How I almost got shot in Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa – Rio de Janeiro

Obtaining a CPF number brought me to Bangu, one of the “hot”  neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

The CPF is like the SS number in the USand serves as a form of identification in Brazil. You will need it to get a cell phone number, rent a house, open a bank account or buy furniture, a car, motorcycle or other non edible stuff…

So what is that stuff about almost getting shot? Ok, here goes…

My consultant in Rio de Janeiro (Robson) knew a person of the Receita federal in Bangu, one of the neighborhoods in the western area of Rio de Janeiro. We would go there and do the application again, and this time, the procedure would go correctly.

View over Favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro

It was a 50 km drive from Copacabana to Bangu and we decided to take my car.

Since neither of us had been to Bangu before, I was using my GPS to guide us. you might have heard stories about people (tourists) getting in a heap of trouble after their GPS guided them in a very wrong part of Rio de Janeiro, and we were about to find out first hand things can go from bad to worse in a hurry…

Getting closer to Bangu, I noticed that Robson was getting a little nervous. He grew up in Rio, and even lived part of his life in a favela, and had already told me a few scary stories. When we entered a clearly poor part of Bangu, he got even more tense.

At one point – according to my GPS – we had to cross the street and enter in the street on the other side, so I checked my left and right for traffic and crossed. The second we entered the other street, Robson shouted: “STOP THE CAR! STOP, NOW!”

I stopped the car and looked at Robson, not knowing what was the problem and then he said: “THERE, THAT GUY OVER THERE” pointing at a guy sitting on a porch some 50m away. It was the type of guy you see in movies like “Cidade do Deus” or “Tropa de Elite”… a tall skinny black guy, dressed only in Bermuda and chinelo’s (beach slippers) and a baseball cap backwards on his head. Robson continued: “OMG, HE HAS A GUN. DON’T MOVE THE CAR, DON’T DO ANYTHING…

Ok, at that point I knew something pretty bad was happening. Looking through the windshield, I saw the guy getting up on his feet, holding a gun in his right hand. He started to walk in our direction, pointing the gun at us, meanwhile shouting like a madman. Robson was still saying to not move or he’ll kill us, but the only thing I wanted was OUT OF THERE. I put the car in reverse and took off.

Driving backwards, I had to pay attention not to run anybody over because the street was full of people. I managed to pull out of the street in reverse and take off in another direction. Knowing that the guy couldn’t follow us on foot, but thinking he could call other people, we kept going until we were out of reach…

The whole thing only took a few seconds, but during our escape I heard 6 or 7 shots. None of the shots hit the car – or us.

We will never know what would have happened if we would have stayed put, but it seems to me that this guy’s policy was: “shoot first and ask questions later”.

The important thing was that we got out in one piece and hopefully nobody else got hurt in the process.

Christ the Redeemer – seen from Rocinha – Rio de Janeiro

I am convinced that 99% of the people living in a favela are good, honest and hardworking people who happen to end up there because they are poor, undereducated and have nowhere else to go, but on the other hand, there is this tiny minority of ruthless gangsters, each reigning over their own little favela kingdom with an iron fist and an arsenal of weapons large enough to make any army general jealous.We were able to reach the receita federal office, where we had to wait in line for a while, which gave us some time to recover from the emotions, but this was a huge lesson in reality.

Yes, Brasil é Sensacional, but like any other country, it has its problems and some of them will need a lot more than Olympic games and a world cup to get resolved…

The process on how to get a CPF in Brazil is explained in more detail on this website.

UPDATE 17/10/2011

Today I saw on the news that a man got killed in Rio after taking a wrong exit and accidentally ending up in a favela. The only difference with my situation was that in my case there was only one guy with a pistol, while this man was surrounded by several criminals, armed with machine guns. I realize more and more how lucky I was that day in Bangu.

8 days exploring Rio de Janeiro and surrounding states

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Riding a motorcycle through the gorgeous landscapes of Rio de Janeiro state is a great way to get a first taste of Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil’s smaller states, but has a lot to offer: There are five different serras, national parks, Atlantic rainforest, a marvelous coastline, charming small rural villages, and several historically important cities. Add to all this the diverse cultural and gastronomical riches and the charming and hospitable nature of the Brazilian people and you end up having an experience that will make you fall in love with Brazil and its people…

 Anyone looking for fun, sun, good rides, interesting culture, great food and a lot of mountain and coastal scenery will definitely find this an unforgettable adventure.

Day 1: Costa Verde

Leaving Volta Redonda, it takes only 15 minutes to find yourself riding through twisting back roads surrounded by nature. To get to the coast we take the Serra do Piloto, crossing the Serra do Mar, a 1500km mountain range stretching from Espirito Santo all the way down to Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil.

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Hitting the coast in Mangaratiba, a port/ fisherman’s village from where you can take boat trips to Ilha Grande, one of the more than 300 Islands in the Bay of Angra dos Reis, we continue our journey following the BR101 to the west. This road follows the coast and is considered one of the most scenic coastal roads of Brazil.

Our first stop of the day is Paraty, the colonial port town, from where in the 18th century gold and diamonds were shipped to Rio de Janeiro and from there to Portugal. Many of these gold transports were attacked by pirates, who had found a great hiding place on the aforementioned Ilha Grande. Due to it’s preserved colonial and imperial architecture, Paraty became a world heritage site in 2004.

After a brief visit to Paraty, we continue on the BR101 and stop to have lunch in Trindade, a small, laid back village with paradise-like beaches about 30 minutes from Paraty. After a tasty meal we start the last stretch to Itamambuca beach near Ubatuba.

The cobblestone streets of downtown Paraty, virtually unchanged since the 17th century. In 2004 this little colonial town became a world heritage site.

Day 2: Serra da Mantiqueira and Circuito das Aguas.

Having breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, surrounded by the Atlantic rainforest and with colorful birds all around is a great way to start a new day…

Our goal for today is the city of Caxambu, and after a delicious breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, we take off in the direction of Ubatuba and from there, head north and into the Serra do Mar once again. The road leading up into the mountains from Ubatuba is top quality asphalt with a few very tight hairpins. From up in the serra you have a great view of the Costa Verde.

After a twisty ride up the Serra do mar, you have a great view of Ubatuba and the Atlantic ocean

Next, it’s on to Campos Do Jordão. Brazil’s highest located city (1630m) and also referred to as “Brazilian Switzerland”. The city’s architecture is mainly Swiss, German or Italian inspired. We visit the local Artisan brewery (Baden Baden) , which brews 7 different beers, based on old German recipes. We are also offered a taste sample of the different beers, but we have to pass on that, because we still have a long way to go and Brazil has a Zero Tolerance policy towards alcohol and driving.

The entrance to Campos do Jordão, also known as Brazilian switzerland. Founded by Swiss settlers and with its elevation of 1640 m, the highest city in Brazil.

After leaving Campos do Jordão, we headed further north, taking the first real dirt road of the trip, a +/- 30km stretch to Piranguçu.

The first part of the road leads through the Environmental protection area of the Serra da Mantiqueira and offers some great views of the surrounding mountains. The rest of the way to Caxambu is all twisting back roads of good quality asphalt, but unfortunately for us, it started raining during our descent from Campos do Jordão and by the time we reached Caxambu we were drenched to the bone.

The bad weather prevented us to to see a lot of the town, which is famous for its twelve mineral water sources, each with its unique medicinal qualities.

We checked into a pousada in the center of Baependi, some five kilometers from Caxambu. and spent most of the evening trying to get our clothes dry for the next day.

Day 3: Montanhas Mágicas and Vale do Café

Overcast and drizzly during our trip through the “Montanhas Mágicas”

Today our trip will take us through an area known as the “região das montanhas mágicas” or the “region of the magic mountains”, to get to our destination. This area is known for its many waterfalls, native forest, hiking trails, colorful birds and other wildlife(Locals told us that there are even onças – leopards – roaming this area) which offers lots of possibilities for the practice of eco-tourism and all kinds of outdoor sports. Hiking, rafting, mountain biking, rappelling… it’s all possible here.

We leave Baependi around 8 Am in a light drizzle. Our clothes are still damp from yesterday’s downpour, but that is part of motorcycling. We know that when the sun comes out, we will be dry in no time…

On our way to Fazenda Santa Clara… Still drizzling

Heading south, we pass through the small villages of Liberdade and Bocaina de Minas. From there further on to Passa Vinte and Santa Rita de Jacutinga, where we stop for lunch. By then we are already starting to look pretty muddy, but the ride so far was great.This area has very few asphalt roads, so for most of the day we take to the dirt roads. The constant drizzle makes the roads slippery, but not to the point that we cannot ride them.

After lunch, we move on, and some 25 km from Santa Rita de Jacutinga, we visit Fazenda Santa Clara, a beautiful 18th century farm that made quite a name for itself by reproducing slaves instead of coffee or sugar-cane. Halfway the 18th century it became illegal to import African slaves, so farms like these kept the slave market alive.

Today you can visit the fazenda and see the place where the slaves used to be kept and the “tools” they used to keep them obedient. The main house is quite impressive, and, besides a huge kitchen and a chapel, it has 52 rooms and 12 salons. The fazenda and its beautiful surroundings were also used as a stage for a number of famous Brazilian novelas (Soap series)

18th century Fazenda Santa Clara – instead of coffee or livestock, this place produced slaves.

Next, we pass through the Serra da Beleza, an area that attracts many UFO spottersfrom all over the world and make our way to Conservatória, a very musical place, as the name suggests, also known as “a capital mundial da seresta” or “world capital of serenades”. Every Friday evening, guitar players roam the streets, playing their serenades and filling the air with melancholic music and songs of love and broken hearts.

the road to Santa Rita de Jacutinga was very muddy, and on our way to Fazenda Santa Clara there was more mud… It’s all part of the great thing that is motorcycling

As a result of the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, coffee production collapsed and many of the former coffee farms (fazendas) became cattle farms or were converted into museums or guesthouses (pousadas).We leave the magic mountains and the Serra da Beleza behind us and continue on our way to Miguel Pereira, located in the region called “Vale do Café”. This is the valley of the Paraiba do Sul River. In the 19th century, 75% of the world’s coffee consumption was produced in this region.

Day 4: Serra dos Órgãos

Leaving Miguel Pereira, and the Vale do Café, we start climbing again. Today we will cross the Serra dos Órgaos, located some 50km north of Rio de Janeiro.

Petrópolis, the imperial city of Brazil: In Brazil’s Imperial period (1822 – 1889), Pedro I, Brazil’s first emperor fell in love with this area after visiting it and decided he would have a palace built to spend the hot summer months. With the help of a small army of German immigrants, he started building what is now the Imperial city of Petrópolis. His plans were continued by his son Pedro II.

A number of famous people used to live in Petrópolis, one of which is inventor Alberto Santos Dumont, the “father of aviation”. His house, besides the cathedral and the beautiful Imperial Museum, is one of the touristic attractions of Petrópolis.

The cathedral in Petrópolis – Last resting place of Dom Pedro II (the last emperor of Brazil) and his family

From Teresópolis, it is about 60 km more to Nova Friburgo, another city founded by Swiss settlers and today the “capital of lingerie” of Brazil.The city was struck severely by a flash flood an mudslides in January 2011, one month after we visited it.After doing a small city tour in Petrópolis, we take the twisty road through the National park of the Serra dos Órgãos and move on to Teresópolis, the sister city of Petrópolis, named after the empress Teresa Cristina, wife of Dom Pedro II. Teresópolis is famous and loved amongst rock climbers.One of the most famous rock formations of the Serra dos Orgãos is the “Dedo de Deus” or “finger of God”, which on clear days can be seen from Rio de Janeiro.

The flood was caused by one month’s worth of rain in 24 hours,  and came down upon the city and surrounding area’s during the night, destroying hundreds of houses, killing over 800 people, and leaving thousands homeless.  The cities of Petrópolis and Teresópolis suffered considerable damages and losses of lives too, but the area around Nova Friburgo was hit the worst. (read also: Região Serrana,- one year after the deluge).

By now, the city seems to have recovered a bit, but there are still thousands  of people living in tent camps, and traces of the land slides are still visible in the mountain slopes around the city, as a reminder of the biggest disaster of this kind in the history of Brazil.

Our final destination, Lumiar is a district of Nova Friburgo and a place of exceptional natural beauty, especially attractive for people who love Eco-tourism.

Enjoying the view in the National Park of the Serra dos Órgãos, on the way to Teresópolis.

View of the city of Nova Friburgo, founded by Swiss immigrants on the run for Napoleon Bonaparte. Notice the European inspired architecture.

Day 5: Costa do Sol and Búzios

The area around Lumiar early in the morning. If only a picture could show smells and sounds

Today we leave the mountains and head back to the coast, taking the BR142 (also referred to as “Serra-Mar” or connection between the mountains and the ocean…), which starts in Nova Friburgo and is one of the best 60 km of twisting roads I have seen so far during my trips through Brazil.

The BR142 connects to the BR101 in Casimiro de Abreu, which we exit again after about 15 km to take the road to Rio das Ostras.

In Rio das Ostras we start following the coastal road, heading for Búzios, probably the most famous vacation destination of the state of Rio de Janeiro. As so many (rich) foreigners decided to make Búzios their new home, this fabulous peninsula is also known as “Gringo Paradise”. Unfortunately because of the many “gringo’s”, Búzios is significantly more expensive than the average beach location and not really suited for travelers on a budget (like myself).

Riding through one of the small coastal communities on the way to Búzios

The small village soon became the “place to be” for many European Jet Setters, and until today, Búzios still has some the flair one can also find on the French Riviera…Búzios actually used to be a pretty insignificant fisherman’s village, until world-famous French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered the place in the sixties.

One of the major attractions on the peninsula, apart from it’s numerous fabulous beaches, is the bronze statue of Brigitte Bardot on the principal beachfront boulevard…

Here are a few more pictures we took during our tour of Búzios:

Praia da Ferradurinha in the distance

Praia do Forno

The statue of Brigitte Bardot, who discovered this paradise peninsula, looking out over the bay..

We get back on the road and head for Arraial do Cabo, our place for the night. Arraial do Cabo is famous for being one of the best scuba diving spots in Brazil, or even in the world, thanks to the abundance of marine life in the relatively cold ocean water, which in turn is a result of the natural phenomenon called “resurgence“. Cold, nutrient rich water coming from the South rises to the surface and attracts a wide variety of marine life.

Day 6: Região dos Lagos and Rio de Janeiro

Riding through the dunes near Arraial do Cabo… Great fun!!

We keep riding as close to the ocean as possible, taking the RJ102, passing the 25 km long Araruama lagoon, eventually having to go north and connect to the BR106, which will take us to Rio de Janeiro, but not before crossing another Serra: the “Serra do Mato Grosso“, yet another region that attracts many eco-tourists and outdoor sports enthusiasts.Today, we travel through the “Região dos Lagos” heading for probably the most famous city in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, “a Cidade Maravilhosa”:  To get there from Arraial do Cabo, we first take a dirt road through the dunes, which is a totally different experience from all the other dirt roads so far. Here the terrain is sandy and soft, with few obstacles, and so pretty easy and a lot of fun to ride.

Stop for an Açaí: full of vitamins and energy and very tasty

To get to Rio de Janeiro from Niterói, we cross the “Ponte Rio – Niterói” a 16km long bridge over Guanabara Bay and arrive in Rio’s port area, which is currently receiving lots of attention and investments from the city, to make it more attractive for people to live, after decades of neglect.As expected, the closer we got to Rio de Janeiro, the more traffic, and the more attention to the road is needed. Before reaching Rio de Janeiro, we pass through Niterói, located on the east side of the Guanabara Bay. Niterói is the third most visited city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It was once the State capital, but had to leave that title to Petrópolis in 1903 and later to Rio de Janeiro.

We make our way to the famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, and pass a number of important places like Praça XIX, Cidade do Samba, Morro da Providência (Rio’s oldest favela)… After cruising along the beaches, it’s time to look up our hotel for the night and freshen up for a walk around Lapa, Rio’s most famous nightlife quarter… after all it’s Saturday night…

Crossing the 16 km long Bridge over Guanabara Bay to get to Rio de Janeiro.

Finally… The beaches of Rio de Janeiro… here’s Ipanema. Further in the background: Copacabana.

The famous Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açucar) towering over Copacabana’s beach front hotels…

Day 7 : Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Today we set out to get to know Rio de Janeiro a little better. There are lots of possibilities: Take a tour of the historic center, visit Sugar loaf, Christ the redeemer, Maracana Stadium, hang out on the beach or visit Rocinha, the biggest favela in south America…

We toured arond the city and took lots of pictures. I know that pictures say a lot more than words, so I’m just going to shut up now and let you enjoy the views…

The view from our hostel in Santa Teresa, one of the neighborhoods near the historic and cultural centre of Lapa…

Fundição Progresso: a former factory of kitchen stoves and bank vaults… currently a concert and events hall.

The famous former aquaduct “Arcos da Lapa”. Built in the 18th century to bring the water of the Rio Carioca to the center of Rio de Janeiro. Today there’s a trolley riding on top of the arcs…

Rio Graffiti…

Cathedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião – Rio’s modern cathedral.

The sambódromo, where every year the Carnival defilés take place…

On the way to the top of Sugar Loaf

Rio de Janeiro as seen from the top of Sugar Loaf

Capoeira in the city…

View from Rocinha: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and on the mountain top just left from the middle: Christ the Redeemer.

Hope you enjoyed this… we sure did.

After this fantastic day of sightseeing, it was time to return to our hostel for a last night in Rio… Get some sleep for the last riding day back to Volta Redonda…

Day 8 : Back home to Volta Redonda …

We leave Rio de Janeiro after a relaxed breakfast around 10am. The plan is, to stay as close to the coast as possible to enjoy the ocean views as long as possible… Before leaving the city we visit a last attraction: the hanggliding ramp in São Conrado. From there you have another wonderful view of the west side of Rio de Janeiro.

São Conrado, one of the “richer” neighborhoods of Rio de janeiro, as seen from the Hanggliding ramp…

From the hanggliding ramp, a 30 minute walk through the forest takes you to the top of Pedra Bonita, from where you have this fabulous view of the Tijuca forest, the biggest man planted urban forest in the world.

A last view of the Atlantic Ocean before heading inland

THE END

Thanks for sticking with me and reading it all the way. I hope that I succeeded in giving you an idea of what Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil for that matter, have to offer someone who wants to explore the country on a motorcycle… If you are interested in doing this tour with us, check out the details and book your own motorcycle adventure on our website.

Driving in Brazil – Practical Survival Guide and Tips

Rio – Santos (BR101) near Angra dos Reis

Brazil is a huge and fantastic country, and one of the best ways to discover it is taking a car or motorcycle and hit the road. Here’s how to do it.

When you’re a European or US citizen, you will quickly notice a number of differences between what you’re used to, and the way people drive in Brazil.

In my opinion/experience, driving in Brazil can be divided into a number of different conditions :

  • big cities like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.
  • major highways.
  • smaller back roads.
  • tracks and dirt roads.

The “rules” (and I don’t mean “the law”) vary according to which of the above mentioned situations you’re in, but a few things are very general and apply almost everywhere:

1. who has the bigger vehicle, (thinks that he/she) has the upper hand.

2. Don’t expect people to stop and give way, even if you have priority (like on a roundabout).

3. Don’t expect people to use indicators when they are about to turn left or right.

4. Don’t be surprised to see cars and even trucks driving at night without lights.

Big cities – Traffic jams:

In the big cities, chances are that you will end up in a traffic jam. Rio de Janeiro but especially São Paulo are notorious for the hectic traffic.

The already complicated situation is often made worse by accidents, broken down vehicles or storms (flooding).

There are also hundreds of motorcycles (125 – 250cc) splitting lanes, frantically honking their horns often driving at considerable speeds. When you’re driving a car, ALWAYS check your mirrors before changing lanes.

Major highways in Brazil:

 

The BR116 between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. One of the best highways in brazil. Also one of the most expensive in terms of toll booths

Big highways in Brazil are usually in reasonably good condition (except in the north and north east – read more about this later). One of the best highways in Brazil (also the most expensive in terms of toll) is the BR116 (also referred to as “Dutra”) between Rio and São Paulo.Of all Brazilian states, São Paulo is the state with the densest and best road network. a quick glance at a road map of Brazil and you see this very easily.

Most toll roads – like the Dutra – are equipped with a well-functioning tow service . In case of an accident or engine problems, you will get towed to the next gas station (free of charge).

Condition of vehicles in Brazil

the condition of other vehicles on the road (cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles…) goes from excellent to literally falling apart… I’ve seen cars with doors missing, or parts being held together with a piece of rope. You also see lots of cars with completely bald tires. Some vehicles you see here wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the road in Europe.

I don’t want to scare anyone, because a road trip in Brazil can be an extremely rewarding experience. It’s just that with the right information, you can avoid bad situations or at least avoid getting frustrated by the undisciplined or even reckless behaviour of other road users.

Here are five practical hints and recommendations for anyone who wants to venture out on the road in this amazing country.

1. Road conditions and signalization in Brazil

General Situation: As in most countries, road conditions in Brazil can vary a great deal. As a general rule, the roads in the south and south-east regions are in much better shape than those up north.

When you cross the state border between Espirito Santo and Bahia, the BR101 suddenly changes from a double two lane highway with perfect asphalt into a secondary road with potholes and no hard shoulders. No better example of the economical differences between the South-east and the North-east of Brazil.

Independent from the location, heavy rains can wreak havoc, causing land slides, wash away part of the road surface or leave impassable mud holes.

Holes in the road: Sometimes water can wash away the earth under the asphalt and eventually part of the pavement will cave in and a hole will appear in the road… people usually “mark” these places with a leafy tree branch. So when you see something that looks like there’s a tree growing out of the asphalt, there’s probably a deep hole in the road. Needless to say that this kind of “signalization” is very hard to spot in the dark…

 

Worst kind of dirt road. Better stay away when it rains

One good rule of thumb is: when you’re in a dirt road and don’t see any tracks from other cars, (meaning that the road hasn’t been used for quite some time), chances are that the road you’re on is not going anywhere and it might be a good idea to turn around and find another route to your destination.Dirt roads: are very common in Brazil, especially in the rural interior, and are being used intensively by cars, motorcycles, but also by trucks and buses. Some of them have codes (like RJ153 or SP225) and are official state roads and are usually kept in reasonable condition, whereas the “unofficial” dirt roads can be in very bad shape, especially after the rainy season, when landslides make lots of roads very difficult to use.

Signalization: On the major highways, signalization is good, but in more remote areas and small cities and villages, don’t rely on following signs to get somewhere. You will often see signs to your destination for a while until they vanish. In case you’re lost, gas stations usually are a good source of information, but you will have to get it from someone who only speaks Portuguese…Signalization of road works is usually good, even in the dirt roads.

Speedbumps: To control the speed of vehicles around schools or in village centers and residential areas, there are numerous speed bumps all over the country. The official name is “Lombada” but most people call them “quebra molas” (literally: suspension breakers). this is not exaggerated, because some of these bumps are so high and steep they almost look like concrete half-cylindres. Hitting one of these at high-speed will destroy your car… They should be painted in bright yellow and black stripes for visibility, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Beware!

Flanelinhas: when you park your car in most urban centres, it is very common to see a guy come up to you, indicating that he’s going to keep an eye on your car. They also “help” people to find parking spots and sometimes even offer to wash your car. These people are called “Flanelinhas”, and what they are doing is illegal, but it is unwise to turn them down if you don’t want to end up with a few scratches on your car.

2. Gas stations in Brazil

Important: Running out of gas in Brazil constitutes an infraction of the law, so make sure you fill up before leaving home.

Gas stations in Brazil are still very much operated by humans. Unlike in Europe, where in most countries you need to fill your tank yourself, every station has several attendants who will fill up the car for you. Usually there’s no problem to pay with a credit or debit card, but several gas stations in more remote areas will only accept cash.

Gasoline prices and quality: Gasoline prices in Brazil are high compared to the US (about 7$ a gallon), but lower than in Europe. Some gas stations – usually the small, unknown brands – have lower prices, but this usually means that the alcohol level in the Gasoline is higher than the legal 20-25%. Some gasoline you buy at “cheaper” gas stations has up to 60% of alcohol in it. It is advisable to ALWAYS buy gas at “big brand” stations like BR or Shell.

3. Animals (and other stuff) on the road in Brazil

 

A badly loaded truck AND cows on the road… Double hazard.

Under the “other stuff” category, I would like to mention the kite lines that are extremely dangerous to motorcyclists.Unfortunately, Brazil has thousands, if not millions of stray animals wandering the streets. Cows, horses, donkeys, dogs, chickens, etc., not to mention wildlife, like capivara, tatu, snakes and lizards. It is one of the reasons why it is better to avoid driving at night or at least be extremely careful.

4. GPS

A GPS can be a great tool and save you lots of time and gas as long as it has a good map installed. I have a Garmin GPS that I use both on my motorcycle and in the car. When I arrived in Brazil, I only had the Garmin “City Navigator” map of Brazil that I purchased in Belgium. As long as I was on a major road or a significant city, things seemed fine, but once I started venturing into the interior, I quickly learned that the Garmin map was all but accurate. In fact it was perfectly unusable… (sorry Garmin, but that’s just the way it is..) Learn more on GPS and a great free Brazil map for GARMIN

5. Be prepared

 

Make sure to Check your spare tire: you don’t want to end up like this lady. When I got out the spare, it turned out to be flat as well. Luckily I had my mountainbike pump 🙂

Some food & waterWhenever setting out on a road trip, bring the following:

  • maps of the area you’re going to travel through
  • Flashlight / Headlight
  • A phone card: comes in handy when you’re in an area without mobile phone signal. every small village has at least one payphone (orelhão). You can also call collect (a cobrar) from the payphones
  • Cash for highway toll (there’s no way to pay with any type of card)
  • Cash for gas (especially when you plan to go to remote areas)

and make sure to:

  • Buy adequate Insurance: For yourself and third parties.
  • Learn some Portuguese, or at least have a Portuguese Phrasebook handy.
  • Check your spare tire… (it could be out of air)
  • VERY IMPORTANT: NEVER drink and drive!! Brazil has a ZERO TOLERANCE policy (Lei Seca) and even the slightest amount of alcohol in your system will get you in a heap of trouble.

Hope this was useful. If you ever drove around in Brazil and lived, let me know your story.

Driving in Brazil – Practical Survival Guide and Tips

Rio – Santos (BR101) near Angra dos Reis

Brazil is a huge and fantastic country, and one of the best ways to discover it is taking a car or motorcycle and hit the road. Here’s how to do it.

When you’re a European or US citizen, you will quickly notice a number of differences between what you’re used to, and the way people drive in Brazil.

In my opinion/experience, driving in Brazil can be divided into a number of different conditions :

  • big cities like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.
  • major highways.
  • smaller back roads.
  • tracks and dirt roads.

The “rules” (and I don’t mean “the law”) vary according to which of the above mentioned situations you’re in, but a few things are very general and apply almost everywhere:

1. who has the bigger vehicle, (thinks that he/she) has the upper hand.

2. Don’t expect people to stop and give way, even if you have priority (like on a roundabout).

3. Don’t expect people to use indicators when they are about to turn left or right.

4. Don’t be surprised to see cars and even trucks driving at night without lights.

Big cities – Traffic jams:

In the big cities, chances are that you will end up in a traffic jam. Rio de Janeiro but especially São Paulo are notorious for the hectic traffic.

The already complicated situation is often made worse by accidents, broken down vehicles or storms (flooding).

There are also hundreds of motorcycles (125 – 250cc) splitting lanes, frantically honking their horns often driving at considerable speeds. When you’re driving a car, ALWAYS check your mirrors before changing lanes.

Major highways in Brazil:

The BR116 between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. One of the best highways in brazil. Also one of the most expensive in terms of toll booths

Big highways in Brazil are usually in reasonably good condition (except in the north and north east – read more about this later). One of the best highways in Brazil (also the most expensive in terms of toll) is the BR116 (also referred to as “Dutra”) between Rio and São Paulo.Of all Brazilian states, São Paulo is the state with the densest and best road network. a quick glance at a road map of Brazil and you see this very easily.

Most toll roads – like the Dutra – are equipped with a well-functioning tow service . In case of an accident or engine problems, you will get towed to the next gas station (free of charge).

Condition of vehicles in Brazil

the condition of other vehicles on the road (cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles…) goes from excellent to literally falling apart… I’ve seen cars with doors missing, or parts being held together with a piece of rope. You also see lots of cars with completely bald tires. Some vehicles you see here wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the road in Europe.

I don’t want to scare anyone, because a road trip in Brazil can be an extremely rewarding experience. It’s just that with the right information, you can avoid bad situations or at least avoid getting frustrated by the undisciplined or even reckless behaviour of other road users.

Here are five practical hints and recommendations for anyone who wants to venture out on the road in this amazing country.

1. Road conditions and signalization in Brazil

General Situation: As in most countries, road conditions in Brazil can vary a great deal. As a general rule, the roads in the south and south-east regions are in much better shape than those up north.

When you cross the state border between Espirito Santo and Bahia, the BR101 suddenly changes from a double two lane highway with perfect asphalt into a secondary road with potholes and no hard shoulders. No better example of the economical differences between the South-east and the North-east of Brazil.

Independent from the location, heavy rains can wreak havoc, causing land slides, wash away part of the road surface or leave impassable mud holes.

Holes in the road: Sometimes water can wash away the earth under the asphalt and eventually part of the pavement will cave in and a hole will appear in the road… people usually “mark” these places with a leafy tree branch. So when you see something that looks like there’s a tree growing out of the asphalt, there’s probably a deep hole in the road. Needless to say that this kind of “signalization” is very hard to spot in the dark…

Worst kind of dirt road. Better stay away when it rains

One good rule of thumb is: when you’re in a dirt road and don’t see any tracks from other cars, (meaning that the road hasn’t been used for quite some time), chances are that the road you’re on is not going anywhere and it might be a good idea to turn around and find another route to your destination.Dirt roads: are very common in Brazil, especially in the rural interior, and are being used intensively by cars, motorcycles, but also by trucks and buses. Some of them have codes (like RJ153 or SP225) and are official state roads and are usually kept in reasonable condition, whereas the “unofficial” dirt roads can be in very bad shape, especially after the rainy season, when landslides make lots of roads very difficult to use.

Signalization: On the major highways, signalization is good, but in more remote areas and small cities and villages, don’t rely on following signs to get somewhere. You will often see signs to your destination for a while until they vanish. In case you’re lost, gas stations usually are a good source of information, but you will have to get it from someone who only speaks Portuguese…Signalization of road works is usually good, even in the dirt roads.

Speedbumps: To control the speed of vehicles around schools or in village centers and residential areas, there are numerous speed bumps all over the country. The official name is “Lombada” but most people call them “quebra molas” (literally: suspension breakers). this is not exaggerated, because some of these bumps are so high and steep they almost look like concrete half-cylindres. Hitting one of these at high-speed will destroy your car… They should be painted in bright yellow and black stripes for visibility, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Beware!

Flanelinhas: when you park your car in most urban centres, it is very common to see a guy come up to you, indicating that he’s going to keep an eye on your car. They also “help” people to find parking spots and sometimes even offer to wash your car. These people are called “Flanelinhas”, and what they are doing is illegal, but it is unwise to turn them down if you don’t want to end up with a few scratches on your car.

2. Gas stations in Brazil

Important: Running out of gas in Brazil constitutes an infraction of the law, so make sure you fill up before leaving home.

Gas stations in Brazil are still very much operated by humans. Unlike in Europe, where in most countries you need to fill your tank yourself, every station has several attendants who will fill up the car for you. Usually there’s no problem to pay with a credit or debit card, but several gas stations in more remote areas will only accept cash.

Gasoline prices and quality: Gasoline prices in Brazil are high compared to the US (about 7$ a gallon), but lower than in Europe. Some gas stations – usually the small, unknown brands – have lower prices, but this usually means that the alcohol level in the Gasoline is higher than the legal 20-25%. Some gasoline you buy at “cheaper” gas stations has up to 60% of alcohol in it. It is advisable to ALWAYS buy gas at “big brand” stations like BR or Shell.

3. Animals (and other stuff) on the road in Brazil

A badly loaded truck AND cows on the road… Double hazard.

Under the “other stuff” category, I would like to mention the kite lines that are extremely dangerous to motorcyclists.Unfortunately, Brazil has thousands, if not millions of stray animals wandering the streets. Cows, horses, donkeys, dogs, chickens, etc., not to mention wildlife, like capivara, tatu, snakes and lizards. It is one of the reasons why it is better to avoid driving at night or at least be extremely careful.

4. GPS

A GPS can be a great tool and save you lots of time and gas as long as it has a good map installed. I have a Garmin GPS that I use both on my motorcycle and in the car. When I arrived in Brazil, I only had the Garmin “City Navigator” map of Brazil that I purchased in Belgium. As long as I was on a major road or a significant city, things seemed fine, but once I started venturing into the interior, I quickly learned that the Garmin map was all but accurate. In fact it was perfectly unusable… (sorry Garmin, but that’s just the way it is..) Learn more on GPS and a great free Brazil map for GARMIN

5. Be prepared

Make sure to Check your spare tire: you don’t want to end up like this lady. When I got out the spare, it turned out to be flat as well. Luckily I had my mountainbike pump 🙂

Whenever setting out on a road trip, bring the following:

  • Some food & water
  • maps of the area you’re going to travel through
  • Flashlight / Headlight
  • A phone card: comes in handy when you’re in an area without mobile phone signal. every small village has at least one payphone (orelhão). You can also call collect (a cobrar) from the payphones
  • Cash for highway toll (there’s no way to pay with any type of card)
  • Cash for gas (especially when you plan to go to remote areas)

and make sure to:

  • Buy adequate Insurance: For yourself and third parties.
  • Learn some Portuguese, or at least have a Portuguese Phrasebook handy.
  • Check your spare tire… (it could be out of air)
  • VERY IMPORTANT: NEVER drink and drive!! Brazil has a ZERO TOLERANCE policy (Lei Seca) and even the slightest amount of alcohol in your system will get you in a heap of trouble.

Hope this was useful. If you ever drove around in Brazil and lived, let me know your story.

Happy as a pig in shit – Serra da Mantiqueira Motorcycle Weekend

Our international trio: Robert (Dutch) – George (brazilian) – Osman (British/Turkish)

In June 2011, we went on a weekend motorcycle trip through the Serra da Mantiqueira, with its endless dirt roads, gorgeous landscapes, waterfalls, rivers and small rural villages.On the second day we crossed the “Vale Histórico do São Paulo“, also known as the “Estrada dos Tropeiros” one of the historically most important regions of Brazil during the Coffee era. It was along this route that the first emperor of Brazil (Dom Pedro I)  traveled from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo to declare the independence of Brazil in 1822.

Our small, yet international group (Turkish, Dutch, Brazilian) took off around 8.30 on Saturday morning and the weather channel promised sunny and dry weather the whole weekend…

Main square in Santa Rita de Jacutinga with the Igreja Matriz.

Our next goal was Passa Vinte, another little village situated at the confluence between the states of Minas Gerais and Rio, where the Mantiqueira mountains form a valley that looks like the concave shell of a large oyster. the initial inhabitants of Passa Vinte gave the place the name “Cedro” (cedar) due to the large amount of these trees in the region.We rode north out of Volta Redonda and shortly after leaving the city, we were on the RJ153 that winds through a hilly landscape towards Nossa Senhora do Amparo, one of the first small villages we would pass along the way. From Amparo, we continued north on the RJ153 and crossed the state border with Minas Gerais, to arrive in Santa Rita de Jacutinga, where we stopped briefly to admire the Igreja Matriz.

We quickly passed Passa Vinte to push on to Fumaça, home to the famous “Cachoeira da Fumaça” a cascading waterfall of approximately 1,5 km long, that we  couldn’t pass by without stopping to take a few pictures.

On route to Fumaça, we had to cross this shallow stream. Maryel is following in the Land Rover with the luggage and in case any of the bikes would have a problem.

Osman had clearly done this before.

At the cachoeira da Fumaça, we rested for a while, shot a few pictures and removed a few layers of clothing because by then the sun was starting to heat up things. From there, the road became more rugged as we commenced a long climb, following the Rio Preto, which forms the border between Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, to arrive in Bocaina de Minas around 14.00h. We decided to have lunch in a typical “mineiro” restaurant, where you take your plate into the kitchen, where all the food is on the stove and load up all you can eat for about 10 R$ (5 USD) per person – inclusive drinks.

The Fumaça waterfall. One of the longest cascading waterfalls in Brazil.

A simple but tasty lunch at the restaurant of João Grandão. Typical Mineiro food and all you can eat for about 10 R$ per person.

After lunch, we had another 60 km of Dirt roads ahead, with a few more technical stretches, but our group seemed to have the necessary experience to pull it off.

Lying ahead: the Mantiqueira mountains which we would have to cross to get to Itamonte. We climbed to about 1.750m

We spent the night at Pousada Riberão do Ouro, a rural pousada located about 5 km south of Itamonte. For 100R$ per person Single room) or 136R$ (double room) for a shared room we enjoyed great hospitality in a pleasant setting. The pousada has a swimming pool, a children’s playground, a fishing pond and a restaurant serving typical cuisine of Minas Gerais.We reached Itamonte, our place for the night around 17.00h, just before it would start to get dark. Probably the only thing I miss about Europe, are the long days in the summer. Here in South east Brazil, in the wintertime it is dark by 18.00h, but in summertime it also gets dark pretty early, around 20.00h.


This is one of the more rugged roads leading through the serra da Mantiqueira, Some off road experience comes in handy here…

The next morning, after a delightful breakfast, we started the second day of our trip. After the many kilometers of dirt roads of the day before, today would be a day with more asphalt roads, starting with the 50 km descent out of the Mantiqueira mountains, from Itamonte to Engenheiro Passos,where we would take the Dutra highway for about 10 km, take the exit in Queluzand from there push on to Silveiras, the first of the historical cities of the Vale Histórico.

Our place for the night: Pousada Riberão do Ouro just outside Itamonte. an oasis of peace and tranquility in an open green setting.

The descent from Itamonte to the Dutra highway is almost 50 km of twisties, winding through the fabulous Mantiqueira landscape, littered with spectacular views of the Itatiaia park region. The quality of the asphalt starts out to be excellent when leaving Itamonte, which is tempting to open the gas a little more, but once across the São Paulo border, the road quality decreases significantly and we had to keep the speed down to avoid accidents.

We made it to the Dutra highway, then to Queluz and started our next leg to Silveiras which would take us through a stretch of dirt road that I had never taken before, but since it was indicated on my GPS, I figured it would be ok. Turned out that this road, after a few kilometers, became a private road and so we started  following another road that seemed to go in the direction of Silveiras, but was not on my GPS. At one point we came at a T-section and took a right turn. After a few kilometers, we encountered a local man and I asked for directions. Apparently, this road would eventually become too bad for the bikes and even for the Land Rover, and according to him, we should have gone to the left at the T-section. We backtracked the short distance and eventually got on the right road, which connected to the Estrada dos Tropeiros, and we arrived in Silveiras.

Silveiras is the place where the headquarters of the National Foundation of Tropeiros was established. The tropeiros were the people who traveled long distances with a pack of mules to transport goods from one big city to another. Usually from Rio to São Paulo or vice versa. Tropeiros also used to transport gold and diamonds from the interior of Minas Gerais to the coast.

Silveiras: First city of the Estrada dos Tropeiros and Headquarters of the National Foundation of Tropeiros. The fountain (Chafariz) at the central square was the place where all the citizens came to get their water.

In Silveiras, a local guy who introduced himself as Toninho came up to us and started telling us about the horseback tours that he organises. They go with a group of people on horseback, traveling through the region the way the ancient Tropeiros used to do. Seems to me like a great way to spend a few days.

A short stop in Areias, once one of the richest cities of the state of São Paulo

Our support vehicle: “Big Blue”

We had a drink in Areias and decided that we would not stay on the Estrada dos Tropeiros, but take another route that would lead us back north to the Serra da Mantiqueira and the dirt roads. I found a dirt road leading to Resende, from where we could get to Penedo and from there further on in the direction of Visconde de Maua.After taking in the atmosphere in Silveiras, we moved on to Areias. The cities here are all located around 25 km from each other. This is the distance a tropa could generally travel in one day. Areias was once one of the richest cities of São Paulo state, thanks to the coffee industry that was flourishing here. It was also the preferred weekend getaway for the coffee barons of the region.

We pushed on to São José do Barreiro, which is the place from where you can get access to the Bocaina National Park, and found the entrance to the dirt road to Resende about 14 km further. It was the first time I took this road and was pleasantly surprised with its condition. We took Gas in Penedo and started the climb towards Visconde de Maua. Halfway to Visconde de Maua, we turned right to get to Pedra Selada, from where we went on to Fumaça. The last leg of the trip took us to FalcãoQuatisAmparo and finally Volta Redonda.

More dirt roads to Pedra Selada.

And the road to Fumaça

After almost 500 km of motorcycling, we needed a suitable closing of the weekend, so after everybody had the chance to clean up and have a snack, we gathered at the International Karting track of Volta Redonda. where we gave in to our need for speed for one last time. Osman gave everything he had and turned out to be the fastest one of us.

Ready to take of on the Karting Track

Osman finished first, but we are all winners here… FLTR: Robert, me, Osman, Maryel and George.

Osman, George and Robert, thank you for a fantastic weekend. You guys are welcome to come back any time.

Becoming a vegan – Raw food: the key to a Healthy Life

Almost twenty years ago, I became vegan which turned out to be a life changing experience .

The book that changed my life.

Although I shiver when I think about the way chickens, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, fish and other animals are treated before getting butchered for human consumption, that was not my main reason to adapt the vegan lifestyle.

I’m not a doctor, nor a scientist. I’m just a regular guy who likes to lead a healthy and active life. Ever since I was 16 years old, I have been practicing sports like running, bicycling, swimming, squash, fitness and the occasional rock climb. I guess you could say that as a young boy, I was pretty active as well. My friends and I used to play soccer at a field near my house, play in the woods, make camps or ride our bicycles the whole day.

We didn’t have any video games, computers, cartoon network and all the other stuff that kids get hooked on these days and keeps them from being active, and I guess I’m still thankful for that.

A history of weight problems

A first mayor change in my life occurred when my father, who was military, decided to send me to school in the army at the age of 15. It was one way to get me a cheap education and the same career as he had. But here’s the thing: I’m not really the army type I guess.

Being more of a free spirit, I don’t like/need people to tell me what to do and how to do it (basically having my life run by other people) all the time. The only thing I gained in the army during the six months I was there, was about 25kg and an unhealthy taste for beer… lots of beer.

That’s right, after only six months (I had done really bad at the year-end exams), I was “discharged” and returned to the civilian world, almost an alcoholic and weighing 89kg, which with my height of 170cm makes for a BMI of 30,8, which is Obese (not that I really cared).

I was 16 at that time and my dad made it clear to me that he had no intention to pay anymore for my further education, and that I should start looking for a job, which I did. I started working in the sawmill that was run by my grandfather and his brothers.

The hard physical labor at the sawmill made me lose weight very quickly. After only 3 months, it was down to 75kg. No need to say I felt a lot better by then.

Around that time I also started to do some jogging. After a hard day’s work at the mill, I still had enough energy to go running. It started with 3km, then 5km and pretty soon I was  running 15-20km per day. My eating habits had changed too. Ok, I ate lots of meat and other “animal food”, but there were fruit trees at the sawmill and at lunchtime, I used to climb into one of them and just eat fruit (apples, pears, cherries…).

The 6 months I had spent at the military school hadn’t saved me from having to do my “military service” so at 18, I had to go back to the army for 8 more months, but this time I didn’t come out obese. Running had become my number one hobby and I managed to keep my weight around 70-75, which was still pretty high for my 170cm.

The vegan turnaround: Fit For Life

The second book really goes into the negative way the food industry impacts the health of almost every human being on the planet.

I went to see several doctors, but the only thing could come up with was, that I had “over-trained”, or that I had “destroyed my joints by not stretching enough”. One of them, a specialist, even told me that I had better forget about running for the rest of my life… Ouch. The only solution was to take pills, heavy painkillers, and I felt bad to be having to take them in order to be able to practice my beloved sport.Fast forward… At the age of 28, I had a wife, two sons and was still running a lot, but I started to develop serious pain in my joints, especially my knees. Every time I went running, I was in a lot of pain for a few days. It was so bad that I had difficulties walking up the stairs.

Around that time, my wife (now ex-wife), who never felt good about her weight and was constantly on some kind of diet, came home from her doctor and told me that she had been advised to read the book “Fit for Life“, by Harvey Diamond. She became very exited about it, so after she read it, I did too…

The book basically describes how we can be in control of our weight and our general health by just being logical, going back to the basics and make sure that 70% of what you eat is fruit or vegetables, preferably raw. It is called the method of “natural hygiene“.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of the amount of crap they put inside themselves, slowly poisoning themselves, while they do so much effort to look good on the outside. This book really opened my eyes. Everything was so logical, so clear. It all made perfect sense, and especially because it also talks about how the right eating habits can lead to a life free of pain, I decided to give it a shot.

From one day to the next, I gave up all “animal food” and became a vegan (although at that time I had never heard of the word “vegan”). I started eating raw food like there was no tomorrow.

The first weeks are considered to be a cleansing stage, where your body gets rid of all the toxins that have been stored in in it over the years. Some people have headaches during this period, there can be some diarrhea, or, like I had, a nasty taste in your mouth.

Every day I made myself a huge bowl of mixed salad, and to my surprise, I quickly started to like them. Most people don’t come any further than lettuce, tomatoes and a lot of mayonnaise and ketchup when they think about a “salad”, but you can basically create almost any raw vegetable mix, add some black pepper and olive oil, and you have a fantastic meal.

I use lettuce, rucola, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, apple, raisins, strawberries, kiwi, corn, peas, to name a few things, in changing quantities to bring some variation. I re-discovered the pure flavors of all these vegetables and fruits, without being ruined by tons of salad dressing.

So what was in it for me?

Good question. Most people who heard that I didn’t eat meat or fish or poultry, or cheese anymore, looked at me like I was crazy, and almost everybody asked me where the hell I would get my protein if I didn’t eat meat.

There’s a whole chapter in “Fit for Life” about the subject of protein, but maybe you should ask yourself: where do cows, horses, and other grass eaters get their protein if they never eat meat? Or that other myth that you need to eat meat in order to be strong… I would consider a gorilla or an elephant to be pretty strong, but guess what… they eat only plants. Think about it…

In the second “fit for life” book, Harvey talks about how dairy products, other than what the food industry wants you to believe, are the biggest CAUSE of osteoporosis. That’s right. I know it is a bald statement, but it’s a fact that most cases of osteoporosis occur in those countries where people consume huge amounts of dairy products. I urge everybody to read Harvey’s books. It will quickly become clear to you how the food industry is manipulating the whole world population to slowly poison itself.

Bottom line is, I decided to become vegan and the results didn’t take long to appear. The pain in my knees and other joints disappeared after just three weeks. No kidding. After suffering for almost two years, and hearing from the doctors that I destroyed my joints I was able to run my 25-30 km again.

It didn’t stop there. I have contact lenses, and it was very annoying (and expensive) to have to put them in a special solution once a week to take off the protein excess that gets stuck to them. After a while, I noticed that my lenses didn’t become “misty” anymore so apparently the composition of my tears had changed as well, in a good way.

Also, skin problems, digestion problems, headaches, the throat infections I had two times a year… all gone… You don’t have to believe me, but I’m just telling it the way it was. Once you start eating living food instead of the processed alternatives, I’m sure that you WILL feel the positive impact after just a few weeks.

Now, almost twenty years later, I still consider becoming a vegan one of the most important decisions I took during my life, because after all,  the most precious thing we have is our health, and it saddens me to see that worldwide so many people don’t seem to have the strength to leave the unhealthy lifestyle behind and start to enjoy a more healthy, happier and LONGER life.

I can go on and on about all the positive things that come with a vegan (or as close to vegan as you can get), but then this post would get boring. I’m just incredibly thankful to Harvey Diamond for writing the two books that changed my life. It would be great if just a few people, after reading this, decide to read the books,  and join the growing group of people who take their health in their own hands.

So what about you?

Are you living a healthy, active life, or are you one of the many victims of the modern day food industry? It’s never too late to make a positive change and you don’t have to become 100% vegan to improve the quality of your life in a big way. 

Update: October 4, 2012

Today, while browsing the net for something entirely different, I stumbled upon this video about the treatment of animals destined for the food industry. While every person with half a brain these days should be aware of what’s going on, I think most people choose to ignore all the cruelty, torture and barbaric treatment that farm animals have to undergo so that man kind can enjoy a juicy steak or tasty chicken wings.

Please take a look and decide for yourself whether you want to be part of this.

Please leave a comment and tell me your story. 

Mato Grosso do sul – the ride home from Iguassu falls.

After my trip to Iguaçu falls, I was planning to ride further south and explore some of the state of Santa Catarina, especially to ride the Serra do Rio do Rastro.

Unfortunately, the weather reports were predicting a rain and cold weather in the south for days to come and forced me to change plans and travel home via Mato Grosso do Sul. I would at least ride to Bonito, Brazil’s eco-tourism capital, and maybe get to see some of the world-famous Pantanal.

Day 6: Back to Guarapuava.

I traveled to the falls in the company of Rodrigo, Suzana, and Mike. Rodrigo and his girlfriend Suzana live in Guarapuava, halfway between Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu, and had invited myself and Mike, an US expat who lives in Santa Catarina, to meet up at their house and travel together for the rest of the trip. At the meeting in Foz do Iguaçu, I had met Alex, an architect and fellow motorcycle adventurer from Campinas (State of São Paulo). When Alex learned that I was going to ride to Mato Grosso do Sul, he immediately said that he wanted to join me. I didn’t mind some company along the way, especially when going into unknown territory, so that would work great for me.

To close the Iguaçu Falls event, Rodrigo had invited Mike, Alex and myself to spend a last day at his house in Guarapuava, before splitting up and going our own way. Our trip back to Guarapuava ended in the rain… Alex and myself were ahead of Rodrigo and Mike because Rodrigo decided to do some more shopping in Paraguay.

Alex and me left Foz do Iguaçu around 9.30 and had an easy ride for several hours. We stopped to have lunch near Cascavel, and as we went on, it became clear that there was rain ahead. Alex had also told me that he felt that there was something wrong with his bike. Sure enough, it started raining and pretty quickly it also became a lot colder. we had to stop several times because Alex’ bike wasn’t functioning well. It seemed to be some  kind of electrical problem, and Alex tried to fix it as much as possible with limited tools and resources, and we managed to get to Guarapuava, almost at the same time that Rodrigo and Mike arrived.

Day 7: Alex tries to fix his bike.

As I mentioned before, Alex had told me that he would join me on my further trip to Mato Grosso do Sul, but now, with his bike in this uncertain condition, he thought it would make more sense to head home to Campinas instead. The next day he would put the bike in one of the bike shops in Guarapuava (recommended by Rodrigo) and try to deal with the problem, before making the final decision. Alex spent the next day in the in the local shop, but unfortunately nobody was able to fix the problem, and so Alex decided to go home.

Day 8: On to Mato Grosso do Sul.

After spending most of day 7 in a local LAN-House (internet café) and cooking a meal for my host Rodrigo and the rest of our group, it was time to hit the road again and start the next leg of my tour. The weather channel predicted sunny and warm weather for Mato Grosso, so I was feeling pretty good to be back on the road… My goal for the day was to get to Bonito, also known as the eco-tourism capital of Brazil, which was about 900km from Guarapuava.

The first couple of hours, there were lots of clouds and I even had some rain, but the further north I got, the more blue in the sky and by the time I stopped for lunch, the sun was out. Just the way I like it

I was making good progress and was hoping to arrive in Bonito that same night, but destiny decided otherwise…

A little before Nova esperança (still in Parana) I had my second flat tire of this trip. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t happen on a toll road so there was no free tow truck to get me to the next borracharia. I had to push the bike for several kms before finding a borracharia and in the blistering sun, wearing heavy motorcycle pants and riding boots, I had the best workout of the trip

Luckily I had enough water in my camelback.

Another visit to a borracharia… Second flat of the trip

I lost about 3 hours due to the flat tire and I had hardly crossed the border between Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul when it started getting dark. I pushed on for another 50 km until I reached a big gas station in Bataiporá. Next to the gas station was a hotel that looked pretty ok, though some people had warned me about this kind of place… Lots of lonely truck drivers often spells “prostitution hot-spot”. I checked the place out for a while, but didn’t notice anything weird so I took a room, which was very small but still a lot bigger than my tent, so more than sufficient for me…

The mighty Paranã river: Seventh biggest river in the world…

I was a few seconds too late to take a great sunset shot…. The sun had just dropped behind the horizon.

The next morning: My hotel in Bataiporá next to a big gas station. A place to crash. Most guests are there for only one night.

Besides this praying Mantis I discovered on the bed frame in the morning, the room was pretty much bug free… Probably this guy ate all the other ones :o)

Day 9: Bonito – Eco-tourism capital of Brazil

I left the hotel in Bataiporá around 7.30am and started the last stretch to Bonito.

Mato Grosso do Sul is very big, and the roads are long and straight. I’m more a fan of the winding up and down mountain roads, so this part of the trip was a little boring for me. I passed a few cities and smaller communities and around noon I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and decided to have lunch in a restaurant further up the road. It’s always nice to see people’s reactions when you tell them that you’re not going to have any meat. Brazil has a strong meat-eating culture, and here in the deep interior, it seems to be even stronger. Anyway, I had a nice meal and an hour later I was back on the road.

A (almost) deserted gas station in Mato Grosso do Sul… You don’t find them like this in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

The road restaurant where I had a simple but tasty meal. (I really need to start taking pictures of the food…)

65km until Bonito, the ecotourism capital of Brazil… don’t have any pics of the city (dead battery)… Always a reason to go back :o)

The last 65km to Bonito the landscape turned a little more mountainous and the road was more twisty. I arrived there around 2.30PM and checked into the local hostel. As you could expect in a hostel, there was a very international group of guests, and I ended up sharing the room with were 2 Brazilians, an Italian, a guy from Switzerland, and an Argentinian. The Swiss guy was even born in Belgium, so there was some kind of connection. The rest of the day I went for a walk in the city (my camera battery was empty, so I don’t have any pics of downtown Bonito :o(

Later that night, I had dinner with a newly wed couple from Niterói (near Rio de Janeiro) that was also staying in the hostel. I found out that in most restaurants in Bonito you can eat Jacaré (crocodile)… Of course I passed on that, but the people who tried it, say that it tastes a bit like chicken. So be it.

some of the attractions in Bonito (photo: www.overmundo.com.br). Bonito, as the name suggests, is a very nice place, but also pretty expensive, compared to other places in Brazil that are less touristic but not necessarily less beautiful.

I didn’t make it a late night, because the next morning I wanted to get an early start… The one thing I don’t like about sleeping in the same room with so many people, is that there always seems to be at least one guy who snores… no different this time. Comes with the territory I guess…

Day 10: Trés Lagoas (border with São Paulo state)

I didn’t have the time to explore some of the spectacular natural attractions in the region around Bonito, since I arrived a day later than planned…Stupid flat tires… I guess this is one of the things you have to learn to deal with when on the road with a motorcycle (or a car for that matter): plans can change. Oh well, one more place to put on my bucket list.

I wanted to get as far east as possible, catching at least a glimpse of the famous Pantanal wetlands, but also due to the change of plans, I had a feeling that I wasn’t going  to get close enough and I wouldn’t have the time to make the trip any longer since I wanted to get home in time for my birthday

From Bonito, I went north on the MS-178, which is a 60 km dirt road in the process of being asphalted, (dirt roads are being asphalted in great numbers all over Brazil it seems…) and then onto the MS-339 to get on the big road (BR-262) leading to Campo Grande, the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul. From Campo Grande it was pretty much following the same BR-262 until reaching trés Lagoas.

Shaggy houses along the road near the entrance of a big farm. And yes, there are people living here.

I ended up not seeing anything of the Pantanal, which was kind of bummer, but I promised myself to return here to check out this area in more depth. What I did see though, is that there must be a lot of wildlife here, because I saw various dead animals on the side of the road, which was kind of sad…

Road kill 1: a Capivara

Roadkill 2: A Tatu

Roadkill 3: A Coati…This poor guy was still warm…

In Trés Lagoas, it took me some time to find a pousada, but eventually I found a place. It was a little weird, because it was a brand new pousada in what looked like a very poor part of the city… the houses around the pousada reminded me of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, but the owner assured me it was a very safe neighborhood (which is exactly what I would tell people if I were the owner).  later that evening, a busload of university students from Roraima arrived. They were headed for São Paulo to attend a conference on environmental protection. These guys were definitely in the mood for a party, and the racket went on until about 3am… Guess who didn’t get a lot of sleep that night.

Final day: 1.100 km back home…

On this last day, I didn’t take any pictures for a few reasons. 1. I was riding the whole day without stopping to get home, and 2. It rained practically the whole time, which also brought on a lot of fog, so not really ideal conditions to take pictures.

One thing that I didn’t find very amusing was that once I got across the São Paulo state border, the Pedagio’s (toll booths) were all over the place, and no free passage for motorcycles this time. Every 20 km there was another Pedagio, and every time the price got a little higher… I asked the lady in one of the pedagio’s what kind of scam this was, because the road wasn’t even in good shape, but she told me to take it up with the governor. No arguing there… 

What I will never forget about this day is that during the last 500kms, I got battered by heavy rainstorms. Just when I had to cross the Mantiqueira mountains with its very twisty climbs and descents…

Looking back, I now think it would have been a better (and a lot safer) plan to look for a hotel for the night instead of riding through that inferno… Even my SPOT sattelite messenger stopped working in the last 120km. I still don’t know what caused that. I guess it was all the electricity in the air.

Anyways, I got home in one piece once more AND in time for my birthday…

Thanks for reading… hope you enjoyed it… All comments are welcome.

Disaster weekend – Ibitipoca State park – Minas Gerais

Road sign to Ibitipoca Park

One of the great things about being a tour operator is that I need to take a road trip on a regular basis, to check out new places to see if they are interesting enough to be included in one of our motorcycle tours.

In a country like Brazil, this can hardly be considered as “work”, but things don’t turn out as planned all the time… On this particular trip just about everything seemed to go wrong

Last year’s Easter weekend, I wanted to check out Ibitipoca state park (+/- 1500 Hectares) in the Serra da Ibitipoca, a disjunction of the Serra da Mantiqueira in the south of Minas Gerais, about 70 km west of the city of Juiz de Fora. This region is famous for its quartzite caves, which are said to be very rare, but also for its natural pools, special rock formations, great views and typical fauna and flora.

I just had a few pretty expensive repairs done on the engine of my Land Rover, and I figured this would be a good opportunity to test it on a relatively short trip. Ibitipoca is about 150km from where I live. About half of the distance is unpaved road, the final part of which is pretty rough…which I didn’t know when I started out. Previous “getting stuck in the middle of nowhere” experiences in mind, I made it a habit of also taking my mountain bike with me whenever I intend to go driving around in unknown territory.

The plan was pretty simple: Start out on Friday morning, arrive in Ibitipoca around noon, settle down in a pousada, explore the town, hike around the park on Saturday and return on Sunday…Piece of cake, right?

I drove off on Friday morning, following the RJ153 north to Santa Isabel. From there I took the unpaved road via Santa Rita de Jacutinga to Bom Jardim de Minas. (note, dec 2011: this is no longer an unpaved road).  I took a right on the BR267 until Olaria, where I turned left to enter the final 25km dirt road to Ibitipoca. It didn’t have a BR or MG code, and these roads are usually rougher and, more often than not, poorly maintained…

Ibitipoca – Park Entrance.

Ok, there I was, about 10km from Ibitipoca with a broken down car, and of course no cell phone signal, but this was exactly why I brought my mountain bike, right? What is 10k after all? I changed into my biking clothes, took the bike out and started the 10km ride to Ibitipoca. Actually, it was a great workout. Ibitipoca is at an altitude of about 1300m and the views of the mountainous surroundings made the mess I was in seem a little bit less of a nightmare.zBut I was driving the mother of all 4X4 vehicles, so I should be ok, right? Wrong! After about 15km, the engine started making weird sounds and sure enough, a little later, in the middle of an uphill section, the engine died. I let the car roll backwards until I reached a more leveled spot, where I could “park”.

There was a very small village (more like a cluster of a few houses and a church) about 3 km from where I started, but it looked kind of run down and I decided it was better not to stop here. Arriving in Ibitipoca, I asked around where I could find a mechanic, and they showed me the way to the center. The center was very crowded, not unusual on a Easter weekend, and I found out that the only mechanic in town was occupied in some sort of promotional film shoot that was taking place this weekend.

There was nothing else to do but to wait until the film shoot was over, so I looked for a bar/restaurant to have something to eat and relax until the mechanic would be available. After my lunch, I asked the waitress if she had an idea when the film shoot would be over and she said that it would take at least until 6pm. That was not really the best of news, because my biking clothes were completely soaked from sweating and I didn’t have any dry ones. Also, at this altitude it wasn’t going to take long before it would get pretty cold.

After thinking it over, I decided to ride back to the car, put on some dry clothes and come back hiking. I figured that by the time I would be back, maybe the mechanic would be ready, although the question also was wether this guy would be in the mood to go out on another rescue mission after working at the film shoot all day long. Anyways, there were not a lot of other options, were there?

The ride back to the car was all downhill, which made it kind of dangerous… Like I said before, this section of dirt road was pretty close to being a 4×4 trail, but I managed to get back to the place where I left the jeep in one piece.

I stuffed my bike back in the trunk, changed into dry clothes and started walking back to Ibitipoca… I hadn’t walked very far when I heard a sound of a heavy engine behind me. I looked back and to my big surprise, a TOW TRUCK was coming around the bend. It was old and nearly fell apart, but it was a tow truck… I tried to make it stop, but the guys inside signaled me to jump on the back, which I did.

A few kilometers further, the truck stopped in the small, run down place that I mentioned earlier, and the guys, two brothers, got out of the cabin. After a brief introduction, I told them that the blue Land Rover they had passed was mine, and that I needed a mechanic. Not surprisingly, the man that was driving the truck said that he was a mechanic. Wow, sweet… I had a tow truck AND a mechanic. The mechanic agreed to go back to my jeep and try figure out the problem.

They started to run around in the small village, and when they came back, they had collected a wrench here and a hammer there until they were comfortable they had enough tools to at least diagnose the problem. We would use an old VW Beetle (fusca) of one of the villagers to take the ride down to the jeep. I have seen a lot of these VW Beetles all over the rural interior of Brasil, and I must say I admire them for the way they seem to be able to ride trough the most rugged roads.

After a short but bumpy ride back to my jeep, the mechanic started to investigate the problem. It didn’t take long before he told me he needed some kind of tube or hose, which I was proud to have in my own tool case. After some blowing air here and sucking diesel there, he told me that there were two problems: 1. there seemed to be some dirt in the diesel, which clogged up the fuel pipes, and 2. my fuel pump was about to give up. He got the engine running again, and told me that it would run for a while, but eventually, no way to say after how long, the problem would come back.

Ibitipoca – Inside the Park

Ok, for now, I was happy that I could go on and get the car to Ibitipoca, which is a lot better than having to leave it behind in the middle of nowhere. By the time I got back to Ibitipoca, it was already getting dark (and pretty cold due to the altitude) and I was hungry again. After checking out the local pousadas and finding out that there was no more rooms available in the whole village, I went back to the restaurant where I had lunch earlier and sat down for dinner.

While I was eating, a group of six Brazilians (3 men – 3 women) arrived and sat down at the table next to me. They seemed a little tipsy, and it didn’t look like they were planning to stop drinking any time soon… One of them asked me if they could take one of the free chairs at my table, which was how they found out that I was a “gringo”. Pretty soon they were asking me the usual questions about where I was from, how I ended up in Brazil, what I did for work, etc… and I ended up being invited at their table to have a few drinks with them.

They also asked where I was staying, and when I said that actually I was planning to put my tent up somewhere, or spend the night in the jeep, they said I could put my tent at the cabin they were renting… which I gladly accepted.

After setting up my tent, my hosts invited me to join them for a walk around Ibitipoca. Actually, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to come here, for it usually gets invaded by tourists on holidays (feriados). The narrow, steep cobblestone streets were packed with mostly young people and there was a strong smell of beer and marihuana hanging in the air all over the place.I walked around for a while, but went back to my tent to get some sleep around 11pm.

My hosts came back from their party around 3am and started some kind of afterparty at the cabin. One of them came to my tent and insisted that I would have a last drink with them. At that point they were all beyond drunk and almost unable to walk, which became kind of funny in the end. I’m very grateful for their offer, but our agenda’s didn’t really match up. After all, I wasn’t there to party but to do some hiking early the next day… Around 5 am they finally let me go back to my tent and go to sleep.

So, Saturday morning around 7.30, I got up, got dressed, bought some breakfast and water in a local padaria (bakery) and took off to the park, which was about 3,5 km from the cabin. On the way over there, I passed a few camping sites and made a mental note that next time I would probably stay at one of those instead of staying with the party folk.

Arriving at the park entrance, I had a very unpleasant surprise… Despite the early hour, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. After talking to a few of them, I learned that you were supposed to buy your entrance ticket the day before if you wanted a chance to get in. I really should have done some more research before coming here

This park has a policy of letting in no more than 300 people at one given time to avoid putting stress on the fauna and flora of the park. After waiting in line for almost an hour, I started to realize that my chances of getting into the park that day were very slim, especially since I didn’t have an entrance ticket yet. At that point I was also more worried about getting home, since there would be a chance that the jeep would break down again. Taking everything in consideration, it seemed like a good idea to abort my hiking plans and concentrate on getting back to Volta Redonda.

I walked back to Ibitipoca (at least I had hiked 7 km that day :), loaded my tent and other stuff in the car, said goodbye to my hosts, who at that point were awake, looking like zombies and preparing lunch, meanwhile enjoying their first few beers of the day… I didn’t like the idea of spending another day, evening and night here, with them getting drunk all over again, so I was kind of glad to get the hell out of there…

Ibitipoca – Surrounding scenery

zI took the same dirt road back to Olaria, passing once again the small village where the tow truck had stopped, and everything seemed to go smoothly. I had been driving around Ibitipoca and didn’t really notice anything weird, so I had the feeling (more like wishful thinking) that the car was going to hold up until I got home.

Yeah, right… About 3 km from the main road, the engine died on me again. Swell… This time I knew where to find help. The guy who fixed my car the day before, was the owner of the gas station of Olaria, so I knew where to find him. Once more I took the bicycle out and started pedaling towards the village.

In what seemed as a confirmation that this was NOT my lucky weekend, the heavens opened up and it started pouring rain so hard that I was soaked in a matter of seconds. By the time I reached the gas station, I was drenched to the bone and feeling very cold.

The gas station was very simple and looked deserted. There were only two pumps, a dirty office, and next to the office, an even dirtier place that seemed to be some kind of tool shed. A number of car wrecks and partially disassembled cars, mainly VW Beetles, were littered around the gas station property. I remembered that the mechanic/owner told me that he was specialized in these cars, and that it was his hobby to fix them up or create a good one out of two or more old ones.

Because I didn’t see anyone, I shouted a few times, and after some time, a skinny, dirty black guy, who didn’t look like he was older than 18, appeared out of the tool shed. Apparently he had been taking a nap on a dirty mattress behind an improvised counter in the tool shed. I asked him where the boss was and he answered something in Portuguese that I couldn’t understand, basically because my Portuguese wasn’t perfect, but also because he was speaking the “sul de minas” dialect that, for me, sounded like another language at that time.

After I asked him four or five times to repeat, I managed to filter out that “the boss” wasn’t there because he was playing football. He wasn’t going to be back for a few hours… Since there was no other option, I found a place to sit down somewhere between the chaos, and waited for two and a half hours for the mechanic to return.

So there I was… It was way passed lunch time, I hadn’t eaten yet, I was freezing my ass off, my car broke down -again- , I didn’t know if I was going to get home any time soon, and it looked like there was another rainstorm coming… I can think of a few better moments in my life

When the mechanic finally returned, it was around 3 pm. He saw me sitting there and immediately knew what the problem was. He was quite convinced that it would be the fuel pump that hat given up, and we took off in the tow truck to pick up my car.

We arrived back at the gas station, and after a short inspection, he decided that it was indeed the fuel pump that needed to be changed. The question now was: where the f… are we going to find a fuel pump for a Land Rover on a Easter Saturday afternoon at almost 4 pm?

The guy had a bunch of address cards in his office and started calling people. After a while, he told me that he found a pump in Juiz de Fora, a city about 70km from where we were. Since it would be impossible to get there in time before closing, he called his cousin in Juiz de Fora, who owns a small supermarket there, and asked him to go and pick up the pump. Meanwhile, the mechanic’s brother had showed up at the gas station and said he would drive me to Juiz de Fora to collect the piece.

I accepted and we took off in the guy’s car, I believe it was a Volkswagen polo. It was still raining pretty hard, but this guy was driving really fast and I can’t say that I was feeling comfortable about that. He told me that he was a truck driver and that he usually was on the road for 3 months in a row, taking his wife and kid along every time. Things are really different in Brazil…

After about 45 minutes we arrived at the cousin’s supermercado in Juiz de Fora. The cousin gave me the box with the pump and I paid him the 150R$. I had a hunch that this maybe was too good to be true, so I took a peak inside the box and immediately saw that this pump was completely different than the one that came out of the jeep. Jeezes, I hate it when I’m right sometimes…

Of course, there was no way of giving the pump back, because the cousin only did us a huge favor picking it up for us, so feeling pretty screwed, I got back into the car and we hit the road again, direction Olaria. By the time we arrived at the gas station, it was already dark.

I was very curious about what was going to happen next. Since I already saw that the pump was wrong, I had been thinking about the possibilities. If the pump turned out to be usable in one way or another, fine, but in a worst case scenario, I needed to start thinking about finding a place to spend the night, and calling a tow service the next day to get my car back to Volta Redonda. Also, all the time this was going on, I had this little voice in the back of my head, trying to tell me that maybe, just maybe, all these people were trying to screw me over…

Upon arrival, I gave the box to the mechanic, saying that I was pretty sure the pump was different, and when he opened the box, he confirmed that it wouldn’t be usable. Swell… To my surprise, he immediately came up with another solution. He would put a 20l jerrycan on the roof of the car and bypass the fuel pump, using gravity to get the fuel into the engine… Ok, why not?

After another hour I was ready to go. Finally… I was getting tired and I still hadn’t eaten a lot that day. I had another 130 km ahead of me, and about half of that was dirt road, which would probably be very muddy after all the rain. At least it wasn’t raining any more. It took me another 3 hours to arrive in Volta Redonda, mainly because I had to take it really slow in the dirt roads.

It is a really bad idea to be driving around in these roads at night. Part of the road can be washed away by a flood and it wouldn’t be the first time somebody ends up in the hospital or the cemetery after taking a dive in the abyss.

Before arriving home, I got pulled over by the police, and because my international drivers license had expired, and the translation of my Belgian license was only valid for 6 months (something I found out right there and then…) I had a very hard time to convince the police officers to let me go and not confiscate my car…

I have no idea what made all these things happen in just one weekend. Probably sometimes things just turn out that way without a specific reason. It was a weekend to remember for sure.

I’m always looking for more interesting routes in Brazil so any suggestions you might have are welcome…

Ilha Grande: Hiking, backpacking and scuba diving Paradise.

Located in the bay of Angra dos Reis, about 100 km west of Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande (Big Island), with its many secluded, sandy beaches, Atlantic rainforest and relaxed way of life, is a popular weekend and holiday destination in Brazil.

History of Ilha Grande

During the colonial period of Brazil, 400-500 years ago, Ilha Grande was a popular hideout for pirates, who used the island as a base for attacking the ships that carried gold and diamonds from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro. In the 18th century it became a base for slave traders and a prison, which only closed in 1994. After the prison closed, the island was turned into a natural reserve and this paved the road for the tourism that today is the major source of income for the inhabitants.

Getting there

A typical schooner… Great way to do the crossing to Ilha Grande. People who get seasick easily, are better off taking one of the bigger ferries.

You can only get to Ilha Grande by boat, leaving from the ports of Angra dos Reis or Mangaratiba. The trip is about 1,5 hours and can be done by ferry or, a liitle more bumpy and adventurous, by schooner (my favorite). You arrive at the village of Abraao, Ilha Grandes major port/ hub, where most of the hotels and pousadas are located. Once on the island, you get around on foot or by small boats, that take you to the various beaches around the Island, or on a snorkeling or fishing trip.

Hiking

There are several hiking trails on the island. Starting from Abraao, you can just go a few kilometers to the next beach, or hike around the island in five to ten days, camping along the way. It is recommended to take a guide when going on a extensive hike. More than once, people have gotten lost in the dense forest.

One of the popular attractions on the island is the “Pico do Papagaio“, a mountain with a top in the shape of a parrot’s beak. The hike to the summit (almost 1000m) is considered heavy and again, should only be attempted with a guide.

Lopes Mendes beach on Ilha Grande. One of the most beautiful beaches on the Island. Even in high season there’s plenty of space for everybody.

Other hiking destinations are the beaches “Lopes Mendes”, “Dois Rios” and “Praia do aventureiro”, all located on the south side of he island.

Scuba diving

The clear waters around Ilha Grande and the smaller islands in the surrounding area make for a great number of terrific diving spots. In the village of Abraao you’ll find several agencies that offer diving trips all around the island, some of them have English speaking staff and instructors. A few of the most popular spots are: “Gruta do Acaiá”, “Ilha dos Meros” and “Ilha do Gurirí”. More info on this site (Portuguese).

If you’re not a scuba diver, snorkeling is another way to enjoy the awesome underwater scenery. You’ll find various places where you can rent a mask and flippers.

Important: When you plan a stay on Ilha Grande, make sure you stock up on cash, since most pousadas, restaurants and shops don’t accept cards and there are no banks or even ATM’s on the island. Other than that, you won’t see any cars (except of the police and fire department) or supermarkets, and you also won’t be able to use your mobile phone. In other words, everything is pretty basic on this tropical island paradise, but not having all these things is really part of the attraction.

Useful links:

  • check out this Map of Ilha Grande (source: Wikipedia)
  • find the best places to stay on Ilha Grande: Hidden Pousadas Brazil (advanced search => by city/town => Ilha Grande)
  • Ilha Grande Portal (English)