Brazil 2016

One of my two normal traveling companions, Linus, called Eric and me in early March. ‘I need to go to Brazil. I need to buy some containers.’ When? ‘How about the 19th?’

Eric had family plans in Florida. His alibi was set. I had none so I waited about a week with a fence picket up my butt before I relented and booked the flights. I’m glad I did.

I’ve described the flights and connections before. Here’s the way it works in ‘body time’.

I walked out of my front door at 2pm on Saturday. From that point, it was either driving, flying or waiting for one or the other for 25 hours. We checked into the Hotel in Vitoria, Brazil about 5pm on Sunday. This did include a 2 hour factory visit
right after we got off the plane.

Monday morning, we check out and get into a car headed for a small factory northwest of Vitoria. Not quite 90 minutes away.

I’m not going to mention any names at all, as some of the US distributors are not large fans of mere fabricators traveling to Granite Mecca to circumvent what they see as their private fiefdom.

This place is not large by any stretch, but they do have excellent taste in what they cut. Linus gives up 2 slots in his container so I can grab a couple of new quartzites they are cutting. One is marble-whitish and the other looks like a Van Gogh painting. Early period. They will eventually get here via Columbus, Ohio.

Back in the car, back to the Vitoria airport. Here, we meet a private pilot for a flight to Cachoeiro. Instead of driving 2 hours on BR101 on two lane roads at speeds ranging from 30 KMH to 110 KMH, we will get there in 25 minutes via a small plane.

Linus is all over this. He’s done this before in Brazil. I’ve also done this once before in the States in the middle of winter with clear, cold weather. I actually enjoyed it.

The weather here is not clear and it is not cold. It’s blistering hot with a bunch of cumulus clouds. In a big plane, it shudders going through cumulus clouds. In little planes, ricochet is a better term.

All in all, it was fine. Cachoeiro is actually not far from the coast, but it sits in a bowl surrounded by Mountains. As we cleared the final ridge on our way towards the runway, we caught that updraft you’d expect. It was a bit more pronounced than I hoped for. I suppose they use leather on the interior surfaces for it’s pliability. Good thing. I put the Tyrolian death grip on it, but it showed no evidence after we landed.

I was told the Cachoeiro airport was ‘small’. It is not small, it is a quonset hut. Slightly elongated. The only person there was our Sales guy. There was scant evidence of any other recent human activity.

Off to the factory for the visit, then out to dinner with our Sales guy and his boss. I had not met the boss before. He proves to be a rich source of information.

This factory has a number of quartzites, but one in particular stands out. It actually photographs pretty well, but it’s not the same as seeing it in person. We currently have some, and thanks to some amazingly good fortune, we have one more bundles coming. It’s in short supply and in high demand. It’s also extremely pricey.

Per the Boss, here’s why. They are still near the top of the quarry which means years and years of rust from oxidation of the ground water has leached into these top blocks. Most quarriers are cutting it as it is, hoping it gets better as they go deeper [it probably will].

However, this company is encasing the blocks, injecting a rust cleaning solution, then letting them sit for a few days. Then, they open them up and let them ‘rest’ for 2 weeks. After this, they are processed normally.

Obviously, this takes time and money to do. The price reflects the efforts. And, their results are remarkable.

Eric usually does the scheduling. I don’t remember how I got trapped into doing it this time, but I did. A lot of the places we go are grouped into similar areas of the city. That’s how I scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday. 4 companies per day seemed reasonable.

It was not. These are people you see once a year, and good news, I have a thousand questions for each of you.

Up at 6am [local], plotting and planning with Linus at breakfast at the Hotel, then off at 8am. In constant motion until about 10pm. Repeat on Wednesday.

I go into these trips with certain expectations of where and what I will buy. I know Linus does too as this is one of the things we talk about over breakfast. What we saw, and what we think we’ll see next. That and getting about 5 cups of Brazilian coffee which is much better than anything I’ve ever had in the States.

Of the 5 places I bought, only one would’ve been considered a surprise. I’ve known the girl who runs the company for 10 years. She’s about as sweet as they come. She had some overruns and they had reopened a white quarry that they never should have closed.

What is happening now in the Brazilian Stone World is the frenzy to find quartzites. These people are professionals and they are all over it. They know it’s a superior product to any of the chemical infused man-made alternatives.

One of the quandaries about quartzites is where they come from within Brazil. By car, Cachoeiro is about 4 hours north of Rio, which is in the South. A lot of these quartzites are coming from a region not too far from the Caribbean. [Think Maine to Arkansas] That means transportation costs are huge. It is reflected in the price.

There are some huge factories in the North, much closer, but they cut mostly basic materials. It’s a vexing problem, but I’m sure they’ll work it out. They always do.

I know most of these materials cold, but there were at least 4 times when I said, ‘What’s that?’. ‘A new Quartzite, we don’t have a name.’

From the last time we were there, the Brazilians have discovered that all their diamond wire cutting saws have an ‘off’ switch. They have begun to use it. While their inventories were good, they were not stupid full like last year.

Also, it appears that the diamond wire industry has made significant progress as some of these quartzites used to require 3 days to cut. Even the hardest ones are now about 9 hours. This, too, allows the off switch to be engaged more often.

Usually when we go, we’ll get one person in twenty who wants to talk politics. This time, it was more like 19. The whole country is pissed off. We missed a massive demonstration in Vitoria before we got there and escaped before another larger one in Sao Paulo.

On Thursday, I squeezed in an extra visit much to Linus’ delight…We saw another new, unnamed quartzite at a place that really specialized in full slab repair. Top flight company, just not much selection. They can take a slab that looks like it was hit with a cannon and turn it into a desirable product. It’s pretty remarkable.

From there, we are off to our final stop. Both of us had purchased containers here last year. However, their business focus has changed and they lost a lot of key members of their staff. Their current selection was not as good as last year.

My new sales guy is going to drive us back to the Vitoria airport for a late flight back to the States. It should be a 1:45 drive. This one ends up being more like 2:30.

Our driver has lived in many places around the world. His English is good. His driving is not. We stopped immediately for petrol. As we started back up, I noticed that this clutch/gear shift thingy was likely to be an ongoing issue.

It was.

This was a company car, so you know they spent as little as possible. I think it was a stripped Fiat, the kind the Kia people make fun of. The kind of car they do crash tests vs. a goat. A skinny one.

Painted lane dividers in Brazil appear to to be more of a suggestion. Or in our case, an aiming point. This was not lost on our driver. Our right front tire was constantly straddling the right lane marker. Busses, block trucks, other cars. Nothing deterred the wandering. I figured 3 paint swaps would’ve been likely. There were none.

I noticed Linus tipped the driver. 200 Reals. I also noticed a mutual eye-rolling sense of relief as we both fled for the airport entrance.

Although I’m not a huge fan of flying, we were both thrilled to get on that plane in Vitoria.

Arriving in Sao Paulo with a fairly tight turn around, we’re hit with the usual problem there. Where the ‘F’ is the gate? It’s as if the entrances are hidden behind janitor doors. When you finally find the entrance and walk through, you half expect to find buckets and mops. But, it’s actually Brazilian Security. Nice, polite and thorough.

Long, smooth plane ride. Blessed be the 2nd Ambien.

Left Cachoeiro about 1:30pm on Thursday, got home about 11:00am Friday. Much tighter connection times.

The Plaza Hotel in Cachoeiro claims to have internet service. I never got on. I think Linus did once or twice. But, not for long. We try to use it to send pictures to our staffs. The feedback is useful, except when I keep getting ‘WTF’ are you doing buying that? So, that part I didn’t miss.

I also did not miss the constant media blathering about this that or the other. 6 days without that was blissful.

Good trip. Something like 37 bundles coming our way beginning in May and continuing into June. Some you’ve never seen, because I had never seen them. Lots of quartzites and some stunning white granites.