much and waiting for the weather to clear up enough to get outside and do something.  This will be my last spring for a while – they don’t have much of a spring in SW Florida.  Of course, that’s because there isn’t much of a winter, either, and that’s fine with me.  I’m going to miss the grinding-my-palms-into-my-eye-sockets allergy attacks that last the entire month of May, too.  Whatever that nasty pollen is, it also affects Monica.  Generic Zyrtec for everyone!!

 

Gripes About Apartment Living

February 28, 2013
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In December, I signed a six-month lease on an apartment because our house had sold and we needed a short-term place to live until I can finish the process of retirement.  Because I have a dog, my choices were somewhat limited, but I found a pretty nice place.  Let’s face it, I could have found a nicer place, but I’m cheap and didn’t want to spend much more than a thousand a month.  Besides, this is advertised as a luxury apartment, right?  I am less than ten minutes from work, we’re close to everything, we have a washer and dryer, we’re on the ground floor – Bonnie can just walk out the patio door to take care of dog business – what more could you want?
There have been a few glitches, though.  Bonnie didn’t like being left alone in the apartment (separation anxiety?) and decided to register her complaint by barking non-stop whenever I went to work.  I can only imagine how much this annoyed the neighbors.  It didn’t do Bonnie

Imageany good, either.  She’s damaged her barking voice – she can still bark, but it’s softer and different somehow.  I also received a phone call, followed by a threatening letter from the apartment management.  This problem went away when Monica returned, but for a month or so, I couldn’t leave Bonnie home alone. Ever.

ImageDespite looking superficially clean, I found the the kitchen crawling with roaches the first night that I was there.  Fortunately, I have some awesome bug-killing stuff and was able to take care of that problem promptly.  I didn’t expect that in a luxury (read the sign!) apartment.  To make things worse, two weeks after I moved in, the apartments in our building were treated for roaches by a pest control professional.  I received a letter directing me to remove EVERYTHING from my kitchen and bathroom cabinets in order for them to be treated.  I had to empty them at night before I went to bed and then put the stuff back in the cabinets when I returned from work the next day.  This was more than a minor inconvenience – it took hours.  All the dishes, all of the food, everything had to be somewhere other than the cabinets.  Hey management, how about sending the pest control guys in WHILE THE APARTMENT IS VACANT!!  Just an idea.
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Our building is really quiet because it faces a courtyard and is nowhere near a parking lot.  This is a mixed blessing, however.  Toting the groceries in from the car is a bit more work than it used to be.  I think that’s a fair trade-off, though.  That courtyard is never dark. If you wake up in the middle of the night and look outside, the orangeish glow from the sodium-vapor lights reminds me of a prison.  I tend to sleep facing away from the window, because the closed blinds just don’t do the job.  I guess it’s safer than having things be dark…

Attack of 50 Foot Woman

When I rented my apartment, the unit above was vacant.  I didn’t realize what a good thing that was until someone moved in.  Our building is of conventional construction – there’s nothing between the floor above and our ears except the ceiling drywall.  We hear things that we probably shouldn’t be hearing.  We all have the same floor plan, so the bedrooms are stacked on top of each other.  The tenant above me has bed springs that squeak.  With rhythm.  Often.  We also get the rest of the bawdy audio.  We hear every step that they make upstairs – Monica insists that they’re stomping on purpose, but I don’t believe that.  This morning, the woman above us made a phone call and talked for an hour, waking me up (I worked last night).  The conversation (the side I heard) was fascinating.  We hear them take a shower, we hear them run the vacuum, we hear their TV, we hear them flush.  I really never thought about this before moving in, but it’s the bad side of the ground floor, I suppose.  I would die if I knew that the people below me could hear all of that stuff.  We haven’t mentioned anything about this to the people above.   Yet.
We have some generous closet space, but coming from a house, it isn’t near what we need.  Much of our stuff is in Florida already, and the rest is in a rented storage unit, waiting for the next trip south.  We don’t have enough space in the kitchen for our stuff and the bathrooms are even worse.  One bathroom has a lavatory sink that is in a corner.  There isn’t spece to put anything on the sink.  Not even room for soap.  Monica has one of those pump dispensers balanced on one edge, but it’s just waiting to fall off.  Who designed that thing?  We bought a cabinet for the other bathroom that fits over the toilet.  That helped a little.
Our luxury apartment came complete with appliances!

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We have the cheapest gas range one can find.  It has pilot lights.  It doesn’t have a clock, a light for the oven, or even a window in the oven door.  It cooks food, but that’s all you can say about it.  You need to light the burner with a lighter about half of the time.  The pilot on the right side keeps going out.  I have been a landlord almost my entire life and no tenant of mine has ever had to cook on such a POS.
We have learned to play washing machine roulette.  When I moved in, I reported to management that my washer didn’t work.  The maintenance man came out and didn’t fix anything, he just explained the mystery of the washer.  First, you turn the washer on, then you slam the door shut, then press the start button.  The machine should make a clicking sound and the drum should move a little bit to the left.  If these two things don’t happen when you press the start button, the machine will remain inert forever.  You have to shut off the power, open the door, turn the power on again and then slam the door before you press the start button.  If you don’t see the drum move and hear that click, repeat the power-cycle-and-door-slam maneuver until you do.  If you did this properly, the water should start flowing into the drum in about seven minutes. Why the delay?  Don’t know – it just adds to the mystery. Image
I have already had the dryer replaced.  The new one roars like a jet, and the maintenance guy apparently didn’t get the vent hose placed on the outlet properly.  The windows all fog up when we’re drying clothes.  I’ll need to pull the dryer out to fix that.  We have a shallow single-bowl kitchen sink without a rinser, but there’s a functioning garbage disposal.  We do have a dishwasher that seems to do a great job washing dishes, but has no clue about how to get them dry.  Our refrigerator is small, but it seems to work well.  I miss having the freezer on the bottom though – there’s a lot of knee bending involved in getting anything out of the fridge if you’re a tall guy.  We have our own HVAC system.  It keeps the place warm enough, but you can’t hear the TV when it kicks on.  It also isn’t a condensing unit, so we’re paying for inefficiency.
Copper is expensive.  I understand that.  If you’re going to build a residential building that’s going to get used for fifty years or more, maybe you should think about putting overhead lights in the rooms.  We have switched outlets in the living rooms and bedrooms that turn on table lamps.  This works great, but if you want to put a clock (maybe an alarm clock?) on the nightstand, the only outlet on that wall is switched, so you can’t do it.  The designers/owners of this building have inconvenienced a couple of thousand people to save maybe $50 in copper wire and electrical work.  Their last name is Capano – it’s not like this is their first trip to the rodeo.  We have a master bedroom that requires us to run an extension cord from another bedroom wall to get an alarm clock on the night stand.  Inexcusable.
We’re moving out in June.  These are just temporary accommodations for us.  I really feel sorry for the folks that live here longer than that..  Then again, we seem to see folks moving in and out all of the time.  I think that I know why.

How to Lose Weight

May 1, 2011

Hey!  I got your attention!  You may never have even been to this blog before, but you clicked because you’re interested in losing weight (or because you’re family and you read all of my stuff anyway).  Swimsuit season is almost here and my wife and I decided that it might be a good idea to drop a few pounds.

After extensive internet research, I came to a few conclusions:

Everyone wants to sell you a miracle thing that will guarantee that you will lose weight – right now, most of them contain acai.

The best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise – unfortunately that takes a bunch of time to work.

There are a lot of medically questionable fad diets.  Some of them sound really unhealthy – the others just sound icky.  Really, a pound of bacon for breakfast??

Just about all diets will work, it’s just that some are easier to put up with than others.

After a lot of reading, we decided that the South Beach Diet looked like a good idea, so I ordered the book from Amazon (used ones are cheap) and we read it.

How the South Beach Diet works:

You start off for two weeks on a very restricted no carbohydrate regimen.  No carbs – none.  No bread, no sugar, nothing with flour or any kind of grain.  The book says that this two-week period is necessary to rebalance the way that your body deals with carbohydrates.  Personally, I think it’s just an idea to increase book sales. After a week without carbs, you’ll likely start ripping pages from the diet book itself and eating them with olive oil just to get some starch in your tummy.  The book has a menu for that first four weeks – every meal is laid out.  It even tells you what kind of snacks to have.  Mozzarella sticks (string cheese) is a staple of the Phase One snack list.  MMmmmmm.  Yummy rubber cheese…

No alcohol, either.  It seems that alcohol is converted into sugar by your body, and that’s a bad thing.

My lovely wife has been cooking every single meal in the book, following the recipes to the letter for almost two weeks.  The food is pretty tasty, really.  They go to a lot of trouble to make the food look and taste appetizing.  When you’re starving, even cold tomato soup with vegetables (gazpacho) looks and tastes good.  Seriously, Monica has been going to a lot of trouble to get this stuff right, and we’re almost through our two weeks of no-carb hell.  We finish on Wednesday.  Neither of us has cheated – we haven’t even eaten one page yet.

Does it work?  Sure, in just ten days, we’ve each lost about three kilos – that’s about seven pounds.  We’re on track to make the 8-12 pound weight drop that’s typical for Phase One.  After Wednesday, we begin Phase Two.  I don’t know much about Phase Two, because most people perish of hunger before they reach it.

Actually, in Phase Two, the diet is a little less restricted, and we’re allowed some carbohydrates.  It’s rumored that we get to eat some fruit and stuff.  I’ve been tempted to go look at the book to find out what we get to eat in the next phase, but I’m afraid that I see those pictures of yummy fruit, I might just go looking for the olive oil…..

More to come….