Around the world by bike
(2 337km - 49days)
10/11 March - Chui – Santa Vitoria Do Palmar - 25km
Brazil must have one of the easiest border crossings one can hope for, just a quick stamp in the passport and we were on our way. (Again, it helps to be South African at times, like in most of Africa where we didn’t need visa’s – here the Americans, Canadians, and Australians receive retribution for their foreign policy and have to pre-buy visa’s). Our first day of cycling in Brazil came with bucketing rain and we pulled into Santa Vitoria Do Palmar to get out of the weather. Amazingly enough it boasts a large lighthouse at the entrance to the city, but this is really just a welcome gate as the town is quite a few k’s from the coast. The ATM spat out some Brasilian Reals, and we booked into the nice “Hotel Brasil” which came with an en-suite bathroom, nice breakfast and Brazilian TV. Not that the TV helped us much as now the little Spanish we picked up is of no use anymore and Portuguese will be our next challenge! We did however pick up that it’s not just here where it’s raining but that the whole area further north has been flooded. We also learned about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan - how sad is that and I’m complaining about a bit of rain!
In the morning the weather was no better and Ernest still wanted to do his blog update so we stayed on for the rest of the day.
12 March Santa Vitoria Do Palmar – Curral Alto - 90km
Getting Ernest going in the morning is like preventing Uruguayans from drinking mate! It was midday again before we got on the road and cycled until around 18h00/19h00. That also meant that we got the full brunt of the headwind and the heat, but as they say “as jy dom is moet jy swaar kry”.
This coastal southern part of Brazil is flat, hot, humid and wet, perfect for growing rice. Once again we cycled past pastures and rice paddies and we could imagine ourselves in Vietnam. By the time we reached the tiny settlement of Curral Alto it was 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. They even offered us a room where we could sleep on the floor, it was a bit smelly but then it was a fish factory after all! At least we could close the door and keep the bugs out, which grow to monstrous proportions here (and at least now I know the Portuguese word for fish!).
13/14 March Curral Alto – Pelotas - 157km
Ernest must have read my thoughts (or it was the fishy smell that got him going) and we were on the road before 10 am. We picked up a stiff tailwind and sped down the road passing large areas of wetlands, rich in birdlife. We spotted storks, herons, sacred Ibises, raptors, and numerous other water birds. I did not particularly care for the many snakes we encountered along the way and kept a beady eye out for them.
We flew down the road, past the turn-off for Rio Grande, but kept left (as that was the most favorable wind direction) and onto Pelotas. What an interesting city Pelotas turned out to be, with its old buildings and cobblestone streets there were loads to explore.
The following morning I handed in the laundry which was by then way overdue, and we took to the streets to explore the historic city center.
15 March - Pelotas
We had planned to leave this morning, but found that our laundry was unwashed and still sitting behind the reception counter where I’d handed it in. I’m not sure what they thought, maybe they thought it’s old clothes that we no longer wanted. We took the clothes to the laundry ourselves and spent the rest of the day again wandering around town and exploring the historic areas.
We packed our clean laundry and headed in the direction of Porto Allegre. We expected a head wind but it was a good day on the road, the wind was slight and the road gently undulating.
This is still very much Gaucho country and one can spot farmers on horseback rounding up cattle with the aid of their working dogs. Commanding the dogs by whistling they make the task look so easy.
We pedalled on until we reached Camaqua turnoff where we camped at the petrol station. It turned out to be a popular truck stop and it was a rather noisy night, perhaps next time we will find something more secluded.
17 March - Camaqua – Quaiba - 104km
Even in Brazil the drink of mate is still popular, which means hot water is readily available, so we filled up our mugs from the hot water dispenser and packed up earlier than usual (mostly due to the noise). It was a hot and humid day and we sweated buckets. The road became more hilly and forested with plenty of rivers. At Quaiba Ernest spotted a bicycle shop and bought a much needed new back tyre. Just down the road there was a hotel (with air-con) and we pulled in. What luxury we had, air-con, cable TV, and a shower.
18 March - Quaiba – Osorio - 125km
We awoke to light rain which continued throughout the day. Once on the road it was not altogether unpleasant and as we were already wet we carried on cycling – sometimes it is quite nice cycling in the rain. (It’s just that the bikes suffer with all the grit that gets into the moving parts). In Osorio we found a nice room - we were soaked and covered in road muck, so it was rather pleasant to be dry and out of the rain. We hung out our wet cloths as best we could, hoping it would be dry in the morning.
19 March - Osorio – Capao Da Canoa - 47km
A beautiful day, the sun was out and the wind behind us as we cycled north along the coast. The coast was dotted with small villages, all fairly quiet as carnival was over, the kids were back at school after a 3-month summer holiday and there were just the odd holiday makers on the beach.
At Capao Da Canoa we found a small campsite and the owners offered us one of the chalets in the camp for no extra charge, how nice of them.
20 March - Capao Da Canoa – Torres - 62km
Both Ernest and I felt rather lazy and we pedalled slowly along the coast. Along the way we passed a vagrant “Gaucho-type” man and his dog on a horse buggy with a flat tyre. At first we did not notice the problem as he addressed us in Portuguese (quite normal around here). As we passed he started shouting and waving like a madman, so he got our attention – fortunately his wheel size was the same as ours, and Ernest gave him one of his new tubes to see him on his way.
In general Brazilians are amazed at the fact that we can’t speak Portuguese. “Nao Portuguesa!!??” is normally uttered in total astonishment. The fact that we are from South Africa is another total surprise to them – “What ……Africa?” they repeat and look at us as if we have just dropped from Mars. If we then still continue to explain that the have been cycling for the past 4 years to get here, they just laugh and shake their heads.
21 March - Torres – Ararangua - 60km
The campsite where we’d spent the night was so peaceful and quiet that I felt reluctant to pack up and it was rather late by the time we finally left.
The wind picked up and the nice road that we have been cycling on deteriorated – with road works and narrow sections in places. I was in no mood to battle into the wind and by the time we reached Ararangua we turned off into the town. It was a much bigger town than indicated on my map and it even had a few hotels. We took a hotel room for the night which was rather expensive but all I wanted was go get out the wind. Hotel rooms in Brazil are all quite expensive, but this one had cable TV, air-con, en-suite bathroom and sparkling white linen and a great buffet breakfast!! We’re living a life of luxury, and their breakfast is definitely a lot better than that of their Spanish-speaking neighbours to the south.
22 March - Ararangua - Tubarao - 62km
Another day of battling strong winds. It’s rice harvest time in the South of Brazil and farmers are feverishly bringing in the crop. Flocks of birds are hanging around waiting for an easy meal. It was rather hilly and again we had only done half a day of cycling before calling it a day. We turned off into Tubarao town (quite a big place), and found a nice hotel room for a good price (again, it had all we required). There was a big supermarket up the road where we could buy the necessary goods, and that night Ernest made a good potato salad in the room. Yummy!!
23/24 March - Tubarao – Imbituba - 55km
The breakfasts keep improving as we move north, and this was a good one. However, on the road a strong headwind made us work hard up the hills; at least the new road was completed along this stretch and made life a bit easier. We had our heads down most of the morning battling into the wind. The beach and harbour town of Imbituba came as a welcome surprise. We even found a decent sheltered campsite, which came with Wi-Fi and a nice lawn.
The relentless wind never abated, not even during the night, and we decided to say another day. Perfect for doing laundry, restocking our dwindling food supply, oiling bikes, and airing sleeping bags.
25 March - Imbituba – Tijuca - 129km
We packed up just before the rain, picked up a tail wind and motored down the road. What a stunning day it turned out to be, past small villages with horse carts and lush green hillsides until we reached the turn-off for Florianopolis. Florianopolis and Sao Jose (both high-rise cities with Florianopolis on Isla de Catarina and Sao Jose on the mainland). There are sprawling cities with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, so we headed straight along the coast with beautiful views of the ocean the islands off the coast.
It drizzled all day long but as we had a tail wind so we carried on until we reached Tijucas, a smallish town with a supermarket and hotel (which we could spot from the highway). Afterwards Ernest cycled to the supermarket and came back with the necessary supplies for a good pasta and so forth.
26 March - Tijucas – Barra Velha - 85km
We followed the road north, over hills, down valleys, through tunnels, past large resort cities with upmarket condos and humble timber homes next to the rubbish dump. Along the road a local Brasilian couple out for the weekend in a camper van stopped us at a sugar cane juice-shop and literally “topped us up”. We could not speak Portuguese and they could not speak English but we still managed to understand one another.
In Barra Velha we found an unofficial campsite along the river (with some directions from friendly locals). We hardly had our tents up and the food prepared when it started raining. Soon a full blown storm hit us with full force and I discovered that my tent is not as waterproof as it used to be. It was like a small swimming pool. Fortunately it quickly passed over and things returned to normal.
27/28 March - Barra Velha – Joinville - 58km
We awoke to a sunny peaceful Sunday morning, the storm forgotten, except for large pools of water all around us. The birds came out drying their feathers while we sat around 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 our tents were dried out and bags repacked, friendly locals waved us good-bye (after a photo session with the estate agents across the road) and we were on our way.
We still had a nice little tailwind as we got on the road, the road turned away from the coast and headed inland, over wooded hills and the smell of the forest was strong after the rain the night before. We came upon a turnoff for Joinville, so we decided to see what was at a place in Brasil with such an English name.
Joinville turned out to be a rather interesting place. The land on which JOINVILLE was settled was originally 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 exploit the fifty square k’s of virgin forest.
29 March - Joinville – Garuva - 41km
We packed and set off in a light drizzle, the road left the coast and headed inland over the mountains. It continued to rain and by the time we have cycled the short distance to Garuva the weather over the forward pass to Curitiba looked even worse so we settled for a room in this small village and hoped things would improve by morning. Hotel Recanto-Eliza at the edge of town turned out to be a very comfortable choice in a lush forest setting with a river running right past it. We fed the fish stale bread and they came out in their hoards to snatch it away. It rained hard throughout the night and there seemed to be no end to this rainy weather.
30 March - 1 April - Garuva – Curitiba - 95km
After a hearty breakfast we set off in a drizzle with the mist hanging low over the mountains. It was a long slow day as we climbed over the mountains. It rained most of the day and we cycled up about 25 km through the hills. After that it was up and down and eventually we arrived in Curitiba, wet, cold and fairly tired. We headed straight for the historic center, found a hotel at the Formula 1 hotel at a reasonable price and could have a hot shower and dry out.
The following day we took the tourist bus around the town and could (in one foul swoop) see all there is to see in Curitiba. From the lovely and peaceful botanical garden to the 110m high telephone tower with a 360 degree view of the entire city.
The next morning we woke to an overcast and rainy morning and decided to stay put for another day. We ate cake and drank Brazilian coffee all in the warmth and safety of our hotel room. Not bad for two down-and-out homeless people.
2 April - Curitiba – Parana/Sao Paulo State Border - 111km
It was time to leave our comfortable hotel in Curitiba city and get on the road again. Fortunately the weather cleared and although it was drizzling from time to time, at least it was not bucketing down like the night before. Although it was still hilly it felt mostly downhill. Ernest had two flats from truck tyre debris (steel belt fragments) and also discovered that his rear rim was cracked. Fortunately the road was good and we continued until the light started fading. The overcast and rainy weather made the day short and we camped in the wet grass on a hill behind a petrol station. As soon as the tents were up it started raining again, we still had some tinned food and we could buy bread at the petrol station so there was no need for cooking.
3/4 April - State Border - Registro - 110km
It was my birthday, but we had the usual coffee and biscuits for breakfast and packed up in a constant drizzle. The road had a spacious shoulder and ran through a national park, which usually means stunning scenery and hills. We were slowly creeping north, with more tropical-type rivers and forests. The forest became dense and overgrown with ferns, moss and creepers. There were very few villages along the way, only the odd wooden home peeking out through dense bushes. We finally reached a 20km downhill and once at the bottom of the mountain it was a lot more humid with large banana plantations. On reaching Registro we turned into the town and found a very comfortable hotel. It had a large room and we could dry our tents and wet clothes.
The next morning Ernest washed our bikes at the car wash around the corner, and as there was a bike shop in town I bought him a new rim (for his birthday on the 8th) - he spent the rest of the day spoking the wheel, a lengthy process which he should be good at by now. The rim was deeper than his previous rim which required shorter spokes (so it was back to the bike shop the next morning, another day in Registro).
6/7 April - Registro – Peruibe - 109km
I’m always more than happy to get on the bike after a day or two in one place. The day turned out all one can whish for on a bike. It was mostly downhill, a slight tail wind helped as along and the scenery was as stunning as usual. We stopped and ate fruit, filled our water bottles from mountain streams and after about 60km we turned off the crazy trucking highway and headed south-east towards the coast. It was up and over the mountains and eventually we reached the coast at Peruibe. It was out of season and we virtually had the place to ourselves. We camped at the beach and fell asleep with the sound of the waves in our ears.
Ernest still needed to straighten his new wheel and fix some punctured tubes, so we stayed and relaxed in our own private little paradise.
8 April - Peruibe – Guaruja - 122km
The further north we go the more lush the scenery seems to get (and more vicious the mosquitos). The coastline was picture pretty with white sandy beaches. We missed the shortcut to Guaruja and found ourselves on a hilly (but stunning) section of the road running around the port of Santos. On reaching Guaruja we found it to be an island as the area is surrounded by water. It was also a touristy / beach town with many lovely beaches, plenty hotels but no camping. People strolled along the beachfront and sat at sidewalk cafes, the balmy weather made it perfect for being outside. We found a nice local hotel for the night.
9 April - Guaruga – Bertioga - 37km
We cycled along the coast with its white sandy beaches and palm trees until we reached the ferry back to the mainland. Once off the ferry the weather came in and soon it started thundering, we looked for a room and found really cheap room just as it started bucketing down again.
10 April - Bertioga – Boicucanga Beach - 70km
There were scenic beaches, el-fresco oyster bars, and lush forests along the road. Ernest and I weren’t getting along very well, so I didn’t enjoy the day. I saw a pousada opposite a beautiful beach, and we booked into there for the rest of the day and night.
11 April - Boicucanga Beach – Sao Sebastiao - 41km
I felt mentally tired and weak and I struggled up the hills - I pushed my bike up the nasty steep hills which I had to confront early on. It was however incredibly beautifully and I wish I was in a better frame of mind to enjoy it all. We met up again during the day and booked into a room overlooking the straight and Sao Sabastiao island. That evening things got even worse as I decided to get a pizza for supper and went to the expense of buying a large Vegetarian pizza from the pizzeria across the road (tuna!! - I guest around here fish is not considered to be meat). After spending all that money (and it was not cheap) and waiting forever for the pizza to be made, I was needless to say, looking rather forward to my “feel good” meal!
12 April - Sao Sebastiao – Maranduba - 52km
Woke up to a bright sunny morning and sore knees from all the many steep hills. I still felt incredibly fatigued but loaded up the bike and once on the road things seemed much better. Gone were the sore knees (how does that work) and it turned out another stunning day. Past waterfalls and caves. We spotted a small campsite right on the beach and I could not bring myself to cycle past such a lovely spot with a little island off the coast - it was like a true paradise.
13 April - Maranduba - Ubatumirim - 61km
There’s just no rushing along this stretch of coastline. We literally ambled along from one beach to the next. In the process we crossed the tropic of Capricorn (the 3rd time I’ve crossed it on the bike). It is quite ironic that between Brazil’s two largest cities is a coastline so beautiful and varied and with some of (I’m sure) Brazil’s best beaches. It seems that some areas are practically unknown to foreign tourists. The beaches also seem to get prettier the closer we get to Rio. The ocean is a clear blue-green and at least 25*C, very comfortable to say the least. We turned off the road along a sandy path to a rather rustic beach with basic facilities, just a long stretch of beach. We camped on a small grassy patch and could just sit and look at the small waves rolling in.
14/15 April - Ubatumirim – Paraty - 49km
Another short day, at the turnoff for Paraty we nearly went past but decided to turn off and have a look. What a surprise it turned out to be. A lovely beach with an old historic town, still with cobble stone roads so rough I had to push my bike along. Just across the river we found a campsite across the road from the, beach. Little food and drink stalls were right on the water’s edge and one could just sit and watch the ocean or drift in the calm warm water of the Atlantic.
The following day we did some laundry and lazed around on the beach, it was so nice we nearly stayed for 2 days.
16 April - Paraty – Tarituba - 37km
We slowly packed up while waiting for our clothes to dry out a bit and eventually pedaled down the road to the next beach. We spotted a turn off and turned down to see what’s down the road but after seeing the lovely beach and a cottage right on the water in a jungle setting we off loaded the bikes and I promised myself that the following day I’ll go a bit further. We sat on the beach and ate patelini (a fried pastry with a filling). When night fell a sweet aroma filled the air, crickets chirped and the moon shone brightly, unfortunately the mosquitos also came out and we retreated in doors.
17 April - Tarituba – Angra Dos Reis - 66km
We ate breakfast under the trees, while the waves rolled in. A full spread of bread rolls, ham, cheese, salami, coffee, juice, fruit and biscuits, we felt like the royal family. All good things come to an end and we waved the owner good-bye and set off along the coast.
The road continued to be rather hilly but offered unparalleled scenery. 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 quite different to the rest of the coast. Houses clung to the mountainside overlooking the picturesque bay and narrow cobble stone streets weaved through the old part of the city.
18 April - Angra Dos Reis – Mangaratiba - 66km
Although the coast is scenic it is everything but flat, we churned our way up hill after hill and sweated buckets as it was hot and humid. Huge oil tankers were anchored in the sheltered bay waiting their turn at the off-shore oil rigs.
At the turnoff to Mangaratiba I saw that the road went up a big hill, so we decided to go into the town and look for a place to stay. After a few k’s we got to the small picturesque town along a steep peninsula, but there wasn’t any decent cheap accommodation or camping (this is one of the jumping-off points to the touristy Isla Grande). After heading back towards the main road we found an OK room, although a bit expensive without even a breakfast.
19 April - Mangaratiba – Barra Do Tijuca - 93km
We continued along the road towards Rio and although the road was still hilly it flattened out later. At Santa Cruz we turned off the high way to in order to follow the coastal road into Rio. For some time the road was in poor condition, there were road works, and it was very busy. After one last big hill we found the coast again, and suddenly it was very built up but we found a campsite for the night (probably the last one this side of the city).
20 April - Barra Do Tijuca – Rio De Janeiro - 55km
We’d camped on the SW outskirts of Rio, and for 20 km there was a cycle path along the beach in the direction of the city. Then we got to a spectacular bluff a Jao, where we illegally (no bicycles allowed) went onto a bridge and 2 tunnels separated by a spectacular elevated highway over the rocks and waves, before getting to the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches where we could cycle on the bicycle path again. We took some photo’s and started looking for accommodation – then we discovered that it was the start of Easter Weekend (in one of the world’s biggest holiday destinations!). All the budget accommodation was full, and eventually we found a nice room/flatlet a few blocks from the beach in Copacabana, but it came at quite a cost. Anyway, the condition was that we take the place for the whole weekend, so we’ll have time to see 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 walked along the beach, swam in the ocean and took a local bus to all the interesting places. The beaches were absolutely packed. One could hardly move. What a beautiful city Rio is.
Soon it was however time to move on. Personal problems between Ernest and myself forced me to make a rather quick and unexpected decision to return home for a while. It was not an easy decision as I was enjoying myself in South America.
25 April - Rio
Ernest and I left our hotel in which we stayed for the past 4 days, Ernest carried on towards Bolivia and I moved to a cheaper hostel while deciding what to do next. I found a travel agent and booked a flight back to South Africa on the 27th. I needed to pay for the flight in cash and could only draw half the money and had to wait for the following day to draw the rest of the money in order to pay for the ticket.
Fortunately I spotted a bike shop just round the corner from the hostel and planned to get a bike box there the following day. The rest of the day was spent chatting to people at the hostel. What an interesting place a hostel can be, people from all over the world gather there and all have interesting stories to tell about their travels.
I felt rather sad that my travels had come to an end for the time being, but that’s the way it is and I will just have to deal with it for now. Hopefully something good will come from it.
26 April - Rio
I was just not meant to go back, as all sorts of difficulties arised as I tried to organize my flight.
Firstly I discovered that one of my fellow travelers had dipped into my wallet and helped themselves to my money. How and when that happened I’m not sure. It all is quite weird as they did not take all the money but about half of what was in my wallet. So it was off to the bank to draw the necessary funds to pay for my ticket.
The travel agent booked the flights and told me to come back later to pick it up. Later I however discovered that they could not book an Air Malaysia flight in Brazil and gave me my money back.
The flight from Rio to Buenos Ayres was booked 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) had to be bought on the internet. I did not think this to be a big problem but soon discovered that my visa cards has a security setting that does not allow me to buy on-line. I decided to go out on a limb and try and buy a ticket at the airport in Buenos Ayres.
In the meantime the bike shop boxed my bike and on my way to the bike shop I bumped into Cedric, whom I met at the hostel, and he helped me carry the bike back.
27 April - Rio
I woke at 5.00am and got going, had a shower, a cup of coffee and waited for the taxi to take me to the airport. Always a great hassle, me, bike, bags etc. etc. On arrival at the airport I had my bags wrapped so I only had 2 pieces of luggage and the bike box; it makes life a lot easier.
The flight to Buenos Ayres was uneventful and soon I was back where I left exactly two months ago. I settled in for the long wait. The check-in counter only opened much later that evening and I had to wait for them to open before I could buy a ticket, at last I was on my way.
At last I arrived back in Cape Town, South Africa with no plans for my future. What could only be described as a very low point in my life, I sat down and reevaluated my plans. My best option was to use the time to try and secure a visa for Europe, as the Schengen Visa must surely be the worlds most elusive visa!!
After going back and forth it seemed that my best option was to book some sort of tour and with proof of the itinerary and payment I could apply for the darn visa (and hopefully get 3/6 months, although the tour is for a much shorter period of time). This all seemed a rather expensive way of doing things, but it appeared the easiest way. Strange that the truth is unacceptable but that some sort of cooked up story is what it takes to get the visa??!!
19 May 2011
Eventually I had:
2. Schengen travel insurance
3. Booked and paid for a tour
4. Full itinerary
5. Proof of enough money to keep me going while in Europe.
The list goes on and on!
Then it was off to the embassy with my fat folder!
I was starting to look forward to the cycle tour as it would be much different from what I have been doing the past 4 years. I’ll have the luxury of my bags being transported from campsite to campsite and food will be provided.
I’ll be doing things a bit arse about face, heading in the wrong direction at first. It would have been much easier if I could start in Budapest (where I left off last time) and head for Lisbon. The tour is however between Paris to Budapest!!