She reversed a black Peugeot through the security gates, its engine purring contentedly on sugar cane ethanol. And we squealed off through the city of San Roque, Brazil, a city known for its wine and artichokes. ‘It’s not really a city,’ she explained. ‘It only has 70,000 people, but we don’t have a word for town in Portuguese.’
Within minutes we’d reached the inky blackness of the countryside, corrugated roadside shacks masking the Atlantic rainforest behind them. Barbara fastened her seatbelt, deftly negotiated the gearbox, and began cornering heavily on what seemed to constitute a racetrack.
Speed limits, posted regularly on the ribbon of tarmac leading to Sao Paolo, seemed barely even advisory; it appeared anything could happen in this country – the land of the bulletproof car. We slowed, a neon sign advertising the seedily lit MOTEL IPE. The tinted Peugeot nosed stealthily into the driveway.
‘Oi,’ said Barbara, lowering her driver window. The face behind the reception grill returned the greeting meaning hello, and it peremptorily demanded some ID. Meanwhile, I scanned the tariff board from the passenger seat, marvelling at the array of rooms available for bookings in three-hour blocks. Some even came with a dancing pole.
An electric gate whirred open, and armed with our fobbed room key, we drove in to the carport. Rather stifling amorous sentiments, a rat scurried past, but we’d come this far. After all, what’s a rat between friends? The spiral staircase beckoned.
It was an edifying experience, though the room itself was tack at its zenith: rubber toys – competitively priced at R$26 including batteries – vied with an ashtray, condoms and dice portraying sexual positions. Dreadful male-directed porn blared from the television. In its defence, however, the room comprised neither a motorised bed nor a mirror on the ceiling.
But, as I was to discover over the next three weeks, Brazilian motels are an institution, coming in all shapes and sizes. They are not necessarily sordid dens of iniquity: respectable couples regularly visit the nicer motels, simply wanting some private time together. One particular establishment in Sao Paolo – in fact popular with Barbara’s parents – was to be our next secret sojourn.
Cosseted in the black Peugeot once again, we drove up to the motel’s barred reception. Barbara gazed at the list of room prices and then looked across at me. She frowned, po-faced. ‘We don’t really need a swimming pool in the room, do we?’ she asked.
This time, I was soon padding around in a dressing gown, lighting candles, putting on relaxing music and drawing a Jacuzzi. It was romantic. In the end we’d decided to book twelve hours and a rooftop pool. With a bottle of Quinta Jubair thrown in, one of Sao Roque’s finest wines, I was beginning to get the hang of Brazil.