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.

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.

Enduro riding in the Serra da Mantiqueira, Brazil

On Nov 26, 2010, Maryel and me set out to explore a dirt road, leading east from Campos do Jordão to the Br-459. I had been wanting to check out this road for a long time, so I was glad we finally found some time to do it. Since we had no idea what to expect, we took our dirt bikes, and that turned out to be the right call, because the trail is not really an easy one, but for anyone who would like to do a +/- 90km enduro ride, it’s perfect. As a special bonus, the views of the surrounding Serra da Mantiqueira were sometimes breathtaking.

The starting point of our ride, was on the Br-459, 16 km north-west of Piquete, some 160km from Volta Redonda, my home town, so we left early in the morning, taking the Br-166 in the direction of Sao Paulo.

A photo taken from the moving car… The Serra da Mantiqueira early in the morning, all misty after a night of heavy rain. We were expecting to get rain today as well, but luckily it stayed dry all day.

The BR116, one of the finest highways in Brazil, but also one of the most expensive ones, especially once you enter the state of São Paulo.

After unloading the bikes… Maryel’s Yamaha 250 competition cross bike and my KTM 450EXC… That van is pretty handy if you ask me…

This photo was taken a few minutes after we both hit the ground on a very slippery part of the track. Wet red hard soil covered with slimy moss or something is like riding on ice… On the way back I slipped on the exact same spot and went down again. Maryel managed to stay upright this time. Afterwards he told me that my tires were inflated way too hard. I guess so… I’m only an amateur

Here’s where the track ends and the nice road to the city of Campos do Jordão (also known as Suiça Brasileira – Brazilian Switzerland) starts. We had to head back.

On the way back to Piquete, Maryel wanted to see if he could ride up this slope… Is this guy for real? I have seen him do some pretty amazing stuff on that bike, but if you ask me, this is a little over the top…

Riding a relatively easy stretch… We didn’t take a lot of pictures, since I don’t have one of those small camera’s that fit in a back pocket (actually I didn’t even have a back pocket :o), and the conditions were pretty muddy at times… also, stopping every 5 minutes to take the camera out of the backpack would slow us down significantly…

Back at the starting point, after almost 100km of enduro riding. We did an extra 6km after taking a wrong turn and getting kind of lost for a while…

I saved the route (one way – without the “getting lost” part)- in the GPS… Here’s the map and profile. anyone who’s interested in the .gpx file can email me on raphael@mirantes-mototravel.com

the Routemap of the trip (one way – without the “getting lost” part)

the GPS altitude profile – one way. The altitude varied from 1400m to almost 1850m

Hope you enjoyed it.
As always, comments welcome…

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Motorcycle trip: Iguassu Falls – Brazil – Argentina – Paraguay

Ever since I arrived in Brazil in January 2009, I had been curious about the world-famous Iguaçu falls, so when a friend told me that there was going to be a Motorcycle meeting at Foz do Iguaçu, organized by Brazil Riders, I didn’t think twice about going there and make an 11 day motorcycle trip out of it.

Nov. 10, 2010

From my home town Volta Redonda to Iguaçu Falls is about 1.800 km, depending of the route you choose. I don´t like the big highways and that means I would take a slightly longer route, using smaller back roads as much as possible. When I left Volta Redonda early in the morning, a couple of friends on motorcycles and my Colleague Maryel in the Land Rover were joining me for the first 30km.

Just a few kms north of Volta Redonda, the landscape already changes to a dominant color of green. This is the road to Santa Isabel and Santa Rita de Jacutinga, one of my favorite roads in the region. 50km of great asphalt and curves.

My escort on the point of their return. In the background, the highest point of the serra da Mutucá.

To Rodrigo´s place in Guarapuava is 1.300 km and I wanted to arrive there on thursday, nov 11. I didn´t intend to do the trip to Guarapuava in one day, but I wanted to get as far as possible on the first day, so I let Volta Redonda at 7 am, driving north to Santa Rita de Jacutinga an Bom Jardim de Minas. The roads were in good condition and the weather was sunny and dry. Perfect for a day´s riding.

Since I wanted to get as far as possible, I stayed on asphalt roads and made good progress, only stopping to eat and buy gas. One of the minor downsides of the XT660 is, that it has a limited range of about 300 km on a full tank, and after 200 km the “low gasolina” indicator lights up. The only setback of the day was getting lost in the city of Limeira. A part of the road that I was supposed to follow, was blocked by road works and since there was no signalization for an alternative route, I ended up in a part of the city that was a grey spot on my GPS. I spent almost 2 hours to get back on track.

Later in the day the weather started to change for the worse. Big storm clouds started building up and I decided it was a good time to put on my rain gear, but somehow I was able to stay out of reach of the storm and only got a few drops of rain. The whole time the wind was blowing fiercely and only when it started to get dark, things began to return to normal. Usually, people will tell you it’s not a good idea to be on the road after dark, but I was on a good road (in São Paulo state, most roads are good…) so I decided to go on for another 250 km. When I got to  the city of Itapeva, about 30km from the state border with Paraná, I finally checked in to a hotel.

To my pleasant surprise, there seem to be several toll booths in the state of São Paulo that are free of charge for motorcycles.

Nov 11, 2010

I wanted to get to Guarapuava and according to my GPS it would only be only 377 km. I rode 930km the day before, so this would be a piece of cake. I sent a message to Rodrigo that I would arrive sometime around 2 pm.
After hitting the road around 8.30 am, I immediately felt it was a lot colder than the day before, and the wind was blowing even harder. Not my kind of weather  . November is springtime – almost summer – here in Brazil, so it should be sunny and warm, but this was more like Belgium in the fall, except that it didn’t rain (yet) and the scenery was a lot more beautiful.

After about 20 km, I was pulled over by the police and I had to show my documents and those of the bike. I was kind of nervous, because the São Paulo police has a fierce image, but everything was ok and I was “liberado” after a 10 minute hold up.

Once across the Parana border, the road started to become more twisty and the scenery became more mountainous, which is a lot nicer to ride. I was on the PR-151, heading for Ponta Grossa, and noticed some signs, saying this is one of the best roads in the south of Brazil. Since this was my first serious trip into the south, I wouldn’t know if that information was correct, but I’ll let you know later on.

In Ponta Grossa I needed to take the BR-277 heading west toward Guarapuava. Up until this point it was still very cold and windy, and I was even forced to stop a few times to allow my body to warm up again. I decided that next time I would take a trip south, I would bring my winter gear. Looking further to the west I could see the clouds getting thinner though, and that is a good sign. After all, when I checked the weather channel earlier this week, it showed sunny and warm weather in Guarapuava, and why on earth would a weather channel be wrong, right?

50 km before reaching Guarapuava, I felt my bike starting to act weird… It had all the symptoms of a flat rear tire, I stopped to check it out and sure enough, I found a nail in my back tire. YAY… My first flat tire in Brazil… Champagne!!

First flat of the trip… Actually, my first flat in Brazil.

I tried to continue riding on the shoulder (very slowly), hoping to get to a service station, but after 5-6 km, it started to become impossible to ride on without doing real damage to the tire. I noticed a guy who appeared to be in some kind of uniform waiting on the side of the road and stopped to ask him if he knew a borracharia nearby. He said that he works at the next toll station and he´s about to be picked up by a van to take him to work. The toll station has a towing service and he promised to send the tow-truck to pick me up.

Small detail… yes of course I had tried to call the towing service, but like in many parts of Brazil, I didn’t have any signal on my mobile phone.

The towing service came indeed… and was very efficient… and free of charge. I guess this is why you pay toll…

After I waited there for about half an hour, the tow truck came and dropped me off at the next borracharia. I had to take the wheel out myself because the guy wasn´t used to work with bikes, and when he took out the tube, it was damaged beyond repair. I didn´t have a spare tube (another lesson learned: always carry a spare tube ), and neither did the guy, so he had to take his car and go find a tube. He came back with a used tube that I had to pay 30 R$ for. It didn´t look 100% ok, but I didn´t seem to have another choice, so I agreed.

After fixing the tire, a little further there was the first real treat of this trip. A “mirante” with a nice view of the Serra da Esperança.

Note: A “Mirante” is the Portuguese word for a place where you park your bike (or car) for a while to enjoy a great scenery… On my trips, there’s a lot of these places (usually not indicated like this one) and that is the origin of the name of my motorcycle travel company: Mirantes Mototravel Brasil

Guarapuava was about 40km further and I got there around 4 pm with no further problems. Rodrigo showed up at the meeting place on his Suzuki Intruder 125cc, the bike he uses for getting around the city, and we drove up to his place. I was going to spend the night there, but was really surprised that he had a separate guest room for me. One more example of the incredible Brazilian hospitality amongst motorcyclists…

Rodrigo told me that there would be another “gringo” riding with us to Iguassu falls. An US ex-patriot called Mike. Rodrigo and Mike had already done a few trips together. When Mike arrived, Rodrigo told us that we were all invited to a BBQ at the house of his friend Roberto. Roberto turned out to be a fanatic motorcyclist as well. He showed us a video of the trip to Machu Picchu in Peru he made in 2005 with 4 other friends, which seems to have been a pretty awesome adventure.

We couldn’t stay too late at Roberto´s house, because we had to wake up at a decent hour the next morning, and went to bed around midnight.

Nov 12, 2010>

From Guarapuava to Foz do Iguaçu is about 400 Km, and we left around 9 am. The plan for the day was, to have lunch in Cascavel and then get to Foz do Iguaçu… pretty simple.

There were four of us, on 3 motorcycles. Rodrigo and his girlfriend Suzanna on a Honda Sahara 350, Mike with a Suzuki V-strom 650 and me on the Yamaha XT660R. Since Rodrigo was riding the smallest bike, and two up, he would ride in the lead most of the way. Especially in situations where we had to overtake a truck, Rodrigo would be a bit slower as Mike or myself, but it still surprised me how fast the old 350cc was going.

We pulled up at a motorcycle friendly BBQ place in Cascavel for lunch, and I was happy to see that there also was a vegetable buffet, so even me, the vegetarian of the bunch, had no problem filling my stomach.

After leaving Cascavel, we noticed heavy clouds started forming and everybody put on some rain gear. Luckily, we managed to stay away from the worst and only got some minor rain. After a last tank stop, we were on the final stretch into Foz do Iguaçu and made it safely to Hotel Suiça, where the Brazil Riders event wold take place. When we arrived, the place was already packed with hundreds of motorcyclists from all corners of Brazil, but despite the large number of people, the organization was excellent.

We registered and while I went to set up my tent, Rodrigo and Mike headed to their hotel…

Next stop: The falls.

Nov 13 and 14, 2010: Visit to the falls and Itaipu dam.

On Saturday (nov 13) we went to see the Argentinian side of the great Iguaçu waterfallsand on Sunday (Nov 14) we visited the Itaipu electrical Dam. Both days were pretty awesome. The weather couldn´t have been better and this made the weekend even more unforgettable.

It was as if Foz do Iguaçu had an extra attraction for a weekend because of all the motorcycles passing by in a long convoy, which apparently made some people pull over their cars and getting out to take pictures. I even saw a local TV crew filming and interviewing people several times.

Closing event on Sunday was a dinner in a huge BBQ house, where we also got to see a performance of local music and dances, some of which were pretty spicy.

Our group at the border with Argentina… At this point, patience was a good virtue

Also across the border, in Argentina, the road to the park continued to be of excellent quality.

Another waiting line.. this time to get into the park. The guy standing on the left of the picture is Rodrigo…

Once inside the park I realized I should have brought a pair of shorts… I spent the whole day walking around in my riding pants and at the end of the day I could literally pour the water out of my boots note: The bird in the park logo is the Great Dusky Swift. see more about this further down…

The park has a lot more than just the falls… This park (created at the end of the 1930’s) is a preserved part of the original Atlantic Rainforest and lots of animals can be seen here too.

Colorful Birds… there are about 350-400 species of birds around here

A coati… make no mistake… these guys look cute but they are carnivorous… and are known to bite people…

And then we saw the falls… in one word WOW!!!

The word Iguaçú means “big water” in the Tupi-Guarani etymology. The Iguaçú river, which forms the Falls eighteen km before the river meets the Paraná river, overcomes a ground unevenness and plunges 65m with a width of 2,780m. Its geological formation dates back to approximately 150 million years.

getting closer to the falls, the sound is already impressive…

Garganta do diabo (or in Spanish: Garganta del Diablo)

The sheer size of these falls, and the noise of the water are overwhelming… In the mist, you constantly see birds (Great Dusky Swift) which make their nests in the cliffs behind the falls and can be seen feeding on insects trapped in the maelstrom of the falls. Watching these birds navigate the chaotic vortex of water and wind swirling about is simply astonishing. They never seem to stop, capturing prey, carrying nesting material, and even mating in this absurdly dynamic environment.

Walking around in the Argentinian side of the park, you can admire the falls from many different angles…

and another angle… they just seem to go on and on…

You can get into one of the boats down there and take a ride right up to the waterfalls. (and probably get soaked in the process)

Next day : ITAIPU DAM (one of the modern wonders of the world…)

Sunday: Visit to Itaipu Dam

this is the “production side” of the dam (where the water comes out…) This is not one of my favorite pics, because I look a little too much like a regular tourist. I would NEVER wear socks in sandals, but this time I had to, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it into the plant…in Paraguay apparently you cannot ride a motorcycle on sandals, so I put the socks on to make it look like I was wearing shoes… and it worked 🙂

Next stop… Back to Rodrigo’s place in Guarapuava and then on to… well… another place

Motorcycle trip: Serra da Mantiqueira: the mountains that cry – Brazil

I love the Serra da Mantiqueira. It is a magical place that every nature and adventure loving person should have visited at least once in their lifetime. The name stems from the native Tupi language and means “Mountains that cry” referring tot he countless waterfalls that can be found here.(click here for online pictures)

So far, I was able to explore most of the Serra by motorcycle, sometimes getting stuck and having to backtrack due to bad road conditions. My biggest “frustration” (if you can call it that) so far was always that I hadn’t been able to find a decent dirt road to get from the east side of the serra to a city called “Itamonte”, located on the west side of the serra without eventually ending up having to take the BR116 (highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) for about 20km and then take another asphalt road leading up to Itamonte… Although the twisting climbing asphalt road to Itamonte is incredibly scenic as well, the presence of cars, trucks and buses makes it a lot less attractive for an adventure motorcycle rider.What can I say, I just loooove the dirt roads.

According to the tracksource map I use in my GPS, there are several trails going from east to west through the mountains, but a lot of them are trekking trails, or real 4×4 trails, meaning that there’s no way you can do them on a relatively heavy (660cc) motorcycle. (something I learned the hard way on another occasion: see my Dirt road motorcycle adventure in Brazil)

Anyways, when a group of guys from Rio de Janeiro asked me to organize a weekend tour, I got more determined than ever to find a dirt road route to Itamonte.

The best option I could find on the GPS map was a road that starts in Bocaina de Minas, and that leads all the way to Itamonte. This road cannot be found on Google maps, so that would be an indication that it is a road “off the beaten track”.

Here’s the GPS map showing the 60km dirt road connection between Bocaina de Minas and Itamonte.

I talked about it with my colleague Maryel, who is my support car driver, but also a local motocross champion, and we decided we would go and explore the route.

To get to Bocaina de Minas we had to cover another 100km. Here’s the route:

Starting in Volta Redonda, we took the RJ-153 to Amparo. From there we made our way west – north – west – north, passing the little villages of Quatis and Falcão, arriving at the “cachoeira da Fumaça“, one of the most spectacular waterfalls of the region. After a short visit of the waterfall, we started a pretty steep climb to the point where we had to take a right again to get to Bocaina de minas. In the mean time we had passed the state border between Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

Bocaina de Minas is at an altitude of a little over 1200m, so we kept climbing a little more. When we got to Bocaina de Minas, it was time for lunch, so we went out to look for a place that Maryel remembered from an earlier visit here. The restaurant was called João Grandão (big John) referring to the size of the owner. It was a very simple restaurant with good, honest food. We paid 16R$ for the two of us (all you can eat) so it was also really cheap.

Before tackling the 60km of unknown road ahead of us, we asked around to see if anyone could tell us if we would be able to get to Itamonte taking the dirt road, and the locals weren’t very positive. They told us that many of the roads between there and Itamonte had been destroyed by the heavy rains of the summer, and they were doubtful if we would make it through. Despite the negative answers of the locals, we decided to go on and see how far we would get. The worst that could happen was that we would have to backtrack and try another route another day.

As with almost all major dirt roads in the interior of Brazil (and I assume also in other countries), they seem to follow a river, whis is logical, since the first explorers of the land (called the Bandeirantes) also followed the rivers, or the trails already in use by the indigenous people. This road was tracing the Rio Grande and the first 15km to Santo Antonio do Rio Grande was pretty easy. A broad unpaved road with no difficulties. Once passed the little village of Santo Antonio, we started to see what the locals in Bocaina de Minas meant… almost every few 100m the road showed signs of repairs, some of which were ongoing as we passed several groups of workers, doing their best to make the road useable again.

All in all, the last 35km to Itamonte were a great ride with a few more technical stretches but nothing really difficult. Getting closer to Itamonte, the road gradually becomes more difficult, and we also saw some areas where the rains had done some significant damage, but also these stretches were repaired or in the process of being repaired.