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.