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Brazil: Life on the road


 

Introduction

On these pages, you will find posts about day-to-day life on the road when traveling through Brazil. New stories will be added as they present themselves. Mirantes Mototravel Brasil is a brand new company, so the first posts will be about us discovering the different places that are included in our tours. The first one is a day by day report about the trip that lead to our "Bahia and Minas Gerais" tour.

Exploring Bahia and Minas Gerais (Part 1)

Day 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7

 

 

Thinking about a third motorcycle tour for Mirantes Mototravel, I came up with the idea to go and explore the region of the Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, a 152.000 hectare national park located in the heart of Bahia State. A lot of people had already mentioned the place to me and spoke very positively about how beautiful it is. I did some research on the internet and this only confirmed to me that the Chapada Diamantina – or “Brazil’s lost world” as it was called somewhere  - is a rather unique ecosystem, with weird and fantastic rock formations, a system of quartzite caves with crystal clear lakes and underground rivers, and mountains and valleys with hundreds of waterfalls. A true paradise for outdoor activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, trekking, and so on…

 

I decided to go and check it out and since I didn’t have had a chance to test the Land Rover Defender assist car yet, I also decided that I would take the Land Rover instead of a motorcycle for this trip. Going by car I could also take my mountain bike and guitar, which are always nice to have around when traveling all by yourself…


Day 1: Volta Redonda - Búzios (+/- 300 km)

26/06/2010

I left Volta Redonda around 5.30 in the morning and headed straight to Rio de Janeiro. I wasn't planning on going any further than Búzios on the first day. Búzios is a bustling beach town, put on the touristic map by Brigitte Bardot, who spent most of her vacations in this former tiny fisherman’s village during the sixties. Today, Búzios is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rio de Janeiro State. Considering the fact that the actual motorcycle tour that I  was planning, would include a visit of Rio de Janeiro on the first day, I figured that Búzios would be a great place to spend the first night.

 

In Rio de Janeiro, I stopped by the school where I did a 10 month course to become a certified national and regional tourist guide.  My former classmates invited me to be present at a presentation about the “Festa Junina”, an annual Brazilian celebration (historically related to the Midsummer and Saint John festivities in Europe) which take place in the beginning of the Brazilian winter.

 

My stop in Rio took about 3 hours, and after saying goodbye to my fellow student guides, I hit the road heading east, crossing the 13km long bridge (Ponte Rio-Niterói) that spans the whole of Guanabara Bay. From there to Búzios was pretty straightforward: follow the BR101 until you reach the exit for Búzios… “Tranquilo” (That’s Brazilian for: easy… no problem).

 

I didn’t want to go as far as the center of Búzios, since it was saturday night and Búzios is pretty full and noisy during the weekend. Also, this was a WORK trip, and I didn’t want to be distracted… especially not in a place that is also known as “Gringo Paradise”.  :o)

I noticed a sign to a camping area, about 15km from Búzios and decided to try it. The place was run by an elderly lady, who told me she was born and raised in the Northeast (the poorer part of Brazil. Many people migrate from there to the southeast in search of a better life). Besides the camping area, which was actually empty, they also had suites that only cost 30R$ (about 13 Euros) and for that price, I didn’t hesitate… Of course the suite was not very luxurious. It was a 2x3m room with two mattresses (on the floor) and a small bathroom with a shower and a toilet. The good news was that I didn’t see any bugs and everything was clean and working fine.

 

There were only two other people on the camping: a couple. The guy turned out to be the local kite surf instructor.  The beach that was just across the street in front of the camping was a great place for kite surfing. The price to learn how to kite surf: 1000-1500R$ (500-650 Euros). I’m not an expert, but this would probably be somewhat cheaper than in Europe or the USA.

 

The camping had no restaurant, so I had to go out and find me some dinner. I took my mountain bike and ended up doing a tour around the peninsula of Búzios. On my way back to the camping I stopped at a local supermarket and bought some bananas, apples, tomatoes and canned chick peas. Oh yeah, right… I’m a vegetarian and I really don’t need a fancy dinner when I’m traveling. It’s all part of life on the road.

 

 

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Day 2: Búzios – Vitória (+/- 500Km)

27/06/2010

It was still dark when I left the camping near Búzios and started to drive north toward Vitória, the capital of Espirito Santo State (click here for video about Espirito Santo) .

I had been on the BR101 (a federal road, running from north to South Brazil) the whole time and since the landscape started to become more flat, I thought that there would most likely be a more exiting route to Espirito Santo. “Campos dos goytacazes” was the last major city on the way before the stat border. It looked a lot bigger than I expected and according to some sources, the city has many options for tourism, but I didn’t have the time to check it out, so I continued my way to the state border and into Espirito Santo. Once across the border, the landscape became more mountainous and green again, and that made me forget the last 120 km which were kind of boring.

 

 About 40 km into Espirito Santo, I got off the BR101 and took the ES489 to Cachoeiro de itapemirim leading into a region with large coffee plantations covering the hillsides. This route would also get me to the famous “Pedra Azul” (Blue Rock). It was great to be off the BR101, because of the heavy traffic and especially the many trucks on that road. The back roads in Brazil are a lot more tranquil, but the other side of the medal is, that you have to pass through many residential areas and city centers… in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, traffic was totally out of whack because of local festivities and bicycle race that was going on…

 

coffee plantations

Coffee plantations in Espirito Santo

 

From Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, I pushed further north on the ES164. The landscape was mountainous, and a mix of slopes of coffee plantations and long stretches of tropical forest. I was looking out for the Pedra Azul, because I only had a vague idea of where it was, and I didn’t take the coordinates from Google Earth. All of a sudden it was there on the right. I almost missed it and had to turn back to get to a good spot on the road to take some pictures. It’s a really weird rock formation and it’s amazing how it almost seems like a giant lizard is climbing one side of the mountain.

 

Pedra azul ES

The Pedra Azul with the "lizard" on the side

 

I took a right on the ES262 and it was another 100 km to Vitória. I was going to spend the night at the house of my wife’s uncle. He insisted that I would come to his house, once he heard that I was going to Bahia, and I gladly took his offer. His apartment was in a quiet neighborhood. We went out for pizza and went back to the apartment and played some music. There was going to be a family party in August and he wanted to rehearse a few songs that he wanted to play at the party. All in all I went to bed early since I wanted to reach Nova Viçosa the next day.  

 

biker holding on to truck ES

This guy only let go when the speed was 70km/h

crooked car in ES

This car REALLY is crooked... It left a smell of burned rubber behind in every curve

 

 

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Day 3: Vitória – Nova Viçosa (+/- 370 km)

28/06/2010

The night in Vitória was very short. At 4 AM, roosters started crowing all over the neighborhood and kept me awake. It was a little weird to hear all those roosters. It was the last thing I expected, considering the fact that I was in the middle of a city and not in a rural area. I got up at 5.30, said goodbye to my host , who was so nice as to give me a bag of local pastry – forgot the name, but it was something halfway between bread and cake - for on the road, and took off.

 

The area around Vitória is really beautiful, but the further north you go, the more flat and less dramatic the landscape becomes. What is definitely striking is the large number of dead animals – mostly dogs - lying on the sides of the BR101. Every one of the cadavers is professionally removed by the many vultures. These vultures are black and smaller than the ones you see in Africa, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing a good job. I guess they prevent diseases up to a certain level.

 

Large truck in Bahia

This truck is loaded with eucalyptus, driving from Bahia to Espirito Santo. These things are up to 35m and 60 Tons... You don't want to get hit by one of those...

 

 

Another phenomenon on the roads in Espirito Santo is the large number of gigantic charcoal and Eucalyptus trucks. The state of Espirito Santo is the number one producer of cellulose for the paper industry and a lot of eucalyptus wood comes from Bahia. The trucks that transport the eucalyptus wood can be up to 35 meters long and loaded to the very limit (I’m sure sometimes way over the limit). Combined with poor maintenance, many of these trucks brake down and end up on the side of the road with broken wheels or other damage.

 

I heard about the big differences there are between the north east and the south east, but I was quite surprised to see that literally the moment you cross the state border with Bahia, the BR101, in Espirito Santo a major 4 lane highway with a smooth surface, changes into a 2 lane, poorly kept secondary road. Despite this, there was also a welcome sign saying: “Sorria, você está na Bahia” (Smile, you are in Bahia).

 

BR101 in Bahia

This is the same road (BR101) as in the previous picture, only now I'm in Bahia...

 

 

My wife Fernanda called me because her father needed the car (our regular car) and she couldn’t find the documents. I checked and of course I had the documents with me, so I had to find a cartório (sort of notary public office) and make an authenticated copy of the document and then find a post office to send it to Volta Redonda. A guy at a gas station told me the closest cartório was in Jaguaré, a small town 25 km from the main road. Jaguaré was actually a lively little town with lots of shops. When I got there, I saw that there was a funeral going on. Instead of a hearse, the coffin was being transported in a van like the ones used by construction companies. It was two hours later when I got back to the main road.

 

Nova Viçosa was a little disappointing. Despite some touristic folders promising “year round touristic activities”, the place was dead. It was too late to move on to another village, so I had to look for a place to spend the night. I took the advice of the “Brasil 2010 guide” and stopped at a pousada that turned out to be run by a Swiss couple. The pousada was ok, but it was the management that worried me a little. As a couple, you are supposed to work together as a team, and it was pretty clear that the woman was taking care of everything and the husband wasn’t doing anything to help. His commitment was limited to sleeping and smoking cigarettes. Judging by his smell, he was also in desperate need of a shower. After 14 years in Brazil, he wasn’t able to say a decent sentence in Portuguese – or English for that matter. When I asked him if he was happy here in Brazil, he said: “my wife is happy…” I guess that if they would be in Europe, they would have divorced a long time ago. Pretty sad actually...  

 

 

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Day 4: Nova Viçosa – Arraial d’Ajuda (+/- 380 km)

29/06/2010

Today I spent most of the time on unpaved roads, traveling from Nova Viçosa to Arraial d’Ajuda, which is just south of Porto Seguro. The whole region is covered with large eucalyptus forests, destined for the paper industry. The trees are harvested after 7 years, when they have a diameter of about 15 cm, and transported by the big trucks I mentioned earlier, that can reach 60 tons. When one lot is cut down, new trees are planted. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of original fauna was sacrificed to make room for the Eucalyptus, but it is also a source of income for the state of Bahia, one of the poorer states in Brazil. Scattered across the area, I saw lots of igloo-like constructions, used by the local people to make charcoal. With the immense popularity of the churrasco (BBQ) in Brazil, the demand for charcoal is also very high, and therefore, trees need to be cut down. It looks like this is more or less the only source of income for the people living in these area in houses made of wood and dried mud (called pau a pique).

 

House pau a pique

Typical "pau a pique" house

 

 

I also saw children playing around these houses, but the fact that these houses are pretty far from the nearest school made me wonder about the education of these kids. The Swiss woman of the pousada in Nova Viçosa told me that around here, many children are “raised and treated like dogs or other farm animals”. One can only guess how many kids live in these conditions and never see the inside of a school.

 

Charcoal igloos

these igloos are used to produce charcoal. They are made of dried mud. In the background: eucalyptus trees.

 

 

It was about 150 km to Prado, a small beach town about 100 km south of Porto Seguro.  This part of Bahia is called the “costa das baleias” (Whale coast) due  to the appearance of groups of humpback whales every year. The whales are one of the major touristic attractions of the region. I had to do a pit stop here and change the oil of the car. I stopped at a big gas station, that also had a oil change service, and a black guy (who said his name was “Branco” – White) attended me. He was very professional, friendly and quick. I had another problem: my radio stopped working earlier this morning and I asked Branco if he knew someone who could take a look at it. Of course he knew someone. He sent me to a guy who had a small shop, full of second hand stuff. The guy asked me the time, and since it was almost 12, he said he would have lunch before taking a look at my radio.

 

Pit stop in Prado Bahia

In Prado, I had the oil changed.

changing oil of the car in Prado

 

 

 

There was a small restaurant next to the guy’s shop and since I also felt a little hungry, I decided to have some lunch. Outside the restaurant was a sign saying that you could eat as much as you could for 7 R$ (+/- 3 Euros).  It was a very basic place, a normal house that they turned into a restaurant. The food was also basic but very good.  I had rice, mixed with various vegetables and the traditional black beans and “farofa” (manioc flour) with soft corn. The lady also made me a salad of lettuce and tomatoes. I asked for water and instead of the normal plastic bottle, she brought me a can of what I think was normal tap water (filtered of course). I enjoy eating in places like these. You don’t have the luxury of a 5 star restaurant, but the food is so good and honest. It’s like eating at home. That’s why they call it “comida caseira” (home made food). Also, the people who are running the place are mostly simple, humble and very friendly. When I asked for the bill, the women said I only had to pay 5 R$ because I didn’t have any meat. I gave her the 5 R$ and a 2 R$ tip :o)

 

The sound guy returned from his lunch and as I expected, it took only 5 minutes to fix the radio. Just resetting the thing was enough to have it up and running again. If I would have had a pair of those pull irons to take out the radio, I could have done it myself. Anyways, it was only 5 R$, so I didn’t complain. The guy started to ask me where I was from and where I was going. It is amazing how people want to talk to you, once they realize you’re a “gringo”. Note that the word “Gringo” is not meant in a derogatory way. It is just another word for “estrangeiro”. Personally I don’t have a problem with being called a gringo.

 

Local people are the best source of information. They can usually tell you where to go and how to get there. Also, they can tell you which places to avoid... Every person you talk to has some kind of information, but as with all stories: some are better than others.

 

I asked the sound guy if there was a way to get to Porto Seguro without taking the BR101 and he told me that I could just follow the dirt road that runs along the coast. This road was not on the map, but it was in my GPS, and the guy said that he did it with his regular car, so I thought it would be safe to take his advice.

 

coastline near Prado Bahia

The beautiful coastline near Prado, Bahia

cliffs near Prado Bahia

 

 

I’m using a Garmin GPS, and when I arrived in Brazil, I soon found out that the original Garmin map of Brazil was only useful in big cities like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. Once outside the agglomerations, it became useless. Looking for an alternative, I found the web site of Tracksource, a non profit organization that created a map of Brazil far more accurate and complete than the Garmin version. This map even has a lot of dirt roads and even walking tracks that cannot be found on paper maps.

 

The road, like the guy said, was very nice, with smooth sand and a great view of the ocean, which, combined with the perfect sunny weather made this the best ride of the trip so far. I stopped to take some pictures and was happy to see no eucalyptus forests anymore.

 

between Prado and Cumuruxatiba

Somewhere between Prado and Cumuruxatiba.

Beach near Prado

Beaches to die for... Totally empty. Right...

Beach near prado - Other side

and left...

 

 

After about 30 km I reached the village of Cumuruxatiba (short: Cumuru), which is a very quiet and laid back little paradise on the Whale Coast. I saw a sign saying: “Aqui, Deus descanse depois criar o mundo. Não acorda ele com o seu som” (Here, God takes a rest after creating the world. Don’t wake him up with your noise.)

 

I went on and visited Barra do Caí and according to my sound guy, this was the place that the Portuguese set foot on Brazilian soil 500 years ago, but I would find out later that this was incorrect. It was a great drive though, and the beach was nothing if not amazing.

Right there I had to decide if I would go further to Ponta de Corumbau or not. This was another great spot on the Whale Coast, but it was at the end of a 30 km dead end dirt road, which I didn’t find on the GPS, and considering the time, I didn’t risk trying to get there and get lost in the middle of nowhere. It is amazing how one becomes reliant of a GPS in conditions like these.

 

Horses near Barra do Caí

Seemingly free roaming horses near Barra do Caí

Beach of Barra do Caí

The beach of Barra do Caí

Strange structure near Barra do Caí

A structure in the middle of nowhere... no idea what this is for.

 

I decided to drive through Monte Pascoal National park and to try and get to Arraial d’Ajuda to stop for the night, so I had to take a dirt road that was not on the paper map, but WAS shown on the GPS. If it’s in the GPS, it means that somebody already took the road and recorded it on his/her device, so it’s safe to assume that the road is going to be there in reality. It would be another 5O km of dirt road before reaching a decent asphalt road… yeah, right… after 35 km I reached a point where the GPS indicated a right turn, only, the road that I was supposed to take was only a one track hiking path… Bummer.

So at that point I had the choice to either turn back to Barra do Caí and look for another way to reach the BR101, or try to follow the road that I was on, witch was marked as 4X4 on the GPS, and knowing that according to the GPS, it would end somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, a little further I saw a guy working in the field, and according to him I could just keep following the road and eventually reach the asphalt road leading back to the BR101. After a while, when the road disappeared from the GPS it kind of felt like the first time I was swimming in the deep water as a kid. No paper map and no GPS… only a compass, but as long as I was going north I was getting closer to the asphalt road leading to the BR101.

 

To make things a little more exiting, I discovered that the left rear amortizer had broken off and only the top part was still attached to the car…

 

There was a guy walking on the side of the road, and when I came closer he signaled that he wanted a ride…  Don’t ask me why, but I stopped and it quickly became clear that he had some kind of mental problem. He was in his late twenties but was talking like an 8 year old. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to attack me or something, but at that time I couldn’t be certain as to where he would take me. He said he was going to his parent’s house, wherever that was. But he seemed to know the road and I could see on the GPS that we were at least going in the right direction. I figured that the worst that could happen was that I would have to spend the night in the jeep or my tent, so really not a lot to worry about. For at least two hours I had a fantastic sight of Monte Pascoal but it was impossible to take a good picture because the sun was right behind it all the time too. when the sun finally set, it was too dark... Bummer.

 

Monte Pascoal Bahia

Monte Pascoal, just after the sun went down.

Monte pascoal - Bahia

A pity I couldn't take a picture when it was still light. The sun was right behind the mountain all the time.

 

 

The only thing that I did worry about was that Fernanda didn’t hear from me since early in the morning. I had been out of cell phone range for most of the day, and she would be really worried if she didn’t hear from me. I had the SPOT satellite tracking device with me, so Fernanda is able to follow me on the SPOT web site, but I don’t think it would make her feel good seeing that I stopped in the middle of nowhere without knowing anything else. The idea now was to get at least to a place where I could call home to let them know I’m ok.

 

In the mean time my passenger kept saying lots of stuff that I didn’t understand. I kept telling him I was a gringo and that he had to talk slowly so I could understand him. He started asking about the CD that was playing (Dire Straits) and told me he would really like me to make a copy for him.  I said I would send it to him, but he couldn’t write his address down… poor guy.  At a crossroad, he asked to get out and I was on my own again.  It was another 10 km to the BR498 and by the time I got there it was 18.30h and pitch dark. I had done almost 300 km of dirt road that day and was glad to get on to some not so bumpy surface. I had another 150 km to go to get to Arraial d’Ajuda…  Knowing that I had a broken suspension, I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted and so I only arrived in Arraial d’Ajuda around 11 PM. I checked into a pousada, took a shower and and went straight to bed thinking about the next day and how to find a decent mechanic to fix the Defender's suspension...

 

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Day 5: Arraial d'Ajuda - Repair day...

30/06/2010

Something - probably 300 km of dirt road - broke one of the rear amortizers, so I would have to find a mechanic to get it fixed. It looked like I would have to spend 2 nights in Arraial d'Ajuda, which was not the worst place to hang out in. It is a neighboring city of Porto Seguro, but a lot smaller and tranquil and with a stunning beach that seems to go on forever.

 

Arraial d'ajuda villa

One of the many nice looking houses in Arraial d'ajuda, Bahia

Arraial d'ajuda BA

Empty main street with world cup decoration, early in the morning in Arraial d'Ajuda . Brazil was still in the running then...

Arraial d'ajuda main street

Another part of the main street of Arraial d'Ajuda.

 

Even in the dark, I was able to pick out a nice pousada. Pousada Antares is located on a hill close to the beach and you have a great view from the terras. The breakfast next to the pool and the ocean in the background, was perfect. I asked around to see if anyone could recommend a good mechanic and there seemed to be two options. The owner of the pousada, an Italian who moved to Brazil 18 years ago and had managed to keep a cute italian accent in his portuguese, said that actually he didn't like any mechanic in Arraial d'ajuda, but if he HAD to pick one, it would be "Vincente". Maybe because the name sounds italian? I decided to check the place out...

 

Pousada Antares Arraial d'ajuda BA

Pousada Antares

Pousada Antares Arraial d'ajuda BA

Breakfast near the pool, the ocean in the background.

Perfect.

 

Most car repair shops you see in Brazil are places that in normal circumstances you really wouldn't want to come too close to, and the "oficina do Vincente" was no different...

A small, dirty shack with a few skinny, toothless black guys in bermuda and chinelos (flip flops) hanging around waiting for something to do. If you're lucky they are still sober at 8.00 AM. Once you are in Brazil long enough and have a jeep that tends to break down in the middle of nowhere (I'll post some more stories about this subject later on), you get used to these places and things actually aren't as bad as they look.

 

After the usual compliments about the Defender (everybody seems to like this car a lot, but they have no idea how much trouble I already had with it...) Vincente's diagnose was that he would have to repair the amortizer. Getting a new one would cost me at least 500 USD and would take at least until the next day to get delivered. He could weld a new piece of screw-thread to the lower end of the amortizer and that would only cost me 80 R$ (+/- 32 Euros). I agreed to do the repair and they took off the piece...

 

Next to the oficina was a big gas station and since the car was also in need of a lubrification, and it was no problem to drive around without the amortizer, I went there, but the guy in charge of lubrifications said that his grease pump wasn't working. He gave me directions to yet another oficina, which was of the same standard as Vincentes (in fact, it was the second option that people gave me earlier...). I asked him if he could lubrify the car, but guess what... This guy was out of grease! swell... I kept talking to him and after I offered him an extra 10 R$, he sighed and told me to put the car inside. Miraculously, there was still enough grease in his pump to get the job done...

 

I went back to Vincente, but he said the piece wouldn't be ready until 2.00 PM so I went back to the pousada, took my swimming gear and went for a long walk on the beach.

 

Around 3.00 PM I went back to Vincente and this time the piece was ready. One of the guys, who judging by his smell had 10 beers for lunch, put it in place. I paid and took off. Back at the pousada I took a closer look and noticed that the spring - that is normally held in place by the amortizer - was not in it's right place and I took out my tools to put it back. My italian host saw what I was about to undertake and told me that he didn't think it was a good idea to fix this myself. I guess he was more afraid that his driveway was going to get dirty, so I packed my tools back in the jeep and went back to the oficina, where they put the thing in place in 5 minutes (I first had to locate the guy in a bar 200m from the oficina :o)

 

Last thing on the agenda was to clean the car. 300 km of dirt road leaves your car pretty... dirty... Luckily the gas station next to the oficina also had a car wash... and it wasn't out of order.

 

I went back to the pousada, where I enjoyed afternoon tea and cake. Took a shower, went to the center to get cash, had a really good dinner at a pasta house and bought a few presents for the people back home.

 

For a short time, I felt like I was on vacation and I told myself that this was definitely a place to come back to...

 

 

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Day 6: Arraial d'Ajuda - Itacaré (+/- 430 Km)

 

01/07/2010

I left Arraial d'Ajuda very early since it was going to be a 430 km ride to Itacaré, with lots of dirt roads. Itacaré is one of Brazil's surf paradises, but has a lot to offer in terms of eco-tourism (Trekking, rafting, rappel, Arvorismo...). First, I had to take a ferry (Balsa) to get across to Porto Seguro. there' a ferry avery half hour and the crossing takes about 10 minutes and costs 11 R$ (about 4.75 Euros).

 

Balsa from Arraial d'ajuda to Porto Seguro - Bahia

Ferry from Arraial d'Ajuda to Porto Seguro. (6.00 AM)

Porto seguro cais

Empty coastal road in Porto Seguro early in the morning.

more cais in Porto Seguro  - Bahia

Deserted cais and boardwalk in Porto seguro.

 

 

I didn't spend a lot of time in Porto seguro. The cais were still empty at this time in the morning but I could see that this is a very charming town. I took some pictures, filled the tank and bought some water and fruit and started the trip further north to Itacaré.

 

About 25 km outside Porto Seguro, I suddenly passed a place where a large number of statues depicted some kind of scene from the past, so I turned back to check it out. I turned out to be a memorial and it was at the exact location where Pedro Alvares Cabral and his crew came ashore in the year 1500. The scene was a representation of the catholic service that was held to celebrate the discovery of the new land.

 

Memorial at the landing place Pedro alvares Cabral

this scene in Santa Cruz Cabrália on the costa do descobrimento (Discovery Coast), some 25 km north of Porto Seguro, represents Pedro Alvares Cabral and his crew holding a catholic religious service on the day they first set foot on Brazilian soil, with indigenous people watching from a distance.

Memorial at the landing place Pedro alvares Cabral - 2

This is the exact location of the landing of the Portuguese, and not Barra do Caí as someone in Prado told me, a few days earlier.

Memorial at the landing place Pedro alvares Cabral - 3

 

From Santa Cruz Cabrália, I took the BA685 (not on Googlemaps) inland to go around an area where the Jequitinhonha River flows into the sea. This road, leading to a place called "Barrolândia" which means something like land of mud, was in pretty good shape, with only a few potholes, so pretty relax driving. I Barrolândia I didn't see any mud, at least not more than in any other place, but from there the asphalt turned to dirt road and the eucalyptus forests are starting to appear again. The dirt road was actually not so bad. There were only a couple of stretches of rougher terrain, but all in all a very enjoyable ride. At one point, I saw this huge cellulose plant in the middle of an area that I thought was kind of a preservation area.

Cellulose plant near itapebi - Bahia

The huge cellulose plant that just appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a protected area.

 

The next place to pass, just before getting on the good old BR101, is Itapebi, and about 5 km outside this place, I passed some barracks, clearly the houses of very poor people. These "houses" were right next to a large garbage dump site, probably the place where the owners of these barracks spend their days looking for something of value. This too is Brazil, but I think it should also be seen by people visiting the country. It's one thing to read about poverty, or watch it on TV, but being confronted with it is a totally different matter.

 

Cows on the BR101 near Itapebi - Bahia

A herd of cattle on the BR101 near Itapeba - Bahia

 

 

I turned right on the BR101, only to leave it again after 15 km to take the 85 km long dirt road to Canavieras. This too was a very good quality dirt road, and speeds up to 80 km/h were quite easy to achieve.

 

 

In Canavieras I took a left on to the BA001 to Ilheus, where I spotted a chocolate factory.

Being a Belgian, I decided I HAD to go and take a look inside. there was a big sign saying "home made chocolate" but after I told the salesgirl that I was from Belgium, she admitted that they use Belgian "Callebaut" chocolate. It took me some time to understand which famous Belgian chocolate she was talking about because she pronounced it more or less as "callibutchi". Anyways, they had quite a large collection of chocolate goodies, inclusive some erotic items. I bought a few bonbons, just to get a taste, and a few of them were with Pimenta (red pepper). I don't think I will buy those again. They were really spicy.

 

Windy Beach close to Ilheus - Bahia

A windy beach and cloudy sky near Ilhéus - Bahia. The weather was starting to turn bad on me.

Most beautiful mirante of Brazil - According to the sign/

According to a sign on the road, this is the most beautiful "mirante" (nice view) in Brazil. Frankly? I've seen a lot better than this :o)

 

 

The weather didn't look so good anymore. It had been raining an abnormal amount in the whole north of Brazil the past couple of weeks, with floods that left a lot of victims and destroyed houses and bridges and apparently this still wasn't over. By the time I got to Itacaré, It was raining hard, so all the streets were deserted and the town looked nothing like the otherwise bustling surf paradise. I checked into one of the first pousadas I saw, and after a nice shower, I did some planning for the next day and went to sleep.

 

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Day 7: Itacaré - Chapada Diamantina (+/- 450 Km)

02/07/2010

Today, I want to get to the Chapada Diamantina, in the center of Bahia State, which is again a +/- 450 km ride, so I make sure I get out of the pousada at first light (actually, it was still dark). I hadn't had a chance to check out Itacaré last night because it was raining hard the whole time - in fact it kept raining during the night - so I made a quick tour around the city. It has a really beautiful shoreline, but going into the smaller streets away from the ocean, I saw lots of houses in poor state of conservation, but of course, the rain isn't helping to paint a beautiful picture. A little sun and the place would be totally different.

 

just outside Itacaré

Looks like I was on an ecological road. (This was just outside Itacaré)

Rio das contas near Itacaré

the Rio das Contas near Itacaré, coming from the west.

Rio das contas near Itacaré - 2

Rio das Contas: Other side: flowing east to the ocean.

 

 

I was going to take the shortest possible route to the Chapada Diamantina and according to my GPS there would be a great deal of dirt roads. Soon after leaving Itacaré, I entered a 43 km long muddy jungle road that leads to Ubaitaba. As I expected, the road was very muddy due to the rain last night, and it wasn't long before the jeep had the same reddish brown color as the road. The tires on the jeep are a few sizes too large and the fenders aren't keeping the mud from getting all over it. 10 km into the jungle, I see an old skinny man waving me down. I stop and the man asks if he can ride with me to Ubaitaba. He looked pretty harmless so I thought: why not... To let him in, I had to move a lot of stuff from the passengers seat to the back (cool box, backpack... my mobile office...). We got into a pleasant conversation, and the man tells me he lives in Ubaitaba, but has a "Roçinha" (vegetable garden) here. In Europe, the people I know growing vegetables, are doing that in their back yard, but this man - who turned out to be 83 - had to travel 30 km on bad jungle road to get to his piece of land. He also said that he would normally take a bus, but that this was very uncomfortable on these bumpy roads. I even heard stories about people breaking some bones during a ride on one of these buses.

 

Dangerous trucks and animals on the road

Sometimes you have dangerously overhanging trucks on the road, sometimes you have cattle, and sometimes you have both...

Dirty Land rover after taking 43km of muddy jungle road to Ubaitaba

the Land rover after 43km of muddy jungle road (I had already cleaned the side door windows...)

 

 

We arrived in Ubaitaba and I said goodbye to my old new friend. I cleaned my windows and stopped at a gas station to buy some water and juice. Next is the stretch to Jequié, which, according to my GPS is "Muito Ruim" (very bad) but to my pleasant surprise, the asphalt on the BA330 is brand new. I was pretty much expecting that the nice asphalt would only last for a short while, but it turned out that the entire road to Jequié was like this. (Graças a Deus).

 

About halfway to Jequié, I picked up my second hitchhiker for the day. An elderly woman waved me down and asked if I was heading for Maracas. Since that was one of the options, and she told me it would be the best option if I was going to the Chapada Diamantina, I decided to give the lady a ride. I asked her to get in the back seat, because I just moved all my stuff back to the front, and she didn't mind. she started to tell me her life's story about being born and raised in the area, working in the fazendas, getting married to the wrong guy, having children (a girl and two boys), getting divorced... the works. One of her boys had been bitten by a snake just a few days ago on his way back from school. They had to take him to the hospital, but they don't have a car, nor do they have a phone, so it was very difficult to find someone to drive them. Luckily they found a person who took them to the hospital and now the boy was better. He wasn't able to go to the Festa Junina though. Her other boy went 5 nights in a row... Festa junina is MAYOR STUFF in this part of Brazil. Anyway, she was going to visit her sisters in Maracas. I asked her about the poverty that lots of people seemed to be living in around these parts and she answered that the only thing you really need is "saúde and paz" (health and peace). All the rest is not so important. She also said she felt a little sorry for me traveling all by myself, but then she told me "you are alone with God, so you're not really alone". Nice words from a very simple person. These encounters are experiences that I wouldn't miss for the world.

 

In Maracas, I dropped her off at the house of her family and with a last "may God accompany you at your left side, your right side, your front and back side" she joined her sisters. I noticed that the house was very small, but at least 7 women were waiting for her. That was because all the men were watching the world cup game Brasil - Holland... a decisive game for Brazil, because if they would loose this one, they would be out of the cup. There was very little noise in the streets, and that told me that things weren't looking too good for Brazil.

 

I stopped at a gas station to by Diesel, and to figure out the best way to get to Marcionilio Souza. I found a dirt road on my map, but it didn't show up on my GPS. The guy of the gas station told me that in fact there WAS a road, but a different one than the one on my map. Yikes... even more confusion. He told me to take the road to Planaltino and after about 12 km take a left and "va embora" (just go)... He also said that the road was not very good, and there was a serra, but mostly descending... Just before I left the gas station, I learned that Brazil had lost the game against Holland and was going home. Someone said "a vida continua" (life goes on)...

 

Dead donkey on the road near maracas Bahia

Scenes like this are not uncommon on Brazilian roads. Animals like cows, horses or donkeys don't always have fences and sometimes get hit by a passing truck...

Dead donkey on the road near Maracas - 2

The Urubu's (vultures) of course have a feast. There were 5 of them eating from the dead animal but they flew off when I approached.

 

 

Ok, so I was about to take a 50 km stretch of not so good dirt road that was neither on the map nor on the GPS. I didn't like that idea very much, but it was a second pleasant surprise that day to find out that this road had a few signs on crucial places pointing to Marcionilio Souza. Also, the road wasn't that bad at all. I've seen a lot worse.

 

Going down the serra - Maracas is at +/- 1000m and the descent takes you back to about 350m - there were some stunning views, and the road was getting better all the time. After the descent, it was flat for about 35 km and the road was soft and sandy like riding on a beach. This was truly a jeep's wet dream. At times I was going 100km/h.

 

After Marcionilio Souza, things changed drastically. The BA245 was as bad as it gets. It was pretty clear that this road had been asphalted with a layer way too thin, and now the road was all broken up, with potholes everywhere, making it worse than it probably was before they put the asphalt. 65km on a road like this is no joyride, that I can tell you. In this hellhole, I picked up my 3rd hitchhiker that day. A working guy who wanted to get to Itaeté, and judging by his smell, he wasn't one of those Brazilians that take two showers per day. But he had useful information for me. When I told him that I was planning to get to Lençois by 18.00pm, he said that there's no way I would get there that early, and driving after dark was not advisable because of the road conditions AND also because of the BANDIDOS. That sure sounded like I was in the Far West or something. He advised me to either stay in Itaeté, or try to get to Mucugé, which was closer and the road would be better.

 

BA245; ona of the worst roads I saw in 2 weeks.

The BA245. A sand road with remains of what used to be a 2 cm asphalt layer... Worst kind of road there is.

Arrival at the Chapada Diamantina National Park

Finally... The Chapada Diamantina National Park. It was too misty to see clearly.

 

 

I decided that it would not be a bad idea to follow his advice and change plans to try to get to Mucugé. Like the guy said, the road from Itaeté to Mucugé wasn't half bad, and I got there at around 5.30pm, in time to find a pousada and a phone to call home (my mobile provider didn't have coverage here, so I had to find a public phone).

 

 

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Go to Part 2 (Day 8 - 14)