Day Tripping at Tijuca Forest – Rio de Janeiro: another day at the office

On the top of Pico da tijuca - Rio de Janeiro

On the top of Pico da Tijuca. Sweating like a horse in almost 40°c temperatures, but no complaining from any of us 🙂

Rio de Janeiro was basking under a perfect summer day and although this time of the year most people come to the Cidade Maravilhosa to enjoy the Carnaval, two Dutch girls asked me to take them for a walk on the green side of Rio de Janeiro… the Tijuca Forest. No need to say I was more than keen… 

I picked the girls (Monique and Annette) up at Rio Hostel in Santa Teresa around 7.30 in the morning and we started the 20 km ride to the Tijuca Forest. Because of the Carnaval festivities, the police had blocked some of the streets around the Sambódromo, where the garbage left by the last “blocos de carnaval” gave the place a deserted look.

Before reaching the parking space from where the hiking trail to the Pico da Tijuca starts, we made a brief stop at the Cascatinha waterfall, considered the most beautiful one of the park.

First stop in the Tijuca Park: The Cascatinha Waterfall

Our first hike for the day was the Pico da Tijuca, a 2,5 km walk to the 1.012m high summit of the highest mountain in the Tijuca Forest. The trail winds through sometimes dense forest, but is very well indicated and maintained. The Pico da Tijuca offers an awesome view of the center and north zones of Rio. On a clear day, like yesterday, it’s possible to see the Serra dos Órgãos with the “Dedo de Deus” (Finger of God) located 50km north of Rio.

Monique and Annette climbing up to the Pico da Tijuca. Jungle trail in the middle of the city.

Almost on the top of Pico da Tijuca, climbing the 117 steps that were carved out of the rock-face to accommodate the Belgian king Albert on his visit in 1921

Next stop before lunch, was the “Vista Chinesa”, which derives its name from the chinese style pavilion where tourists can find some shade while enjoying another privileged view of the marvelous city.

The Chinese “pagoda” style pavilion at the Vista Chinesa viewpoint

The view over Rio de Janeiro from Vista Chinesa with Christ the Redeemer to the left, overlooking the Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas and the morro do Cantagálo in the middle and the Sugar Loaf in the background.

The Vista Chinesa is only one of several viewpoints scattered all across the Tijuca Forest, each one offering another breathtaking view of Rio de Janeiro from a different angle, showcasing some of the city’s most famous attractions like Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf, Lagoa, Dois Irmãos, Pedra da Gávea and Rocinha.

Continuing our tour of the Tijuca Forest, we went on in the direction of the coast, heading for the hanggliding ramp of Sáo Conrado, where you can watch people of all walks of life take the plunge into the lush green scenery of the forest.

Always special to see hang-gliders take off. This is must definitely be the closest thing to being a bird…

Watching the hanggliders do their stuff is something I could do for hours, but we had another hike on our list. The Pedra Bonita trail is only 1.2 km long, considered “medium difficulty” and is one of my favorite spots in Rio.

To our disappointment, the guard at the entrance said that we couldn’t go up because of a kidnapping that had occurred at the Pedra da Gávea. The police were still searching for the kidnappers, who were supposedly armed and hiding somewhere in the forest between Pedra da Gávea and Pedra Bonita.

More people arrived at the entrance who wanted to do the trail. They had heard that the search party had ended and Pedra Bonita would be safe, after which the guard allowed us to go ahead.

Monique and Annette on top of Pedra Bonita. In the background the silhouette of the Pedra Branca massive. Rio’s other (and biggest) Urban forest.

Catching the last rays of a perfect summer’s day on top of pedra bonita with the lagoas of Barra de Tijuca and the sheer endless beach of Recreio das Bandeirantes in the backdrop.

Pedra Bonita was the perfect end to a fantastic day (especially because there was no sign of any kidnappers). As the sun was slowly setting in the west, we sat down for a while on the granite mountain surface, which was still hot from a day of Brazilian sun, and tried to take it all in.

Another Brazilian-Dutch couple joined us and we talked about how Rio de Janeiro was definitely a unique place, which would at least take a year to fully discover.

Giving the Brazilian-Dutch couple a ride to Copacabana, I returned Monique and Annette to their hostel after an 11 hour tour of the Tijuca Forest. I’m sure they will remember this day, at least until the pain in their legs and other body parts has worn off :).

I still had another 120 km ahead of me to get back home, where I arrived around 9 pm but for a day like this I would get out of bed at 4.30 am any day, even on a Sunday. I guess you could say that for me, this was just another day at the office, but people, WHAT an amazing office it is.

Give me a call next time you’re in Rio and I’ll show you around so you can see for yourself.

Pedra Branca, Rio de Janeiro – The World’s Biggest Urban Forest

Areal view of the Pedra Branca State Park, a 125km² section of Atlantic Rainforest in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Rede Globo)

The Pedra Branca Massive is with its 12 hectares of rain forest clad mountains currently the biggest urban forest in the world and one of the best places for experienced hikers in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

“I looked at Mark and said: “Man, sorry, but I did it… I deleted the track…” None of us really panicked, but we both knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to find our way back through this dense wilderness…”

When travel writer and photojournalist Mark Eveleigh asked me if I had some trekking ideas for hikes close to Rio de Janeiro, I first took him on a tour around the Tijuca national park, which has good infrastructure and a few great hikes for everyone’s liking.

So what about Pedra Branca forest?“, was his next question… I had to admit that I hadn’t checked that one out yet, but after some online research, I found out that the park had some very interesting hiking possibilities, the toughest of which is a 8,5 km hike to the “Pico da Pedra Branca”, the highest point of the park, and with 1.025m also the highest point of the entire City of Rio de Janeiro.

I thought that this was a great way to check the place out and as I expected, Mark was totally on board with the idea

The Pedra Branca State Park

Few people know that the city of Rio de Janeiro is home to the two biggest urban forests in the world. The Tijuca Forest used to be the biggest one for a long time, until expansion of the city’s territory led to the annexation of some of the neighborhoods west of the Pedra Branca Massive like Campo Grande and Santa Cruz. From then on, Pedra Branca became the biggest urban forest in the world.

However… Tijuca forest still has the title of biggest man-planted forest.

With its 125 km², Pedra Branca is a section of Atlantic rain forest, almost three times the size of the Tijuca forest. Just like the Tijuca forest it is a rugged, mountainous area with dense tropical vegetation and peaks up to 1025 m. Its “ruggedness” and steep slopes saved this area (as well as about 100.000km² in other areas all over Brazil) from becoming farming or cattle land.

The Hike to Pedra Branca peak…

I had to leave Volta Redonda around 3.30 am and drive about 120 km to pick up Mark at 7.00 am in Ipanema. From Ipanema it is another 40 km to the east entrance of the park in Jacarépagua.

In a cabin at the entrance, there are two guards and you need to register your name and ID and tell them where in the park you are intending to go. When I said that we were going to the Pico da Pedra Branca, the guards looked at us and said that we were sure going to return with scratched up legs. According to them, the trail was very “fechado”, meaning that it was overgrown with vegetation and barely visible at some places.

The Casa Amarela. somewhere halfway up the Pico da Pedra Branca trail (photo: clubedosavontureiros.com)

They also told us that, different from the Tijuca forest, the trails at Pedra Branca have no indications, apart from a few arrows carved in trees. This sounded like it could turn out to be a real adventure hike.

I had brought my Garmin 60GSx, which is perfect for this kind of situation. I would record our progress, and when in doubt we could just trackback, so even if we wouldn’t be able to find the way to the top (yeah, right…), getting back would never be a problem.

I activated the GPS to start recording, and after a few last pointers from the guards we took off. Pretty soon the trail became confusing. We were supposed to cross the river somewhere, but there were several tracks leading to the river, and none of them seemed to continue on the other side.

After some backtracking, we eventually found the crossing and the trail started to climb steadily from there.To make up for the lost time, we kept going at a fairly fast pace, even uphill.

This was a very different hike than the one in Tijuca National Park. The guards were right. There was no signalization and the trail was quite hard to find sometimes. We had to look for signs like branches that were cut off, that indicated where the trail had been cleared at one point. Also, November is springtime in Brazil, meaning that the vegetation is growing quickly and the trail closes up faster than the people can keep it open.

Another big difference with the pico da Tijuca hike, was that this trail starts almost at sea-level, while the Tijuca trail starts at an altitude of almost 700m. The Tijuca trail is also a lot shorter. So, while Tijuca is a fairly easy 3 km hike on a trail that is well indicated and maintained, covering a difference in altitude of about 350m, the Pedra Branca trail is a 8.5km of dense jungle, with close to no indications climbing about 1000m.

Needless to say that Pedra Branca is not for the average person. You have to be in good physical condition and  If you want to do this hike without a local guide, you better have some experience in finding your way using your orientation skills… as we would find out later that day

Fauna at Pedra Branca: Snakes and stuff…

Making our way through the dense vegetation, we didn’t see a lot of animals, besides birds and butterflies, but we were able to tell there were animals, probably Coatí and Porco do Mato (Peccary) through all the noises we heard all around us… and the animal droppings we found in lots of places along the trail.

At a given moment, I heard a ruffle a few meters in front of me and I saw a green snake slithering from right to left across the trail, disappearing in the thick growth.

These Green snakes (or Cobra Cipó) are considered nonpoisonous, but in reality they posses a strong poison. However,  their non-aggressive nature (they usually flee very quickly) and the fact that the fangs are located in the back of their mouth result in very low accident statistic.

Of course, the Atlantic Rainforest is known to be home to a few other species, like the Jararaca (pit-viper), the coral snake and the Surucucu (Bushmaster) and these guys are really dangerous…

Rattlesnakes (Cascavel) are also found in Brazil, but they live in dryer areas more to the north…

You should always be aware of the fact that, no matter how beautiful the surroundings, there are also some real dangers out there. Always check the place where you’re going to sit, or your boots before putting them on… Spiders, scorpions and ants like to crawl in there…Don’t put your hand in a hole in the ground, be careful when climbing trees etc… with a little caution and common sense you can prevent your great hike from turning into a nightmare in a heartbeat

I guess you can understand that I’m always kind of dumbfounded to see people (usually Brazilians) in flip-flops and beach attire hopping around in these jungle environments.

Ok… so far the Biology class 

Casa Amarela…

The Casa Amarela. somewhere halfway up the Pico da Pedra Branca trail (photo: clubedosavontureiros.com)

There was a guy -apparently living there – with a bunch of dogs. It was not immediately clear what his role was, but I guess he is some kind of caretaker of the Casa Amarela… we chatted for a while, had a few bananas and were on our way again. It was there and then that I realized that I had left my camera in the car… Damn!One of the way-points (actually, the only one), somewhere halfway the trail to the top, is the “Casa Amarela”, a building that was once the main house of a “sitio” called Santa Barbara. (sitio = small farm – bigger than a Chacara, but smaller than a Fazenda). The fact that we arrived there meant that we were on the right track… Yey!

The guy told us that it would be about one more hour walking to the top. He also said that from here the trail would become even steeper… which sounded fine to us. :)

There was a barbed wire fence going up the slope, which made it easy to follow, and after a while we reached the only clearing of the whole trail where you can get a glimpse of the surrounding landscape. This is very much a hike for people who want to enjoy the time in the forest and don’t care so much about the visual aspect.

The only clearing during the 8,5km trail to the Pico da Pedra Branca presenting a photo opportunity (photo: http://www.clubedosavontureiros.com)

We didn’t have a lot of trouble following the trail from the Casa Amarela, but at one point we reached a T-section, where we initially took a left, but quickly realized that this was not the right direction. So we tried the other way, until coming upon a little wattle and daub hut in the forest, surrounded by banana trees.A little further the path started to go down and it continued to do so for quite some time, so after having climbed almost 800m, you go down again, losing 100m, so if you were glad that you “only” had 200m to climb, make that 300m…

We checked out the place to see if there was someone (apart from the donkey that was going about his business of grazing quietly) to ask the way, but the place was deserted. We went back and eventually Mark discovered the trail… We had walked right passed it without even noticing. Another indication of how easy it is to get lost in these forests.

The Top…

This was the only way to get up the boulder and see something of the surrounding landscape… Photo: Mark Eveleigh – thewideangle.com

If you expect an easy overview of the surrounding scenery, you’re in for another surprise. The vegetation is so dense up there, that the only place you can see something is on top of the boulder, and of course there’s no ladder After another 20 minutes of steep climbing and crawling over and under fallen trees and bamboo, we found the top, which is clearly marked with a 3m high boulder that looks like it has been carefully placed there to make this peak a few meters higher than the Pico da Tijuca…

Luckily there’s enough bamboo around and that’s how we were able to get on top of the boulder where Mark could take a few photos.

It just was too easy to be real. Something just HAD to go wrong…

This was probably the moment where I told Mark that I accidently erased all the GPS ‘s data… Photo: Mark Eveleigh – thewideangle.com

During the hike to the top, I had noticed that I hadn’t cleared my previous data in the GPS, so I had no correct idea of the distance that we had already walked. At one point, Mark mentioned to “reset” the data in the GPS once we would reach the top and then the GPS would record the correct distance as we would backtrack down the mountain… mmm… good idea.

I saved the track and cleared the recorded data, but the numbers were still not reset to zero. I thought I had done something wrong and repeated the procedure… this time I saw all zero’s. Ok, we were set and ready to go!!

First, we sat down for about 15 minutes to have lunch (more bananas :)) before setting out to start the descent… which would not be a walk in the park either… Some sections were really steep to climb up, so descending these sections would be a tough cookie on calves, shins and knees.

I wanted to load up the saved track into the GPS to start backtracking, but to my surprise, the track was no longer in the database… WTF?? I checked again, nothing… restarted the GPS… nothing… Ok, this was not very good news. Mark had even said at one point to make sure I would not delete the track, and I had reset the GPS data before with no problems, but somehow I had managed to delete EVERYTHING… Saved tracks, routes, waypoints… the GPS was as empty as the Greek treasury ….

I looked at Mark and said: “Man, sorry, but I did it… I deleted the track…” None of us really panicked, but we both knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to find our way back through this dense wilderness… We sized up the situation and concluded that it should be possible to find “a” way out, considering we still had about 6 hours of daylight left. Plan B would be to spend the night in the small hut that we found earlier… I wasn’t looking forward to plan B, that’s for sure 

Finding the way out of the Pedra Branca forest…

Ok, so the new challenge of the day was to get back down from the mountain in one piece without GPS and only a vague idea of how to go about it… Swell

The first part was easy enough, and soon we were back at the T-section I mentioned earlier… We knew we had to go left here and climb about 100m (in altitude… not distance)  to get back to the clearing. Well, it didn’t work out that way. Somehow we found ourselves coming back to the T-section over and over again… the proverb “running around in circles” suddenly didn’t seem so unreal anymore…

From my online research, I remembered that there were several entrances to the park, and one of them was in Campo Grande. The GPS was still doing a perfect job as map and compass and showing me where we were, and I suggested that the path leading to the left from the T-section might be the one leading to Campo Grande… It was a hunch and the route to Campo Grande was 11,5 km instead of the 8,5 to Jacarépagua, but that would still be better than spending the night in the forest.

This man was on his way home to his chacara in the Pedra Branca forest. He said that we were on the right way out (well, I think that’s what he said) Photo: Mark Eveleigh – http://www.Thewideangle.com

We decided to take that route, although it meant that we didn’t know where (in what kind of neighborhood) in Campo Grande we would end up. Also, from Campo Grande we would have to find transportation back to the car in  Jacarépagua on the other side of the mountains, which would be a 35km bus, van, taxi (whatever) ride… Our plan to get back in Ipanema by 5.00pm went straight down the drain.

This trail was a lot more open, so we had good visibility over the surroundings almost the whole time, which made it easier to navigate. After 1,5 hours we started to see some chacaras, and that was a great thing, because the people living in the chacaras would have to have a road to get to Campo Grande to sell their products.

At a given moment we encountered an old man on a horse making his way up the mountain. I made him stop and asked if we were on the road to Campo Grande… He started saying a lot of things, but because about 95% of his teeth were gone, it wasn’t easy to understand him. We continued on the same trail, which was very tough at some places, making me feel sorry for the horse.

Having a beer and talking to the locals after making it out of the forest… The man next to me is 73 years old, came to Brazil with his father from the island of Madeira when he was 10… Worked in the field his whole life and never learned to read or write.

Eventually the trail turned into a double track road and we ended up in a small bairro of Campo Grande, where we had a cold beer at the first bar we found…

There was a guard at this side of the park as wall, and I asked him to call his colleagues in Jacarépagua to advise them that we were on the other side, but he said that he didn’t have a phone, and even if he would, he didn’t have any contact information of his colleagues. Even though I found that a little strange and very unprofessional, I can’t say I was surprised… After all, this is Brazil, right?

After finishing the beer (which gave me an instant headache – I don’t mix well with alcohol…) we found a bus to take us to the central station in Campo Grande, from where we took a van to Jacarépagua, where we had diner in a very ok restaurant (which I can’t remember the name of) before driving back to Ipanema, where we arrived around 9.30pm…

I checked into the hostel where Mark was staying as well, took a shower, a nap and after a caipirinha on Ipanema beach I went to bed… All in all it had been another fantastic day!!! (right mark? :))

Hiking to Pedra Bonita – one of the top 5 viewpoints of Rio de Janeiro.

Floresta da tijuca – the biggest man made urban forest in the world.(as seen from Pedra Bonita

 

If you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro, and need a break from the bustling touristy areas, as well as some fresh air, Pedra Bonita is a place with exceptionally beautiful views of the city of Rio de Janeiro and the Tijuca forest and it only takes an easy 20-30 minute hike.

The start of the trail leading to Pedra Bonita is located right next to the parking space of the hang-gliding ramp of São Conrado, so before or after the hike a visit to the ramp is a definite bonus.

How to get to Pedra Bonita

From Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema…) to the start of the trail is about 18 km (see map below) or 20 km if you take the more scenic coastal road, and depending on the day of the week and the time, it could take some time to get there… so plan accordingly.

Once you arrive at the parking of the hanggliding ramp, go back about 200m to find the entrance to the trail, which is indicated with a sign saying “Trilha da Pedra Bonita”. According to the sign, the average time to complete the trail is 25 minutes, but if you set a good pace, you can do less than that.

The hike

The trail is 1.5 km long and climbs the whole time, taking you from +/- 500 to almost 700m. It is a very easy trail, with steps where the inclination is too high, so it isn’t more difficult than climbing a staircase.

When you get to the top, you have one of the most privileged views of the city of Rio de Janeiro: The tijuca forest, Rocinha (the biggest favela in South America), The beach of São Conrado (where the hanggliders land, Christ the Redeemer, Barra da Tijuca, Pão de Açucar, Pedra da Gávea (another great hike on my bucket list)… all of it is spread out in front of you.

Of course, the best time to enjoy these views, is on a clear day, and as mentioned earlier, while you’re there, why not take advantage of the fact that the hang-gliding ramp is right there… It’s really cool to see the people take off with their gliders or delta wings. Maybe you even get tempted to try it yourself.

Oh, and the ramp also has a bathroom and a small bar where you can have something to drink…

Here’s a map, showing the route from Copacabana (Zona Sul) to the hanggliding ramp.

Map with the route from Copacabana to the hanggliding ramp

I’ll shut up now, and let you enjoy the view through some of the pictures I took there…

9 days on Brazil’s Estrada Real – A mix of History, Culture and Natural Beauty (Part 1)

On day 3, we’re really getting into the heart of Minas Gerais and the Serra do Espinhaço.

Whether on sand, asphalt or gravel, motorcycle adventure is always guaranteed on the Estrada Real. Every other road offers new discoveries. The many colonial villages with their typical colorful houses and churches, but also the rugged mountain scenery and the rivers with their countless waterfalls, make up what can be called one of the most important cultural and natural heritages on the planet.

Riding a motorcycle through this unique region offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to relive (to a certain extent) the experiences of the ancient bandeirantes, drovers, officers and other travelers that once roamed these parts.

In 18th century Brazil, there was only one legal way to transport goods, gold and diamonds, but also slaves, tools and other supplies, and that was via the Estrada Real. Opening new roads was considered a crime of lese-majesty, and there were severe punishments for smugglers.

The great importance of this road gave birth to countless towns and cities, some of which, like Ouro Preto or Diamantina, are today listed as World Heritage Sites.

Setting the historical stage:

Few people are aware of the fact that about 70 percent of the gold currently in use all over the world originated in Brazil.

Ouro Preto was the financial center of Brazil during the time of the Gold cycle

For Portugal, these gold deposits were a new and welcome source of income. During the 18th century, there was a big migration (call it a gold rush) from the North east (where the sugar plantations were hit hard by the competition of the Dutch) to the heart of Minas Gerais. Existing cities (like Ouro Preto, Diamantina, Mariana, Tiradentes and São João del Rei) knew rapid growth while numerous new cities emerged.Near the end of the 17th century, the early explorers (Bandeirantes) of Portugal’s new colony discovered gold in the region that would later be called Minas Gerais.

The Portuguese crown imposed heavy taxes, and severe penalties for those who weren’t able to pay, which gave rise to revolutionary groups like the “Inconfidência Mineira” led by Brazilian hero Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (also known as Tiradentes – or toothpuller), which formed the base of the independence of Brazil in 1822.

The Trip

In September 2011, Mirantes Mototravel Brazil set out with 4 riders and a support vehicle on the +/- 2.200 km trip (“Historical Trails & Cities”) along the two parts of the Estrada Real. The trip starts in Volta Redonda, down to Paraty from where we follow the “caminho Velho” (old road) north to Diamantina, and then back south to Rio de Janeiro via the “Caminho Novo” (new road)

Day 1: Volta Redonda – Passa Quatro

Headquarters of Mirantes Mototravel in Volta Redonda – Rio de Janeiro … Ready to hit the road.

We left Volta Redonda around 8.30 am, riding south and after about 20 minutes, the city was behind us and we found ourselves riding through the rural interior of the State of Rio de Janeiro with the Serra da Bocaina in the distance. The weather provisions were very good for the coming 10 days so with no rain to be expected any time soon, we were in good shape.

Once past Rio Claro, the BR155 starts to turn and twist its way up the Serra do Mar, and after a while we found ourselves surrounded by lush forest. The recently renewed, good quality asphalt enabled us to ride at a good pace. Only the steep curves in the mountains kept the speed down.

In Angra dos Reis, we took the BR101 (Rio Santos) direction Paraty, the historical 18th century port town from where the gold and diamonds were shipped to Rio de Janeiro.

Paraty was the most important port in Brazil, until the “caminho novo” was discovered. The new road to Rio de Janeiro reduced the travel time from Diamantina to Rio de Janeiro from three months to one, and also made the trip a lot safer because the last section y to Rio over sea was no longer necessary. Lots of shipments were lost to pirates in the period prior to the discovery of the “Caminho Novo”

On the BR155 leading to Angra dos Reis – rain forest in the serra do mar

We arrived in Paraty around noon and had our first lunch of the trip in “Ristorante O Sole Mio”, the only restaurant in Paraty that is run by a real Italian Chef.

Delicious Penne a l’arrabiata in “Ristorante O sole Mio”, near the historical center in Paraty

Since we were in the dry season this time, I assumed that the road would be in reasonably good condition, but we could already see the clouds hanging over the mountain, which didn’t promise a lot of good.We didn’t have a lot of time to hang around in Paraty, because we had one of the heaviest sections of the trip ahead of us. The ascent of the Serra do Mar to get to the city of Cunha. It is a steep, rocky and usually muddy climb from sea level to over 1500 m in just over 8 km. The two times I had already passed this road, both going up and down, I dropped my bike at least once.

I was especially worried about our Spanish participant, who was almost 70, and not very tall, riding a Honda Falcon, which we already lowered about 5 cm.

The initial part of the ascent was pretty ok, but once we hit an altitude of 500m, the mist set in and visibility dropped considerably. The mist was so thick that it felt like a drizzly rain, soaking us in no time.
Luckily, the mud was not nearly as bad as I saw the other times, and everybody made it to the top in one piece. About halfway up the ascent, we met a couple in a normal car riding down. The woman was driving. She stopped and I could see that she was kind of panicking, thinking that they were lost in the middle of nowhere.

Almost crying, she asked if this road was going to Paraty and if it would eventually turn into a “normal road”… I told her that she was on the correct road and already had the worst part behind her, which seemed to calm her down a bit. The guy next to her (Boyfriend, husband…?) didn’t look too happy either.

Top of the ascent from Paraty to Cunha. Still misty, but everybody made it in one piece and without dropping the bike. (photo: Alexandre Hernandez)

We filled our tanks in Cunha and continued along the BR459 to Guaratinguetá, where we took the BR116 direction east for about 30 km to reach the access to Passa Quatro, our goal for the day.Once on the top, the road was asphalted again and we continued to Cunha, descending back to about 1000m. Much to our relief, the mist subsided and the sun came out, drying our clothes very quickly.

Passa Quatro is a little town in the Serra da Mantiqueira that like many others was founded by the bandeirantes from São Paulo as a resting point during their expeditions into the interior of Brazil.

Today, Passa Quatro is starting to discover its potential as a destination for ecotourism.The natural riches in the region (native forest, rivers, caves, waterfalls…) offer many options for people looking for an adventurous vacation. The city also has various eclectic 19th century houses (casarões) of Portuguese and French origin.

Pousada São Rafael – Passa Quatro

We stayed in Pousada São Rafael in the center of the village. It was my first stay there and I must say I was very pleased. The rooms were perfect, and there is a really nice “living room”, tastefully decorated (inclusive a guitar that I just HAD to try out. :). The pousada also has a pool, which would be great in warmer periods of the year.

The good thing about not-yet-very-touristy places like Passa Quatro, is that they are still very authentic, but the other side is that on a Monday evening in low season there are not a lot of options to find something to eat.

We were told that most of the restaurants in Passa Quatro open only during the weekends, which is understandable, and the only place that we would find open was a small pizza place called “La Motta”.

The great thing about this place was that the chef prepared all the food right in front of us.

Chef preparing our food – Restaurante La Motta – Passa Quatro (photo: Alexandre Hernandez)

All in all it was a fantastic first day of our exploration of the Estrada Real.

Day 2: Passa Quatro – Prados (+/- 280 km)

Today we are headed for Prados, a small place about 25km from Tiradentes, one of the major attractions when it comes to historical cities…

I started the day with an early walk through a still sleepy Passa Quatro, because the day before, we arrived when it was already getting dark… which wouldn’t be the last time that happened…

I noticed a strong smell of something burning in the air and was asking myself whether this was such a healthy place after all. I couldn’t pinpoint where the smell came from, so when I returned to the pousada, I asked the guy at the reception. Turns out the smell was coming from the steam locomotive that they are still using around here…

The guy told me that the “Maria Fumaça” (that’s how most of the steam locomotives are called in Brazil) needed to be fired up early in the morning to heat up the water to produce steam… Made perfect sense to me.

After breakfast we rode down to the old train station to take a few pictures before really hitting the road.


The Maria Fumaça in Passa Quatro, going about it’s daily business. It’s a great sight out of the days of yorn (hope I spelled that correctly) but the smell of the burning cole hangs over the entire village center especially when it’s misty.


After some pictures of the steam train, it was off to Caxambu

We followed the MG158 north until the end, where it merges with the BR354 which goes all the way to Caxambu.

Like most typical back roads around these parts, the roads were very twisty and the asphalt of very decent quality. The only downside of twisties like these is, when you get stuck behind a truck, and oncoming traffic makes it dangerous to pass… When I’m alone I usually floor it and pass the truck in 2 seconds, but if there are 3 other riders and a land rover following, it’s better to take the safer approach…

After only one bathroom stop we reached Caxambu, which is especially famous for its 12 water springs, each with a different and unique medicinal quality… Caxambu was one of the favorite holiday spots of the Brazilian Imperial family. Especially Princess Isabel was counting on the forces of the water to help her get pregnant. The “Parque das Aguas”, which is the largest hydromineral complex in the world, is the main attraction in Caxambu… Besides that it is a charming little city with a few churches and other 19th century buildings.


Colorful horse drawn carts in front of the waterpark.

We had to press on if we wanted to get to our lunch destination, which was Carrancas. To get there, we had some 60km of dirt road ahead of us, and we were all looking forward to see the dusty side of the Estrada Real…


And dust we got… this is truly adventure riding at its best. I must add that for me it was pretty easy, riding in front…


And of course a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…


One of the Thousands of “totems” along the Estrada Real, indicating your approximate location


the serra da Carrancas is in sight…


The beautiful church in the center of Carrancas… You really have to be there to feel the peace and quiet of this place… The only real sound we heard there were the birds singing in the trees…

Carrancas is a very nice little rural town on the Estrada Real, principally living from agriculture, but eco tourism is growing here too… I liked the laid back athmosphere of this place a lot. 100 times better that the hectic situation in cities like Rio de Janeiro. I’m sure you could leave your wallet on top of your bike and nobody would touch it… Try that in Rio.


And then there’s the food… This is a PF (“Prato Feito”)… A full plate of food for 10R$. Meat or eggs are also included but are served separately. We all loved it


After lunch… a short nap.

We left Carrancas to the north and followed the road out of the Serra da Carrancas. After about 26 km, in Itutinga, we took a right on the BR265, direction São João del Rei and Tiradentes. Together with Ouro Preto, these two cities are probably the best known in touristic circles. They have a large patrimonium of beautifully preserved 18th century churches and other buildings.


The center of São João del Rei.. an example of preserved 18th century architecture, but very touristy.


The other side of the square…


São Francisco de Assis… The second most decorated church in Brazil. Its interior holds a treasure of sculptures of Brazilian artist Aleijadinho.


Between São João del Rei and Tiradentes: The first “Mark” (primeiro marco) of the Estrada Real…


Then it was on to Tiradentes… here my GPS kind of flipped and we lost some time driving around in circles…


Steep cobblestone roads and, here too, beautiful 18th century architecture… smaller than São João del Rei, but just as touristy.


We arrived in Prados when it was getting dark


You guessed it… another 17th century church… They all look the same, but they are not, trust me


Our place for the night… Pousada “Recanto da Guará”. Simple and pure.


there were a couple of these cabins, each with 2 rooms… Great place to wake up in. nothing but nature around and plenty space to park our wheels

PS: For day 2, I worked with more and larger pictures… Let me know what you prefer for the coming days…

Day 3: Prados – Caeté (+/- 240 km – 95 km unpaved)

Day 3 was going to be a day of dusty dirt roads. We made our entry into the heart of Minas Gerais and the “Serra do Espinhaço”, a 1000 km long mountain range that connects the mining region of Minas Gerais with the Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, which is another great place where once diamond mining was the top economical activity.

These Espinhaço (Spine) mountains are home to cities like Ouro Preto, Mariana and Diamantina, some of the most important historical cities in Brazil. The gold and diamond mines have long dried up, but these mountains are still a rich source of iron ore and manganese…

It was a chilly morning when we woke up in pousada “Recanto da Guará” in Prados. There were some clouds, keeping the sun from coming out, but the previsions said that it wouldn’t rain and so we were looking forward to another great riding day.

We started with a simple breakfast, prepared by the owner of the pousada, and after a long goodbye ceremony (the little daughter of the owner wanted to go with us) we took the road that would lead us to the BR383, which we had to follow north until it merged with the BR040.

After a few km on the 040, we took the MG-443 for about 3 km and then the fun was about to start… We entered the MG-030 and now we were back in the dirt roads.

This was a whole other kind of dirt road than the one to Carrancas. It looked like there had been some rain here, since the dirt was certainly not dry. I remembered seeing some lightning flashes the night before when we were in Prados, so probably this was where that thunderstorm had hit.


A short stop in the first part of the 95km of dirt roads of the day… here, the road is still large and used by lots of trucks…

The first 20 km or so, we encountered a lot of trucks, and that meant road works, or mining activities. The last time I was on the Estrada Real, I already had noticed that many of the dirt roads were in the process of being asphalted.

For me as a tour operator, that’s a negative thing, because I really like these dirt roads, and asphalting them takes away some of the authenticity of the Estrada Real. On the other hand I also think about the many people LIVING in these roads. For them, an asphalt road means faster and safer traffic, and not getting isolated during the rainy season… I guess you can never do good for everybody, but it would be sad to see all the dirt roads disappear.

Anyways… I don’t think they will be able to put aspalt on all the dirt roads for a while, so for now, we still have many kilometers of them and during the ride to Caeté we had to cover about 95 km of dirt and dust.


Dirt and dust indeed


What more do you need?

We passed several little places like Miguel Burnier and Amarantina, which all had this quiet, laid back feel to them. Most of the time however, it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves, and that is a pretty awesome feeling.


Still smiling


I really don’t remember what this was about… so don’t ask me…

At one point, we were at the summit of a mountain at +/- 1750m and the view there was something else. We took some pictures and fooled around for a while.


Sometimes we need to take time for some deep self reflexion…


Or to drink something… water of course… Where would we be without water?


Or to ruin a picture of a perfect landscape, by putting a few dirty bikes in front of it


Or only one bike…


If you think riding a motorcycle through here is hard, try building a bridge like that one…

José and me wandered off a little and we noticed this strange phenomenon. Part of the hillside was covered with these beautiful pinkish flowers that were not to be seen anywhere else around there.


The pink flowers were only on that patch of the hillside… There were no flowers like that anywhere else in sight, which I thought was kind of odd

Getting closer, it looked like the hillside had been burnt, and the flowers were growing on the burnt stomps of the brush that was growing there before. I took a closer look, but given the fact that I am far from being a biologist, it was very hard for me to see if the flowers were the actual flowers of the original plant, or parasites. I would really like to find out. If someone reading this has an idea, please let me know.


Anybody know these plants? Looks like the flowers emerged from the stomp of the burnt brush, but it can also be some kind of parasite… 

From there, the road started going down and, as we noticed, getting smaller and bumpier and harder to ride.

The dust, that up to now was pretty… well… normal, became finer and was in some places like a layer of almost liquid talcum-powder, making it very challenging to stay on two wheels sometimes, especially going downhill in steep curves.

Riding through this “talcum”, even at low speeds created an explosion of dust, which is a real PIA for the guy behind you, because he will have zero visibility for a while…

As we are all (ahum) expert riders, we managed to make it in one piece to Caeté around 3pm, just in time to grab a bite to eat in the only “kilo” restaurant in the center.


Our group riding into Caeté… finally…


Well, looks like Alex is happy…


Look mommy… no hands.


Look mommy… nobody

Alex and me went out to look for a place to stay and found a pousada (Adega Estoril) a little outside the center, where we could rest our weary bones for the night…

Day 4: Caeté to Diamantina… (345 km – all paved)

Yesterday it was a dustbath for most of us (the guide – me – who rides in the front doesn’t have that problem  ) and today will be the first “all asphalt” day of the trip…

We left Caeté after an early breakfast. the air was humid and there was a light drizzle, but we knew that there was no real rain forecast so it didn’t really bother us.

We took the MG-435 out of Caeté, riding north to connect with the BR-381, where we took a right, going east. After another 30 km, we turned left and took the MG-434 to Itabira.
From there it was on to Guanhães and Serro, where we stopped for lunch…


After getting out of Itabira, we stopped at this Lanchonete to have a quick bite and a “Caldo de Cana”

By the time we reached Serro, we had already done about 250 km, so we could take our time to have lunch… which we did.


Main street of Serro… Notice the chuch on top of the hill to the left.


Lunch in the historical center of Serro… At one point the wind blew a bunch of mannequin dolls (right side) to the ground. After lunch I took off without my backpack…

Serro is a city about 30 km south of Diamantina, founded in 1701. Once the administrative and juridical center of the region, today, the people of Serro make their living with cattle farming and production of the famous Serro cheese. The city is also starting to explore its potential for cultural and eco tourism. Lovers of the Brazilian 18th and 19th century architecture will find the historical center a nice place to explore. Various churches, chapels and houses that once belonged to noblemen make up a rich patrimony.

The last 90 km to Diamantina were “tranquilo” as well, and we arrived around 4pm. Well in time to freshen up and get ready to go out for dinner…


Almost military discipline… exact same distance between two riders


Headng for Diamantina…


The landscape in the Diamantinais area is very different than for example in the serras of Rio de Janeuro state. The terrain is a lot more rugged here


Our entrance in the city of Diamantina…


Pousada Castelinho… Our home for the coming two days.


And this is how we look in casual clothes. My friend Renata (on the left), who lives in Diamantina was so kind to show us around and take us to a great restaurant near the cathedral (Deguste dressing)

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.

8 days exploring Rio de Janeiro and surrounding states

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Riding a motorcycle through the gorgeous landscapes of Rio de Janeiro state is a great way to get a first taste of Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil’s smaller states, but has a lot to offer: There are five different serras, national parks, Atlantic rainforest, a marvelous coastline, charming small rural villages, and several historically important cities. Add to all this the diverse cultural and gastronomical riches and the charming and hospitable nature of the Brazilian people and you end up having an experience that will make you fall in love with Brazil and its people…

 Anyone looking for fun, sun, good rides, interesting culture, great food and a lot of mountain and coastal scenery will definitely find this an unforgettable adventure.

Day 1: Costa Verde

Leaving Volta Redonda, it takes only 15 minutes to find yourself riding through twisting back roads surrounded by nature. To get to the coast we take the Serra do Piloto, crossing the Serra do Mar, a 1500km mountain range stretching from Espirito Santo all the way down to Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil.

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Hitting the coast in Mangaratiba, a port/ fisherman’s village from where you can take boat trips to Ilha Grande, one of the more than 300 Islands in the Bay of Angra dos Reis, we continue our journey following the BR101 to the west. This road follows the coast and is considered one of the most scenic coastal roads of Brazil.

Our first stop of the day is Paraty, the colonial port town, from where in the 18th century gold and diamonds were shipped to Rio de Janeiro and from there to Portugal. Many of these gold transports were attacked by pirates, who had found a great hiding place on the aforementioned Ilha Grande. Due to it’s preserved colonial and imperial architecture, Paraty became a world heritage site in 2004.

After a brief visit to Paraty, we continue on the BR101 and stop to have lunch in Trindade, a small, laid back village with paradise-like beaches about 30 minutes from Paraty. After a tasty meal we start the last stretch to Itamambuca beach near Ubatuba.

The cobblestone streets of downtown Paraty, virtually unchanged since the 17th century. In 2004 this little colonial town became a world heritage site.

Day 2: Serra da Mantiqueira and Circuito das Aguas.

Having breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, surrounded by the Atlantic rainforest and with colorful birds all around is a great way to start a new day…

Our goal for today is the city of Caxambu, and after a delicious breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, we take off in the direction of Ubatuba and from there, head north and into the Serra do Mar once again. The road leading up into the mountains from Ubatuba is top quality asphalt with a few very tight hairpins. From up in the serra you have a great view of the Costa Verde.

After a twisty ride up the Serra do mar, you have a great view of Ubatuba and the Atlantic ocean

Next, it’s on to Campos Do Jordão. Brazil’s highest located city (1630m) and also referred to as “Brazilian Switzerland”. The city’s architecture is mainly Swiss, German or Italian inspired. We visit the local Artisan brewery (Baden Baden) , which brews 7 different beers, based on old German recipes. We are also offered a taste sample of the different beers, but we have to pass on that, because we still have a long way to go and Brazil has a Zero Tolerance policy towards alcohol and driving.

The entrance to Campos do Jordão, also known as Brazilian switzerland. Founded by Swiss settlers and with its elevation of 1640 m, the highest city in Brazil.

After leaving Campos do Jordão, we headed further north, taking the first real dirt road of the trip, a +/- 30km stretch to Piranguçu.

The first part of the road leads through the Environmental protection area of the Serra da Mantiqueira and offers some great views of the surrounding mountains. The rest of the way to Caxambu is all twisting back roads of good quality asphalt, but unfortunately for us, it started raining during our descent from Campos do Jordão and by the time we reached Caxambu we were drenched to the bone.

The bad weather prevented us to to see a lot of the town, which is famous for its twelve mineral water sources, each with its unique medicinal qualities.

We checked into a pousada in the center of Baependi, some five kilometers from Caxambu. and spent most of the evening trying to get our clothes dry for the next day.

Day 3: Montanhas Mágicas and Vale do Café

Overcast and drizzly during our trip through the “Montanhas Mágicas”

Today our trip will take us through an area known as the “região das montanhas mágicas” or the “region of the magic mountains”, to get to our destination. This area is known for its many waterfalls, native forest, hiking trails, colorful birds and other wildlife(Locals told us that there are even onças – leopards – roaming this area) which offers lots of possibilities for the practice of eco-tourism and all kinds of outdoor sports. Hiking, rafting, mountain biking, rappelling… it’s all possible here.

We leave Baependi around 8 Am in a light drizzle. Our clothes are still damp from yesterday’s downpour, but that is part of motorcycling. We know that when the sun comes out, we will be dry in no time…

On our way to Fazenda Santa Clara… Still drizzling

Heading south, we pass through the small villages of Liberdade and Bocaina de Minas. From there further on to Passa Vinte and Santa Rita de Jacutinga, where we stop for lunch. By then we are already starting to look pretty muddy, but the ride so far was great.This area has very few asphalt roads, so for most of the day we take to the dirt roads. The constant drizzle makes the roads slippery, but not to the point that we cannot ride them.

After lunch, we move on, and some 25 km from Santa Rita de Jacutinga, we visit Fazenda Santa Clara, a beautiful 18th century farm that made quite a name for itself by reproducing slaves instead of coffee or sugar-cane. Halfway the 18th century it became illegal to import African slaves, so farms like these kept the slave market alive.

Today you can visit the fazenda and see the place where the slaves used to be kept and the “tools” they used to keep them obedient. The main house is quite impressive, and, besides a huge kitchen and a chapel, it has 52 rooms and 12 salons. The fazenda and its beautiful surroundings were also used as a stage for a number of famous Brazilian novelas (Soap series)

18th century Fazenda Santa Clara – instead of coffee or livestock, this place produced slaves.

Next, we pass through the Serra da Beleza, an area that attracts many UFO spottersfrom all over the world and make our way to Conservatória, a very musical place, as the name suggests, also known as “a capital mundial da seresta” or “world capital of serenades”. Every Friday evening, guitar players roam the streets, playing their serenades and filling the air with melancholic music and songs of love and broken hearts.

the road to Santa Rita de Jacutinga was very muddy, and on our way to Fazenda Santa Clara there was more mud… It’s all part of the great thing that is motorcycling

As a result of the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, coffee production collapsed and many of the former coffee farms (fazendas) became cattle farms or were converted into museums or guesthouses (pousadas).We leave the magic mountains and the Serra da Beleza behind us and continue on our way to Miguel Pereira, located in the region called “Vale do Café”. This is the valley of the Paraiba do Sul River. In the 19th century, 75% of the world’s coffee consumption was produced in this region.

Day 4: Serra dos Órgãos

Leaving Miguel Pereira, and the Vale do Café, we start climbing again. Today we will cross the Serra dos Órgaos, located some 50km north of Rio de Janeiro.

Petrópolis, the imperial city of Brazil: In Brazil’s Imperial period (1822 – 1889), Pedro I, Brazil’s first emperor fell in love with this area after visiting it and decided he would have a palace built to spend the hot summer months. With the help of a small army of German immigrants, he started building what is now the Imperial city of Petrópolis. His plans were continued by his son Pedro II.

A number of famous people used to live in Petrópolis, one of which is inventor Alberto Santos Dumont, the “father of aviation”. His house, besides the cathedral and the beautiful Imperial Museum, is one of the touristic attractions of Petrópolis.

The cathedral in Petrópolis – Last resting place of Dom Pedro II (the last emperor of Brazil) and his family

From Teresópolis, it is about 60 km more to Nova Friburgo, another city founded by Swiss settlers and today the “capital of lingerie” of Brazil.The city was struck severely by a flash flood an mudslides in January 2011, one month after we visited it.After doing a small city tour in Petrópolis, we take the twisty road through the National park of the Serra dos Órgãos and move on to Teresópolis, the sister city of Petrópolis, named after the empress Teresa Cristina, wife of Dom Pedro II. Teresópolis is famous and loved amongst rock climbers.One of the most famous rock formations of the Serra dos Orgãos is the “Dedo de Deus” or “finger of God”, which on clear days can be seen from Rio de Janeiro.

The flood was caused by one month’s worth of rain in 24 hours,  and came down upon the city and surrounding area’s during the night, destroying hundreds of houses, killing over 800 people, and leaving thousands homeless.  The cities of Petrópolis and Teresópolis suffered considerable damages and losses of lives too, but the area around Nova Friburgo was hit the worst. (read also: Região Serrana,- one year after the deluge).

By now, the city seems to have recovered a bit, but there are still thousands  of people living in tent camps, and traces of the land slides are still visible in the mountain slopes around the city, as a reminder of the biggest disaster of this kind in the history of Brazil.

Our final destination, Lumiar is a district of Nova Friburgo and a place of exceptional natural beauty, especially attractive for people who love Eco-tourism.

Enjoying the view in the National Park of the Serra dos Órgãos, on the way to Teresópolis.

View of the city of Nova Friburgo, founded by Swiss immigrants on the run for Napoleon Bonaparte. Notice the European inspired architecture.

Day 5: Costa do Sol and Búzios

The area around Lumiar early in the morning. If only a picture could show smells and sounds

Today we leave the mountains and head back to the coast, taking the BR142 (also referred to as “Serra-Mar” or connection between the mountains and the ocean…), which starts in Nova Friburgo and is one of the best 60 km of twisting roads I have seen so far during my trips through Brazil.

The BR142 connects to the BR101 in Casimiro de Abreu, which we exit again after about 15 km to take the road to Rio das Ostras.

In Rio das Ostras we start following the coastal road, heading for Búzios, probably the most famous vacation destination of the state of Rio de Janeiro. As so many (rich) foreigners decided to make Búzios their new home, this fabulous peninsula is also known as “Gringo Paradise”. Unfortunately because of the many “gringo’s”, Búzios is significantly more expensive than the average beach location and not really suited for travelers on a budget (like myself).

Riding through one of the small coastal communities on the way to Búzios

The small village soon became the “place to be” for many European Jet Setters, and until today, Búzios still has some the flair one can also find on the French Riviera…Búzios actually used to be a pretty insignificant fisherman’s village, until world-famous French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered the place in the sixties.

One of the major attractions on the peninsula, apart from it’s numerous fabulous beaches, is the bronze statue of Brigitte Bardot on the principal beachfront boulevard…

Here are a few more pictures we took during our tour of Búzios:

Praia da Ferradurinha in the distance

Praia do Forno

The statue of Brigitte Bardot, who discovered this paradise peninsula, looking out over the bay..

We get back on the road and head for Arraial do Cabo, our place for the night. Arraial do Cabo is famous for being one of the best scuba diving spots in Brazil, or even in the world, thanks to the abundance of marine life in the relatively cold ocean water, which in turn is a result of the natural phenomenon called “resurgence“. Cold, nutrient rich water coming from the South rises to the surface and attracts a wide variety of marine life.

Day 6: Região dos Lagos and Rio de Janeiro

Riding through the dunes near Arraial do Cabo… Great fun!!

We keep riding as close to the ocean as possible, taking the RJ102, passing the 25 km long Araruama lagoon, eventually having to go north and connect to the BR106, which will take us to Rio de Janeiro, but not before crossing another Serra: the “Serra do Mato Grosso“, yet another region that attracts many eco-tourists and outdoor sports enthusiasts.Today, we travel through the “Região dos Lagos” heading for probably the most famous city in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, “a Cidade Maravilhosa”:  To get there from Arraial do Cabo, we first take a dirt road through the dunes, which is a totally different experience from all the other dirt roads so far. Here the terrain is sandy and soft, with few obstacles, and so pretty easy and a lot of fun to ride.

Stop for an Açaí: full of vitamins and energy and very tasty

To get to Rio de Janeiro from Niterói, we cross the “Ponte Rio – Niterói” a 16km long bridge over Guanabara Bay and arrive in Rio’s port area, which is currently receiving lots of attention and investments from the city, to make it more attractive for people to live, after decades of neglect.As expected, the closer we got to Rio de Janeiro, the more traffic, and the more attention to the road is needed. Before reaching Rio de Janeiro, we pass through Niterói, located on the east side of the Guanabara Bay. Niterói is the third most visited city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It was once the State capital, but had to leave that title to Petrópolis in 1903 and later to Rio de Janeiro.

We make our way to the famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, and pass a number of important places like Praça XIX, Cidade do Samba, Morro da Providência (Rio’s oldest favela)… After cruising along the beaches, it’s time to look up our hotel for the night and freshen up for a walk around Lapa, Rio’s most famous nightlife quarter… after all it’s Saturday night…

Crossing the 16 km long Bridge over Guanabara Bay to get to Rio de Janeiro.

Finally… The beaches of Rio de Janeiro… here’s Ipanema. Further in the background: Copacabana.

The famous Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açucar) towering over Copacabana’s beach front hotels…

Day 7 : Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Today we set out to get to know Rio de Janeiro a little better. There are lots of possibilities: Take a tour of the historic center, visit Sugar loaf, Christ the redeemer, Maracana Stadium, hang out on the beach or visit Rocinha, the biggest favela in south America…

We toured arond the city and took lots of pictures. I know that pictures say a lot more than words, so I’m just going to shut up now and let you enjoy the views…

The view from our hostel in Santa Teresa, one of the neighborhoods near the historic and cultural centre of Lapa…

Fundição Progresso: a former factory of kitchen stoves and bank vaults… currently a concert and events hall.

The famous former aquaduct “Arcos da Lapa”. Built in the 18th century to bring the water of the Rio Carioca to the center of Rio de Janeiro. Today there’s a trolley riding on top of the arcs…

Rio Graffiti…

Cathedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião – Rio’s modern cathedral.

The sambódromo, where every year the Carnival defilés take place…

On the way to the top of Sugar Loaf

Rio de Janeiro as seen from the top of Sugar Loaf

Capoeira in the city…

View from Rocinha: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and on the mountain top just left from the middle: Christ the Redeemer.

Hope you enjoyed this… we sure did.

After this fantastic day of sightseeing, it was time to return to our hostel for a last night in Rio… Get some sleep for the last riding day back to Volta Redonda…

Day 8 : Back home to Volta Redonda …

We leave Rio de Janeiro after a relaxed breakfast around 10am. The plan is, to stay as close to the coast as possible to enjoy the ocean views as long as possible… Before leaving the city we visit a last attraction: the hanggliding ramp in São Conrado. From there you have another wonderful view of the west side of Rio de Janeiro.

São Conrado, one of the “richer” neighborhoods of Rio de janeiro, as seen from the Hanggliding ramp…

From the hanggliding ramp, a 30 minute walk through the forest takes you to the top of Pedra Bonita, from where you have this fabulous view of the Tijuca forest, the biggest man planted urban forest in the world.

A last view of the Atlantic Ocean before heading inland

THE END

Thanks for sticking with me and reading it all the way. I hope that I succeeded in giving you an idea of what Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil for that matter, have to offer someone who wants to explore the country on a motorcycle… If you are interested in doing this tour with us, check out the details and book your own motorcycle adventure on our website.

4×4 trip crossing the Chapada Diamantina national park – Bahia, Brazil

On day 8 of my trip through the Chapada Diamantina, I had spent the night in Mucugé, a small village on the south side of the Chapada, and I was planning to make a counterclockwise tour around the park, visiting Igatú, passing through Lençois and finding a place to stay in Conceição dos Gatos, a small village on the north-east side of the park.

Knowing that I had only about 130 km to go that day, I had taken my time for having breakfast and left Mucugé; around 9.00 am, direction Igatú, my first goal for the day.

A few kilometers out of Mucugé, I noticed a sign of a diamond museum and decided to take a look. The museum, called “casa do diamante”, is located in a former house/workshop of a “garimpeiro” (diamond miner). the museum holds a fine collection of machines and tools that were used during the period when the diamond industry was blooming here (18th – 19th century).

Machines to process diamonds and other tools at the “Casa do Diamante”

I always thought that there are no volcanoes in Brazil, but given the fact that diamonds are formed inside volcanoes -so I’ve been told- and then spit out during eruptions, I gues I have to let go of that idea. Looking around in the Chapada Diamantina, they must have had one bad ass volcano around here once upon a time.

The steep dirt and cobblestone road leading to Igatu

Igatú is a small former diamond mining village, that only recently started to develop its touristic potential. It’s said to be the most peaceful place of the Chapada.

I spent some time walking around in Igatú, which, according to the tourist guides, is the most peaceful village of the Chapada. To get there it’s a 6 km dirt and cobblestone road that becomes pretty heavy towards the end. I’m glad to have a 4×4, but it keeps amazing me how the Brazilian people seem to go just about anywhere in their regular city cars.

Igatú is as quiet as the guides said, I walked around in the village and bought a few small souvenirs. I was starting to get hungry so I went to look for something to eat. There was not a lot of choice, since there was only one restaurant open. The restaurant had only 4 tables, and was run by a kind black lady called Maria. I only had to tell her that I was a vegetarian for her to disappear in the kitchen and reappear 15 minutes later with a big plate of rice, beans, tapioca puree and a raw vegetable mix… perfect! It was very tasty and in the end I only paid 12R$ (about 5 Euros).

Since there were no other customers, Maria joined me in the dining room and started telling me about the history of Igatú. She told me that the village currently has +/- 375 inhabitants, but that there used to be over 8000 in the diamond era. After the diamonds ran out, the population fell back to about 100. It’s been only 10 years since the village had been discovered by tourism.

the road leading out of Igatú to the north isn’t a lot better than the one I took to get there…

My next goal was Lençois, the main city of the Chapada Diamantina. the shortest route to get there, according to my GPS, was a 4×4 track leading straight through the Chapada Diamantina National Park and since I was driving a Land Rover Defender, I didn’t even think twice about taking that route.Little did I know then, that I was about to spend the night in the park…

Crossing a dry river bed near Andarai…

Initially, the 4×4 trail was pretty easy to ride. I had to clear one tree that was hanging too low over the road at one point, but that’s why this car has a axe attached to it, right? 

Here’s the tree that I had to cut away… It would have destroyed the lights on the roof.

Gradually, the road became worse, but nothing too difficult. A regular car wouldn’t be able to continue though.

Then I reached a point where the road seemed to end at a river bank, but looking ahead, I could see that I would have to cross the river, twice, since it made a wide curve, with a patch of really deep sand inbetween the two crossings.

The water was about 1m deep, so before entering, I had to move a few things inside the car to higher locations, to prevent them from getting wet. The river bank was prety steep, so going into the water was easy. Coming out on the other side in the deep sand was not, and I felt that the car was getting stuck.

I got out and started digging in front of the wheels to get to firm ground and after trying a few times, I was able to get across the patch of sand, and reach the second crossing of the river.

I noticed that the bank on the other side, also consisting of loose sand, was quite a bit steeper than the first one, and that didn’t give me a good feeling. There was no other option than to try, so I put the car in gear and entered the water. I managed to get through the water, but as soon as the front wheels reached the loose sand of the opposite bank, things started to get difficult, and the tires started to dig deeper and deeper in the sand until the car was totally grounded. this time I was REALLY STUCK

River Crossing 2 - Chapada Diamantina - Bahia - Brazil

Second crossing… This time the car dug itself in completely… It took a lot of digging – with the unexpected help of 3 guardian Angels – and eventually some creativity with the winch to get the car out of this one… and then the battery died.

I started digging again, thinking that I would probably have to put up my tent and spend the night there, when suddenly two guys appeared out of nowhere. They were black, in their twenties and their clothes looked kind of shaggy. They didn’t look dangerous at first sight, but moments like these are always a little tense. You don’t know these guys and you’re all alone in the middle of a forest. If they are the bad kind of people, you could be in for a lot of trouble.

As usual, these guys were nothing but curious about what was happening. Apparently I had passed their house, but because of the dense forest, I didn’t even notice it. There was even a pousada nearby, owned by the parents of one of them, and they were taking care of it while the parents were gone for a few days.

From left to right: Domingos, Tiago (who charged my battery) and Rodrigo. I wouldn’t have gotten the car out of the sand without them. thanks guys!

Both of them started to help digging out the car (with their hands) but after a few attempts it was clear that I needed another strategy… I have a winch on the Land Rover, but the problem was that there was this totally empty space in front of the car and nothing to hook the cable on to. So I had the idea of cutting a tree and putting it into the ground 20m in front of the car to have a fixed point. 30 minutes later we had everything set up and with the first attempt, the car was free. (hallelujah). I noticed that the cable of the winch was rolled up very messy and was also full of sand, so I decided to roll it off again and roll up nicely. Thing is, I made the stupid mistake of doing this with the engine of the car turned off, and by the time the cable was rolled up again, the battery was completely drained. At that point it was clear to me that this was as far as I would get that day. My new friends made a call to another guy in Andaraí. this guy came all the way down with his 125cc motorbike, took my battery back to Andaraí to charge and was back at 7.00Am the next day.

I spent the night in the pousada, which was only a few hundred meters from where I got stranded. Rodrigo and Domingos made dinner on a old fashioned “Forno de Lenha” which was basic but it tasted delicious. The pousada itself was very basic as well. No glass windows, but only wooden shutters, lots of dogs, chickens and other animals running around… A perfect place for someone who wants to experienece the simple, rural lifestyle of the people of the Chapada, rather than staying at a luxurious pousada.

“Pousada Roncador”, named after the waterfall nearby. A very simple place in the middle of the jungle.

Before going to bed, I had a long conversation with Rodrigo, who turned out to be only 17, talking with great respect for his parents and full of big plans for the future (get a college degree, travel the world…), despite his not so fortunate social situation. I sure hope he may succeed…