After a couple rainy days I got ready to cross into Brazil properly. The border was a complete breeze. There were no barriers or guards and I had to park up to find some officials. A customs guy came out of one office, spoke English and was very friendly and helpful. He sent me off to Immigration while he took care of all the formalities for me. This was a real surprise for me, as Andrei had major problems with Brazilian customs, taking him over 3 months and a huge deposit to get his bike out of the airport. I don’t know why Airport customs are so complicated. It was much easier to get my bike out of Buenos Aires but still it was nothing compared to the land borders at Sico and Jama, where someone just looked at the bike and then said okay.
In comparison to tiny Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side, Foz do Iguazu is a major city with tall buildings and a very metropolitan feel. I was following road signs to go and see the Itaipu dam, when I missed an exit and got stuck in a one way road to the Paraguayan border. There were high barriers on either side and I had to go all the way to the Immigration checkpoint before doing a cheeky U-turn through 4 lanes of traffic to get out of it.
The Itaipu dam is the largest dam in the world by the amount of electricity produced (China’s 3 Gorges dam is the biggest by size). It is jointly owned by Brazil and Paraguay and the power generated is split 50-50 by the two counties (providing 90% of Paraguay’s power and 20% of Brazil’s). I went on a guided tour for an hour which was pretty interesting but I the thing that I will remember the most was when I saw a fireman joking around with an electric stun gun trying to shock his work mates!
After the dam I started the long ride east towards Curitiba, Sao Paulo and ultimately Rio de Janeiro to meet my family. The roads were good, which was not surprising as they were all toll roads and I was getting fed up with having to pay all the time. Not so much cos of the money, even though in some stretches I spent more on the tolls than on fuel, but the annoyance of having to stop, get off the bike, take gloves off every time a toll came along was doing my head in. Still at least the other motorists were relaxed and I didn’t have queuing trucks beeping horns at me which is common in Argentina or Spain.
People in Puerto Iguazu had warned me about the crime on the roads in Brazil and that I shouldn’t wild-camp. I knew that Brazil has it’s problems but I was pretty sure that these problems are confined to the big cities and with the exception of Foz do Iguazu all I had seen thus far was farms and fields. Hardly worrying but still, I wasn’t going to wild camp until I knew what alternatives existed and I decided to give a hotel a try. Lots of people had also told me how expensive Brazil is but I was pleasantly surprised to find a road-side hotel (Not a Motel – in South America they are exclusively used for sex!) that was only 45 Real (£13) with breakfast included. I have found places like this all over Brazil, there are so many in fact that I enjoyed not having to think about where I would stay. I would always find something reasonable. The hotels all usually have a self service buffet nearby, making Brazil a very easy place to travel by motorbike and I had lots of fun having conversations with the other travelers staying there, who where usually truck drivers. Not speaking Portuguese was initially a problem, but I found that most people would understand Spanish if I spoke really slowly and tried not to say anything too complicated.
The next day I arrived at Curitiba after more annoying toll roads and I navigated myself to a campsite on the outskirts of the city. The campsite looked like it had been deserted for a long time, but it was open and the drunken proprietor gave me a dilapidated cabin for the same price. Later I found out that a local in Curitiba had seen my blog and invited me to stay at his brothers hostel but I didn’t get the message until much later.
The road to Sao Paulo was pretty much the same although the weather was bad and the tolls where much cheaper (I’ve been told that Parana state has a dodgy contact with the toll road operators). I saw many motor bikers, mostly on Harleys or BMWs, all riding convoy and helping each other get through the tolls with minimum fuss. The highway passes through some mountainous scenery but I couldnt really see any off it cos of fine misty rain making everything a little obscured. I arrived in Sao Paulo, latin americas largest city with 12 million people, at about 3pm and went straight to Andrei’s moto workshop. If you can remember, I met Andrei in Cameroon. He was also doing a round the world trip like myself, but after the 3 months of grief trying to get his motorbike from Brazilian customs at the airport, he decided to not continue his trip and bought a share in a business in Brazil instead. It was super convenient for me as the bike needed a lot of care, the rear shock had gotten so weak that it was becoming a problem to put the side stand down and my wheels were in a very sorry state (the rear hub was loose resulting in me wobbling all over the place!). Andrei sent the wheels off to be fixed and showed me the sights of downtown Sao Paulo. We were to go riding with a BMW owners group in the next day, so we took it easy, fixed my bike up and rode out early to meet the bikers at a nearby petrol station. Just as we were ready to go, all the electrics on my bike failed and I had to use the kick start to get her going. I wasn’t really up for riding on with this problem, but I rode on anyway as I didn’t want to spoil the momentum of the group. We didn’t get very far though as 10 km down the road Andrei had a puncture. We pulled up into a car park and he repaired it pretty quickly. I thought we would head back to the shop at this point, but Andrei wanted to catch up with the group. We rode on but in another short while Andrei’s tyre went flat again. This time he didn’t have to the option to patch the tyre as the valve had broken off completely. We pulled up outside a shop and I set off into a nearby town to get a new inner tube. I found one, and while Andrei fitted it, I started chatting to the shop owner, who could understand Spanish pretty good. Claudio’s shop sells products for agriculture and for the modern Brazilian Cowboy. He has competed both in Brazil and abroad in lasso and horse riding and has been the champion many times. We spent the afternoon on his ranch were we got our own private rodeo, as Claudio’s son, Junior did a demonstration of all his skills for us. We even rode some horses too.
On the way back to the city, Andrei’s wheel went flat again. This time we were in a very built up area surrounded by favelas (shantys) and it was getting closer to dark. Andrei didn’t want to fix it again as he couldn’t find the cause of the punctures so he decided to stash the bike for the night around the back of a pizza restaurant. I carried him and the front wheel off back to the city on my bike, thankful for the much stiffened rear shock as we bounced over some pot holes!
My mum and sister were due to fly into Rio (pronounced Hio), so after 3 days I rode on the next 450 km to Brazil’s second biggest city. The guys in Sao Paulo had warned me about Rio, telling me that the crime there was out of control and that it is was particularly dangerous for motor bikers, especially those riding old Yamaha dirt bikes like mine (One guy even told me not to go!). Although I’m sure that a lot of the crime does exist in Rio (it is famous for it), I detected a lot of rivalry between the two cities, and I was sure I wouldn’t be robbed at gun-point the second I saw a ‘Welcome to Rio’ sign providing I followed my usual plan and arrived in the middle of the day with some idea of where I was going.
Navigating into Rio was even easier than Sao Paulo, with expressways and tunnels that took me very close to a hostel that I had booked. As I was trying to work out how the one way road system a girl pulled up on a Honda Transalp and guided me to the hostel. Lagoa Guest house, located next to the lagoon in Humaita was the perfect place to set up camp, with free parking for my bike and easy access to the beaches and roads. My family were going to be staying over in Barra da Tijuca, which is about 10 km west of Rio. I took a cab over and went to meet them in their hotel.
My family left after 3 days but I stayed around to take in sights and sounds of Rio for another week and a half. Rio really doesn’t deserve the bad reputation that it has. I never felt threatened at all and all I could see was a modern metropolitan city surrounded by beautiful mountains and populated by friendly helpful people. True, I didn’t go into any favelas (most of which have been pacified so I’ve been told), and I didn’t ride around at night (I took taxis) but these are precautions that I would normally take in any big city.
I spent a lot of time in Rio trying to work out where to go next. I really hadn’t given Brazil much thought and was kind of hoping to bump into riders who could give me of idea on where to go. I had been spoiled in the previous 4 months by riders in South Africa and Argentina giving me loads of info of the best roads to ride, but so far, I was clueless about Brazil. A friend in Sao Paulo, Vinicius, told me about the ‘Estrada Real’, a collection of old roads that connected the colonial gold and diamond producing cities in Minas Gerias to the coast in Rio. There are many historically interesting places on these roads and the roads themselves wind through mountainous countryside, sometimes paved, sometimes dirt, what more could I ask for! I was googling to try to get as much information about the estradas (roads) as I could when I came across a website run by a Beligian biker living in Brazil. Raf used to own a motorbike tour company and he had previously taken customers out and about on the Estrada Real. We met up when he came to Rio on business and he gave me loads of useful info and showed me where I could get a very accurate map for my GPS.
I left Rio and headed north in the general direction of the Caminho Novo (New Road), the road that originally connected Ouro Preto (previously known as Vila Rica) to Rio de Janeiro. I couldn’t find the exact roads, or whether they still existed, sealed or not, but the highway out of Rio was fun enough, snaking its way up into the mountains north of Rio towards the city of Petropolis. Passing through Petropolis I started to notice how many Yamaha Teneres there are in Brazil (I’d seen about 3 in Rio). It turns out that they used to make them in Brazil and lots of people I spoke to had previously owned one. Petropolis itself was just what I wanted after 2 weeks in the big city. Its a beautiful little city with a cathedral, colonial age buildings and a national park next door. It was early in the day as I passed the mountains but on seeing them I was well up for camping out for the night so I turned towards the Dos Orgaos national park and road into the village of Bonfim. I found a family who had camping facilities in their garden and I set up for the night surrounded by amazing mountains.
The family agreed to cook for me and in the evening I was presented with an all I can eat meal of salad, meat rice and vegetables. I couldn’t really understand what the family was saying to me but I felt very comfortable and welcome, so much so that I decided to stay an extra day and explore the national park. The national park turned out to be a much bigger thing that I had expected and instead of a short daytrip I vowed to come back and walk the mountains mid week when there would be less people. I took the bike for a short trip along the fantastic twisty road over to Teresopolis instead. Nobody was around when I got back to the house. I sat in my tent wondering when dinner would be served when I heard one of them come back and a massive argument started in the house. The guy came over told me that he couldn’t feed me tonight cos they had no gas and then he went back and continued arguing with his wife. I left the next day.
Riding further north, I crossed into Minas Gerais province. The highway passed through fantastic mountain scenery. There were lots of sign posts showing the way to historic cities on the Estrada Real but I couldn’t find any of the actual roads themselves. I pulled into one town and got completely lost trying to follow road signs. After a massive U-turn I got back on the highway and soon I was passing through Ouro Branco. The road from Ouro Branco to Ouro Preto had wooden signposts on it indicating that I was actually on the Estrada Real, but then I saw a sign for a view point on top of a hill so I turned off up the dirt road to investigate. The dirt road was so-so, but fairly easy to ride and with great views. There were more Estrada Real wooden sign posts up there and I decided that I would have to work out where these roads are once and for all as I was going to get nowhere riding around in circles looking for them. I descended and rode the asphalt estrada into Ouro Preto.
Ouro Preto (Black Gold) was once the largest city in colonial Brazil and had a population of around 100,000 people (mostly slaves). Gold was discovered there and as the city became rich it also became a centre for technology with one of the oldest universities in Brazil being founded there to support the mining industry. It is believed that around 70% of all the gold in the world has been mined from Brazil. The city’s colonial architecture is very well preserved and riding through town on its very steep cobbled streets was quite a novelty. After failing to find a reasonably priced place to stay with parking for my bike, I settled on a campsite 2 km out of town. It was the weekend and I rode into town to see what was going on, however most of the museums i wanted to see where closed because of a general election. Still, I enjoyed being there, and I got invited to dinner by friendly locals who also directed me to a good mechanics to get some repairs done. The luggage rack on my bike, which had previously been welded twice in Africa, had started to fall apart again and I found a guy who was a dab hand with an oxy-acetylene torch who could repair and reinforce the rack so that it wouldn’t break again. The welder only had time to do one half of the job cos he had a dentist appointment but in typically Brazilian style he let me ride off without paying anything, as he would finish it later in the week.
I rode east through twisty mountain roads to spend a few days at the Parque national de Caparao, which is on the border between Minas Gerias and Espitito Santo. The main attraction of the park is the ‘Pico da Bandeira’ mountain which can be climbed and descended in one day and I was hoping cross the mountain and stay the night on the Espirito Santo side before coming back the next day. There is a campsite half way up the mountain with a road to get to it but due to more national park bureaucracy, I couldn’t enter the national park with my bike. I found another campsite, conveniently situated behind a self-service restaurant. The friendly owner would have given me a lift up to the campsite but I decided walk the while way to the top out of stubbornness. I should have took his offer, as the road winded up the mountain for about 7 km and I was completely knackered before I even got to the start of the trail.
The top of the mountain was covered in cloud and was being blasted with wind when I got there. I went halfway back down and camped in a bothy-type stone building for the night with only mice for company. My legs were aching the next day but the weather was great. I dragged myself back up the mountain again, the view from the top was well worth the pain.
I had to go back to Ouro Preto to get the welding finished, and I while I was up the mountain I had been contacted by a couchsurfer who lives there. I had already set myself up in the campsite again but I went to meet Julia and her boyfriend Josemar in the town center. It turned out that I had randomly arrived in Ouro Preto in perfect time for one of its biggest events of the year. The 12th of October is the birthday of the mining university and it is celebrated all over Ouro Preto, in the streets and especially in the many student frat-houses, called republicas. Julia and Josemar took me to ‘Cassino’ republica, a big house that is home to about 10 students. The party was in full swing, with a crowd of all ages, current students, ex-students, founding members and best of all, crowds of random girls! People had come from all over the place to be in Ouro Preto for the birthday weekend, I even met one girl who works in London but flew home for the shindig. The party had already been going on for 24 hours and I was told that it would continue all weekend. I was invited in and given booze and food for free all night. The booze being poured out by the freshman, who have to make sure everyone’s glasses stay full as a part of their freshman chores. I was having a great time at the party. Lots of people spoke English but I was starting to get my head around speaking Portuguese. I don’t remember too much else from the party as I woke up half-in, half-out of my tent sometime the next morning, with no idea how I had gotten home. I was feeling pretty rough all day after such a trip to ‘black-out city’ and didn’t really feel like being social when Julia called me and dragged me back to the party again, which hadn’t stopped at all since I had left. I fared much better second time around and I remembered pretty much everything, but after two days on the lash I wasn’t going to be leaving Ouro Preto anytime soon.
When my head finally cleared, I planned more of my trip into the Estrada Real. I found some books in a local tourist shop that showed in detail which towns were on the Estrada Real and after I had got my welding done I set off through the next town of Mariana and managed to find and ride several dirt roads that were marked Estrada Real posts. I got lost a few times and rode for twenty minutes up some other dirt roads before the signposts stopped and I lost the estrada again. Frustrated, I found a hotel and decided to get to grips with my GPS that I’ve been carrying since Cape Town but never really used. On the way through Africa, I’d been using the GPS on my mobile phone, mainly in cities to help me navigate. The problem is that google maps is rarely that detailed when it comes to the roads less traveled and I bought a new GPS so that I could use some of the super-detailed maps that are available for free download. Raf had pointed me to tracksource brasil, which has tracks as small as walking trails. I stayed up late into the night plotting a route to Diamantina and in the morning I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner. I generally like to use maps, and I especially like to know the names of places I’ll be passing but it was a luxury to be able to just smash along the dirt tracked hills taking in the sights, confident that I was going the right way. The red-earthed tracks against the green grassy hills reminded me of Central Africa, but the little colonial era towns I passed were something uniquely Brazilian to me.
I rode all of the estradas up to the Tabuleira waterfall, where I stayed to go for a hike. The waterfall is over 300m high and the trail to get to the bottom was pretty demanding. There wasn’t much water when I was there but a wild storm the next day caused the park rangers to close the trail.
I was going to move on, but I had left the bikes lights on and had no power in the battery, which I should add, was another super-powerful AGM battery that my mother brought out to me in Rio (another great service from my support crew!). This normally wouldn’t have been a problem, cos I could just kick start the bike but for some reason, I’d been finding it harder and harder to start the bike on the kick. Big single-cylinder bikes are notoriously tricky but after I had been shown in Cordoba how to find top dead centre, it started on the first kick everytime, but now it was really becoming a problem. Mainly because I’d always end up with a crowd of people stood around the bike shouting advice that I couldn’t understand and trying to push me down the street when all I want is to be left alone to work out what I’m doing wrong (what if I need to kick it when I’m on my own in the middle of nowhere?). Add to this the Brazilian heat and it was becoming very frustrating. I opened an inspection cover on the side of the engine so that I could try to work out once and for all, where to kick from. After an hour of messing around with different positions, I could kick start it again. I set off to ride the rest of the ‘Caminho dos Diamantes’ to the city of Diamantina.
Like Ouro Preto, Diamantina was a colonial town on the Estrada Real that became rich through the mining of the local riches, in this case Diamonds, as you may have guessed from the name. I arrived in Diamantina on a Friday night in time to see the ‘Vesperada’, a regular concert performed in a square in the middle of the city. The Military Police band play from the first floor windows of the shops in the square, surrounding the audience with the music.
The next day I went to stay in a small village outside of Diamantina. Sao Joao da Chapada is a rural village next to the Parque Nacional das Sempre Vivas and I was invited to stay there by Daniela, a friend I met in Rio. I met loads of Dani’s family including her cousin Gabriel who borrowed a motorbike from a friend so that we could explore the trails in the surrounding countryside. There were abandoned diamond mines complete with asphalt airstrips that had overgrown with grass. There were some deserted villages too, but not because of the decline of the mining industry. The national park das Sempre Vivas (always living), is named after a type of flower that is found only in few areas and many people used to make a living by collecting the flowers and selling them. When the national park was formed, the flower was protected so many moved elsewhere to find work. The pace of life in rural Minas Gerais is very easy going. Many of the people I spoke to in Sao Joao da Chapada much prefer country life to the city, even compared to Diamantina, which isn’t really that big. One night I went drinking with Gabriel and friends in a bar that reminded me of Africa. Dirt road, plastic table and chairs outside lit by a single light bulb, people dancing inside to a blaring stereo and about half of the people there were of African origin. I showed them a video of me at a bar in a township in Namibia and we all laughed that they definitely looked similar!
After a couple of days in Sao Joao da Chapada, I moved back to the city to make the most of the sights before heading on again. Diamantina is the most northern city on the Estrada Real and there was still lots of places to see in the south, especially on the ‘Caminho Velho’ that originally connected Ouro Preto with Paraty, but I decided to continue north to visit some friends from UK who were living in Bahia.
Bahia is the next state north from Minas Gerias and from what I was hearing I was expecting to see many differences in the climate and countryside and in the people and culture. Bahia is poorer than other than the states below it and it has a huge population of people descended from African Slaves who where brought there in greater numbers than in other states. I rode north through more green hills to Montes Claros, then east through hilly savannah through Salinas to Vitoria da Conquista. Vitoria is the first big city I passed in Bahia and although I only passed by the outskirts the increase in poverty was obvious (I never saw the city itself, not to put anyone off going there!). The favelas of Rio’s zona sul (the famous bit in the south) seemed to me to be fairly well built and its only their unplanned nature that makes the areas look different. In fact, now that these favelas have been ‘pacified’ (basically, drug gangs have been moved on) developers are trying to get hold of these locations. The favelas of north Rio are not so pretty, but the barrios (neighborhoods) I saw as I passed by Vitoria reminded me more of Mauritania or Morocco, where houses were poorly constructed, sometimes from scrap, and everything was covered in the dust. Seeing savannah after weeks of green grassy hills definitely made a big difference too, but as I headed further north I was surprised to see several vibrant colourful towns brightening up the scene. The savannah faded and the countryside went green again as I got near to Chapada Diamantina, the national park were my friends live. With its name confusingly similar to Diamantina, Chapada Diamantina was also once a big centre of diamond mining but now the remains of the mines can be seen in various stone houses, walkways and excavations. Friends from England, Nadia and Steve are both big into rock climbing and had moved to Chapada Diamantina to take advantage of the fantastic rock structures. They had rented a small stone house from one of the locals and I went to stay with them for a few days that turned into a week with lots of hiking, climbing and cachaca drinking. I was told that whole area hadn’t had any rain all year and you could see dry river beds of rock when we went hiking. This all changed after a few days when the first rains came pouring down, bringing the rivers back to life and knocking out the towns electricity supply for two days. Luckily there was still cold beers in town for us help pass the candle lit nights.
After saying goodbye to Steve and Nadia I was going to head south again to see the other places on the Estrada Real that I had missed on the way north, but instead of going back the way I came, I decided to go east to Salvador and then ride south along the coast. Riding in more of rural Bahia, I saw more things reminiscent of Africa, from small housing projects, like the government built townships in South Africa to people living in mud huts. Salvador was the capital of Brazil when was the colony was first established and it grew to become the second most important city in the Portuguese empire. These days Salvador is the state capitol of Bahia and Brazil’s 3rd largest city after Sao Paulo and Rio. I went to stay with people I met on Coachsurfing. Robao’s house is on the outskirts of a favela in Salvador and we went out for a walk in the early evening. It was cool to see the neighborhood at night with everyone out in the street talking and joking.
I only stayed in Salvador for a couple of days before taking the ferry across the bay (bay = bahia in Portuguese, hence the name of the state) and continuing down the coast, stopping at Itacare, a small town by the beach to chill out for the evening before pushing on. I unloaded the bike and did some checks of the bike. When I looked in the oil tank I was horrified to see that it was completely empty. Panicking, I poured in the litre of oil that I had with me hoping that it would only be the tank that was empty and not the engine itself, but the tank was still mostly empty horrifying me even more. How had this happened? How had I been so stupid not to check? I tried to work out when I had last checked the oil but I couldn’t remember. It could have been thousands of kilometers ago in Rio when I changed the oil. In the last year I’d been religious about checking the oil and the bike never used a drop. Perhaps I’d gotten lazy and complacent with life on the road being so easy in Brazil. The bike still worked fine though. No smoke was coming from the exhaust and it sounded the same as it ever had. I changed what oil was left and topped it back up. Even though it seemed okay, I was paranoid that it was damaged. Hundreds of kilometers without oil cannot be good for an engine and the possibility of an engine rebuild somewhere down the road is not uncommon for around the world riders. The engine in Ted Simon’s bike in Jupiter’s Travels must had been rebuilt 4-5 times and Fletch had to have a rebore and head gasket replacement on his bike in Boivia, but I had always took security in knowing my engine was well maintained and I thought it would take me the whole way with little problems. I was incredibly pissed off that a combination of my own laziness and stupidity had caused this, but I guess it could have been a lot worse. A seized engine locking up the back wheel and throwing me off a cliff or into an oncoming truck would have been much worse!
By the time I reached Eunopolois, I started to notice a new engine sound that wasn’t there before. At first it was so subtle that I couldn’t be sure, but as the kilometeres passed it became more and more obvious. I would have to get this seen to sooner or later. However there was also a problem with the handling that needed more immediate attention. The handle bars had started to oscillate under acceleration. I could handle it but it would only be a matter of time before it was going to cause an accident. I stopped for the weekend at the coastal town of Arrail da Ajuda were I found a cheap pousada (hotel) and set about investigating the bike. I could pull the forks back and forth suggesting that the head bearings had gone. I wasn’t carrying them as spares so I would go looking for bearing shops the next day. Arrial da Ajuda is a very touristy beach resort town and walking around the streets at night I got the impression that it wasn’t really my sort of place. Everywhere was very up-market and expensive and there were loads of shops selling tourist tat, cheesy t-shirts and beach inflatables etc. I found a little bar nearby my hotel that had more of an authentic feel to it. There were some people singing Samba and as the night moved on they were joined by drummers and a guy on a Brazilian banjo. People were dancing and I was loving the atmosphere. It was what I had always expected Brazil to be like.
The next day I got up early so that I could try and locate some bearings and a workshop, but after about a week on the road in the heat, my clothes really needed washing. I asked the staff if there was somewhere where I could dry my clothes and they pointed to the washing lines behind the pousada. I went into my bathroom to wash my clothes in the sink as I normally do. I filled the basin, and as I started the massage the soap into the clothes, the sink and clothes completely disappeared leaving a big sink-shaped hole where it had been. What the F**k? I looked down to see the sink on the floor with soap and clothes all over the place. The sink thing had only been glued to the back of the work top! The water was turning red, and when I moved the sink I saw that it had cut a gaping one-inch hole in my foot that obviously needed stitching. I washed it in the shower and hobbled out into the yard to get some help. “Disculpe, Eu tive uma accidente, Preciso um medico!” The hotel staff took me up the road to the local health centre were the local doctor stitched it immediately, dressed it and told me to put ice on it for the pain, which I didn’t have any. To be honest seeing the sink disappear like that had me so shocked that I didn’t feel a thing. A lot of people back home laughed when they heard about this mishap, it couldn’t have been more amusing unless I had dropped an anvil with ‘ACME’ written on the side onto my foot. I saw the funny side too, but for the journey it was going to be a big problem because I wouldn’t be able to ride properly without wearing my boots. My foot didn’t hurt at first and I rode my bike down the road to go for dinner. The anesthetic wore off while I was eating and I could barely hobble back to my bike.
I was to be stuck in Arrail Da Ajuda for the best part of a week, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be that bad, but not being able to go in the water kind of limits what you can do in a beach resort. I negotiated a cheaper rate for my room, Brazilians told me that I should have gotten the room for free but I has happy with a 50% discount and that people would go fetch things for me. That night I went out for some beers to cheer me up. It took me forever to hobble down the street, dragging my right foot behind me. I passed a bikini shop run by a German-Brazilian couple who had been drinking all day and were barely understandable. He was pleased to meet a Brit and invited me to go for some beers with them. I wasn’t up for it but I couldn’t escape them because I couldn’t walk faster than them and I ended up spending the night listening to them trying to form sentences because I was too polite to tell them to leave me alone.
Nothing makes me want to hit the road more than forced inactivity, and after 3-4 days of being laid-up I decided that I would not ride to Belo Horizonte, but that I would go straight to Rio and start to leave Brazil for Argentina. I found out that my sister would by flying into Rio again in a few days time and it would be a good opportunity to get some bits and pieces from UK (like head bearings). My foot was still swollen but I was comfortable to ride. It took me three days and two nights to get to Rio. The weather was awful with very heavy rain. At times I had to stop because I couldn’t see anything and the road was completely waterlogged. It didn’t stop the crazy truck drivers from doing stupid overtakes though. I was wearing my PVC rain gear but in the humidity I’d be just as wet through sweating by the time I arrived. In Rio I found a garage to change my head bearings and I chilled out with my sister for a few days.
Brazil has a habit of making me not want to leave, and when the bike was ready I changed my plans again to go back to Minas Gerias, visit some friends and ride the lower section of the Estrada Real to Paraty. Josemar, who I met in Ouro Preto had invited me to come to Sao Joao del Rei, another town on the Estrada Real. I rode there late in the day on the same section of road I used to get to Ouro Preto. Sao Joao del Rei is a more modern city than Ouro Preto but still has an extensive historical centre. Josemar gave me directions to his place, another university republica. I parked the bike inside, wishing that I hadn’t filled-up just outside the city as fuel leaks out of the fuel tank when its full, in this case, making their house smell like a petrol station. I told the boys I could fix it, pour a bit off into an external tank but in typically laid back Brazilian style they where having none of it. ‘Relax, dont worry, fica vontade!’. A group of us took a bottle of whiskey and went and sat in a bar facing one of the main churches. About an hour later one of the boys called telling us that the fuel smell had gotten worse and we went back to find that a fuel pipe had come loose and there was petrol all over the floor. Upstairs a party was going on unhindered by the petrol fumes! I ended up staying with the guys for a whole week. I didn’t know that I was arriving in the first week of university and there were parties every night. Hangovers combined with bad weather scuppered my plans to ride down to Paraty and when my liver couldn’t take anymore I finally started to head out of the country.
I went to Sao Paulo then to Curitiba were I stayed at the Guest House that had kindly invited me to stay a couple of months ago (Check out Curitiba Backpackers for a great hostel with free moto parking). David, the English guy with the Chinese motorbike had passed through Curitiba a few weeks previously and he put me in contact with some of his biker friends there. One guy, Ulisses, came to a BBQ at the hostel and offered to take me to some workshops to get my engine seen to. As soon as I rode into the Moto Savages shop, everyone was looking at my as if to say ‘your engine is f**ked!’ I explained my oil mishap and the mechanic Carlos said that it would be the big end bearings that have gone but we wouldn’t know for sure until he opened it up. I got a quote of 3000 real (£1000) for a complete rebuild. I’d already been to one workshop on my own and the owner told me that I should get the engine fixed in Paraguay as it is much cheaper and because I was going there anyway to buy some tyres. A grand seemed like a lot of money and I told them I’d think about it. Later that evening i went to Ulisses’ place for a churrasco (BBQ) and beers. Many of his biker friends were there and they all told me that it wasn’t expensive and that the Carlos was a very good mechanic. We were joined by another biker who had met David too. Paulo, who owns a motorbike racing school, added to the reasons for getting the bike fixed now by pointing out that Christmas was around the corner and that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in Paraguay with no bike over the holidays. Later as I went to ride back to the hostel, he heard the noise from the engine and urged me to get it fixed soon and by the morning I had decided that it was the sensible thing to do. I dropped the bike off with Carlos and met Paulo at the workshop. Carlos said that he would have the bike finished in just under two weeks but before he went on holiday for Christmas. This was great, but the extra time needed to fix the bike created another problem in that my visa and the documents for the bike were about to expire. The visa was very easy to extend, and I got given another 3 months for 60 real at the local Federal Police office. The customs papers for the bike were harder and I had to do 3 trips between the customs office and the workshop before I was granted an extension. Why does customs always have to be the difficult one?
With my bike laid-up for a couple of weeks and my papers all sorted, I decided that instead of sitting around Curitiba I would invite a friend over from UK and travel around as a backpacker for a bit. Laeticia flew in to Rio with my sister who seems to be in Rio every week these days! We spent a few days in Rio taking in the sights. It was my third time there and I was starting to know my way around the city. Taking the local buses everywhere was a novelty cos I never realised how fast they drive them. The plan was to head in the general direction of Curitiba where Paulo and his family who had been very kind to invite us to spend Christmas with them. This was a good opportunity to go to Paraty, the end of the Estrada Real’s Caminho Velho that I had missed on my bike travels. The bus ride along the coast had me missing my bike. Twisty roads with fantastic coastal views was what I had hoped the ride down through southern Bahia would have been like.
Paraty used to be the principle port by which all of the gold from Minas Gerias was sent to Portugal. The historical centre was every bit as beautiful as those of Ouro Preto, Diamantina and the other cities of the Estrada Real, with the added bonus that it is surrounded by mountains and a bay with clean beaches with calm waves. Even for a guy who doesn’t give two hoots about beaches, I liked this place. Paraty is a lot more touristy than other places I’d been and we struggled to find a cheap place to stay before finding a pousada that could accommodate us for two nights before it was fully booked for Christmas. One of the main things to do in Paraty is to rent a boat and skipper and head out to some of the many isolated coves to snorkel and look at the fish. After lots of haggling we opted for one charismatic chap (although that is everyone in Brazil!) who took us out on a two hour trip only to be unable to start his engine after the first stop requiring us to be towed back to port. It was pissing it down with rain when we got back and we where waiting for a bus to take us back to our pousada when I saw a bus drive past with a New Zealand flag in the window. Two weeks previous in Curitiba, I had met two Kiwi fellas who told me that they had bought a bus and were traveling up the coast. I was surprised that they remembered me because we were all pretty hammered at the time. They were looking for a place to park up so we directed them to the front of the pousada.
They bought the bus, an old school bus, in Argentina and spent time and money turning it into a hostel on wheels. We hit the town as a group and the next day we moved into the bus with them to chill for a few days. I love traveling with my bike, but I was so impressed by the bus. It has 6 beds, electricity and a kitchen. The boys (Stu and Tia) had intended to go the usual traveler route of up through the Andes into Bolivia and Peru but the bus has an automatic gearbox and an old air-cooled engine that just gets too hot when it its going uphill and they had to abandon driving to Santiago from Mendoza. So instead they were working there way up along the Brazilian coast. Neither of them could speak Portuguese and they had picked up a translator in Cristian, a young Argentinian lad from Puerto Iguazu. The bus’ lack of power almost stranded us when we went to spend the day at Trindade, a beach near to Paraty. Many people had told us that we shouldn’t take the bus up the road because its very steep and twisty. There were signs saying no tour buses but we checked with the police and this was for other reasons and because the bus was essentially a motorhome we could go. The way up was slow and Tia was channeling some of the air from the bus’ air system (brakes) to cool the engine. After the top the decent was much more steep and Stu was having real doubts that we would make it back over when it come to leaving. We arrived at the beach with lots of people looking at the bus with disbelief (which is normal wherever it goes) and we parked up at a campsite. The decision was made to try to get back over the hill the same day so that we would have time to try to find help if the bus wouldn’t do it, but mostly because we thought the best parties would be in Paraty that night! The bus got up the first 2/3 of the way up the mountain slowly but without problem, but it was near the top that the engine started to overheat and we all had to jump off and push. A bus is a very large vehicle to push on flat ground and it seemed a waste of time to try to push it up a steep gradient, but it wasn’t going as it was and even just getting off the bus had to help. It eventually made it, with me gasping for breath unable to catch it up stumbling up the hill after it. I had started to feel ill that day and pushing a bus up a hill didn’t help. I had to rest while the others went out drinking that night.
It was getting close to Christmas and the boys had to go to Rio and we had to get back to Curitiba. They dropped us off at the bus station and we took a whole bunch of buses throughout the day eventually getting us back to Curitiba at 6 am the day before Christmas eve. My bike was ready and Paulo took me to pick it up. It was great to have it back, especially with the engine sounding as it should. Carlos had used all genuine Yamaha parts for the rebuild and had replaced pretty much everything, new piston (oversize 0.5 mm), rebored barrel, new piston pin, new big end bearings, crank bearings, cam chain, all gaskets and oil seals, basically a new engine, so in hindsight the rebuild wasn’t so expensive after all, but nonetheless an expensive lesson in why you should check the oil!
I parked the bike and we hung around the workshop drinking with the owner. Just like last year, it never feels like Christmas for me when I’m in a hot country but sitting around drinking at odd hours of the day is a Christmas tradition that travels well! Brazilians celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve and Irene, Paulo’s wife was busy cooking up the evening meal with the family. It was so great to be invited to share their Christmas. Paulo is a very unique character. He used to sing in many rock and roll bands in Brazil and even though he kept calling me ‘David’ we got along very well. Here is a video of Paulo singing to a huge crowd in Rio in the Eighties. Bare with the poor video quality (days of VHS) it gets better!
After Christmas me and Laeticia took the bike to explore Santa Catarina for a few days. I juggled my bags around to make room for a passenger (no guitar) and we set off straight into a thunder storm, glad for some waterproof clothing that had been sponsored to me through Paulo. Look out for HLX riding clothing if you are in Brazil, it has kept me dry through some awful weather. The plan was to ride south to the ‘Serro do Rio do Rasto’, a fantastically twisty mountain pass that is famous with Brazilian bikers and tourists alike, and then head for the coast to find somewhere to spend new years eve. The weather was bad on the way south but after a day we had made it to Sao Joaoquin, a touristy town that seems to be popular just because its one of the few places in Brazil that gets cold enough to have snow. The mountain pass was disappointingly covered in mist the next day and I really couldn’t see any of it as I descended through. We continued on to the coast finding a place to stay in the city of Laguna. The weather was much better in the morning, and I decided to go back to the mountain one more time. The top was still covered in mist but the views were worth the return journey.
Heading back to the coast we joined a traffic jam near Laguna. One guy opened his car door as I filtered past. I moved quickly to avoid hitting it but caught one of my panniers on his door, almost ripping it off. I pulled over to assess the damage, and the guy drove past asking if everything was okay. I told him that the bag was broken but he drove on anyway. I should have been more insistent, but its difficult to get a mood across when you are wearing a crash helmet. We arrived at Guarda do Embau, a beach where Paulo’s daughters recommended us to spend new years eve. It was the day before new years, and the beach town was absolutely rammed with people. Campsites by the beach were so full that it looked like a festival in the UK. We opted to stay at a campsite 2 km inland that was quieter but still full of friendly people who gave us loads of food and booze. New years eve itself was spent around the beach where there were bands playing and fireworks at 12 o clock. People were dancing in the waves to welcome in the new year and we wandered back to the campsite drunk sometime in the morning.
It took a couple of days to get over the new years excesses before we started to ride back to Curitiba. The roads were full of people heading north, presumably to Sao Paulo. After the car door incident, I started to ride down the hard shoulder instead, which probably wasn’t legal but I saw others doing it too, in cars as well as bikes. After a few hours of bad traffic, I’d had enough and headed inland to Blumenau, a city famous for its German heritage and the location of the Brazilian Oktoberfest. We were expecting to find loads of German bars with interesting beers but the town was dead and we ended up going to a bar that described itself as an ‘English pub’, Unfortunately it wasn’t anything like one, but at least they sold pints and had a good band playing blues. On leaving the pub we met some locals who invited us to join the for lunch the next day in Pomerode, the most German-looking of the towns in Santa Catarina. We had a great lunch with Robert, Sio and Sil before riding back over green hills to Curitiba and Paulo’s place.
I had a couple more drunken nights with my friends in Curitiba before I was ready to ride on alone again. The Dakar rally had started in Peru and if I moved quickly I could catch it for a day or two before heading south to Patagonia. Before leaving Brazil I stopped off in Foz do Iguazu again. Foz is right at the borders between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and it is possible to buy many things tax-free in Cuidad del Este, the city in the east of Paraguay that is joined to Foz by a bridge. David put me on to a hostel in Foz run by bikers for bikers that helped him get all he needed from Paraguay. The Iguassu Motorcycle Travellers Hostel, run by Hadriano, offers a nice place to stay with other motorcyclists who are keen to meet other travelers. Hadriano helped me find some tyres, which for the first time in the trip, were actually cheaper than I can buy in UK. We had a churrasco and I was introduced to his other rider friends. We were joined by Greg, a Canadian rider who had just come over from Argentina. I made a point of telling him how much he was going to enjoy Brazil!
That was an absolute mission to update the blog after 4 months in Brazil! I should never have left it so long, but I was just too busy having a good time. The blog was a lot easier to write when I was in Africa. To be honest it kind of just wrote itself, with all the many different experiences and complications I had over there. It was always going to be more difficult to write the slower I travel, especially with almost 4 months in one country, but rest assured, as long as you keep reading it, I will keep writing it. Happy New Year everyone! see you in Patagonia.