Monday, September 20, 2010

Brazil – Florianopolis to Rio

So my last post had me settled in at a beach town called Barra de Lagoa in Florianopolis, where the room was cheap and the staff friendly (albeit slightly high on marijuana for large chunks of the day). This made a welcome change to the breakfast and check out nazi hostel owners you frequently run into.

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My vague timeframe of 2-3 days to make it to Rio was slightly optimistic. I think in the end i have taken around a week to get here since i left Florianopolis however the days tend to blur into each other and as going out of an evening often ends up finishing sometime in the morning hours trying to get a firm hold on exactly what day it is from other travellers if often quite a comical conversation.

So after enjoying settling down in one place for more than just a day or two I decide that I was ready to start the final push to Rio I wish the young Chilean Bob Dylan and the slightly crazy French girl farewell and begin the trek up the coast to an island called Ilha do Mel.

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Unfortunately what i should have checked more closely was that Ilha do Mel is actually part of a nature reserve with basically no roads and access only for passengers by boat which I had missed the last one of the day by 15 minutes. With the sun setting a plan b had to be formed and i figured that camping for the night would have to do.


I drive back towards where i would hope to start from the next morning and hunt around for camping. By this time i am pretty tired and can barely disseminate the signs along the side of the road so i figure a beach camp would be a romantic end to the day. I setup in darkness but luckily manage to find firewood all along the beach with the help of my trusty headlamp. I later work out i have camped not far from a local fun fair. I quickly open my bottle of red to try and ease my fears about carnival people stealing my bike when this thought is interrupted by a local ranger with his big red truck and flashing lights driving down the beach. Initially he seems pretty cranky and begins yakking loudly at me in Portuguese something along the lines of “what the hell do you think you are doing?”, I apologise and try to explain it’s just for the night and will be very quiet. Once he spots the bike and see’s I'm pretty settled in with a fire and tent he calms down wishes me best of luck.


Next morning i make the short ride into Parangana where i find a fairly large and stinky port town. It seems unlikely that i will find a tourist info office so i begin asking around at the various port security offices for a barco or balsa (ferry). After the usual stuffing around i am eventually told that only passenger ferries go across the bay, motorbikes or cars are not allowed. Feeling that enough time has been wasted now I figure i will just push all the way to Sao Paulo (400 odd km’s away) via Curitiba along the main highway. In the end this turned out to be some awesome road with a few tunnels and suspended bridges as the road climbed up off the coast towards the mountain plateau town of Curitiba. I bypass Curitiba itself and head towards Sao Paulo where i think i paid about 5 tolls along the way. All were cheap ($0.75 Real or $0.50 AUD) but logic would suggest that just one toll booth for R$3.75 Real would work better, but who am i to argue?

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Expecting Sao Paulo to be busy (population of nearly 17 million i think) i am not disappointed and the traffic is pretty full on with the main roads packed 3-5 lanes each way and motorbikes almost all lane splitting in between. With so many roads in the city i accidentally get the name or suburb wrong in the GPS for the hostel i planned to stay at but eventually make it to the slightly dodgy downtown area with an HI hostel which is fairly dull and sterile like most large HI hostels but glad to be off the bike and out of the traffic.

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With the help of a local Sao Paulo girl i met in Florianopolis I move to another hostel in a more lively area which has some cool nightlife. The hostel had a bar with live bands of an evening and Sampa (as the locals call it) begins to grow on me. However the weekend comes and goes and the hostel quietens down so I figure no point hanging around just killing time waiting for the next weekend and I head off towards the coast along what has to be one of Brazil's most modern roads I've seen so far. Although the road comes at a hefty price for cars and trucks (R$18 or.5 or $11.5 AUD, motorbikes were free) the extensive km’s of tunnels were impressive to say the least.

I hang a left and begin going up the coast road towards Rio. I had high expectations of this road and was not disappointed. The views were spectacular, winding up and down over countless beaches and bays i was reminded of the Australian east coast in some ways and the pictures i took barely do it justice.

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So busy was i looking at the scenery that i came round one corner without lining up the exit properly and ended up tipping over gutter and into a ditch. Luckily this was at fairly low speed (<30-40km/h) and i got up straight away. So annoyed with myself that I had stacked in such ridiculous circumstances i began waving people on who were trying to stop and help. Eventually one guy insists and helps me tip the bike back upright.


So after after an hour or so lost just getting myself and the bike back together i eventually i get to Paraty to find a large group of fairly drunk Australians. Initially I sigh but find a group of young Spaniards instead who are happy to converse and correct with my hopeless Spanish. Next day the hostel turns out to be pretty cool and i make friends with lovely 2 Irish lasses.

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After a couple of days i once again bid new friends farewell and begin the final push to Rio. Expecting worse traffic than Sao Paulo i am presently surprised and seem to just avoid the evening peak and get a special treat when i join onto one of the main entry roads to downtown. A deep red setting sun to the right and the Jesus Christ statue being layered with a fine mist on the top of one of the surrounding hills.

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So finally in Rio and staying in Ipanema I feel a sense of achievement, successfully making it from 2 major South American cities (Buenos Aires and Rio) with both me and my bike in tact.


ok chau por este momento

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Uruguay & Southern Brazil

After staying in probably one of the less ideal hotels in Colonia (there appeared to be only 1 toilet with a seat) i headed to Montevideo, unsure what lay ahead, a city like Buenos Aries maybe? Probably smaller but possibly as well developed.

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Sure enough the main street and architecture was more or less as expected, however once you head off the main drag things got a little poorer which is fairly different to Montevideo’s big brother Buenos Aires. However as i started walking around i noticed lots of pretty cool street art, surprisingly most of it to do with Israel and communism.

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The main HI Hostel was in a slightly dodgy area downtown but full of students on exchange from Argentina for 6 months. Most of them had varying levels of English but communication was relatively straight forward and we were all best friends in no time. However after doing some distance calculations for Brazil i felt 2 days was enough in Uruguay’s capital and i needed to punch out more km’s if i was to ever make Colombia by Christmas or more likely early March in time for Carnival de Barranquilla. I bid the Argentinean students farewell and almost had one of the girls join me for the next leg to La Paloma, albeit for lack of a helmet.

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So with yet another late start (i blame the Colombian girl from the hostel…say no more) i set off for La Paloma around midday which was technically only 250km away. As per usual i wanted to add a complication to the route by not taking the main highway, which i was unsuccessful at since my GPS wanted to continually route me on the main highway all the way to the Brazilian border. Just past Uruguay’s answer to the Gold Coast (Punta del Este) i take a dirt/gravel local road off the main highway which leads me to the coast road which i originally wanted to be on.


Eventually i realise why the GPS wanted to route me through the main highway, the road was broken up by some lakes and sand dunes. Eventually i had to double back some 30km’s to get back onto the main highway since there was no “balsa” (car boat) at one of the Laguna (lake) crossings. Although the day ended up in Paloma a little late i count day as a success since i finally got the bike off road and onto some coastline that was just breathtaking and barely developed at all.

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The hostel in La Paloma was deserted since it was low season and the guy looking after it seemed a big disappointed i only stayed one night, i think he wanted some more company to stop himself going crazy. However I once again feel the pressure of pushing km’s and leave Paloma at a reasonable time of 10am and make the Brazilian border at Chui by lunchtime.

As a side issue before you may notice in one of the photos above i have a Uruguayan number plate, which i bought at a market for about $8 in an effort to de-gringo my bike. I could almost write a whole post about how crazy it is being able to buy a number plate on the street however i digress. So i forget to change my plate at the Brazilian border which is then spotted by one of security guys at the border which causes a slight ruckus since the Brazilian customs official had just done all my paperwork based on my NSW plate, after many apologies i change the plate back to the regular NSW one. Afterwards they explain they don’t really care but are just interested where i bought the plate from, I am allowed to keep the plate which might come in handy for other countries in South America where i want to try and fly under the radar. So after about an hour long border crossing into Brazil I begin the push to Rio Grande for the night.

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Rio Grande is industrial as expected so i make a bee line early (around 7am) for the car ferry across the bay to make my way north to the beach town of Torres and eventually Rio de Janerio. As per usual this take longer than the GPS says and after the ask 3 people for directions routine i arrive at the car ferry terminal to find i have missed the ferry by about 20 minutes, the next ferry doesn’t sail for quite a few hours. A Brazilian tourist with his car is also late and sympathises with my general bad mood and directs me to the passenger terminal where they are more than happy to put me and the bike on the ferry for the princely sum of $5. As I wait for the passenger ferry the bike generates a bit of a crowd where my Spanish is vaguely understood and their Portuguese is not understood at all however after much nodding and pointing the message seems to get across. After a short ferry ride I begin the push to Torres, as the weather begins to change for the worst (rain and wind). Eventually i arrive into Torres to find a fairly quiet beach town since its sub 25 degrees (<25 degrees is apparently considered winter for most Brazilian's). I figure its worth continuing to keep pushing on but take a little side trip to some canyons along the way to Florianopolis.

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At first the craps roads seemed like a novelty, but after 30km and no sign of bitumen i begin to realise that this could be a little difficult. I push on further but the road get worse and worse. The GPS then gives me more bad news that the nearest bitumen is 100-150kms away, i make the somewhat annoying call to turn around and make my way all the way back to where i started from and make the push to Florianopolis from the main highway and not through the back roads. This plan works out for the best and i appreciate the bitumen more than ever and push onto the metropolis of Florianopolis on one of the more crazy roads i have been on so far (motorbikes lane split past me at speeds over 100km/h was a new experience). Although Florianopolis is busier than expected in the downtown area with a lot of high rise and big freeways I eventually get settled into a cool hostel on the beach side of the city. It’s been good to get out of the main HI hostels and into a more informal one where i have met a cool girl from Spain who has been helping and correcting my Spanish.

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Next push will most likely be to Curitiba (pronounced curi-che-ba) > Sao Paulo > Rio de Janerio which i plan to do in only 2-3 days. Hopefully i can find a similar hostel to Florianopolis in Rio and stay a while.

Ok chau por esto momento…