You like beaches? Brazil’s got trillions. You like jungle? They’ve got the world’s biggest. You like mountains and caves? Yup, they’ve got those. Waterfalls? Tick. Deserts and dunes? Err… yes. Wildlife? Yah, plenty dat too. And of course, the football… many shed-loads of that! They do sport, they do fashion, they do science, they do arts, they build things, they party-hard and they’re the economic power-house of the region. Sure, they have few teeny political snags on the agenda at the moment (who hasn’t? 🙂 ) but overall, we’re looking forward to seeing Brazil (and those beaches!)
Flat-out to a cave
Brazil is big (correction… make that ‘BIG!’). Last year we popped into Brazil from Bolivia for a quick 2,000 km, three week jaunt around the Pantanal. Now we’re back for the main game, we’ll be needing the whole of our annual 90 day entry permit allowance! We enter Brazil from Argentina waaaay inland at Iguazu Falls and it’s a long slog over 1,200km to get to some of those fabled beaches on the Atlantic coast.
We set course on a generally northerly direction through Brazil, so our route takes us diagonally to the coast on some of Brazil’s many long-haul trucking routes. On the way, the countryside at first glance appears curiously European: rolling green hills with cow-dotted pastures. But the occasional palm tree towering above the hedgerows (and the fact that we pass a Tropic of Capricorn sign on the way) is proof that we are very much not in northern Europe! Although the views are of a green and pleasant land, there is precious little in the way of attractions to stop and see on this slog to the coast.
After around 800km we spot a small icon on the open-source mapping indicating some caves around 20km off the main road. At this stage of the journey, anything to break the tedium is attractive so we turn-off down a rough dirt track to investigate the site, optimistic that we might just discover a hidden and little known gem! Some way down the track we notice a strange sound from Cuthbert and Marcus feels unsteady steering. Uh-oh! Flat tyre? Hmmm… perhaps the term ‘mangled’ rather than ‘flat’ might better describe the tyre’s condition! Luckily, if such word can be used in these circumstances, it’s one of the tyres that is nearing the end of its life and was going to be replaced in a few hundred kilometres anyway. Marcus sweats away changing the tyre in the toasty 35C afternoon sunshine whilst an ancient, sun-wizened local farmer stands over him offering what we believe were intended to be helpful words of advice in rambling Portugese.
Once the tyre was fixed we had kind-of lost enthusiasm for the cave exploration, which is a good thing because although we did proceed down the track towards the site, we never actually found it! Hey-ho! It’s back to the main road we go! And a nice scenic Brazilian fuel station car-park for the quick night-stop (sad, but it’s often the best we can do for overnighting between destinations on these long-haul truck routes)!
Sao Paulo to Sea
Further on towards the coast we approach one of the world’s biggest, endlessly sprawling cities: Sao Paulo. On our way past we wonder whether it’s worth a stop-off. We do a bit of research looking for a reason that we might find Sao Paulo worthwhile, but the only really positive feature that popped up repeatedly was its high-end cuisine. Sao Paulo is apparently Brazil’s centre of gourmet (aka expensive) restaurants. Goes without saying, we like a bit of fancy nosh as much as
the next chap, but we need a better reason than an aspiring Michelin Star restaurant to risk Cuthbert’s life, battling for hours with hideous traffic in one of the most crime-ridden centres of South America. Ok… that’s probably just a teeny-weeny bit over dramatic! But although our friends Guy and Fiona’s brilliant foodie/travel blog at Compass and Ladle provides some serious temptation for us to head into town, we decide in the end to tackle Sao Paulo’s equivalent of London’s M25 and bypass the city in search of the seaside.
Circumnavigating Sao Paolo isn’t quite as bad as we feared and soon we’re past it, dropping off the high ground and looking out over the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time since Tierra del Fuego just over a year ago. Same ocean, same South American eastern coastline, but the sky and the sea are both a lot bluer up here in the mid-summer tropics. This section of coast for 350km south/west of Rio de Janeiro is known as the Costa Verde and it is indeed very green! Travel books say this is a beautiful drive with tiny islands and literally hundreds of stunningly beautiful beach coves cut into the rainforest shoreline. We can happily report that the books aren’t wrong. Our only problem is deciding which of the many beaches to stop and camp by – can’t do them all!
At our first stop near the wonderfully named Ubatuba, we receive news that our paths are crossing yet again with Dakar Rally hero Lyndon and his friend Tony on their grand bike tour. No, we’re not stalking them around South America 🙂 it’s just a true Old English saying that ‘Great minds think alike’ when it comes to South American routing! We’ve bumped into them three times in the last few months, but now this fourth time in Paraty will be the last. They’re heading south to Patagonia and we’re heading up across Brazil, so if we bump into them again any time soon, one of us will have made a grossly negligent navigational error!
The colonial town of Paraty is one of the most popular tourist attractions on this section of the coast of Brazil, with good cause. Its history is in the gruesome slave-trade, but now with its well preserved old buildings and cobbled streets, the town is quaint with style and a chilled-out atmosphere. Nearby is the gorgeous Trindade beach which we find particularly hard to drive away from and end up staying for several days. Here, the beautiful warm ocean waves are crying out for us to make a small investment in a boogie-board to play in the surf. How old are we? Probably older enough to know better, but what the hell… it is fun! Our final stop on this bit of coast, Conceicao wasn’t quite as spectacular as further south, but nevertheless still a lovely beach to spend an afternoon before tackling Rio.
Rio de Janeiro has always seemed to me one of the most impossibly glamourous cities of the world full of samba music and beautiful people. Arguably these days it has become more famous for its vast, sprawling, crime-ridden favelas and certain problems hosting the recent World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016, but I prefer the slightly mythical cool, sophisticated images conjured up by Frank Sinatra’s ‘Girl from Ipanema’ 🙂
Last time we visited Rio in Oct ‘15, we had a day out from the ship on our voyage from Europe to Uruguay. Back then we left Cuthbert on board the Grande Nigeria, this time we have the small matter of getting him into and around the city. Cuthbert isn’t an ideal vehicle for busy traffic in an unfamiliar city, but Marcus is now well practiced at barging across traffic lanes with the best of the Latin American taxi drivers. The first couple of places that we try to park are full, but eventually we find a reasonably secure car-park near the central Flamengo beach. It’s a tad on the noisy side but hey… it’s in down-town central Rio! Can’t grumble at that 🙂
So… the sights of Rio eh? What do we see? Well… we take a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain, have a few of the obligatory caipirinhas on Copacabana Beach, wander round the trendy streets of Leblon, see the pre-Carnival street parties in Ipanema, take a moped-taxi into up an incredibly steep path into one of the more ‘tourist-friendly’ favelas, and finally… see the dentist! Yes, the up-market end of Rio seems as good a place as any to get some routine work done. A good English speaking lady in Leblon did a great job extracting my molar, which had been long overdue.
Talking about Rio… there’s this whole crime and personal-safety-thing that everyone talks about. Is it that bad? Well… as we were entering Brazil a couple of weeks ago, an area just north/east of here hit the international news with record-breaking crime levels (yes, record-breaking by Brazilian standards is pretty bad!) due to a police labour strike and gun-toting bad-boys taking control of some cities. Anarchy and lawlessness reigned for a few days in Espirito Santo province and as the police labour strikes widened, the troubles were threatening to spread into down-town Rio de Janeiro. Luckily, the government sent in the military to take control of the streets and order was restored just before we approached the area. In the tourist-friendly areas of Rio that we visit, we see no evidence of the problems reported in the news. As with New York, London, Paris, Wagga Wagga, wherever… there are parts of town into which a tourist would be foolish to venture, particularly at night. But really, tourist-town Rio is as safe as any other major city of the world and you really shouldn’t miss a few of those caipirinhas on Copacabana 🙂
Now Carnival time is approaching next week. We’re considering extending our stay here for this mega-event, but we decide we really should move on. Unlike other countries round here, Brazil is quite strict with its entry permits. We’re already one-quarter into the time we have to reach the French Guiana border and we still have well over 7,000 km to go! Need to get a wiggle-on and head in-land a bit.