Brazil

Hello world, and greetings from Puerto Iguazu, on the Argentina-Brazil border at the Iguazu falls! I am currently reclining in a hammock outside our pousada (B&B), basking in the 17 degree heat (yes, as we’ve discovered that counts as hot at this time of year) and trying to recall as much as I can about the wonderful month we have just spent in Brazil. After all my good intentions to build this website before I left and pen blog posts every couple of weeks, procrastination started getting the better of me, and I’m a bit behind! So I’m going to cover the whole of our time in Brazil here.

Route overview
Part 1: Goodbye London!
Part 2: Rio de Janeiro
Part 3: The Atlantic coast and the 101
Part 4: Heading inland: taking the quiet roads to Carambei
Part 5: Making a beeline to the Iguazu Falls

Annex: Detailed route notes

Route overview

We began our trip in Rio de Janeiro on 17 May, where we spent around a week preparing for the epic journey to follow. After leaving Rio we headed down the Atlantic coast, before heading inland shortly after Santos. Following an impromptu off-road loop around the city of Curitiba we made a beeline for Foz do Iguazu, jumping off point for the Iguazu falls, where we spent a couple of days before crossing into Argentina.

Here’s a couple of maps showing the route we took. If you follow me on Strava (I log in with my facebook account), you should be able to check these routes out in more detail if you really want. My inner geek also made me put our day-by-day stats in a table which I’ve put at the end of this post.

Brazil 1

Our route from Rio to the Iguazu falls (with km distance markings)

Brazil 2

Making only a small divot into the South American continent!

Part 1: Goodbye London!

Our epic journey began following an equally epic set of goodbyes with friends, family and colleagues, which culminated in us successfully convincing a number of you to come all the way to a Walthamstow beer garden on a balmy May evening to say your final farewells! It really was quite an overwhelming experience, and did made me question why I was about to leave so much behind for so long. As well as seeing so many close friends, a definite highlight of the evening was receiving a (very early) 30th birthday present from my school friends in the form of a GoPro – a brilliant gift and the source of many of the photos (and videos, when I finally get the software working) that I´ll be posting on this site.

After the hangovers subsided we spent our last few days in London frantically packing up our bikes and our possessions, and cleaning the flat. We got it all done just in the nick of time, as our minicab turned up to whisk us off to Heathrow.

1. Charlie Keys

We are officially homeless as Charlie drops the keys to the flat through the letterbox – no turning back now!

2. Heathrow - Charlie

With the boxed-up bikes at the airport

The journey (literally) flew by, and before we knew it we were being dropped off by our taxi driver on a wet Tuesday morning in downtown Rio, in a city where we would spend the next six days.

Part 2: Rio de Janeiro

I’ll leave a detailed description of Rio to the guidebooks, but let’s just say that it’s a city best enjoyed in the sunshine – and we didn’t get a lot of it! Rio has an incredible array of outdoors activities, ranging from serious hiking in tropical parks to equally serious relaxation on its many beaches, and while the rain and mist that hung around for most of our stay didn’t stop us from getting out and about, they did put a bit of a dampener on things – and meant that some of our photos weren’t quite like in the guidebooks…

3.a. Rio - Blurry Pico da Tijuca view

Pico da Tijuca – our view

 

3.b. Rio - Pico da Tijuca view _Downloaded

Pico da Tijuca – guidebook view!

4.a. Rio - Blurry Corcovado view

Corcovado – our view

4.b. Rio - Corcovado view _Downloaded

Corcovado – guidebook view!

4.c. Rio - Christ the Redeemer

We did get the occasional good view of Christ the Redeemer  when the cluds parted – and we weren´t the only ones scrambling for our cameras!

On top of the unseasonally cold and wet weather, May is Rio’s low season (Brazilians seemingly think that 25 degree heat is too cold, and tourists mostly come around Carnival time), probably moreso this year given the olympics are rolling up in August. Add to this some combination of worries about Zika and recent political scandals leading to the (at least temporary) overthrow of President Rouseff, and the result is a concoction of factors that in combination most likely contributed to the place feeling a bit quiet.

When the sun did come out, though, it revealed a stunning city which really was draped in the colours of Brazil: the greens of the lush parks at Tijuca and Lagoa – where we hiked to two of Rio’s highest points, the Pico da Tijuca and Corcovado aka Christ the Redeemer (see photos above); the golden sands of the beautiful beaches at Ipanema, Copacabana and Botafogo; and the deep blue of the ocean that seems to appear at every turn. One thing that immediately struck me was Rio’s incredible topography – there can’t be many cities in the world where 1000+ metre peaks rise so dramatically from the sea, and several points (including Pico da Tijuca) are higher above sea level than any point in England. Our best views came on a clear day climbing Sugarloaf mountain, where the GoPro’s fish-eye view setting was in it’s element.

5.b. Rio - Sugarloaf 3

Sugarloaf Mountain – it´s a Long Way Up!

5.a. Rio - Sugarloaf 2

Beautiful view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain…

5.c. Rio - Sugarloaf 1

…We just had to ruin it with a selfie!

One other noteworthy activity we partook in in Rio was trying to eat our own bodyweight in red meat, sushi, oysters and much more at the insane Churrascaria Palace restaurant. This would be the start of an intense love affair with churrascarias (all-you-can-eat meat buffet restaurants) that we would indulge on numerous occasions, usually in motorway service stations. Though, at £30 per head, the Palace in Rio cost about 10 times more than its highway equivalents!

Anyway, after a week of exploring, eating, and drinking a lot of caipirinhas, it was time to get pedalling. There were a few inevitable few mishaps – including my pedal nearly falling off on a busy road in the city centre, discovering that we had left a pannier hook insert at home (it’s amazing how such mundane-sounding things can really ruin a cycle tourist’s afternoon), and Charlie having originally assembled her gear shifters on the wrong way round – but after some ingenious quick-fixes (mostly by Charlie) and a visit to a bike shop we were able to finally hit the road.

6.a. Rio - Charlie building bike

Charlie working on her bike

Part 3: The Atlantic coast and the 101

Our first job was to get out of Rio. We’d been advised by more than one Brazilian not to attempt to do this by bike due to the risks of mugging/accidents etc., and a series of sobering recent news stories – including a tourist being shot in a favela and part of a coastal cycleway falling into the sea (killing three cyclists in the process) – did little to suggest they were exaggerating. But following a lot of Google street-viewing and some great advice from our excellent last host in Rio – the affable Rodrigo at Casa Francisco in Ipanema – we decided we had found a route that might just work! First up we navigated through some of the more affluent suburbs (and Favelas) towards Barra di Tijuca, home of Rio’s olympic village and second-home of our first Warmshowers host, Fabio, who kindly gave us access to his huge and completely empty four bed apartment for the evening! We then passed through some of the more sketchy outer suburbs – where we discovered for the first but not the last time, when having to climb from a canal towpath onto a motorway, that Google Maps’ cycle route disclaimer “Use caution – may involve errors or sections not suited for bicycling” is there for a reason.

IMG-20160621-WA0001

Following the Google Maps suggested route to the letter

But as luck would have it, we had just joined the first of two main highways we would follow for much of our Brazil trip, the 101. This beautiful road took us around 500km down (and up – a lot – ) the Atlantic coast, past some of what would be our favourite places in Brazil – mercifully, usually via its paved, traffic-free hard shoulders.

8.c. Road 101 - Viewpoint before Ubatua

A typical viewpoint on the 101 route

8.b. Road 101 - Viewpoint

And another one!

First up was Ilha Grade, island playground of rich Cariocas and home to some more fantastic hiking and beautiful beaches. Here we did yet another big hike, the 900m Pico do Papagaio – which that day was aptly coated in the same mist that seemed to have followed us from Rio -, had some quality snorkelling and beach time, and we carried on our unofficial mission of finding Brazil’s best caipirinha. This was also where we tried out our new tent – the MSR Mutha Hubba HP – for the first time.

7.c. Ilha Grande - Snorkelling Trip

Beautiful Ilha Grande

7.a. Ilha Grande - Blurry Papagaia view

But the mist had followed us from Rio! Here is our view from the Pico do Papagaio…

7.b. Ilha Grande - Papagaia view _Downloaded

…And the guidebook view

7.d. Ilha Grande tent building

Applying the finishing touches to our new MSR tent

After Ilha Grande we moved on to Mambucaba, a town noteworthy in my journals only for being the place we watched the Champions’ league final and for introducing us to the mystery-meat “X-burger”. For weeks we were trying to work out what the “X” stood for (these things are ubiquitous all over Brazil) only to find out that in Portuguese, they pronounce X as “cheese”! The next day we arrived in glorious sunshine at more noteworthy colonial Paraty, probably the prettiest place we visited in Brazil with numerous churches and buildings whitewashed in the traditional Portuguese style, and yet more beautiful, sun-kissed beaches – but eerily few tourists.

8.e. Mambucaba tent

Basic camping at Mambucaba

8.a. Paraty - Beach

Followed by beautiful Paraty

In retrospect, Paraty marked the end of the holiday period of our trip as we began looking at the map and our watches and realised we hadn’t gotten very far after our first two weeks! So we raced on to Peruibe, the last of the coastal towns on our route, covering 350km and around 3,000 metres of climbs in five days (we would get much quicker later on, but this was pretty hard at the time!) via the abodes of two more wonderful warmshowers hosts, Henrique and his dog Noite in Ubatuba, and Alfio, Andrea, Matheus and Bruna in Santos with whom we spent two nights, and who were unbelievably generous with their apartment, their advice and all their food!

Alfio and Andrea turned out to be keen cyclists, and they had cycled in Peru during the previous summer. So we were very happy to oblige when they and Matheus offered to cycle with us through what they had warned us would be one the most dangerous sections of our Brazilian trip – the passage through Praia Grande. According to Wikipedia, this city of 200,000 people has the most CCTV cameras in the world(!), and the word on the street was that gangs of youths regularly targeted cyclists, both for their valuables and their bikes. We tried to evade them by setting off early in the morning, but after spotting some suspicious folk eyeing up our group, we decided not to take any chances and swiftly diverted to the bus station for the third non-bike part of our trip (and the first one not by boat). This ensured we made it to Peruibe in one piece, but did shatter any dreams I had of biking and boating the whole way to North America! Anyway, after getting over that one I was ready for the next leg of the journey: heading away from the coast and into Brazil’s interior.

IMG-20160621-WA0002

Cycling with Matheus (front), Andrea (back) and Alfio in Praia Grande – the calm before the storm!

Part 4: Heading inland: taking the quiet roads to Carambei

The plan was to head towards Argentina on Google’s suggested route, passing through the large city of Curitiba and staying with Rodrigo’s girlfriend, who had kindly offered to put us up. However, after speaking with Andrea and spending more time scouring Google maps, we discovered that a different route via a town called Iporanga would take us to the PETAR state park, which has some of the largest caves in South America and looked to be pretty spectacular. So off we went, covering 220km in the next two days in the pouring rain, reaching Iporanga tired and soaking wet, but pretty happy after a beautiful journey through some vast banana plantations (where we got our first taste of being routinely chased by dogs) and following the majestic Ribeira de Iguape river.

9.b. Road to Iporanga

On the road to Iporanga

Alas, our happiness would soon be dampened by the news that most of the caves were closed off due to flooding! Still, not to be deterred, we managed to do some good hiking and ventured in to a couple of caves which we had all to ourselves, quite a surreal experience and making it well worth the detour.

9.a. PETAR - Charlie shot

In the PETAR state park – hiking…

9.c. PETAR Charlie shot 2

…and biking

What followed was our biggest section of climbing on the bikes – a lung-busting 1,900m ascent over just 60km, on an unpaved, rocky road, over the hills of the Serra do Mar range. While we were pretty shattered at the top, the views were equally breathtaking, and we celebrated by doing our first night of wild camping. Another big day followed on more dirt roads, before we reached the tarmac again at Itarare, having done some spectacular cycling, but by now well off the route we had originally planned.

10.a. Apiai - Viewpoint

View from the top of the hill

10.b. Itarare - Road

Tree-lined avenue on the way to Itarare – well off the planned route

From Itarare we raced in two days to a place called Carambei, which had been steadily populated by milk-producing immigrants from the Netherlands during the early 20th century. The result was a very distinct Dutch town, complete with the best cake and coffee shop we found in Brazil (not a hard feat, despite the national cake addiction.) Here we managed to catch England’s first Euro 2016 match in the idiosyncratic Hotel de Klomp, which had a bizarre giant replica pair of cloggs on the front lawn and the only fireplace we saw in Brazil!

11.a. Hotel de Klopp

You can take the Dutch out of Holland…

Part 5: Making a beeline to the Iguazu Falls

From Carambei we took the second main highway of our trip – the 373/277, which would take us the remaining 570km to Foz do Iguazu, the Brazilian border city at the Iguazu falls. Given the paucity of towns on this stretch and the beautiful scenery, we alternated staying at basic hotels with doing some more wild camping. By now we were well accustomed to the early (5:30pm) sunsets and cold winter nights putting paid to our naive pre-trip dreams of long, warm tropical evenings. But the Brazilian weather had one last surprise for us, when the mercury went below freezing (twice), leaving our tent covered in a sheet of ice by morning! On reflection, the weather has put paid to us doing as much camping as we’d liked thus far, but there’s a lot of time to change all of that.

12.b. Guarapúava - Viewpoint

View of the beautiful route 373

12.c. Laranjeiras - Viewpoint

More stunning views from the road

12.a. Prudentopolis - Camping view

Frozen in paradise!

The towns on this road weren’t so interesting and nightlife was almost non-existent, so we became very focussed on getting to the falls. On 17 June we finally did, having covered over 1,000 miles and climbed 16km (almost twice the height of Everest) in just over 3 weeks on the bikes.

Like Rio, I will leave you to google the Iguazu falls, look them up in a guidebook, or remember them if you’ve had the fortune to go. I’d just say that even in the pouring rain they were majestic, and will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of our whole trip. Our photos only go a small way towards capturing the magic of the place. (Note: we subsequently fount the Argentinian side to be even more incredible – more about this in the next post).

13.a. Iguazu 1

Selfie at the Iguazu falls

13.b. Iguazu 2

And another one!

13.c. Iguazu 3

The walkway to the ´Devil´s throat´

13.d. Iguazu 4

The spectacular Iguazu Falls

13.e. Iguazu 5

The devil´s throat from above

So finally, on the morning of 19 June, we followed one more dubious Google Maps route which somehow enabled us to skip Brazilian emigration by again directing us to climb onto a motorway, this right in the middle of the no-man’s-land between the two border posts! Thankfully we realised our error before any immigration officials did, and we went back into Brazil to get our passports stamped. A few pedals later and we were – legally – crossing the bridge over the Iguazu river, ready for the next leg of our adventure – Argentina!

IMG-20160621-WA0000

Goodbye Brazil, Hello Argentina!

Afterword

It would be remiss of me not to note one big event I’ve missed at home during the last month: a huge congratulations to Anita and Rob on giving birth to baby Zachary, let him know that Uncle Tom will be home soon!

Hasta la proxima,

Tom

8.b. Road 101 - Viewpoint

And another one!

Annex: Detailed route notes

Date Origin Destination Accommodation Distance covered (km) Total ascent (m)
17/5 Rio: Centro Rio: Centro Hostel (Massape Rio) 0 0
18/5 Rio: Centro Rio: Centro Hostel (Massape Rio) 0 0
19/5 Rio: Centro Rio: Copacabana Hostel (Cabana Copa) 10 157
20/5 Rio: Copacabana Rio: Copacabana Hostel (Cabana Copa) 0 0
21/5 Rio: Copacabana Rio: Copacabana Hostel (Cabana Copa) 0 0
22/5 Rio: Copacabana Rio: Ipanema Pousada (Casa Francisco) 4 35
23/5 Rio: Ipanema Barra di Tijuca Warmshowers (Fabio) 24 291
24/5 Barra di Tijuca Mangaratiba (for Ilha Grande) Pousada (Vovo Corina) 89 497
25/5 Ilha Grande Ilha Grande Camping (Campsite) 0 0
26/5 Ilha Grande Ilha Grande Camping (Campsite) 0 0
27/5 Ilha Grande Ilha Grande Camping (Campsite) 0 0
28/5 Angra dos Reis (from Ilha Grande) Mambucaba Camping (Chale Guaiamum) 50 602
29/5 Mambucaba Paraty Hostel (Geko) 48 269
30/5 Paraty Ubatuba Warmshowers (Henrique) 75 898
31/5 Ubatuba Sao Sebastiao Pousada (Estrela Mare) 81 588
1/6 Sao Sebastiao Juquei Pousada (Vila Real) 45 1018
2/6 Juquei Santos Warmshowers (Alfio and family) 89 323
3/6 Santos Santos Warmshowers (Alfio and family) 0 0
4/6 Santos Peruibe (bus from Praia Grande to Mongagua) Pousada (Aconchego) 71 24
5/6 Peruibe Registro Hotel (Calixtro) 101 642
6/6 Registro Iporanga Pousada (No name) 121 1037
7/6 Iporanga Iporanga Pousada (No name) 17 565
8/6 Iporanga Road north of Apiai Camping (Wild) 45 1332
9/6 Road north of Apiai Itarare Hotel (Paraiso) 95 906
10/6 Itarare Hill west of Jaguaraiva Camping (Wild) 76 966
11/6 Hill west of Jaguaraiva Carambei Hotel (de Klomp) 77 796
12/6 Carambei Woods outside Prudentopolis Camping (Wild) 104 895
13/6 Woods outside Prudentopolis Guarapuava Hotel (Rochas) 72 1046
14/6 Guarapuava Laranjeiras do Sul Hotel (Lipski) 110 1201
15/6 Laranjeiras do Sul Cascavel Hotel (Deville Express) 134 1436
16/6 Cascavel Medianeira Hotel (Marca) 86 653
17/6 Medianeira Foz do Iguazu Pousada (El Shaddai) 59 471
18/6 Foz do Iguazu Foz do Iguazu Pousada (El Shaddai) 0 0
19/6 Foz do Iguazu Brazil Border 9 62
Brazil Total Rio: Centro Brazil Border 1691 16710

 

 

 

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