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Three Crowns

Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Canela

FROM CANELA IT’S a short jaunt southwest to Tres Coroas. Passing through Gramado, I took a detour around the Lago Negro at Gramado, both touted as a “place to see.” I’d already visited the centre one afternoon and enjoyed a costly latte in an expensive bookshop. The town is very germanic and mainly geared up for tourism. Fine if you like that sort of thing but it’s not my cup of latte…

Pdalinho, Lago Negro, Gramado

Skirting the deserted lake through the surrounding trees, glancing at the white swan-shaped pedaloes huddled on the shore of the black water reflecting a marbled silver sky reminded me of a long past family holiday in Scarborough back in the UK, reminding myself that I am alone here far from family and a generation from those happy times…

I guessed my way back, weaving through the suburbs returning to the RS115 south.

Away from the urban limits of Gramado, the sky began to brighten revealing patches of cobalt blue and intermittent bursts of sunshine while smooth curves swept down gentle slopes. On GoogleMaps, I’d memorised the shape of the junction I needed as the road entered Tres Coroas before setting off but they all look the same on the ground and never how I imagine.

Trickling around Tres Coroas’ gridded intersections and backtracking along the 115, I found myself crossing the same junctions from different directions.

Finally recognising a storefront on a corner of some traffic lights that marked the junction I needed from Google Streetview, I only had to select the road that had the view of the distant mountains and cruise west noting any gate numbers that may be present.

Overall, the journey should have been easier but had finished with irritation of looking for the street and now an illusive house-number. Like one of those dreams I occasionally have where the closer I get to something the harder it gets to achieve.

To my left on a gate was the number I thought I needed but the house sat, still and stoic behind high-security fencing. I paused for a few moments but nothing moved. I unpacked the laptop to double-check the address. As the screen yawned its way into life, movement in my mirrors caught my eye. A group of schoolgirls approaching along the path. Lara and Olivia were among them, different from how I remembered them back at Princesa dos Campos. They recognised me first and offered a welcoming smile before passing through the high-security gate into the sanctuary of the garden.

I stashed the laptop and looped a 270 degree U-turn across the width of the road into the gate behind me as it responded to the press of a remote button somewhere, riding up the drive and pushed the bike into the garage after dismounting for greetings.

The reason the house appeared dormant was that Lis and Filipe had been next door at Filipe’s mother’s house wrestling a roof tent off the top of their Renault. Even with four of us, 70kg is heavy to manoeuvre, shuddering arms stretched out above shoulder height, desperate for the steel brackets not to make contact with the car’s gleaming roof.

I was showed upstairs and offered a room with apologies about the pink decor since this was Lara’s. I smiled as the contrast between what I usually make do with doesn’t reach the criteria of colour scheme. Simply being indoors is a luxury. I’m usually happy to find a patch of land level, without rocks or thorns and raised just enough not to form puddles in a storm.

Filipe’s Brother in law, Edison, arrived that evening curious about my journey. Fluent English made for easy conversation and the evening passed rather too quickly.

I’m treated to two nights of good company, easy conversation, watching movies and sharing Chimarrao (Mate). I’ve yet to learn the skill of drinking through the metal straw without scolding my tongue…

Filipe has a home business making custom wooden flowers for souvenir shops. A workshop in the back garden means a good degree of self-sufficiency and freedom from ’employment’ slavery. Something I’d held as a dream for a long time in my working days.

I never really fully relax as a guest – maybe about 80% to start with. Oversensitive etiquette issues get in the way… different people have different customs and I worry too much on getting them wrong. Best not to worry about it since worrying doesn’t help any. Second-guessing is no better than just relaxing. Still, getting a slap as a kid for putting elbows on the table leaves a lasting imprint.

Friday the first of March and I’m up, breakfasted then away after helping the family pack the car for their weekend trip. Filipe recommended Parque Laranjeiras (or Orange Park, according to Google Maps translating what it wants,) a short distance up a dirt track halfway back towards Gramado. Filipe insists on guiding me to the junction as I follow the car.

Shaking hands and bidding a cheery Tchau, I’m pointed up a lane before Filipe swings back to the road and I rattle over the dirt track 15km through the rustic village of Linha Café Baixa and along through the gate of Parque das Laraneiras. No-one about, I pause at the kiosk for a moment, the house next door remains silent so I pass through and cruise around the site… deserted apart from a couple of white water rafting coaches parked next to three separate tour offices. An empty stage over a soccer pitch sized expanse of grass hints at busy events.

Parking under a tree for a few moments, a rubber-gloved man emerges from the toilet block a hundred yards away, discards, mop, bucket and gloves approaches and welcome me. He lives at the house next to the entrance and appears to look after the Parque Laranjeiras single-handed. I book a couple of nights and exchange some cash for a page torn from his receipt book. The first night includes a one-off charge for the tent, subsequent nights are just per person.

Parque Laranjeiras

There’s power here but no WiFi except at the restaurant. I pitch up next to a socket so I’m able watch a movie in the night. An exploratory wander around the site brings me to the restaurant at the far end of the sports field. The door is ajar. In the hallway, excursion leaflets on a table, to the right a doorway labelled hostel. To the left, the restaurant open and empty, barring a woman at the table closest to the door with a stack of papers and a calculator. Hacking away at Portuguese I manage to ask if the restaurant is are open for food. I think the answer was “depends what you want.” and I settle for a coffee, toasted cheese sandwich and the WiFi password. That would do me until the morning if need be.

The next morning, Saturday, The restaurant opens for breakfast and I work online for a bit. Claire from the middle tour company of the three offices across the way detects I’m an English speaker as she settles her bill, and recommends the white-water rafting. “The red one next to Ecotours, over there.” The river flows around the park in a horseshoe shape with a nationally-known competition kayak course along the northern stretch but the trip starts a few km north at the dam. It wasn’t too expensive but I eventually decided I’d rather have the money. The restaurant is on the toe of the horseshoe facing west with no view of the river: only of the tour offices across the field.

Parque Laranjeiras campsite.

Later on, cars start trickling and pretty soon the site’s buzzing with the conflicting mix of awful Reggaeton beats and mouth-watering churrasco (BBQ) aromas.

Dome tents pop up and tarps are strung between trees. The store opens up and the whole site becomes alive with noise and activity. I soon inherit some neighbours in intimate proximity, close enough for boisterous kids to repeatedly trip over my tent lines and uproot the pegs.

River Paranhana

Carlos and his family notice my bike and invite me for churrasco. He works in a hospital hence his English is good. After lunch, he lends me some swim shorts we all amble down to the river. The riverside bustles with families. People sunning themselves and leaping into the water off the rocky bank. We swim down the top part of the rapids between the occasional inflatable rafts drifting around the corner and on down the kayak course. I only brushed the rocks on the way down but Carlos hit them hard and limped ashore before retiring. The obvious hazard is the fast flow down between the rocks but if you don’t panic and keep your wits it’s easy enough to swim to the side into one of the many slowly stirred pools. The not so obvious hazards are hidden by the turulent rapids.

Sunday morning the crowd thickened but by the evening had quickly evaporated. Shutters were up at the stores and restaurant. Only Clair and another girl remained before kitting up to both leave on a single motorcycle. Rain is forecast and they were keen to get off despite being the last ones there. Apparently, today was the end of the season and the park would be closed for a few months now although still available for camping if you don’t mind the solitude.

Monday morning, the restaurant remains closed but the store opens for a short spell and I buy some chicken, cheese and bread. Only a motley crew of young white-water rafters appear and amble down the lane into the only open tour office, emerge in red floatation attire and sing the bus and its trailer of rafts away up the lane and out to the dam to be rinsed back down the river an hour or so later. My own private adventure suits me just fine. all that whooping and cheering is not my thing.

Yesterday’s rain arrives a day late. I strip the hammock from the trees sling it between the rafters of a picnic shelter above the table. The breeze wafts its damp chill across me and I wander through the woods to warm up and gather firewood. Some of it kindly left stacked next to extinguished campfires by the weekend’s campers.

The firepit in the shelter happened to lay directly under a stream of water channelled over a broken section of the roof so I cleared the ground and built one a fire there warming myself crouched on the ground while cooking the chicken.

7th of March makes it 6 days at Orange Park and I up sticks for the weekend bound for Nova Petropolis, a scenic Germanic town of tourist attractions but no suitable camping opportunities I could make out. The best and closest option on iOverlander seemed to be Tenda do Umbu 20km out the way of the next destination of Bento Goncalves. Edison, at Tres Coroas, had told me about Tenda do Umbu which is a popular biker’s hangout, a bonus feature only 300 metres up the road from the camp spot.

Chagdud Gonpa Brazil Buddhist Temple

But first I take the detour to Chagdud Gonpa Brazil Buddhist Temple. Somewhat incongruous in Brazil but secluded enough in the hills to reduce the contrast in cultures.

Barriers over ant runs I found amusing. Not that I willingly step on them but I reckon casualties are minor without going to this trouble.

The hot and bright afternoon soon turned cool and dark, as I left, with a cloudburst just as I pass a wooden hut offering coffee and artisan cakes. The shower conveniently lasted as long as it took to enjoy the refreshments and off I set, backtracking to Gramado and on towards Nova Petropolis.

Nova Petropolis

An easy road with busy traffic, I soon breeze through Nova Petropolis’ welcoming arch and skim the town’s scenery. I’d come back for a closer look later. The 235 emerges west of the town and merges with the 116 north to Caxias do Sul and south to Novo Hamburgo. Southbound is the default and I flow with it down towards the village of Picada Café. The afternoon cools and darkens. Clouds become pregnant with rain but they hold back exhaling only a breath of drizzle.

Down, down on sweeping bends, road surface damp beneath the tree-canopy prevents a full fast lean but does nothing for slowing the enthusiastic cars that race past me at their earliest opportunity. Picada Café offers a welcoming arch to the left but dusk and rain still threaten and I’m keen to make camp in the dry and so speed past sparing the briefest glance.

Ruta Romantica

The scenery along the 116 is beautiful and enchanting. Without being aware, I’d been on the Rota Romantica since San Francisco da Paula but this had been the most beautiful stretch so far. It looked more like Germany than Brazil.

Down across the river at the valley floor then, up and up. A relatively gentle twisting slope but long and persistent. Throttle fully open for the tiny engine to haul its load up the inclines and around the bends trying to not lose speed that I could never get back once lost.

Six kilometres later, a sweep over a crest and down beneath the trees to a left-hand bend and I crane my neck right as I pass the Picada Café Mirante. A layby extending up through some trees to a small hill crowned by a hidden electricity pylon hidden overlooking the green valley. Only one truck parked there.

Pleased about finding it without any problems, or coasting past without noticing, I gently slowed on the remaining straight to Tenda do Umbu: an oasis of souvenir shops, a café and a Petrol station. It’s late. Twilight already creeping over the thick cloud cover that was now almost close enough to touch. All is closed apart from the Petrobras Fuel Station. Dinner tonight would have to be beer, crisps and chocolate. That would do: a guilty pleasure if anything, plus I probably had enough battery charge to watch a movie too for completing an evening of relative decadence.

Pylon

Back at the layby, almost dark, the truck had gone leaving the site pleasantly deserted and I set about scouting around for a good pitch. A track led up each side of a tree-lined plateau of picnic tables up and beyond another rise hosting an electricity pylon. There wasn’t much level ground up there and I certainly wasn’t going to camp on the flat area inside the electricity pylon and bathe in its Electro Magnetic Field.

Mirante Picada Café

Down to the left, half-hidden in the trees, lay a roofless, dilapidated concrete hut or house, litter and leaves scattered over the floor in a cold soupy atmosphere. I wasn’t paranoid enough to hide out in those dank, depressing shadows. Up on the vacant picnic plateau, I chose a spot on the edge beneath the trees where I couldn’t easily see passing traffic, which meant I’d be reasonably well hidden right there… and I wouldn’t expect company at this time of day and in this weather.

Mirante Picada Café

I peaked through the tent flap as a single car followed ists headlamps up past me around the pylon and down the other side, probably not noticing me. The night was beautifully quiet and anonymous with only the of the occasional passing car’s distant swish whispering up the hill and through the trees. I liked it here. So much so I decided to stay an extra night, free of charge, not counting the electricity pylon although a socket on it would be handy.

Mrante Picada Café

I welcomed the grey dew-soaked morning for making it less appealing for passers-by to intrude. Gathering up my laptop and bag, I zipped up the tent, left the bike propped next to it and set off to the café. Glancing back, it looked like someone was home. I marched up the road to Tenda do Umbu, a café displaying a wall of biker stickers. I didn’t have a sticker of my own to add. Never got round to it… even after learning about them. If you are planning a trip, I’d recommend you get some stickers printed. They are a simple gift, perfectly portable. Locals like mementoes. Get your country’s flag on the emblem too. Even if you’re not a big fan of nationalism, people like to know where you hail from. People just love them.

Planting myself in the corner. Café com Leite and breakfast to recharge me and 220V for the laptop. I wasn’t worried about the tent or bike and stayed a few hours writing and messaging.

Ruta 116 Tenda do Umbu

Strolling back to the tent, the weather had brightened up. The sun had dried out the grey air and cast dancing leafy shadows over the Rota Romantica.

My camp remained how it was left: in tranquil solitude. Breaking out the hammock underlined the warm dry afternoon. Preserving the PC battery for the evening’s entertainment, there isn’t actually much left to do so lounging in the hammock, reading under the dappled shade could be fully enjoyed without temptation or distraction of cyberspace…

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Canela

Canela

I PACKED SLOWLY and reluctantly at Cachoeira Princesa dos Campos. I loved it here but I have to urge myself to move on before roots get too deep and bid farewell to my hosts. Exiting the gate, the RS476 to the right is the more direct route but is an unsurfaced rough, stony 40 miles or so. I opted for the longer but fast, smooth asphalt via Tainhas, and perhaps stop to wander around Sao Francisco da Paula to see if it is as nice as its name.

Bright and warm with the sun at my back, the motorcycle’s windstream brought on the chill of the air, I rode as far as I could bear before submitting and unpacking my Jacket. I’d also forgotten a last-minute recap of the route but my memory jogged from sign to sign.

Two weeks in one place brings familiarity and feeling of homeliness. the thought of moving on brings resistance on having to discover my way around a new town, sure I like adventure but the paradox is I’m not too attracted to the initial feeling of unfamiliarity with new towns and cities. Riding around a city for the first time is perilous. Locals know the layout and zip along at a good pace. Without local knowledge, eyes sweep the vista for endless signs that are both there and maybe missing. Unsigned one-way streets are checked by the direction of parked cars. Impatient drivers race by and cut across. Lane changing needs 360-degree observation first and junctions are often missed in flowing congestion.

Safely through Tainhas, thanks to light traffic and Canela being well signposted, a couple of drivers flashed and waved as they overtook me and I returned a friendly wave back before stopping to check the bike and realised they were trying to alert me I was trailing about 2 metres of line along the road, probably ever since stopping to retrieve my jacket from the panniers. The luggage remained secure, luckily. Idling along, craning my neck, for signs of directions and danger plus recalling my orientation from yesterday’s glance at GoogleMaps, kept my mind busy.

Sao Francisco de Paula: nice name, not so nice view up the hill from the road. A forked junction presented the way into town. I opted for the bypass as the shacks perching on the hillside made the town looked foreboding. Sometimes there’s a feeling in the gut that says “Nah!” Providence tells me that obeying it is for my own good. It either saved my life by avoiding a potentially mortal situation or I’d missed a quaint Latin Plaza. I’d never know for sure.

Gregg Buyskes taught me about Providence and had drafted a book about it. Gregg was my neighbour in the lagoon back in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, when I lived on Sailing Vessel Glee before Hurricane Irma wrecked our boats. He’d built his himself and named it ‘Providence’ and lived his life by its philosophy.

The example he gave was: “Say you got the inexplicable urge to buy a lottery ticket and you pop into a store and buy one.. The ticket doesn’t win but the few minutes delay that it caused on your way meant that you didn’t cross that road just as that truck careered over the pedestrian crossing the driver was checking his texts. Two minutes earlier you could have been splattered over the asphalt, but now the danger has passed. In a way, that lottery ticket turned out to be your winner but you are none the wiser.” Something like that anyway. Sailing Vessel Providence was last seen wrecked on the causeway after Irma and Glee discovered sunk half a mile from her mooring 4 months later. Cest la vie.

And so, I harkened to my intuition (or fear) and gave Sao Francisco da Paula a wide berth.

Canela presented the usual grid of one-way streets and quaint cobbled side roads. I followed the traffic flow guessing my way to the centre until I arrived at fantastic gothic-looking church sporting large letter’s CANELA in front of it so you don’t have to photoshop it in your photographs later. I encircled its island plaza a couple of times and pulled up opposite at the “Chocolateria e Bistro das Hortensias” for a luxurious sandwich and coffee after my austere diet at Princesa, but more importantly, there was WiFi for discovering a camp spot.

7km away promised a remote mirante up in the forest, Morro Pelado. iOverlander told me where it was but I didn’t zoom in far enough for the road to it to be displayed and the review only described a wide track that terminates at the view. GoogleMaps

filled in the blanks guiding me past Alpen Park ominously ‘down’ a typical single-width unsurfaced track. On the GPS I had arrived. On the ground here was no access to any Mirante towering above me. In fact I was in a valley with a 60-degree cliff. Google wanted me to park the bike and climb the mountain. I decided to continue along the track and see what was around the next corner and the next and the next.

Passing a barren area of deforested land, making a mental note as a landmark and possible plan B, continuing on to see if the road wound it’s away back into the south of Canela. A right turn took me up a series of hairpins. Isolated families gawped at my fully loaded bike bobbling along the lanes. The incline dragged my fuel gauge to empty and I hoped it wouldn’t be too far and that I either had enough fuel to get to where I was going or it would be all downhill for coasting.

The angle of the afternoon sun told me I was heading in the right direction, swinging back from the south northwards and uphill. not to the mirante but back into Canela itself. I’d taken a screenshot of google maps for the mirante but not of the route to the alternative site in the pines to the north. Anyway, I was ready now ready to turn in, which tends to extend the limits of my budget when searching for accommodation.

Parque do Sesi has a good write up in iOverlander, its tab was still open in the browser. Plus I noticed tourist signs to it along the way to Mirante Morro Pelado. Providence was nudging me that way…

I closed the laptop and retraced the route along which I’d seen the sign up then followed it to the Parque. 30R is just on budget, spacious and secure with good facilities. Best of all, I seemed to be the only person here and pitched on the lawn under the trees next to a power outlet and settled down for the night with some sandwiches, Cachaça and a movie.

The day dawned and with my curiosity about the mirante still buzzing around my brain-cell, I unloaded the bike and ventured along the nearby trails through the forest in the afternoon and came upon it easily this time to a stupendous view. It’s more popular than I imagined with old fires and litter scattered across the place. This place wasn’t secure and I’d have to pack away daily if I wanted to go into town. Over the plains toward Porto Alegre, I noticed streaks of squalls under black cloud drifting my way. A sorry looking black dog emerged from the forest and sauntered up to me. I still had some dog food I’d bought for the little Chihuahua that I never saw again and promised the dog I would be back the next day and hurried away to beat the rain glancing at the unhappy dog in my mirrors.

I lost the race against the squall and the cold rain was just penetrating my base layer as I arrived back at the tent. The following day, I rattled along the track back to the mirante and sounded my horn but the dog didn’t appear. A Brazilian family was enjoying the view and we exchanged a few words but after their car crunched its way back to town over the loose stones, I had the place too myself. I picked up some litter and tied the bag to my bike and when I was ready to go, dished the dog food up on a rock and left to explore the forest some more and discovered two more good camping sites but decided I was settled closer to town…

The supermarket that was open last night was closed tonight but the Security guard at Sesi directed me to SuperBom about a mile away. SuperBom is a family-run supermarket open until 11pm 7 days a week. I picked up some beer, nuts and chips and returned to Sesi for the evening movie, leaving a beer at the vacant sentry hut for the Security guard. The nigh here is quiet and still barring the standard-issue distant barking of dogs.

Stopping in for some bread at SuperBom. Geraldo asks me about the Peru plate via Google Translate. Looking at the bike parked forward toward the window, the plate is out to the street so he must have noticed it last night. I respond in my best Portuguese and sign language. Geraldo invites me to lunch the next day and I accept. Geraldo has a Suzuki VStrom and likes to travel whenever his 7 day a week job managing the store allows him. Meanwhile, Geraldo beckons me across the road and speaks to Marcos at the Moto garage and we book the bike in for the next day to check the carburettor. The bike stalls if I suddenly yank open the throttle. The internet tells me it’s a rich fuel/air mixture but I haven’t found its adjustment screw yet.

Venturing out in the dark for a hot meal, I turn a cobbled corner to the Gothic spectacle of the Paróquia Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes). Illuminated like it’s Christmas eve together with the clouds drifting across the face of a full moon, the whole scene is spooky but majestic. What planet is this? It’s not a world with which I’m familiar.

At lunch, the following day, I discovered a little more of Geraldo’s world. He has the security that’s lacking in my life and I have the freedom lacking in his. He tells me of an Englishman that drops in on Thursdays and I should come at about 6. Since Geraldo seems permanently at work, friends come and hang out at the storefront. Socialising is punctuated by customer sales and assistance.

Over the road, Marcos gave the bike a thorough check and oil change. the throttle response is much improved and I’ve located the adjustment screw but not found a screwdriver small enough to turn it. Later, I don’t really need it now. It will be a while before I negotiate higher altitudes and adjust the fuel-air mixture. I offer to pay but Marcos vehemently refused, stating he was happy to be a small part in my grand adventure.

Marcos

Thursday evening I roll up on the forecourt of SuperBom and introduced to Roderick. His southern English accent is music to my ears. A stream of comprehension flows through my ears reminding me of how much effort it is for communicating in a foreign language. Roderick’s Son inlaw owns the Viking bar in Canela and I’m invited to their Rotary Club event on Sunday.

Already, a week has passed in Canela. I’m already a regular at SuperBom and Geraldo is a good friend. I stick his motorcycle club sticker over the old Russian flag emblem glued to the front of the fuel tank. The bike looks more ‘stateless’ now.

Returning to the tent, one of the poles had given up the ghost and snapped clean through. I’d fixed these breakages before but this was it, no more. I unpacked the Quechua ultralight I’d found in Bom Jesus and retired the Coleman Rainforest for good. I’d donate it for spares or repair later in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Broken Tent

I spent the following few days visiting a few sites like the Mirante do Lage de Pedra Av., for a view almost as good as Morro Pelado, Gramado, an expensive Germanic tourist town and the beautiful park at Cascata do Caracol, begrudgingly paying an entrance fee and discovering it was worth every centavo.

Sunday heralded a silver blanketed sky of scattered showers. I took a punt on a clear spell, mounted the bike and cut through the thick cool air as the tyres hissed over the gleaming asphalt toward the Viking Bar. I was halfway there before the next squall and the cold wet fingers of the weather worked their way through the threads of my clothes.

At the Viking Bar, Artesanal beer gazebos were up and I was directed to a desk that sold tokens. Money wasn’t accepted directly at the stalls. Roderick wasn’t there so I drifted around anonymously as if I had stumbled into someone’s wedding. He appeared half an hour later and introduced me to his wife, a Brazilian who speaks impeccable English. She told me not to bother to learn Portuguese as most Brazilians understand Spanish. By then, it was too late. Portuguese had already contaminated the Spanish I had begun to learn and hampered progress.

A pretty young girl approached us announcing she was about to get up and sing with the band and skipped off to prepare. Roderick said, “I didn’t know she could sing, she’s a teacher at the local primary school.” It turned out she couldn’t sing after all. the band were tight and punchy beneath the shrill out of tune vocals. I applauded at the end of each song, more for her bravery rather than talent. The band continued for a while and I stood silently next to Roderick unable to compete with the volume of the heavy metal din through the Viking Bar. I’d imagine modern Vikings would hang out at places like this for an aperitif before a Sunday afternoon’s raping and pillaging..

I can only take party time and mingling in short stretches so when the band took a break I made my excuses and crept away.

Leaving Wednesday would make my stay a full ten days at Canela. Long enough to feel like I was leaving home again after getting to know the town and its people.

My plan was to make for Nova Petropolis and then down to Tres Coroas to visit Filipe Rosenthal and his family whom I’d met at Princesa dos Campos but he told me they would be going away the coming weekend so I made Tres Coroas the next destination.

I packed late, since Tres Coroas is only 20 miles away, and stopped in at SuperBom to thank my good friend Geraldo and hoped to see him sometime whenever or if ever I’m near Canela again and cruised through Canela and out the other side toward Tres Coroas.

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Princesa dos Campos

Bom Jesus CafeI AWOKE EARLY with the stale, oily air of the garage filling my nostrils and cool breeze ruffling the tent. Eager to avoid becoming a conspicuous obstruction to the day’s business. I’d packed away well before the 8AM opening time and wrestled the loaded bike out to the road to prop it on its stand close to the cafe door.

Bom Jesus CafeThe empanada and milky instant coffee breakfast was but a sticking plaster on the my rumbling stomach. Expressing my gratitude to everyone at the cafe and the garage, I accelerated the couple of hundred metres to the gas station on the edge of town to discover a gleaming modern cafe wafting the irresistible fragrance of fresh ground coffee. When ordering, I forgot to say “Cafe com lieche sem asucre” – without sugar. The default seems to be served with plenty of it. Odd because it’s easier to add than remove.

F1 PostsA woman with her family of three daughters at a table near the window eyed me with curiosity. Not many English people or Peruvian vehicles pass through Bom Jesus. The young girls spoke fairly good English and translated for their mother. The infrequency of these kinds of encounters in my journey tasted even sweeter than the coffee. Without interactions like this, punctuating long periods of solitude, I sometimes forget I even exist. Not that I think about it rather it’s the absence of thinking about it that gives the sensation. They left before I’d finished my syrupy coffee. The pump attendant topped up the fuel tank, and I waved a rolling goodbye across the forecourt and joined the quiet RS110 southward.

Back on the road, the cool morning air was gently stirred by the warm spokes of the sun rotating through the lazy, drifting cumulus as I cruised cheerfully around the undulating Rio Grande do Sul bends in and out of the shadows of the leaves dancing on the asphalt, 43km down to Princesa dos Campos, south of Jaquirana.

Princesa dos CamposI caught sight of a small sign away from the road pointing off to the right, down an unlikely looking stony track past a non-descript restaurant sporting plastic patio chairs and tables on the porch. Spinning a U-turn back to the junction and 3km of gravel, dust and stone later I coasted over the dry tyre-worn tracks across the spartan lawn to park at the plastic chain drooped across the entrance of Princesa dos Campos.

Princesa dos CamposA crazy dog leapt in a barking frenzy around his earthen circle scuffed out underneath a tree, jerking his neck against a thick iron chain secured to the trunk by a frayed rope. A slender middle-aged woman strolled across the lawn to the gate to fail to comprehend my best Portuguese and retreated to find her husband.

Princesa dos CamposThe price was R$30 a night but I offered R$100 for 4 nights and was booked in before noon, pitching my tent down close to the waterfall. I appeared to be the only guest here. Surprising for such an idyllic and well-kept site. There was work to do, a lot of blog editing to catch up on. This felt like the ideal retreat for working over a few days.

Princesa dos CamposI strung the hammock up between the trees next to an electric socket, perfect for both writing and relaxing. On the third day, I was laid in the hammock pondering how to get more food – the store being 30km away – and noticed the man from the cabana up the hill and with his four boys approach to invited me for lunch. “Sim, Obrigado” and I followed them up to the cabana.

Princesa dos CamposThe boys spoke better English than the parents and we communicated quite well. From Caixas do Sul, they had arrived a couple of nights before for a short break exploring the nearby woods and swimming in the river.

Family from CaixasThis was their last day. the boys had collected the spiny brown leaves from under the Araucaria tree and lit them in the grill. Flames roared up the chimney, smoke billowing back in the house.

AruacariaThis was an enthusiastic kindling material never to be found again after leaving Brazil. We enjoyed a tasty barbecue with plenty of beer. After lunch, they started to pack ready to fo home, leaving me all the leftover food, bagged up with a couple of pans of pasta and potato stacked in the fridge. I had more food to hand now than I could remember since taking to the road.

Their leaving left me suddenly in solitude, the contrast stimulating a feeling of empty sadness. It was just me again and I grounded myself reclining in the hammock with a movie on the Laptop, “Into the Wild.”

LunchThe next morning, I retrieved the pan of mashed potato from the fridge in the Cabana and wrapped it in a black plastic bag in the sun hidden behind a rock across the river to avoid its discovery and possible disposal while I spent a few hours writing.

Early afternoon, I paddled across the river to gently feel the metal of the pan through the polythene, almost too hot to the touch and I picked up the bag not noticing the small black ants over the black plastic. They started to bite my hands before I could put the pan down and rinse them off in the river. Looking inside the pan, there were maybe still a dozen ants over the potato but most had been over outside of the bag. I stirred them into the mashed potato sat down by the rippling water to eat while basking in the dazzling yellow sunlight. It was a delicious moment for all my senses.

Meanwhile, another family had arrived and come down to bathe in the warm, shallow water and I gave them a wave as I waded back across and toward the tent. My hammock was draped across the sole access to their tent and so I tied it in the trees of the vacant picnic area on the lower level closer to the river before returning to the reception to upload my blog via their tardy narrow connection and to book another four nights.

Princesa dos CamposWhile I was busy in the restaurant another camper had arrived, pitching their trailer tent next to mine and making space shuffling my bike closer to my tent so I felt compressed into a corner.

Something I’ve noticed all over South America, people don’t seem to bother about proximity to others. I could be the only tent at the end of a field and a car could turn up and park next to me with its booming stereo instead of parking at the far end as I would.

Princesa dos CamposPretty soon the rest of the site had filled up for the weekend forcing my hammock to be relocated next to my tent, between trees on the edge of our level, overhanging the drop to the lower level. Although it was a perfect hang and comfortable, the illusion of being suspended high in the trees was unnerving at first.

Philipe and Lis, the family that arrived during my ant and potato feast, speak good English and invited me for dinner with their daughters Lana and Olivia, and to share chimarrão together. Chimarrão or Maté is a local green tea, often shared through passing a cup of chopped leaves with hot water and sipping through a metal straw with a filter, in a similar fashion to the old pipe-of-peace scenes in old Cowboy and Indian movies.

Princesa dos CamposSharing food, chimarrão and chocolate cake with the family felt almost like Christmas. My own family was thousands of miles away but to be included in this one reminded me of the importance of connection and community. I tried not to overstay my welcome and retired to the hammock in the balmy darkness for half an hour before another two cars invaded the lower camping area, setting up tents, tarps and lights to rival a modest music festival. I quickly packed away the hammock and retreated to the tent.

Food selection here at the restaurant was limited and I had already consumed my survival stash of peanuts. The menu seemed to only extend as far as ham and cheese toasted sandwiches. They were OK but quickly became boring. My language skills were limited too, which didn’t help with exploring food options and the proprietors hardly understood any of my attempts at Portuguese. Philipe said that he had experienced a similar problem, even though he lives only sixty miles away. They told Philipe “There is a man here from Peru, we don’t understand what he says. Maybe he leaves tomorrow or the day after, we don’t know…”

During the days that the site was busy, I sought sanctuary in the spacious and deserted restaurant. Another family arrived from Porto Alegre curious about the bike from Peru, Paulo and his wife didn’t speak English but Diego, the son, was pleased to be able to translate and practise his English since he needs it for his studies to become a doctor. they invited me to dinner, sharing barbeque, beer and conversation into the night. I enjoyed the company and conversation and promised to catch them before the left the next day and to visit when I got to Porto Alegre. The following morning, I awoke with a migraine and, by the time I’d surfaced, they’d gone. I never saw them again. Storms crept over the horizon that day and the first raindrops quickly saw off the handful of remaining families and I had the place to myself again well before dusk.

Down to my last 9 Real, I felt restless and desperate for cash. Jaquirana is 20km away, 30 if you want to avoid the rough, rocky route. I took the longer easier route. Exploring Jaquiarana revealed no ATM compatible with my cards so it was onward to Bom Jesus and back to the Bradesco Bank Lobby. Bom Jesus; a local town for local people. Nothing here for travellers but the Bradesco ATM.

Bom JesusNow flush with cash, I took lunch at a basic Comedor and buffet, plates of fresh food covered with clingfilm. I was sat down, fussed over and welcomed like long-lost family. Plain but fresh food served with love and generosity.

Outside, the sky grew dark and curled with grey. The heavy clouds unloaded their watery cargo over Bom Jesus, rinsing the town’s dusty film into the guzzling gutters. Meanwhile, staff and customers became transfixed to the TV screen by a news report. A helicopter had crashed onto a busy road in Sao Paulo killing a high profile TV reporter. Even without knowing who he was, the scenes looked dramatic, and unlucky for a truck driver who emerged from under a bridge to find find a helicopter suddenly plunge out of the sky directly in front of him.

The storm left as quickly as it arrived leaving the sky white and the air washed clean. Although damp, the air wasn’t cold and the tropical earth soon chased away the moisture, patch by patch along the road. By the time I got back, the sun shone brightly in a cobalt sky of candy floss cloud.

The next few days were invested knocking a dent into the blog trying to bring it up to date, which becomes a hard slog after the initial burst of inspiration and creativity evaporates. Time-consuming; working for love in sporadic bursts instead of the enduring incentive of a subsistent income.

I hung around for an extra week or so, the dog barking and leaping at his chain whenever he saw me commute between tent and restaurant; every time as if each was our first ever encounter.

Nature, Princesa dos CamposA couple of random days, the owners told me they were visiting family and locked me in the site until they returned. I didn’t mind. I had nature as my companion, a valley of deep woods and shallow rivers. Down the side of the hill, overgrown, dappled sunlit trails weaved between the trees and streams. The warm, still air beaded warm perspiration that trickled down my spine and the sense of shaded seclusion encouraged me to strip off and bathe in the crystal babbling waters; a timeless experience. Invisible from above the valley, this was God’s secret garden. All I was lacking was a woman, an apple and a snake…

Apart from my clothing on the bank, there was nothing here to offer a clue as to what century or millennium this could be. This was a snapshot of a moment in eternity, a world now disappearing into an abyss of all-consuming, man-made industrial wealth and suffocating plastic. This sickness generously labelled  ‘civilisation…’

Leavingwelve days after my arrival, it felt time to move on. Conscious of the date on the rubber stamp in the passport, now halfway through my three-month visa allowance in Brazil, I still had a lot to see before I needed to run for the border and I reluctantly loaded the bike and, instead of turning south on the more direct and rugged-looking 70km trail of the RS476 southwest to Canela via Lajeado Grande, turned northeast to join the RS110 and the paved route in a wide arc via São Francisco de Paula to the south because I liked its name…

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São José da Redenção

Boca da SerraTHE VERANDA OF Cafe Boca do Serra was an ideal haven for drying out a few items of clothing and would mean the tent would be dry to pack away in the morning too. The road was surprisingly busy during the night, trucks grinding their way up the stony hill but I slept well without minding too much.

Cafe Boca da Serra signI was up and packed away before the cafe opened. I didn’t need to plot my route. I already knew the way back to Sao José dos Ausentes and after coffee and breakfast, I rattled over the stones back towards to check on the dog I had abandoned a few days ago. The way I had left her sat uncomfortably with me and I wanted to settle my mind more than anything else.

Sao Jose dos AusentesAlong the dusty RS020, stones popping out from under my tyres, a group of offroad motorcyclists spread out over the track all dressed in bright motocross racing gear chatting amongst themselves. I stopped to say hello exchanging a few words in random broken languages. I bade them “Tchau” and continued north at a leisurely pace before they raced past ten minutes later, hare and tortoise fashion with me with my home on my back. I stopped briefly at where I camped in the pines where the dog originally appeared to see if she had returned but the place was deserted and quiet apart from the sound of my horn as I cruised down the track. No point in hanging around, I’d be back to camp here later anyway.

Woods and rain5km of Asphalt brought me back to the Sao José dosAusentes I thought I’d never see again and pulled into the petrol station to meet the Waving and cheering Rideout group again. they fussed over my Peru plate and jostled for a group photo around the bike. I should have taken a picture but I was keen to get down to the cafe to see if the dog was there. Saturday, the town was quiet. Ordering a coffee and sitting at a table I said: “No little dog today?” The proprietor recounted to her assistant about the dog that orbited me around the table three days ago but no mention of seeing it since.

I felt disappointed about not seeing how it turned out for her but it’s my own fault. Sao José is a fine little town full of friendly people, children and dogs. I think it’s likely she found a good home. Meanwhile, I was struggling to find WiFi or get money out of the ATM. The proprietor at Casa Cesa said the internet was down as I attempted to pay for my coffee with a series of rejected cards and advised to try again later. Cash was evaporating fast and my wallet becoming slim.

Casa Cesa RestauranteWhile I drank my coffee and enjoyed some cake, the afternoon clouds rolled in and unloaded their heavy burden via streaming silver rods that shattered themselves on the cobbles. I ordered another coffee and sipped its milky warmth while looking out of the window. After the rain stopped. I strapped on my helmet and swung the bike back up the hill against the streams of water bubbling down the edges of the street, onto the main road turning back to the woods. The air was cold through my fleece and more rain felt imminent from the grey sky. The rocky slope down to the woods looked perilously slick. I stopped the engine and rolled down the slope using the clutch as a rear brake so I could release my foot from the rear brake pedal and steady myself using both legs. I slid from side to side over the rocks but did not fall. My tyres cut a tell-tale trail in the mud along the track and into the woods. My tent was up just before a heavy shower. Returning to the trail to disguise my track I’d found the weather had wiped it for me and I unpacked what I needed for the night.

Tent view bikeIt rained for two whole days and nights. No phone, kindle, power or wifi. All I had were my thoughts and the rain fizzing on the tent between the drumming drips from the branches of the pines; the longest continuous spell of rain I’ve known in South America, cold too and I huddled down in my jacket and sleeping bag.

On the third day, The clouds crept away and the morning sun cast shadows on the tent through the trees. Let there be light, and hopefully warmth. My cheapo Chinese sleeping bag couldn’t hold its own against these cooler temperatures… I was fed up hanging around in these woods and quickly packed away to spend an afternoon at Casa Cesa in my new role as a pet detective. No sign of any dog. If fate meant us to meet again it would have happened by now but at least I had made peace with myself. My concern now was the depleted cash and inability to withdraw any from the ATMs. So I set off on the 45km trip to Bom Jesus to shift this financial logjam.

The 285 westward was fast and smooth asphalt with no traffic but moving through the bright clear afternoon caused the cool air to penetrate my clothes. A break in the cloud released some spears of sunlight to the ground and I stopped at the roadside for 5 minutes in the transient sunbeam to break from the cold and warm my soul. The next leg, short enough to ignore the cold saw me into the centre of Bom Jesus.

Cruising around the town, I discover a Bradesco Bank, almost with a halo of salvation around its physical presence. Feelings of elation accompanied me out through the glass door clutching a fistful of paper notes, relieved to have extracted some cash from its ATM.

Bom Jesus CafeI set about looking for a new camping spot. Bom Jesus is busier than San José. No pitching opportunities before entering the town from the north and nothing after exiting the town to the south; more fences, less open land or accessible woods. I swung a U-turn back north and 2 km to Bom Jesus and stopped at a small cafe and asked for food. Either Cheese Pasty or Meat Pasty was as far as the menu extended washed down with some instant coffee.

Bom Jesus CafeA man walked in after noticing my Peruvian plate and shook my hand, talking excitedly in Portuguese about his bike and his own travels. He lived not far away and worked in the town so I asked if he knew where I could camp. He said one moment and disappeared through the back door of the cafe. He returned telling me that the owner of the garage next door said I could sleep in his sheltered work-space and showed me an oily panel of wood on the earth floor. Perfect I said and set up the tent. The owner’s wife unlocked the bathroom for the night and locked up the main workshop before leaving me to my own devices.

Bom Jesus CafeThe wifi I had from the Cafe was still strong here and I had an electric socket within extension lead distance. The cold wind wafted the smell of engine oil and rattled the unsecured fabric of the tent due to the inability to use tent pegs.

Bom Jesus Cafe

If I wasn’t inside, it might have blown away…

Bom Jesus Cafe

Cambara to Bom Jesus

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Cambara do Sul

Timbre do SulCASA CESA LANCHERIA, Sao Jose dos Ausentes. I was ready to go and busied to pack up the bike. The dog scuttled around my feet but when I finished and looked around she had gone. I took that as my cue to leave avoiding an awkward moment and then felt an unexpected sense of guilt and loss as I exited the city.

Casa Cesa RestauranteI never saw her again and experienced pangs of regret riding away all that day but it was mission accomplished, in a practical sense.

I cruised along the BR285 to the RS020 junction to Cambara do Sul. On the map, the major route follows the RS020 but, on the planet, the better road surface continues to the woods where I camped, which explained why I was confused about how I ended up at my recent camping location.

RS020, Santa CatarinaI found the stony track difficult to exceed 15km/h and rattled along the dusty trail for hours in the white-hot sunlight. I met a hiking couple and no matter that I announce “Falo poco Portugues,” they continued talking anyway and I picked out what I could understand.

Sign to CambaraStopping to rest next to a river at the end of a bridge, Adriano, a rider from Santa Maria on a Suzuki Vstrom pulls up next to me and we chat a while before he hands me one of his stickers and rumbles off over the stones. I follow his dusty wake a minute later. A sign to Cambara indicates a hairpin junction and I turn right, 180 degrees and down the hill. 5km further on, I meet Adriano coming the other way on his Vstrom telling me Cambara is straight on at the hairpin. We both got caught by the half-obscured sign. I wondered how far he actually got as I shuffled a three-point turn on the gravel track.

Reaching asphalt again felt almost orgasmic. “Oh, yes!” Silky smooth progress. I clicked up through the day’s unused higher gears and gained some momentum, no longer wrestling the handlebars fighting the marble-like stones from trying to slide the bike from beneath me. The upgraded wind stream through my clothes cooled the sweat on my skin and I ticked off the last 15km to soon arrive in Cambara.

CafeThe Tourist Information office gave me a leaflet of a local campsite that looked far too expensive. Tourist Information here had no WiFi so I left to find a cafe in the town. With Wifi, I could see that the canyons weren’t too far away and felt sure there would be camping opportunities along the way to one of them. I chose Fortaleza then paid for my coffee…

As usual, the road surface reverted to ‘terra’ after a few kilometres and I rattled my unsteady way over a blend of gravel and loose cricket ball sized rocks. a man in a pickup waved me down and said the park was closed for the day. Asking where I could camp, he said back at the ‘asfalto’ a few km back which tacitly marks the edge of the park. I bounced my way back and took a left turn and up over a ridge of a logging track within sight of the asphalt and into some felled forest.

Deforested CampI judged myself to be close enough, out of sight of the road and the track looked as if it only services logging traffic. The sun had just sunk behind the treetops on the western ridge but I had ample time to break out the tent I’d found at Bom Jardim da Serra and work out how to pitch it.

Fortaleza The tent was soaked through but clean, free of mould and in good condition. My mattress kept me from wetting the sleeping bag on the groundsheet. Twilight fell and the logged forest became deathly silent in the darkness except for a single witch-like scream of an unknown creature that had the sent an involuntary shudder down my spine. Earlier, I’d seen a small wolf-like creature cross the road. I wondered if it were that.

I took longer than usual to get to sleep. I thought about the little dog again and wondered how she was fairing back in Sao Jose dos Ausentes. The convenient parting without a proper farewell hadn’t sat well with me and felt the urge to return to make amends – even along the rocky unappealing RS020. Maybe she was still there, maybe not, but if I presented myself it gave ‘fate’ a chance to offer redemption and peace of mind. Sometimes practicality isn’t the ultimate aim when feelings are involved.

Fortaleza CampThe dew soaked morning awaited the sun to climb over the eastern tree line to dry out the world. I wanted the tent one dry before packing it away but I had time to wait and so emerged from the damp interior into the cool, dewy air to bathe and shave in the nearby stream. the water looked clean, and healthy looking plants appeared to confirm it but whatever minerals the water carried prevented the soap from lathering.

Fortaleza CanyonFrom the car park, Fortaleza Canyon is a fair hike along a rough stony path that winds its way up to a summit to the Northeast – may be a kilometre and a half. It’s the best place to start as you can see all the other paths that follow the rim and back to the car park. Looking at it turned out more rewarding to the walk. There was nothing to better that view.

Fortaleza CanyonBack at the car park, a family from Rio de Janeiro had noticed my Peru plate and approach me as I’m about to leave. They follow my account of where I’d been with interest and then part with a firm handshake. I take off before them but they soon overtake me with a honk and a wave, leaving me in a cloud of dust hanging all along the trail. A few km further on I see their car stopped with a pile of luggage on the verge. A puncture from one of the large pointed rocks. I stop to help and offer some problem-solving assistance for assembling the peculiar jack and some grunt to slacken the wheel nuts. I don’t feel I actually did a lot but they’re excessively thankful.

ItaimbezinhoI followed them into Cambara and passed them as they pulled into the tyre shop and I took the next bend to the cafe I’d found yesterday to recharge the laptop and upload some pictures. Checking the map, Itaimbezinho Canyon was just 20km south, so I checked the route out of the city and tried my luck at arriving before 5pm closing. It was only 3.30 but the state of yesterday’s track left some uncertainty in the timing. Exiting the city I was disappointed to see the end of the asphalt right on the city limit. Fortaleza had the decency to offer a few km into the countryside, at least to the edge of the park.

ItaimbezinhoItaimbezinho was different. a long stretch of undulating ‘terra’ although offering a finer surface than the rocky road to Fortaleza. At the gate to the park, 2km of opulent asphalt leading to a modern and spacious visitor centre. I had cheated the angry thunderclouds all the way from Cambara to the gatehouse but not between the gatehouse and the visitor centre when they released their heavy load. I walked into the building just as the water was starting to penetrate my base layer and browsed the visitor exhibits indoors while the shower passed.

ItaimbezinhoItaimbezinho is a more compact site, better organized than Fortaleza and more picturesque. The rain had eased off as I walked the trail but the Storm was pushing clouds through the canyon and rumbling away in the distance. The next downpour held off until I returned to the Visitor Centre and I joined the staff indoors waiting for a break in the torrent so they could close up and go home. the storm eased off enough that they could make it to their car and one of them gave me a disposable rain mac to encourage me on my way. It wasn’t raining hard but enough to soak through my jeans again within half a kilometre. Visibility was difficult too. With the rain on my visor, I couldn’t see the stones too well but the potholes illuminated themselves with reflections of the silver sky.

ItaimbezinhoMy mind set about working out where I was going to camp. I remembered passing a cafe on the way that had a grassy patch in their car park. Perhaps they’d let me use that. I pulled in and waddled to a table like John Wayne in an attempt to keep the wet denim off my skin. After warming up with a couple of Coffees and a sandwich, I asked if I could possibly pitch my tent in the car park on their patch of green grass. 30 reals was the short answer but if I didn’t need the shower or WiFi, it would be free if just to ‘pose’ for the night.

Cafe Boca da SerraI explained that I didn’t need WiFi or a Shower. Technically, I had just had one, but I would buy breakfast in the morning. The rain hammered down again. Daniela told me it would be better to pitch in the porch because it was so wet and safer from the roaming cows and horses. Her husband cleared a table away to make room. I ordered a beer to round off the day and the cafe closed behind me as I stepped out to pitch the tent.

Boca da SerraThe tent was up before dark and I had no WiFi so I had plenty of time to ruminate, meditate and finally nod off…

Itaimbezinho Cambara Rainbow Cafe Boca da Serra sign

 

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São José dos Ausentes

RS020 BridgeCAMBARA DO SUL. A very innocent looking 165km blue squiggle on Google Maps. I planned to pick up the RS020 40km away at São Joaquim. I reached São Joaquim quickly over the silky smooth road surface between the alien looking araucária trees.

Araucária Trees

Araucária TreesThereon, without GPS, the direction to the RS020 out of the other side of the city became vague at best. I pulled in to the Tourist Information office just as it started to rain so I made use of the Wifi and shelter to try to memorise the route on google maps. The rain was slow to pass and eased just enough for me to surrender to my impatience and took to riding in the passing shower’s drizzly tail.

GPS SignsTwo blocks northeast and a right turn looked straight forward on the screen. But riding on it didn’t look like a route to anywhere. The centre line of the road out of the city slowly dissolved into the wet asphalt and the road surface gradually blended into the surface of the earth. A stony track like this wasn’t my idea of a road that deserved a designated route number and, until I could see a signpost, I was uncertain I was on the right road.

Rough tracks make for slow unsteady progress. The rain and clouds gradually evaporated into the blue sky of a bright, Brazilian afternoon and the kilometres slowly rattled away with the stones beneath the tyres. If I could make 40km/h I was doing well. Sometimes 25km/h was kinder to the suspension.

The road wound through the rural valley and I stopped at a shack and barrier to ask directions. I’m glad I did because the direction was through a barrier that looked like an entrance to private property.

Sao Jose dos Ausentes Waypoint.I had no idea why it was there but I passed through it with the advice to follow the river, not that I could see it from the road along the way.

GPS SignsAt a junction, a sign pointed left to Monte Negro, recommended to visit but I wasn’t in the mood for the extended 20km battering there and back again over stone and gravel. My stomach was complaining about missing lunch and I paused across the river bridge into Silveira to see if Google maps was still open on my laptop and check for location and the proximity of cafes. The laptop had slipped out of standby. It sometimes does that when the battery shakes loose. This means that a full restart loses the cached web pages that were open and instead shows the little dinosaur and reports “There is no Internet connection.”

Folding away the laptop, I noticed a black and brown dog laying in the ditch next to me. It looked like it was sleeping, only it was suspiciously motionless in full sun… so perhaps recently dead. I kept my distance in case it was either dead and diseased or alive and vicious.

SilveiraTo my left, a young mother with her baby daughter laughing and splashing in the shallow rapids of the river beneath the shade of a broken umbrella. Life to the left, death to the right. Bookmarks on an existential moment in an uncertain journey… a reminder for gratitude for what I have while I have it, perhaps…

Up the hill and through the sun-baked cobbled streets of the sleepy village, a restaurant with open windows, net curtains swaying in the breeze. There’s a new stranger in town, boots clumping over the floorboards. Me, the only customer, eating too much food for too much money.

My stomach changed the nature of its complaint while I tended to more pressing matter, searching for my relative location using the local WiFi. I was still 21km from São José dos Ausentes and Cambara do Sul was 75km. I wouldn’t make Cambara before dark, even at higher speeds over smoother roads. It’s late already and my estimated speed put São José still an hour away.

As the afternoon wore on, I started thinking about where to camp and scanned the pine forests at the side of the road. I spotted an open gate but a chain and padlock hung loosely on it. Yes, I could camp, but I didn’t want to wake up in the morning locked in, however, small the risk. Puddled potholes down the logging tracks mirrored the dank sky and the soft wet tracks looked a poor invitation into the trees but I kept on looking along the way.

Sao Jose dos AusentesThe late afternoon storm clouds start to thicken, right on time, as if by guarantee in this part of the world and I arrive at glorious asphalt at São José dos Ausentes under a matching grey sky.  I accelerate over the rotunda and left along the BR285. The race becomes against the weather instead of the fading light. If I could make Vale De Trutas or the Mirante near Timbre do Sul I’d be happy but the rain beat me to it. The asphalt ends suddenly at a sharp right dogleg that degrades into dirt track and the choices are: up, following the muddy track or down over the rubble, into a gateway to follow a wide rocky track bisecting a pine forest. I opt for the rocky entrance and hope for shelter in the trees.

CampThis track had been banked, carved and levelled of the undulating landscape, making entering the woods difficult as there is either ditch or embankment at the edge of the track. A gate suggests this is a driveway to farmland and encourages a U-turn but I finally notice a level section where the land rises to the level of the road to be able to turn off the track and into the trees. With the rumble of thunder and spattering of rain, I’m eager to pitch the tent so I power through the deep carpet of pine needles as far as possible into the woods until the ground slopes steeply down to a wire fence.

The tent is up before the water starts dripping through the canopy of the forest and I’m soon comfortably pitched on a bed of pine needles, sheltered from the pattering raindrops.

Woods and rainI’m about 60 metres in and I trot over to the track to see how visible I am. My mirrors reflect the sky so I put my gloves over them but otherwise, I can only be seen if I look directly into the woods when the straight line of pine trunks line up. These trees are planted in ranks. It’s likely I’m trespassing so I’ll stay low key for as long as I need to.

Tent view bikeAlthough it’s only about 6pm the rain and shade make for a gloomy light in the tent. without the Kindle, there isn’t much to do and I lay back and daydream until it gets dark and I eventually fall into real dreams.

Tent view bike sunThe warm fingers of the morning creep across the orange carpet of pine needles and massaging me out of my slumber, I string up the hammock wearing loose boots and loose clothing and decide to spend a day here with the thought that if I’m not spending money on travel or lodging then I’m extending my budget toward the next payday from my letting agent. I have a stash of peanuts to graze on if I don’t fancy a day’s fasting.

ChihuahuaLying in the hammock basking in the natural ambience, I hear a rustling from the tent and raise my head to see a rusty orange coloured chihuahua rummaging through my things. I lift it out and drop it onto the matching carpet of pine needles and it scuttles around me wagging its tail with excitement before turning onto its back. I step out of the way because my dad’s chihuahua starts to piss on you when it does that but I notice this one’s female and doesn’t come with the same feature.

Chihuahua HammockThe dog’s presence is a puzzle since there’re no houses close by and the dog doesn’t want to leave. A couple of cars pass along the lane during the day and the little dog sits up and whimpers. I half expected someone to appear as is common with dog walkers in the UK but dogs appear to roam free in South America, Owned or stray…

What to do? Pet-friendly accommodation, dog food, travel on the bike. Weighing up the liabilities. What was she doing here? There was no-one about. two cars passed during the day and she would perk up and cry so I guessed she was likely lost or abandoned. I had no food so none to give her but I shared my last half litre of water. We walked down the lane but she gave no sign of acknowledgement of the farmhouse up on the hill and followed me back to the tent.

Chihuahua TentShe spent a quiet night in my tent snuggled down on the bundled up hammock, quiet as a mouse and not that much bigger.

It felt good having some company, however small, but I couldn’t take her with me. The next morning, She ran around while I packed away and wondered if she thought she was being abandoned. It was hard work powering the rough the deep pine needles and out to the track with a cold engine and A truck passed down the lane when I was about 15 metres from the edge of the forest and I wondered if he’d seen my headlight but he carried on without stopping. I emerged with the little dog scuttling behind. The track was rough with a steep rocky slope and I had to commit to at least 4000 revs in first gear if I wasn’t to stall and fall back. I barely stayed on the bucking saddle of the bike but made the top with the little dog still following close.

At the top of the slope was the bend and the road back to São José dos Ausentes so I stopped the bike on the asphalt where the ground was more even and lifted the little dog onto the petrol tank and gently pulled away lifting my legs at the same time to give her some stability. We sped along at 70km/h over the smooth dry road and turned left into the village to look for a cafe for breakfast. I spied a Mercado, a possible source of dog food for later.

Casa Cesa RestauranteI pulled up outside Casa Cesa Lancheria &Bazar and lowered the dog to the floor before dismounting and pulling out my laptop to recharge and connect to the WiFi. There was no wifi but I ordered some food and coffee. The dog followed me in unnoticed. and orbited my table. I ignored her. the owners soon noticed the dog and shooed the dog outside and I ignored her. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain the whole tale so it seemed easier to pretend she wasn’t mine which was true anyway. She came back in a few times and I gave her some of my food while no-one was looking. the little girl tempted the dog out with some pastries as well.

When I was ready to go I busied to pack the bike. The dog ran around my feet but when I finished and looked down, she had disappeared from view. I took that as my cue to leave avoiding an awkward moment and quickly left, harbouring an unexpected feeling or loss and guilt for abandoning her. That was to be the last I ever saw of her.

On the surface, this seemed mission accomplished but underneath I was left with the unexpected feeling that I had somehow betrayed the trust of a living soul. At best she was out of the woods and now in a place where she could find food and a new home. At worst, she was now far away from her owner, wherever that was, but I would have felt far worse leaving her behind in the woods to possibly starve and carry the memory of the little dog in my mirrors chasing my bike as I went on my way…

Pousad do Papagaios to Sao Jose dos Ausentes

 

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Serra Do Rio Do Rastro

Serra do Rio do RastroCHECKING OUT OF Motogaragem and bidding a reluctant farewell. I packed away and joined the SC110 south for the Trilha da Cascata do Avencal, only 10km down the road.

Two cars parked in the shade of the trees at the trailhead, a remote enough place that I wasn’t worried about leaving my worldly belongings strapped to the bike unattended.

Cachoeira do AvancalMore a clamber up a drying rocky river bed than a hike, the view and cooling spray of the tall slender waterfall was worth the fifteen-minute ramble over perilous slick boulders. The sun beat down hot on my head but the fine mist cooled my body and revealed its perpetual rainbow.

Cachoeira Avancal75km isn’t far on immaculate asphalt and sweeping through the bends in sparse traffic, bathed in Santa Catarina’s golden sunlight. The warmth of the Brazilian air blew the disappointment of the loss of the phone out of my bones into my wake on the SC110.

Turning left onto the SC390 didn’t present many opportunities for refreshment and I took lunch at a small non-descript Cafe that had a limited selection of flavourless food presented with indifferent service. Even so, it was a welcome break.

Serra do Rio do RastrosLate afternoon, the sky began to darken in the east, bringing with it a damp and penetrating chill. I thought about stopping to unpack my coat but I had already passed through Bom Jardim da Serra which is just 10 minutes from Serra do Rio do Rastro. I just gritted my chattering teeth and shivered out the last handful of kilometres.

Mirante do Serra do Rio do RastroThe Mirante da Serra do Rio do Rastro perches on the lip of the canyon that descends quickly to the lowlands and I coast into the spacious car park to join the numerous bikes parked at the viewpoint in the corner. I dismount, remove my helmet and peer over the railing at the serpentine route down the mountainside. Just before it disappears from view in a haze of cloud ascending the mountainside. Was that going to be it?

My Peruvian plate on the Pequeno moto attracts the attention of the other bikers and my ego enjoys the social interaction before rain starts to spatter on the paving of the lookout. “Give it 10 minutes and it will pass.” one of the brotherhood of bikers tells me. I stroll purposefully toward the restaurant across the car park for shelter, warmth and a coffee while the rain passed over for the next half hour.

CoatiBack at the railing, with the sky now blue and clear, the view extends all the way to the town of Laura Muller and beyond, 15km away. Two audacious coaties roam the viewpoint and boldly mug anyone holding a snack. A little girl squeals and tries to run away to no avail, a coati gives chase and swipes her bag of chips, leaving her mother to mop up the little girl’s tears.

A couple approach and tell me they have a Pousada in Bom Jardim 60R$ including breakfast opposite the College. I promise them I’ll see them later. Since I’ve seen no secluded camping spot along the way and the air here is cool and damp, I settle for the Pousada. Feeling cold and tired tends to nudge my budget limits upward.

Pousada do PapagaiosLooking for Pousada Do Papagaios I now notice how many pousadas in Bom Jardim there are, many more than I noticed the first time through but I stick with my promise pausing near a man outside a church to ask where the college was. He points to a building about a block away next to the Police Station and my wheels soon crackle over the loose black stones chips of the driveway to the warm welcome of Pousada Do Papagaios. I’m instructed to park the bike inside the cafeteria which is open to the driveway via double garage-sized doors and I settle at the table next to my bike and enjoy a hot coffee.

Pousada do Papagaios CantinaTelmo ignites the barbecue by launching a match into the gasoline-soaked pit and a ball of flame blows itself out of the fireplace and up the chimney of the Barbecue. Anna makes me another coffee before showing me my double sized ensuite room. The building is built of bare wood suggesting any time frame of the last few hundred years. I could be on the set of a Western. The planks are without soundproofing so noise travels easily between the rooms. despite that, the place has a rustic charm complimented by the warm friendliness of Telmo and Anna.

Pousad do Papagaios RoomI surf the net for a while before two bikes roll in. Two couples that I’d bumped into at the Mirante with their partners. “Ah Ingles!” One of the women says. They sit at the table across from me and I abandoned by the animated Portuguese chatter. I’m half present while I’m online checking messages and posting updates, getting fed barbecue buffet which appears to be complimentary.

I turn in about 10.00 and lay in bed waiting for the noise in the cantina to die down before quickly falling asleep before it finished.

I pack up and load the bike to leave for Laura Muller straight after breakfast, a warm and sunny day brightening the view and turning up the colour on the Mirante. Shortly after setting off down the road to the pass, I notice Canyon Rondo and take a detour to that 4km rattling over loose gravel to stroll along the ridge and among the wind turbines. I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t so eager to ride the Serra.

Serra do Rio do RastroThe Serra is a pleasure to ride but you need the neck of a Giraffe to enjoy a good view over the parapets. The road runs wet where the water continually spills off the mountain so I cautiously lean around the bends. The town of Laura Muller is deserted. Sunday, maybe people are at church and I roll up to a cafe for lunch as the only customer to check the map. From here I want to go to Cambara do Sul, which is back up the Serra.

I ride back up to the Serra unsuccessfully looking for camping spots There was a campsite near Canyon Rondo but I didn’t fancy riding 4km over rugged terrain again. I decided to return to Pousada Do Papagaios unpacked and settled back in my old room.

Telmo suggested I go to see Canyon Laranjeiras and drew me a map. 12KM north into the countryside past the end of a dead-end track. I booked another night so I didn’t have to cart my luggage along.

TrailThe next morning, Telmo drove me to the start of the trail with me following on the bike, since that was easier than trying to explain where it was. I waved and headed up the dusty trail. I passed a sign scanning it for places beginning with L, nothing so continued. At the 12KM mark there was no sign of the farm at the end of the track that is the start of the trail or a hint that the trail would end soon. I double back and notice at the sign that I missed “aranjeiras” The missing L of Laranjeiras threw me but if I’d have stopped to check the map, I would have avoided the 16 KM detour.

Canyon Laranjeiras FarmerI paid my 10R$ to the farmer, he inspected Telmos map to make sure I didn’t need a guide and pointed to the start of the trail up an escarpment that disappeared into woods. The sun beat down between the trees making the 2KM hike thirsty work. I carried a one-litre bottle and had finished it before arriving at a crystal clear stream near the lip of the canyon. The water tasted cool and clean, babbling over sun-bleached rocks before continuing down the gulley to dramatically spill over the rim into the canyon.

Canyon LaranjerasThe edge of the canyon was sharp a 90-degree angle over the rock to the sheer face of the canyon. I lay on my stomach, white knuckles over the ledge and pulled myself to peer over the edge at the terrifying 200-metre drop below. I’m not great with heights so sat back from the edge for taking photos at arm’s length. I had the place to myself.

The canyon stretched to the left around a bend behind some trees out of sight and the right disappearing into some distant woodland. I turned to the right and followed the edge as far as a waterfall and river too wide to cross. Not wanting to backtrack over familiar ground, I followed the river bank and decided to take a shortcut over the field. The lush looking pasture turned out to conceal soggy marsh and I tried hopping across the clumps of course grass for keeping my feet dry.

This shortcut felt like a mistake. Progress was slow and difficult and I’d crossed five separate sections before I could see the path at the stream where I filled my bottle. Catching my eye, a silver coloured bundle nestling in the long damp grass. Picking it up, a Quechua Quick Hiker Ultralight Tent… Quality kit. someone had waded across here before and were likely very disappointed later on to discover themselves homeless without their tent. The grey bag had been bleached silver by the sun and easy to tear. I picked it up and the grass beneath was brown and dead. Clearly, it had lain here for some time, maybe months. I clipped the straps around my satchel and continued to path at the stream.

StreamReaching the stream, I kicked off my boots and stripped off for a refreshing bathe then sat on a rock eating Anna’s packed lunch drying off in the warm breeze and yellow sunshine.

Bom JardimCresting a rise on the trail, the view of Bom Jardim on my return is a homely and welcoming sight. Telmo and Anna feel like family despite our language barrier. Enjoying the lunch near the stream made by Anna augmented that feeling and felt even more precious than the stunning view of the canyon itself.

While beautiful locations can be pursued and admired, its the social encounters that bring them life and meaning…

Serra do Rio do Rastro

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MotoGaragem

MotoGaragemRUBBING MY EYES and peering under the flap into the low, grey misty cloud at the side of the road on the Morro da Igreja, I could be anywhere in the world. There would be no checking the GPS, telling the time or anything phone related. I zip up the flap again and lay back in my sleeping bag recalling the last images of the map. Urubici wasn’t far away. It was my waypoint for turning south to wherever next. Without the GPS and all the other phone apps, The game had changed.

Gateway CampI heard a couple of trucks go by but not much else. All seemed still and quiet on the side of the mountain road. Thinking wasn’t helping me much. I flipped up the lid on the laptop, the screen flickering out of standby into life: “Wednesday 23rd January 8:47am” and I closed the lid again putting it back to sleep. The feeling of boredom finally exceeded the resistance to packing away and I wriggled out of the sleeping bag.

Gateway campThe tent was soaked with dew and my socks and boots had made no attempt to dry out in the damp mountain air overnight and I retrieved a pair of dry socks from a bag so as to ease the discomfort of slipping on wet boots. The tent was rolled away into a soggy roll and the bags strapped back to the bike. After yesterday’s expedition, the bike posed on its stand showing off its adventurous new mud livery, sure it looked a mess but it added to the story of its own life.

Without the phone, I couldn’t measure time. Without the odometer, I couldn’t measure distance. In my favour, Urubici was the first town with an intersection across the 370, no more than 30km away at a guess. In fact, it turned out to be the first town west of me at all.

SC370 led me to the cobbled intersection a Urubici’s only traffic light within the hour and I turned south to look for a cafe for breakfast. I reached a Plaza south of the town without finding anywhere open and parked up to bask in the warmth of the sunlit park, kicking off my boots draping my socks over the handlebars to dry off.

Biblioteca UrubiciAcross the road stood a reluctant looking Biblioteca and I crossed intending to use the Wifi. Inside presented no recognizable library. but a collection of offices and what appeared to resemble a primary school classroom. I asked for WiFi in my best Portuguese and was led and pointed toward the toilets. I thanked the kind lady, washed my hands and face and exited.

Vo Maris PanaderiaMounting the bike, I coasted slowly back northward over the cobbles to finally discover a bakery that was open. Coffee and cake for breakfast and, more importantly, WiFi and electricity for my laptop. I wanted to check iOverlander.com and Google maps on the PC for somewhere to stay and to plot my onward route. Life feels a little bit more fragmented without the cellphone but the PC is able to paste over those cracks.

I recalled my truck driving days in the era before GPS. I had developed navigation skills and the spacial awareness that got me out to unfamiliar destinations and back daily. Rekindling those abilities became a refreshing way to ride, extending my perception and experience of my environment. A couple of comments over Facebook suggested putting the phone in a bag of rice to dry it out.

Felipe Miranda, MotoGaragemYesterday’s excursion had worked up a hunger, which the cakes and pastries slowly turned to a sweet, nauseating feeling of excess. I was on my third coffee when Filipe Miranda introduced himself, letting go of one of his crutches to shake my hand. He was curious about the little Yamaha with Peruvian plate and recommended a hostel called MotoGaragem just two blocks away. He said something about closed in the afternoon but I couldn’t work out when. Was it before 4pm or after 4pm?

After a couple of hours in the bakery, I rode to the supermarket to buy some rice, slicing open the bag at the checkout to insert the phone before exiting to continue to MotoGaragem.

MotoGaragem was closed and deserted, although the gate was unlocked. I let myself in, parked and spread my wet things across a bench in the Sun before resting back in a yellow plastic chair beneath the shade of a gazebo in the drive. To the right of the driveway, were what resembled secure storage units and beyond the gazebo stood a two-story chalet with balcony on the top floor.

There was nothing I needed to do and there was nothing available for me to do either. No kindle to read since the phone took a dive but I was happy enough just sitting there, waiting, watching my boots dry while the phone sunbathed in its jacket of rice.

Forty minutes later, A young woman walked through the gate, clearly aware that there was a hostel customer waiting. Filipe must have called her. She unlocked the upstairs floor of the chalet and showed me the double rooms and a bathroom. 70R$ she said. Luxury! I felt I’d earned that after recent events and I put my thumbs up in the universal language of accord. I was the only guest so I felt like I had an apartment to myself.

Drying Socks, MotoGaragem StyleMaria hurried away and I retrieved my socks, boots and bag of rice with phone to spread around the balcony, then spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the blog.

The room had an air conditioner but with the doors open, a dry breeze kept the temperature a comfortable subtropical level while I sat back on the bed tapping away on the keyboard.

Blogging is a delicate balance between physical travel and using time to create edit so that I have actual material to publish. It feels like a full-time job but for no pay, really. Of course, money isn’t everything but I have to think of how to replace things like drowned phones and continually provide for food and shelter. I feel that the work I do should sustain me but it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s the value that other’s place on my output that determines the return.

Thinking about all that gets too depressing so best to wind it all back to one question: “Do I enjoy keeping the blog?” and the answer is “Yes,… mostly.” Blogging is more than just writing. Administration, collating images and notes takes a lot of time and organisation. All that stuff is not so much fun. Underneath everything, blogging adds a feeling of purpose otherwise absent in simply wandering the Earth.

Later on, I hear voices downstairs, I slip on sun-dried socks and amble into the reception. Filipe is there. It turns out he’s the owner of the hostel. Also, Rebeca Bonel the speed-walker in black I had passed yesterday up on Morrow da Igreja I ask her how she speaks English so well. “Movies.” She’s not the first I met that has learned English via movies – complete with American accent.

Yesterday, Rebeca had wondered where I’d gone after I’d passed her and noticed my bike and tent in the gateway further down the road on her walk. Rebeca translated for Filipe since his English and my Portuguese were so limited.

Filipe leaned heavily on his crutches taking the pressure off his leg. A few months before, he T-boned a car as it suddenly Uturned on the SC 370 breaking his leg in seven places and wrecking his Suzuki V-Strom. He was to be on crutches nine more months. Meanwhile, he runs a graphic design and T’shirt business together with MotoGaragem hostel.

MotoGaragem RoomThe next day, Filipe offered to move me downstairs to one of the units that hosts a double bed plus space to park the motorcycle. I’m not fussed but accept and make room in the chalet for a trio of bikers from Sao Paulo, which I think is the real motivation. It felt strange sharing a room with the bike but I liked it. A proper man-cave and I sat back on the bed surfing the internet while the bike rested on its main stand in preparation for removing the front wheel for troubleshooting the speedo fault.

Man CaveThe speedo cable is the weak spot but I had already replaced that in Asuncion. Even so, I disconnected it to check to feel the inner spin at both ends and as I span the front wheel. The wheel would spin but the gear wouldn’t turn. the washer that connected the wheel to the gear had bent outward so the flat edges wouldn’t lock onto the cam. This washer was secured with a circlip which needed a circlip tool to remove.

SESCFilipe appeared and invited me to lunch at Sesc, a cafeteria packed with locals enjoying a great value buffet. I’d just removed the wheel, so recently that I was still scrubbing the grease off my hands when Filipe was shouting Vamos through the door hurrying me up for driving around the corner to the restaurant. Over lunch, he recommended I take the wheel hub to a moto mechanic named Edson who runs the Moto shop near the traffic lights.

Edson Moto MechanicEdson could understand me far easier than most Brazilians because he was deaf and so didn’t get confused by my Portuguese pronunciation. He’d watch body language and listen to intention, taking the whole scene into account. He abandoned his work on a Honda elevated on a jack and set about dismantling the speedo gear with circlip pliers, greasing and tapping the washer back into shape. All resolved in two or three minutes. He didn’t want anything for it but I gave him 10R$ and heartfelt expressions of gratitude.

I liked MotoGaragem but it was a bit above my budget at what turned out to be 75R$ but I treated myself to three nights.

UrubiciDuring my retreat at MotoGaragem, I took the bike up the hill that overlooks Urubici at Filipe’s suggestion. My first off-road stint since my failed search for the waterfall and at least the bike was unladen with my luggage back at the hostel. I felt a pang of pleasure seeing the speedo needle respond to motion and the odometer click up the digits as I scaled the steep track. After relaxing on the peak, admiring the spectacular view over the town, I descended for another Sesc buffet before venturing 10km west, at Rebeca’s suggestion, to Morro do Campestre.

Morro de CampestreRiding around on an unloaded bike for pleasure is different from the continuous journey I find myself on. I ferry different thoughts with me and relax with no other agenda than to be “out for the day.”

The Sao Paulo dudes were drinking beer under the Gazebo when I returned. I spoke with them for a little while but retired to my room because I found the language barrier too wearing. I didn’t know Rebeca had turned up later so I’d missed her visit.

I’d settled for Social Media in place of real company before drifting to sleep to the sound of muted Portuguese conversation outside my door.

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The Eagle Has Landed

Gas StationTHE FUEL STATION had been a rejuvenating haven for the last hour. My mind had been on the fuel gauge nudging empty most of the way climbing out of Braço do Norte toward Serra do Corvo Branco, which took a little shine out of the experience.

Serra HairpinRiding over the Serra had been a real treat and I failed to get the best photographs of it by not knowing the relatively short length of the pass. By the time I’d got my GoPro out it was nearly over and I caught the last hairpin before reaching the crest. It reminded me of El Camino de la Muerte in Bolivia although that was almost 60km long. This was what,  maybe 6…?

Serra do Corvo Branco PassAlmost mid-afternoon. Too early to retire to a hostel. A huge chunk of day waits to be carved out of the bright Santa Catarina afternoon. Maps.me shows a selection of about eight waterfalls clustered on its map not far northeast of Urubici, most of the route planners return “inaccessible” so I embark on an expedition to the most ‘accessible’ looking waterfall on the app… and perhaps I won’t need a hostel if I pitch my tent there. After all, 28km isn’t far and shouldn’t take long.

Bike and body fully refuelled and refreshed, I memorise the next few junctions of the route and accelerate out of the fuels station to retrace the last half mile to the junction for the trail toward this imagined Eden.

A pale dusty trail between fields to a right hand dogleg that tracks me along the Rio Canoas and a left-hand bend to a wooden bridge from which children are laughing and jumping into the river, entertained by the pequeno Yamaha from Peru rattling over the loose planks.

The next way point? A sharp right away from the river and second right junction with a bend to the left to reach the next bridge across another river. I remembered the route well but the scenery never matches my imagination.

Rriver bedThe road degrades into what looks like farm access and down a stony dirt slope then smooth large pebbles descending to the river. The trail leading into the water suggests a ford but there appears to be no exit on the other bank.

River  BedChecking Maps.me and zooming in, my marker is off the route. The bridge should be 20 or 30 metres back. I abandon the bike and clamber up the stony lane. There is indeed a bridge but it’s through a narrow gate to a rickety suspension footbridge less than a metre wide. Even if it were wide enough for a motorcycle, the wire structure looked incapable of enduring our combined weight. Maps.me showed this as a drivable route.

Suspension bridgeZooming out on the app, I notice another crossing not far further north. Backtracking past the farmhouses of imagined occupants looking out of the window bemused by foreign traffic along this almost impassible route, I reach the t-junction, turn right along the narrow lane and squeeze past trucks loading crates of fruit harvested from the neighbouring fields and soon cross bridge number two on the GPS: a concrete single width structure of little beauty but herculean looking strength, starkly contrasting the spindly footbridge upstream.

Second BridgeThe dry pale track slowly morphs from dusty to alternately rocky and grassy. The further I travel, the less evidence there appears of recent traffic. Maps.me reassuringly puts my location firmly over the projected route. I’m still on track all right, so give a mental shrug and carry on, powering up the rocky inclines crouching on the pegs to allow the bike to bounce over the rough terrain without my torso adding to the inertia.

The route climbs steadily into the hills in and out of woodland Drinking in the clean Brazilian air, laced with aromas of pine and eucalyptus, I’m rewarded to panoramic views over the emerald green Santa Catarina landscape bathed in golden sunlight.

Further and higher, the lane terminates at a gate to a field. In the distance, I spot an off-road motorcycle bounce its way over a ridge and disappear leaving only the sound of its engine fading into the distance and decide to follow. That was the last I saw of it but the GPS still pinned me firmly tracking its route. Distant cows and horses turn their heads as my wheels join up the vague and intermittent wheel tracks across their undulating green pasture from one gate to the next.

These gates are typical barbed wire and post affairs held taught by a loop of wire top and bottom of the gatepost. Some take a lot of grunting to get that last 2mm of wire to slip over the top of the post but are more an annoyance than a problem: dismount, drop gate, push bike through, grunt wire loop back on post, re-mount, repeat at next field.

The trail disappears again and I stop in the middle of green pasture and inspect the map. Nearly two hours of rugged torture over rocky slopes tempts me to abandon the expedition but, according to the app, my holy grail is now only 6km away. Eighty per cent there…

Guessing the path of least resistance over the pasture takes me over a grassy ridge to pick up defined wheel tracks again. The tyre tracks become more pronounced and disappear into a wide puddle through boggy ground. This vague trench seems to reveal itself by longer grass than the rest of the field as it traverses its way each side of the track in a tentative ambition to perhaps one day become a river. The water in the wheel tracks obscures its depth and the nature of the underlying ground and I try to follow the shallow edge before I’m hub deep in peaty mud.

Peat BogMaybe this is a clue that I should turn back but quitting after coming 80% distant doesn’t really inspire. No need to put the stand down, the bike remains upright as I dismount and squelch the few paces back to firm ground and take a photo.

Staring at the bike, I rue the prospect of untying those bags and then reloading so I kick the gears into neutral and heave on the bar that crosses the back wheel bracing the two sides of the luggage rack. With enough grunting and desperation of avoiding unloading the bike, it begins to move and I stagger back until it topples over to the right releasing the wheels from the mire and I fall back into half dry ruts.

Washing my hands and boots a little in the muddy puddle, I remount the bike and commit myself to a watery wheel track with enough speed to either plant me firmly in the centre of the bog, if that is my fate, or to hurtle out the other side and along the track toward whatever further obstacle awaits. Beneath the surface, the bed is firm and shallow and I cross the water smoothly without drama.

The pasture and scenery become like Exmoor back in the UK, scrubby bushes and short grass. The trail dips into boggy ground again but I notice faint wheel tracks veering away over the short grass over a ridge behind some bushes I follow those over a crest to rejoin the trail thirty metres further on. I enjoy a pleasant sensation from the minor victory of bypassing another hazard.

Random buildings in fields reinforce the feeling I’ve strayed into someone’s farm. And I continue checking the GPS for reassurance.

The trail has been rough and rocky most of the way, testing my off-road skills to the limit. The Yamaha doesn’t have low enough gearing to maintain torque and revs at low speed so I have to commit to maintaining momentum over punishing terrain if I am to make it up these inclines at all. It’s a wonder the bike holds together at all with the weight of the baggage strapped across it. And how does Maps.me know about this route as it’s barely recognisable as a trail in reality?

FordThe trail disappears into yet more water. This time, a bonafide ford, a narrow stream but with a stony bed. I don’t know how deep it is but I can see mango-sized pebbles in the shallows before the reflection of the sky on the water obscures the view halfway across. It looks harmless enough though. It’s not wide enough to be deep and also a ford.

fordingI hesitate and consider turning around but the GPS tells me my destination is now only 2km away. So close! I have hammered out 26km of rocky trail already, more than ninety per cent distance. If I can make the last 2km then I can pitch the tent and watch the sun go down from the hammock and maybe bathe in the crystal waters of the waterfall.

I spare a thought for the laptop and chargers in the bags but reassure myself that they are packed near the top of the bags and all it takes to cross is a little confidence and I’ll be through with no problem.

The bed of the stream proves rough but firm and I rattle across toward the far bank before the front wheel suddenly lurches to one side wedging itself between two boulders and I plunge my feet into the water to stop the bike from tipping over. The water is halfway up my calf and I keep the revs up unsure whether the bike’s exhaust is underwater or not. Now upright, I slowly dismount and, under its own power, walk the bike out of the stream feeling relieved that I didn’t drop the whole thing.

I’m clear of the stream and back on dry land wet trousers clinging to my calves and boots brim-full of water. I remount and continue to the next gate perhaps 200 metres away and gaze across another green, blank field. The trail clearly passes through this gate but after that, I see no evidence of its path across the grass. Horses pause their grazing to stare at me as if to ask me “What now?” A farmhouse perched on the far side of the field hints at a descent into the valley beyond where must surely nestle the elusive paradise of the waterfall.

I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve the phone and check the route on the GPS, only to find heart-stopping emptiness. I check my other pockets. No phone. Well, it couldn’t be far away since I’d checked this unbelievable route before the ford. The prime suspect was the site of the wrestling match to keep the bike falling into the water and I race back to the ford hoping to catch a glimpse of the phone on the grass.

In the murky black depths of the stream, spotting a black smartphone is impossible, but not so the coil of the white USB cable still connected to it… exactly the spot where the bike wedged itself between the boulders. I rolled up my sleeve and waded in to fish it out hoping for the best. Unplugging the USB cable prompted the screen to display “Powering Down” as if this was its dying breath, the last time I ever saw it alive… RIP GPS… RIP: Internet, Translator, Whatsapp, Kindle, Camera, Clock, Banking Authentication. Goodbye connection to the wider world…

Well what now…, 2km from my imagined paradise past a suspected farmhouse assumed to be near an undefined trail to an unconfirmed waterfall with no aid for navigation or communication? The nature of my journey had changed from one of spiritual reward to one of material loss. That feeling of loss put me out of the mood to continue altogether.

That’s it. This was enough adventure for one day…

It could be worse. The sun was still high in the sky and I still had 2 or 3 hours daylight. All I had to do was retrace the 26km back to the main road and maybe find the Morro I’d seen signposted earlier off the 370, when I was looking for a fuel station, and camp there.

Would I remember the way? It only takes one wrong turn. Yes, it was a concern but the other thought was, “So what? If it gets dark pitch your tent. No-one is coming here tonight.” Apart from one remote motorcycle and some farm trucks loading crops down in the valley I hadn’t seen any other traffic. So what? It doesn’t matter. It was only uncertainty that was causing the discomfort.

Stashing my waterlogged phone, pouring the water out of my boots and wringing out my socks, I check over the bike and prepare to rejoin civilisation. I choose the alternative wheel track across the ford to find it far smoother and cross easily without incident. Small waves of relief and regret ebbed then flowed on the shore of my consciousness. Relief that I crossed, this time, without effort and regret that this wasn’t the wheel track I’d chosen in the first place.

I move faster now, knowing the nature of the terrain ahead, gravity on my side, relying on brakes to regulate momentum rather than power, standing on the footpegs to allow the bike to move beneath me. I look for forks in the trail across the fields bypass the bogs and I plough through soft ground fast enough to cut through and reach the other side before the mud can grab my wheels.

Yet another fork in the track leads left toward a defined trail and right to an equally defined trail. I’m not certain but I take the one to the right only because I see a gate further on that has the trail continue through to the other side. It’s fifty-fifty. Time will tell.

I check the odometer for progress and notice the speedo and odometer are no longer working. Great, no GPS plus now no facility for measuring distance or speed. Even time had been measured using the phone.

I would just have to estimate time and direction by the sun and estimate distance by a function of estimated time against estimated momentum: not much better than a guess.

The sun was low enough in the sky to point the way west and high enough that I still had a couple of hours of daylight. A hand’s width on an outstretched arm between horizon and the sun equates to about an hour and one finger width to about fifteen minutes. Wisps of misty cloud shrouding these hilltops threaten fog to obscure the sun adding to the Exmoor-like experience but thankfully begins to thin out at the lower altitudes and are soon behind me.

House waypointFairly soon, I arrive at a landmark I remember, a house at a junction that I had stopped to photograph on the way. The reassurance boosts my morale and I press on down the trail.

Thighs burning from the extended crouching position riding over rough ground, I slowed a little so I could sit down over the not so rough terrain.

The trail gradually smooths out and my tyres are eventually whipping up the chalky dust between the fields at the valley floor. Pausing at an unfamiliar junction, engine burbling calmly in neutral, there’s a river on my right that should be on my left. I had already passed a turning across a bridge so that must have been the one I’d originally crossed. Doubling back the 200m I’m back on the familiar route where the trucks had been loading, the fruit trucks had now gone and the descending sun paints the dark shadows of the trees over the track and into the fields. Passing the junction leading to the suspension bridge then onto the riverside and rattling over the planks of the wooden bridge echoing the laughter of the absent children, I reach the silky smooth asphalt of the SC370 and pause at the junction to savour the warm satisfaction of my return to civilisation. “The Eagle has landed…” Not that it felt like I had been to the moon and back but that my adventure had been lost in the space of persistent uncertainty…

Turning left I estimated the Morro I had seen was maybe 10km away, maybe 15… I had no odometer anyway so I’d guess for 15 minutes with the rev counter at 6000 in top gear, as the phone’s death left me no clock and the speedometer needle was dormant at zero.

The sun was still above the horizon, barely. The return trip from the ill-fated waterfall excursion had been a lot quicker than the outward leg.. It was downhill for a start, plus I didn’t have to keep stopping to check the GPS since I no longer had one.

Morro de IgrejaAbout 15 minutes along the SC370, the sign to “Morro de Igreja” and followed it right, south along the road that zigzagged up the mountain, past construction crews resurfacing it, and through the low cloud base in and out of grey mist. It was late enough now that I already had my eyes open for “Plan B” camping sites. Spindly woods along a dubious looking lane was one, a green area in front of a farm gate was another until I finally reached the site that iOverlander indicated had a waterfall with a restaurant that allowed its reviewer to camp there.

Turning into the entrance and down the drive, a girl wearing black leggings, trainers and earphones was marching toward the road with purpose and I said Hola rolling on by, eager to pitch camp.

I coasted in past a booth displaying a “Fechado” sign and was met by a man emphasising “No, closed. Come back tomorrow.” He summoned his son who could speak a little English. He told me “No, closed, come back tomorrow.” I asked about somewhere to camp hoping he would say, “How about here on our ample grounds” but no, he said somewhere on the main road near a hump. “My sister speaks good English but she’s just gone for a walk”

I exited demoralised and passed the girl now at the road without bothering to stop to speak other than say “Tchau.” as I rode toward my “Plan B”.

Dusk was upon me and I was starting to feel cold. Checking out the dubious lane with spindly woods didn’t inspire confidence. I felt I’d be trespassing on a family estate if there is such a thing in Brazil. I continued down the road to the farm gate.

Gateway CampThere was nothing but a field entrance here. Visible from the road, being right next to it, wasn’t ideal but there was very little traffic. It was time. The sun had set, I was cold and tired. I pitched the tent in the rough grass, flattening the groundsheet over the springy weeds best I could, stripped the insoles out of my boots and draped my socks to dry over the handlebars of the bike.

Gateway campMy cold, white feet looked like dead fish due to their few hours of marinating in soaking boots. No phone, a broken speedometer, wet boots. The whole excursion to the waterfall had been a disaster but thinking about it, I was both amazed and grateful that the bike didn’t break its back over the terrain.

And wow, what an adventure, now that it was all over and its memory cemented into the certainty of the past…

Adventure and uncertainty: seems one doesn’t exist without the other…

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East of Eden

ALREADY  SWEATING AFTER packing away in the oppressive morning heat, I rolled out of the campsite and cruised along the sandy track wearing a t-shirt to the local beach thinking that was the location of the Santa Marta Lighthouse.

Police at IbiraqueraParking up next to a small caravan that serves as a Police station, I stroll across the boardwalks to check the beaches. Nothing there so I return to the bike. Two Police officers with a couple of locals stand around the bike chatting. I join in best I can and the Police tell me the lighthouse is 40km further south near Laguna. Curious about my journey from Peru, I tell them about the whole trip from Turkey in a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, English and mime. I bid them ‘ate logo’ and they offer a cold bottle of water. I’m already parched and down it in a dozen gulps before riding off.

Attempting to withdraw cash from the local supermarket, The check out girl pointed south to the Ferju retail outlet at Nova Brasilia. She was kind enough to write it on a piece of paper. Nova Brasilia is only 8km down the BR101 and the outlet is visible from the road only after the exit ramp. Luckily I had guessed the junction correctly and was already slowing down along the service road. Ferju is in a popular and busy retail park and a parking attendant directed me to squeeze my bike between two cars parked on a corner making a wedge-shaped space. Best of all, the cash machines were successful and I quickly became flush with cash again.

Restaurante e ChurrascariaThe restaurant tempted me inside but was too busy for my patience so I pulled into the Restaurante e Churrascaria Boi Preto not far down the BR101 just southwest of Imbituba where, according to the proprietor’s son, is the hometown of his friend Jorginho who plays for Chelsea. The buffet was delicious and cheap too. I’ve forgotten this guy’s name now but he said if I ever pass again, I can stay at his house. I can ask Jorginho what his name is if I see him kicking a ball about in the UK.

Mirante Morro da Gloria, LagunaThe turnoff to Laguna, 25km further down the BR101, came with the usual sense of relief and I could relax look around more while riding into Laguna without focussing so much on my mirrors. I spotted the Mirante Morro da Gloria on the skyline with its statue of Christ, arms in the air, and I weaved my way through the one-way system and up the hill.

Mirante Morro da Gloria, Wild CampThere’s a picnic area in some woods that looked good for camping but it was far too early to turn in. The statue attracts a regular flow of visitors. Sure, it was quiet but also too public. I could see a long way down the coast from here. Reminiscent of South Padre in Texas: a strip of land tapering off into the distance: Ocean one side, lagoon the other but I could see no lighthouse…

Following the signs to the Ferry, I pick up the tail of a bus winding through the streets toward the terminal. Arriving there, a ferry had already closed its gates ready to leave. Noticing the arrival of the bus it opens its gates again and I roll on as the passengers drift out of the bus and stroll onto the ferry.

Over the other side, the bank looks bare and rural, save for the queue of cars at the terminal waiting for the ferry back to Laguna. There are a few holiday chalets on the waterside but mainly, from here, it’s a straight road down the coast lined by farms on the right and dunes on the left.Laguna ferry

Laguna ferryAfter a few kilometres, I spot the lighthouse in the distance and by the time I reach the junction, it seems like I’m well past it. enough to question whether I had missed it a few kilometres back. Santa Marta is a quaint little town huddled over a hilly promontory into the Atlantic, popular with tourists. It reminding me of an old Cornish fishing village back home. Coverack, perhaps on the Lizard peninsula.

Farol Santa MartaI park the bike perpendicular to the curb to squeeze into the last metre of space between the line of parked cars and the red painted curb indicating the ‘no parking’ area at the entrance to the lighthouse then wander up the hill.

Venomous SnakesA sign warning of the danger of venomous snakes in the rough grass reminds me this isn’t Cornwall. This town looks compact and probably expensive for accommodation. Riding along the seafront up to the hiking trail, there is a small grassy car park scorched by a campfire. It’s perfectly level for a tent but quite exposed to public eyes so I decide to wait until dark and ride back down to the promenade and retreat to a cafe for a beer and WiFi.

Farol Santa Marta DayIt’s amazing how one beer can affect your sense of balance. I felt totally sober but my balance wasn’t as sharp as normal and I carefully wobbled over the bumps and troughs along the track back to the trailhead at dusk to watch the waves and the day melt into night.

Farol Santa Marta NightI walk back to the car park in the dark to pitch the tent. Along the way, I stumble down a hole in some thick weeds, instantly hoping there aren’t any snakes down there, as I scrabble out the other side, maybe tick off one of my nine lives on that one. While securing the poles, the beam of a flashlight sweeps across me, a local guy out jogging with his dogs. I just wave a greeting “Boa Noite” and he jogs along the cliff path out of sight.

Camp Santa MartaI struck camp at dawn for the purpose remaining invisible, the dew still fresh on the tent, while most people were still in bed. I had a peaceful and tranquil night here and being free of charge made my rest feel all the sweeter. I sat at the promenade in front of the closed cafe hoping for breakfast and used their wifi to check my route.

I could just as easily have breakfast in Tubarãu and took off toward Braço do Norte and then hopefully onto Serro do Corvo Branco. Google maps the SC370 down as closed, giving me a 100-mile diversion via Laura Muller. I ignored it and stopped at Tubarãu for WiFi and breakfast. I headed south from Santa Marta around the lagoon which meant riding north on the BR101 for a while. It felt like I was backtracking.

Serra do Corvo BrancoThe SC370 out of Braço do Norte looks like virgin asphalt, smooth, wide and sweeping. My fuel gauge was half way which should be plenty for Urubici 70km away. The uphill incline tips the fuel to the back of the tank lowering the float sensor of the gauge at the front moving the needle to show near Empty and I start to wonder about fuel consumption on this persistent and winding incline. The misleading gauge taunts me, asking me why I  didn’t take a moment to pop into that fuel station in Braço do Norte. Distances certainly feel further on the ground than they look on a map.

Serra do Corvo BrancoThe absence of traffic also gets me wondering about Google’s alleged road closure. I’ve seen only two vehicles along this road, and I’m riding one of them. It’s not worth thinking about as I’m already committed. Rounding a bend, I see my lane has collapsed down the hillside. A great chunk about seven metres long like a great monster has taken a giant bite out of the road as far as the centre line. The hazard is taped off across metal rods and I swing over to the opposite lane to keep my momentum up the hill. The SC370 is a motorcyclists dream of smooth dry sweeping curves through alpine-like scenery – until suddenly it isn’t…

TolkienUp ahead is a Tolkien-like landscape and the SC370 becomes single lane unpaved track as If I’d strayed through a farm gate without noticing. The difference is enough for me to stop and check behind me and interrogate the GPS. There’s nothing to suggest I’d made a wrong turning. Checking Google street view later clarifies things. the images from 2011 have the SC370 as a dirt track so the upgrade to immaculate asphalt is very recent and ignore the difficulties of the mountain pass.

Serra do Corvo Branco TruckIn the distance, a white car becomes visible on the side of a mountain and disappears behind the vegetation again. The track continues up the mountainsides in the style of Peru and Bolivia and soon I arrive at a series of hairpins and stop to get the GoPro out… just in time for the last bend. I park at the top to admire the view back across the gorge and the cleft where the road crosses the peak behind me. I see a truck with pallets of bricks grinding its way up the lane. Below me, it disappears from view but hear it change down a gear for a steep corner followed by a loud metallic rumble. When he reappears, one of the pallets is a heap of rubble on the back of his truck and the truck continues the climb and crawls past the last turn past me over the peak.

Serra HairpinThe Peak of Serra do Corvo BrancoAfter a few moments, I follow over the peak, my mind is at ease. I coast down the wide gravel track on a closed throttle and the fuel sensor rises on the fuel flowing to the front of the tank and the gauge settles at a quarter. Coasting downhill uses almost no fuel but  Maps.me puts a fuel station 30km away and I rejoin immaculate asphalt gently cruise along the sunlit valley toward Urubici, ignoring the tempting detours to morros and waterfalls.

Abandoned Gas StationI arrive at the expected fuel station only to find a rusting canopy sheltering an old bus and wrecked fuel pumps. Like a scene out of a John Steinbeck novel. The Gas Station of Wrath. Thankful for not deviating to the viewpoints, I continue to the BR station 9km further on. Snacks, drink and WiFi keep me there a good hour revising my plans. Too early for retiring for the day, I browse the seven or eight waterfalls on maps.me not far away, most of which come back as inaccessible. There’s one that is 28km away and I decide to check it out, picturing myself enjoying a refreshing natural shower and perhaps camping for the night in an Eden-like paradise…

Gas StationMap Arroio to Urubici

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