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Monday, April 29, 2013 | From Santa Fe to Porto Alegre – an improvised week

Here I am comfortably ensconced in the air-conditioned courtesy lounge of the supervised car park near Porto Alegre airport, Brazil. A few minutes ago the football match between Inter and Veranopolis ended, and I have been watching the game on TV at the invitation of four of the staff. In the morning, my colleague Waldemar is due to arrive. Parking such a large vehicle as the Editourmobil at the airport is a definite no-no. It is essential to find a secure, supervised car park, and naturally, you have to pay for the privilege.

Behind me is an exciting week. The journey to the first interview with Druetta in the Argentinian province of Santa Fe is straight out of the Boys’ Book of Adventures. After spending a fruitless half hour searching for the right road in a very dodgy area, I was eventually obliged to consult a couple of policemen for help. The problem instantly became clear. There is the city of Santa Fe and then again there is the province of Santa Fe, and in my case ne’er the twain shall meet. Druetta is indeed located in the province of Santa Fe, but not in the capital city. Instead they are situated close to the city of Venado Tuerto, some 500km away. Desperate measures are called for, and hurriedly pulling in at a nearby car dealership which has WiFi, I make a frantic Skype call to my colleagues at PETplanet in Heidelberg which reveals that they too were equally in the dark about the subtleties of Argentinian geography.

The second interview that day with the family firm Estambul, in Santa Fe, is more successful even although my somewhat sketchy Spanish is hardly up to the job. CEO Cesar Jose Sarchi takes a lot of time patiently answering all my questions in detail. After a successful interview next day with Andrés Druetta at Druetta in Venado Tuerto, the Editourmobil continues its majestic progress on Wednesday night across the border with Uruguay. Before the stamp goes in the passport, however, the unexpectedly high motorway toll has to be paid. Within a radius of 50 kilometres, none of the ATMs pay out any money at 11.30 at night. "Bienvenidos a Uruguay" (Welcome to Uruguay), says the shop assistant at the duty-free shops with a laugh, when, panic-stricken, I tender the equivalent of 10 euros. She may not really want it, but I attempt to show my gratitude with a 10 euro note.

Next day I am on my way to Montevideo, Uruguay, to Melli and Michael, who have been keeping a watchful eye on our progress since the start of our South American adventure. On the very first evening Michael served up a thick juicy steak. "Well, your boss did tell us to get out the red carpet!” Brilliant! And what a change from the dismal diet of noodles and the hastily eaten sandwich I have got used to. Just what the doctor ordered, in fact, so many thanks to Heidelberg! After a spot of R & R in Montevideo and an interview with Fernando Moreira of Cristalpet, I set off on Friday on the 830km haul to Porto Alegre. At the half way point I stop at a petrol station in the no-man’s land behind Chui. Next morning I notice that the fresh water tank is empty. The bumpy roads have taken their toll; the valve has come loose and the water has escaped. A chat with the still bleary-eyed attendant about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil is just about enough to persuade him to let me enjoy a warm shower in the mosquito-ridden washroom.

About the remaining 460 km to Porto Alegre on Saturday, the less said the better. Suffice it to say that it is not an experience I particularly wish to repeat. But now here I am, sitting in the air-conditioned courtesy lounge, on my own, feet up, watching TV, and ready to welcome Waldemar tomorrow for the next stage of the adventure.

By Florian Roscheck