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.

Santa Rita de Jacutinga – Hidden eco-paradise in south Minas Gerais – Brazil

It was on one of my first motorcycle road trips, exploring the dirt roads of the “Vale do Cafe” after arriving in Brazil in early 2009, that I missed a right turn and ended up crossing the state border between Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, that I got to know a hidden little gem of a village called Santa Rita de Jacutinga, or short: Santa Rita.

The village only recently started to discover and develop its touristic potential so it has nothing of a typical touristic place, like for instance Tiradentes, one of the most famous historical villages, which gets its income almost only out of tourism.

When I arrived there the first time in 2009, access to the village was only via dirt road. Today this has changed: two asphalt roads, one to the south and one to the north, make the village more accessible for visitors.

Santa Rita, also known as “a cidade das cachoeiras” or “city of waterfalls”, as the name implies, is famous for its more than 70 waterfalls scattered across an area of almost 500 km².

A great way to discover the most important ones is on horseback, but it can also be done by car (preferably a 4×4) or during a mountain bike or hiking trip, during which you will be blown away by the beautiful sights around each curve in the road, or the flocks of colorful birds you will encounter.

Besides birds, there are a lots of other forest animals you could run into here: monkeys, Coatis and various kinds of reptiles like lizards and snakes… the latter potentially dangerous, so better stick to the trails when you’re hiking.

Fazenda Santa Clara… During the 18th century its main activity was the production of slaves.

As you probably figured out by now, this is a place for people who are looking for rural or adventure tourism… the local “centro de aventuras” offers rappelling, rafting, cascading, canyoning and trekking. The organization could be a little more professional, but they are doing their best…

Authentic antique equipment of the former “slave factory”…

Unlike the more touristic places in the region, and again, due to the fact that tourism is a fairly new phenomenon here, Santa Rita doesn’t have a lot of accommodation (yet). there are 6 pousadas in the center, and 6 more outside of the village (max 8km from the center) Here is a link to a map showing the points of interest and places to stay in the wide area.

A long board with holes for feet and hands… This is where slaves had to spend the night after they had behaved badly…

One of the most important historical attractions in the region is the 18th century “Fazenda Santa Clara”, about 20 km of – sometimes precarious – dirt road from Santa Rita.

This gigantic farm was built on top of a hill and almost resembles a medieval castle. It has 90 rooms, 12 of which are salons, and 365 windows, lots of them just painted on the white walls.

Another view of the slave quarters at fazenda Santa Clara

Sinister detail: this farm’s primary activity was not growing coffee or raising cattle, but the production of slaves… After the abolition of transatlantic slave trading in 1836, fazendas like these were providing the huge coffee fazendas in the area with new slaves, until slavery was finally abolished in Brazil in 1888.

Visiting the fazenda, and seeing the places where the slaves were kept, and sometimes tortured, compared to the luxurious quarters of the owners, leaves a very strong impression.

Pousada “Pouso de Minas”, one of the 6 pousadas in the rural area around Santa Rita… great places to stay with kids…

The many rivers in the region make great playground in a lush green environment… again, a paradise for kids.

Whenever I feel like taking a break from the city, I find myself on the road leading to Santa Rita and the Serra da Beleza that surrounds it. For me it is the place where I find peace and tranquility, a good, homemade meal and an authentic, unspoilt atmosphere of the Brazilian rural interior as it must have been like many years before tourism even existed…

Hope you enjoyed the read.