Around the world by bike
(5 879km - 149days)
On arrival at the airport in Rio I took a taxi to the Wave Hostel in Copacabana Beach and was lucky enough to find a bike shop across the road where they put my bike together again. What a bargain! The hostel was not too bad, as hostels go. It was situated close to the beach, and with breakfast thrown in and free WiFi, one could do worse…
28 August - 3 September - Rio de Janeiro
I spent most of my days in Rio shopping for a new sim card for my phone, camping gas for my stove and a good map of Brazil that shows the kilometres travelled and 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.
I also had to wait for Amanda, who had decided to join me in cycling South America for a while, to arrive. I had a strong suspicion that this was going to be loads of fun…!
In the meantime I cycled into the city centre so I could ‘recky’ the route so that it would not too stressful for Amanda getting out of this large city by bike on her first day. I also got a Brazilian sim card for her phone as it is much cheaper to use a local card.
At the same time I enjoyed the good sunny weather in Rio. Although it is considered winter, the beaches were packed with tanga-clad sunbathers, deck chairs and umbrellas. I could easily live in a place like this. It’s just a pity that things are so expensive.
Rio is very much a party town; you party all night and sleep in the day!! Not something I’m too 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. We had loads to chat about and besides her being very tired, we only went to bed quite late. She must have been VERY tired as she did not utter a word about the fact that the room was terribly small and we had to share a bed!! Something I know (from childhood) she hates, seeing that we always had to place pillows between us whenever we had to share a bed!
The next morning we woke to a cold and overcast Brazilian day, not good for our sightseeing plans. First things first though: we took Amanda’s bike to the bike shop. Afterwards we took a stroll to the famed Copacabana beach, the colourful local market and backstreets where men were playing cards in the park. After which Amanda had a quick nap. We soon set off again, this time by bus to the very famous Sugarloaf Mountain. The price for taking the cable car was a bit steep for us (on a cloudy day) so we gave it a miss and hoped for better weather the following day.
The streets come alive after dark with literally thousands of stalls selling touristy things and bites to eat. We had a beer on the beachfront and then headed for the backstreets to find some food. The cheapest meal we could find was two pizzas from the bakery that we could cook in the microwave at the hostel. We ate our pizzas accompanied by a cheap (and terrible) 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 we headed up Corcovado, the 710m high mountain with the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the top. A tram ride up the steep slopes brought us to the 38m high statue, and although very touristy, the views over the city were fantastic. It was fairly cold and windy so we did not spend too much time up there and soon headed down to the warmth of the city again.
With all the sightseeing done it was time to pack the panniers and start cycling again.
4 September - Rio de Janeiro - Marica - 56km
It was Amanda’s first day on the bike and we were lucky in that it was Sunday and the beach road was closed to traffic. We had an easy ride to the ferry terminal where we could get a ferry to take us across Guanabara bay, saving us from having to cycle all the way around to Niteroi. Our luck did not end there as we found out that on Sundays you can take bikes on the ferry free of charge. It was really our lucky day as, while we were waiting for the ferry, we met a local chap who lives along the coast, close to Marica. He had bought himself a bike in town and was planning to cycle home as he could not take the bike on the bus. So he offered to show us a shortcut and lead 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 along the road we spotted a sign for a campsite and headed in that direction. It was just before Marica, about 3 or 4 km off the road along a dirt road. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived as it was a stunning place with lakes, forests and a fantastic lawn. Although Amanda was tired, it was a good day with all the good fortune we had had.
Once the tents were pitched, we cooked some noodles that we fortunately still had in our bags and that was us done for the day.
5 September - Marica – Itauna Beach - 59km
After a cup of coffee we packed up and headed back to the main road. It was day two for Amanda and she was looking for an internet connection to put the bike and bags on e-bay - ha ha! It was actually quite a nice ride, mostly along the Costa do Sol, with densely-wooded hills on the inland side.
We stopped several times so Amanda could get her Coca-Cola fix, or just rest under the trees. Once we reached Saquarema we looked for a campsite but found none. We did some shopping at the supermarket and headed off again to Itauna beach, where we eventually settled for a pousada (a chain of luxury, traditional or historical hotels in Portugal). We stayed in luxury for the night, right on the well-known surfing beach of Itauna.
6 -7 September - Itauna Beach – Arraial do Cabo - 65km
We had breakfast at our pousada and then headed north along the coast. The road runs between the coast and a lake, which we realised was obviously a salt lake as we passed many salt farms. We picked up a strong tailwind, and I was happy for Amanda as she seemed rather tired by that time. On arrival at Arraial do Cabo she felt nauseous and had cold shivers.
We camped at the local campsite which was quite a disappointment - although it was close to the beach, I thought it was overpriced for what it offered. Amanda retreated to her tent, never to be seen again. I cycled to the supermarket and bought the necessary items for supper, as well as loads to drink for Amanda (I suspected her problem was dehydration).
We stayed put the following day in order for Amanda to fully recover before heading off again. We did however take a walk to the colourful harbour and ate at one of the well-known “self-service” restaurants. These restaurants are actually the best value for money as one pays by weight. Amanda is also a fussy eater so these are the best places for her to eat.
The wind picked up and was blowing at storm-strength - we even had to move our tents around in the night in order for them not to blow away. I was however not quick enough, and the wind broke one of my tent poles, something which seriously peed me off!
8 September - Arraial do Cabo – Buzios - 35km
Amanda looked a lot better after a day’s rest and, although it was still very windy, we packed up and cycled the short distance to Buzios. Well done to Amanda for not complaining about the wind, she only rolled her eyes a few times but continued on. Once in Buzios we took a room at Buzios Hostel, where I could fix my tent and we could use the internet. Amanda, no doubt, was the first to spot a sign advertising a bus trip to Salvador along the coast!!
We took a walk to the local supermarket to get some food for supper which we could cook in the hostel’s kitchen. Amanda also discovered that she was a victim of credit card fraud! What a disaster!
9 September - Buzios
Although we packed up and were ready to leave quite early, contacting Amanda’s bank to report the credit card fraud took some time. By the time we had completed the time-consuming job of contacting the bank and cancelling the card it was after midday so we stayed another day in pretty Buzios.
Buzios is known for its beaches and it did not disappoint. The wind dropped and we took a walk along the beach and enjoyed a stunning sunset. At least Amanda had a good rest and looked ready to take on the road again.
10 September - Buzios – Macae - 81km
We were incredibly lucky and picked up a strong tailwind. We hardly stopped along the way and flew down the road past Rio das Ostras and onto Macae. Accommodation looked a bit a pricy, so we continued on until just past Macae. The sun usually set quite early so by 17h00 we needed to start looking out for a place to stay. Just outside Macae we found a small pousada along the road. The price was nearly the same as some of the campsites. Needless to say, we were very happy. Although it was on a rather busy and noisy road, we had a sea view, a fan and a bathroom.
We cooked some food in the room (it was more an experiment than anything else) - not the most tasty of meals, I must admit, but a meal nevertheless.
11 September - Macae – Campos dos Goytacazes - 94km
It was Amanda’s birthday and she had the best present the road could possibly give us. A tailwind! It was also an overcast day, which was a good thing as it turned out to be quite a long day on the road. Although Amanda was tired and her backside quite sore by then, she continued on. Not that there is much one can do if there is no accommodation along the way, except for wild camping. We stopped a few times along the way and I must admit, there’s nothing quite like a cold sugarcane juice when cycling. Amanda did not like the taste and stuck to her tried-and-tested Coca-Cola.
On reaching Campos we took a hotel room as I don’t think Amanda was up to cycling around town looking for a cheap room. We found the aptly named “Canaan Hotel”, and while she relaxed in the room I went shopping for the few items we needed. She later claimed that the only things she could move were her eyes so all she could do was just lie there, staring at the ceiling. Later we got a take-away pizza to eat in the room (seeing that Amanda could not move). The pizza was so big that we could only eat half so we packed the remaining half to eat along the way the following day.
12 September - Campos dos Goytacazes – Quaxindiba - 56km
After 16km of cycling we turned off the BR101 and headed for the coast again. The coastal road gave more opportunities for accommodation and seemed more interesting that the main road.
We cycled past large sugarcane fields, cattle ranches and pineapple fields. Along the way were numerous stalls selling pineapples at incredibly cheap prices. On reaching the coast at Quaxindiba, Amanda spotted a decent looking pousada. I did not argue as by then I had heard the phrase “this is not for me” a hundred times. The room turned out to be far less glamorous than the outside. It was the most smelly, dingy room one could imagine, but we took it as it was very cheap.
13 September - Quaxindiba – Marataizes - 65km
We continued on along the coast, partly on a dirt road and past many small villages. Sugarcane trucks abounded, all on their way to the factory. We once again cycled past vast pineapple and sugarcane fields. We were now in the state of Espirito Santo, overlooked by tourists and truly stunning. It was also out of season so it was just us and the locals!
Marataises was our first beach town along the coast. We took a room as first priority was for Amanda to get to an internet connection in order 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 set off along the coast past Itapemirim. We did not get very far as Amanda flopped down on the nearest beach, claiming she could cycle no further. I did not blame her as by then we had had four days of cycling, of which two were fairly long days.
We splashed out and found a very nice place for the night. It was more a flat than a room as it came with two bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. We had plenty of time to do laundry and the fact that they had washing machines and driers was an added bonus.
15 September Piuma – Guarapari - 55km
We unfortunately had to leave our lovely accommodation, and after a hearty breakfast (jelly, cake, bread rolls, cheese, ham, coffee etc) we packed our clean and nice smelling laundry and set off again. We biked along the coast, past fantastic beaches like Iriri, Anchieta and Ubu. Guarapari was a much larger city than we expected. Just past Guarapari it started drizzling so we opted for a room. The owners were ever-so friendly: I’m sure they had never had two foreign cyclists staying at their pousada.
Amanda amazes me more and more every day - she now even swallows down 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 cycling day. Amanda set off at quite a speed and I could not believe that she was getting stronger and stronger - normally people get more and more tired as the days go by. At Vitoria we had a frustrating time as the authorities did not allow us to cycle across the main bridge (Ponte 3) so we had to cycle all the way around the city to cross at Ponte Florentino Avidos! With Amanda’s fear of water and heights, she was across that bridge in record time. Vitoria turned out to be quite an interesting town with both an old and modern section. Once we reached the beach again, accommodation looked a bit pricy so we continued on.
It was easier said than done. The road led us through various villages, jam-packed with traffic! I’m quite sure we took the wrong road. Eventually we reached the coast again. By that time Amanda was not a happy puppy anymore and threatened to stop right there and then.
We managed to continue on until we reached Carapina Beach where we found a very reasonably priced pousada right on the beach. Although the room was large it had clearly not been cleaned since the previous occupant and there was no bedding. Good thing we had our own sleeping bags!
17 September - Carapina Beach
We stayed in Carapina for the day and did little else but sleep, eat and drink. My Portuguese is obviously not improving. I try in my best Portuguese to ask for directions, food and accommodation, but people generally look at me as if I have just landed there from another planet. When they eventually get it, the remarks are always the same: ”aaaah pousada!” I don’t get it - that was exactly what I said!! How many ways are there to say “pousada”?!
18 September - Carapina beach – Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach - 50km
Refreshed after a day of doing nothing we headed up the coast again. It was a beautiful day’s cycling. The road was scenic and led us through many small fishing villages, past craft markets and nature reserves. We soon spotted a campsite and although it was still very early, it was such a good site, right on the beach, that we camped for the night. It was a stunning spot, and we took a walk along the beach looking for some food but everything seemed deserted as it was Sunday. We cooked up some pasta and washed it down with a beer or two. Food is harder to find than beer in this country! Soon the rain came down and by 8pm we were in our tents hiding from the rain.
19 September - Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach – Linhares - 80km
The coastal road came to an end so we headed inland to join the BR101. We cycled past vast timber plantations. The road was 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 can’t think of anything better than cycling with the smell of ylang-ylang in your nostrils.
Although the BR101 was a busy road there was a nice wide shoulder to cycle on. We stopped for cold drinks at a roadside stall and looked at all the lovely crafty things for sale. We could not buy anything but took a few photos and were on our way again.
On arrival at Linhares we cycled around the not-so glamorous town to find a reasonably priced room. We also discovered that the address that Amanda had given to the bank, (where they could send her bank card) was not at all where we thought it was: the inn she had found on the internet turned out to be along the coast and not in Sao Matheus, where she thought it was!
20 September - Linhares – Barra Nova - 85km
The only option we had was to head to Barra Nova to see if her credit card had arrived in the meantime. After we had cycled for about 60km along the BR101 we saw a huge sign advertising the inn that we were heading for. We consulted with locals at the turn-off and concluded that, yes, it was the right turn-off. 23km the advertising board said. We cycled and we cycled but no inn. The tarred road ended and became a dirt road but still no inn! The sun started setting and Amanda was (as can be expected) by this time claiming that she was going to catch a bus! We were on a stunning but rather deserted road, so where she was going to get the bus, I had no idea… We stopped a few people along the way to ask for directions but they seemed rather perplexed that 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 we made the decision to “wild camp” (a first for Amanda). We pitched our tents at the entrance of what looked like an oil refinery (to 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 were not only very friendly but also quite 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 28km.
21 September - Oil refinery – Barra Nova - 20km
After we had coffee we packed up and followed the gravel road in the direction the oil refinery security guys had indicated. After 20km we reached the river. This may not seem like a problem to anyone else but for Amanda (who suffers from a fear of water) it was a huge problem. After asking around we found a guy to paddle us across the river for a reasonable fee. A much bigger problem was getting Amanda onto the boat and across the river. We managed to find a life jacket but that did not do much to ease her fear at all. Although scared shitless, she eventually got onto the tiny wooden boat loaded with bikes and bags and arrived alive on the other side. I felt really sorry for her, but what else was there to be done? We had to get across the river and to the other side. Shaking and wide-eyed, she reached the other side where we found the inn we were looking for. Unfortunately no post had arrived for us and there was no internet connection for us to find out what was going on. Amanda swallowed a beer in about two seconds and looked a lot more like her old self again.
Now 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 the river, and had stunning rooms, a lovely restaurant and a bar, all set in a lush garden with palm trees and humming birds. There was nothing more to the village than the inn, a few houses dotted along a dirt road and a pub or two. We were the only people at the inn and the staff doted over us like we were the Queens of England. After Amanda’s ordeal of the past two days, it was well-deserved treatment for her.
22 September - Barra Nova
The following day we took a taxi (at quite a cost) along a sandy track to a nearby village (which was not so nearby). Amanda (again) had to hang onto the door frame for dear life, as we sped along the bumpy, sandy track. All in search of an internet connection and a bank (both of which we found). It appeared that the bank had not even sent the card yet!! We retreated back along the sandy track to the “AratuPousada” to make a new plan.
Information from the staff indicated that it was 25km, on a very sandy track, back to the main road and on to the bigger town of Sao Mateus. That evening Amanda was already stressing about the sandy road and remarking that it was going to take her the whole of the following day to do the 25km. She feared that she would have to push her bike all the way (mumbling her by-now trademark phrase “I’m never going to make it”).
23 - 24 September - Barra Nova – Sao Mateus - 40km
The following morning we waved the friendly staff goodbye and set off along the sandy track. Every now and again I heard an anxious “oh shit” behind me. We soon discovered that the “25km” was only to the next village, but at least from there on we were on tarmac again. We headed for Sao Mateus to find a hotel with telephone and internet facilities. We were however unable to reach the South African bank that Amanda wanted to phone. She did, however, still have time to update the website.
The following day Amanda had more “work” to do so we stayed another day in Sao Mateus so that we could (hopefully) sort out most of the credit card requirements.
25 September - Sao Mateus – Itabata - 90km
We did all we could have possibly done to get a new bank card sent to Amanda. Now we would just have to wait and see. We set off on a breezy cloudy morning, heading north on the BR101. As soon as we crossed into the state of Bahia the road deteriorated. There was no more shoulder to the road and the many trucks made it plain dangerous to be cycling. Fortunately we soon spotted a roadside pousada where we could take a break for the night, hoping that there would be a turn-off for the coastal road soon. Well done to Amanda as she stuck it out, put her head down and made it all the way.
26 September Itabata – Caravelas - 65km
It was another eventful day on the road. We turned off the busy and narrow BR101 and headed for the coast, past cattle ranches and tiny local villages. We stopped for a cold drink break when Amanda spotted a man on a donkey and muttered something like that would be a more suitable means of transport for her.
Soon we reached the tiny village of Mucuri where we stopped for a quick snack, before continuing on.
After 65km and one flat tyre we reached the sleepy fishing village of Nova Vicosa where the road came abruptly to an end at a colourful fishing harbour. We had no other option than to ask one of the fishermen to give us a lift across the mangrove swamps to the next village, which did not look too far away on the map.
We, once again, negotiated a price and loaded the bikes and bags onto the boat. Amanda was still very apprehensive but a tiny bit more comfortable. At least the boat was somewhat bigger than the canoe of a few days ago. Amanda approached the boat rather reluctantly and swore that I had picked the smallest one in the entire harbour. We set off (literally) into the sunset and putt-putted across the mangrove swamps. 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. The sun started setting and still we sailed on.
The birds started settling in the tree tops, the fire-flies came out and phosphorescence started appearing in the wake of the boat – and still we sailed on! It became pitch dark and the stars shone brightly. Amanda was (understandably) very uncomfortable (to put it mildly) by this time. Our boat seemed to have no lights whatsoever. Eventually, 3 hours later, she excitedly spotted the lights of Caravelas over the water. Well done to both Amanda and our skipper for making it across the dark waters of the mangrove swamps.
We were extremely lucky to find not only a very cheap but also very comfortable pousada with even more friendly staff. A walk down the road revealed a still open “self-service” restaurant (Amanda’s favourite).
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 just relax at a beach. We studied the map and there appeared to be no river crossings or anything of that kind for at least another day or two.
People along the way were incredibly friendly. We got the idea that they dearly wanted to talk with us but the language barrier made it rather difficult. A couple in a car flagged us down and told us that they saw us a few days ago in Vitoria. They looked ever so disappointed when they realised that we could not speak Portuguese. It will always remain my biggest regret that I’m not fluent in the language of the country I cycle through.
Just before Prado we crossed a river via a rather rickety bridge. Amanda, with her fear of heights and water, was across that bridge faster than Lance Armstrong! I’m so proud of my sister!
28 September - Prado – Cumuruxatiba - 35km
We left Prado on a stunning coastal road but the road soon deteriorated. We headed over the hills on a rather sandy, rutted and corrugated road. In fact, it was so corrugated that Amanda lost one of her fillings! I thought it was a fantastic route but Amanda had her own description of the road... It was as off-the-beaten-track and remote as one could get - absolutely glorious! Cycle touring at its best!
Amanda pushed her bike up the rutted hills and down the other side. I must admit that the road resembled the Baviaanskloof at times. Finally we reached Cumuruxatiba. We met a very friendly couple along the way and they showed us to a local guesthouse, which turned out to be one of the best places to stay. It was set in a lush garden with a lovely sea view, all for a very reasonable price.
They 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
We were told that we could cycle along the beach instead of the bad road we had been on. So we did, and although it was fantastic, it did not last very long. After about 2km we came to some rocks and had to return to the road to get around them. Once around the rocks, we headed back for the beach along a sandy track. All to no avail. We soon reached some more rocks and had to drag the bikes up the embankment and back onto the road. A few kilometres later, local knowledge told us to try the beach again. Which we did. Soon, however, the sand became so soft that we had to drag the bikes across the soft sand for quite a few kilometres. Exasperated, we gave up and dragged the bikes up the steep embankment again and headed inland looking for a better road. It was a rather isolated area and there wasn’t much of a road, just a sandy jeep track. We dragged the bikes along this very sandy and isolated track for what felt like quite a few kilometres, with Amanda mumbling something to the effect of “we will most likely die of thirst, never to be found again!” Even I started thinking that we might never reach civilization again. Eventually we reached our old sandy and rutted road from the previous day.
At last we spotted a guy on a motorbike and asked for directions. It appeared that we were, in fact, on the right road and had (in the process) cut out a long detour. We were a mere 12km from Corumbau, our destination for the day. On reaching Corumbau we realised that we were running low on cash. We were in a rather remote part of the world - there was no T.V. reception, cell phone reception or banks. Cash seemed to be something one could not find easily in this part of the world.
We eventually settled for a basic bungalow (which we could pay for the following day) and decided to take the bus into a nearby town the following day. We explained our situation in our limited Portuguese and understood that there was only one bus a day. The bus apparently left at 6h00 in the morning and returned at 14h40. We dearly hoped that it was all going to work out!
30 September - Corumbau
We were up early and ready for our 3 hour - 70km - bus trip. The bus ride turned out to be quite an experience. It was Friday and end of the month. The bus was full of locals heading into town to do their monthly business. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. Old men wore hats and the ladies were in heels and floral dresses. Everyone seemed very jovial and greetings were extended as people boarded the bus. They all seemed to know each other, even us, as we spotted a lady from a guesthouse were we had enquired the previous night.
In town our fellow passengers all disappeared off in their individual directions. We did our banking business, which took quite a while as the queue extended out the door and only half the terminals were functioning. We wondered around the small town, bumping into our fellow bus riders busy doing their shopping. Soon it was time to catch the bus back. Most of the morning’s passengers were on the bus again, and we were greeted like locals. Our fellow travellers were loaded up with shopping bags containing anything from chicken feed to groceries.
There appeared to be no rush as the bus stopped at a local store where everyone got off and did their bakery shopping. Collective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were exclaimed as we rattled along the bumpy gravel road back to Corumbau.
1 October - Corumbau – Trancoso - 50km (+12km by beach buggy)
We left our basic bungalow and waved our host Maria goodbye. We continued down the sandy road for what only turned out to be 6km before we reached mangrove swamps again. We pushed our bikes along the sandy beach, all to the great delight of the locals. No sooner had we started pushing our bikes than they all joined in to help. We were ferried across the river by a 6 year old girl (still seemingly sucking on a dummy) - not good for Amanda’s nerves! All this they did without wanting any money – it was just some fun on a Saturday afternoon!
We understood we could cycle along the beach to the small and remote village of Caraiva. The sand was however so soft that it was quite impossible. No wonder there was a beach buggy running up and down the beach, ferrying people to and from Caraiva. We loaded our bikes on the buggy and zooted across the loose sand. Amanda threatened to get out and walk as she was not comfortable in the buggy, which was swaying across the loose sand, very close to the waves! No sooner had we pulled off than our buggy ran out of fuel. We waited patiently in the shade of a palm tree while our barefooted driver ran off to some nearby houses to locate more fuel. He eventually dropped us at Caraiva where we had to, yet again, cross a river in order to get to a road of sorts.
Caraiva is a tiny remote village without any TV reception, mobile phone connection or banks. The slow pace of life has attracted some hippies, who live a quiet life along the coast. As there is no bridge nearby (and therefore no cars), all goods have to be ferried across the river (even the horses seem to know this and swim across at leisure).
We were back on our bikes and the road turned out to be one of the worst roads we had been on so far. It was sandy, rutted, muddy and just plain hard to cycle on. Right in the middle of nowhere we found a shop making lampshades out of candle wax! It was so stunning that we lingered a while before setting off again. We cycled past vast fields of papayas (I guess they’re the only thing that can grow in these sandy fields) en route to Trancoso.
It was out of season and guesthouses were offering rooms at hugely discounted prices. We found a luxury room for a fraction of the price it would cost in high season. 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 we had had enough of dirt roads. As soon as we reached the road we seriously doubted our decision as we encountered rather steep hills along the way. Amanda was in no mood for hills and swore she was going to take a bus. After one too many of these 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 some serious convincing to get her back on the bike, with my promising that we would turn off for Arraial d’Ajuda to make it a short day.
Arraial d’Ajuda is a small coastal village 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 in! We found a hostel and Amanda fell asleep, exhausted.
We stayed on the following day, did a bit of laundry and Amanda updated my website. By the time she pointed out the fact that we had to close our bedroom window with a plank, I knew that she was well rested and that it was time to move on again.
4 October - Arraial d’Ajuda – Belmonte - 80km
We were slow in packing up, but eventually headed the 4km downhill to the ferry port. This time we crossed the river by barge and although by then Amanda had tried many different kinds of craft to cross the many rivers we had encountered, the sight of the overloaded barge did not instill much confidence in her. We did however reach the opposite side safely and continued along the coast, past palm-filled beaches with bright yellow plastic chairs.
As if one river crossing was not enough for Amanda, we soon reached yet another river where we had to cross by means of a barge. On the opposite side the road wound through dense forest and past remote beaches. We did not see anything we liked along the way so we continued on to Belmonte.
No sooner had we reached Belmonte than we were approached by a local skipper offering a ride across the mangrove swamps to Canavieiras the following morning. We negotiated a price and arranged to meet him at 8h00 the next morning (and dearly hoped his craft would be seaworthy).
Soon afterwards we found a basic pousada (guesthouse) at a very cheap price. At that price we could not complain about the lack of facilities. We cooked up some noodles, had a beer and then it was off to bed.
5 October - Belmont - Una - 56km
We were up early and headed to the small port where we found our skipper. He turned out be the local water taxi to Canavieiras. We waited (together with the locals) at the port for the tide to come in. The mangrove swamps can only be crossed at high-tide, which gave Amanda the assurance that at least it was not that deep! We once again loaded our bikes and bags onto the boat (which even had a life jacket for Amanda) and headed off through the watery jungle.
Against all odds (according to Amanda) we arrived safely at Canavieiras. Our first priority was to locate a bike shop as we noticed that Amanda’s back tyre was torn close to the rim. It was an easy task as even the smallest village had a bike shop of sorts. The guy from the bike shop was ever-so friendly, he gave us a good discount and even fitted the new tyre for free.
We cycled the fairly short distance to Una on a good paved road, past densely-wooded forests and plenty of small villages. Una was slightly inland from the coast and therefore it was a fairly hilly ride. In Una we found a very basic pousada right on the main road. As usual, the locals were very curious about what we 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). The on-lookers wasted no time in carrying our bikes up the vertical stairs for us (something I did not protest about). Soon the rain started coming down and it was a good place to hide for the night. Later that evening we took a walk to the bus station where one is always sure to find some cheap nibbles. In Brazil people seem to eat a big lunch and just nibble in the evening. We also bought some cake which we had with our coffee later on that evening.
6 October - Una – Ilhéus - 61km
We woke to bucketing rain but by the time we left it had all cleared and it turned out to be a hot and humid day. We cycled towards the coast again past Ecoparque de Una where one can see the golden-headed lion monkeys. Unfortunately, we learnt from the sign board outside the park that one needs to arrange a visit beforehand. There was no way I was going to drag Amanda up a 7km dirt road to the park gate which may or may not have been open. We flew downhill back to the ocean and enjoyed a flat coastal ride to Olivenca and on to Ilhéus where we hoped to find a new bank card waiting for Amanda.
We located the Hotel Ilhéus at the address Amanda had given the bank, but sadly there was no post waiting for us. What the hell is wrong with FNB??? The Ilhéus Hotel turned out to be quite an interesting place. Centrally located in the old part of town and built in the 1930’s, it came with a vintage elevator and very few electrical points. At least the showers were hot and it had good views of the river. The hotel was built to accommodate rich 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 is now showing its age.
7 - 12 October - Ilhéus
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 forward again to an address where we were not yet staying would be way too problematic.
Ilhéus is 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 7 days though, I was not sure… When we enquired about a “disconto” in anticipation of our long stay, the receptionist laughingly pointed out that although we don’t speak any Portuguese, we sure knew the word “disconto”!!
Ilhéus is also 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. I was looking forward to reading one of his books, but could find no English books in Ilhéus. In the meantime, we inspected all the old buildings in town and walked up the hill to The Church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade. Situated high up on a hill overlooking Ilhéus, it looked more like a fairy castle than a church.
There is only so much sightseeing one can do, so we spent the rest of our days on the beach eating ice cream, grilled cheese and quail eggs (not considered a delicacy here). At night we walked out to the beachfront stalls for cheap nibbles and thick milkshakes. Although Ilhéus is a fairly small town, it’s quite lively and at night the cobblestone alleys are alive with food vendors, bars and street theatres.
The history of Ilhéus:
Ilhéus is the main city along what is known as Brazil’s “Cocoa Coast.” The town dates back to the early 1500s when it thrived due to the sugarcane trade. However, its true boom came in the late 19th-century with the introduction of cacau (cocoa). Plummeting world sugar prices and the abolition of slavery caused the sugar plantations to go into decline.
Cocoa—which earned the nickname ouro branco (white gold)—drew freed slaves and entrepreneurs to the lush hills surrounding Ilhéus, all of them seized by the desire to strike it rich (or at least earn a decent living). A handful of “cocoa barons” (known as coronéis or “colonels”), with vast plantations, did indeed become immensely wealthy and powerful.
They basically 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 be seen by wandering among the grandiose mansions and civic buildings of Ilhéus’s historical center. One can read about their exploits in the novels (particularly The Violent Land) of famous Brazilian author Jorge Amado. Many of his books are set in his hometown of Ilhéus. (Source: Moon Travel Guides)
13 - 14 October -Ilheus
By far the cheapest meal is to be found in self-service restaurants. These normally offer a large variety of food and even desserts, and the food is delicious! You just dish up and weigh your plate. These restaurants are however normally only open between 12h00 and 14h00. Brazilians tend to have a big lunch and then a snack in the evening.
At night we went out (like true South Africans) looking for the espetinhos vendors. One can find these vendors just about everywhere: standing at mobile charcoal grills, selling their espetinhos (small kebabs). The smell of the grilled meat normally tells you exactly where they are! Espetinhos can be skewers of beef, sausage, chicken, or even cheese. These skewers are normally served with a hot sauce and a sandy flour-like concoction (which we normally skipped).
In the unlikely event that you can’t find an espetinhos vendor, there is always the acarajé stall. Acarajé is a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas which are formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil (or so I’m told). It’s by far the most popular street food around here. It’s served split in half and stuffed with a tomato and onion salad, a very hot sauce and pasta made from corn (I think). Often there are shrimps somewhere in the dish as well.
Both these dishes are considered to be snacks and are very popular as they are really cheap. Personally I preferred buying from the lady who ran the stall on the square because she did not deep-fry her acarajé but rather cooked the ball (of whatever) in a banana leaf. Her acarajé also had no shrimp in it and a more distinct coconut flavour.
And just to top it all off: there’s normally chocolate cake to be found somewhere!
15 - 16 October - Ilheus – Itacare - 74 km
After waiting 8 full days for Amanda’s bank card to arrive, there was still no post for us. We decided to continue down the coast and take a bus back to Ilheus, if and when the bank card arrived. Whether that was going to work out or not, we would have to wait and see. Shortly after leaving Ilheus, we spotted a chocolate factory so we just had to go inside! This is, after all, Brazil’s “Cacao Coast” and one is bound to find some chocolatey things around.
We followed the road through a thick and lush coastal forest and soon saw an artist’s house hidden in the woods. We explored and found some rather wacky art. The road was quite hilly and Amanda did not feel well. We waved down a bus and she bussed herself to Itacare, while I continued down the road. The hills also created opportunity for some stunning views. Miles of snow white, half-deserted beaches stretched as far as the eye could see. I soon reached Itacare and found Amanda already booked into a hostel. Fortunately she came walking down the road just as I cycled into town. I would have never found the hostel otherwise, as it was hidden away in one of the side streets.
We spent the following day in Itacare - a surfing/hippie coastal village. There was a rather large amount of tattooed, pierced and dreadlocked people around. Everyone seemed laidback and without a care in the world. They must be smoking the good stuff. A good place to hang out for the day.
17 October - Itacare – Camamu - 58 km
As we are now moving more into central Brazil, it’s becoming increasingly hazy, hot, humid and watery. Villages are also becoming more remote, rural and traditional. It’s also becoming a lot more hilly. Amanda completely threw her toys out of the cot today. After 15km we came across a bus stop and there she stayed. We arranged to meet in the next village and I left her in the good care of some school children. I set off down the road over countless hills. About 5km before Camamu I stopped at a view point and saw Amanda going past in the bus. I felt better knowing that she was all right.
Camamu is a small fishing village surrounded by mangrove swamps, and it was easy to find both the centre and Amanda. We cycled around the small village looking for a place to stay, and in the end opted for a cheap (windowless) room in the centre of town.
18 October - Camamu – Valenca - 71 km
Amanda decided to take the bus again and we arranged to meet in Valenca, the next biggest town. I had 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 conjures up when thinking of central Brazil. Jungle-clad hillsides, mangrove swamps, remote villages, where women did washing in the streams and carried their wares in baskets on their heads.
As I cycled past small villages, people instantly stopped what they were doing. They spun around to watch me, staring, motionless with mouths open, at this crazy women on a bike. Dogs barked nervously and small kids ran for the safety of their homes. I reached Valenca around midday. There was plenty of time for us to wander around this small, but busy, fishing village. It had a lively riverfront lined with food-stalls and juice stands.
Walking back to our room after a bite to eat, we got absolutely soaked in a sudden downpour. It rains almost every night but at least it’s never cold.
19 - 26 October - Valenca
After breakfast we were ready to leave when Amanda discovered that the card delivery company was looking for her. It appeared that they had not delivered it to the hotel in Ilheus (as arranged) as we were not physically there. So much for all our careful planning! At least the fraudulent transactions seem to have been refunded.
We immediately contacted the relevant people with our new address and all the telephone numbers we could lay our hands on! At least we then had a telephone number for a person in Brazil. It appeared that the card was somewhere in Brazil and would take 72 hours to arrive - but they don’t deliver over weekends! Which made the expected delivery date the following Monday. We settled in for another long and boring wait.
Although there were beautiful islands close by, we could not afford to leave the hotel just in case the card arrived before the weekend. In the meantime, we watched in amazement as boatloads of islanders arrived in Valence 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. After a short walk along the river, we also found the local boat builders, which Valence is famous for. Under palm trees and amidst sawdust and large pieces of wood, they were hammering and sawing away at half-constructed boats. Apparently they still maintain 15th Century techniques.
Over the weekend we ran head on into the “The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help” festival. Thousands of people, all dressed in white, headed up the hill towards the church. The festival 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 just having a good time.
No one in their right minds would believe me if I told them that the saga with Amanda’s bank card has been going on since 7 September. The incompetence of some people boggles the mind! We waited and we waited!! Every day we were told that it would arrive the following day. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we were told that a special delivery could be made. Wait for this…at a cost of US$500 and that the card will be delivered the following morning! To cut a long story short, the deal was accepted and guess what?? No card arrived the next morning!!! What is a person to do??
27 - 28 October - Valenca – Nazare - 47km
We very optimistically waited until 13h00 but no delivery was made. We finally came to a decision to continue on. Of the nearly two months that Amanda has been in Brazil, we have only managed to cycle for one month. We left a note at the hotel for the staff to phone us when the parcel arrived. It was another hot and humid day and Amanda took a lot of strain along the way. She felt faint and shaky so decided to take a bus. We waited twice for a bus to pick her up but none wanted to take the bicycle so we slowly continued on to Nazare.
On reaching Nazare we were surprised to find such an interesting town in the middle of nowhere. It has a central square with a lovely old church and loads of narrow cobblestone alleys. Colourful houses, packed tightly together, lined the hillside. We found a pousada in one of the back alleys with a large balcony overlooking the town.
The next morning we had a pleasant surprise when we learned that the parcel had actually arrived in Valence. We hopped on a mini-bus taxi back to Valence and could hardly believe it that the bank card was actually inside! On arrival back in Nazare it was already too late to continue so we explored the town with all its old colonial buildings and interesting alleys.
29 October - Nazare – Mar Grande - 61 km
With the new bank card safely in Amanda’s panniers, we set off in the direction of Salvador. Again it was hot and humid but Amanda was strong and cycled well. I still, however, had to convince her of the fact that perspiration is very normal under these circumstances! And that she was not coming down with a deadly virus!
We reached Mar Grande around midday and, going by the expression on Amanda’s face, we decided to stay there for the night instead of crossing the bay straight away. Crossing the bay by public ferry was, of course, another concern for her and we had to first take a walk down to the port to check it out. The fact that the sea was rough did not ease her fear at all. We found a rather unusual pousada for the night. Although it was extremely basic it was an interesting place with a huge garden, plenty of arty things and a swimming pool. We were in that pool straight away, both to cool off and to get away from the mosquitoes!
30 October - Mar Grande – Praia Stella Maris - 31 km
First thing in the morning we boarded the ferry across the bay to Salvador. Salvador (once again) turned out to be quite a nice place. We cycled along the coast with its endless beaches until we reached Praia Stella Maris. We stopped at a petrol station to use their toilets and we were approached by a local pousada owner. We decided to check out his pousada and it turned out to be quite nice accommodation, so we stayed for the night.
31 October - Praia Stella Maris – Praia do Forte - 64 km
At breakfast we met some interesting people from Poland. They were in Brazil for the “Brazil ride” and it turned out that they had been to South Africa earlier this year for the “Cape Epic”. Being cyclists themselves, they were intrigued by our adventure and we chatted for quite some time.
The road was kind to Amanda and we reached Praia do Forte without any incidents. We were however quite surprised to find such a touristy village. Praia do Forte is a tiny village but well known for its turtle conservation farm. The streets were lined with curio stalls. Guesthouses jacked their prices up to nearly unaffordable (for us). After riding around for a while, we settled for the least expensive one, which was still quite pricey.
1 November Praia do Forte – Baixio - 78 km
Soon after breakfast we left and, although the road was fairly easy, it was too hot for Amanda. She soon started feeling faint and shaky again. We stopped quite often so she could lie down in the shade to recover.
The people along the way were incredibly friendly. At a petrol station, where we filled up with water, we chatted to a guy who presented us with a lovely pair of earrings just before he boarded the bus again. How cool is that! He also gave us his card and it turned out that he was a jeweler.
We had very little option but to carry on, and eventually we saw a turnoff for Baixio. Not knowing what to expect, we set off down the road and 8km further we found the tiny fishing village of Baixio. It was obviously also a beach place in season as there was more than one guesthouse. We settled for a ground floor room down a sandy path from where we could access both hammocks and a pizzeria. We ordered a pizza and it was surprisingly good. Thin-based with loads of toppings, my very favourite!
Amanda literally passed out under the (not so effective) fan and stayed there for the rest of the night.
2 - 3 November - Baixio – Sitio do Conde - 51 km
In the morning Amanda still did not feel well and decided to take the bus to Conde (the next village). She soon got a bus and I continued by bike to Conde. The road was fairly hilly and it was maybe a good thing that Amanda took the bus as it bucketed down, nearly all the way. I found Amanda at the bus stop in Conde, which turned out to be not as big as we thought.
We decided to cycle the 6 km down the road to Sitio do Conde, which was a nice laidback beach village. There was hardly anyone around and we were spoilt for choice when it came to picking a guesthouse. We found a reasonably priced one with hammocks on the beach, from where we could watch the pounding waves, just a few metres away.
I felt lazy the following day and we stayed on. We walked along the beach and just hung around in the hammocks for the rest of the day.
4 November - Sitio do Conde – Estancia - 89 km
A prober tropical storm came up in the night and by morning we had serious doubts as to whether to continue on. Amanda (very cleverly) decided to take the bus and we arranged to meet in Estancia. I set off down the ever-so hilly road but encountered a nice tailwind along the way. Taking the bus seems to be quite a lengthy affair. If it was not for me having a flat tyre along the road, I most likely would have arrived in Estancia at about the same time as Amanda.
After crossing the border into the tiny state of Sergipe and with 25km to go, I had a flat tyre. While fixing it, Amanda’s bus came past and I just 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 some cold beers). I could get used to this, and was getting ideas about putting her back on the bus again the following morning!
5 November - Estancia – Aracaju - 78 km
The weather was somewhat better but we still had a good tailwind. Just outside Estancia we turned off the BR101 again and headed for the smaller road along the coast. My back tyre must have been wearing a bit thin as I had not one, but two, flat tyres along the way. At least there is always a whole bunch of helpers when it happens. Must say though, I was getting pretty good at fixing them! Fixing a flat is always a lengthy and interesting process. First one needs to explain where you are from and where you are going and just what the heck you are doing in that neck of the woods, and all that on a bicycle!
When we reached the outskirts of Aracaju we found a pousada for the night instead of heading into the city centre.
We settled in and cycled off to the supermarket to get our usual quota of beer and snacks. The cooler weather is much more agreeable for Amanda as she cycled well and did not even mind cycling to the supermarket.
6 November Aracaju – Pirambu - 53 km
First thing in the morning I fixed all the punctured tubes, just in case I got more flat tyres along the way. The weather was not much better than the previous day. We cycled through the city of Aracaju, which was fairly quiet on a Sunday morning. We followed the coastal road for some time until we reached the tiny fishing village of Pirambu.
It was only midday but it was raining and we found such a good place (a cottage with 2 bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen) at a reasonable price that we off loaded our bags and stayed put for the rest of the day. Good thing too, as it soon came bucketing down and we were fairly pleased with ourselves for deciding to stay. The rainy weather also 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 - 70 km
It continued to rain throughout the night but in the morning it cleared somewhat. A decision was made to take the shortcut along the coast instead of the paved road to the main road and back to the coast again. I did not expect the day to be quite as difficult as it turned out. The rain of the previous two days made the road muddy and slippery. We pushed our bikes up muddy and rutted hills and struggled through wet and soft sand. We slowly bumped along a corrugated road past tiny villages where people on bikes were obviously not seen very often.
It felt like the road had no end. All covered in mud, we finally reached the River Sao Francisco at tiny Brejo Grande.
8 November - Brejo Grande – Portal do Coruripe - 55 km
While having a breakfast of mashed cassava with milk, and a good cup of Brazilian coffee, I watched the world go by in this tiny village. Rickety busses and horse carts came clattering past. Ladies came walking back from the river with their freshly laundered washing, mothers walked their kids to school and farmers were helping each other getting tractors started. Two youngsters were trying to herd a calf but the calf wanted nothing of it. The 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 nice of him. We thanked him profusely and headed down to the river to find a boat to take us to the other side. Amanda was shocked to find that once again she had to board a tiny wooden water taxi in order to reach the other side. The River Sao Francisco is quite a large river and one of many myths. We however never saw the legendary water beast, which is half human and half animal and walks on the bottom of the river and snores!
Safely on the opposite side (and in the state of Algoas) we continued down the road, thankfully on a paved road. The road ran close to the coast, past vast palm tree plantations and one could just catch glimpses of the ocean as we cycled past.
In the village of Coruripe we stopped and had our bikes washed at a local car wash. They seemed to take special care as they washed and scrubbed and eventually they came out sparkling clean. We followed the road for a further 5-7 km until we reached the sleepy fishing village of Pontal do Coruripe. With its narrow cobblestone lanes and small central square, it’s a quaint little place. Ladies sat outside their homes weaving baskets or just chatting to neighbours.
Seeing that we did not pay for our accommodation the previous night we splashed out and got a nice room with a sea view.
9 - 10 November - Pontal Coruripe – Sao Migual - 60 km
It was a fairly hot and hilly day of riding into the wind. Although the going was slow into the wind, Amanda cycled like a pro! The best part of the day was reaching Sao Migual and finding a bungalow which came with a swimming pool, loads of palm trees and a hammock! Amanda wasted no time in cooling off in the pool.
That evening I left my shoes outside on the veranda and woke to find that my only pair of footwear had been eaten by the local dogs. I had to borrow a pair of shoes from Amanda to walk down to the local store to buy a new pair of sandals! We spent the rest of the day doing laundry and trying to get Amanda’s bank card activated.
11 November 2011 (11/11/11) - Sao Migual – Barra de Santo Antonio - 85 km
We left in the spitting rain, and every now and again we had to hide, waiting for the worst of it to pass over. We reached Maceio, the capital of the state of Alagoas, fairly early in the day. We stopped only for cold drinks and then continued on again. Soon after we left the city, we were stopped by a friendly Brazilian who wanted to make conversation. I could clearly see the disappointment on his face when we told him that we could not speak Portugese. We did, however, somehow manage to tell him where we were from and what we were up to. He must have been very impressed as he put his hand into his pocket and presented us with some very-much-needed cash! Just how fantastic is that? Not much further along the way another guy pulled us off and wanted to chat with us. He spoke a bit of English and we established that he also likes to travel by bike. After a few photos were taken, we were on our way again. The Brazilians are just amazing!
At Barra de Santo Antonio we found no accommodation, just one very expensive eco-resort. They must have felt sorry for us as they reduced the price of the accommodation by half, making it just about affordable for us. Needless to say, we stayed in a top-of-the-range chalet with crisp white linen, T.V., air-con and excellent showers. The eco thing is big in Brazil, but I did not see any difference, except that they supplied no toilet paper - just an “ass-gun”, maybe that’s all part of the eco-friendly thing!
12 November - Barra de Santo Antonio – Maragogi - 60 km
After a hearty breakfast at our top-of-the-range digs we saddled up, but Amanda had a flat tyre before we even reached the gate. We followed the dirt road along the coast, not always knowing whether we were on the right road or not. The road was rather muddy and rutted in places but we continued on until we saw a kind of a security booth. The guys assured us that we were on the right road and that we could follow the path over, what appeared to be, private land. We did so and soon ran out of road altogether. We pushed our bikes along a sandy path through palm trees until we reached a river where we, once again, had to cross by a small ferry. Once on the other side of the river we found a paved road and some fantastic beaches and small villages.
Once we reached the small village of Porto de Pedras we had to cross by ferry again. At least this was a proper barge, which made Amanda feel a bit more secure. We followed the cobblestoned road along the coast past numerous small villages.
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 with the villagers on horseback.
13 November - Maragogi – Ipojuca - 90 km
We must have found one of the cheapest (and best) pousadas as most of the truck drivers were overnighting there as well, always a sign that it’s a good deal! We had a local breakfast of cassava and what appeared to be “krummel pap”. Good carbos for the road! It was an interesting road past loads of sugarcane fields. Amanda’s gear cable broke and she struggled on in her “granny” gear until we found a local bike shop where they kind-of fixed it for the time being. The friendly owners wanted no money for their effort. We picked up a nice little tailwind and made good time.
The road, however, deteriorated somewhat and the shoulder became rather rutted and full of potholes. At one stage a bus came careening down on Amanda and, in the process of avoiding it, she hit a pothole and went flying. She was ever-so brave and with blood dripping from her arms and legs she wiped the dust off her and got back on the bike. We still had about 10 km to go before finding a pousada where she could wash herself off and clean her wounds. We had a good laugh as all I could find to bandage her arm was the headscarf that I had in my bag. At least it was colourful with little frills!
14 - 15 November - Ipojuca – Recife - 46 km
We finally arrived in Recife. It was a bit of a shock after such a long time in the countryside. Recife is a rather large town and very touristy. It was Republic Day in Brazil and therefore a public holiday. All accommodation was fully booked so we had to settle for a rather expensive hotel. It was very hot and humid and the beaches were packed with holidaymakers.
16 November - Recife – Olinda - 20 km
As we cycled out of Recife we spotted a bike shop and had Amanda’s gear cable fixed. I bought a new back tyre for my bike as the old one was wearing a bit thin. Shortly after leaving the busy city of Recife, we arrived in Olinda. The former capital of this state has now been declared a world heritage site, and rightly so! It is a fascinating place with candy-coloured houses along steep slopes. Churches are situated on top of high hills and narrow cobblestoned streets run at odd angles.
17 November - Olinda – Goina - 69 km
We left Olinda along the coastal road and took the ferry boat from Maria Farinha across the river to Nova Cruz. A good paved road took us back to the BR101. The BR101 was much better than expected and came with a good wide shoulder to cycle on. En route to Goina we cycled through Igarassu with its historic centre which had some nice old buildings and churches.
18 November - Goiana – Joao Pessoa - 55 km
The day turned out to be a rather frustrating one. Amanda’s chain broke and we had to push the bikes along for about a kilometre to a little tyre-fixing stall where they could fix it. They hammered and banged and eventually the chain was back on and could at least do the job of getting us to Joao Pessoa.
We battled on at snail’s pace but eventually arrived in Joao Pessoa, 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. I know that cycling into a busy city, at peak hour, can be an unnerving affair. There’s very little, however, that one can do but push on until you reach the centre or some kind of accommodation. We pushed on as we wanted to be in the centre in order to find a bike shop. The first place we tried turned out to be a house of ill-repute and the second seemingly full. Our third try was way overpriced but we took it anyway as we had had enough of the day and just wanted to settle down.
Once settled in, I took a walk to the supermercado as Amanda was fed-up with the whole affair. She did not want to walk, cycle or talk. She just flopped down on the bed and I didn’t hear a word from her for the rest of the evening.
19 - 20 November - Joao Pessoa – Cabo Branco Beach - 9 km
The beach volleyball circuit is big in Brazil. They had just arrived in town with their trucks and scaffolding. Stands and courts were being put up in a hurry. Food stalls lined the streets and the band was going ten to a dozen! We were getting caught up in all the festivities and loving it! People were enjoying the beach and flying kites; another brilliant day in Brazil.
We enjoyed our stay, walking on the beach or just sitting outside our pousada (which was right on the beach), and watching all the action going on.
21 November - Carbo Branco Beach – Mamanguape - 83 km
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 km we reached a river which had a barge to ferry us across. We followed a rather cobblestoned road for about 10 km until the road came to an abrupt halt. There was no sign of the road indicated on our map.
We had little option but to head back to the main road. The road was at least scenic, past large palm tree plantations. Along the way we stopped at a tiny roadside stall where the owner fixed fishing nets and sold coconut juice. It was boiling hot and I finished my juice in no time. On leaving, the owner wanted no money! He pointed us to a shortcut, which turned out to be a rather sandy road. The shortcut, however, took 30 km off our route and although slow going, it was still better than cycling the 30 km around. The road ran through sugarcane fields and the flies were out in force, enough to annoy the best natured person. Eventually, I hauled out and donned my mosquito/fly head-net, which made life a bit more bearable.
Back on the main road, we found a good road with a wide shoulder, and we regretted not taking it in the first place. We were 10 km from our destination (and thinking that we were making good time) when Amanda had a flat tyre. In the process of fixing it, I discovered that her derailleur was bent and that it was no wonder that she was having difficulty changing gears. In fact, the whole derailleur was loose as it appeared that the screw holding it to the frame was missing. Too many problems for me to fix (in fact, I know very little about the mechanics of a bike). At least now I know (or think I know, which are two totally different things) why the chain broke in the first place. It must have slipped off the derailleur wheel, and it was bound to happen again. At least we made it to our destination, still in daylight!
22 - 24 November - Mamanguape – Natal
We decided to take the bus to Natal where we would be sure to find a place to fix Amanda’s bike. This is not something I like to do, but we had little option. Once we arrived in Natal we still had to limp along to a bike shop. Amanda pushed her bike nearly all the way as she also had no brakes. We fortunately found a very decent bike shop in the centre of town. They fixed the bike as best they could, and we continued on to the beach area where we found reasonable accommodation.
Amanda once again tried to contact her bank in South Africa as she still had no pin number for her new bank card. They assured us they would phone us back in the morning, but nothing happened and we waited another day.
In the meantime, we had our visas extended and now have until 8 January 2012 to get out of the country.
Natal is a big and busy town and, in the process of trying to find a smaller road, I think we took a wrong turn somewhere. We landed up (once again) on a dirt road that seemed to go nowhere. After 30 km, eventually, we were on the road we wanted to be on. The rest of the way was perfect: on a good road with a tail wind.
All would have remained perfect if it was not for Amanda getting a flat tyre 4 km from Touros. Not that it’s really a big problem, but more that she always seems to think it’s a major disaster. Touros is a nice little fishing village with a nice square where everyone gathers in the evening to watch the communal TV. Kids were playing ball on the beach while others were nibbling on street food.
26 November - Touros – Joao Camara - 63 km
Before leaving Touros we tried to draw some money, but the bank did not want to spit out any cash. I was rather concerned about it as Amanda still had no bank card. There was nothing we could do but set off down the road and try another bank somewhere else.
We headed inland as the coastal road comes to an end at Touros. It was a terribly hot day, but at least we had a tailwind again. On reaching Joao Camara, we headed for Banco do Brazil. Still, it did not want to give us any money. I was getting increasingly worried. Eventually, we tried one of the other banks and, thankfully, it accepted the card. With a sigh of relief we headed for a pousada as it was already too late to continue cycling.
We found a bargain of a room and even had supper - all at a very reasonable price.
27 November - Joao Camara – Macau - 104 km
We knew it was going to be a long day as I could see nothing on the map 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!
As the sun beat down relentlessly, we cycled past poor and drought-stricken villages. Most inhabitants seemed to have moved away, and I could not believe that I was still in Brazil.
We arrived in Macau: surely the windiest place to date! The wind was howling and sea foam blew across the road like snow. We found a room, took a walk to the busy central square for a bite to eat, and then it was bed time after a long day on the road.
28 November - Macau – Porto do Mangue - 75 km
First thing in the morning we found a bike shop, where they could fix all our punctured tubes (easier than doing it yourself). We had a quick breakfast, and then set off into the wind again. There was no way of getting across the river and we had to cycle 40 km inland and 40 km back to the coast again! What a pain!
I didn’t expect the day to be quite so hard. While the sun baked down on us, we battled on into a strong headwind, pedaling hard but getting nowhere. The drought-stricken area continued as we cycled past dry, barren fields. The wind whipped up dust and old plastic bags, and we saw little except for a few dried out and sun-bleached skeletons along the way. It felt as if the road just went on and on and on! Eventually Amanda gave up: she sat down and was determined to take a bus. There was, however, no such thing, and after a while she got back onto the bike and headed into the wind again.
We finally reached Porto do Mangue and we couldn’t have been happier to be out of the wind and off the bikes. Hats off to Amanda who, despite feeling weak and nauseous, made it all the way!
29 November - Porto do Mangue – Grossos - 54 km
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 did not feel well again so we made it a short day. Once we had crossed the river by barge, we arrived in the tiny village of Grossos where we found a pousada and relaxed for the rest of the day.
30 November - 1 December - Grossos – Icapui - 46 km
We made the mistake of skipping breakfast and Amanda soon felt tired and was in no mood for going a long distance. Fortunately we had a tailwind and reached Icapui early in the day. Just down the road from the main centre, we found a nice beach with bungalows overlooking the beach. Not a bad place to hang out and recuperate. In fact, it was so nice that 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 - 65 km (plus 27 km by car)
After a day’s rest and a good breakfast, we were on our bikes again. We tried to get away a bit earlier as, by now, we knew that Amanda does not handle the heat very well. Just a mere 20 km into the ride Amanda’s front hub packed up and we had to flag down a vehicle to give us a lift to the next village. A very friendly, but rather large, guy gave us a lift so there was only space for one of us in the front. Amanda, together with the bikes and bags, got onto the back and had a bit of a windy ride to Aracai. Our driver was kind enough to take us all the way into town, and dropped us right 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. We did, however, have to wait in line, as the shop was quite busy. I watched in amazement as villagers arrived with their rusty old bikes in serious 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 care.
Although it was already quite late, there was still enough time for us to reach Canto Verde. We were pleasantly surprised to find a tiny fishing village amongst the sand dunes and palm trees. A room on the beach completed the picture and, had it not been for the wind, it would have been paradise.
3 December - Canto Verde – Prainha - 92 km
We woke early but by 08h00 it was already boiling hot. To our delight, we had a strong tailwind again which helped us along. We stopped nearly every 10 km for water but it still felt that we were not drinking enough. Due to the tailwind, we reached our destination fairly early and found ourselves a nice pousada with a swimming pool, where we could relax before heading into the city the following day.
4 - 6 December - Prainha – Fortaleza -34 km
We were slow in packing up as we knew it was not far to the city of Fortaleza. We cycled past more sand dunes and wind farms and the area reminded me of the Red Sea coast in Egypt. Fortaleza is a large and busy city with a lovely beachfront. We found a real ‘cheapie’ of a room, close to the beach, which suited us just fine. That evening we walked along the beachfront (which stretches for miles) and nibbled on street food from the multitude of stalls along the way. The beachfront was packed with people rollerblading, skateboarding, running, cycling, you name it! They were out there enjoying the cooler evening air: at 10pm that evening it was a cool 24°C - just perfect!
I found a fantastic bike shop just down the road, bought a new front tyre and had the bike washed and oiled. I hardly recognised my bike when I saw it! We lazed around and did little else but stroll along the beachfront. We handed in our laundry, but as we could only collect it the following day, it gave us another day of rest in Fortaleza.
Soon, however, it was time to leave the concrete jungle and get back on the bikes.
7 December - Fortaleza – Paraipaba - 94 km
The wind can be friend or foe, and today, it was a friend so we sped down the road with an excellent tailwind. The state of Ceara has been very kind to us: mostly flat with a favourable wind – there’s not much more a cyclist can ask for! All along the road we saw signs for a hotel in Paraipaba, as we got closer the signs became more regular, like every km! After seeing so many signs we could not ignore the place and headed straight for the hotel which was situated behind the gas station and next to the bus terminus. The room was cheap, clean and the price included breakfast so no complaints there.
We took a walk to the supermarket and the central square which was beautifully lit up with Christmas decorations. A few street food stalls were sprinkled around the square and people were sitting around having a beer and chatting to their neighbors, which seems to be the thing to do around here.
8 December - Paraipaba – Itarema - 129km
It turned out a long and hot day on the road. We found nothing along the way but roadside stalls and dirt road turn-offs to the beaches. All these place were too far just to turn off and come back again. So we continued on until we reached Itarema.
Amanda was very tired and in no mood for looking around so we took the first room we found. It was not the best of places, above a restaurant and via a steep and rickety staircase. The room was, however, large and came with a window we could open for fresh air. Not that we needed that much fresh air as there was no ceiling, just the roof tiles and we could watch the night sky through the cracks. The ceiling fan made an almighty noise but we could hardly switch it off, as if we survived the heat, the mosquitos would carry us away.
9 December - Itarema – Acarau - 26 km
Once we were on the road, Amanda claimed that her legs were too lame to cycle after the previous day’s long ride. We found a nice room in Acarau and spent the day lazing around. Amanda still had energy to update the website, as that did not require any leg work.
10-11 December - Acarau – Jijoca de Jericoacoara - Jericoacoara - 49 km (+24 km by jeep)
Had a most unexpected and awesome day. After cycling about 50 km, we arrived in Jijoca de Jericoacoara, where we found jeeps and beach buggies lined up to take people to the nearby nature reserve and the small village of Jericoacoara. Not wanting to miss out, we jumped on a jeep (bikes and all) and headed over the dunes to the coast. Jericoacoara, or just “Jeri” as it’s known, is a rather hard-to-reach place. The only way in and out is by jeep or buggy. The village itself is very much “island-style”, situated in the dunes with sandy streets lined with bars and guesthouses. The area is rather windy and is therefore a famous spot for kite surfing. It’s also one of the few places in Brazil where one can see the sun set over the ocean.
At night the mobile cocktail stands came out, and we sat on the beach watching the sunset, sipping our drinks. The dunes around the village are quite amazing at sunset and, needless to say, I had fun with the camera.
The jeep taking people out to the next village did not run on Sundays (what a great excuse for staying another day). We chilled on the beach and did not complain about staying on.
12 December - Jeri – Chaval - 57 km (+40 km by jeep)
We were ready early morning for our ride out of the park. We were told that the jeep would pick us up at 6h30 but it was 8h00 by the time we left. We had quite an eventful ride as the jeep was packed with people (we counted 20), our bikes, surf boards, luggage and even a huge teddy bear taking up most of the space. We 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 in the day so we continued on to Chaval, where we found a remote pousada on the banks of a mangrove-lined river.
13 December - Chaval – Parnaiba - 86 km
The scenery changed completely as the dunes disappeared and large rocks appeared next to the road. On leaving for Parnaiba, Amanda spotted a small café where we could have breakfast, seeing that breakfast was not included where we stayed. We had some bread and coffee and set off again with a good tailwind. We reached Parnaiba in good time and found a much larger place than expected. We also found that we had reached the edge of a huge delta. We had a few options, of which cycling around the delta to Sao Luis was one. It was, however, very far, about 600 km, whereas if we could find a boat to the small town of Barreirinhas, it would only be about 250 km to Sao Luis.
We found a nice pousada in Parnaiba and went looking for a boat. Boat trips appeared to be more popular than we expected as there were loads of agents offering delta trips. We organised a boat for the following day to the small and remote village of Tutoia. Once in Tutoia, we would decide what to do next: I did not see any roads on the map but figured that if there are people living there, there surely must be a way out.
14 December - Parnaiba – Tutoia - By boat
We slept late as our boat only left at 13h00 and it was only 10 km away. It was a flat and easy ride to the harbour, where we stocked up with some beers, water and snacks for the trip. The ride was fascinating and we saw more wildlife than expected. The delta was teeming with birds, crabs and even (what looked like) a small crocodile! The most amazing sight was the fish that appear to run on water! We cruised through the mangrove swamps, past small islets, and even spotted a monkey way up in the trees. Eventually we came to some huge dunes where we just had to stop and take some pictures. What a fascinating area. The delta is a huge 2700 sq-km expanse of islands, beaches, lagoons, sand dunes and mangrove swamps and I think we have seen it all.
A few hours later we arrived in Tutoia, where our skipper even walked us to a pousada, not a bad place as it was right on the river. It appeared that we were on a small island but we understood from the locals that we could cycle to the next village and get an aptly named “Toyota” there to take us over the dunes to Barreirinhas.
15 December - Tutoia – Paulino Neves - Barreirinhas - 35 km (+55 km by truck)
We found a good paved road and cycled the 35 km to Paulino Neves. The road comes to an end in Paulino Neves, and converted Toyota trucks ferry people to and from the village along sandy roads. We managed to find a truck to take us and our bikes to Barreirinhas, where we hoped to find a road of sorts again.
It was a rather bumpy ride along a rough track, over sand dunes and past some stunning scenery. My dear sister made such a racket that one would have thought that she had reached her final days. No sooner had we left than she hit the deck, yelling and screaming like a child throwing a tantrum. I stared in utter astonishment at the spectacle. I did not know what to do. Reassuring her that we would be fine, and reminding her that the driver drove this route twice a day, had no impact. Terrified, she clawed onto the seats yelling “Oh nooooooo!” with every sway of the truck! What a performance she gave!
Finally we arrived (alive) in Barreirinhas, looked for a pousada (of which there were plenty as it is the gateway to the national park) and then had some beers to calm Amanda’s nerves. At least it looked like we had passed the rough bits and could continue on by bike to Sao Luis.
What an adventure we have had in the past two days!
16 December - Barreirinhas – Humberto de Campos - 118 km
It was a straight, flat road and there was a tailwind, so we made best use of it and cycled as far as we could. Not that we had many other options as there was nothing between the two towns. Fortunately there were plenty of tiny stalls along the way where we could fill up with water.
We found a nice pousada at the entrance of the town, at a dirt cheap price. The lady running the pousada looked rather stunned that two foreigners wanted to book into her pousada. She swept and dusted for hours before we could occupy the room. Then it was into the village to look for food, amidst many stares and giggles. We managed to find something to eat which we took back to our room so we could eat without being stared at.
17 December - Humberto de Campos – Rosario - 116 km
We ate a small breakfast of coffee and bread rolls and set off again in the direction of Sao Luis. It was another long day on the road as there was nothing but bushes along the way. Not only was it far, but it was boiling hot as well.
On reaching about 95 km, Amanda claimed that she had had enough and soon found a lift for the last few kilometres. She did not have to feel bad about it as, no sooner was I on the road again, a big truck stopped and offered me a lift. In the back were four French cyclists, who were also finding the weather a bit extreme. I politely declined the offer and cycled on to Rosario, where I found Amanda waiting for me.
18 - 19 December - Rosario - Sao Luis - 74 km
We arrived in the island city of Sao Luis, dead-tired after a long and hot ride into the wind. The road was in terribly bad shape and extremely busy. I hate days like this as they are way too stressful: the shoulder was non-existant and busses, trucks and cars careened down on us like bats out of hell. Amanda found the heat too much for her and took a bus into 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 nice courtyard and homely knick-knacks scattered around.
We spent the following day doing a whole lot of nothing. We did, however, manage to do our laundry. We also took a walk down to the port to find out what time the boat left for the trip across the bay to Alcantara. The bay is tidal so boats only cross to Alcantara at high tide.
20 December - Sao Luis – Alcantara - By boat
We were told that the boat leaves at 9h00, but when we got to the port the boats were still sitting high and dry. We were told to catch the boat at another port. We jumped on our bikes and raced through the traffic to find the port that we were pointed to. Eventually, and still in time, we found the boat, pushed our bikes across the sand and boarded. The boat eventually left at 10h00 and was still struggling to get through the narrow canal.
The sea was rather rough and my dear sister again gave an award-winning performance! All the crew gathered around to try and calm her down. If you have a fear of water there is just nothing anyone can do or say to ease your fear. To cut a long story short, we eventually arrived safely at the other side.
The small town of Alcantara is quite interesting: built by slaves for the rich, it is now mostly in ruins, but interesting nevertheless. By the time we were done looking around, it was a bit too late to set off again, so we found accommodation on the outskirts of the town.
We left Alcantara on our last and final stretch to Belem. The road cut slightly inland so we were leaving the coast until we reached Belem. The road was fairly hilly but at least the tailwind was still with us. The scenery became more lush and green, and we even had some rain along the way. The cloud cover we had for most of the day was more to Amanda’s liking and she cycled strong all day.
We reached Bequimo in good time, found a “hotel” for a fraction of the price we had paid the previous night; we even had our own separate rooms! That night we ate at our hotel and the food was surprisingly good, considering it was dirt cheap.
I slept well and Amanda had to wake me up in the morning for breakfast. We were soon on our way again and fortunately there was still some cloud cover. The little villages along the way were becoming more and more “wild-west” in style, and the countryside more and more watery. We even spotted some water buffalo along the way.
The road was not fantastic, 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 - 74 km
It was a windy day on the road and I was off like a rocket, partly due to a strong tailwind and partly due to our staple of rice and beans. The road was fairly flat, providing for easy 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 the road to try and avoid the worst of it.
Amanda decided to take a bus as she was not feeling well. On arriving at Gov. Nunes Freire, I looked around but could not find her anywhere. I became increasingly worried as there continued to be no sign of her. I booked into a visible hotel and hoped that she would spot it on her way in.
Amanda soon arrived on the back of a pick-up truck. Apparently she had not been able to find a bus in Santa Helena, so she set off by herself for about 40 km until she flagged down a lift along the road. She looked chuffed with herself, despite still not feeling 100%.
24 December - Gov. Nunes Freire – Boa Vista do Gurupi - 72 km
Amanda was feeling really ill and decided to take the bus. We could not figure out what was wrong with her but it was clear that she could not cycle. We asked around and found a little bus stop where she could wait. I set off down the road, which was dead quiet and a pleasure to cycle.
I soon reached the small village of Boa Vista do Gurupi, where I saw Amanda waiting at a little restaurant. The restaurant also had some rooms at the back and we took one so she could lie down and sleep. I was really worried about her as I had no idea what was wrong with her. We discussed the situation and decided to take the bus to Belem the following day so she could see a doctor and where we, hopefully, could find a more comfortable place for her to rest.
25 December - Boa Vista do Gurupi – Belem - By bus
I had my doubts about getting a bus on Christmas day, but we only waited an hour or so. We loaded our bikes and bags onto the bus and no sooner found ourselves in Belem. It was a bit of an anti-climax to reach Belem by bus, but there was not much else to be done. On offloading our bikes from the bus, we found Amanda’s derailleur had been completely bent, and we had to push our bikes to a nearby hostel.
The hostel was full so we treated ourselves and booked into a very fancy hotel just behind the hostel. I must also mention that the hotel had a special on for the following two days, with the result that it ended up not costing much more than the hostel.
26 - 27 December - Belem
The Amazon has two seasons: rainy and dry. This is the rainy season so we can expect daily rain. This is also the end of Amanda’s cycle journey as from here we will take a boat to Manaus, from where she will fly back to SA. Belem turned out to be not as “wild-west” as we had expected, in fact, it’s quite a modern city with lovely parks and a population of 1,5 million. The Amazon River is rather unimpressive: just a wide, wide muddy river.
I headed straight for the busy port and the local market to find out if there was anything interesting to see there, and I found more than enough herbs to cure just about any ailment one could imagine.
After our two day stay in the fancy hotel, we relocated to the hostel. The hostel was an old Rubber-Baron mansion: a stunning place with lovely wooden floors, 4-m high ceilings and crystal chandeliers (but still totally over priced for a hostel).
We looked for a bike shop to fix Amanda’s bike but could not find any. We did however book ourselves on a boat to Manaus. Although we could have found a boat for half the price, we decided on the more expensive boat as we hoped that Amanda (with her fear of water) would feel safer on a “smarter type” of boat. On checking the boat out on the internet, Amanda did not find the boat to her liking. The following day we headed back to the boat office and upgraded our tickets to a much larger boat.
28 December - Belem to Manaus - By boat
We loaded our bikes and headed to the port where we found a rather large boat waiting. I was somewhat nervous as I did not know how Amanda would do on the boat. She did however appear quite at ease on the larger boat, which felt more stable. We (like rich people) booked a cabin instead of a hammock, as Amanda claimed that she could not get in and out of a hammock, let alone sleep in one for five nights. I did not mind at all, as sleeping in a hammock sounds very romantic, but five nights may just be a bit too much.
We settled into our cabins and headed for the canteen, where we could sit and enjoy a beer. We watched our first sunset as we sailed away, leaving Belem in the distance. Ha ha! So much for a “cabin” - it was actually very noisy in the cabin, and far quieter out on the deck!
We woke to find ourselves in a narrow channel with thick and lush vegetation on both sides of the river. It was truly 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 got tightly wrapped up in a plastic bag and then thrown overboard for the villagers to collect. I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the custom but who am I to judge?
We sailed very close to the side of the river all day long. Villagers continued to row out to the boat; some latched their canoes onto the boat, got on, sold their wares (mostly cooked shrimps) and then departed again. Just about everyone on the boat supported them and the shrimps were shared around all day long. At one stage the boat slowed down, a canoe latched on and offloaded a large amount of homemade juice onto the boat. The Brazilians are such an accommodating bunch.
It was not long before thick clouds gathered and soon it poured down, then, just as quickly, it stopped and the sun came out to give us 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 could not believe that, in the middle of the jungle, people could possibly have so much stuff.
It is 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! It is an incredible area, almost impossible to describe!
This day was slightly different as we 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. We stopped every now and then at small villages to offload goods, mostly rice and beans, for these small settlements. The quaysides were always a hive of activity - these drop-offs were most likely the highlight of the week. Vendors climbed onboard selling snacks and fruit, and 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 can walk. On our boat, kids ran around and it appeared that everyone on the boat kept an eye on them. The people were extremely friendly, sharing whatever snacks they had; the boat was like a big family. The bar-fridge in our cabin was soon overflowing with juice, milk, water and whatever else people wanted us to keep cool for them. I was amazed to notice that 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, the numbers are quite mind-boggling. The river is huge and the forest thick and dense. Although small Caboclo (mixed indigenous and European) communities populate the riverbanks, there was no sign of the indigenous tribes.
We woke at 5h00 to find a big commotion on the boat; people were getting ready to disembark at Santarem. Our early rise also resulted in our first sighting of a sunrise over the Amazon. We pulled into the rather large town (for the Amazon) of Santarem and only left again at 12h00. We did not venture into town as Amanda, once again, did not feel well. Santarem is located at the confluence of the brown Amazon River and the dark Rio Tapajos. The most amazing thing is that the two rivers flow side by side without mixing.
The remainder of the day slipped away as we putt-putted up river past varying scenery. Sometimes flat grassy islands, sometimes thick jungle and sometimes small wooden houses would pop out of the forest, just to remind us that there are actually people living in this remote part of the world. The river is massive and hides its treasures well. One has to look closely and carefully to spot them.
Seeing that it was the last day of 2011, we had 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 little harbour to offload cargo. After all the excitement of anchoring and casting off again, it was back to bed again.
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 due to the fact that we had moved pretty far west. We did, however, find breakfast ready (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 all came out a bit hazy or blurry. I tried almost everything, but to no avail, they stayed blurry and hazy. My second disappointment was our very 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-like juice!
The weather got more humid as we headed deeper into the Amazon. It was mostly overcast and windless as we sailed slowly and smoothly up river. 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. This evening the sun did not set with a bang like the other evenings, but came with a very soft and subtle display of pinkish colours.
Again we woke to overcast conditions, and I went for breakfast which Amanda skipped, as she did not feel like (by this time) stale bread and soggy watermelon.
We had settled nicely in to the rhythm of doing nothing. Our days mostly consisted of eating, drinking, sleeping and sitting staring at the river and forest as we sailed past. Five days is a long time to do nothing and I, for one, was ready to get off that boat. We knew that this would be our final day but when exactly we would arrive in Manaus, no one could tell us. The staff’s best estimate was something like between 3pm and 7pm!
As we were getting closer to Manaus, more settlements started to appear along the river bank, making it a little more interesting.
And so came to an end our life on the Rondondin, and I had thought I would have had nothing to say other than that we were on a boat for five days! We arrived in Manaus around 5pm and in bucketing rain. We pushed our bikes along until we found a cheap hotel and settled in for the next few days, to get Amanda’s bike boxed and ready to fly home.
3 January - Manaus
During the night I became violently ill - no need to go into any details! The food available on the boats is notorious for giving you 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 (a 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 is obviously not highly recommended.
4 - 8 January - Manaus
I felt slightly better in the morning and tried a bit of breakfast. Ernest had no problem with breakfast; he just about ate the entire spread they put out for the whole hotel!
Manaus is strange in the way that it is 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 is! Manaus’ famous Teatro Amazonas: completed in 1896 and constructed by engineers from Lisbon, it symbolises the opulence of the rubber era. Constructed in the neoclassical style, most of the materials were imported from Europe i.e. Italian marble and glass, and Scottish cast iron. To top it all off, they rubberised the road outside to reduce the noise from late-arriving carriages!
At Manaus the black water of the Rio Negro and the white water of the Rio Solimoes meet but don’t mix and flow side by side for quite a few kilometres. The reason (from what I understand) is due to a difference in temperature, velocity and the fact that the Solimoes carries nearly eight times as much sediment, per litre, than 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 so long. In the meantime, Ernest raided Amanda’s bike of all working parts to fix his own ageing bike. He also boxed her bike for her, ready 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.
It was time to get ready to move on; my visa had expired on 6 January and it was still 1000 km to the border. I’ll just have to take my chances with the Brazilian authorities and hope they treat me kindly.
9 January - Manaus – roadside restaurant - 64 km
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. We had a rather slow start as, 4 km out of town, Ernest’s chain broke. Not much later heavy storm clouds came over, and I must admit I did not like the lightning hitting the overhead wires. Way too close for comfort! Soon it started to bucket down, so we took shelter for about 10 minutes till it was all over.
We continued north through a forest on a rather hilly road - at least it was scenic, albeit a bit hot! When the rain set in again we found a roadside restaurant with an old chicken shed next to it, and thought it a good place to 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. Seeing that we were next to a restaurant, we also ate there as they had a buffet for a reasonable price.
10 January - Roadside restaurant - Presidente Fiqueiredo - 67 km
After some coffee, we left our chicken shed and what a stunning road it was! We were in the company of macaws, parrots, love birds and bright blue butterflies as we climbed hill after hill. We cycled past dense forests and across countless rivers. The rivers and ponds along the way seemed as if they had been undisturbed for centuries. We were lucky to have cloud cover and a slight drizzle all day long. Around Presidente Fiqueiredo, there were quite a few waterfalls with lovely picnic areas, a little too organised for wild camping. In Presidente Figueiredo we found a room for the night.
11 January - Presidente Figueiredo – Da Tia Restaurant (128 km) - 23 km
We cycled the short but hilly section to Da Tia Restaurant, where Ernest had camped on his way to Manaus. The owner (Antonio) was very friendly and had no problem with us camping next to the restaurant under the gazebo again. We got there quite early so Ernest had 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, avocado pears and bananas.
We had a few beers and ate at the restaurant before retiring. The following morning we woke to the sound of birds and were offered free breakfast by Antonio.
12 January - Roadside restaurant – petrol station - 76 km
It was another hilly section of road but again we had some cloud cover, which made it more bearable. The road was incredibly scenic and I was happy that I had made the decision to cycle to the border instead of taking the bus. I’ll deal with the visa problem at a later stage...
We continued on until we reached a petrol station that Ernest had spotted on his way to Manuas. It was another good camping place as they had a gazebo, showers and toilets. Ernest cooked a mean pasta, in anticipation of our long ride the following day.
13 January - Petrol station – Vila Jundia - 133 km
After about 6 km we entered a reserve for the Waimiri indigenous people. The reserved stretches for 120 km and it is prohibited to even stop or take photos in the reserve, let alone camp. It was a stunning road through virgin forest. It was also a rather long day on the road with no villages or roadside restaurants where we could fill up with water.
So I was happy to reach the end of the reserve and see a road sign indicating 10 km to Vila Jundia. It had been a long, hilly and hot day on the road and we made it out the park just as the sun started setting. In our process of looking for a camping spot we spotted a pousada with tiny colourful bungalows. Man, was I happy! It was not only cheap, but came with hot water and an air con.
Ernest went off to the supermarket and I could not wait to drag my body into the shower! Ernest once again conjured up a pasta dish to die for, and by 22h00 I was in bed.
14 January - Vila Jundia – Nova Colina - 98 km
For breakfast we ate our leftover pasta on nice fresh rolls from the bakery. Both the road and the forest flattened out a bit, but we found ourselves cycling into a head wind. The road also deteriorated and became rather muddy and potholely. They were busy building a new road so at least we had sections of nice smooth paved road.
Shortly after we left, we crossed the equator and had to stop for some photos; it wasn’t the first time we had crossed this line and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
On reaching Nova Colina, we found a bigger village than expected. We found a “hotel”, two supermercados and two bakeries! Ernest nevertheless wanted to camp behind the church where there is a shelter, but I headed straight for the “hotel”!
15 January - Nova Colina – Rorainopolis - 45 km
It was a short ride on a rather poor road to Rorainopolis. It was very dusty, hilly and into the wind so I was happy to reach the end of the ride. We found a room, did some laundry and I tried to do some internet, but the connection was so poor that it was too frustrating so I gave up.
16 January - Rorainopolis – Nova Paraiso - 36 km
From Rorainopolis we cycled 36 km to the tiny settlement of Nova Paraiso. There is really nothing there but neither Ernest nor I were feeling very well, so we made it a short day. We probably would not have stayed there if we hadn’t seen a small pousada hidden behind the petrol station. It was hardly a “new paradise” but we chilled out for the rest of the day.
17 January - Nova Paraiso – Caracarai - 127 km
It was a long day of cycling to Caracarai; fortunately it was a fairly easy road. There was hardly anything along the road, just some road works and a few roadside stalls where we could fill up with water. We pushed on to Caracarai where we found a room for the night. Ernest (as usual) went to the supermarket and got ingredients for a potato salad.
18 January - Caracarai – Mucajai - 87 km
The thick forest slowly made way for cattle ranches and there were plenty of cattle along the way. Fortunately we had cloud cover again, which made life a lot more bearable. Mucajai is a small village but we found a nice room and I even picked up a cellphone connection. I spent most of the evening uploading photos and playing on the internet.
19 - 21 January - Mucajai – Boa Vista - 63 km
I was looking forward to getting to Boa Vista and enjoying a day of leisure. It was going to be a short day so we were slow in packing up. Since the forest had disappeared, it became more windy and we cycled into the wind all day. Once we reached Boa Vista we cycled around looking for a cheap room, which we found around the bus station. It is a bit of a strange town as the centre was quite dead and the action seemed to be happening more 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 all over town we were still unable to find the right office. I gave up and did some laundry instead.
22 January - Boa Vista – Rosa de Saron - 106 km
Late afternoon we spotted a good campsite, next to a restaurant and under cover. The spot was in a half-completed building, which made a perfect campsite for the night. It was a busy little spot with busses and taxis stopping for a snack break, before continuing on their journey.
23 January - Rosa de Saron – Indiu Village - 92 km
It was a difficult day on the road. It was not only boiling hot but the road also became quite mountainous. We climbed 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, so we just continued on until we saw a small indigenous village next to the road. It had a good enough covered area where we could set up camp.