Bananal: São Paulo’s most influential 19th Century City

Bem vindo em Bananal – Welcome to Bananal

Bananal started In 1783, when a small chapel was erected in the rough lands along the Bananal River in the old Captaincy of São Paulo. It became one of the richest and most influential cities of the region during the 19th century “coffee cycle”.

The valley of the Paraíba River has always been one of the main travel routes in Colonial Brazil, for the transport of gold and diamonds from the mines in Minas Gerais to the port town of Paraty, from where everything was shipped to Rio de Janeiro and further to Portugal. Towards the end of the 17th century, small villages emerged all along this gold and diamond route, providing lodging for travelers and drovers.

In 1708, a new route, that connected the mines in Minas Gerais directly to Rio de Janeiro, was opened. This new road (known as “caminho novo”) was not only less precarious, but also reduced the travel time to Rio de Janeiro from three months, to only one month. Because of the opening of this new road, the small villages in the Paraíba Valley lost their reason of existence and almost disappeared, but thanks to the cattle trade, coming from Rio Grande do Sul, to supply the mining region, the valley again became an obligatory passage.

In 1770, the road connecting Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo was completed, and to populate the region along this road, Sesmarias (grants) were given to people who were engaged in the construction of the road. This is how a man called Joao Barbosa Camargo and his wife, became the owners of the Sesmaria of the Bananal River, and the city of Bananal was born.

One of Bnanal’s most important townhouses – former city getaway of one of the rich 19th century Coffee Barons

During the first decades, the agricultural activity in the region was predominantly subsistence farming (Growth of crops only for consumption by the farm family), but the situation started to change with the arrival of the coffee culture, with its much bigger farms, fuelled by slave labor.The name Bananal is believed to be derived from the indigenous word “Banani” which means “with lots of curves” referring to how the Bananal River makes its way across the landscape. Another explanation of the name refers to the many banana plantations that existed in the region.

The profits from the coffee trade were used to buy more slaves and expand the farms up to the point that the fazenda homes had become large estates surrounded by workshops, senzala’s (slave quarters) and a coffee terrace (large open space to dry the coffee).

Around 1840, Bananal had become the second largest coffee producer in the province of São Paulo and a lot of the richest farmers of the Paraíba valley were concentrated in the region around the city. These farmers began to refine their way of life and the fazenda’s main houses were transformed into palaces, decorated with imported furniture and frescoes of European painters on the walls. They also started to use slaves in domestic service.

one of the top attractions in Bananal: the metal train station, imported from Belgium as a sort of building package, which was very revolutionary in that time.

The “coffee barons” of Bananal formed the elite of the Empire, and with their money deposited in banks in London, they extended loans to the emperor to finance the war in Paraguay. They also financed the construction of a railway that passed through most of the fazendas and went all the way to Barra Mansa in the Province of Rio de Janeiro.Since 1822, Brazil was no longer a colony of Portugal, and the influence of the presence of the emperor in Rio de Janeiro made that the farmers, who were also given noble titles, started to adopt the way of life of the French court. They erected luxurious houses in the city to spend time during festivities or between harvests. At one point, Bananal even had two orchestras, consisting of slaves, specialized in European opera music.

For some time, the city had its own currency, and one of the most powerful landowners in the city, Vallim Manoel de Aguiar, had when he died in 1878, only in public debt bonds, almost 1% of all paper money issued in Brazil.

But the prosperity based on the “green gold” didn’t last very long. Towards the end of the 19th century, the land began to show signs of exhaustion and the opening of another railway (Santos-Jundiaí) facilitated the flow of products from further inland to the coast, allowing the expansion of coffee plantations in western Sao Paulo.

This is said to be one of the most beautiful architectural “ensembles” of Bananal, consisting of three early 19th century townhouses, facing Pedro Ramos square

In the 1950’s, the region suffered yet another setback: the construction of the “Via Dutra” highway from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. This new highway replaced and deactivated the old “Estrada dos tropeiros” passing through Bananal, Arreias, Silveiras and São José do Barreiro, which became almost like ghost towns. (According to the writer Monteiro Lobato, who lived in Areias and witnessed the decline of the region)The final blow came with the abolition of slavery in 1888. The children of the landowners could not keep the wealth inherited from their parents and pastures for cattle took the place of coffee. The power, influence and wealth of the families of Bananal and the rest of the valley, was forever lost and all that remains are memories of this glorious period.

Today, Bananal is becoming more and more a touristic hotspot, attracting tourists from all over the world, not only to learn about its history, whose testimonies are the beautiful townhouses in the city and the many preserved and restored coffee farms in the region, but also to enjoy the natural beauty of the Serra da Bocaina (Bocaina mountains), holding the largest Atlantic rainforest reserve of Brazil.

Brazilian sex motels – 10 things you should know.

A motel in Brazil is not quite the same as in, for example, the US. In Brazil, you go to a motel to have sex, or at least try…

When you come to Brazil, whether it’s on vacation, a business trip or other purposes, and no matter if you’re a man or a woman, there is always the possibility (chance, risk, call it what you want…) that you end up in a situation where you need a room for one, two or three hours. (for sex, what else? Nespresso? Yeah, right!)

So what do you do? If you’re in Rio de Janeiro, you might find a hotel that rents rooms by the hour, but a more obvious choice would be a motel, because that’s where people go to have sex around here.

OK, but how does it work? you might ask. Well, it’s really not that hard (which is not what I would want you to have to admit to the girl you just took there :)). Here are a few pointers for all you SINGLE, UNMARRIED people out there who are planning to come to Brazil at one point in their lives, with no intention whatsoever to cheat on their spouse or other people they have a relationship with.

Nothing better than to be informed, right?

  • Don’t pick a sex motel that looks cheap. If it looks cheap, it usually is, meaning that things might just not be as clean as you would like it. The more expensive ones usually are surprisingly clean. (see the links at the end of this post)
  • You don’t NEED to bring protection. It is usually available (sort of a room service thing.) at no extra charge. Of course this is for the normal stuff. you might find a kind of menu (like a mini bar list) where they offer various sex toys, gels and other stuff to “enhance the experience” and these, of course, are not free. I have serious doubts that any of those gels and oils really work, but that’s on a personal note.
  • Luxurious motel room

    Most sex motels will have different kinds of rooms or suites, from basic to luxurious. Obviously the luxurious ones will take a bigger bite out of your budget.

  • For reasons of discretion, every room should have a separate garage box,from where you have access to the room. Just park your car inside, lock the door and enter the room.
  • Once inside the room pick up the phone and let the receptionist know that you are going to use the room. You don’t have to dial any number. The connection is automatic. While one of you is on the phone, the other one can already activate the sauna or the Jacuzzi (never a dull moment  ). In case you can’t figure out how to operate these (or you have a hard time finding the porn channel on the TV), again, just pick up the phone and ask. That’s what the receptionist is there for.
  • After you did what you came to do (have sex, or just watch TV… right?), you once more pick up the phone and ask the receptionist to “fechar a conta” and someone will come to the room (very discretely. The person never enters the room) and receive your money. (yeah, I know, that phone is possibly the most important instrument in the room :))
  • Sometimes, paying with a card can be complicated because the wireless card reader doesn’t have a signal all the way to the room etc., so I strongly suggest that you have cash on you to pay the bill. You never know.
  • If you’re an adventurer and pick up someone from the sidewalk, make sure that your great looking woman isn’t a guy… Seriously… these guys are amazingly good at what they do.(dressing up as a woman)
  • Also make sure that your sex partner is of age. Unfortunately, many under-aged girls and boys are still forced to roam the streets of cities like Rio de Janeiro and sell their bodies to support their families or their own crack addiction. Please stay away as far as possible!!! If you get caught having sex with a minor in a motel, you will suffer dire consequences. You’ll end up in a Brazilian jail, which is already a frightening place, even known to be deadly for child molesters (most inmates have a woman, daughter or niece, so rapists and child molesters are very unpopular in there), and almost certainly your face will be shown on national TV as well.
  • If you come to Brazil as a couple though, I think it could be a great and fun idea, as well as an offbeat experience to try out a few of these motels. No kidding, it could give your sex life a boost.
Another way motels come in handy, is when you find yourself in a place you don’t know and you’re unable to find a pousada or hotel right away. A motel is safe, not too expensive AND has a private and closed parking. Especially when you’re traveling on a motorcycle, this can be a lifesaver. Only downside: sometimes, the neighbors keep you awake, but then there’s always the porn channel on TV.
Check out the websites of these three classy sex motels in Rio de Janeiro.
  • VIP’S Suites – Leblon – Rio de Janeiro
  • Motel Skorpios – Barra de Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro
  • Motel Hawaii – Barra da Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro
For addresses and  other information of the better motels all over Brazil: Click Here
Here’s another great post about “casual sex in Brazil” by Robert Shrader (@leavyrdailyhell)

Hope this was useful, or at least entertaining.

What about you? Did you ever end up in a Brazilian sex motel? Leave a comment and let me know… 

Brazil: 30 stunning pictures from two years of travel

I have been traveling across Brazil since January 2009 and have taken thousands of photos. Some of them better than others of course. It was a tough process, but here is the selection of my 30 most stunning pictures of Brazil.(so far)

Secluded beach and blue water near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro

Late afternoon on a beach near Cabo Frio – Rio de Janeiro

Steep cliffs at the costa das Baleias – South Bahia – Brazil

Sunset over the Rio Parana – Mato Grosso do Sul

Overlooking the Serra dos Órgãos – Rio de Janeiro State

Fishing boats on the beach near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro.

Pedra do Roncador – Rio de Janeiro

Lopes Mendez beach on Ilha Grande (favorite beach of Ayrton Senna)- Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro after sunset, seen from Suga Loaf

View over Rio de Janeiro (by day) from Sugarloaf mountain The first beach is Praia Vermelha… in the background to the left: Copacabana Ipanema and Leblon.

Sunset in Piçinguaba – São Paulo

Sun setting at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist in the serra da Mantiqueira near Caxambu – Minas Gerais

Pedra Azul – Espirito Santo – Brazil

Deserted beach – South Bahia

Sunset over Monte Pascoal – Famous landmark – Bahia

Dirt Road in South Bahia

Dirt road in the Chapada Diamantina – Bahia

Dirt road near Pedra Azul – Minas Gerais

Diamatina city center – Minas Gerais

The rugged landscape of the Estrada Real – Minas Gerais – Brazil

Spactacular!! Iguassu falls – Parana

The biggest man made forest and second biggest urban forest in the world: Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro

Beach near Trindade- Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist near Nova Friburgo – Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha, biggest favela in South America – Rio de Janeiro

Climbing up to Christ the Redeemer -Rio de Janeiro

Ititiaia National Park – Rio de Janeiro

Serra do Rio do Rastro in Santa Catarina – South of Brazil

I hope you enjoyed these pictures… Please scroll down and leave a comment to let me know which photo you liked the most.

Motorcycles and me – a never ending love story

The kind of bike my uncle used to have and where I had my very first rides on as a kid.

My love for motorcycles started way back when I was a little boy and all in awe about my uncle’s old Flandria. During the school holidays, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, and stood by and watched my mom’s little brother (my uncle) tinkering with the engine, or just cleaning it.

A few times he took me along for a little spin, and I remember feeling completely exited and overwhelmed by the power of the 50cc engine. Of course, I was very small and a 50cc for me was huge…

Close to my grandma’s house was a motocross track, and every year around Easter there was an important world-champion race, that lasted an entire weekend. I remember watching the riders doing their training sessions from my grandmother’s house with binoculars during the week, and on saturday and sunday, nobody could keep me away from that track.

The Belgian motocrossers have dominated the sport for decades, and for me, going to those events was kind of like a Rolling stones concert with the Beatles as opener. All the world’s best riders were present and gave it all they had. Names like Joël Robert, Roger de Coster, Sylvain Geboers (father of Eric Geboers), Harry Everts (father of Stefan Everts) are probably no longer in people’s memories, but for me, these guys were gods, and in my dreams I was riding like them… Those were good times actually.

My first bike was one like this, only, mine was grey: a Yamaha RD 50cc

This bike was pretty famous amongst my generation as one of the best bikes to “tune” (basically: make it go faster) and instead of the limited 40 km/h my RD was able to do speeds up to 110 km/h (downhill and down wind of course).During my teen years I continued to be fascinated by Motorcycles, anxiously awaiting the moment when I would turn sixteen so I could finally get a bike of my own. When the big moment arrived, I had saved up some money from a few student jobs I did, and bought a used Yamaha RD 50cc from a friend.

Eventually, I ended up having an accident with it and I didn’t have any money to repair it, so I sold it.

Not very long after the accident with the RD,  I turned 18, old enough to buy a real motorcycle, but my parents were against it, the accident in mind, and talked me into buying a car instead, which would be safer. So… At 18 I had a car instead of a motorcycle, but I noticed that a car had a few advantages that were quite important for me at that point in my life:

  1. My first REAL motorcycle: the Suzuki Marauder 800cc

    At 19, I met the girl who would become my wife, and she had a problem with motorcycles, to put it mildly… actually she downright HATED them and everything connected to them… To her, everyone riding a bike was a pig. No more, no less…end of story. was learning to play the guitar and dragged it along with me everywhere I went, and with a car, that was a lot easier – and safer – than on a bike. I had already destroyed one guitar in the previously mentioned accident, and wasn’t looking forward to go through that again…

  2. With a car, you could give friends (read “girls”) a ride to the parties, and my Citroën Diane was very popular I must say…
  3. A car was drier and warmer than a motorcycle (ok, this is a weak one)

So out of love I had to get to terms with the idea that riding a motorcycle would be something I could only dream about for the rest of my life.

My Suzuki Bandit 1200cc… I got a good deal on it because nobody seemed to like the color…

All those years I had kept my secret desire to buy a motorcycle carefully tucked away, but when I got single again, there was no one to tell me what to do (or not to do) anymore, and it didn’t take longer than ten days before I had my first real motorcycle on my driveway: a secondhand Suzuki Marauder 800.So then you get married, and you have kids (two of them) and a career (only one), and before you know it, you’re twenty years further … and divorced.

I had a lot of fun with it. I took it to the south of France and back, blew up the engine, had two accidents (both times a car coming out of a street without looking) and that was the end of the Marauder…

Time for a change, and the shop owner where I bought the Marauder had already told me that if I wanted to travel some more, I would be better off with a heavier bike, like the Suzuki Bandit 1200 and since he made me a good deal on a brand new one in his showroom, I was easily persuaded.

I took the Bandit across most of Europe, once doing 8000 km in three weeks, and after 1,5 years I had done 40.000 km.

Me and my Honda CB1300… A real beast.

I knew that in Brazil, I would need a bike that could handle both on and off-road riding, and back in Belgium I had already made up my mind that I would go for a KTM 650 or 990 Adventure, but once in Brazil, I found out that the KTM’s were extremely expensive and there was no dealership in Volta Redonda.It was around that time that I had my eye on a very beautiful Honda CB 1300 that the bike shop had in the window for quite some time. I had told the shop owner once: “don’t sell this one, after I worn out the Bandit, I’m going to buy it”. Sure enough, I ended up getting my third bike in 4 years…Untill I moved to Brazil.

After some research I learned that the best (price – quality) dual sport bike available in Brazil at the time, was the Yamaha XT660R. The Yamaha dealership in Volta Redonda also gave me a very good impression and so I decided to buy the XT660R. I would rather have bought a Teneré, If they would have been available, but that wasn’t the case.

My bike of choice for the Brazilian roads: the Yamaha XT660R. The Teneré would be even better, but not available in Brazil

Most adventure riders will tell you that on a motorcycle road trip, it is all about the freedom, the independency, the feeling of being more in touch with your surroundings.I rode tens of thousands of kilometers with the XT660R and took it into pretty rough terrain and it turns out to be a great bike. Perfect to go and explore a country like Brazil, where road conditions often make it necessary to have a bike capable of more than just smooth asphalt.

Fact is, on a motorcycle, even the most regular trip can turn into an adventure.

A motorcycle also makes it easy to meet people. Especially in Brazil, I have people (not only fellow motorcyclists) come up and talk to me all the time, asking about the bike, where I come from, where I’m going and I usually end up getting lots of great information about the region I’m traveling through.

For me, a motorcycle is by far the best way to discover a country like Brazil (or any other country), and I will probably be riding as long as my health allows me to…

Do you play Sinuka? or Pingie-Pongie? – Brazilians say the funniest things

I remember walking downtown with Fernanda and seeing a sign saying “SINUKA BAR”. When I asked her what this meant, she was surprised that I didn’t know

Signs like this one are very common. People don’t really care a lot about the correct spelling of what they put out on the street… “Bancon” should be “Bacon” and “Ergues” should be “Eggs” the correct spelling of “mixed” is “misto”

What people were saying sounded nothing like the online course, where you hear the native speakers talk slowly and with a lot of articulation. Now I was thrown into the deep end and I felt I was drowning in the ocean of words and sounds around me…When I arrived in brazil in january 2009, one of the first on my to-do list was to start learning Portuguese. I had taken some online lessons, but of course that was nowhere near enough, so my first three months in Brazil were seriously frustrating, because I couldn’t understand almost anything.

After a while I started to understand a few basic things here and there, and I started noticing that it was kind of funny the way some foreign (mostly English)  words are pronounced by the Brazilian people. 

For example, it is very hard for most people here to pronounce a word with a closed end. Like the word “DOG”. Usually, it would sound more like “Doggie”… The word “HOT” would sound something like “Chotchie”. An “H” at the beginning of a word is not pronounced, and if it is, it sounds more like a soft “ch”. If you’re wondering why the “h” isn’t pronounced as “h”, well it’s because an “R” at the beginning of a word is pronounced as “H”… “Rio de Janeiro” sounds like “Hio d’Janeiro”.

Sayber Café – Cyber café… you figured that one out, right? Sometimes it is not so difficult.

It does become kind of confusing (and inconsistent) when you have words that actually HAVE a “ie” at the end. You would think these words would be pronounced correctly but noooo… Walkie-Talkie becomes “Wok-Tok”… Whisky becomes “Whisk”

Then there are the words that I would call “Brazilianized”. I remember walking downtown with Fernanda and seeing a sign saying “SINUKA BAR”. When I asked her what this meant, she was surprised that I didn’t know. It’s sinuka, she said… don’t you know sinuka?

Honestly, I was thinking that it was some kind of japanese food, but then she said that it was that game you play on a big heavy green table with colored balls and a stick, and then I knew. It was SNOOKER.

Which leads to that other linguistic hurdle for Portuguese speaking people: Words beginning with “sn”. There are no Portuguese words beginning with “sn”, only foreign ones. The way they pronounce it is like “sin”… the “oo” sound in portuguese is spelled as “u”, and the “ker” at the end becomes “ka”

The funniest example of how a word can get deformed, I heard in a chocolate boutique near Itacaré in Bahia. The lady at the counter, after learning that I was Belgian, proudly told me that they were using the famous Belgian “Callebaut” chocolate to make their bonbons, just that it took me a while before I knew which chocolate she was referring to, because it sounded like “Callibutchie”.

Gelo Gelado – Cold Ice (maybe they have warm ice too?)

Finally, if you walk into a snack bar (Lanchonete) you will notice that the name of some items on the menu begin with “X”… X-bacon, X-egg… Conveniently, the letter “X” is pronounced as “shees” (close enough to cheese, right? :)) so the snack bar industry can save some space on the menu by just putting “X” instead of “cheese”.

So here are my favourites:

  1. Snooker ==> Sinuka
  2. Hot-dog ==> Hotchie-Doggie
  3. Ping pong ==> Pingie-Pongie
  4. King kong ==> Kingie-Kongie
  5. Big bang ==> Biggie-bengie
  6. Bang-Bang (cowboy movie) ==> Bengie-Bengie (I guess you were able to figure this one out)
  7. Walkie-talkie ==> Wok-Tok. (when the “ie” is there, they don’t pronounce it)
  8. Whiskey ==> Whisk
  9. Hardware ==> arduaire (I know, but if you hear somebody actually say it, it makes more sense.)
  10. Callebaut (Belgian chocolate brand) ==> Callibutchie
  11. Ford ==> Fordgie
  12. Fiat (the car brand) ==> Fiatchie

Now that I think about it… I need to have somebody say “boogie-woogie”… I think that could end up being number 13

I’m sure these are just the tip of the iceberg… Feel free to comment with more examples.

Road trip into the heart of Bahia – The Chapada Diamantina (Part 1)

“Big Blue”, my Land Rover Defender 110.

End of June 2010, in full world-cup season, I started out on a road trip to discover the interior of Bahia. Conversing with Brazilian friends, I regularly heard the Chapada Diamantina come up, and all of them described the place as one of the best eco-tourism locations of Brazil. After doing some research on the internet (where would we be without it these days :)), I decided that I had to see this magical place with my own eyes…

It was a great opportunity to test drive the Land Rover Defender that I was going to use as a support vehicle for my Motorcycle touring operation.

To get there from Volta Redonda, where I live, I planned to follow the coastline heading north, crossing Espirito Santo and entering Bahia from the south. On the first day, I had to pass through Rio de Janeiro, and stopped by the school where I did my guide course, to say hello to my ex classmates. There was an interesting presentation going on about the “Festa Junina” tradition in Brazil, so I stayed a while longer than planned… that’s why the first day I didn’t get any further than Búzios.

Pedra Azul: Famous landmark in Espirito Santo – 100 km west from Vitória

The next day, I wanted to get to Vitória. Fernanda’s uncle João has an apartment there and he had already told me not to pass Vitória without stopping by to pay him a visit on my way to Bahia. I was also curious about a famous rock called “Pedra Azul”, located in the Pedra Azul National Park, about 100 km west from Vitória.

Following the BR101 (the road connecting North and south Brazil) I made my way into Espirito Santo, where I started to follow the secondary roads into the interior of the state, direction of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. This region is primarily coffee territory. many of the hillsides are covered with the plants that provide so many people each day with the necessary caffeine shot. The whole time, the landscape was alternating between coffee plantations, small villages and jungle scenery. I was afraid that I would pass by the Pedra azul and not notice it, but suddenly it was there in all its glory. I took a few pictures and continued on my way to Vitória.

I arrived in Vitória, the capital of Espirito Santo, and I immediately had a very positive feeling about the city. It seemed so much “cleaner” that what I was used to in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. It was around 4 pm, so I had two hours of daylight left to see something of the city. João took me for a walk around his bairro (neighborhood) and showed me a nice park close to where he lives. Afterwards, we had dinner in a nice pizza place, where I also met his two lovely daughters. I wanted to get an early start the next morning, so I went to bed around 10pm.

The landscape just north of Vitória: lush green hillsides, coffee plantations and small villages.

I didn’t expect it in the middle of Vitória, but the next morning, a very persistent rooster woke me up around 4.30. I was anxious to get going, so I got up and gathered my stuff. João didn’t want to let me go without some breakfast, and I left his place around 6 am. Vitória is definitely a city that I would like to explore a little more.

The ride north through Espirito Santo was rather pleasant. I stuck to the BR101 most of the time because I wanted to catch up some of the km’s I lost on day one. I remember seeing lots of dead animals along the roadside. Especially dogs. These animals get run over, and serve as a welcome meal for the numerous black vultures roaming these parts.

Espirito Santo has more than just Coffee. I saw a lot of pineapple and banana fields.Espirito Santo also produces papaya, maracujá, lemon, oranges, strawberries and grapes…

Coming from Bahia to Espirito Santo: large trucks with triple trailers and 60 tons of eucalyptus wood. These things often tip over in curves…

I crossed the border with Bahia, and it’s very hard to miss that fact. Ok, there’s the big billboard, welcoming you to Bahia saying “Smile, you are in Bahia”- in Portuguese of course, but what struck me the most, was the transformation of the BR101. As long as I was on Espirito Santo territory, the highway was comparable to most European highways, with two lanes in each direction, separated by a strong guardrail. When you enter Bahia, you see the road narrowing down to a pothole infested secondary road without hard shoulders. I always knew that Bahia was one of the poorer states, like all the states in the North-east of Brazil, but that the difference would be this noticeable, I would never have guessed. The billboard should rather say: “Hang on to your seatbelt, you’re in Bahia”

Once in Bahia, I set course for the coast ASAP. I was planning on following the coastline as close and as long as possible. It didn’t take me a long time to notice that the south of Bahia is a major producer of eucalyptus wood for the production of cellulose (the base material for paper factories).

The eucalyptus forests go on as far as you can see, and trucks with triple trailers and up to 60 tons of eucalyptus wood are all over the place, transporting the wood to cellulose factories in Espirito Santo. A local told me that the Eucalyptus tree is chosen because it grows so fast. In 7 years the trees are ready to be harvested.Taking the less traveled roads through the eucalyptus forests, you can see large areas where the trees have recently been cut down and new trees have been planted.

It’s not a nice sight, all these “sterile” and artificial forests with nothing but eucalyptus trees in straight rows… but who am I to judge the means of income of the people of Southern Bahia? In the forests, far from any town or village, I saw huts made of “Pau a pique” (wattle and daub). It was hard to believe that people were actually living here, but I saw a small boy (4 – 5 years old) playing near one of the houses. These people live 40 – 50 km from the nearest school, the parents are uneducated and they have no means of transport. I couldn’t help wondering how these kids ever have a chance of a decent education.

Charcoal production, another (legal?) activity in southern Bahia. Notice the -ugly- eucalyptus forest in the background.

I was headed for Nova Viçosa, a small fishermen’s village on the Whale coast (costa das baleias). According to Fernanda’s sister, this was the place to be, but I was rather disappointed. Despite some touristic folders promising “year round touristic activities”, the place was dead.It was too late to move on to another village, so I had to look for a place to spend the night. I took the advice of the “Brasil 2010 guide” and stopped at a pousada that turned out to be run by a Swiss couple.

The pousada was ok, but it was the management that worried me a little. As a couple, you are supposed to work together as a team, and it was pretty clear that the woman was taking care of everything and the husband wasn’t doing anything to help. His commitment was limited to sleeping and smoking cigarettes. Judging by his smell, he was also in desperate need of a shower. The guy drove me around the village in his car and couldn’t say one good thing about Brazil or the Brazilian people . He was clearly not happy with his situation and my guess is that they were “trapped” here, after investing in the pousada and not having the return they hoped for.

I had to speak German with him, because after 14 years in Brazil, he wasn’t able to say one decent sentence in Portuguese – or English for that matter. When I asked him if he was happy here in Brazil, he said: “my wife is happy…” I guess that sums it up… These people should have been divorced a long time ago. Very sad to live like this.

The coastal dirt road from Prado to Cumuruxatiba was a great change from the hundreds of kilometers of eucalyptus forests. My first glimpse of the Bahia coast.

I was glad to get out of Nova Viçosa and especially the pousada, where the rotten atmosphere between the Swiss owners was a serious downer. I had breakfast and left as soon as it was light. continuing my trip north along the coast. It was about 150 km to Prado, a small, charming beach town about 100 km south of Porto Seguro.

This part of Bahia is called the “costa das baleias” (Whale coast) due to the appearance of groups of humpback whales every year. Needless to say that the whales are one of the major touristic attractions of this region.

I had to do a pit stop here to do an oil change and also to find someone to fix my radio, that had stopped working earlier that day. By the time all this was done, it was time for lunch. After I filled my stomach at a small “kilo restaurant” for about 3 Usd, I went on my way.

The mechanic of the gas station who changed the oil had told me about a great dirt road right next to the coast that went all the way to Cumuruxatiba (short: Cumuru), which is a very quiet and laid back little paradise on the Whale Coast. I saw a sign saying: “Aqui, Deus descanse depois criar o mundo. Não acorda ele com o seu som” (Here, God takes a rest after creating the world. Don’t wake him up with your noise.).

Dirt road leading inland near the Monte Pascoal Ntional Park…

From there, I had to take a dirt road leading inland and passing north of the “Parque nacional do descobrimento” in the direction of the “Monte Pascoal National Park”. This road was not on the paper map, but WAS shown on my GPS, which means that somebody already had been there, which usually makes it a pretty safe bet.

Eventually, the road disappeared from the GPS, and since it wasn’t on the paper map either, I only had my compass to make sure I kept going in a northern direction, which would eventually take me on to the paved BR498, from where I could get on the BR101.

To make things even more more interesting, I discovered that my left rear damper had broken off and only the top part was still attached to the car…I had to remove the piece to prevent it to cause more damage, which made me lose more time.

Sunset over Monte Pascoal

Around 6.30 pm, I reached the BR498, leading to the BR101 and it was pitch dark by then. I had done almost 300 km of dirt road that day and was glad to be on some smooth surface. It was 150 km to Arraial d’Ajuda, which is only a few km south from Porto Seguro, but with a damaged suspension, I had to keep the speed down and only arrived around 11 PM.

I checked into a pousada, took a shower and went straight to bed thinking about the next day and how to find a decent mechanic…

Even in the dark, it looked like I had been able to sniff out a great place for the night. Pousada Antares is run by an Italian – Brazilian couple and is located on a hill close to the beach and has a terrific view from the terrace. The poolside breakfast with view over the ocean was perfect.

I asked around to see if anyone could recommend a good mechanic and there seemed to be two options. The owner of the pousada, said that actually he didn’t like any mechanic in Arraial d’Ajuda, but if he HAD to pick one, it would be “Vincente”, maybe because the name sounds Italian? I decided to check the place out…

Pool and ocean view at Pousada Antares in Arraial d’Ajuda

Most car repair shops you see in Brazil are places that in normal circumstances you really wouldn’t want to come too close to, and the “oficina do Vincente” was no different… A small, dirty shack with a few skinny, toothless black guys in bermuda and chinelos (flip flops) hanging around, looking kind of dangerous, waiting for something to do. If you’re lucky they are still sober at 8.00 AM.

Once you are in Brazil long enough and have a car that tends to break down in the middle of nowhere (I could post a few more stories about this subject …), you get used to these places and things actually aren’t as bad as they look.

After the usual compliments about the Defender (everybody seems to like this car a lot, but they have no idea how much trouble I already had with it…) Vincente’s diagnose was that he would have to repair the damper, because getting a new one would cost me at least 500 USD and would take at least until the next day, but probably 2-3 days to get delivered. He would weld a new piece of screw-thread to the lower end of the damper and that would only cost me 80 R$ (+/- 32 Euros).

Next to the oficina was a big gas station and since the car was also in need of a lubrication, and it was no problem to drive around without the damper, I went there, but the guy in charge of lubrications said that his grease pump wasn’t working. He gave me directions to yet another oficina, which was of the same standard as Vincente’s. I went there and asked the guy if he could lubricate the car, but guess what… This guy was out of grease! swell… I kept talking to him and after I offered him an extra 10 R$, he sighed and told me to put the car inside. Miraculously, there was still enough grease in his pump to get the job done… Around 3.00 PM I went back to Vincente and one of the guys, who judging by his smell had 10 beers for lunch, put the repaired damper in place.

Landing place of the Portuguese in 1500 – Bahia – Brazil

The next day (Day 6) I left Arraial d’Ajuda very early since it was going to be a 430 km ride to Itacaré, with lots of dirt roads. Itacaré is one of Brazil’s surf paradises, but also has a lot to offer in terms of eco-tourism (Trekking, rafting, rappel, Arvorismo…).

First, I had to take a ferry (Balsa) to get across to Porto Seguro. there’ a ferry every half hour and the crossing takes about 10 minutes and costs 11 R$ (about 4.75 Euros).

About 25 km outside Porto Seguro, in a place called Santa Cruz Cabrália, I passed the exact location where Pedro Alvares Cabral and his crew came ashore in the year 1500. There was a scene depicting the catholic service that was held to celebrate the discovery of the new land, with indigenous people watching from a distance.

When I was almost back on the good old BR101, near a place called Itapebi, I passed some barracks, right next to a large garbage dump site, and clearly this was “home” to some very poor people, who probably spent their days scavenging the garbage, looking for something valuable. This too is Brazil, and I think it is something that has to be seen by people visiting the country. It’s one thing to read about poverty, or watch it on TV, but being confronted with the raw reality is a totally different matter.

In huge contrast with the people at the garbage dump I have another anecdote: On my way to Ilheus, passing Canavieras, I spotted a chocolate factory with a very exclusive chocolate boutique attached to it. Of course, being a Belgian, I really couldn’t pass this without taking a look inside.

Coastline near Itacaré. Should be sunny and warm here, but looks a lot more like rain…

They had a big sign saying “home made chocolate” but after I told the salesgirl that I was from Belgium, she admitted that they use the famous Belgian “callibutchi” chocolate. HUH?  It took me some time to figure out that the famous Belgian chocolate she was talking about was “CALLEBAUT”. Brazilians have a way to brazilify foreign words. (like “snooker” => SINUKA… kind of weird but once you know where it comes from it makes perfect sense J)

Anyways, the boutique had a large collection of chocolate goodies, and even some erotic items. I bought a few bonbons, just to get a taste, and a few of them were with Pimenta (red pepper). I don’t think I will buy those again. They were really spicy.

By the time I got to Itacaré, It was raining hard, so all the streets were deserted and the town looked nothing like the otherwise bustling surf paradise. I checked into one of the first pousadas I saw, and after a nice shower, I did some planning for the next day and turned in. I’ll have to check out Itacaré better next time I pass through here.

On day 7 I wanted to get to the Chapada Diamantina, in the center of Bahia State, which is again a +/- 450 km ride, so I made sure I got going at first light (actually, it was still dark). Since I hadn’t had a chance to check out Itacaré the night before, because of the pouring rain I made a quick tour around the city. It has a really beautiful shoreline, but driving through the smaller streets away from the ocean, I saw lots of houses in poor state of conservation. Of course, the rain wasn’t helping to paint a nice picture. A little sun and the place would look totally different.

I was going to take the shortest possible route to the Chapada Diamantina and according to my GPS there would be a great deal of dirt roads. (Yay J).

Big Blue after a 43 km jungle mudbath

Soon after leaving Itacaré, I entered a 43 km long muddy jungle road that leads to Ubaitaba. As I expected, the road was very muddy due to the rain last night, and it didn’t take long before the jeep had the same reddish brown color as the road. I have kind of large tires, and the fenders aren’t able to keep  the mud from getting all over the car. In the middle of the jungle I picked up an old man who needed a ride to Ubaitaba.

In Ubaitaba I said goodbye to my old new friend, cleaned my windows and stopped at a gas station to buy some water and juice. Next, I would have to take the BA330 to Jequié, which, according to my GPS would be “Muito Ruim” (very bad) but to my pleasant surprise, the asphalt was brand new. I was pretty much expecting that this nice asphalt would only last for a short while, but it continued to be great all the way to Jequié.

About halfway to Jequié, I picked up my second hitchhiker for the day. An elderly woman waved me down and asked if I was heading for Maracas. Since that was one of the options, and she told me it would be the best option if I was going to the Chapada Diamantina, I decided to give the lady a ride.

In Maracas, I dropped the lady off at the house of her family and with a last “may God accompany you at your left side, your right side, your front and back side” she joined her sisters. I noticed that the house was very small, but at least 7 women were waiting for her. That was because all the men were watching the world cup game Brasil – Holland… a decisive game for Brazil, because if they would lose this one, they would be out of the cup. The streets were very quit, and that was a clue that things were not looking too good for Brazil.

Roadkill on the way to Marcelinio Souza. The vultures will take care of it.

I stopped at a gas station to buy diesel, and to figure out the best way to get to Marcionilio Souza, my next waypoint. I found a dirt road on my map, but it didn’t show up on my GPS. The guy of the gas station told me that in fact there WAS a road, but a different one than the one on my map. Yikes… even more confusion. He told me to take the road to Planaltino and after about 12 km take a left and “va embora” (just go)… He also said that the road was not very good, and there was a serra, but mostly descending… Just before I left the gas station, I learned that Brazil had lost the game against Holland and was going home. Someone said “a vida continua” (life goes on)…

Ok, so I was about to take a 50 km stretch of not so good dirt road that was neither on the map nor on the GPS. I didn’t like that idea very much, but it was a second pleasant surprise that day to find out that this road had a few signs on crucial places pointing to Marcionilio Souza. Also, the road wasn’t that bad at all. I’ve seen a lot worse.

The BA-245: The worst road EVER

After Marcionilio Souza however, things changed drastically for the bad. The BA245 couldn’t be worse. It was clear that this road had been asphalted with a layer way too thin, and now the road was a complete mess, with potholes everywhere, making it worse than it probably was before they put the asphalt. 65km on a road like this is no joyride, I can tell you that much.

In this hellhole, I picked up a 3rd hitchhiker. A working guy who wanted to get to Itaeté, and judging by his smell, he wasn’t one of those Brazilians that take two showers a day. But he had useful information for me. When I told him that I was planning to get to Lençois by 6 pm, he said that there was no way I would get there that early, and driving after dark was not advisable because of the road conditions but also because of the BANDIDOS. That sure sounded like I was in the Far West or something. He gave me the advice to either stay in Itaeté, or try to get to Mucugé, which was closer and less dangerous.

I decided that it would not be a bad idea to follow his advice and change plans to try and get to Mucugé. Like the guy said, the road from Itaeté to Mucugé wasn’t half bad, and I got there at around 5.30pm, in time to find a pousada and a phone to call home…

END OF PART ONE – Stay tuned for part TWO

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

Alternative route to Ubatuba… close but no cigar

Adventure, Brazil, dirt roads, ecotourism, motorcycle trip, Mountain, outdoors, Road trip, Serra da Bocaina

In February 2010 I wanted to check out Ubatuba, A coastal town located at the northern coast (Litoral Norte) of São Paulo State, also known as the costa Verde (green coast).

I heard some good things about the place (great beaches, mountains, trekking, diving, fishing, surfing, extreme sports…) and looking at the Tracksource maps on my computer, I noticed that there was an alternative way to get there… via unpaved roads crossing the serra da Bocaina…

One thing about me is, that if there’s an alternative – preferably unpaved – route to get somewhere, I’m going to use that, rather than take the beaten track…

On a previous ride, I had already found a track crossing the Serra da Bocaina and the Bocaina National Park to get to Cunha, another historic place linked to the Gold route, but from there it was another 90 km of unknown terrain, mostly dirt road, leading to the Serra do Mar and Ubatuba.

The first leg of the trip was from my home town (Volta Redonda) to São Jose do Barreira a small village on the “Estrada dos Tropeiros” (the link is in Portuguese, but the pictures speak for themselves). Tropeiros were the guys who traveled three months, all the way from Diamantina in the heart of Minas Gerais with a pack of mules loaded with gold and/or diamonds that had to be shipped from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro and from there across the Atlantic to Portugal…

From São Jose do Barreira to Cunha is about 95km, with 2/3 being dirt road and VERY beautiful. I was lucky with the weather that day. February is one of the wettest months of the year and not a lot of people know that the region called the Costa Verde has the same amount of rainfall as the Amazon rain forest, which is why many local people refer to Ubatuba as “UbaCHUVA” (Chuva = Rain) :).

Riding up the Serra da Bocaina, during the first 25 km the road looked like it had recently been repaired and so it was in pretty good condition. After that, it got interesting (I don’t use the word “bad” when it comes to dirt roads :)) The road went from sandy to rocky, and a few pretty technical sections, but nothing too difficult.a normal car wouldn’t get through though. It kept climbing up to an altitude of about 1.300m and the view from there was stunning, to say the least.

Near “Campos de Cunha” I needed to buy gas, so I pulled up at the padaria (bakery), bought some water and asked the lady where the gas station was. She told me that there was NO gas station in Campos de Cunha. Probably due to the expression of disbelief and despair on my face, she smiled and said that there was this man in the village who I could buy gas from.

She gave me some pointers and after a few wrong turns, and asking more directions from other people, I found the guy’s house…

When he opened his garage door, I could hardly believe what I saw… Hundreds of 1.5 liter pet bottles filled with gasoline were stacked against the back wall. This place was a time bomb.

I really didn’t want to hang around there any longer than needed, so I quickly bought 2 bottles (3 liters) of gasoline, which would be enough to get me to Cunha. Of course, this guy charged me double the price of what I would pay at a gas station, but I guess he had to include his transport costs.

I got to Cunha, bought a full tank of fuel and started what would be the final leg of the trip to Ubatuba…It started with a section of dirt road leading away from the main road that leads to Paraty, but after that, well, good question… I guess that’s the adventure part, right?  I just needed to get to Ubatuba, find a pousada for the night and return to Volta Redonda the next day… nothing too hard.

Finding the first part of dirt road was easy enough, because it was indicated on my GPS, and I entered it… The first 5 km were ok, I saw houses, so people were living there, but then things started to get harder…

As long as there were houses, it’s safe to assume that the road will be kept in pretty decent condition, but as soon as the “residential” area ends, you can expect just about anything.

This part of Brazil was battered by very heavy rainfall from December through January, and stories about landslides were in the news every day.

Roads like these, which are not registered as “BRxxx” or “RJxxx” don’t get any maintenance from the government, so it is basically up to the people who are living in the remote parts of the area, to keep the road open so they can get to where they need to be…

A lot (you could say “most”) of the locals in these parts are using horses to get around, and can easily get past landslides or other obstacles, so some roads can be damaged, or even washed away by the rain to the point that there’s no way you ever going to get through it by car… even a 4×4… or a Yamaha XT660 without dirt-bike tires for that matter

There were some sections where I had to maneuver my way around holes in the road in which I could easily disappear, bike and all… It’s unbelievable what the force of water can do… It never seizes to amaze me.

At one point (I think I had that coming sooner or later :)) the road was blocked by a landslide… the whole road surface was covered with a 30cm thick layer of slimy red mud, about 40m across.

There was a small “sitio” (small farm) close by, so I figured that if I would have a problem, I could ask help there… Having no other option, I decided to go for it and try to blast through the mud  (the other option was, to turn back and go home…)

I took a 50m running start and charged into the landslide… yeah, right… After about 5m, the bike was stuck… and I mean really stuck.

As I was struggling to pull the bike back out of the blubber, the people of the sitio (as expected) were watching me from a distance, (probably laughing their asses off at the stupid gringo) and as they saw that I wasn’t going to get the bike out on my own, two guys came over to help…did I already mention that Brazilians are the most helpful people I ever met? In Europe they would probably stand there and keep laughing…

As they were giving it their all to get the bike back on solid ground, I did hear them mumble some stuff about how crazy you need to be to ride a “big” bike like this in these roads…:o)

After a lot of pulling, the bike finally was free and one of the guys showed me a way around the landslide… believe it or not, this was pure enduro, not really the stuff that you would do on a bike like mine… especially without knobby tires.

I had to go down a very narrow and steep trail leading down the slope toward the river, and ride back up after passing the slide… I guess this was how they did it on their horses… Yeah, Right :).  Did they ever see anyone do this on a motorcycle? No, of course not, but if I wanted to go on, that was the only way… I didn’t have knobby tires, so it would be very tricky… Long story short, I dropped the bike at least 4 times, I don’t want to remember – but I got down and back up the slope in one piece…

10 km further, the final blow… I came to a point where I had to cross a bridge over a small stream. the problem was, that due to the rains, the stream had very recently overflown its banks and the water had taken out most of the wooden bridge. Also, the banks on either side of the stream were transformed in knee deep mud, which made this a serious obstacle.

Before attempting the crossing, I walked over to the other side to check out the situation there.. The remains of the bridge seemed strong enough to carry the weight of the bike, but on the other side I had another 50m of knee-deep mud to cross.

My brain was telling me that I would never get through this mud with this bike and with these tires, but I was so close to the next town (Vila de Catucaba) and the only other option was, to turn back and face that land slide all over again… I decided to take my chances and face the mud…

It was hell. Well, crossing the remains of the bridge was actually quite easy (much to my surprise) but on the other side the mud was a lot deeper and as expected, the tires didn’t get any grip…

Pushing branches under the wheels allowed me to advance a ridiculous 30cm at a time and it would take me a few hours to cover the remaining 50m to the dry ground, but it was my only option, so I carried on.

After struggling like that for about 30 minutes (and believe me, this is hard labor in the hot Brazilian sun) my guardian angel (I wouldn’t know who else) sent me a guy on a horse passing by. He was so kind as to help me push the bike and that is probably why I didn’t have to spend the night there…

After all was said and done, my bike looked like this:

After getting out of the mud, I was kind of letting go of the idea to reach Ubatuba… I had seen enough mud and dirt roads for one day (almost 200kms) and was all covered in mud – as was the bike.

I had serious doubts that any pousada would even let me in, looking like this, so I decided to get on the first asphalt road and take the fast way back home. It was already getting close to 6pm so it would be getting dark soon. it was about 250kms to get home, and only 75 to Ubatuba, but I couldn’t care less about Ubatuba at that point… It wouldn’t go anywhere and I would try again some other time.

3,5 hours later, I arrived home, extremely tired, cold as hell, but glad that I made this trip… At least I knew that this was not the way to get to Ubatuba on a XT660R, well certainly not in the wet season it isn’t

This is the route I was planning to follow…

And this is what I really did

The map shows my route as I left from Volta Redonda, making my way to Bananal, Arapeí and São Jose do Barreira, where the real ride (dirt roads) started…

Picking up hitchhikers. A great way to meet locals – Bahia – Brazil

My Land Rover Defender “Big Blue”

Besides discovering different parts of Brazil on my motorcycle, I also love to do road trips in my Land Rover Defender… In July 2010 I was doing a 2 week trip to the Chapada Diamantina in the heartland of Bahia, when I picked up 3 hitchhikers in one day.

I know that most people would say that picking up hitchhikers in Brazil, especially in the poorer states (like Bahia) can be considered dangerous, but I did it and hereby declare that it wasn’t dangerous at all. Of course, I’m not going to pick up just about anybody.

On the 7th day of my trip, I was making my way east, coming from Itacaré, one of Bahia’s famous surf spots, and entered a 43 km long jungle road that leads to Ubaitaba. As it had been raining most of the night, the road was very muddy. 10 km into the jungle, I noticed a skinny old man waving me down. I stopped and the man asked if he could ride with me to Ubaitaba. He looked pretty harmless so I thought: “why not?”.

It was not too long before we were engaged in a pleasant conversation. The man told me he lived in Ubaitaba, but has a “Rocinha” close to the place where I picked him up. (“Rocinha” = vegetable garden – not to be confused with the favela in Rio de Janeiro).

In Europe, some people I know are growing vegetables in their back yard, but this man – who turned out to be 83 – had to travel 30 km on bad jungle road to get to his piece of land. He also said that he would normally take a bus, but that this was very uncomfortable on these bumpy roads, and he claimed that he knows people who had broken bones after riding one of these buses.

A typical dirt road in the south of Bahia. This one was 80 km to the coast.

About halfway to Jequié, I picked up my second hitchhiker for the day. An elderly woman waved me down and asked if I was heading for Maracas, and since that was one of the options for me to get to the Chapada Diamantina, I decided to give the lady a ride. I asked her to get in the back seat, because I just moved all my stuff back to the front, after dropping the old man loff, and she didn’t mind.We arrived in Ubaitaba and I said goodbye to my old new friend. My next goal was the city of Jequié, and the road leading there (the BA330), according to my GPS, would be “Muito Ruim” (very bad). To my pleasant surprise, the asphalt was brand new all the way to Jequié.

Once moving, she started to tell me her life’s story, about being born and raised in the area, working in the fazendas, getting married to the wrong guy, having children (a girl and two boys), getting divorced… the works….

Dirt road outside the Chapada Diamantina – Bahia – Brazil

One of her boys had been bitten by a snake just a few days ago on his way back from school. Getting him to the hospital was a big problem, because they don’t have a car, nor do they have a phone. Luckily they found a person who took them to the hospital and now the boy was better.

He wasn’t able to go to the Festa Junina though. Her other boy went 5 nights in a row… Festa junina is MAYOR STUFF in this part of Brazil. Anyway, she was going to visit her sisters in Maracas.

When I asked her about the poverty that lots of people seemed to be living in around these parts, she answered that the only two things you really need are “saúde and paz” (health and peace). All the rest is not so important. She also said she felt a little sorry for me traveling all by myself, but then she told me “you are alone with God, so you’re not really alone”. wise words from a very simple person.

Another dirt road, this time in the north of Minas Gerais, headed for Jequitinhonha

After dropping my second passenger off at her sister’s house in Maracas, I stopped at a gas station to buy Diesel, and to figure out the best way to get to my next goal: Marcionilio Souza. I noticed a dirt road on my paper map, but that didn’t show up on my GPS. The guy of the gas station told me that in fact there WAS a road, but a different one than the one on my map. Yikes… even more confusion.

He told me to take the road to Planaltino and after about 12 km take a left and “vai embora” (just go)… He also said that the road was not very good, and there was a serra, but mostly descending…

Riding into Maracas, I had noticed that it was very quiet in the streets. There was a world cup game in progress, between Brazil and Holland, so all the local bars were packed with men, their eyes glued to the TV sceern. I was expecting deafening noise from hundreds of “vuvuzela’s”, but the silence was speaking for itself… Just before I left the gas station, I learned that Brazil had lost the game against Holland and was out of the world cup… bad news and no 8th title for Brazil. Someone said “a vida continua” (life goes on)… and I left.

Ok, so I was about to tackle a 50 km stretch of “not so good” dirt road that was neither on the map nor on the GPS. I didn’t like that idea very much, but it was a second pleasant surprise that day to find out that this road was not the worse I’ve seen so far, and had a few signs on crucial places pointing to Marcionilio Souza, my next waypoint.

Going down the serra – Maracas is at +/- 1000m and the descent takes you back down to about 350m – there were some stunning views, and the road was getting better all the time. After the descent, it was flat for about 35 km and the road turned soft and sandy, like riding on a beach. This was truly a jeep’s wet dream. At times I was going 100km/h.

Further up the road to Jequitinhonha: this place is called “Mata Escura” (dark forest) and I heard that Brazilian soldiers are getting their survival training here.

After Marcionilio Souza, things changed drastically. The BA245 was as bad as it gets. It was pretty clear that this road had been asphalted with a layer way too thin, and now the road was all broken up, with the worst kind of potholes everywhere, making it worse than it probably was before they put the asphalt.

In this hell hole, I picked up my 3rd hitchhiker that day. A working guy who wanted to get to Itaeté, and judging by his smell, he wasn’t one of those Brazilians who take two showers per day. But he had useful information for me.

When I told him that I was planning to get to Lençois by 18.00pm, he said that there would be no way I would get there that early, and driving after dark was not advisable because of the road conditions AND  the BANDIDOS!!!. That sounded like I was in the Far West or something. He advised me to either stay in Itaeté, or try to get to Mucugé, which was closer and the road would be better.

I decided to follow his advice and change plans and head for Mucugé instead of Lençois. Like the guy said, the road from Itaeté to Mucugé wasn’t half bad, and I got there at around 5.30pm, in time to find a pousada and a phone to call home…

During the remaining days of this trip, I picked up one more hitchhiker (a lady with her 10 year old son, who was also carrying a small dog in her purse) and I must say that the encounters and conversations I had with these four totally different local people were some of the most valuable moments of the trip. It was once more a confirmation for that Brazil isn’t any more dangerous than any other place in the world…

A few days later, I had another remarkable encounter with three young guys in the middle of the jungle, but that is another story

Hope you enjoyed the read. All comments welcome.

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

10 tips for independent travelers in Brazil

Here are 10 things to keep in mind when you are planning to take a road trip in Brazil.

  •  Driver’s License: If you’re going to drive in Brazil, you need an international drivers license, or a translated and authorized copy of your local license. A translation is only valid for 6 months. If your international license doesn’t have Portuguese, it has to be translated too.
  • Use a SPOT tracking device : once outside an agglomeration, you can be almost certain that cellphone coverage is unavailable..
  • Learn Portuguese: Brazilians are very friendly, open and hospitable people. Being able to speak and understand at least basic Portuguese (preferably a little more than that), will bring great enhancement to your trip. Except in the big cities (Rio, São Paulo), you will NOT find people who speak anything else than Portuguese. Oh and when asking for directions, take anything the locals tell you with some grain of salt, especially when they tell you it’s “pertinho” (close). Everything is pertinho, but in reality it’s pretty far.Things are relative in Brazil, distance and time in the first place.
  • Be friendly and humble when you meet local (usually poor and simple) people. They will respect you for it.
  • Avoid the bigger roads. They are loaded with trucks. BIG ONES, up to 30m and 60 tons. These things are fast, loaded to the maximum (probably over capacity in some cases), loaded badly, causing them to tip over to one side and a lot of them drive dangerously. They will overtake at high speeds with poor or no visibility on oncoming traffic or block the entire road on ascents when they are supposed to keep to the right side…. As a general rule, it’s best not to assume that anyone (except you of course) is going to follow the rules.

    Avoiding the bigger roads…

  • DON’T drive after dark. It is dangerous because of the stuff you can encounter on the road. Farm animals, cars or trucks with no lights or no brakes. Driving at night will also make you miss out on a lot of great scenery…
  • Make sure you have enough cash with you. In some more remote places you cannot pay with cards. Also try not to carry big notes, because it could be a problem to change (troco). You don’t want to be forced to buy something you don’t want just because the shopkeeper doesn’t have change to a 100 R$ bill. Twenties and tens are best.
  • Carry different credit cards. Sometimes they accept only one kind (like VISA or MASTER). Also sometimes international cards are  not accepted.
  •  Start watching out for a gas station once your tank is below half, and preferably choose one of the big brands (BR, SHELL, TEXACO, ESSO…) . You never know when you’re going to find the next one. Once, I was forced to buy gasoline from a local, who had stored it in 2L plastic bottles in his garage. He charged me twice the normal price.
  • Hitchhikers : The safest thing to do is to NOT pick them up. Especially in poorer areas, LOTS of people are trying to get a free ride. I myself – trusting my gut feeling – picked up hitchhikers on 4 occasions. A little old man on a jungle road, An elderly woman on her way to her family, a worker on his way home, and another elderly lady with a little boy. All  these people were really nice and gave me good advice about the places that I was planning to go to. If you trust your gut feeling, go for it, if you don’t, better not pick up anybody.

Hope this was useful – All comments welcome.

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