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…