Around the world by bike
(2 337km - 49days- 10 March – 27 April 2011)
10-11 March 2011 - Chui – Santa Vitoria Do Palmar – 25 km
Brazil was one of the most relaxed border crossings one could hope for, and all that was needed was a quick stamp in the passport. Our first day of cycling in Brazil came with bucketing rain, and Santa Vitoria Do Palmar made a perfect spot to get out of the weather. Amazingly enough, the town boasted a large lighthouse at the entrance. The lighthouse was, however, no more than a welcome gate as it was located 16 kilometres inland from the coast. The ATM spat out a few Brazilian reals, allowing us to book into the comfortable Hotel Brasil which came with an en-suite bathroom, decent breakfast and Brazilian TV. Unfortunately, the TV wasn’t of much use as the little Spanish picked up cycling through Argentina, Chile and Uruguay were replaced with Portuguese, our next challenge. It was, however, evident it wasn’t only in Santa Victoria where it was raining but the entire area further north was flooded. The TV showed the earthquake and tsunami in Japan - how unfortunate and there I was complaining about a bit of rain.
In the morning, the weather was no better, and as Ernest still wanted to do his blog update. I paid for another night.
12 March Santa Vitoria Do Palmar – Curral Alto – 90 km
Getting Ernest going in the morning was like preventing Uruguayans from drinking mate. I had a feeling he was doing this deliberately to annoy me, and it was midday before finally cycling out of Santa Vitoria. Our late start meant getting the full brunt of the headwind as well as the heat and I thought it quite a stupid thing to do, but there's no cure for stupidity.
The coastal southern part of Brazil was flat, hot, humid and wet, perfect for growing rice. Once again, the road led past pastures and rice paddies, and one could imagine yourself in Vietnam. On reaching the tiny settlement of Curral Alto, it was already after 5 o’clock and time to start looking for a camping spot. With Curral Alto being on the shores of Lake Mirim, the local fish factory was just the place. Staff at the factory offered us an empty room, and although a bit smelly (it was a fish factory, after all) one could close the door and keep the bugs at bay, which seemingly grew to monstrous proportions in Brazil (and at least I learned the Portuguese word for fish).
13-14 March - Curral Alto – Pelotas – 157 km
Ernest must have read my thoughts, or it was the fishy smell that got him going, and it was before 10 a.m. we thanked the staff and set off. A tailwind blew us past vast areas of wetlands, rich in birdlife and storks, herons, sacred ibises, raptors, and numerous other water birds abounded. I didn’t particularly care for the many snakes encountered and kept a beady eye out for them.
The wind drove us right past the turn-off for the Rio Grande and onto Pelotas. What a remarkable city Pelotas turned out to be. With its old buildings and cobblestone streets, there were much to explore.
The following morning, I handed in my laundry, which was by then long overdue, and took to the streets to explore the historic city centre.
15 March – Pelotas
The plan was on leaving in the morning, but the laundry was still unwashed and was still sitting behind the reception counter where I’d handed it in. Maybe they thought it was old clothes no longer needed. And there I thought I have picked up a few Portuguese words!
After taking the washing to the laundry ourselves, the rest of the day was spent wandering around and exploring the historic areas. In the nineteenth century, Pelotas was Brazil’s main area for the production of dried meat, which was a staple food made by slaves to feed other slaves working on sugarcane, coffee and cocoa plantations.
16 March - Pelotas – Camaqua – 133 km
After packing the clean laundry, it was on to Porto Allegre. Expecting a headwind, it was a pleasant surprise to find the wind slight and the way gently undulating.
It was still very much Gaucho country, and farmers on horseback rounded up cattle with the aid of their working dogs. It was fascinating to watch as they commanded their dogs by whistling, a task they made look easy. There’s in my mind nothing more beautiful than watching skilled people at work.
At the Camaqua turnoff a petrol station made for convenient camping, or so it was thought. It turned out to be a popular truck stop resulting in a rather noisy night.
17 March - Camaqua – Guaíba – 104 km
Even in Brazil, the drinking of mate was still very prevalent, which meant hot water was always readily available. Morning coffee was, therefore, made easy as one could fill your mug from the hot water dispenser. Due to our noisy night, it was on the road earlier than usual. It was another hot and humid day, and the route became hillier and more forested while crossing a multitude of rivers. At Guaíba, Ernest spotted a bicycle shop and bought a much-needed new rear tyre. Down the road, from the bike shop, was a conveniently located hotel with air-con, cable TV and a shower. Sometimes life was perfect.
18 March - Guaíba – Osorio – 125 km
On waking up, it was drizzling, something which continued throughout the day. Once on the road, it wasn’t altogether unpleasant as sometimes it could be quite pleasant to cycle in the rain. Soaked and covered in road muck, Osoria came after 125 kilometres of cycling and where a hotel provided a warm shower and a place to hang out wet clothes.
19 March - Osorio – Capao Da Canoa – 47 km
The following morning, the sun was out and the wind from behind as the route followed the coastal road north. The way was dotted with small villages, all relatively quiet as the carnival was over. Kids were back at school after a three-month summer holiday, and there were only a few holidaymakers on the beach.
So quiet was it, on finding a campsite at Capao Da Canoa, the owners offered us one of the chalets for no extra charge. How nice of them.
20 March - Capao Da Canoa – Torres – 62 km
The South Coast of Brazil was scenic, and it was a pure pleasure to pedal this part of the country. A man and his dog on a horse-buggy got our attention as he had a flat tyre. At first, I didn’t notice the problem as he addressed us in Portuguese, but once past he made a big enough noise for me to realize there was a problem. Fortunately, his wheel size was the same as ours, and Ernest could give him a tube to see him on his way.
In general, Brazilians were amazed we couldn’t speak Portuguese. “Nao Portuguesa?” was usually uttered in total astonishment. The fact that we hailed from South Africa was another complete surprise to them – “What ……Africa?” they repeated and looked at us as if we’d dropped from Mars. If you then continue to explain it took four years of cycling to get there, they only laughed and shook their heads as it was something they couldn’t comprehend.
21 March - Torres – Ararangua – 60 km
The wind picked up and the pleasant road enjoyed to that stage deteriorated, with road works and narrow sections in places. I was in no mood for batteling into the wind and on reaching Ararangua turned into the town which turned out much larger than anticipated. I opted for a hotel as all I wanted was to get out the wind. Accommodation in Brazil was, in general, pricier than in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay, but this one came with cable TV, air-con, en-suite bathroom as well as sparkling white linen and a great buffet breakfast, and I thought it money well spent.
22 March - Ararangua - Tubarao – 62 km
It was rice harvest time in the South of Brazil and farmers were feverishly bringing in the crop. Flocks of birds were hanging around, waiting for an easy meal. It was another day of battling strong winds, and with it becoming slightly hilly, I called it a day at Tubarao. With Tubarao being a large town, finding lodging was effortless and the local supermarket provided ingredients for what became a rather large potato salad.
23-24 March - Tubarao – Imbituba – 55 km
Breakfast was included in the room rate - a good thing as well, as once on the road, a strong headwind made us work hard up the hills. At least the new road was completed along that stretch making life somewhat more comfortable. It was, however, still heads down battling into the wind for most of the morning. The beach and harbour town of Imbituba came as a welcome surprise, and surprisingly enough, sported a decent sheltered campsite, as well as Wi-Fi and a lovely lawn.
The relentless wind never abated, not even during the night, and it was best to stay another day. Perfect for doing laundry, restocking our dwindling food supply, oiling bikes and airing sleeping bags.
25 March - Imbituba – Tijuca – 129 km
Fortunately, packing up was before the rain came down, and after picking up a tailwind, drove us down the road. What a beautiful day it turned out to be, past small villages still using the horse and cart, and past lush green hillsides until reaching the turn-off for Florianopolis. Florianopolis and Sao Jose were both high-rise cities with Florianopolis on Isla de Catarina and Sao Jose on the mainland. They were sprawling cities with skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. Giving them a wide berth, we followed the coastal route with beautiful views of the ocean and the nearby islands.
Although it drizzled all day, we were tailwind-assisted and continued cycling until reaching Tijucas, a smallish settlement with a supermarket and hotel. Afterwards, Ernest cycled to the supermarket and came back with the necessary ingredients for cooking pasta.
26 March - Tijucas – Barra Velha – 85 km
From Tijucas the road ran north, over hills, down valleys, through tunnels, past large resort cities with upmarket condos, and past humble timber homes next to rubbish dumps. A Brazilian couple out for the weekend in a camper van stopped us at a sugarcane juice shop and literally “topped us up”. Unfortunately, the conversation was somewhat limited due to no one speaking the other one's language, but amazingly enough, managed to understand one another quite well.
In Barra Velha, and with the help of friendly locals, an unofficial campsite was located along the river. The tents were hardly pitched and the food prepared when it started raining. Soon, a full-blown storm hit the area, and I discovered my tent wasn’t as waterproof as it used to be. It was like living in a small swimming pool. Fortunately, it passed quickly, and things returned to normal, allowing me to clear most of the water out the tent.
27-28 March - Barra Velha – Joinville – 58 km
The following morning was a sunny, peaceful Sunday morning, and the previous night’s storm forgotten, except for large pools of water that remained. Together with birds which came out to dry their feathers, we sat waiting for our tents to dry. It turned out to be a beautiful morning, and people arrived with boats and fishing gear to try their luck in the river. Eventually, the tents were dry and bags repacked. Friendly locals waved us good-bye and after a photo session with the estate agents across the road, it was back on the bikes.
A slight tailwind made for pleasant cycling as the road turned away from the coast and headed inland, over wooded hills. A strong forest smell hung in the air after the previous night's rain, making it a pleasure to be out. At the turnoff for Joinville, I was curious about a place in Brazil with such an English name.
On closer inspection, Joinville turned out to be a rather unusual place. I learned Joinville was established on land given as a dowry by Emperor Dom Pedro to his sister, who had married the Prince of Joinville, the son of Louis-Philippe of France. A deal with Hamburg timber merchants meant that, in 1851, 191 Germans, Swiss and Norwegians arrived to harvest wood from the fifty square kilometres of forest in the area. Even at the time of our visit, I thought there still to be a rather large amount of blond and blue-eye residents, which I understood was from German, Swiss, Norwegian and Italian descent.
Like the previous day, the road left the coast and headed inland over the mountains. It continued to rain, and on cycling into Garuva, the weather over the forward pass to Curitiba looked even worse. Instead of keeping going, I settled for digs in the small settlement of Garuva and hoped the weather would improve by morning. Hotel Recanto-Eliza at the edge of the town turned out to be a very comfortable choice in a lush forest setting with a river running right past it. Feeding the fish was a good way to while away the time, and they came out in their hoards to snatch it away. It rained hard throughout the night, and there appeared no end to the rainy weather.
30 March - 1 April - Garuva – Curitiba – 95 km
After a hearty breakfast, and with the mist hanging low over the mountains, the road led out of Garuva en route to Curitiba. It rained for most of the day as the road climbed over the hills, leading us up a 25-kilometre long climb and through a beautifully lush and green setting. All uphills eventually come to an end, and the remainder of the day was pleasantly undulating. Finally, Curitiba came into view and, wet, cold and tired it was straight to the historic centre, where the Formula 1 hotel provided a hot shower and space to dry our wet clothes.
Curitiba was famed for being one of the world’s best models of urban planning. I loved the storey of its mayor, Jaime Lerner, who transformed a six-block stretch of road into a pedestrian zone, way back in the ’70s. This move was only the start, and later express-bus avenues with tubular boarding platforms were added. Add to that recycling and the planting of trees and parks on an enormous scale, and you get what Curitiba is today.
The tourist bus made for a novel way of exploring the town and one could (in one fell swoop) see all there was to see in Curitiba. From the lovely and peaceful botanical garden to the 110-metre high telephone tower with a 360-degree view of the city.
2 April - Curitiba – Parana/Sao Paulo State Border – 111 km
It was time to leave our comfortable hotel in Curitiba and get back on the road. Fortunately, the weather cleared, and although it was drizzling from time to time, at least it wasn’t bucketing down like the night before. Although the road was still hilly, it felt mostly downhill (must have been the two rest days). Ernest had two flats from truck tyre debris (steel belt fragments) and discovered his rear rim was cracked. Fortunately, the road was in perfect condition, and it was easy cycling until the light started fading. The overcast and rainy weather made for a short day of cycling before camping on the wet grass up a hill behind a petrol station. As soon as the tents were up, it started raining again. Fortunately, the petrol station shop made it unnecessary to cook.
3-4 April - State Border - Registro – 110 km
After the usual coffee and biscuits for breakfast, the road led us through a national park, which usually meant stunning scenery and big hills. The route continued across numerous tropical-looking rivers and through forests overgrown with ferns, moss and creepers. There were very few villages along the way, only the odd wooden home peeking out through dense bushes. Finally, a 20-kilometre long downhill was reached, and once at the bottom of the mountain, the weather was more tropical and humid and the area home to large banana plantations. Registro provided a very comfortable hotel - so large was the room one could dry clothes as well as our tents.
Interestingly enough, I discovered the city was named Registro as it was the port where early settlers had to register the gold they shipped from Brazil to Portugal. I loved these little snippets of info.
The next morning, Ernest washed our bikes at the car wash around the corner. I should have known there was a method in his madness. The reason for his generosity was soon made clear as he mentioned he needed a new rim for his bicycle. He spent the rest of the day spoking the wheel, a lengthy process which he should have been quite good at by then. The new rim was, however, slightly different than his previous one, which required shorter spokes. The next day it was back to the bike shop, and another day spent in Registro.
6-7 April - Registro – Peruibe – 109 km
I was always more than happy to get on the bike after a day or two off the bicycle. The day turned out all one can wish for on a bike. It was mostly downhill, a slight tailwind helped me along, and the scenery was sublime as usual. We ate fruit from roadside stalls, filled our water bottles from mountain streams and, after about 60 kilometres, I eventually convinced Ernest to turn off the crazy trucking highway and head south-east towards the coast. It was up and over the mountains, ultimately, reaching the shore at Peruibe (meaning shark in the Tupi language). It was out of season and camping was available right on the beach where one could fall asleep with the sound of the waves in your ears.
As Ernest wanted to straighten his new wheel and fix his punctured tubes, another day was spent relaxing in, what felt like, my private little paradise.
A day at leisure always allowed me to sniff around and explore whatever there was to see in the area. I discovered the Abarebebê Ruins and believe back in the sixteenth century, the Portuguese settlers used the local Tupiniquim Indians as slaves to work in sugarcane plantations. Father Leonardo Nunes, or Abarebebe as the indigenous people called him, was against this practice. The first church in the region was built on the rock of Abarebebe, where he was often seen walking.
8 April - Peruibe – Guaruja – 122 km
The further north our path went the lusher the scenery seemed and more vicious the mosquitos. The coastline was picture pretty with white sandy beaches; this was, after all, Brazil’s Costa Verde. After missing the shortcut to Guaruja, the alternative road was a hilly but stunning one which ran around the port of Santos. Guaruja was, in fact, and island as the area was surrounded by water. It was a touristy/beach town with many lovely beaches, plenty of hotels but no camping. People strolled along the beachfront and sat at sidewalk cafes; the balmy weather making it perfect for being outside. At first, I thought of climbing up to the viewpoint, but at the end of the day had no energy for that.
9 April - Guaruja – Bertioga – 37 km
The road led to the ferry port and ran along the coast with white sandy beaches and palm trees. Far too soon the path reached the ferry back to the mainland. Once off the boat, the weather came in, complete with thunder and lightning. The way into Bertioga went past the Forte Sao Joao de Bertioga constructed in 1532 by Portuguese settlers. I understood it was the oldest fortress in Brazil, but although construction started in 1532, it was only completed in 1702. Today it’s the most prominent landmark in the town, but I didn’t explore as the weather was coming in and it was best to find shelter. Luckily there was a budget room just as it started bucketing down.
10 April - Bertioga – Boicucanga Beach – 70 km
Ernest and I weren’t getting along, making for a miserable day on the road. There were scenic beaches, al fresco oyster bars, and lush forests along the way, but I was unable to enjoy it. Towards the end of the day, I spotted a pousada opposite a beautiful beach, and booked in, thinking it would make for a more pleasant evening. It was, however, not the case and money wasted.
11 April - Boicucanga Beach – Sao Sebastiao – 41 km
I left early, leaving Ernest to his own devices. Brazil’s Costa Verde is characterised by the Serra do Mar, a 1,500-kilometre long mountain range, making not only for a very scenic ride but also a very hilly one. I felt both mentally and physically tired, and struggled up the hills, even pushing my bike up some of them. It was, however, incredibly beautiful, and I wish I were in a better frame of mind to enjoy it all.
Ernest later caught up with me. Exactly why he did that, I was unsure of …maybe only to annoy me. I, again, found a lovely guesthouse overlooking the Canal of Sao Sebastiao and Ilhabela island and decided to get a pizza for supper. I ordered a large vegetarian pizza from the pizzeria across the road, thinking it will make me feel better. It was clearly not my day as the pizza came with tuna.
12 April - Sao Sebastiao – Maranduba – 52 km
My knees were sore from all the many hills the day before. Fortunately, it was a bright, sunny morning. I still felt incredibly fatigued but loaded up the bike and, once on the road, things seemed much better. Gone were the sore knees and it turned out another beautiful day as I cycled past waterfalls and caves. Along the way, I spotted a small campsite right on the beach, and I couldn’t bring myself to cycle past such a lovely spot. With its white beach and little island off the coast, it was like a small paradise.
13 April - Maranduba - Ubatumirim – 61 km
There was no rushing along that stretch of coastline, and I ambled along (with Ernest in tow) from one beach to the next, and in the process crossed the tropic of Capricorn. It was, in fact, the third time I had passed it by bicycle. I found it quite ironic that between Brazil’s two largest cities was a coastline this beautiful with some of (I’m sure) Brazil’s finest beaches, and mostly unknown to foreign tourists. The beaches seemed even prettier the closer one got to Rio. The ocean was a bright blue-green and at least 25˚C. Very comfortable, to say the least.
Towards the end of the day, I coaxed Ernest into turning off the road along a sandy path and came upon a somewhat rustic beach with all the necessary facilities. Camping was on a small grassy patch overlooking a long stretch of beach, and it felt I could sit there forever, watching the small waves roll in.
14-15 April - Ubatumirim – Paraty – 49 km
Paraty turned out a lovely surprise and that after nearly missing the turnoff. It was blessed with a beautiful beach as well as a historic old town, still with cobblestone roads so rough I had to push the bike. Camping was across the street from the beach. Little food and drink stalls were right on the water’s edge, making for a perfect place to sit and watch the calm, warm water of the Atlantic drift in.
Paraty was perfect for spending another day and for doing laundry and for lazing about on the beach. It was so pleasant, I could easily have stayed another day.
16 April - Paraty – Tarituba – 37 km
After waiting for the clothes to dry, it was time to pack up and head out. Hardly on the road, an interesting-looking turn-off lured me off the road. The detour revealed an idyllic beach with a cottage in a jungle setting right on the water's edge; we offloaded the bikes and sat on the beach eating our “pastel” (a fried pastry with a filling). It was the most idyllic setting and a beautiful evening. A sweet aroma filled the air, crickets chirped, and the moon shone brightly. Unfortunately, the mosquitos came out, and one had to retreat indoors.
To me, this was what cycle touring was all about; unfortunately, my cycling partner preferred to do distance, mostly along the highway - a dreadfully monotonous task, if you ask me. Each one cycle tour in their own way and I liked exploring with no destination in mind. Ernest again was out to “cycle around the world” and wasn’t interested in exploring. Our different views of cycle touring didn’t make for very harmonious cycling, and it was high time I started thinking of going my own way.
17 April - Tarituba – Angra Dos Reis – 66 km
Breakfast was served outside our cottage under the trees. A full spread of bread rolls, ham, cheese, salami, coffee, juice, fruit and biscuits were served, and I felt like a member of the royal family. All good things come to an end, and it was time to thank the owner and continue along the coast.
The road was still slightly hilly but offered unique scenery. Along the Costa Verde, even the nuclear power plant looked good amongst the lush forests. The town of Angra Dos Reis turned out to be quite a surprise as it was entirely different from the rest of the coast. Houses clung to the wooded mountainside overlooking the picturesque bay, and narrow cobblestone streets weaved through the old part of town.
18 April - Angra Dos Reis – Mangaratiba – 66 km
Although a scenic coast, it was everything but flat, I churned my way up hill after hill and sweated buckets in the hot and humid conditions. The hills provided stunning views and I could see colossal oil tankers anchored in the sheltered bay, waiting their turn at the off-shore oil rigs.
At the turnoff to Mangaratiba, I saw the road heading up another big hill and decided to head into town for the night. After a few kilometres, the small picturesque village of Mangaratiba, which was spread out along a steep peninsula, appeared. Unfortunately, there was no budget accommodation or camping as it was one of the jumping-off points to the touristy Isla Grande. After heading back towards the main road, a more suitable option on the outskirts of town was located.
19 April - Mangaratiba – Barra Do Tijuca – 93 km
Although the route to Rio was hilly, it later flattened out somewhat. At Santa Cruz, a smaller road turned off the highway and followed the coast to Rio. After one last hill and after dodging roadworks and heavy traffic, our path eventually spat us out at the beach. Barra Do Tijuca was in close proximity to Rio and, contrary to where we came from, the entire area was built up. Remarkably, Tijuca had a campsite.
20 April - Barra Do Tijuca – Rio De Janeiro – 55 km
Barra Do Tijuca was located on the Southwestern outskirts of Rio, and it was a relief to find a 20-kilometre long cycle path running along the beach in the direction of the city. On reaching the spectacular Jao bluff, no bicycles were allowed onto the bridge which ran through two tunnels connected by an elevated highway over the ocean. We cycled across the bridge anyhow. Our illegal road spat us out close to the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches where another bicycle path was located. After snapping a few pics of these famous beaches, it was into town to find accommodation. It was, however, the start of Easter Weekend in one of the world’s most prominent holiday destinations. All the budget accommodation was full but, eventually, a room/flatlet was found only a few blocks from Copacabana beach. Our digs came at quite a cost, and the condition was it had to be taken for the entire weekend, allowing plenty of time to explore the city.
21-24 April - Easter Weekend - Rio De Janeiro
Rio was a spectacular place, with lots of natural beauty and loads of interesting people. I still claim it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I walked along the beach, swam in the ocean and took a local bus to all the touristy places. The beaches were completely packed, and one could hardly move. Still, it remained a beautiful city.
Soon it was, however, time to move on. Personal problems between Ernest and I forced me to make a long-overdue decision. It wasn’t an easy choice as I was enjoying myself in South America, but I felt I had to put distance between Ernest and myself.
25 April – Rio
I moved to a cheaper hostel while deciding what to do next. After much consideration, a flight was booked to South Africa, but it needed to be paid for in cash and I could only draw half the money at a time, and had to wait for the following day to draw the remainder.
The rest of the day was spent chatting to people at the hostel. What a remarkable place a hostel can be, people from all over the world gather there, and all had fascinating stories and reasons for their travels.
26-27 April – Rio
It felt I wasn’t meant to leave, as all sorts of difficulties arose as I tried to organise my “escape”. Firstly, I discovered one of my fellow travellers had dipped into my wallet and helped themselves to my money. How and when it happened, I wasn’t sure. It was all quite weird as they didn’t take all the money, only about half of what was in the wallet. There wasn’t anything I could do, but return to the ATM and draw the necessary funds to pay for the ticket.
The travel agent booked the flights, and I was told to collect it later but, on my return, learned they couldn’t reserve an Air Malaysia flight in Brazil and refunded the money. The trip from Rio to Buenos Ayres was scheduled but to the wrong airport and the booking had to be cancelled and a new ticket issued.
The Air Malaysia ticket (from Buenos Ayres to Cape Town) could be bought online, but my visa card had a security setting which prohibited online purchases. I decided to go out on a limb and try and buy a ticket at the airport once in Buenos Ayres. With that, I left the Americas and it would be four months before I returned to Rio.
I made use of the summer in the northern hemisphere to cycle Europe, starting in Budapest and ending in Lisbon from where I returned to Rio. I had a great time in Europe and felt confident and healthy by the time I arrived back. In the meantime, my sister Amanda decided to join me for a few months of cycling in Brazil.