Around the world by bike
(5 879km - 149days)
27 August 2011 - Lisbon, Portugal – Rio, Brazil
On arrival at the airport in Rio, a taxi ride took me to the Wave Hostel in Copacabana Beach where there was a bike shop across the road, making for easy reassembling of the bicycle. The hostel wasn’t too bad, as hostels go. It was situated close to the beach, and with breakfast thrown in and free Wi-Fi. One could do worse.
28 August - 3 September - Rio de Janeiro
Most of the days in Rio was spent shopping for a new SIM card, camping gas, and a good map of Brazil which indicated distances between towns for the road north/west of Rio. The vague plan was to cycle along the coast towards French Guiana, a small country bordering Brazil and Suriname.
In the meantime, I ‘recced’ the route out of town to make the ride out of Rio less stressful for Amanda on her first day. I also got a Brazilian SIM card for her phone as it would be much more economical than roaming. At the same time, I enjoyed the pleasant sunny weather in Rio. Although August is considered winter, the beaches were packed with thong-clad sunbathers, deck chairs and umbrellas. I could comfortably live in a place like that.
Rio is very much a party town, and most people partied all night and slept all day. Not something I was used to, but what the heck, as they say, “When in Rome…….”.
Amanda arrived on the evening of the 31st, dead tired after 22 hours in the air. Although tired, the chatter continued until the wee hours of the morning. She must have been exhausted as she didn’t utter a word about our abode being terribly small and that we’d to share a bed (albeit a double bed). Something I knew (from childhood) she hated, seeing pillows were always placed between us whenever there was any sharing of beds to be done.
The next morning was a cold and overcast Brazilian day, not very conducive to our sightseeing plans. First things first and we took Amanda’s bike to the bike shop for reassembling. Then it was off to the famed Copacabana beach, the colourful local market and backstreets where old men sat playing cards in the park. By midday, it was time for a quick nap, before setting off again, this time by bus to the very famous Sugarloaf Mountain.
The price for taking the cable car was a bit steep for a cloudy day, and we gave it a miss and hoped for better weather the following day.
The streets came alive after dark with literally thousands of stalls selling touristy things and bites to eat. After a beer on the beachfront, it was into the backstreets in search of food. The most inexpensive meal found was two pizzas from the bakery one could cook in the microwave at the hostel. The pizzas were eaten accompanied by a terrible but cheap bottle of wine. The wine, however, did what it was supposed to do and Amanda nearly fell asleep with her head on the pizza.
The following day was up Corcovado, the 710-metre high mountain with the statue of Christ at the top. A tram ride up the steep slopes brought us to the 38-metre tall statue, and although very touristy, the views over the city were spectacular. It was, however, too cold and windy to hang about and we soon headed down to the warmth of the town.
With all the sightseeing done, it was time to pack the panniers and start cycling.
4 September - Rio de Janeiro – Marica – 56km
It was Amanda’s first day on the bike, and luckily it was Sunday and the beach road closed to traffic, making for a stress-free ride to the ferry terminal where ferries departed for Niteroi across Guanabara Bay. Our luck didn’t end there as, on Sundays, bikes were transported free of charge.
While waiting for the boat, we befriended a local chap who lived along the coast, close to Marica. He had bought himself a bike in town and was planning to cycle home as he couldn’t take the bike on the bus. He offered to show us a shortcut and led us out of busy Niteroi onto a much more traffic-free road. He stayed with us all day until he had to turn off - what a nice guy. Not much further, a sign pointed to a campsite about three or four kilometres off the road along a dirt road. It was a beautiful place with lakes, forests and a lovely lawn for camping. Although Amanda was tired, it was a good day on the bike.
There were no shops around, and once the tents were up, it was time to haul out and cook the noodles purchased for such an occasion.
5 September - Marica – Itauna Beach – 59km
After a cup of coffee, it was back to the main road. It was day two for Amanda, and she mumbled something like she was looking for an internet connection to put the bike and panniers on eBay. It was, in fact, quite a nice ride, mostly along the Costa do Sol, with views of densely-wooded hills to the interior.
Several times we stopped so Amanda could get her Coca-Cola fix or rest under the trees. On reaching Saaremaa, we kept our eyes peeled for a campsite but found none, and after doing our shopping at the supermarket, it was off to Itauna beach where we settled for a guesthouse right on the famous surfing beach of Itauna. Saaremaa is known as the surfing capital of Brazil and, with its near-perfect waves, forms part of the world surfing circuit.
6-7 September - Itauna Beach – Arraial do Cabo – 65km
Breakfast was at our pousada after which our route headed north along the coast. The road ran between the beach and a Salt Lake, and we cycled passed many a salt farm. Fortunately, we picked up a strong tailwind, and I was happy for Amanda as she appeared rather tired by then. On arrival at Arraial do Cabo, she felt nauseous and experienced cold shivers; I suspected her problem was dehydration as she is a terrible water drinker.
The campsite at Arraial do Cabo was a disappointment as although it was close to the beach, I thought it was overpriced for what it offered. Amanda retreated to her tent, not to be seen again. I cycled to the supermarket, bought the necessary items for supper, and stocked up with loads of fluids for the night.
We stayed the following day, allowing Amanda to recover before heading off again. Arraial do Cabo had a real fishermen village atmosphere, and it was a pleasant walk to the picturesque harbour where there were self-service restaurants. These restaurants were by far the best value for money as one paid by weight. Amanda, being a fussy eater, found this the most convenient as she could choose from a wide selection of dishes and only paid for what was on the plate.
During the night the wind picked up and gained strength to near gale force proportions. In order not to get blown away, it took crawling out in the middle of the night to turn the tents around so it would face into the wind. In the process, one of my tent poles broke, something which seriously peed me off as it usually meant eventually buying a new tent.
8 September - Arraial do Cabo – Buzios – 35km
Amanda appeared much improved after a day’s rest and, although it was still very windy, it was time to pack up and cycle the short distance to Buzios. Well done to Amanda for not complaining about the wind, she only rolled her eyes a few times. Once in Buzios, the Buzios Hostel was the right choice for fixing the tent poles and for doing internet. Amanda, no doubt, was the first to spot a sign advertising a bus trip to Salvador along the coast. There was, however, no chance of such a thing as we were there to cycle.
The local supermarket provided food for supper, which we cooked in the hostel’s kitchen. Unfortunately, Amanda discovered she was a victim of card fraud. What a disaster.
9 September – Buzios
Although packed up and ready to leave quite early, contacting Amanda’s bank to report the card fraud took longer than expected. By the time we’d completed the time-consuming job of phoning the bank and cancelling the card, it was after midday, and it was another day spent in pretty Buzios.
Buzios is known for its beaches, and it didn’t disappoint. In the early ’60s, Buzios was “discovered” by Brigitte Bardot and her Brazilian boyfriend. After that, the town went from a sleepy fishing community to a world-class tourist resort. The wind dropped, making for an enjoyable walk along the beach and for a stunning sunset. At least Amanda had a good rest and looked ready to tackle the road once more.
10 September - Buzios – Macae – 81km
Luck was on our side and, after picking up a strong tailwind, the breeze pushed us along, and hardly stopping, we flew down the road past Rio das Ostras and onto Macae. Accommodation appeared somewhat pricey, and we continued until just past Macae where there was a roadside pousada. At that time of year, the sun was setting quite early, and by 17h00, it was time to start looking for accommodation. Our little pousada was very basic and somewhat noisy as it was located on a rather busy road, but we’d a sea view, a fan and a bathroom.
That evening we cooked for ourselves. It was more an experiment than anything else and not very tasty, but a meal, nevertheless.
11 September - Macae – Campos dos Goytacazes – 94km
It was Amanda’s birthday, and she had the best gift the road could provide. A tailwind. On top of that, it was an overcast day, a good thing as it turned out to be quite a long day on the road. Although Amanda was tired and her backside sore, she never complained. Along the way were a few sugarcane stalls selling ice-cold sugarcane juice which I loved. Amanda didn’t much care for the taste and stuck to her tried-and-tested Coca-Cola.
The aptly named Canaan Hotel in Campos was our spot for the night as I didn’t think my dear sister was up for cycling around looking for a budget room. While she relaxed, I went shopping for a few items we needed. She later claimed she could only move her eyes and all she could do was lie staring at the ceiling. Supper was a pizza, seeing Amanda could only move her eyes. The pizza was more substantial than expected, and after only managing half, the remainder was packed to eat the following day.
12 September - Campos dos Goytacazes – Quaxindiba – 56km
After 16 kilometres of cycling, the BR101 became dreadfully busy but, fortunately, there was a small path which lead to the coast. The coastal road gave more opportunities for accommodation and seemed more interesting than the highway.
Our route led us past large sugarcane fields, cattle ranches and pineapple fields. Numerous pineapple stalls sold pineapples at incredibly low prices. We agreed the sweetest pineapples on this planet were to be found in Brazil. On reaching the coast at Quaxindiba, Amanda spotted a decent-looking guesthouse. I didn’t argue as by then I had heard the phrase, “This isn’t for me” a hundred times. The accommodation turned out to be far less glamorous than the outside indicated. It was smelly and dingy, but we took it as it came with a low price tag.
13 September - Quaxindiba – Marataizes – 65km
The route continued along the coast, partly on a dirt road and past small fishing settlements. Sugarcane trucks abounded and, like the day before, our path ran past large pineapple and sugarcane plantations. It was the state of Espirito Santo, overlooked by tourists and truly stunning. It was out of season, and it was only the locals and us.
Marataises was our first beach town along the coast and priority was for Amanda to get an internet connection to arrange for a new bank card to be sent to her.
14 September - Marataizes – Piuma – 26km
With most of the internet stuff done, we pedalled along the coast past Itapemirim. Not far down the road, Amanda flopped down on the nearest beach, claiming she was going no further. I couldn’t blame her as by then we’d four days of non-stop cycling, of which two were reasonably long, especially for someone not used to cycling.
A few Brazilian reals gave us a very comfortable abode for the night. It was more a flat than a room as it came with two bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. There was more than enough time to do laundry and the fact that they had washing machines and driers was an added bonus.
15 September Piuma – Guarapari – 55km
After a hearty breakfast of jelly, cake, bread rolls, cheese, ham, coffee, etc., we packed our clean and sweet-smelling laundry and set off. Again, our route led us past fantastic beaches like Iriri, Anchieta and Ubu. Guarapari was a much larger city than expected and it was slow going, weaving our way through the busy streets. On clearing the city limits, it started drizzling and a guesthouse was found in a hurry. The owners were ever-so-friendly: I’m sure they had never had two foreign cyclists staying at their pousada.
Amanda amazed me more and more every day – she, by then, even drank a beer or two, something I’ve never seen her do before. Amazing what a few days on the bike can do.
16 September - Guarapari – Carapina Beach – 84km
Nothing came of the predicted rain. Although it was cloudy, it was a good day for cycling. Amanda set off at quite a speed, and I couldn’t believe how quickly she was getting fit. Usually, people got more and more tired as time wore on. At Vitoria, the authorities didn’t allow bicycles across the main bridge (Ponte 3) making for a long detour around the city to cross the river at Ponte Florentino Avidos. With Amanda’s fear of water and heights, she was across the bridge in record time. Vitoria turned out to be quite an exciting town with both an old and modern section, but on reaching the beach, the accommodation appeared pricey and we cycled on.
It was easier said than done as the road led us through various villages, jam-packed with traffic. I’m quite sure it was the wrong road and, on reaching the coast, Amanda wasn’t a happy puppy anymore and threatened to stop right there and then.
Fortunately, she didn’t give up and managed to continue until reaching Carapina Beach, where there was a very reasonably-priced pousada right on the beach. The room was large and it had clearly not been cleaned since the previous occupant, and there was no bedding — I was happy for our sleeping bags.
17 September - Carapina Beach
The next day was spent in Carapina doing little else but sleep, eat and drink. My Portuguese was, obviously, not improving. I tried in my best Portuguese to ask for directions, food and accommodation, but people generally looked at me as if I have landed from another planet. When they eventually get it, the remarks were always the same: ”Aaaah, pousada,” and there was me thinking, “That was exactly what I said.”
18 September - Carapina beach – Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach – 50km
Refreshed after a day of rest, we headed further north. It was a beautiful day’s cycling. The road was scenic and led us through many small fishing hamlets, past craft markets and nature reserves. A campsite at Putiri Beach lured us in, and although it was still very early, it was such a good site, right on the beach, one couldn’t decline. The search for food revealed nothing, even after a walk along the beach. Everything seemed deserted as it was Sunday. Supper was, therefore, instant noodles washed down with a few beers. Food was harder to find than beer. Soon the rain came down, and by 8 p.m. it was back in our tents, hiding from the weather.
19 September - Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach – Linhares – 80km
The coastal road came to an end, and there was no choice but to head inland and join the busy BR101 while passing vast timber plantations. Our route was somewhat undulated, and Amanda had to push her bike up a hill or two. The best part of the day was a tailwind and cycling past ylang-ylang plantations. The sweet and exotic fragrance of the flowers filled the air. I couldn’t think of anything better than cycling with the smell of ylang-ylang in your nostrils.
Although the BR101 was a busy road, it had a nice wide shoulder for cycling. The road was littered with cold drink and crafty stalls but, unable to buy anything, all we could do was snap a few pictures.
On arrival at Linhares, it took some cycling around the not-so-glamorous town to find reasonably-priced accommodation. The shocking (or amusing) discovery made, was the address Amanda gave the bank where to send the card wasn’t at all where we thought it was! The inn she found on the internet turned out to be along the coast and not in Sao Matheus, as intended.
20 September - Linhares – Barra Nova – 85km
The only option was to head to Barra Nova to see if the card had arrived. After cycling for about 60 kilometres along the BR101, a huge sign advertised the inn. It wasn’t the route indicated on the map, but after consulting with locals, it was concluded that, yes, it was the right turn-off - 23 kilometres the advertising board said. We cycled and cycled, but no inn appeared. Eventually, the paved road came to an end and turned into a dirt road but still no inn. The sun started setting, and Amanda was (as can be expected) by that time claiming she was going to catch a bus. It was a beautiful but rather deserted road, and where she was going to get the bus, remained a mystery. The people along the way seemed somewhat perplexed we wanted to go to Barra Nova, which according to one man, was still very far away and across a river (with no bridge, indicated by rowing of arms).
Eventually, it started getting dark, and there was no other option than to “wild camp” (a first for Amanda). We pitched our tents at the entrance of what looked like an oil refinery (to the great amusement of the security staff). Amanda looked anxiously around for a toilet and was mumbling something like: “I could have been somewhere in a hotel room.”
The security guards at the gate weren’t only very friendly and understandably curious as to what two women on bikes were doing in that part of the world. Once again, the directions to Barra Nova varied between 10 and 28 km.
21 September - Oil refinery – Barra Nova – 20km
Amanda survived the night without a toilet and after coffee it was back on the gravel road in the direction the oil refinery security guys had indicated. True to their instructions, there was a river about 20 kilometres down the road. This may not seem like a problem to anyone, but for Amanda, who suffered from aquaphobia, it was a huge problem. After asking around, I found a man to paddle us across the river for a reasonable fee. A much bigger problem was getting Amanda onto the boat and across the river. After a considerable time, a life jacket was located, but it still didn’t do much to ease her fear. Although scared shitless, she eventually got onto the tiny wooden boat loaded with bikes and panniers and arrived alive on the other side. I felt sorry for her, but what else was there to do? Shaking and wide-eyed, she reached the opposite bank where the inn was located. Unfortunately, no card had arrived, and there was no internet connection to find out what was going on. Amanda swallowed a beer in about two seconds and looked more like her old self again.
If anyone ever wanted to disappear off the face of the earth, this would be the place to do it. The inn was located on a river and had beautiful and comfortable rooms, a lovely restaurant and a bar, all set in a lush garden with palm trees and hummingbirds. There wasn’t anything more to the village than the inn, a few houses dotting the dirt road, and a pub or two - the sum total of the settlement. Being the only guests, the staff doted over us like we were the Queens of England. After Amanda’s ordeal of the past two days, it was a well-deserved treatment for her.
22 September - Barra Nova
The following day, a costly taxi ride along a sandy track took us to a nearby village. Amanda hung onto the door frame for dear life, as he sped along the bumpy, sandy track. All in search of an internet connection and a bank (both of which was found). In the process, it was found that the bank hadn’t even posted the card as yet and there wasn’t anything more to do than to retreat along the sandy track to the Aratu Pousada to make a new plan.
Information from the staff indicated it was 25 kilometres, on a very sandy track, back to the main road and on to the bigger town of Sao Mateus. By evening Amanda was already stressing about the sandy path, remarking it was going to take her the entire day to do the 25 kilometres. She feared she would have to push her bike all the way, mumbling her, by then, trademark phrase: “I’m never going to make it.”
23-24 September - Barra Nova – Sao Mateus – 40km
The following morning it was back along the sandy track, this time by bicycle and every now and again I heard an anxious, “Oh shit” behind me. The “25 kilometres” was only to the next village, but at least from there a tarmac road ran to Sao Mateus where there was a hotel with telephone and internet facilities. The following day, Amanda had more “work” to do, and it was another day spent in Sao Mateus where hopefully one could sort out most of the card requirements.
25 September - Sao Mateus – Itabata – 90km
After having done all possible to have the card sent, we left Sao Mateus on a breezy, cloudy morning, heading north on the BR101. On crossing into the state of Bahia, the road deteriorated. There was no more shoulder to cycle on, and the many trucks made it downright dangerous for cycling. Fortunately, a roadside pousada rolled into view. Well done to Amanda as she stuck it out, put her head down and did what was required. The lady from the guesthouse confirmed there was indeed a road along the coast.
26 September Itabata – Caravelas – 65km
It was another eventful day following the direction given to us by the lady from the guesthouse. The route headed for the coast past cattle ranches and tiny hamlets. At one of our water stops, Amanda spotted a man on a donkey and muttered something like it being a more suitable means of transport for her.
The tiny hamlet of Mucuri made for an excellent place to have a snack, and after 65 kilometres and one flat tyre, the road abruptly came to a halt at the sleepy fishing settlement of Nova Vicosa with its picturesque fishing harbour. After studying the map, the town of Caralvelas didn’t look too far away but on the other side of a mangrove swamp.
After enquiring about a ride and negotiating a price with one of the fishermen, the bikes and panniers were loaded onto the boat. Amanda was still very apprehensive, but at least the boat was somewhat more substantial than the canoe of a few days ago. She approached the boat somewhat reluctantly and swore I had picked the smallest one in the entire harbour. We set off (literally) into the sunset and putt-putted in the direction of Caravelas. Amanda anxiously looked on while I gave the skipper a break to work the bilge pump. There’s always something intriguing about mangrove swamps, and it was a lovely time to be out on the water.
Soon, the sun started setting, and the birds began settling in the treetops, the fireflies came out, and phosphorescence began appearing in the wake of the boat – and still, we sailed on. Eventually, it was pitch dark, and the stars shone brightly. By that time, Amanda was very uncomfortable (to put it mildly). Our boat had no lights whatsoever, and one could only hope the boatman knew the way. Eventually, three hours later, Amanda excitedly spotted the lights of Caravelas across the water. Well done to both Amanda and our skipper for making it across the dark waters of the mangrove swamps.
Fortunately, Caravelas had a comfortable pousada with even more friendly staff. A walk revealed a still open self-service restaurant. All’s well that ends well.
27 September - Caravelas – Prado – 50km
After a lovely breakfast at our Posada dos Navegantes, we biked along the coast, past Alcobacato Prado. After Amanda’s stressful previous day, it was a good idea to make it a short day and relax at a beach. Fortunately, the map didn’t indicate any river crossings or anything of that kind for at least another day or two.
The Brazilians were incredibly hospitable and dearly wanted to talk with us, but the language barrier made it somewhat tricky. A Brazilian couple in a car flagged us down and remarked they saw us a few days ago in Vitoria. They looked ever so disappointed when they realised we couldn’t speak Portuguese. My biggest regret was always not being fluent in the language of the country I cycled through.
Shortly before Prado, a river crossing was via a rather rickety bridge. Amanda, with her fear of heights and water, was across the bridge faster than Lance Armstrong. I was so proud of my sister.
28 September - Prado – Cumuruxatiba – 35km
We left Prado via a stunning coastal route but, unfortunately, the road soon deteriorated as it headed over the hills and became a slightly sandy, rutted and corrugated road. In fact, the road was so bumpy Amanda lost one of her fillings. I kid you not! Although I thought it was a marvellous route, Amanda had other words to describe the day. It was as off-the-beaten-track and as remote as one could wish for - absolutely glorious if you like that kind of riding.
To be on the safe side, Amanda pushed her bike up the rutted hills as well as down the other side. At Cumuruxatiba a sweet couple pointed us to a local guesthouse. The guesthouse turned out to be one of the best, set in a lush garden with a lovely sea view, all for a very reasonable price. The friendly couple later returned with instructions on how to cycle along the beach instead of along the road. How nice of them.
29 September - Cumuruxatiba – Corumbau – 35km
There are few things as idyllic as cycling along a beach when the sand is firm; unfortunately, it didn’t last very long and, after a mere two kilometres, the beach reached a rocky outcrop, and we’d to return to the road. Once around the rocks, a sandy track led back to the beach, but no sooner there were more rocky outcrops. This time it took dragging the bikes up an embankment and back onto the road. A few kilometres later, local knowledge told us to try the beach again. The sand, however, soon became too soft to cycle and required dragging the bikes along the soft sand for quite a few kilometres. Exasperated, we gave up and pulled the bikes up a very steep embankment and headed inland, looking for a better road. It was a somewhat isolated area, with only a sandy jeep track and there wasn’t much one could do but push the bikes along. I heard Amanda mumbling something to the effect of: “We’ll most likely die of thirst, and no one will ever find us.” Even I started thinking we might never reach civilisation again. Exhausted, we reached our old sandy and rutted road from the previous day.
A Brazilian man on a motorbike confirmed it was, indeed, the right road and a long detour was avoided leaving a mere 12 kilometres to Corumbau, our destination for the day. Our cash situation was dire, and the area somewhat remote without any TV, cell phone reception or banks. On reaching Corumbau, a bungalow was located and in our limited Portuguese explained our situation. We understood from the guesthouse owner there was one bus a day to a nearby settlement with an ATM. We also understood the bus left at six in the morning and returned at around two-thirty.
30 September – Corumbau
The next morning, it was up early for the 3-hour, 70-kilometres bus trip. The bus ride was a pleasant experience as it wasn’t only Saturday but also end of the month. The bus was packed with locals dressed in their Sunday best, heading into town to do their monthly business. It was a jovial affair as old men in hats and ladies in heels and floral dresses extended greetings to all who boarded the bus. They all seemed acquainted; even we spotted the lady from a guesthouse where we’d enquired the previous night.
In town, our fellow passengers dissipated, and we went in search of the bank. Drawing money took a fair amount of time as, with only half the terminals functioning, the queue extended out the door. Wandering around the small village, one couldn’t help but bump into fellow passengers. Soon, it was time to head back and most of the morning’s passengers were on the bus again and greeted us like old friends. Our fellow travellers were loaded with shopping bags containing anything from chicken feed to groceries.
There appeared to be no rush as on the return journey the bus stopped at a bakery for all to do their bakery shopping. With all back on the bus, we rattled along the rough dirt track while collective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were exclaimed as we bounced through the potholes.
1 October - Corumbau – Trancoso – 50km (+12 km by beach buggy)
After thanking our host, Maria, the road continued down a sandy path until reaching a dense mangrove forest where there was no other option but to stay along the beach. To the great delight of the locals, we pushed our bicycles along the sand and, no sooner, they all joined in to help. We were then ferried across the river by what looked like a 6-year-old girl (still seemingly sucking on a dummy) - not the best thing for Amanda’s nerves. All this they did without asking for any money – it was only their Sunday afternoon fun.
There appeared to be no road to Caraiva, but a beach buggy ran up and down the beach, ferrying people to and from Caraiva. The sand was too soft for cycling and, with our bikes loaded on the buggy, we flew across the loose sand. Halfway, Amanda threatened to get out and walk the rest of the way as she wasn’t comfortable with the buggy drifting across the sand so close to the water's edge. At least she didn’t have to jump out of a moving vehicle as our buggy ran out of fuel. We waited patiently in the shade of a palm tree while our barefooted driver ran off to a nearby house in an attempt to find fuel. He, eventually, dropped us at Caraiva where one had to, yet again, cross a river to get to a road of sorts.
Caraiva was a tiny coastal hamlet on the Rio Caraiva; it had no TV, mobile phone connection or banks. The slow pace of life attracted a few old-time hippies, who lived a quiet life along the coast. As there was no bridge nearby (and therefore no cars), all goods had to be ferried across the river (even the horses seem to know this and swam across at leisure).
Once back on our bikes, the road was one of the worst encountered that far. It was sandy, rutted and muddy, making cycling downright tricky. More surprising was right there, in the middle of nowhere, an art studio making lampshades out of candle wax. It was so stunning we lingered a while before setting off again, passing vast fields of papayas (I guess they’re the only vegetation which could grow in such sandy soil).
Trancoso came with a luxury hotel for a fraction of the price it would cost in high season. It was out of season and guesthouses were offering rooms at a hugely discounted rate. It came with a hammock, air-con, mosquito nets and a lovely breakfast — a just reward for a day’s hard work.
2-3 October - Trancoso – Arraial d’Ajuda – 40km
Instead of following the dirt road along the coast, we opted for the paved road. The paved road was a bit further, but by then both of us had enough of dirt roads. On reaching the paved road, we seriously doubted our decision as it came with rather steep hills. Amanda was in no mood for hills and swore she was going to take a bus. After one too many of those hills, she refused to get back on the bike and wanted to phone a taxi. She plonked herself down by the side of the road, and it took serious convincing to get her back on the bike, promising to turn off for Arraial d’Ajuda to make it a short day.
Arraial d’Ajuda was another lovely coastal community with paved roads and a grassy central plaza. Reggae music blared from the tiny, colourful shops surrounding the square. Old-time hippies lazed around incense-filled bars. What a cool place to hang out. After finding a hostel, Amanda fell asleep, exhausted.
The next day was spent doing laundry, and Amanda updated my website. By the time she pointed out the fact one had to close the bedroom window with a plank, I knew she was well rested, and it was time to move on.
4 October - Arraial d’Ajuda – Belmonte – 80km
After a leisurely start, it was a four-kilometre downhill ride to the ferry port where a barge ferried passengers and cars across. By then Amanda had experienced many different kinds of crafts for crossing rivers, but the sight of the overloaded barge didn’t instil much confidence. After reaching the opposite side safely, the road continued past palm-filled beaches with bright yellow plastic chairs.
As if one river crossing wasn’t enough for Amanda, we came across yet another river where a barge operated. On the opposite side, the road wound through dense forest and past remote beaches to Belmonte.
In Belmonte a local skipper approached us, offering us a ride across the mangrove swamps to Canavieiras. A fee was negotiated, and arrangements made to meet at 8 o'clock the following morning (dearly hoping his craft would be seaworthy). A basic guesthouse at a budget price was our abode for the night, and one couldn’t complain about the lack of facilities.
5 October - Belmont - Una – 56km
The skipper turned out to be the local water taxi to Canavieiras. The swamps could only be crossed at high tide, which assured Amanda the water wasn’t deep and we waited, together with the locals for the tide to come in. After loading the bicycles and panniers (they even had a life jacket for Amanda), the boat headed off through the humid jungle.
Against all the odds (according to Amanda) the ferry arrived safely at Canavieiras. Our priority was to locate a bike shop as Amanda’s back tyre was torn close to the rim. It was an easy task as even the smallest community had a bike shop of sorts. The man from the bike shop was ever-so-generous and gave us a good discount and fitted the new tyre for free.
The reasonably short distance to Una was on an excellent paved road, past densely-wooded forests and plenty of small villages. Una was slightly inland from the coast, and it was a moderately hilly ride. As usual, the locals were curious about what we were doing there, where we were from, and where we were going. The friendly lady running the pousada told us to put our bicycles in our room (which was huge) and onlookers wasted no time in carrying our bikes up the vertical stairs (something we didn’t protest about). Soon the rain started coming down, and it was a great place to hide for the night.
Brazilians favoured a big lunch and only a light meal in the evening, and a walk to the bus station revealed a few food stalls from which to snack. Cake was always available and made for a sweet treat.
6 October - Una –Ilhéus - 61km
The early morning rain soon abated, and by the time the bikes were packed, it had already cleared, making for a hot and humid day. Our route led towards the coast, past Ecoparque de Una where one could see the golden-headed lion monkeys. Unfortunately, one had to arrange a visit beforehand. There was no way I was going to drag Amanda up a seven-kilometre dirt road to the park gate which might or might not have been open. It was a good downhill ride back towards the ocean, and a flat coastal ride led to Olivencia and on to Ilhéus where, hopefully, a new bank card would be waiting for Amanda.
Hotel Ilhéus was easy to find, but sadly there was no post waiting for us. Hotel Ilhéus turned out to be quite an interesting place. Centrally located in the old part of town and built in the 1930s, it came with a vintage elevator and very few electrical points. At least the showers were hot, and it had excellent views of the river. The hotel was built to accommodate wealthy cocoa traders of the time and had a bank and cocoa deposit on the ground floor, as well as a party saloon and casino. It must have been quite a fancy place in its day, but it was by then showing its age.
7-12 October -lhéus
With the help of friends back in South Africa, there was, at last, some news about Amanda’s bank card. We decided to stay on in Ilhéus until the card arrived, as having it sent to a forward address proved far too problematic.
Ilhéus was a pretty coastal town, with a fair amount of historic buildings dating back to its cocoa heyday. Whether we were going to be able to keep ourselves occupied for seven days, though, I wasn’t sure. When we enquired about a “disconto” in anticipation of our extended stay, the receptionist laughingly pointed out whilst we didn’t speak any Portuguese, we sure knew the word “disconto”.
Ilhéus was the hometown of Jorge Amado, a well-known and popular writer in Brazil. His novels, like Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, portray the life and customs of the north-eastern region of Brazil. If nothing else, at least his books would keep us busy. In the meantime, all the old buildings in town were visited, and a walk up the hill to the Church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade proved worth the effort. Situated high up on a hill overlooking Ilhéus, it looked more like a fairy castle than a church.
There was only so much sightseeing one could do, and the rest of the days were spent on the beach eating ice cream, grilled cheese and quail eggs. At night, the beachfront stalls provided for cheap nibbles and thick milkshakes. Although Ilhéus was a reasonably small town, it was quite lively, and at night the cobblestone alleys came alive with food vendors, bars and street theatres.
Ilhéus had a fascinating history as it was the principal city along what was known as Brazil’s Cocoa Coast. The town dated back to the early 1500s when it thrived due to the sugarcane trade. Its real boom, however, came in the late nineteenth century with the introduction of cacau (cocoa). Plummeting world sugar prices and the abolition of slavery caused the sugar plantations to go into decline.
The cocoa trade (also known as “ouro branco” or white gold) lured freed slaves and entrepreneurs to the lush hills surrounding Ilhéus, all looking for their fortune. Some cocoa barons (known as “coronéis” or colonels), with vast plantations, did indeed become immensely wealthy and powerful.
They ruled over their workers, and the region as a whole, until the 1980s, when a disease known as "vassoura de bruxa" (witch’s broom) decimated the cocoa trees and left the region’s economy in ruins, from which it has only recently begun to recuperate.
Today, traces of the legacy of the colonels can still be seen by wandering among the grandiose mansions and civic buildings of Ilhéus’s historical centre. One can read about their exploits in the novels (particularly The Violent Land) of famous Brazilian author Jorge Amado. (Source: Moon Travel Guides)
13-14 October -Ilheus
By far the cheapest meal was to be found at self-service restaurants. These, usually, offered a large variety of food and even desserts, and the food was delicious. Customers could dish up whatever and as much or as little as they desired as the price paid was by weight. These restaurants were, however, usually only open between 12h00 and 14h00 as Brazilians tend to have a big lunch and then a snack in the evening.
At night we went out looking for the espetinhos vendors. One could find these vendors just about everywhere: tending their portable charcoal barbeques, selling their espetinhos which were small kebabs. The smell of the grilled meat usually told us exactly where they were. Espetinhos could be skewers of beef, sausage, chicken or even cheese. These skewers were served with a hot sauce and a sandy, flour-like concoction (which we usually skipped).
In the unlikely event one couldn’t find an espetinhos vendor, there was always the acarajé stall. Acarajé was a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas which were formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil (or so I was told). It was by far the most famous street food around town. It was served split in half and stuffed with a tomato and onion salad, a very spicy sauce and pasta made from corn (I think). Often there were shrimps somewhere in the dish as well.
Both these dishes were considered snacks and were very popular as they were cheap. I preferred buying from the lady who ran the stall on the square as she didn’t deep-fry her acarajé but rather cooked the ball in a banana leaf. Her acarajé also had no shrimp in it and had a more distinct coconut flavour. To top it all, there was usually chocolate cake to be found somewhere.
15-16 October - Ilheus – Itacare - 74km
After waiting eight full days for Amanda’s bank card to arrive, there was still no post for us. A decision was made to continue and on taking a bus back to Ilheus, if and when the card arrived. Shortly after leaving Ilheus, a chocolate factory lured us in - it was, after all, Brazil’s Cacao Coast.
As was the custom by then, the road ran through a thick and lush coastal forest. Hidden in the woods was an artist’s house with some slightly wacky art. The road was quite hilly, and Amanda didn’t feel well. After waving down a bus, she bused herself to Itacare, while I continued by bicycle. The hills created an opportunity for stunning views with miles of snow white, half-deserted beaches stretched as far as the eye could see. On reaching Itacare, Amanda had already booked into a hostel. Fortunately, she came walking down the road as I cycled into town. I would have never found the hostel otherwise, as it was hidden away in one of the side streets.
The following day was also spent in Itacare, a surfing/hippie coastal community with a rather large amount of tattooed, pierced and dreadlocked people. Everyone seemed laid back and without a care in the world. They must have been smoking the good stuff, making it a perfect place to hang out for the day.
17 October - Itacare – Camamu - 58km
Nearing central Brazil, it became increasingly hazy, hot, humid and watery. Villages were more remote, rural and traditional. The road became hillier, and after 15 kilometres and at a bus stop, Amanda stayed put. After arranging to meet in the next village, I left her in the good care of a few school children. I set off over countless hills and about five kilometres before Camamu, I stopped at a viewpoint and saw Amanda going past in the bus. I felt better knowing she was all right.
Camamu was a small fishing community surrounded by mangrove swamps, and it was easy to find both the centre and Amanda, who opted for digs in the centre of town.
18 October - Camamu – Valenca - 71km
Amanda decided to take the bus, and arrangements were made to meet in Valenca, the next biggest town. It was a fantastic day’s riding. The road ran through some dense forests with tiny villages hidden behind palm trees and banana plants. The day offered all the images one conjured up when thinking of central Brazil. Jungle-clad hillsides, mangrove swamps and remote villages, where women did laundry in the streams and carried their wares in baskets on their heads.
While cycling through these small settlements, people instantly stopped what they were doing, spun around, and stared motionless with mouths agape. Dogs barked nervously and little kids ran for the safety of their homes. I reached Valenca around midday, leaving plenty of time to explore this tiny, but busy, fishing community with its lively riverfront lined with food stalls and juice stands. Walking back to our accommodation, we got completely soaked by a sudden downpour, but at least it wasn’t cold.
19-26 October – Valenca
After breakfast, and ready to leave, Amanda discovered the card delivery company was looking for her. It appeared the card wasn’t delivered to the hotel in Ilheus (as arranged) as we weren’t physically there. So much for all our careful planning. At least the bank refunded the fraudulent transactions, and the card was by then somewhere in Brazil. It would, however, take 72 hours to arrive, but as no deliveries were made over weekends, the expected delivery date was the following Monday, and we settled in for another long and tedious wait.
Although there were beautiful islands close by, there was no leaving the hotel in case the card arrived before the weekend. In the meantime, boatloads of islanders arrived in Valenca to do their shopping at the local market. The market was packed with all kinds of exotic fruit and vegetables, some of which I’ve never seen before. A short walk along the river brought us to the boat builders, which Valenca was famous for. Under palm trees and amidst the sawdust and large pieces of wood, they were hammering and sawing away at half-constructed boats - it appeared they still maintained fifteenth-century techniques.
Over the weekend, we ran head-on into the The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Festival. Hundreds of people, all dressed in white, headed up the hill towards the church. The celebration came with all the trimmings: an amusement park, toffee apples, food stalls and music. Afterwards, there was a kind of mini-carnival with a multitude of beer stalls, music blaring from car boots and people dancing in the street - all very festive. A huge open-top truck carrying a band moved slowly through the streets, with people following behind, swaying to the beat and generally having a good time.
No one in their right minds would believe me if I told them the saga with Amanda’s bank card had been going on since 7 September. The incompetence of some people boggled the mind. Every day she was told it would arrive the following day. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when told a special delivery could be made at a cost of US$500, and the card would then be delivered the following morning. To cut a long story short, a deal was made and guess what? No card arrived the next morning. I thought it time to forget about the card but, understandably, Amanda wanted to pay her own way.
27-28 October - Valenca – Nazare – 47km
We very optimistically waited until 13h00 but no card was delivered. Finally, a decision was made to leave Valenca for Nazare. Of the nearly two months Amanda had been in Brazil, she only managed to cycle one month. We left a note at the hotel for the staff to phone us, when or if the parcel arrived. It was another hot and humid day, making for exhausting cycling. Amanda felt faint and shaky and decided to take a bus, but none had space for the bicycle, and eventually, we slowly continued to Nazare.
On reaching Nazare, it was a surprise to find such a historic town in the middle of nowhere. Portuguese settlers arrived in the second half of the sixteenth century, and the city still had a central square with a lovely old church and loads of narrow cobblestone alleys. Colourful houses, packed tightly together, lined the hillside and a pousada was located in one of the back alleys with a large balcony overlooking the town.
The next morning a pleasant surprise awaited us when we learned the parcel had arrived in Valence. A mini-bus taxi took us back to Valence and where the card was waiting. On arrival back in Nazare, it was already too late to continue and the day was spent exploring the town with all its old colonial buildings and interesting alleys.
29 October - Nazare – Mar Grande - 61km
With the new bank card safely in Amanda’s panniers, it was off in the direction of Salvador. Again, it was hot and humid, but Amanda was keen and cycled well. I still, however, had to convince her of the fact perspiration is very typical under these circumstances, and she wasn’t coming down with a deadly virus.
Mar Grande was reached at around midday and a guesthouse found, instead of crossing the bay straight away. As crossing the bay was a major concern for Amanda, a walk to the port was taken to check it out. The fact that the sea was rough didn’t do much for easing her fear. Our guesthouse was somewhat unusual and, although basic, it was an interesting place with a considerable garden, plenty of arty things as well as a swimming pool. It was straight into the pool, both to cool off and to get away from the pursuing mosquitoes.
30 October - Mar Grande – Praia Stella Maris - 31km
First thing in the morning, we were on the ferry across the bay to Salvador. Salvador, the first capital of Brazil, from 1549 to 1763, turned out to be quite a fascinating colonial city with a history dating back to the slave trade. We cycled along the coast with its endless beaches until reaching Praia Stella Maris. While at a petrol station to use their toilets, a local guesthouse owner gave us his card and on checking it out found it to be quite a nice place and stayed for the night.
31 October - Praia Stella Maris – Praia do Forte - 64km
At the guesthouse were two Polish guys who were in Brazil for the Brazil Ride, and it turned out they had been to South Africa earlier in the year to ride the famous Cape Epic. Being cyclists themselves, they were intrigued by our adventure and chatted for quite some time.
The road was kind to Amanda, and we reached Praia do Forte without any incidents. It was, however, quite surprising to find such a touristy village. Praia do Forte was a tiny village but well known for its turtle conservation farm, and curio stalls selling turtle paraphernalia lined the streets. Guesthouses jacked their prices up accordingly, and it took some riding around before settling for the least expensive one.
1 November Praia do Forte – Baixio - 78km
Although the road was flat, Amanda found the heat debilitating and felt faint and unsteady but after a few rest stops got going again. The people of Brazil were incredibly kind, and while taking a rest at a petrol station, a kind gentleman befriended us and before he boarded the bus presented us with a lovely pair of earrings. His card indicated he was a jeweller. How very kind of him.
Although hot there was little option but to carry on, until eventually, finding a turnoff for the beach. Not knowing what to expect, we cycled the eight kilometres to the beach and discovered the tiny fishing settlement of Baixio. It was a pleasure to settle for a ground floor room down a sandy path from where we could access both hammocks and a pizzeria. The pizzas ordered were surprisingly good, thin-based with loads of toppings, my very favourite. Amanda passed out under the not-so-useful fan and stayed there for the rest of the time.
2-3 November - Baixio – Sitio do Conde - 51km
In the morning, Amanda was still not feeling well and preferred to take the bus to Conde, the next community on the map. As soon as she boarded the bus, I continued by bicycle. It was a hilly route and maybe a good thing Amanda took the bus as it bucketed down nearly all the way. In Condo, I found Amanda at the bus stop.
The village of Condo was smaller than expected, and it was better to cycle the six kilometres to Sitio do Conde, a lovely laidback beach village. There was hardly anyone around, and one was spoilt for choice when it came to choosing a guesthouse. A reasonably priced one with hammocks right on the beach made a good choice from where to watch the pounding waves, only a few metres away. It was so enjoyable, staying the following day came naturally as it was “swing-another-day-in-a-hammock” kind of place.
4 November - Sitio do Conde – Estancia - 89km
A tropical storm came in during the night and, by morning, we’d serious doubts as to whether to continue. Amanda (very cleverly) decided to take the bus, and arrangements were made to meet in Estancia. I set off down the ever-so-hilly road but luckily encountered a lovely tailwind along the way.
After crossing the border into the tiny state of Sergipe and with 25 kilometres to go, I had a flat tyre. While fixing it, Amanda’s bus came past, and I saw a little white hand waving out of the bus window. By the time I arrived in Estancia, she had already found us a room (as well as a few cold beers). I could get used to that and was getting ideas of encouraging her to take the bus again the following morning.
5 November - Estancia – Aracaju - 78km
The weather was somewhat better but still with a good tailwind. Outside Estancia, there was an opportunity to turn off the BR101 and onto a smaller road leading to the coast. My back tyre must have been wearing thin as I didn’t have one, but two, flat tyres along the way. As always, there were a whole bunch of helpers making for a lengthy and fascinating process. One needed to explain where you were from and where you were going and just what the heck you were doing in their neck of the woods, and that on a bicycle.
On the outskirts of Aracaju, a conveniently-located pousada saved us heading into the city centre. After settling in, it was off to the supermarket to get our usual quota of beer and snacks. The cooler weather was much more agreeable to Amanda, and she cycled well and didn’t even mind cycling to the supermarket.
6 November Aracaju – Pirambu - 53km
First thing in the morning, I fixed all the damaged tubes, in case there were more flat tyres. It was Sunday morning and the streets quiet, making for easy cycling through the city of Aracaju. Then it was onto the coastal road until reaching the tiny fishing settlement of Pirambu.
Although it was only midday, it was raining and on finding a perfect spot (a cottage with two bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen) at a very reasonable price we were happy to offload our panniers. Good thing too, as it soon came bucketing down. Pleased with our decision, we sat watching the rain pouring down. The rainy weather brought out the biggest frogs I have ever seen. At least the wind kept the mosquitos at bay for a wee while, but as soon as the wind dropped, they were back with a vengeance.
7 November - Pirambu – Brejo Grande - 70km
It rained throughout the night, but in the morning it cleared somewhat. The map indicated a shortcut along the coast instead of the paved road to the main road and then back to the beach again. I didn’t expect the day to be quite as tricky as it turned out to be. The rain of the previous two days made the road muddy and slippery and required pushing the bikes up muddy and rutted hills while struggling through wet and soft sand. People on bicycles were obviously not an everyday occurrence along this corrugated road, and villagers found us as fascinating as we found them. It felt like there was no end to the muddy mess but eventually (and covered in mud) we reached the River Sao Francisco at tiny Brejo Grande.
8 November - Brejo Grande – Portal do Coruripe - 55km
While having a breakfast of mashed cassava with milk, and a good cup of Brazilian coffee, I watched the world go by in this small settlement. Rickety buses and horse carts came clattering past. Ladies walked back from the river with their freshly laundered washing; mothers walked their kids to school and farmers were helping each other getting tractors going. Two youngsters were trying to herd a calf, but the calf wanted nothing of it. They pushed, and they shoved, but the calf had other ideas.
On leaving, the owner of the pousada wanted no money from us, neither for the room nor the breakfast. How generous of him. After thanking him profusely, we headed to the river to find a boat to take us across. Amanda was shocked to see that, once again, she had to board a tiny wooden water taxi to reach the opposite bank. The River Sao Francisco was quite a large river and one of many myths. We, however, never saw the legendary water beast, which was said to be half-human and half-animal and walked on the bottom of the river and I understood he also snored.
Safely on the opposite side (and in the state of Alagoas) the road continued, thankfully on a paved road. Our route ran close to the coast, and past vast palm tree plantations, with glimpses of the ocean in the distance. The area was well off the beaten track, the villages small, and the horse and cart still in everyday use.
A car wash in Coruripe made for a perfect place to wash the bikes after the muddy roads. They sprayed and scrubbed and eventually the bikes came out sparkling clean. The sleepy fishing community of Pontal do Coruripe was a further five to seven kilometres down the road. With its narrow cobblestone lanes and small central square, it was a quaint place where ladies sat outside their homes, weaving baskets or chatting to neighbours.
Seeing we didn’t pay for our accommodation the previous night we splashed out and got a lovely guesthouse with a sea view.
It was another hot and hilly day of riding into the wind. Although the going was slow, Amanda cycled like a pro. The best part of the day was reaching Sao Miguel and finding a bungalow which came with a swimming pool, loads of palm trees and a hammock.
That evening, I left my, by then, smelly shoes outside on the veranda and woke to find the local dogs had eaten my only pair of footwear. I had to borrow Amanda’s shoes to walk to the store to buy a new pair. The rest of the day was spent doing the usual rest day chores as well as trying to get Amanda’s bank card activated.
11 November 2011 (11/11/11) - Sao Miguel – Barra de Santo Antonio - 85km
We left in spitting rain, and every now and again had to hide, waiting for the worst to pass. On reaching Maceio, the capital of the state of Alagoas, it was still reasonably early, and we only stopped for cold drinks before continuing.
Soon after leaving the city, a lovely Brazilian stopped to make conversation, and the disappointment on his face when he discovered we couldn’t speak Portuguese was clearly visible. Still, it was possible to explain where we were from and what we were doing. He must have been very impressed as he gave us some very-much-needed cash. How awesome is that? Not much further along the coast, we met Tauari Formiga and his friend they spoke some English and established they also liked travelling by bike and a few pictures were taken. In fact, the photos he took remained some of my favourite pics of my entire trip. The Brazilians were amazing, super friendly and very generous.
There was no accommodation at Barra de Santo Antonio, as expected - only one very expensive eco-resort. They must have felt sorry for us as they reduced the price by half, making it just about affordable. Needless to say, we stayed in a top-of-the-range chalet with crisp white linen, TV, air-con and excellent showers. Eco-resorts were popular in Brazil, but I didn’t see any difference, except they didn’t supply any toilet paper – only a “bum-gun”.
12 November - Barra de Santo Antonio – Maragogi - 60km
After a hearty breakfast at our top-of-the-range digs, it was time to saddle up, but Amanda had a flat tyre before even clearing the gate. A dirt road led along the coast and became more and more rutted and muddy. Unsure if it was the right path, directions were asked for at a security booth. The guys assured us it was indeed the right road and one could follow the way over, what appeared to be, private land. Following instructions, we did so but soon ran out of road altogether. There wasn’t anything to do but push the bikes along a sandy track through palm trees until reaching a river where crossing it was by using a small ferry. Once on the other side, a more comfortable ride was waiting along a paved road past scenic beaches and small one-lane fishing hamlets.
On reaching Porto de Pedras, one, once again, had to use a ferry …poor Amanda. At least that time, it was a proper barge, which made her feel somewhat more secure. The cobblestoned road led along the coast past numerous fishing settlements.
It was weekend, and with the following Tuesday being a public holiday, many people seemed to have made it a long weekend. The well-off city slickers were out with their big toys and fancy cars, in stark contrast to the villagers on horseback.
13 November – Maragogi – Ipojuca - 90km
Our digs in Maragogi must have been one of the cheapest (and best) guesthouses as it was favoured by truck drivers - always an indication it’s a good deal. Breakfast consisted of cassava resembling what is known back home as “krummelpap”; good carbs for the road. It was an interesting road past vast sugarcane fields. Amanda’s gear cable broke, and she struggled on in her “granny” gear until coming upon a local bike shop where they did a temporary job which would hopefully get us to the next big town. Again, the helpful owners wanted no money for their effort. A nice little tailwind helped in making good time.
The road, however, deteriorated once again and the shoulder became somewhat rutted and filled with potholes. At one stage a bus came careening down on Amanda and, in the process of avoiding it, she went off the road, hit a pothole and had quite a bad fall. She was ever so brave, and with blood dripping from her arms and legs, she wiped the dust off and got back on the bike. It was still about 10 kilometres to go before finding a pousada where she could wash herself off and clean her wounds. We’d a good laugh as all I had to bandage her arm was a headscarf; at least it was colourful and had pretty tassels. Her fall was, in fact, far more severe than what we’d at first anticipated and for months afterwards, she struggled with a problematic shoulder and knee.
14-15 November - Ipojuca – Recife - 46km
Arriving in Recife came a bit of a shock after such a long time in the countryside. Recife was a rather large town and very touristy. It was Republic Day in Brazil and, therefore, a public holiday. All the popular accommodation was fully booked, and we’d to settle for a somewhat pricey hotel. It was sweltering and humid, and the beaches packed with holidaymakers.
16 November - Recife – Olinda - 20km
On cycling out of Recife, a bike shop got our attention and Amanda had her gear cable fixed, and I bought a new back tyre as mine was wearing thin. Shortly after leaving the busy city of Recife, we arrived in Olinda. This former state capital was declared a world heritage site, and rightly so. It was a fascinating place with candy-coloured houses along steep slopes. Churches were situated on top of high hills, and narrow, cobblestoned streets ran at odd angles. The remainder of the day was spent exploring the delightful city or Olinda.
17 November - Olinda – Goiana - 69km
Leaving Olinda was along a coastal road where a ferry boat from Maria Farinha took passengers across the river to Nova Cruz. An excellent paved road took us back to the ill-fated BR101. That section of the BR101 was much better than expected and came with an exceptional wide shoulder for cycling.
En route to Goiana, our path ran through Igarassu with its unexpected but fascinating historic centre, complete with beautiful old buildings and churches. In Goiana, the first accommodation spotted turned out to be reasonably priced and even had an icy cold air-con.
18 November - Goiana – Joao Pessoa - 55km
The day turned out to be a somewhat frustrating one. Amanda’s chain broke but, fortunately, it was only about a kilometre to a small tyre-fixing stall where they could do the necessary repair work. They hammered and banged and eventually the chain was back on and could at least do the job of getting her to Joao Pessoa. Amanda's fall of a few days ago left her bicycle far more damaged than expected at first, something that became clearer as the time went on.
Joao Pessoa was a rather miserable-looking town, the traffic was heavy and the roads narrow, and I feared for Amanda as she nervously dodged trucks and busses. Cycling into a busy city, at peak hour, can be an unnerving affair. There was, however, very little one could do but push on until reaching the centre or some kind of accommodation. That was precisely what we did as finding a bike shop was a priority. The first place inquired at turned out to be a house of ill-repute and the second full. The third one was out of our budget, but we took it anyway as, by then, both of us had enough of searching for accommodation.
Once settled in, I took a walk to the supermercado as Amanda was fed-up with the whole affair. She didn’t want to walk, cycle or talk. She flopped down on the bed and I didn’t hear a word from her for the rest of the evening.
On closer inspection, João Pessoa wasn’t a bad city and, as it was known for its baroque and art nouveau architecture, there were a few beautiful old buildings scattered around.
19-20 November - Joao Pessoa – Cabo Branco Beach - 9km
A decision was made to take a break for a day or two and, from our hotel, it was a short ride to the beach where the plan was to stay for the following two days. Amanda needed a break from cycling, and we came upon a lovely guesthouse on the beach and settled in.
The beach volleyball circuit was a big affair in Brazil, and they arrived in town at the same time as us. Big trucks with scaffolding arrived, and stands and courts were put up in record time. Food stalls lined the streets, and the music was going ten to a dozen. We got caught up in all the festivities and loved it. People were enjoying the beach, flying kites, cheering on their favourite players and dancing to the music, just another brilliant day in Brazil. It was an enjoyable stay, and great to walk on the beach or just sit outside our pousada (which was right on the beach) while enjoying the action.
21 November - Carbo Branco Beach – Mamanguape - 83km
It turned out to be a day of mixed emotions. We left Carbo Branco along the coastal road, with the intention of cycling to Natal along the coast. After 20 kilometres our path reached a river which had a barge to ferry us across. Once on the other side, the road then followed a rather cobblestoned road for about 10 kilometres until it came to an abrupt halt with no sign of the route indicated on the map.
There was little option but to head back to the main road, but at least the way was scenic past large palm tree plantations. A tiny roadside stall, where the owner fixed fishing nets, sold coconut juice. It was sweltering, and I finished my juice in one large gulp. On leaving, the owner wanted no money. He pointed us to a shortcut, which turned out to be a somewhat sandy road. Our alternative route, however, took 30 kilometres off the original distance and although slow going, it was still better than cycling the 30 kilometres around. The road ran through sugarcane fields, and the flies were out in full force, enough to annoy the best-natured person. Eventually, I hauled out and donned my mosquito/fly head-net, which made life somewhat more bearable.
Back on the main road, we were delighted to find a perfect route with a wide shoulder and regretted not taking it in the first place. Ten kilometres from our destination, and thinking we were making good time, Amanda had a flat tyre. In the process of fixing it, I discovered her derailleur was bent, and it was no wonder she was having difficulty changing gears. In fact, the whole derailleur was loose as it appeared the screw holding it to the frame was missing. At least we made it to our destination, still in daylight.
22-24 November - Mamanguape – Natal
Taking a bus ride isn’t something I like to do, but there was no other choice, and in the morning a bus took us to Natal where I was sure one could find a place to fix Amanda’s bike. Once in Natal, Amanda pushed her bike nearly all the way as she had no brakes. Fortunately, there was a very decent bike shop in the centre of town. They fixed the bicycle as best they could, and we continued to the beach area where there was accommodation for the night.
Amanda, once again, tried to contact her bank in South Africa as she still had no PIN for her new bank card. They assured us they would phone us back in the morning, but nothing happened, and we stayed on another day. In the meantime, we’d our visas extended, and we had until 8 January 2012 to get out of the country.
25 November - Natal – Touros - 93km
Natal was a big and busy town and, in the process of trying to find a smaller road, I think I took a wrong turn and we found ourselves on a dirt road which seemed to go nowhere. After 30 kilometres, our path eventually spat us out on the right route. The rest of the way was perfect: on a good road with a tailwind.
All would have remained perfect if it wasn’t for Amanda getting a flat tyre four kilometres from Touros. Not a big problem, but Amada always thought it a major disaster. Touros turned out to be a charming fishing hamlet with a lovely square where villagers gathered in the evening watching public TV. Kids played ball on the beach while others were nibbling on street food.
26 November - Touros – Joao Camara - 63km
Before leaving Touros, I tried to draw money but the ATM didn’t want to spit out any cash. I was slightly concerned about it as Amanda still couldn’t access her money. There wasn’t anything I could do but try another bank elsewhere.
The coastal road came to an end at Touros and, although it was hot, a tailwind helped. On reaching Joao Camara, I headed for Banco do Brazil but still the ATM appeared to be offline. Eventually, while trying one of the other banks, it accepted the card. With a sigh of relief, we headed for a guesthouse and found a reasonably-priced room as well as supper.
27 November - Joao Camara – Macau - 104km
The map indicated it was going to be a long day as it didn’t show anything between Joao Camara and Macau. We set off with a nice tailwind, and things went well - except for Amanda having two flat tyres along the way.
It was a most unique but poor and drought-stricken area of Brazil. Most inhabitants seemed to have moved away, and only ruins remained where houses once stood. On arrival in Macau, I thought it the windiest place to date. The wind was howling, and seafoam blew across the road like snow. We came upon a room, took a walk to the busy central square for a bite to eat, and then it was bedtime after a long and hot day on the road.
28 November - Macau – Porto do Mangue - 75km
The local bike shop fixed all our punctured tubes, and after breakfast it was off into the wind. There was no bridge across the river at the time, and it took cycling inland to cross at the only bridge and then back to the coast again. What a pain.
I didn’t expect the day to be quite as hard. While the sun baked down on us, it was a battle into a strong headwind, pedalling hard but getting nowhere. The drought-stricken area continued as we cycled past dry and barren fields. The wind whipped up dust and old plastic bags, making for a rather desolate scene. There was little to see along the way except for a few dried-out and sun-bleached skeletons. Eventually, Amanda gave up, sat down and was determined to take a bus. There was, however, no such thing, and after a while, she got back on and headed into the wind again. Eventually reaching Porto do Mangue, we couldn’t have been happier to be out of the wind and off the bikes. Kudos to Amanda who, despite feeling weak and nauseous, made it all the way.
29 November - Porto do Mangue – Grossos - 54km
It was another hard and unforgiving day on the road. Conditions were harsh and the sun and wind relentless as we battled on past stark and desert-like scenery. Amanda didn’t feel well, and it was better to make it a short day. After crossing another river by barge, we arrived in the tiny village of Grossos where there was a guesthouse.
30 November - 1 December - Grossos – Icapui - 46km
A mistake was made in skipping breakfast, and Amanda soon felt tired and was in no mood for going a long distance. Fortunately, a tailwind helped us reached Icapui early. Just down the road from the main centre was a beautiful beach with bungalows overlooking the beach. Not a bad place to hang out and recuperate. In fact, it was so lovely we stayed the following day as well. We lazed around and did as little as possible, not even the laundry.
2 December - Icapui – Canto Verde - 65km (plus 27 km by car)
After a day’s rest and a good breakfast, both felt energetic and positive, and it was on the road early. Just a mere 20 kilometres into the ride Amanda’s front hub packed up, and we’d to flag down a vehicle to give us a lift to the next village. A very friendly, but rather large, man gave us a lift, and there was only space for one of us in the front. Amanda, together with the bikes and bags, chose to get onto the back for a windy ride to Aracai. Our driver was kind enough to take us all the way into town and dropped us in front of a bike shop.
I couldn’t believe our luck. The bike shop was quite a professional outfit and had no problem fixing Amanda’s bike. It, however, took waiting in line, as the shop was quite busy. I watched in amazement as villagers arrived with their rusty old bikes in pressing need of some TLC, which they got at this friendly bike shop. Each person’s bike was treated with due care. Cleaned and oiled, they were soon off on a much less squeaky bike. Eventually, it was our turn and we received the same attention.
Although it was already quite late, there was still time to reach Canto Verde and we were pleasantly surprised to find a tiny fishing village amongst the dunes and palm trees. Lodging on the beach completed the picture and, had it not been for the wind, it would have been paradise.
3 December - Canto Verde – Prainha - 92km
By 8h00, it was already boiling but, to our delight, picked up a strong tailwind. Although stopping nearly every 10 kilometres to fill up with water, it still felt it wasn’t enough. Due to the tailwind, it was an early arrival at Prainha that had a lovely pousada with a swimming pool, where we could relax before heading into the city the following day.
Judging by the number of kitesurfing schools and wind farms, it was a notoriously windy area. For once in my life, I seemed to have been heading in the right direction.
4-6 December - Prainha – Fortaleza -34km
Our slow departure was due to the knowledge that Fortaleza was just down the road. With all the dunes and wind farms, the area reminded of the Red Sea coast in Egypt. Fortaleza was a large and busy city with a lovely beachfront.
An inexpensive abode, close to the beach, suited us just fine. That evening, a walk along the promenade (which stretched for miles) was a pleasant place to eat from the multitude of stalls. The beachfront was packed with people rollerblading, skateboarding, running, cycling, or just sitting on one of the benches overlooking the ocean. All were out enjoying the cooler evening air as, by 10 pm, it was a cool 24°C - just perfect.
I found a very professional bike shop, bought a new front tyre and had the bike washed and oiled. I hardly recognised it on collecting it. We spent our time doing little more than lazing around and taking a stroll along the beachfront. The laundry handed in could only be collected the following day, giving us another day of rest in Fortaleza.
7 December - Fortaleza – Paraipaba - 94km
It was time to leave the concrete jungle and get back on the bikes. The wind can be friend or foe and, on this day, it was a friend, and we sped down the road with an excellent tailwind. The state of Ceara was very kind to us: mostly flat with a favourable wind – there’s not much more a cyclist can ask for. Along the road, were signs for a hotel in Paraipaba, and as one got closer, the more regular the boards, almost every kilometre. After seeing so many signs, one could hardly ignore it and headed straight for the hotel which was situated behind the gas station and next to the bus terminus. The accommodation was cheap, clean and the price included breakfast, so no complaints there.
A walk to the supermarket revealed the central square beautifully lit with Christmas decorations. A few street food stalls were sprinkled around the square, and people sat around enjoying a beer or chatting to their neighbours, something that seemed a way of life in Brazil.
It turned out a long and hot day on the road. There wasn’t anything to see along the way, but roadside stalls and dirt roads turning-off to the beaches, and we continued until reaching Itarema.
Amanda was understandably exhausted and in no mood for riding around looking for accommodation. The first room had to do, and as it was above a restaurant and via a steep and rickety staircase. It wasn’t the best place but the room large, and with a window one could open for fresh air. Not that much fresh air was needed as it had no ceiling, just the roof tiles and you could watch the night sky through the cracks. The ceiling fan made an almighty noise, but one could hardly switch it off as, if we survived the heat, the mosquitos would carry us away.
9 December - Itarema – Acarau - 26km
Once on the road, Amanda claimed her legs were too lame to cycle after the previous day’s long ride. A room in Acarau was an excellent place to spend the day lazing about. Amanda still had the energy to update the website, as it didn’t require any leg work.
10-11 December - Acarau – Jijoca de Jericoacoara – Jericoacoara - 49km (+24 km by jeep)
It was one of those unexpected and remarkable days, as, after about 50 kilometres, we arrived in Jijoca de Jericoacoara, where jeeps and beach buggies lined up to take people to the nearby nature reserve and the small community of Jericoacoara. Jericoacoara, or just Jeri, as it’s known, was a somewhat hard-to-reach place. The only way in and out was by jeep or buggy.
Not wanting to miss out, we jumped on a jeep (bikes and all) and headed over the dunes to the coast. The village itself was very much island-style, situated amongst dunes with sandy streets lined with bars and guesthouses. The area was rather windy and was, therefore, a famous spot for kitesurfing. It was also one of the few places in Brazil where one could watch the sunset over the ocean.
At night, portable cocktail stands came out, and one could sit on the beach while watching the sunset, sipping your drink. The dunes around the village were quite spectacular at sunset and a fun place to explore with a camera.
The jeep taking people out to the next village didn’t run on Sundays, an excellent excuse for staying another day. We chilled on the beach and didn’t complain about having to wait.
Early morning, we were ready for our ride out of the park. Although told the jeep would pick us up at 6h30, it was 8h00 by the time it left. It was quite an eventful ride as the jeep was packed with people (we counted 20), our bikes, surfboards, luggage and even a huge teddy bear taking up most of the space. The jeep sped along the beach, over dunes and through rivers. Two ferry crossings later, we arrived in Camocim, with Amanda breathing a sigh of relief.
It was still early and we continued to Chaval, where a remote guesthouse on the banks of a mangrove-lined river was home for the night.
13 December - Chaval – Parnaiba - 86km
The scenery changed entirely, the dunes disappeared, and large rocks appeared next to the road. On leaving for Parnaiba, Amanda spotted a small café for having breakfast, seeing breakfast wasn’t available at the guesthouse. After bread and coffee, and with a good tailwind, we set off again and reached Parnaiba in good time.
Parnaiba was a much larger place than expected and also marked the edge of a vast delta. We’d a few options, of which cycling around the delta to Sao Luis was one. It was, however, very far, about 600 kilometres, whereas if we could find a boat to the small town of Barreirinhas, it would only be about 250 kilometres to Sao Luis.
After finding a guesthouse, it was off to look for a boat. Boat trips appeared to be more popular than expected as there were several agents offering delta trips. We organised a boat for the following day to the small and remote settlement of Tutoia. Once in Tutoia, we would decide what to do next. The map didn’t show any roads, but it made sense that if people were living there, there surely must be a way out.
14 December - Parnaiba – Tutoia - By boat
Our boat only left at 1 o’clock, and as the ferry port was only 10 kilometres away, there was no rush. It was a flat and smooth ride to the harbour, where one could stock up with beer, water and snacks for the trip. The journey was a fascinating one, with more wildlife than expected. The delta was teeming with birds, crabs and even (what looked like) small crocodiles. The most incredible sight was, however, the fish which appeared to run on water. Our boat cruised through the mangrove swamps, past small islets, we even spotted monkeys way up in the trees. Eventually, reaching massive dunes where our skipper stopped, allowed us to take a few pictures. The delta was a vast 2700 square-kilometre expanse of islands, beaches, lagoons, dunes and mangrove swamps and I think we just about saw it all.
A few hours later and, on arriving in Tutoia, our skipper, kindly, walked us to a pousada. A lovely place, right on the river. It appeared that Tutoia was on a small island and that there was no road to Barreirinhas. Locals informed us that one could cycle to the next village from where, aptly named, Toyotas ran over the dunes to Barreirinhas.
15 December - Tutoia – Paulino Neves - Barreirinhas - 35km (+55 km by truck)
From Tutoia, a decent-paved road ran the 35 kilometres to Paulino Neves and, as told, our route came to an end in Paulino Neves. There was no difficulty in locating the mentioned converted Toyota trucks that ferry people to and from the village along sandy tracks to Barreirinhas, and where we hoped to find a tarmac road.
It was a bumpy ride along a rough track, over dunes and past some stunning scenery. My dear sister made such a racket one would have thought she had reached her final days. No sooner had we left, and she hit the floor, yelling. I stared in utter astonishment and had no idea what to do. Reassuring her we would be fine and reminding her that the driver drove that route twice a day, had no impact. Terrified, she clawed onto the seats, yelling “Oh nooooooo” with every sway of the truck.
Finally, and against all the odds, the jeep arrived in Barreirinhas, where there were plenty of guesthouses to choose from as it was the gateway to the national park. We celebrated the fact that we were still alive with a few beers and to calm Amanda’s nerves. At least it looked like we’d passed the rough bits and could continue by bike to Sao Luis. What an adventure the past two days were.
16 December - Barreirinhas – Humberto de Campos - 118km
It was a straight, flat road with a tailwind, and we made good use of it and cycled as far as possible. Not that there were any other options as there wasn’t anything between the two towns. Fortunately, there were plenty of tiny roadside stalls where one could fill up with water.
At the entrance of town was a comfortable guesthouse at a dirt-low price. The lady running the pousada looked somewhat perplexed that two foreigners wanted to book into her pousada. She swept and dusted for hours before the room was ready. Then it was in to the village in search of food, and amidst many stares and giggles managed to find something to eat.
17 December-Humberto de Campos – Rosario-116km
A small breakfast of coffee and bread rolls was served after which it was off in the direction of Sao Luis. It was another long day on the road as there wasn’t anything but bushes along the way. Not only was it far, but it was a scorcher of a day.
On reaching about 95 kilometres, Amanda had enough and soon found a lift for the last few kilometres. She didn’t have to feel bad about it as no sooner had she left, and a large truck stopped and offered me a ride. In the back were four French cyclists, who also found the weather somewhat extreme. I politely declined and cycled on to Rosario, where I found Amanda waiting.
18-19 December - Rosario - Sao Luis - 74km
We arrived on the island city of Sao Luis, dead-tired after a long and hot ride into the wind. The road was in poor condition and extremely busy. I hated days like that as they were way too stressful: the shoulder was non-existent, and busses, trucks and cars careened down on us like bats out of hell. Amanda found the heat too much and took a bus to the city centre. We arranged to meet at Pousada Vitoria, which turned out to be a good option. The pousada was well situated in the historic centre and was also a family home with a charming courtyard and homely knick-knacks scattered around.
The following day was spent doing a whole lot of nothing, except for laundry and a walk to the port to find out what time the boat left for the trip across the Bay to Alcantara. The bay was tidal, and ferries could only cross to Alcantara at high tide.
20 December - Sao Luis – Alcantara - By boat
The information gathered stated that the boat left at 9h00, but on arriving at the port, all boats were still sitting high and dry, and we were told to catch the ferry at another port. We jumped on our bikes and raced through the traffic to find the port we were pointed to. Eventually, and still in time, we came upon the boat, pushed our bikes across the sand and boarded. The boat finally left at 10h00 and was still struggling to get through the narrow canal.
The sea was rough, and for my dear sister with her aquaphobia, it was a ride straight from hell. All the crew gathered around to try and calm her down, but when you suffer from a fear of water, there is nothing anyone can do or say to ease your anxiety. To cut a long story short, we eventually arrived safely on the other side. Phew!
The small town of Alcantara was quite interesting: built by slaves for the rich, it was then mostly in ruins, but interesting, nevertheless. By the time we were done looking around, it was already too late to reach the next town but fortunately came upon accommodation on the outskirts of town.
From Alcantara to Belem was our last and final stretch. With the road cutting slightly inland, it would be our last glimpse of the ocean until reaching Belem. The route was reasonably hilly, but at least the tailwind was still with us, and the scenery became lusher and greener. We even encountered a few showers. The cloud cover was more to Amanda’s liking, and she cycled strong all day.
Bequimo was our destination of the day where a “hotel” was found for a fraction of the price we’d paid the previous night; we even had separate rooms. That night supper was at our hotel, and the food was surprisingly tasty, considering it was dirt cheap.
22 December - Bequimao – Santa Helena - 94km
I slept so well, Amanda had to wake me for breakfast. Fortunately, there was still a cloud cover making for comfortable cycling. The little villages encountered became more and more wild-west in style, and the countryside more and more watery with even the odd water buffalo, something not seen further south.
It wasn’t a fantastic road, but we managed all right. The traffic seemed more careful of cyclists, which was good as, from time to time, the shoulder disappeared altogether.
23 December - Santa Helena – Gov. Nunes Freire - 74km
The following morning Amanda decided to take a bus as she wasn’t feeling well. It was a windy day, and I was off like a rocket, partly due to a strong tailwind and partly due to our staple of rice and beans. The way was reasonably flat, providing for comfortable riding, but poorly-maintained with potholes the size of small craters. It did, however, act as a very effective speed control as cars and truck snaked along trying and avoid the worst of it.
On arriving at Gov. Nunes Freire, I looked around but couldn’t find my sister anywhere. I became increasingly worried as there continued to be no sign of her. I booked into a visible hotel and hoped she would spot it on her way into town.
Amanda soon arrived on the back of a pick-up truck. Unable to find a bus in Santa Helena, she set off by herself for about 40 kilometres after which she flagged down a lift. She looked chuffed with herself, despite still not feeling 100%.
24 December - Gov. Nunes Freire – Boa Vista do Gurupi - 72km
Amanda still felt ill and thought it best to take the bus to Boa Vista. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, but it was clear she couldn’t cycle. After asking around, there was a little bus stop where she could wait. I set off down the road, which was dead quiet and a pleasure to cycle.
On reaching the small hamlet of Boa Vista do Gurupi, I found Amanda waiting at a little restaurant. Fortunately, the restaurant also had a few rooms outback. I was anxious about her health as I had no idea what was wrong with her. We discussed the situation and decided to take a bus to Belem the following day allowing her to see a doctor and where we, hopefully, could find a more comfortable place for her to rest.
I had my doubts about getting a bus on Christmas day in Brazil, but it was only an hour’s wait and no sooner found ourselves in Belem. It was a bit of an anti-climax to reach Belem by bus, but there wasn’t much else one could do. On offloading the bikes from the bus, we found Amanda’s derailleur bent, and she had to push her bike to a nearby hostel.
The hostel was full, and we booked into a good hotel behind the hostel. I must also mention the hotel had a special on for the following two days, with the result it ended up not costing much more than the hostel.
26-27 December – Belem
The Amazon has two seasons: rainy and dry. We were in the rainy season and could expect daily rain. It was also the end of Amanda’s cycle journey as from Belem we planned on taking a boat along the Amazon River to Manaus, from where she planned on flying back to South Africa. Belem turned out to be not as wild-west as expected. In fact, it was quite a modern city with lovely parks and a population of 1,5 million. From Belem, the view of the Amazon River was rather unimpressive: only a vast muddy river.
I headed straight for the busy port and the local market to see if there was anything of interest. I found more than enough herbs to cure just about any ailment one could imagine.
After our two-day stay in our upmarket hotel, we relocated to the hostel. The hostel was an old rubber baron mansion: a stunning place with lovely wooden floors, four-metre high ceilings and crystal chandeliers (but overpriced for a hostel).
It was time to buy tickets for the boat trip up the Amazon to Manaus. Tickets came in a wide price range, depending on the vessel. With Amanda’s fear of water, we chose a boat that looked large and stable. Back in the room, while checking our boat on the internet, Amanda thought it best to find something more substantial. The following day we headed back to the boat office and upgraded our tickets to a larger one.
28 December - Belem to Manaus - By boat
It was on 28 December that we headed to the port where a rather large boat was waiting. I was somewhat nervous as I didn’t know how Amanda would handle the trip. She did, however, appear entirely at ease on the larger ship, which felt more stable. We booked a cabin instead of a hammock, as Amanda claimed she couldn’t get in and out of a hammock, let alone sleep in one for five nights. I didn’t mind, as sleeping in a hammock sounded very romantic, but agreed that five nights might be a bit too much.
After settling into our cabin, it was off in search of the canteen, where a cold beer could be enjoyed. Our boat sailed at sunset, leaving Belem in the distance, and it was a beautiful sunset, our very first one on the mighty Amazon. Our cabin turned out to be rather noisy, and it felt that we were right next to the engine room, it was far quieter out on the deck.
On waking up, our boat was manoeuvring up a narrow channel with thick and lush vegetation on both sides. It was indeed a jungle out there. Villagers rowed out to the boat en masse to catch whatever people threw overboard. Fellow passengers seemed to have brought large bags of clothing for this very purpose. Each item was tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and then thrown overboard for the villagers to collect.
The ship sailed close to the river bank and villagers continued to row out; if fast enough, they could latch their canoes onto the boat, got on, sold their wares (mostly cooked shrimps) and then departed again. Just about everyone on board supported them, and the shrimps were shared around for everyone to enjoy. At one stage our ship slowed down, a canoe latched on and offloaded a large amount of homemade juice. The Brazilians are such an accommodating bunch.
It wasn’t long before thick clouds gathered, and soon it poured down. Then, just as quickly, it stopped and the sun came out, making for a spectacular sunset over the Amazon jungle. At 20h00 our boat arrived at Gurupa, where more passengers were waiting to board. The quayside resembled the boarding of the Ark, and we couldn’t believe that, in the middle of the jungle, people could have that much stuff.
It was quite impossible to capture the density of the forest and the vastness of the Amazon on camera. I tried, but to no avail; well done to those who have managed. It’s an incredible area, almost impossible to describe.
This day was slightly different as our boat left the narrow channels and headed out to the open waters. The riverbanks were still densely wooded, but from time to time they opened up onto flat grassy land. Our vessel stopped now and then at small villages to offload goods, mostly rice and beans. The quaysides were always hives of activity - these drop-offs were most likely the highlight of the week. Vendors climbed onboard selling snacks and fruit, and again, just about everyone bought something and shared it around.
It’s a big watery world and (like in Borneo) kids seem to be able to row a boat before they could walk. The people on the boat were extremely kind, sharing whatever snacks they had and the ship was like a big family. Kids ran around, and it appeared everyone kept an eye on them. The bar fridge in our cabin was soon overflowing with juice, milk, water, and whatever else people wanted us to keep cold for them. It was a pleasant surprise to notice not once did anyone throw anything overboard, but always carefully placed their rubbish in the bins provided. That evening, the sun set like thunder over the Amazon, birds flew home, and people settled into their hammocks for the night.
The Amazon is a vast area and the numbers mind-boggling. The river is enormous and the forest thick and dense. Although small, Caboclo (mixed indigenous and European) communities populate the riverbanks, but there was no sign of indigenous tribes.
On waking at 5h00, there was a big commotion. Some of the passengers were getting ready to disembark at Santarem. Our early rise also resulted in our first sighting of a sunrise over the Amazon. Our ship pulled into the rather large town (for the Amazon that is) of Santarem and only left again at 12h00. We didn’t venture into town as Amanda, once again, didn’t feel well. Santarem was located at the confluence of the brown Amazon River and the dark Rio Tapajos. The incredible thing is that the two rivers flowed side by side, for quite a distance, without mixing.
The remainder of the day slipped away as our boat putt-putted upriver past varying scenery. Sometimes it was flat, grassy islands and at other times thick jungle. Small wooden houses would pop out of the forest to remind us people were indeed living in that remote part of the world. The river was massive and hid its treasures well.
Seeing it was the last day of 2011, we drank a few beers with friendly fellow passengers but retired before midnight. Just a few hours later, we woke again as our boat pulled into another small harbour to offload cargo. After all the excitement of anchoring and casting off, it was back to bed.
1 January 2012
The first day of 2012 dawned with thick, dark clouds in the distance. It was still pretty dark at 7h00, and I was unsure if it was due to the cloud cover or because we’d moved pretty far west. Breakfast was, however, ready as usual (5 real each), consisting of fruit, coffee, juice, bread, ham and cheese – a typical Brazilian breakfast.
I felt a little disappointed, not because I hadn’t yet seen any spear-toting tribes or man-eating piranhas, but because I had failed to get any decent photos. They were all somewhat hazy or blurry. I tried almost everything, but to no avail, they stayed blurry and hazy. My second disappointment was our expensive bottle of ‘champagne’ - specially bought to be drunk on New Year’s Day, it turned out to be nothing more than a slightly fizzy apple juice.
As our boat headed deeper into the Amazon, the weather became more humid, and it was mostly overcast and windless as we sailed slowly and smoothly upriver. Tiny birds settled on the railing of the deck without as much as a feather moving in the breeze.
I was looking forward to sunset as not once did the Amazon produce the same display. Every night it was completely different. That evening, the sun didn’t set with a bang like the other evenings but instead came with a very soft and subtle display of pinkish colours.
We’d settled nicely into the rhythm of doing nothing. Our days mostly consisted of eating, drinking, sleeping and sitting, staring at the river and forest as our boat sailed past. Five days was a long time to do nothing and I, for one, was ready to get off that boat. We knew it would be our final day, but when exactly our ship would dock in Manaus, no one could tell us. The staff’s best estimate was something between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Closer to Manaus, more settlements started to appear along the riverbank, making it a little more interesting.
And so came to an end our life on the Rondondin, and I thought I would have nothing to say other than, “We were on a boat for five days”. Our ship docked in Manaus around 5 p.m. and in bucketing rain. We pushed our bikes along until we found a budget hotel and settled in for the next few days - to get Amanda’s bike boxed and ready to fly home.
During the night, I became violently ill - no need to go into any detail. The food available on the boat was known for giving passengers the runs, and I guess I tried my luck just one too many times. I managed to take a walk to the laundry to hand in our clothes (risky business in my condition) and returned without any incident.
The world is obviously not as big a place as I thought. A certain Mr Markwood arrived at our hotel looking a bit worse for wear. Life without money was clearly not highly recommended.
4-8 January – Manaus
I felt slightly better in the morning and tried to eat a small breakfast. Ernest had no problem with breakfast and ate just about the entire buffet.
Manaus is strange in the way that it’s a big city in the middle of the jungle, and there was quite a bit to see.
I did not, however, expect to find an opera theatre in the middle of the jungle, but there it was. Manaus’s famous Teatro Amazonas was completed in 1896 and was constructed by engineers from Lisbon, it symbolises the opulence of the rubber era. Built in a neoclassical style, most of the materials were imported from Europe, i.e. Italian marble and glass, and Scottish cast iron. To top it all, the road outside the theatre was rubberised to reduce the noise from late-arriving carriages. I was unsure whether I was impressed or disgusted in this blatant display of European opulence.
At Manaus, the black water of the Rio Negro and the white water of the Rio Solimoes met but didn’t mix and flowed side by side for quite a few kilometres. The reason (from what I understood) was due to a difference in temperature, velocity and the fact that the Solimoes carried nearly eight times as much sediment per litre as the Negro.
5-8 January – Manaus
Amanda was also sick, and the two of us hardly had the energy to do anything but sleep. I didn’t expect the stomach bug to last quite as long. In the meantime, Ernest raided Amanda’s bike of all moving parts to fix his ageing bike and boxed what was left for her flight back to South Africa.
In the meantime, Amanda and I conjured up some energy to go to a nearby park, not that there was much to see, but it was a relaxing walk through the trees. Then it was time for her to fly home and for me to move on.
My visa had already expired three days before, and it was still 1,000 kilometres to the border. There wasn’t much else I could do but take my chances with the Brazilian authorities and hoped they would treat me kindly.
9 January - Manaus – roadside restaurant - 64km
It was time to head for the border. I said goodbye to Amanda (who was catching her flight the following day) and Ernest, and I headed out of Manaus. It was a rather slow start as, four kilometres out of town, Ernest’s chain broke. Not much later, heavy storm clouds came over, and I didn’t like the way the lightning hit the overhead wires. It was way too close for comfort. Soon, it started bucketing down, and it was best to take shelter until it was over.
The road north was through a forest on a slightly hilly route - at least it was scenic, albeit somewhat hot. When the rain set in again, a roadside restaurant with an old chicken shed next to it made for an excellent place to set up camp. The owners didn’t mind and even showed us to the shower and toilets. Ernest quickly swept out the chicken shed, and we were set for the night. The next-door restaurant had a buffet for a reasonable price, making it a natural choice for supper.
10 January - Roadside restaurant - Presidente Figueiredo - 67km
After coffee, and back on the road, it was clear that this was still the Amazon basin as we’d macaws, parrots, love birds and bright blue butterflies as company while climbing hill after hill. The road led past dense forests and across countless rivers, ponds and rivers that appeared undisturbed for centuries.
Around Presidente Figueiredo were a few waterfalls with lovely picnic areas, but a little too organised for wild camping and instead we took a room in Presidente Figueiredo.
11 January - Presidente Figueiredo – Da Tia Restaurant - 128km
It was a short but hilly section to Da Tia Restaurant, where Ernest had camped on his way to Manaus. The owner (Antonio) was very kind and had no problem with us camping next to the restaurant under a gazebo. Our early arrival gave Ernest time to service his bike and fix all the odd bits that needed fixing. It was a fantastic spot, and a short walk through his garden revealed loads to eat, including mangoes, avocados and bananas.
12 January - Roadside restaurant – Petrol station - 76km
I woke to the sound of birds and we were offered free breakfast by Antonio. It was another hilly ride but, fortunately, the weather was overcast, which made it more bearable. The route was incredibly scenic, and I was happy I had decided to cycle to the border instead of taking a bus. I would deal with the visa problem at a later stage.
We continued until reaching a petrol station Ernest had spotted on his way to Manaus. It was another perfect camping spot as they had a gazebo, showers and toilets. Ernest cooked pasta in anticipation of a long ride the following day.
13 January - Petrol station – Vila Jundia - 133km
After about six kilometres, the road entered a reserve for the Waimiri indigenous people. The reserved stretched for 120 kilometres, and it was prohibited to stop or take photos along the way, let alone camp. It was a stunning ride through a virgin forest but a long day on the road with no villages or roadside restaurants where one could fill up with water.
I was happy to reach the end of the reserve and see a road sign indicating 10 kilometres to Vila Jundia. It was a long, hilly and hot day, and we made it out of the park just as the sun started setting. In our process of looking for a camping spot, I spotted a pousada with tiny colourful bungalows. It wasn’t only inexpensive but came with hot water and air-con.
Ernest went off to the supermarket, and I couldn’t wait to drag my body into the shower. Ernest, once again, conjured up a pasta dish and by 10 o’clock I was in bed.
14 January - Vila Jundia – Nova Colina - 98km
After eating the leftover pasta on fresh rolls from the bakery, it was back on the bikes. Both our route and the forest flattened out somewhat, but a headwind and the muddy and potholed road slowed our efforts. Authorities were busy building a new road, making for some sections being smooth and paved.
Shortly after leaving, a sign indicated the equator. It wasn’t the first time I had passed that line, and I was sure it wasn’t going to be the last. After a few photos, it was back on the bikes and onto Nova Colina.
Nova Colina, was larger than expected and came with a “hotel”, two supermercados and two bakeries. Ernest, nevertheless, wanted to camp behind the church where there was a shelter, but I headed straight for the “hotel”.
15 January - Nova Colina – Rorainopolis - 45km
It was a short ride on a rather poor road to Rorainopolis. The route was very dusty, hilly and into the wind, and I was happy to reach the end of our ride. Rorainopolis had accommodation that made for doing laundry, as well as the internet, but the connection was weak, making it too frustrating, and I gave up.
16 January - Rorainopolis – Nova Paraiso - 36km
From Rorainopolis it was 36 kilometres to the tiny settlement of Nova Paraiso. There wasn’t anything there, but neither Ernest nor I felt very well, and it was a short day of cycling. I spotted a small pousada hidden behind the petrol station and called it a day. It was hardly a “New Paradise”, but still a place where one could chill out for the rest of the day.
17 January - Nova Paraiso – Caracarai - 127km
It was a long day of cycling to Caracarai; fortunately, it was a relatively easy ride. There was hardly anything along the road, only a few roadworks and some roadside stalls for filling up with water. I pushed on to Caracarai, where there was accommodation for the night. Ernest went to the supermarket and got ingredients for a potato salad.
18 January - Caracarai – Mucajai - 87km
The thick forest slowly made way for cattle ranches, and it appeared that the parrots and macaws were replaced with cattle. Fortunately, it was another cloudy day, which made for comfortable riding. Mucajai was a tiny settlement that, surprisingly enough, had accommodation as well as a cellphone connection. I spent most of the evening uploading photos and playing on the internet.
19-21 January - Mucajai – Boa Vista - 63km
I was looking forward to Boa Vista and to have a day of leisure. Since the forest had disappeared, it became windier, and it was battling into a headwind all day; fortunately, it was a short ride. As has become the norm, accommodation was found around the bus station. It was a strange town in that the centre was quiet, but most of the business seemed to happen around the bus station and outlying areas.
I thought I would be able to sort out my expired visa in Boa Vista but, after taking a taxi to various locations, I was still unable to find the right office. I gave up and did my laundry instead.
22 January - Boa Vista – Rosa de Saron - 106km
It wasn’t a bad day on the road at all as it was cloudy with a slight drizzle, and the wind diagonally from behind. Late afternoon, a spot next to a restaurant and under a cover made for good camping. It was, however, a busy area with busses and taxis stopping for a snack and toilet break, before continuing their journey.
23 January - Rosa de Saron – Indiu Village- 92km
It was a difficult day of cycling as not only was it scorching but it also became very mountainous, and it was hill after hill in stifling heat. At one stage, I thought I was going to pass out as I was starting to see black and yellow spots. The road was very exposed and there was nowhere to hide, until reaching a small indigenous community that, fortunately, had a good enough covered area where one could set up camp.
24 January - Indiu Village, Brazil – Santa Elena, Venezuela - 40km
By early morning it was already boiling, and as more hills were waiting, I left while Ernest was still busy packing up.
It was a slow climb of a near 1,000 metres, in sweltering heat, up to the Gran Sabana plateau, Pacaraima (the border) and onto Santa Helena in Venezuela. On arriving in Pacaraima, I bought more Brazilian coffee, which became a favourite of us during our travels in Brazil, then waited for Ernest to arrive.
I was concerned about my Brazilian visa, which had expired 16 days previously, and I wasn’t quite sure what the procedure would be. Fortunately, the fine of 132 reals was only payable on re-entry into Brazil. That was great news, as the more cash I was able to take into Venezuela, the better. At that time, changing money on the street was twice as good as drawing from the ATM.
After clearing immigration, it was a short cycle into the touristy border town of Santa Helena where there was ample accommodation as it was the starting point for people who wanted to climb Mount Roraima. I would have loved to have done that, but Ernest wasn’t one for such ventures.