Rio de Janeiro to Buzios and back – Motorcycle weekend

Nearly deserted place between Arraial do Cabo and Ponta Negra where we had a Guara-Viton

 

Buzios, Cabo Frio , Saquarema, Arraial do Cabo… places where people from Rio de Janeiro like to go to spend weekends or holidays. My friend Osman, a British/Turkish expat and fellow motorcyclist had been waiting for a long time to try out his Husqvarna 610 and we decided to head out on a weekend trip.Our goal for this trip would be the area east of Rio de Janeiro, also known as “Região dos Lagos” (Region of the lakes). Osman is also an avid diver and wanted to check out some of the diving shops in Arraial do Cabo.

Day 1: Rio de Janeiro – Búzios – Arraial do Cabo

We met on a sunny Saturday morning around 7 am at “posto 9” in Ipanema and since there was almost no traffic we decided to take a small city tour and stop at a few famous spots in Rio de Janeiro before leaving the city.

First stop: Cinelândia with the Teatro Municipal

Second stop: Praia Vermelha and Sugar Loaf

After a brief moment and taking pictures at Cinelândia and Praia Vermelha we set course for the Rio – Niterói bridge, the 13 km long bridge over Guanabara bay, connecting Rio de Janeiro with its sister city Niterói.

In Niterói we took the coastal road because I wanted to take Osman to one of the forts that used to guard the entrance of the bay. I also knew from an earlier trip in 2009 that there was a connection from the fort to the Piratininga lagoon, but when we arrived at the army base, the guard told us that it was no longer possible to get permission to drive through the barracks to Piratininga because the whole area was now only accessible for military personnel.

On the way to the fort we passed the famous MAC museum (museum of contemporary arts), one of Oscar Niemeyer’s creations in Niterói.

The MAC museum in Niterói

We could not take the coastal road to Piratininga so we headed for the “old” main road leading east (the RJ-106) and actually found ourselves a decent section of dirt road before reaching it. Before continuing the long asphalt section to the região dos Lagos, we stopped at an Açaí place and had breakfast.

Most people heading for the Região dos  lagos out of Rio de Janeiro would opt for the BR-101, which is a national highway following the Brazilian coast from the north to the south, but the RJ-106 (a state road), whis is a two-lane road, has less heavy traffic, better scenery and NO pedagio (toll). Ok, here and there the tar could be in better  condition, but for the kind of trip we were on, this was definitely the better choice.

Osman – probably as happy as a pig in shit – on his Husqvarna 610 heading east. The mountains of Rio Bonito already in sight.

After about 2 hours we reached Araruama, and its big lagoon. The lagoon stretches 30 km from east to west and is 12 km wide at its widest point.

Brief photo stop at the Araruama lagoon

From Araruama it was another 60 km to Buzios, where we had lunch at the Buda Beach restaurant, which has great reviews on Tripadvisor.

A great view over the water while having lunch is always a bonus. I think the restaurant included that in their prices 🙂

After lunch we went for a tour around the peninsula. Búzios, also known as “Gringo Paradise, has over 20 different beaches and some awesome viewpoints. We stopped at a few beaches and even did some off-roading to reach one of the more remote viewpoints.

One of the many beaches in Búzios.

 

Off road in Búzios: on the way down from an elevated view point. The rain creates some tricky ruts here and there.

Day 2: Arraial do Cabo – Rio de JaneiroAfter circling the peninsula, we needed to get a move on if we wanted to make it to Arraial do Cabo before dark. The sun sets early in this part of the world. Osman had the name and address of one of the diving shops (PL-divers) and after some looking we found the place. The same people also run a pousada connected to the diving shop, and it had a closed parking for the bikes, so we felt very lucky. The pousada (pousada Suia) was very clean, had good beds and a decent breakfast. Good price – quality.

After a good night’s rest and a tasty breakfast, it was time to load up the bikes and head back to Rio de Janeiro. We were planning on checking out some 4×4 trails that I had never ridden before, and there was a real risk that the road would end somewhere in the middle of nowhere or hit a deep river, forcing us to trackback several kilometers. We wanted to be in Rio before dark so there was no time to loose.

A few km outside of Arraial do Cabo we entered the dunes. This road was familiar to me, but after about 4 km, we took a sidetrack that would take us straight on the beach and that would be the unknown part.

The sidetrack started out pretty firm, but it didn’t take long before the bike started to float from left to right and before long we were looking at a 200m wide white beach. This was what we came here for, so we hit the sand and sure enough the bikes (the riders too) had to work hard to even ride through the loose sand. It was a matter of keep going or get stuck.

Both of us made it through, and once we got closer to the water, the sand was a lot better to ride and for a moment we had a little piece of heaven on earth…


Osman and his Husqvarna on the beach. It doesn’t get a lot better than this.

This beach goes on for 40 km, but we didn’t do the whole distance because riding in this sand, the bikes use a  lot of gas and we weren’t planning on running dry before reaching a gas station.  This meant that at one point we had to get OFF of the beach, which was harder than getting on it, because now we had to ride up through the sand instead of down…

Me on the beach… perfect weather conditions and awesome scenery. What more can a person ask for?

Here’s me trying to get off the beach… riding up… got a lot of sand in my shoes here 🙂

We got off the beach without too much trouble, and circled around, taking a small aspalt road that took us into Saquarema, where we took gas. From there, it was another 60 km, which was about 50/50 asphalt and dirt of the good kind. At Ponta Negra we rode up to the lighthouse, which was another great viewpoint.

The closer we came to Niterói, the beaches gradually became more crowded, until we had to make our way between cars, bikes, bicycles, quads, buggies and pedestrians who were enjoying their Sunday afternoon on the beach.

The dirt road leading from Marica to Itaipuaçú… here we could still open the throttle.

Military police patrolling and keeping a watchful eye. Note the barrel sticking out of the window…

One more section of loose sand before getting back on the asphalt. This is hard labor people 🙂

This concludes the last dirt section of the trip. From here it’s all asphalt back into Rio de Janeiro. But first we had to get over that hill in the background.

In conclusion, here’s our route.

I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Note: This route can also be done with a normal car, except for the beach part in Arraial do Cabo (you can do the 6 km through the dunes though) and the last section of loose sand in Itaipuaçu. even with a 4×4 vehicle, you would have to get on the asphalt sooner than we did because at the end of the beach road in Itaipuaçú there’s only a small bridge over the canal, and cars cannot go there… notice there are no cars in the last picture. that would be your hint that you’re too far. (that is if you would make it through the soft sand :))

Cheers

Spotting Carcará Eagles in the Serra da Mantiqueira preserve – Rio de Janeiro

On the way back from an attempt to hike up the Pedra Selada in the Serra da Mantiqueira and ended up spotting a couple of Carcará eagles.

one of the dirt roads winding through the Serra da Mantiqueira preserve

It looked like it would be a sunny day, and we set out from Volta Redonda around 10.30 and by 11.00 we were already riding through the foothills of the Mantiqueira mountains. When we got to the place where the trail starts, it was totally deserted and that was strange, considering that it was a Saturday in the touristic high season in Brazil. We figured that most people probably were afraid that it would rain. About 1 km into the trail it became clear why there was nobody else there. The trail was totally washed away by a landslide and getting up there would be a challenge that I would have gladly taken on by myself, but I saw in the look on my partner’s face that this hiking trip was ending right there. Disappointed, we went down again, and decided to take the rest of the afternoon to ride a loop through the area and enjoy some of the peace and quiet. At one point, we saw two Carcará eagles on the road, enjoying a meal of some kind. Of course the birds took off when we got too close, but landed in a pine tree nearby, giving me an opportunity to shoot some pictures. [tribulant_slideshow post_id=”24208″]

See the eagles in the pine trees?

A little closer: not one but two Carcará eagles, which is quite rare

And a close up. These are really impressive birds

The Carcará’s meal: an ubfortunate black eared possum (Gambá de orelho preto)

Hope you enjoyed this (i know the last picture wasn’t very tasteful, but that also is part of nature, right?)

9 day Motorcycle trip on the Estrada Real – Part 2 (days 5 to 9)

This is Part two of a longer post. Go to Part 1 (days 1 to 4)

Day 5: Exploring the area around Diamantina

Today we’re taking a day to see a little more of the region around Diamantina. The guy who does the night watch in our pousada turned out to be a guide as well and he was more than happy to show us around, see a few of the waterfalls and the little village of Biribiri, tucked away in the rugged hills north of Diamantina. After breakfast we took off, five of us in the Land Rover and Alex and me on our bikes…

First stop was the 5m high, concrete, illuminated cross on top of one of the hills (alto da serra) around the city, from where you have a great view over the entire city…

The view from the hill is quite cool… 
The other side wasn’t so bad either…

Looks like everybody was so busy taking pictures of the surrounding views, that we ended up with no picture of the cross itself 

After taking in the views, we went on to the “Caminho dos escravos”, a 9 km long road, paved with big stones, constructed in the first half of the 19th century by slaves. This road connected the fazendas and the diamond mines. Today it is used to do ecological hikes.


On the “caminho dos escravos”… Imagining how hard it must have been for the people who once constructed this road…

Biribiri was next on the list…
It is a small village, about 12 km north of Diamantina, founded in the 19th century near a cloth factory, to house the people that worked there. The factory isn’t working anymore and most of the people left. Only two families remain.

Located in a evnvironmental protection area (Parque ambiental de Biribiri), the small village is an oasis of peace and tranquility and definitely worth a visit. It was very nice meeting Antonio, a local descendant from a slave family, who was very gifted at telling the history of the place.

While we were having lunch in the only restaurant, there was a guy playing violin under a tree at a small distance from us… imagine the atmosphere of the place.

After entering the Biribiri park, where our license plates were registered, we had some 12 km of dirt road ahead to get to Biribiri, and along the way we had the chance to visit two waterfalls…


Cachoeira da sentinela… obviously with a small flow of water due to the dry time of the year…


…which didn’t stop Alex from taking a plunge 


Moving on to the next cachoeira…


An old bridge, leading to the cachoeira das cristais…
Cachoeira das Cristais…
And finally the village of Biribiri… Oasis of peace and tranquility.
We went for another hike to see yet another waterfall, called “escorregador” wich means “slide”
The river bed leading to Biribiri…
Lunch in Biribiri…

After having lunch in the village, we continued our exploration, visiting one more waterfall, and went back to the pousada, where our hostess Beatrice welcomed us with a delicious table full of minas gerais delicacies… no extra charge. I must say our stay at pousada Castelinho was delightful and Beatrice and her staff did everything to make us feel at home… The pousada has a main house and 4 cabins (chalets) but I do recommend to stay at the main house, which is a little more expensive but you feel much more part of the family, which is what pousadas are all about.

Our last night in Diamantina, we went down to the historical center and visited the Museu da diamante and the house of Chica da Silva, which was a very famous figure in Diamantina. A freed slave woman, and very beautiful, she had a relationship with the richest man in Diamantina for about 15 years. The house holds paintings of her, depicting the deadly sins…

After a walk in the historical center, we went to the old market place to get some dinner, and Alex discovered that there was a Vesperata going on… the vesperata is one of Diamantina’s attractions: a open air concert in the middle of the historical center. The orchestra’s musicians are posted in the first floor windows around the square, creating the perfect surround experience…


Unexpectedly, we were able to witness the famous Vesperata in the historic center of Diamantina…

Our Spanish friend José was very happy to be able to witness the Vesperata, because as a matter of fact, I called the day before we arrived in Diamantina, and was told that there wouldn’t be any Vesperata that weekend…

Diamantina was the Norternmost point of our trip, and tomorrow we start riding south again, tracing the “Caminho do Diamante” of the Estrada Real… More dust ahead

Day 6: Diamantina – Conceição do Mato Dentro (+/- 130 km)

Day 6 is about getting to Conceição do Mato Dentro, a small city about 130km south of Diamantina. Despite its size, it has managed to earn the title of “Ecotourism capital of Minas Gerais.To get there we would have to ride the authentic Estrada Real, which in this area is mainly dirt roads and means more dust ahead.Since it was a relatively short riding day, we wanted to get to our destination around noon, to have some time left to go hiking to the highest waterfall in Minas Gerais: the “Tabuleiro” waterfall.The first leg was from Diamantina to Serro, the city where we had lunch 2 days earlier. After that we would pass Alvorado de Minas and a few other small places. Most of the roads would be dirt roads, but, like I mentioned before in this report, here and there we saw the signs that more and more roads are being asphalted.


The road from Diamantina to Serro…

When I passed here in August 2010, this was still an authentic dirt road. As you can see, the nxt time we will pass here it will be a new, good quality asphalt road.


Arriving in Conceição do Mato Dentro…


Taking gas…


We arrived in Conceição do Mato Dentro around lunch time, so we found this typical “mineiro” restaurant…


Another table shot.


The riding was over, but we weren’t done for the day. Our pousada was located close to the entrance of the “Parque Estadual Serra do Intendente”, where we could do a hike to the Cachoeira do Tabuleiro. It was not the easiest of hikes, with a very steep and at times slippery section to get down to the river that leads up to the waterfall.


The waterfall in the distance… As expected, here also, there was a ridiculously small amount of water. In the rainy season, it looks like this:


I need to come back when the fall looks like this… must be awesome to rappel off of this one.


Once down at the river, it’s another few kms to the 18m deep “poço” (pont) at the foot of the fall…


No way to ride a bike here… Any bike


As I said… Ridiculously small amount of water… The almost 300m high wall was an impressive sight though. Alex, Maryel and myself went in for a swim (that usually was just a few seconds, due to the low temperature of the water :)).


After our hike, a well deserved relaxing moment at the pousada.

Day 7: Conceição do Mato Dentro – Ouro Preto (250 km – 140 km unpaved)

Today we ride to Ouro Preto, the city that was once called “Vila Rica” (Rich city) due to the fact that it was the place where all the taxes were collected. The gold and diamonds, coming from the north (Diamantina), but also from the surrounding area, had to pass through Ouro Preto in order to be melted and converted into bars that carried the seal of the Portuguese Court.

A tax of 20% (um Quinta – one fifth) of all the gold that passed here was taken and went straight to the Royal family.

Apart from the “Quinta” there was a fixed tax (+/- 1000 kg of gold) for the posession of a mine. Once the mines started to run dry, the owners of the mines were no longer able to pay these taxes and most of them lost their posessions. Around that time, Brazil was being kept kind of a secret to the rest of the world, but on the other hand, the sons of the richest land owners in Brazil were sent to Portugal to study, and that is where they learned about how things were changing, especially in France and the United States.

Many of them returned after their studies with ideas of an independent Brazil, and that is how Minas Gerais became the center of a movement for the independency of Brazil.


Here too, many roadworks to eventually put a layer of asphalt on the dirt roads…


Sometimes, passing these sections was a bit of a challenge… Seriously, it was harder than it seems in the picture…


Places like this, where you can fill your water bottle next to a small chapel are likely to disappear or at least lose some oif their charm…


This farmer will have a harder time taking his animals from one place to another when more cars will pas here at higher speeds…


For the time being, there are still lots of roads with beautiful viewpoints.


There used to be a bridge here, but it was burnt, The jeep would never be able to pass here, forcing us to make a detour, discovering a few great 4×4 roads…


Here, we were getting close to Itambé do mato dentro.


We finally arrived in Mariana, another historical city, about 15 km east of Ouro Preto.


It was Sunday, and the central square was the scene of a lot of musical activity…


And then there was Ouro Preto… Enjoy the following pictures of this beautiful city… This building is the Museu da inconfidência. The “inconfidência Mineira” was the movement, led by “Tiradentes” for the independence of Brazil.


Praça Tiradentes… With the statue of the Brazilian hero


One of the many beautifully decorated churches.


Another Church..


And another…


Steep cobblestone roads… And another church…


A small Artisan market, principally selling soapstone artifacts…

Day 8: Ouro Preto – Ibitipoca (+/- 250 km)

Today’s ride is going to be a breeze… only 250 km and only the last 20 km will be unpaved…
Leaving Ouro Preto, we stopped at the local artisan market, where they sell primarily artifacts in soapstone… It opens at 7.00 am, which I thought was pretty unusual … Anyways.

From Ouro Preto, we made our way up to the BR040, which is known to be a dangerous road, due to the sometimes poor condition and the heavy traffic. Once on the 040, we rode about 70 km further south to Barbacena, which was the only section of “major highway” we did during this trip…


Quick stop at one of the “Pão de Queijo” places on the BR040

In Barbacena, we had to find our way through the city to get on the MG338, leading south west for about 62 km, to Santa Rita de Ibitipoca, where the asphalt runs out. The last 20 km to Conceição de Ibitipoca was unpaved, but nothing too difficult to ride.


The small, winding MG-338, from Barbacena to Santa Rita de Ibitipoca.


In Santa Rita de Ibitipoca Evandro’s GPS and mine were not on the same page… which had already happened a few times before… This time mine was correct 


These things are very common in the rural dirt roads… they are called “Mata Burro” (Donkey Killer) and are used to keep cattle from wandering off. apparently, cows and other farm animals are afraid to cross one of these… this one was a very easy one, but sometimes the space between two beams is bigger than the width of our tires… The thing to do is to cross them diagonally… that is , if you see them in time. I don’t have to draw a picture of what would happen when your front wheel gets caught in one, right? 

We arrived in Conceição de Ibitipoca around noon, as expected, and were planning to have another afternoon hike in the park, but we heard from the local people that the park closes on Mondays… bummer.


The first restaurant we tried in Ibitipoca was closed… only opens during weekends and “Feriados” (holidays)


But we managed to find some food anyway…


After lunch, we checked in at the pousada (Canela de Ema) and since the park wasn’t open, everybody had a free afternoon…

The park was not the only thing that was closed… The mall, where they have a LAN house (internet café) wasn’t open either… I love these small, remote places, but you need to take the good with the bad… Since there is no bank in town, people need to have a “day off” to drive down to Lima Duarte (about 25 km of unpaved road) to go and do their bank stuff…

So, the only thing resembling a LAN house that I could find, was a prehistoric PC in the back room of a clothing store. The screen image disappeared every 30 seconds and the lady had told me that I had to give it a good whack to bring the image back… that seemed to work, but also some of the keys on the keyboard weren’t coming back up after pushing them… All in all an interesting internet experience.

Meanwhile, Alex and Evandro were having a good time at the pool of a hotel near our pousada, and José, our Spanish friend apparently found a few hiking trails a little outside of the town center and had a great afternoon walk…


Alex and Evandro made a few new friends here … They are called “Mico Estrela” or “Black ear tufted Marmosets” and are pretty much endemic for this part of Brazil – Basically the State of Minas Gerais.

Here too, there were not a lot of options when it came to having dinner… the only restaurant/pizzeria that was open, had very good food though…

Oh… and Ibitipoca has a marvelous sunset… Check it out

Final Day: Back to Volta Redonda…

Normally, we would ride to Rio de Janeiro on day 9, and back to Volta Redonda on day 10, but for practical reasons, our Spanish friend José decided that it would be better to ride to Volta Redonda on day 9, and take him to Rio de Janeiro with the jeep on the same day. This way he has one extra day in Rio de Janeiro before flying back to Spain…


It was a fantastic morning in Ibitipoca. Evandro and I were up very early to see the sun appear over the horizon.


The breakfast at Pousada Canela de Ema was one of the best of the entire trip, especially in combination with the location and the view you have from the dining room windows…


Getting ready for the last leg of the trip to Volta Redonda…

Leaving Conceição de Ibitipoca, we had to do a last section of unpaved road of about 25 km in order to get to the BR-267 in Lima Duarte, where we took gas…

We took the BR-267 direction west until Bom Jardim de Minas, and from there it was further south to Santa Rita de Jacutinga and Santa Isabel do Rio Preto, from where it was only about 50 more km’s to get to Volta Redonda…


Somewhere on the road between Bom Jarim de Minas and Santa Rita de Jacutinga… This region is called “As montanhas Mágicas” (The magic mountains…)


I remember this being a dirt road back in 2009… Here too, more and more roads are getting a blacktop coating…

In Volta Redonda, we had lunch and Alex and me took off to Rio de Janeiro with the jeep, to drop off José at his hotel… the hotel was in the historical center of Rio, in Cinelândia, where Obama held a speech when he last visited Brazil (at least I think the speech was PLANNED there)


Riding on the “Elevado da Perimetral” one of the busiest access roads to the center of Rio… after 9 days of relatively easy and tranquile traffic, this is a very unpleasant change of scenery 


Passing the port area, we spotted a docked submarine… I didn’t know Brazil had these… Pretty fancy chopper in the foreground too if you ask me…


After dropping off José in one of the most hectic traffic situations I have ever seen in Rio de Janeiro, Alex and me headed back to Volta Redonda… Alex would be back in a few days to see the Metallica concert…

Thus ends yet another trip through one of the most important historical regions of Brazil… Thanks for sticking with me through this long post… I hope you enjoyed reading it and get inspired to come and ride in Brazil yourself.

Safe travels.

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)

Morretes: Colonial charm and Atlantic Rainforest at the foot of the Serra do Mar

Being one of the oldest cities in the southern Brazilian state of Paranã, Morretes is a most charming colonial town, tucked away in one of the largest and best preserved areas of Atlantic rainforest of south Brazil.

Just like the rest of Brazil, the region where Morretes was founded in 1721, was initially inhabited by indigenous tribes, like the Guarani and the Carijó, who eventually had to give way to the Portuguese colonizers.

In the 1640’s, gold deposits were found in the area and this attracted a growing population of adventurers and miners, most of them coming from São Paulo, but later also followed by immigrants from all over Europe and even Japan.

Today, Morretes is a quiet, laid back town, that enchants its visitors with its beautifully preserved 18th century architecture and the stunning beauty of the Atlantic rainforest that surrounds it in every direction.

Why Visit Morretes?

One of the green squares in the historical center of Morretes

The city itself, but especially the forest, with its many trails, waterfalls and rivers, presents numerous options for anyone looking for total tranquility or an active vacation, practicing various outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, rafting, mountain-biking or mountaineering…

A very popular “radical sport” is what is locally known as “Bóia cross“. Floating down the river for 6 km in an inflated truck tube. Fun guaranteed!

During a stroll through the historical center, with its colonial houses, historical churches and green squares, you can get a good feel for the 18th and 19th century way of life of the people of Morretes.

The many big mansions suggest that the city must have known a period of great wealth, but when the gold deposits ran out, the population had to fall back on agriculture, cattle farming, trading and handicraft activities.

View of the historical center and the Nhundiaquara river from the Ponte Velha (old bridge)

The tourist industry today provides an extra way for people to make a decent living, but statistics show that about 30 per cent of the city’s population is still poor.

One more attraction of Morretes is the Nhundiaquara River, flowing through the city center. This river, that connects the coastal area to the highlands, once was the only way people had to penetrate inland.

View of some houses near the Nhundiaquara river

The river is navigable for about 12km and offers possibilities for water-sports (like bóia cross). The old bridge (ponte velha – inaugurated in 1912) crossing the river in the city center is also considered a work of art.

At one point, the river spreads out and creates an area with a few natural beacheswhere people can go to swim or relax.

How to get there?

1. BY CAR, MOTORCYCLE, BUS

The gate at the entrance of the “Estrada da Graciosa”

Whether you choose to take your own car or Motorcycle (like me), travel by bus or taking the tourist train, one way or another, you simply have to get through the Serra da Graciosa, which in itself already is a gorgeous trip.

By car (or motorcycle), the “Estrada da Graciosa” (PR410) is the best option. It covers the last 40km from Curitiba to Morretes and makes the 1000m drop from the highlands to practically sea level in just 10km. The steepest section – with obviously the best views – has various places where you can stop and enjoy the scenery, and even do a BBQ.

During the steep descent, the views and smells of the rainforest are sometimes breathtaking, and needless to say that the difference in altitude almost immediately also affects the temperature and humidity. A warning though: beware of the cobblestones, these can get very slippery when wet.

2. BY TRAIN:

Another great option is the tourist train from Curitiba to Paranaguá.

View from the train from Morretes to Curitiba

This railroad connection, some call it one of the most important tourist attractions of the state of Parana, is a remarkable piece of engineering. Its construction started in 1880 and in five years, the builders were able to complete the 110 km of railroad track, including 14 tunnels and 30 bridges.

The man responsible for this great work, was a black Brazilian engineer called Antonio Pereira Rebouças Filho, who wouldn’t have had an easy life, considering the fact that slavery in Brazil was only abolished in 1888, three years after the completion of the railroad.

Tragic detail: the death toll amongst the workers, hired for the job was enormous. 50% of them died during the five year construction period.

That said, the train ride itself is Fantastic! The windows of the train are super wide and you are allowed to open them for maximum enjoyment of the great scenery, the sounds and smells of the forest.(Although during the descent, the brakes of the train make a lot of noise :)) Almost the whole time you’re so close to the forest that you could almost touch it.

Also check out this great video by @canalbrazil

Traveling through the south of Brazil, Morretes is definitely a place to put on your “places to see” list.

Hope you enjoyed this.Any comments welcome

Easy 4×4 – the Tinguá Biological Reserve – Rio de Janeiro State

“even though it was raining most of the time during my trip, I still enjoyed every second of it.”

The trip started out dry, but then the rain started and things got a little more wet and muddy.

Doing some research afterwards, I learned that this road had been opened in the early 17th century as one of the first links between the city of Rio de Janeiro and the gold and diamond mines in the interior of Minas Gerais.In my never-ending quest for new interesting places, I stumbled upon an ancient road, called “Caminho do Imperador” wich connects the municipality of Miguel Pereira and the Imperial city of Petrópolis.

As an extra bonus, this historic road, that starts out as just another dirt road a little outside and east of Miguel Pereira, suddenly becomes a lot more interesting when it enters the State Biological reserve of Tinguá.

The Tinguá reserve is a 260km² patch of dense atlantic rainforest, located just north-west of Rio de Janeiro in the municipality of Nova Iguaçu. The area, which represents a significant portion of the Atlantic Forest’s biological diversity, became a Biological Reserve in 1989. Since then, numerous studies on local fauna and flora were carried out here. Recently (2011) there was also an interesting survey in the communities around the reserve, to collect information about, and preserve the knowledge of medicinal plants among the local population.

The rugged landscape of the reserve consists of cliffs, cut by torrential rivers, and various so-called “serras” or mountain chains, the highest of which is the serra da Tinguá, reaching  an altitude of. 1600m. The distance between Miguel Pereira and The main road (BR040) is about 42km and all along the way I was thinking that this would also be a fantastic place to hike or practice mountain biking. . .

Riding through the reserve gives you that unmistakable “Indiana Jones” kind of feeling and even though it was raining most of the time during my trip, I still enjoyed every second of it. A stop at the highest point didn’t give me the great view I would have on a sunny day, since mist was hiding most of the surrounding mountains, but just being there and hearing nothing but the sound of birds, monkeys and running watermade for another wonderful memory…

Sadly, but not surprisingly, as with so many other “protected” areas, an area of this size is very difficult to oversee, and Tinguá is also under a lot of pressure as a result of the ever-expanding communities along its borders and the pollution that goes with it. also Hunting (poaching) and capturing forest animals to sell on the black market, present another threat to the already suffering local fauna.and flora.

Enjoy the following pictures

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And this Video…

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I’m always looking for more interesting routes in Brazil so any suggestions you might have are welcome…

Road trip into the heart of Bahia – The Chapada Diamantina (Part 1)

“Big Blue”, my Land Rover Defender 110.

End of June 2010, in full world-cup season, I started out on a road trip to discover the interior of Bahia. Conversing with Brazilian friends, I regularly heard the Chapada Diamantina come up, and all of them described the place as one of the best eco-tourism locations of Brazil. After doing some research on the internet (where would we be without it these days :)), I decided that I had to see this magical place with my own eyes…

It was a great opportunity to test drive the Land Rover Defender that I was going to use as a support vehicle for my Motorcycle touring operation.

To get there from Volta Redonda, where I live, I planned to follow the coastline heading north, crossing Espirito Santo and entering Bahia from the south. On the first day, I had to pass through Rio de Janeiro, and stopped by the school where I did my guide course, to say hello to my ex classmates. There was an interesting presentation going on about the “Festa Junina” tradition in Brazil, so I stayed a while longer than planned… that’s why the first day I didn’t get any further than Búzios.

Pedra Azul: Famous landmark in Espirito Santo – 100 km west from Vitória

The next day, I wanted to get to Vitória. Fernanda’s uncle João has an apartment there and he had already told me not to pass Vitória without stopping by to pay him a visit on my way to Bahia. I was also curious about a famous rock called “Pedra Azul”, located in the Pedra Azul National Park, about 100 km west from Vitória.

Following the BR101 (the road connecting North and south Brazil) I made my way into Espirito Santo, where I started to follow the secondary roads into the interior of the state, direction of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. This region is primarily coffee territory. many of the hillsides are covered with the plants that provide so many people each day with the necessary caffeine shot. The whole time, the landscape was alternating between coffee plantations, small villages and jungle scenery. I was afraid that I would pass by the Pedra azul and not notice it, but suddenly it was there in all its glory. I took a few pictures and continued on my way to Vitória.

I arrived in Vitória, the capital of Espirito Santo, and I immediately had a very positive feeling about the city. It seemed so much “cleaner” that what I was used to in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. It was around 4 pm, so I had two hours of daylight left to see something of the city. João took me for a walk around his bairro (neighborhood) and showed me a nice park close to where he lives. Afterwards, we had dinner in a nice pizza place, where I also met his two lovely daughters. I wanted to get an early start the next morning, so I went to bed around 10pm.

The landscape just north of Vitória: lush green hillsides, coffee plantations and small villages.

I didn’t expect it in the middle of Vitória, but the next morning, a very persistent rooster woke me up around 4.30. I was anxious to get going, so I got up and gathered my stuff. João didn’t want to let me go without some breakfast, and I left his place around 6 am. Vitória is definitely a city that I would like to explore a little more.

The ride north through Espirito Santo was rather pleasant. I stuck to the BR101 most of the time because I wanted to catch up some of the km’s I lost on day one. I remember seeing lots of dead animals along the roadside. Especially dogs. These animals get run over, and serve as a welcome meal for the numerous black vultures roaming these parts.

Espirito Santo has more than just Coffee. I saw a lot of pineapple and banana fields.Espirito Santo also produces papaya, maracujá, lemon, oranges, strawberries and grapes…

Coming from Bahia to Espirito Santo: large trucks with triple trailers and 60 tons of eucalyptus wood. These things often tip over in curves…

I crossed the border with Bahia, and it’s very hard to miss that fact. Ok, there’s the big billboard, welcoming you to Bahia saying “Smile, you are in Bahia”- in Portuguese of course, but what struck me the most, was the transformation of the BR101. As long as I was on Espirito Santo territory, the highway was comparable to most European highways, with two lanes in each direction, separated by a strong guardrail. When you enter Bahia, you see the road narrowing down to a pothole infested secondary road without hard shoulders. I always knew that Bahia was one of the poorer states, like all the states in the North-east of Brazil, but that the difference would be this noticeable, I would never have guessed. The billboard should rather say: “Hang on to your seatbelt, you’re in Bahia”

Once in Bahia, I set course for the coast ASAP. I was planning on following the coastline as close and as long as possible. It didn’t take me a long time to notice that the south of Bahia is a major producer of eucalyptus wood for the production of cellulose (the base material for paper factories).

The eucalyptus forests go on as far as you can see, and trucks with triple trailers and up to 60 tons of eucalyptus wood are all over the place, transporting the wood to cellulose factories in Espirito Santo. A local told me that the Eucalyptus tree is chosen because it grows so fast. In 7 years the trees are ready to be harvested.Taking the less traveled roads through the eucalyptus forests, you can see large areas where the trees have recently been cut down and new trees have been planted.

It’s not a nice sight, all these “sterile” and artificial forests with nothing but eucalyptus trees in straight rows… but who am I to judge the means of income of the people of Southern Bahia? In the forests, far from any town or village, I saw huts made of “Pau a pique” (wattle and daub). It was hard to believe that people were actually living here, but I saw a small boy (4 – 5 years old) playing near one of the houses. These people live 40 – 50 km from the nearest school, the parents are uneducated and they have no means of transport. I couldn’t help wondering how these kids ever have a chance of a decent education.

Charcoal production, another (legal?) activity in southern Bahia. Notice the -ugly- eucalyptus forest in the background.

I was headed for Nova Viçosa, a small fishermen’s village on the Whale coast (costa das baleias). According to Fernanda’s sister, this was the place to be, but I was rather disappointed. Despite some touristic folders promising “year round touristic activities”, the place was dead.It was too late to move on to another village, so I had to look for a place to spend the night. I took the advice of the “Brasil 2010 guide” and stopped at a pousada that turned out to be run by a Swiss couple.

The pousada was ok, but it was the management that worried me a little. As a couple, you are supposed to work together as a team, and it was pretty clear that the woman was taking care of everything and the husband wasn’t doing anything to help. His commitment was limited to sleeping and smoking cigarettes. Judging by his smell, he was also in desperate need of a shower. The guy drove me around the village in his car and couldn’t say one good thing about Brazil or the Brazilian people . He was clearly not happy with his situation and my guess is that they were “trapped” here, after investing in the pousada and not having the return they hoped for.

I had to speak German with him, because after 14 years in Brazil, he wasn’t able to say one decent sentence in Portuguese – or English for that matter. When I asked him if he was happy here in Brazil, he said: “my wife is happy…” I guess that sums it up… These people should have been divorced a long time ago. Very sad to live like this.

The coastal dirt road from Prado to Cumuruxatiba was a great change from the hundreds of kilometers of eucalyptus forests. My first glimpse of the Bahia coast.

I was glad to get out of Nova Viçosa and especially the pousada, where the rotten atmosphere between the Swiss owners was a serious downer. I had breakfast and left as soon as it was light. continuing my trip north along the coast. It was about 150 km to Prado, a small, charming beach town about 100 km south of Porto Seguro.

This part of Bahia is called the “costa das baleias” (Whale coast) due to the appearance of groups of humpback whales every year. Needless to say that the whales are one of the major touristic attractions of this region.

I had to do a pit stop here to do an oil change and also to find someone to fix my radio, that had stopped working earlier that day. By the time all this was done, it was time for lunch. After I filled my stomach at a small “kilo restaurant” for about 3 Usd, I went on my way.

The mechanic of the gas station who changed the oil had told me about a great dirt road right next to the coast that went all the way to Cumuruxatiba (short: Cumuru), which is a very quiet and laid back little paradise on the Whale Coast. I saw a sign saying: “Aqui, Deus descanse depois criar o mundo. Não acorda ele com o seu som” (Here, God takes a rest after creating the world. Don’t wake him up with your noise.).

Dirt road leading inland near the Monte Pascoal Ntional Park…

From there, I had to take a dirt road leading inland and passing north of the “Parque nacional do descobrimento” in the direction of the “Monte Pascoal National Park”. This road was not on the paper map, but WAS shown on my GPS, which means that somebody already had been there, which usually makes it a pretty safe bet.

Eventually, the road disappeared from the GPS, and since it wasn’t on the paper map either, I only had my compass to make sure I kept going in a northern direction, which would eventually take me on to the paved BR498, from where I could get on the BR101.

To make things even more more interesting, I discovered that my left rear damper had broken off and only the top part was still attached to the car…I had to remove the piece to prevent it to cause more damage, which made me lose more time.

Sunset over Monte Pascoal

Around 6.30 pm, I reached the BR498, leading to the BR101 and it was pitch dark by then. I had done almost 300 km of dirt road that day and was glad to be on some smooth surface. It was 150 km to Arraial d’Ajuda, which is only a few km south from Porto Seguro, but with a damaged suspension, I had to keep the speed down and only arrived around 11 PM.

I checked into a pousada, took a shower and went straight to bed thinking about the next day and how to find a decent mechanic…

Even in the dark, it looked like I had been able to sniff out a great place for the night. Pousada Antares is run by an Italian – Brazilian couple and is located on a hill close to the beach and has a terrific view from the terrace. The poolside breakfast with view over the ocean was perfect.

I asked around to see if anyone could recommend a good mechanic and there seemed to be two options. The owner of the pousada, said that actually he didn’t like any mechanic in Arraial d’Ajuda, but if he HAD to pick one, it would be “Vincente”, maybe because the name sounds Italian? I decided to check the place out…

Pool and ocean view at Pousada Antares in Arraial d’Ajuda

Most car repair shops you see in Brazil are places that in normal circumstances you really wouldn’t want to come too close to, and the “oficina do Vincente” was no different… A small, dirty shack with a few skinny, toothless black guys in bermuda and chinelos (flip flops) hanging around, looking kind of dangerous, waiting for something to do. If you’re lucky they are still sober at 8.00 AM.

Once you are in Brazil long enough and have a car that tends to break down in the middle of nowhere (I could post a few more stories about this subject …), you get used to these places and things actually aren’t as bad as they look.

After the usual compliments about the Defender (everybody seems to like this car a lot, but they have no idea how much trouble I already had with it…) Vincente’s diagnose was that he would have to repair the damper, because getting a new one would cost me at least 500 USD and would take at least until the next day, but probably 2-3 days to get delivered. He would weld a new piece of screw-thread to the lower end of the damper and that would only cost me 80 R$ (+/- 32 Euros).

Next to the oficina was a big gas station and since the car was also in need of a lubrication, and it was no problem to drive around without the damper, I went there, but the guy in charge of lubrications said that his grease pump wasn’t working. He gave me directions to yet another oficina, which was of the same standard as Vincente’s. I went there and asked the guy if he could lubricate the car, but guess what… This guy was out of grease! swell… I kept talking to him and after I offered him an extra 10 R$, he sighed and told me to put the car inside. Miraculously, there was still enough grease in his pump to get the job done… Around 3.00 PM I went back to Vincente and one of the guys, who judging by his smell had 10 beers for lunch, put the repaired damper in place.

Landing place of the Portuguese in 1500 – Bahia – Brazil

The next day (Day 6) I left Arraial d’Ajuda very early since it was going to be a 430 km ride to Itacaré, with lots of dirt roads. Itacaré is one of Brazil’s surf paradises, but also has a lot to offer in terms of eco-tourism (Trekking, rafting, rappel, Arvorismo…).

First, I had to take a ferry (Balsa) to get across to Porto Seguro. there’ a ferry every half hour and the crossing takes about 10 minutes and costs 11 R$ (about 4.75 Euros).

About 25 km outside Porto Seguro, in a place called Santa Cruz Cabrália, I passed the exact location where Pedro Alvares Cabral and his crew came ashore in the year 1500. There was a scene depicting the catholic service that was held to celebrate the discovery of the new land, with indigenous people watching from a distance.

When I was almost back on the good old BR101, near a place called Itapebi, I passed some barracks, right next to a large garbage dump site, and clearly this was “home” to some very poor people, who probably spent their days scavenging the garbage, looking for something valuable. This too is Brazil, and I think it is something that has to be seen by people visiting the country. It’s one thing to read about poverty, or watch it on TV, but being confronted with the raw reality is a totally different matter.

In huge contrast with the people at the garbage dump I have another anecdote: On my way to Ilheus, passing Canavieras, I spotted a chocolate factory with a very exclusive chocolate boutique attached to it. Of course, being a Belgian, I really couldn’t pass this without taking a look inside.

Coastline near Itacaré. Should be sunny and warm here, but looks a lot more like rain…

They had a big sign saying “home made chocolate” but after I told the salesgirl that I was from Belgium, she admitted that they use the famous Belgian “callibutchi” chocolate. HUH?  It took me some time to figure out that the famous Belgian chocolate she was talking about was “CALLEBAUT”. Brazilians have a way to brazilify foreign words. (like “snooker” => SINUKA… kind of weird but once you know where it comes from it makes perfect sense J)

Anyways, the boutique had a large collection of chocolate goodies, and even some erotic items. I bought a few bonbons, just to get a taste, and a few of them were with Pimenta (red pepper). I don’t think I will buy those again. They were really spicy.

By the time I got to Itacaré, It was raining hard, so all the streets were deserted and the town looked nothing like the otherwise bustling surf paradise. I checked into one of the first pousadas I saw, and after a nice shower, I did some planning for the next day and turned in. I’ll have to check out Itacaré better next time I pass through here.

On day 7 I wanted to get to the Chapada Diamantina, in the center of Bahia State, which is again a +/- 450 km ride, so I made sure I got going at first light (actually, it was still dark). Since I hadn’t had a chance to check out Itacaré the night before, because of the pouring rain I made a quick tour around the city. It has a really beautiful shoreline, but driving through the smaller streets away from the ocean, I saw lots of houses in poor state of conservation. Of course, the rain wasn’t helping to paint a nice picture. A little sun and the place would look totally different.

I was going to take the shortest possible route to the Chapada Diamantina and according to my GPS there would be a great deal of dirt roads. (Yay J).

Big Blue after a 43 km jungle mudbath

Soon after leaving Itacaré, I entered a 43 km long muddy jungle road that leads to Ubaitaba. As I expected, the road was very muddy due to the rain last night, and it didn’t take long before the jeep had the same reddish brown color as the road. I have kind of large tires, and the fenders aren’t able to keep  the mud from getting all over the car. In the middle of the jungle I picked up an old man who needed a ride to Ubaitaba.

In Ubaitaba I said goodbye to my old new friend, cleaned my windows and stopped at a gas station to buy some water and juice. Next, I would have to take the BA330 to Jequié, which, according to my GPS would be “Muito Ruim” (very bad) but to my pleasant surprise, the asphalt was brand new. I was pretty much expecting that this nice asphalt would only last for a short while, but it continued to be great all the way to Jequié.

About halfway to Jequié, I picked up my second hitchhiker for the day. An elderly woman waved me down and asked if I was heading for Maracas. Since that was one of the options, and she told me it would be the best option if I was going to the Chapada Diamantina, I decided to give the lady a ride.

In Maracas, I dropped the lady off at the house of her family and with a last “may God accompany you at your left side, your right side, your front and back side” she joined her sisters. I noticed that the house was very small, but at least 7 women were waiting for her. That was because all the men were watching the world cup game Brasil – Holland… a decisive game for Brazil, because if they would lose this one, they would be out of the cup. The streets were very quit, and that was a clue that things were not looking too good for Brazil.

Roadkill on the way to Marcelinio Souza. The vultures will take care of it.

I stopped at a gas station to buy diesel, and to figure out the best way to get to Marcionilio Souza, my next waypoint. I found a dirt road on my map, but it didn’t show up on my GPS. The guy of the gas station told me that in fact there WAS a road, but a different one than the one on my map. Yikes… even more confusion. He told me to take the road to Planaltino and after about 12 km take a left and “va embora” (just go)… He also said that the road was not very good, and there was a serra, but mostly descending… Just before I left the gas station, I learned that Brazil had lost the game against Holland and was going home. Someone said “a vida continua” (life goes on)…

Ok, so I was about to take a 50 km stretch of not so good dirt road that was neither on the map nor on the GPS. I didn’t like that idea very much, but it was a second pleasant surprise that day to find out that this road had a few signs on crucial places pointing to Marcionilio Souza. Also, the road wasn’t that bad at all. I’ve seen a lot worse.

The BA-245: The worst road EVER

After Marcionilio Souza however, things changed drastically for the bad. The BA245 couldn’t be worse. It was clear that this road had been asphalted with a layer way too thin, and now the road was a complete mess, with potholes everywhere, making it worse than it probably was before they put the asphalt. 65km on a road like this is no joyride, I can tell you that much.

In this hellhole, I picked up a 3rd hitchhiker. A working guy who wanted to get to Itaeté, and judging by his smell, he wasn’t one of those Brazilians that take two showers a day. But he had useful information for me. When I told him that I was planning to get to Lençois by 6 pm, he said that there was no way I would get there that early, and driving after dark was not advisable because of the road conditions but also because of the BANDIDOS. That sure sounded like I was in the Far West or something. He gave me the advice to either stay in Itaeté, or try to get to Mucugé, which was closer and less dangerous.

I decided that it would not be a bad idea to follow his advice and change plans to try and get to Mucugé. Like the guy said, the road from Itaeté to Mucugé wasn’t half bad, and I got there at around 5.30pm, in time to find a pousada and a phone to call home…

END OF PART ONE – Stay tuned for part TWO

I’m always looking for more interesting routes in Brazil so any suggestions you might have are welcome… please leave a comment. 

Alternative route to Ubatuba… close but no cigar

Adventure, Brazil, dirt roads, ecotourism, motorcycle trip, Mountain, outdoors, Road trip, Serra da Bocaina

In February 2010 I wanted to check out Ubatuba, A coastal town located at the northern coast (Litoral Norte) of São Paulo State, also known as the costa Verde (green coast).

I heard some good things about the place (great beaches, mountains, trekking, diving, fishing, surfing, extreme sports…) and looking at the Tracksource maps on my computer, I noticed that there was an alternative way to get there… via unpaved roads crossing the serra da Bocaina…

One thing about me is, that if there’s an alternative – preferably unpaved – route to get somewhere, I’m going to use that, rather than take the beaten track…

On a previous ride, I had already found a track crossing the Serra da Bocaina and the Bocaina National Park to get to Cunha, another historic place linked to the Gold route, but from there it was another 90 km of unknown terrain, mostly dirt road, leading to the Serra do Mar and Ubatuba.

The first leg of the trip was from my home town (Volta Redonda) to São Jose do Barreira a small village on the “Estrada dos Tropeiros” (the link is in Portuguese, but the pictures speak for themselves). Tropeiros were the guys who traveled three months, all the way from Diamantina in the heart of Minas Gerais with a pack of mules loaded with gold and/or diamonds that had to be shipped from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro and from there across the Atlantic to Portugal…

From São Jose do Barreira to Cunha is about 95km, with 2/3 being dirt road and VERY beautiful. I was lucky with the weather that day. February is one of the wettest months of the year and not a lot of people know that the region called the Costa Verde has the same amount of rainfall as the Amazon rain forest, which is why many local people refer to Ubatuba as “UbaCHUVA” (Chuva = Rain) :).

Riding up the Serra da Bocaina, during the first 25 km the road looked like it had recently been repaired and so it was in pretty good condition. After that, it got interesting (I don’t use the word “bad” when it comes to dirt roads :)) The road went from sandy to rocky, and a few pretty technical sections, but nothing too difficult.a normal car wouldn’t get through though. It kept climbing up to an altitude of about 1.300m and the view from there was stunning, to say the least.

Near “Campos de Cunha” I needed to buy gas, so I pulled up at the padaria (bakery), bought some water and asked the lady where the gas station was. She told me that there was NO gas station in Campos de Cunha. Probably due to the expression of disbelief and despair on my face, she smiled and said that there was this man in the village who I could buy gas from.

She gave me some pointers and after a few wrong turns, and asking more directions from other people, I found the guy’s house…

When he opened his garage door, I could hardly believe what I saw… Hundreds of 1.5 liter pet bottles filled with gasoline were stacked against the back wall. This place was a time bomb.

I really didn’t want to hang around there any longer than needed, so I quickly bought 2 bottles (3 liters) of gasoline, which would be enough to get me to Cunha. Of course, this guy charged me double the price of what I would pay at a gas station, but I guess he had to include his transport costs.

I got to Cunha, bought a full tank of fuel and started what would be the final leg of the trip to Ubatuba…It started with a section of dirt road leading away from the main road that leads to Paraty, but after that, well, good question… I guess that’s the adventure part, right?  I just needed to get to Ubatuba, find a pousada for the night and return to Volta Redonda the next day… nothing too hard.

Finding the first part of dirt road was easy enough, because it was indicated on my GPS, and I entered it… The first 5 km were ok, I saw houses, so people were living there, but then things started to get harder…

As long as there were houses, it’s safe to assume that the road will be kept in pretty decent condition, but as soon as the “residential” area ends, you can expect just about anything.

This part of Brazil was battered by very heavy rainfall from December through January, and stories about landslides were in the news every day.

Roads like these, which are not registered as “BRxxx” or “RJxxx” don’t get any maintenance from the government, so it is basically up to the people who are living in the remote parts of the area, to keep the road open so they can get to where they need to be…

A lot (you could say “most”) of the locals in these parts are using horses to get around, and can easily get past landslides or other obstacles, so some roads can be damaged, or even washed away by the rain to the point that there’s no way you ever going to get through it by car… even a 4×4… or a Yamaha XT660 without dirt-bike tires for that matter

There were some sections where I had to maneuver my way around holes in the road in which I could easily disappear, bike and all… It’s unbelievable what the force of water can do… It never seizes to amaze me.

At one point (I think I had that coming sooner or later :)) the road was blocked by a landslide… the whole road surface was covered with a 30cm thick layer of slimy red mud, about 40m across.

There was a small “sitio” (small farm) close by, so I figured that if I would have a problem, I could ask help there… Having no other option, I decided to go for it and try to blast through the mud  (the other option was, to turn back and go home…)

I took a 50m running start and charged into the landslide… yeah, right… After about 5m, the bike was stuck… and I mean really stuck.

As I was struggling to pull the bike back out of the blubber, the people of the sitio (as expected) were watching me from a distance, (probably laughing their asses off at the stupid gringo) and as they saw that I wasn’t going to get the bike out on my own, two guys came over to help…did I already mention that Brazilians are the most helpful people I ever met? In Europe they would probably stand there and keep laughing…

As they were giving it their all to get the bike back on solid ground, I did hear them mumble some stuff about how crazy you need to be to ride a “big” bike like this in these roads…:o)

After a lot of pulling, the bike finally was free and one of the guys showed me a way around the landslide… believe it or not, this was pure enduro, not really the stuff that you would do on a bike like mine… especially without knobby tires.

I had to go down a very narrow and steep trail leading down the slope toward the river, and ride back up after passing the slide… I guess this was how they did it on their horses… Yeah, Right :).  Did they ever see anyone do this on a motorcycle? No, of course not, but if I wanted to go on, that was the only way… I didn’t have knobby tires, so it would be very tricky… Long story short, I dropped the bike at least 4 times, I don’t want to remember – but I got down and back up the slope in one piece…

10 km further, the final blow… I came to a point where I had to cross a bridge over a small stream. the problem was, that due to the rains, the stream had very recently overflown its banks and the water had taken out most of the wooden bridge. Also, the banks on either side of the stream were transformed in knee deep mud, which made this a serious obstacle.

Before attempting the crossing, I walked over to the other side to check out the situation there.. The remains of the bridge seemed strong enough to carry the weight of the bike, but on the other side I had another 50m of knee-deep mud to cross.

My brain was telling me that I would never get through this mud with this bike and with these tires, but I was so close to the next town (Vila de Catucaba) and the only other option was, to turn back and face that land slide all over again… I decided to take my chances and face the mud…

It was hell. Well, crossing the remains of the bridge was actually quite easy (much to my surprise) but on the other side the mud was a lot deeper and as expected, the tires didn’t get any grip…

Pushing branches under the wheels allowed me to advance a ridiculous 30cm at a time and it would take me a few hours to cover the remaining 50m to the dry ground, but it was my only option, so I carried on.

After struggling like that for about 30 minutes (and believe me, this is hard labor in the hot Brazilian sun) my guardian angel (I wouldn’t know who else) sent me a guy on a horse passing by. He was so kind as to help me push the bike and that is probably why I didn’t have to spend the night there…

After all was said and done, my bike looked like this:

After getting out of the mud, I was kind of letting go of the idea to reach Ubatuba… I had seen enough mud and dirt roads for one day (almost 200kms) and was all covered in mud – as was the bike.

I had serious doubts that any pousada would even let me in, looking like this, so I decided to get on the first asphalt road and take the fast way back home. It was already getting close to 6pm so it would be getting dark soon. it was about 250kms to get home, and only 75 to Ubatuba, but I couldn’t care less about Ubatuba at that point… It wouldn’t go anywhere and I would try again some other time.

3,5 hours later, I arrived home, extremely tired, cold as hell, but glad that I made this trip… At least I knew that this was not the way to get to Ubatuba on a XT660R, well certainly not in the wet season it isn’t

This is the route I was planning to follow…

And this is what I really did

The map shows my route as I left from Volta Redonda, making my way to Bananal, Arapeí and São Jose do Barreira, where the real ride (dirt roads) started…

Picking up hitchhikers. A great way to meet locals – Bahia – Brazil

My Land Rover Defender “Big Blue”

Besides discovering different parts of Brazil on my motorcycle, I also love to do road trips in my Land Rover Defender… In July 2010 I was doing a 2 week trip to the Chapada Diamantina in the heartland of Bahia, when I picked up 3 hitchhikers in one day.

I know that most people would say that picking up hitchhikers in Brazil, especially in the poorer states (like Bahia) can be considered dangerous, but I did it and hereby declare that it wasn’t dangerous at all. Of course, I’m not going to pick up just about anybody.

On the 7th day of my trip, I was making my way east, coming from Itacaré, one of Bahia’s famous surf spots, and entered a 43 km long jungle road that leads to Ubaitaba. As it had been raining most of the night, the road was very muddy. 10 km into the jungle, I noticed a skinny old man waving me down. I stopped and the man asked if he could ride with me to Ubaitaba. He looked pretty harmless so I thought: “why not?”.

It was not too long before we were engaged in a pleasant conversation. The man told me he lived in Ubaitaba, but has a “Rocinha” close to the place where I picked him up. (“Rocinha” = vegetable garden – not to be confused with the favela in Rio de Janeiro).

In Europe, some people I know are growing vegetables in their back yard, but this man – who turned out to be 83 – had to travel 30 km on bad jungle road to get to his piece of land. He also said that he would normally take a bus, but that this was very uncomfortable on these bumpy roads, and he claimed that he knows people who had broken bones after riding one of these buses.

A typical dirt road in the south of Bahia. This one was 80 km to the coast.

About halfway to Jequié, I picked up my second hitchhiker for the day. An elderly woman waved me down and asked if I was heading for Maracas, and since that was one of the options for me to get to the Chapada Diamantina, I decided to give the lady a ride. I asked her to get in the back seat, because I just moved all my stuff back to the front, after dropping the old man loff, and she didn’t mind.We arrived in Ubaitaba and I said goodbye to my old new friend. My next goal was the city of Jequié, and the road leading there (the BA330), according to my GPS, would be “Muito Ruim” (very bad). To my pleasant surprise, the asphalt was brand new all the way to Jequié.

Once moving, she started to tell me her life’s story, about being born and raised in the area, working in the fazendas, getting married to the wrong guy, having children (a girl and two boys), getting divorced… the works….

Dirt road outside the Chapada Diamantina – Bahia – Brazil

One of her boys had been bitten by a snake just a few days ago on his way back from school. Getting him to the hospital was a big problem, because they don’t have a car, nor do they have a phone. Luckily they found a person who took them to the hospital and now the boy was better.

He wasn’t able to go to the Festa Junina though. Her other boy went 5 nights in a row… Festa junina is MAYOR STUFF in this part of Brazil. Anyway, she was going to visit her sisters in Maracas.

When I asked her about the poverty that lots of people seemed to be living in around these parts, she answered that the only two things you really need are “saúde and paz” (health and peace). All the rest is not so important. She also said she felt a little sorry for me traveling all by myself, but then she told me “you are alone with God, so you’re not really alone”. wise words from a very simple person.

Another dirt road, this time in the north of Minas Gerais, headed for Jequitinhonha

After dropping my second passenger off at her sister’s house in Maracas, I stopped at a gas station to buy Diesel, and to figure out the best way to get to my next goal: Marcionilio Souza. I noticed a dirt road on my paper map, but that didn’t show up on my GPS. The guy of the gas station told me that in fact there WAS a road, but a different one than the one on my map. Yikes… even more confusion.

He told me to take the road to Planaltino and after about 12 km take a left and “vai embora” (just go)… He also said that the road was not very good, and there was a serra, but mostly descending…

Riding into Maracas, I had noticed that it was very quiet in the streets. There was a world cup game in progress, between Brazil and Holland, so all the local bars were packed with men, their eyes glued to the TV sceern. I was expecting deafening noise from hundreds of “vuvuzela’s”, but the silence was speaking for itself… Just before I left the gas station, I learned that Brazil had lost the game against Holland and was out of the world cup… bad news and no 8th title for Brazil. Someone said “a vida continua” (life goes on)… and I left.

Ok, so I was about to tackle a 50 km stretch of “not so good” dirt road that was neither on the map nor on the GPS. I didn’t like that idea very much, but it was a second pleasant surprise that day to find out that this road was not the worse I’ve seen so far, and had a few signs on crucial places pointing to Marcionilio Souza, my next waypoint.

Going down the serra – Maracas is at +/- 1000m and the descent takes you back down to about 350m – there were some stunning views, and the road was getting better all the time. After the descent, it was flat for about 35 km and the road turned soft and sandy, like riding on a beach. This was truly a jeep’s wet dream. At times I was going 100km/h.

Further up the road to Jequitinhonha: this place is called “Mata Escura” (dark forest) and I heard that Brazilian soldiers are getting their survival training here.

After Marcionilio Souza, things changed drastically. The BA245 was as bad as it gets. It was pretty clear that this road had been asphalted with a layer way too thin, and now the road was all broken up, with the worst kind of potholes everywhere, making it worse than it probably was before they put the asphalt.

In this hell hole, I picked up my 3rd hitchhiker that day. A working guy who wanted to get to Itaeté, and judging by his smell, he wasn’t one of those Brazilians who take two showers per day. But he had useful information for me.

When I told him that I was planning to get to Lençois by 18.00pm, he said that there would be no way I would get there that early, and driving after dark was not advisable because of the road conditions AND  the BANDIDOS!!!. That sounded like I was in the Far West or something. He advised me to either stay in Itaeté, or try to get to Mucugé, which was closer and the road would be better.

I decided to follow his advice and change plans and head for Mucugé instead of Lençois. Like the guy said, the road from Itaeté to Mucugé wasn’t half bad, and I got there at around 5.30pm, in time to find a pousada and a phone to call home…

During the remaining days of this trip, I picked up one more hitchhiker (a lady with her 10 year old son, who was also carrying a small dog in her purse) and I must say that the encounters and conversations I had with these four totally different local people were some of the most valuable moments of the trip. It was once more a confirmation for that Brazil isn’t any more dangerous than any other place in the world…

A few days later, I had another remarkable encounter with three young guys in the middle of the jungle, but that is another story

Hope you enjoyed the read. All comments welcome.

I’m always looking for more interesting routes in Brazil so any suggestions you might have are welcome…

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.