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

On the top of Pico da tijuca - Rio de Janeiro

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

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

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

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

First stop in the Tijuca Park: The Cascatinha Waterfall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pedra Branca State Park

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

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

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

The Hike to Pedra Branca peak…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fauna at Pedra Branca: Snakes and stuff…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok… so far the Biology class 

Casa Amarela…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the way out of the Pedra Branca forest…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouro Preto – 18th century Gold Capital and Cradle of Brazil’s Independence

Few cities in Brazil are as rich in terms of historical, architectural and artistic patrimony as Ouro Preto. This former capital of the state Minas Gerais, formerly called “Vila Rica” (Rich City) had a very important role in the early history of colonial Brazil, and its independence in 1822, when the colony became an empire.

It all began in the late 17th century, when the epic adventure of exploring the interior of Brazil led to the discovery of gold in the region where Ouro Preto would emerge.

The gold rush that followed brought thousands of fortune seekers and adventurersto the region. Various mining settlements were formed, which grew larger and eventually merged in what would become Vila Rica. (1711).

The gold seemed to be in endless supply, and for the colonizer (Portugal) it was a great source of income. No less than 20% (a quinta) of all the gold that originated in and around Vila Rica, but also in all the other regions in the captaincy, went into the treasury of the Portuguese court. On top of the 20%, each mine owner had to pay a fixed amount of gold every year.

The statue of the former revolutionary leader, Joaquin José da Silva Xavier (“Tiradentes”) in the middle of Praça Tiradentes, in the center of Ouro Preto. Tiradentes was executed and had parts of his body exposed along the Estrada Real. In the background to the right of the statue, the former Governor’s Palace, nowadays the School of Mines and Metallurgy .

To control the collection of these taxes, so called “melting houses” (casas de fundição) emerged in Vila Rica, where all the gold had to be taken to be molten into bars bearing the royal seal. The transport of gold in the form of nuggets or dust became prohibited and to prevent smuggling, it also became illegal to open new roads, other than the roads approved by the Court. (Estrada Real)

Vila Rica thus became the financial center of the colony and epicenter of the Estrada Real. Discontentment with the situation led to a first revolt in 1720, which was quickly repressed by the hanging of its leader, Felipe dos Santos. In 1720, Vila Rica also became the capital of the Captaincy of Minas Gerais.

From 1730 to 1760, Ouro Preto had its period of glory. The gold production was at its highest and the city flourished. Several great artists found their way to Ouro Preto and had a great influence in the further development of the city. Baroque and Rococo churches and other buildings, but also schools and theaters were built. In those days Ouro Preto was one of the most culturally developed cities in Brazil.

An example of how the urban layout of Ouro Preto seems to follow the contours of the landscape

Another advantage that was brought on by the gold mining industry, was that the wealthy citizens of Ouro Preto were able to send their sons to Portugal to study and return as lawyers or doctors.

On the other hand, studying in Europe also exposed these more or less isolated Brazilians to the revolutionary ideas and developments in France and North America.Most of them returned to Brazil with the seeds of revolution and independence planted in their minds.

From 1763 on, it was all downhill. Gold mines ran dry and the owners were no longer able to come up with the taxes for the insatiable Portuguese Court. A conspiracy movement, “Inconfidência Mineira” emerged, aiming at the separation from Portugal and the proclamation of independence.

In 1789, most members of the Inconfidência Mineira movement were arrested and its leader, Joaquin José da Silva Xavier (known as “Tiradentes”) was executed in Ro de Janeiro, his body quartered and the pieces exposed in different cities along the Estrada Realto serve as an example. Tiradentes later became one of Brazil’s most famous historical heroes.

Igreja São Fransico de Assis in the center of Ouro Preto. considered to be one of the “seven wonders of the world of Portuguese origin”

With the independence of Brazil in 1822, Vila Rica’s status was elevated to “Imperial City” and its name was changed to Ouro Preto. All was well until in 1897 Belo Horizonte, which was a brand new city, became the new state capital.

Ouro Preto, regarded by the then elite of Minas Gerais as outdated, nearly became a ghost town when almost 50% of its citizens fled to the new and modern capital.

Ironically, it was exactly this development that greatly favored the preservation of the city’s historical, architectural and natural patrimony, which in 1980 was recognized by UNESCO as world heritage centre.

And what a rich patrimony it is… with its 10 Baroque or Rococo churches and 6 chapels, one more beautifully decorated than the next, but also various museums(including the Aleijadinho museum), the countless houses in colonial style and the mostly originally paved streets Ouro Preto has one of the richest collections of colonial art and architecture in Brazil.

Walking around in the (sometimes very steep) cobblestone streets of the historical center is like taking a trip back in time and I highly recommend it. The fact that all this beauty and grandeur was created in what was clearly one of the most rugged landscapes to be found in this part of Brazil, makes this place even more remarkable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the historical stage:

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

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

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

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

The Trip

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

Day 1: Volta Redonda – Passa Quatro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pousada São Rafael – Passa Quatro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Colorful horse drawn carts in front of the waterpark.

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


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


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


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


the serra da Carrancas is in sight…


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

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


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


After lunch… a short nap.

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


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


The other side of the square…


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


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


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


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


We arrived in Prados when it was getting dark


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Dirt and dust indeed


What more do you need?

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


Still smiling


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

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


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


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


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


Or only one bike…


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Our group riding into Caeté… finally…


Well, looks like Alex is happy…


Look mommy… no hands.


Look mommy… nobody

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


Almost military discipline… exact same distance between two riders


Headng for Diamantina…


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


Our entrance in the city of Diamantina…


Pousada Castelinho… Our home for the coming two days.


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

Brazil Down under – A taste of the South…

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One of the things that is so interesting and amazing about Brazil, is that it sometimes feels like many different countries in one. When you travel from the north to the south of this immense country, you’ll experience not only differences in the climate, geography, fauna and flora, but also in culture, architecture, food, the way people talk and behave, etc.

The south of Brazil has been populated in particular by people coming from different parts of Europe, and that had a significant influence on the region. For me, it was one of the lesser known parts of the country, so I decided to take a 10 day motorcycle trip to get more familiar with “Brazil Down Under”

Day 1: Campinas

Our first Gas stop on the BR116 on our way to campinas – there would be about 20 of these stops on this trip

Maryel and me left Volta Redonda around 2pm and made our way to Campinas, one of the biggest cities in the state of Sao Paulo and more of an industrial city than touristic.

The ride itself wasn’t all that exiting since we stayed on the main roads (the BR116 and the SP065) Only a strong head wind, that tried to blow us off the road, made things a little more interesting.

The weather gradually changed for the worse and by the time we were almost in Campinas, we saw the first rain. Things also started to get really chilly…

We arrived after about 400km at the house of our good friend Alexandre, where we spent the first night. Before going to bed however, we went out for something to eat in Ponto1 BAR, the oldest bar in the Barao Geraldo neighborhood of Campinas, famous for its great food and live music. We even enjoyed a Belgian beer with our food, so our first night was perfect .

Day 2: “Pisteiros” headquartes – Campinas.

Pisteiros – Brazil’s motorcyclists community (www.pisteiros.com.br)

After a good nights sleep and tasty breakfast at Alex’ house, it was time to move on to our next stop: the headquarters of the PISTEIROS, where our friend Evandro was expecting us.

Evandro created a place where all passers-by on motorcycles, touring South America and looking for a place to crash for a couple of days, are always welcome. The reception is fabulous (like in most places in Brazil) and Evandro has everything you need to get your batteries recharged…a bed, wifi… the works.

Evandro also showed us his brand new site. The English version of the Pisteiros site, which was in Portuguese (Duh). I would call it “Pisteiros for Gringos”. Anybody interested in Adventure riding with a focus on Brazil is more than welcome to sign up on the new site.

Day 3: Morretes

Somewhere on the Perfect São Paulo roads on our way south

Evandro was joining (and guiding) usthat day, since he was going to meet up with a few riders and do a tour around the south as well.After a chilly night (August is winter time here in Brazil, and in spite of being a “tropical” country, it can get really cold in some places), we loaded up our bikes and took off.

The weather channel was not really promising a good day… rain and cold, but to our enjoyment it was “only” cold. The sky was blue most of the day and we were able to make good progress on the close-to-perfect roads of São Paulo State. Interesting detail: it seems that on many of São Paulo’s “secondary” highways, motorcycles don’t have to pay at toll booths.

Other than that, I have to say that I found most of the roads and scenery in that part of the state of São Paulo kind of “bleak”, compared to what I’m used to in other parts of Brazil, but hey, it cannot be spectacular all the time, right?

Once in the State of Parana, the roads became more twisty and views turned a little more interesting. At one  point we drove through an area that was hit by a flash flood two days earlier, due to 72 hours of torrential rain, and the signs of devastation were still very much visible in the landscape around the river.

The Ribeira river rose 13m two days earlier, destroying several houses on its banks… Notice the debris on the lightposts, left by the flood .

The Ribeira river rose 13m two days earlier, destroying several houses on its banks… Notice the debris on the lightposts, left by the flood .

Near Curitiba, the capital of the state of Parana, we headed east to Morretes, where we arrived around 6.30pm that day.A little earlier would have been better, because then we wouldn’t have had to ride down the beautiful Estrada da Graciosa in the dark to get to Morretes. It wouldn’t be our last unpleasant descent…

Our place for the night was Pousada Dona Laura, A very nice place in the historical center of Morretes, recently resored and for about 60R$ per person…

Day 4 ( 5, 6 and 7): Florianópolis

Floripa’s “Golden Gate Bridge”: No longer in use and very beautiful at night, when it is all illuminated. Due to weather conditions, I couldn’t get a good picture of the bridge at night.

Floripa’s “Golden Gate Bridge”: No longer in use and very beautiful at night, when it is all illuminated. Due to weather conditions, I couldn’t get a good picture of the bridge at night.

We left Morretes right after breakfast and rode up the Estrada da Graciosa again, because the previous day we did it in the dark…I decided to take the camera and film Mariel riding up the serra, but on the cobblestones I wasn’t able to keep the camera still, so that footage was pretty much useless.

We wanted to get to Florianópolis, the capital of Santa Catarina State. On the way there, we would als pay a visit to our friend Mike in Piçarras, who is moving back to the States in a few months..

We basically stayed on the main road south and between Curitiba and Joinville, going down to sea level again, we ran into a couple of traffic jams, several kms long… Traffic was not moving at all and many people were having a pick-nick on the spot, indicating that they hadn’t been moving for some time.

Of course, being on motorcycles, we didn’t wait in line, but zig-zagged our way through the rows of vehicles, expecting to see some big accident in front of the line, but there was only ONE truck that had broken down and caused this whole mess…

On the way down the serra, we did see a few seriously mangled remains of trucksthat obviously never made it to their destinations…

A street artist at work in Floripa. He told me he was restoring his work and it would take him about three months to finish the whole wall.

A street artist at work in Floripa. He told me he was restoring his work and it would take him about three months to finish the whole wall.

We arrived in Piçarras and had lunch together with Mike and his wife, but instead of continuing our trip to Floripa right after lunch, as planned, we ended up going back to hisplace for a last coffee (no beer since we still had some riding to do).

Well… the coffee was great, and the chat even more, so we ended up talking for a few hours and then, we had to do the final 130 km to Floripa in the dark… which wasn’t too bad. I did notice however, that people in this part of Brazil seem to drive a lot faster than what I’m used to… kinda like in Germany?

Evandro had told us about this cool hostel in Floripa (Sunset Backpackers Hostel), and it was about 7.30pm when we arrived there. We checked in, had some dinner and called it a night…

Evandro was right about the hostel… It IS a very nice place. Clean, rooms with view on the lagoa, pool, free internet, Wifi… and close to a very popular surfing beach (praia mole). Price is 30BRL per person – incl. breakfast.

The big villas in “Jureré Internacional”, Brazil’s equivalent of Beverly Hills and one of the attractions on Florianópolis.

We stayed in Floripa for the next three days. On the first day we checked out the north side of the island and on the second day we went to the south part.

Florianópolis, apart from being the state capital (did I mention that earlier?) is a place where a lot of rich and famous Brazilians live. On the north side of the island there’s a neighborhood called “jurere internacional” –  known as “the Beverly Hills of Brazil” – and yeah, the houses are HUGE there, compared to what I’ve seen so far in Brazil.

FLoripa, sometimes referred to as “the magic island”, is a popular vacation destination for people from Curitiba but also Argentinians like to spend their vacation here… There are many great beaches all around the island and the roads are in good to very good condition. There is even an airport on the island…

Sunset over the Lagoa de Conceição – our view from the Sunset Backpackers Hostel

The only downside is the traffic… it looks to me like the island is getting “over capacity” (expression often seen on Twitter :)). When driving around, you hardly get to go faster than 40-50 km/h and especially in the north, around the lagoa da conceição the traffic jam never stops…

We visited the island in the off-season, and the locals told me that during the summer months it’s faster to walk than to take your car to get somewhere… Looks like it is time for the local authorities to take some action to improve this situation…

Otherwise Florianópolis is a great place for people who want to spend their vacation in a place with beautiful nature but everything else (airport, shopping, big city…) close by. It looks like a perfect place for surfers too, although I am far from an expert in that area

After two days of exploring the Magical Island in the south of Brazil, we were planning to continue our tour of Santa Catarina, but bad weather made us decide to stay put for one more day. Always amazing how much a place changes when it starts to rain.

Day 7: Fraiburgo.

Our original plan to ride south from Floripa and up the Serra do Rio do Rastro (THE highlight of our trip) got changed by the weather provisions. According to the BR-weather forecast, it would keep raining for two days, but after that, it would turn for the better… We figured that we could ride west first, and aim to arrive at the Serra do Rio do Rastro when the weather would be good. How does that sound for a plan?

Despite not only rain, but also pretty heavy winds, we rode out of Florianopolis and our rain gear was tested to the limit. The hardest part about it, is getting started, but once you’re on the road, you pretty much -have to- accept the fact that you’re going to end up soaked and cold.

A common sight that day… flooded areas due to the heavy rains of the past couple of days

From Floripa, we took the BR282 direction Lages… This is a pretty decent road, but the thing about rain is: visibility drops considerably, as so does the speed and one’s sense of humour.  Well, we could only hope that the internet weather provisions were correct and that it would stop raining sometime during the day…

Almost halfway Lages we took the SC302 north, direction Rio do Sul… great twisty ride, and it stopped raining hard… Now it was just raining… When we were almost in Rio do Sul, the rain had stopped completely, so all in all we only had 3 hours of intense rain, which was enough to get our feet soaked. I managed to keep the rest of me dry, but Mariel’s rain gear didn’t seem to be completely watertight (made in Brazil ) so he got wet in more places than just his feet …

At one point we noticed a road block. Coming closer, we saw that the rising river had flooded the road… According to one guy there, the water was still on the rise (about 3 cm per minute)… Yay

As we were not really looking forward to spending the night there, I asked the MP’s (Military Police) if we were allowed to continue… he looked at us, said something like “looks like these bikes are high enough” and let us pass… I took the middle of the road and Mariel went to the side… The problem is, that any holes in the road are invisible, so it’s always kind of a gamble riding through mirky water like this without crossing it on foot first. turned out that Mariel had the shallow side and was laughing at me because the water almost got into my airfilter

The Landscape on the road to Rio do Sul – Santa Catarina. The sky started to open up a bit, but not for long…

We wanted to get to Fraiburgo by the end of the day, and the route I had chosen (on Google maps) the day before, would mean we only had to do a measly 370km that day. Of course, the rain had to ruin those plans… We would take the shortcut via Taió and Santa Cecilia, but in Taió we came across a sign saying that the dirt road to Santa Cecilia was closed… The rain of the past days had triggered a lot of landslides and according to local authorities, nothing could get through before the cleaning crew passed.A little further down the road, the same situation… Road block… Cars and trucks stopped… This time, one of the trucks on the other side of the flood made the crossing and that’s how we could see how deep it was. It looked ok, so we went for it again. This time, it was me who could laugh, because in the middle of the water Mariel’s engine died… Ok, I wasn’t really laughing, because, well… if the water got in the engine, it would mean being stuck there for some time.

The yellow sign telling us that the road was closed… no choice than to turn back and add 200km to our trajectory to get to Fraiburgo.

By the time we got to Fraiburgo, it was pitch dark and we were pretty tired after almost 12 hours on the road and so we headed straight to the RENAR hotel… A pretty chique (and pricy) place, that looks like it has been snatched off of a mountain somewhere in Switzerland and dropped in Brazil… Our friend Evandro had organized a motorcycle event there earlier this year and mentioning his name got us a serious discount on the room…:).This meant that we had to backtrack 50km and then follow the BR470 for almost 200km (a major road with lots of trucks, and the wind was almost blowing us off the road, making things even more fun ). Getting to Fraiburgo was suddenly going to take us an extra 2 hours. Yay…

The hotel had sauna and (hot) swimming pool, which were a welcome treat after a day of rain, cold and wind…

Day 8: The Serra do Rio do Rastro

After a good nights sleep in Fraiburgo’s most chique hotel, we were planning to get to the Serra do Rio do Rastro, the famous 8 km climb / descent linking the cities of Lauro Muller and Bom Jardim da Serra… The total distance between these two cities is actually about 35 km but the most interesting section, is the spectacular climb (or descent) with a collection of really tight switchbacks

We rode out of Fraiburgo and took the road to Treze tillias, a small city that is also known as “the Brazilian Tirol”. The city was founded in the 1930’s by the former minister of agriculture of Austria.

They try to keep the Austrian culture alive with typical folklore festivities and wood sculpting. Treze +Tillias (Thirteen Lime trees) is home to various music, dance and singing groups, all typically Austrian or German. It was kind of weird to see so many german names on the shop signs… Apart from German and Austrian Immigrants, the region was also inhabited by Italian people. The route we took was a part of the “Rota da Amizade“.

The weather continued to be against us: cold, misty and some rain once in a while. The good thing was, that it didn’t rain hard enough to get us wet, but it sure reduces the chances of taking nice pictures…

By the time we arrived in Bom Jardim da Serra, it was around 5 pm so I thought that we could just as well descent the Serra to Lauro Muller and find a place for the night there, but about 2 km before the start of the descent, we found the road blocked by the firefighters, who were removing mud from the road… indicating that it had been raining really hard here not too long ago

Bombeiros cleaning up the mud after the rain…

In a few places, where the water would usually drip down from the steep walls, we literally had to ride through waterfalls that changed the road into a raging river.After the firefighters cleared the road, we continued towards the descent, not knowing that from one second to the other, we would be engulfed in a white hell of mist, rain and cold, which made our descent not only very wet and unpleasant, but also kind of dangerous, as we literally couldn’t see 10m in front of us.

Another danger were falling rocks. We noticed several pretty big ones on the road… When water comes down from a mountain wall like that, it can take loose rocks with it, that can hit you on the head or cause serious damage to your vehicle. Maybe it had been a better idea not to ride down in these conditions, but we made it in one piece.

Once down in Lauro Muller, the rain was a lot less, and we were very frustrated that we had especially changed our route to arrive at the Serra with good weather, only to find our descent ruined by the poorest conditions ever. We continued on to the next city (Orleans – which sounds kinda French ), where we found a hotel to get warm and try to dry out for the next day.

Day 9: Blumenau

Lauro Muller the next morning. The Serra do Rio do Rastro in the background.

We headed back to the city of Lauro Muller, the city at the foot of the Serra do Rio do Rastro, and from there, continued on toward the twisty road that would take us back up to Bom Jardim da serra, 1200m higher.the next greeted us with open, blue skies and a brilliant sun, so instead of going straight north, we decided to backtrack, ride up the Serra again and make our way to Blumenau via Urubici. This would mean we would have to ride 100km more than when we would take the direct route, but we just couldn’t pass up on the chance to see the serra do Rio do Rastro with open weather.

I had seen some pictures of this Serra before and it really looked spectacular, but nothing compares to riding up there yourself. The great thing about being on a motorcycle, is that you can virtually stop everywhere to soak up the view.

Serra do Rio do Rastro – Around 1000m (cloud level). Some curves are so tight that trucks have to maneuver back and forth several times to pass them. Getting stuck behind one of them obviously doesn’t make a ride up or down the serra very pleasant.

Serra do Rio do Rastro – Around 1000m (cloud level). Some curves are so tight that trucks have to maneuver back and forth several times to pass them. Getting stuck behind one of them obviously doesn’t make a ride up or down the serra very pleasant.

Serra do Rio do Rastro – Around 1000m (cloud level). Some curves are so tight that trucks have to maneuver back and forth several times to pass them. Getting stuck behind one of them obviously doesn’t make a ride up or down the serra very pleasant.

At the summit of the Serra (alt. 1.450m). The clouds only make it look more real.

After an awesome ride up the serra, we continued on to Urubici, and.it didn’t take long before we could put on our rain gear again. Of course, when we left the hotel that morning, we were at an altitude of 200m and after climbing the Serra it was back to 1400m, which translated in a totally different weather situation.

In Urubici, we had some lunch and decided to check out the “Pedra Furada”, a rock with a huge hole in it, which is one of the major natural attractions of the region, so we took the road leading east and up to the Serra do Corvo Branco… Of course we missed the sign leading to the Morro da Igreja, from where you can see the Pedra Furada, and ended up on top of the serra do Corvo Branco, from where the view wasn’t bad at all either.

About halfway back to Urubici, we found the correct road to the morro da Igreja (alt. 1800m) that we missed on the way up, only to find out that there was no way to see the Pedra Furada due to the (again) heavy mist… Well, the only thing we gained was more kms to our route that day… An easy 250 km ride to Blumenau became 430 km.

Serra do Corvo Branco near Urubici… We were actually looking for the Pedra Furada, but due to heavy mist, this landmark was invisible…

On our way to Blumenau, we took an inside road, leading north from the BR282 passing via “Angelina” and “major Gercino”. This was a dirt road, and to make things interesting, a little after leaving Urubici, it had started raining again... Swell. As expected, the section of dirt road was pretty slippery, and made us slow down significantly. Luckily, the last 20 km that were also marked as dirt road in my GPS had been asphalted.

However, to get to Blumenau we had to go through the city of Brusque at dusk and rush hour, which was  probably the worst time to pass through there because of the traffic jams, and this resulted in us arriving in Blumenau only around 7.30pm… pitch dark of course… This was another city that we weren’t going to be able to explore a little more…

Day 10: Back home

Normally we would have taken the road along the coast to get back home, spending one more night near Santos, but In the morning, Mariel noticed that his front shocks were leaking some oil. We decided to head home and do the remaining +/- 950 km to Volta Redonda in one go.

We passed via Joinville to Curitiba and took the BR116 from there. This section of the BR116 (between Curitiba and São Paulo) is known as the “Rodovia da Morte” (highway of death), which is kind of a scary name, but I have to say that apart from the road not being in top shape, I didn’t really feel like this road was any more dangerous than any other road in Brazil. In fact, I found the first 150 km from Curitiba to Jacupiranga to be very scenic, especially where the road passes the Environmental Protection Area of Guaraqueçaba…

On Wikipedia, I read that the reason for the name “highway of death” is that it is the road with the highest indice of mortal accidents in Brazil (Duh ). Also, there’s a +/- 40 km section between Miracatu e Juquitiba, known as “Serra do Cafezal”, that is still not duplicated. I suppose that’s where most of the accidents happen..

The BR116 is one of the most important connections between the South east and the South, and a lot of the traffic are heavy trucks… We also passed a few sections with road works and those are always more dangerous and subject to traffic jams and accidents.

The worst part of the day, however, was passing the city of São Paulo. Although a little more disciplined than in Rio de Janeiro, the friday evening traffic was still pretty horrible, and the fact that it was getting dark, wasn’t helping a lot…

Anyways, around 10pm we reached Volta Redonda after about 4000km in 10 days (7 real riding days)

Here is an image of our (approximate) route in Googlemaps… Unfortunately, the real link was too long and wouldn’t process.

I hope you enjoyed this ride report.Unfavorable weather conditions and lack of more time prevented us from going further south into Rio Grande do sul, but that is a trip we can do on another occasion.

Thanks for reading. (I know this is kind of a long one :))

Brazilian sex motels – 10 things you should know.

A motel in Brazil is not quite the same as in, for example, the US. In Brazil, you go to a motel to have sex, or at least try…

When you come to Brazil, whether it’s on vacation, a business trip or other purposes, and no matter if you’re a man or a woman, there is always the possibility (chance, risk, call it what you want…) that you end up in a situation where you need a room for one, two or three hours. (for sex, what else? Nespresso? Yeah, right!)

So what do you do? If you’re in Rio de Janeiro, you might find a hotel that rents rooms by the hour, but a more obvious choice would be a motel, because that’s where people go to have sex around here.

OK, but how does it work? you might ask. Well, it’s really not that hard (which is not what I would want you to have to admit to the girl you just took there :)). Here are a few pointers for all you SINGLE, UNMARRIED people out there who are planning to come to Brazil at one point in their lives, with no intention whatsoever to cheat on their spouse or other people they have a relationship with.

Nothing better than to be informed, right?

  • Don’t pick a sex motel that looks cheap. If it looks cheap, it usually is, meaning that things might just not be as clean as you would like it. The more expensive ones usually are surprisingly clean. (see the links at the end of this post)
  • You don’t NEED to bring protection. It is usually available (sort of a room service thing.) at no extra charge. Of course this is for the normal stuff. you might find a kind of menu (like a mini bar list) where they offer various sex toys, gels and other stuff to “enhance the experience” and these, of course, are not free. I have serious doubts that any of those gels and oils really work, but that’s on a personal note.
  • Luxurious motel room

    Most sex motels will have different kinds of rooms or suites, from basic to luxurious. Obviously the luxurious ones will take a bigger bite out of your budget.

  • For reasons of discretion, every room should have a separate garage box,from where you have access to the room. Just park your car inside, lock the door and enter the room.
  • Once inside the room pick up the phone and let the receptionist know that you are going to use the room. You don’t have to dial any number. The connection is automatic. While one of you is on the phone, the other one can already activate the sauna or the Jacuzzi (never a dull moment  ). In case you can’t figure out how to operate these (or you have a hard time finding the porn channel on the TV), again, just pick up the phone and ask. That’s what the receptionist is there for.
  • After you did what you came to do (have sex, or just watch TV… right?), you once more pick up the phone and ask the receptionist to “fechar a conta” and someone will come to the room (very discretely. The person never enters the room) and receive your money. (yeah, I know, that phone is possibly the most important instrument in the room :))
  • Sometimes, paying with a card can be complicated because the wireless card reader doesn’t have a signal all the way to the room etc., so I strongly suggest that you have cash on you to pay the bill. You never know.
  • If you’re an adventurer and pick up someone from the sidewalk, make sure that your great looking woman isn’t a guy… Seriously… these guys are amazingly good at what they do.(dressing up as a woman)
  • Also make sure that your sex partner is of age. Unfortunately, many under-aged girls and boys are still forced to roam the streets of cities like Rio de Janeiro and sell their bodies to support their families or their own crack addiction. Please stay away as far as possible!!! If you get caught having sex with a minor in a motel, you will suffer dire consequences. You’ll end up in a Brazilian jail, which is already a frightening place, even known to be deadly for child molesters (most inmates have a woman, daughter or niece, so rapists and child molesters are very unpopular in there), and almost certainly your face will be shown on national TV as well.
  • If you come to Brazil as a couple though, I think it could be a great and fun idea, as well as an offbeat experience to try out a few of these motels. No kidding, it could give your sex life a boost.
Another way motels come in handy, is when you find yourself in a place you don’t know and you’re unable to find a pousada or hotel right away. A motel is safe, not too expensive AND has a private and closed parking. Especially when you’re traveling on a motorcycle, this can be a lifesaver. Only downside: sometimes, the neighbors keep you awake, but then there’s always the porn channel on TV.
Check out the websites of these three classy sex motels in Rio de Janeiro.
  • VIP’S Suites – Leblon – Rio de Janeiro
  • Motel Skorpios – Barra de Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro
  • Motel Hawaii – Barra da Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro
For addresses and  other information of the better motels all over Brazil: Click Here
Here’s another great post about “casual sex in Brazil” by Robert Shrader (@leavyrdailyhell)

Hope this was useful, or at least entertaining.

What about you? Did you ever end up in a Brazilian sex motel? Leave a comment and let me know… 

Brazil: 30 stunning pictures from two years of travel

I have been traveling across Brazil since January 2009 and have taken thousands of photos. Some of them better than others of course. It was a tough process, but here is the selection of my 30 most stunning pictures of Brazil.(so far)

Secluded beach and blue water near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro

Late afternoon on a beach near Cabo Frio – Rio de Janeiro

Steep cliffs at the costa das Baleias – South Bahia – Brazil

Sunset over the Rio Parana – Mato Grosso do Sul

Overlooking the Serra dos Órgãos – Rio de Janeiro State

Fishing boats on the beach near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro.

Pedra do Roncador – Rio de Janeiro

Lopes Mendez beach on Ilha Grande (favorite beach of Ayrton Senna)- Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro after sunset, seen from Suga Loaf

View over Rio de Janeiro (by day) from Sugarloaf mountain The first beach is Praia Vermelha… in the background to the left: Copacabana Ipanema and Leblon.

Sunset in Piçinguaba – São Paulo

Sun setting at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist in the serra da Mantiqueira near Caxambu – Minas Gerais

Pedra Azul – Espirito Santo – Brazil

Deserted beach – South Bahia

Sunset over Monte Pascoal – Famous landmark – Bahia

Dirt Road in South Bahia

Dirt road in the Chapada Diamantina – Bahia

Dirt road near Pedra Azul – Minas Gerais

Diamatina city center – Minas Gerais

The rugged landscape of the Estrada Real – Minas Gerais – Brazil

Spactacular!! Iguassu falls – Parana

The biggest man made forest and second biggest urban forest in the world: Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro

Beach near Trindade- Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist near Nova Friburgo – Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha, biggest favela in South America – Rio de Janeiro

Climbing up to Christ the Redeemer -Rio de Janeiro

Ititiaia National Park – Rio de Janeiro

Serra do Rio do Rastro in Santa Catarina – South of Brazil

I hope you enjoyed these pictures… Please scroll down and leave a comment to let me know which photo you liked the most.

Motorcycles and me – a never ending love story

The kind of bike my uncle used to have and where I had my very first rides on as a kid.

My love for motorcycles started way back when I was a little boy and all in awe about my uncle’s old Flandria. During the school holidays, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, and stood by and watched my mom’s little brother (my uncle) tinkering with the engine, or just cleaning it.

A few times he took me along for a little spin, and I remember feeling completely exited and overwhelmed by the power of the 50cc engine. Of course, I was very small and a 50cc for me was huge…

Close to my grandma’s house was a motocross track, and every year around Easter there was an important world-champion race, that lasted an entire weekend. I remember watching the riders doing their training sessions from my grandmother’s house with binoculars during the week, and on saturday and sunday, nobody could keep me away from that track.

The Belgian motocrossers have dominated the sport for decades, and for me, going to those events was kind of like a Rolling stones concert with the Beatles as opener. All the world’s best riders were present and gave it all they had. Names like Joël Robert, Roger de Coster, Sylvain Geboers (father of Eric Geboers), Harry Everts (father of Stefan Everts) are probably no longer in people’s memories, but for me, these guys were gods, and in my dreams I was riding like them… Those were good times actually.

My first bike was one like this, only, mine was grey: a Yamaha RD 50cc

This bike was pretty famous amongst my generation as one of the best bikes to “tune” (basically: make it go faster) and instead of the limited 40 km/h my RD was able to do speeds up to 110 km/h (downhill and down wind of course).During my teen years I continued to be fascinated by Motorcycles, anxiously awaiting the moment when I would turn sixteen so I could finally get a bike of my own. When the big moment arrived, I had saved up some money from a few student jobs I did, and bought a used Yamaha RD 50cc from a friend.

Eventually, I ended up having an accident with it and I didn’t have any money to repair it, so I sold it.

Not very long after the accident with the RD,  I turned 18, old enough to buy a real motorcycle, but my parents were against it, the accident in mind, and talked me into buying a car instead, which would be safer. So… At 18 I had a car instead of a motorcycle, but I noticed that a car had a few advantages that were quite important for me at that point in my life:

  1. My first REAL motorcycle: the Suzuki Marauder 800cc

    At 19, I met the girl who would become my wife, and she had a problem with motorcycles, to put it mildly… actually she downright HATED them and everything connected to them… To her, everyone riding a bike was a pig. No more, no less…end of story. was learning to play the guitar and dragged it along with me everywhere I went, and with a car, that was a lot easier – and safer – than on a bike. I had already destroyed one guitar in the previously mentioned accident, and wasn’t looking forward to go through that again…

  2. With a car, you could give friends (read “girls”) a ride to the parties, and my Citroën Diane was very popular I must say…
  3. A car was drier and warmer than a motorcycle (ok, this is a weak one)

So out of love I had to get to terms with the idea that riding a motorcycle would be something I could only dream about for the rest of my life.

My Suzuki Bandit 1200cc… I got a good deal on it because nobody seemed to like the color…

All those years I had kept my secret desire to buy a motorcycle carefully tucked away, but when I got single again, there was no one to tell me what to do (or not to do) anymore, and it didn’t take longer than ten days before I had my first real motorcycle on my driveway: a secondhand Suzuki Marauder 800.So then you get married, and you have kids (two of them) and a career (only one), and before you know it, you’re twenty years further … and divorced.

I had a lot of fun with it. I took it to the south of France and back, blew up the engine, had two accidents (both times a car coming out of a street without looking) and that was the end of the Marauder…

Time for a change, and the shop owner where I bought the Marauder had already told me that if I wanted to travel some more, I would be better off with a heavier bike, like the Suzuki Bandit 1200 and since he made me a good deal on a brand new one in his showroom, I was easily persuaded.

I took the Bandit across most of Europe, once doing 8000 km in three weeks, and after 1,5 years I had done 40.000 km.

Me and my Honda CB1300… A real beast.

I knew that in Brazil, I would need a bike that could handle both on and off-road riding, and back in Belgium I had already made up my mind that I would go for a KTM 650 or 990 Adventure, but once in Brazil, I found out that the KTM’s were extremely expensive and there was no dealership in Volta Redonda.It was around that time that I had my eye on a very beautiful Honda CB 1300 that the bike shop had in the window for quite some time. I had told the shop owner once: “don’t sell this one, after I worn out the Bandit, I’m going to buy it”. Sure enough, I ended up getting my third bike in 4 years…Untill I moved to Brazil.

After some research I learned that the best (price – quality) dual sport bike available in Brazil at the time, was the Yamaha XT660R. The Yamaha dealership in Volta Redonda also gave me a very good impression and so I decided to buy the XT660R. I would rather have bought a Teneré, If they would have been available, but that wasn’t the case.

My bike of choice for the Brazilian roads: the Yamaha XT660R. The Teneré would be even better, but not available in Brazil

Most adventure riders will tell you that on a motorcycle road trip, it is all about the freedom, the independency, the feeling of being more in touch with your surroundings.I rode tens of thousands of kilometers with the XT660R and took it into pretty rough terrain and it turns out to be a great bike. Perfect to go and explore a country like Brazil, where road conditions often make it necessary to have a bike capable of more than just smooth asphalt.

Fact is, on a motorcycle, even the most regular trip can turn into an adventure.

A motorcycle also makes it easy to meet people. Especially in Brazil, I have people (not only fellow motorcyclists) come up and talk to me all the time, asking about the bike, where I come from, where I’m going and I usually end up getting lots of great information about the region I’m traveling through.

For me, a motorcycle is by far the best way to discover a country like Brazil (or any other country), and I will probably be riding as long as my health allows me to…