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Happy Port

Porto Alegre

After a final Buffet Livre with Peter, I set about leaving upon returning to his house. As much as I like company, I tend to feel confined by expectation and convention. Rolling toward Porto Alegre, I felt liberated again, even as the buildings and urban landscape gradually closed in around me.

The absence of signs to “Porto Alegre” or “Centro” led to an irritating mystery tour across the unfamiliar signposted districts punctuated by a stop or two to check the map on the laptop. The urban traffic and multitude of traffic signals conspired to make the journey a long one.

Cuidade Baixo

Somehow I ended up at Cuidade Baixo which I’d recognised from peering at google maps and stopped at Boteca Cotiporã cafe for juice and internet in order to locate the hostel I’d selected from iOverlander. Villa Sophia Hostel turned out to be around the corner, although accessed via a convoluted circuit out to Parque Farroupilha (Redenção) and back.

Villa Sophia Hostal

Villa Sophia Hostel is an anonymous-looking magnolia coloured semi-detached house having no signage and looks like any other private home along the street. I clapped my hands for attention, as I had learned in Paraguay and a short Brazilian woman clutching a cellphone let me in and opened the gate to the drive, allowing me to seclude the bike round the back next to the BBQ pit. 

Juan and Rodrigo gave me a friendly and amiable welcome and spoke a comfortable vocabulary of English. Rodrigo had taken refuge here while dealing with a heartbreaking separation similar to my own over a decade earlier. He’d recently found sanctuary in the hostel.

Me and Rodrigo

I recalled the pain of separation and it brought back my memories of despair and emptiness before it slowly condensed into the launchpad of my life into ultimate freedom. I’d written a book about it years ago but abandoned it during editing since that part was expensive. Technically, I’m an unpublished author.

Through all that memory and introspection, I knew there wasn’t anything I could really do to help apart from to listen and simply connect. It’s a path that one has to tread alone, with or without help available in the wings.

There’s a Decathlon camping store a couple of KM away and I wandered out via the river taking in the scenery to see if I could find replacement poles for my constantly breaking Coleman Rainforest Tent. No, none in the correct size. I noticed the same Quechua Quick Hiker as I’d found in Cânion das Laranjeiras listed for £180 so I didn’t feel too bad about the unproductive hike to the store. 

Sauntering back to the city centre empty-handed beneath the baking southern sky, I wandered around in tourist mode, ageing shins aching through the recent city mileage. There’s a famous central market within a palatial looking colonial building, full of colour and bustle. A charming place to sit and enjoy chicken and chips, cool in the shade for watching people go about their daily business.

Four nights in the six-bed dorm of Villa Sophia. I always closed the windows before bed for keeping out the city noise and mosquitos, despite the warm weather. I’d awake to find them wide open again after people crept to bed in the early hours. 

All six bunks were occupied. Souls sharing a space of trust during excursions away from our physical bodies into the land of nod. A man snoring like a charging bull woke us all, one by one. It was so bad, one of us almost said something. I got up and went downstairs for some respite and a refreshing midnight glass of water for company.  Rodrigo was already downstairs agitated by the disturbance ensuing upstairs. How can someone snore so loudly without waking themselves up? Our discussion drew a blank. Thankfully, the oblivious guest checked out the next day…

African Grass Rash

Both my arms were inflamed with agonising rashes from the weeding of rampant invasive African grass at Peter’s. The steroid cream I´d bought at the Farmacia had no remedial effect but the mechanical action of applying stimulated an eye-watering itch. An excuse to rub the cream in harder until the pain could get no worse. An allergy, most probably. Different to the Poison Ivy episode I’d suffered from the mountains of Sint Maarten.

Sunday, 24th March. Four nights in Porto Alegre was enough for me. As much as I enjoy the contrast of city, after the rigours of nature,  it becomes soporific for the soul. The Boiling-Frog syndrome where the comforts of civilisation boils away the zest for living.

BR290

Leaving to head west along Peter’s recommended route of the BR290, the route out of town was easy to memorise as I’d already ridden along it in the opposite direction and all I needed to do was to take the exit ramp that curled west over the highway and marshes feeding the River Guiaba and into the afternoon sun.

Caçapava do Sul was a speedy 260km away, boasting the only entry for a campsite on iOverlander of the rural ‘Chacara do Forte’ campsite. 20km of that was a perpendicular detour off my route. The town looked nothing special but I wouldn’t be staying long enough to judge properly.

Camp Site

Entering the campsite, barking dogs followed the bike past the throng of locals enjoying the Sunday sunset view and into the woods, leaving me in peace to pitch camp as soon as the engine stopped.

Their cunning plan appeared to be to retreat until the middle of the night before creeping up and pissing on the tent. I’d awoken in the dark to the unmistakable patter of drops on fabric and got up to rinse it straight away to avoid toting the persistent aroma of dog-piss around Brazil.

Puffy Eyes

I awoke mid-morning, cold in the shade of the woods and dozed tucked up in my sleeping bag until gone 12. the rash on arms not so irritating but now I was sporting swollen, itchy eyes. all I could do was wait out this kind of allergy.

Forte Pedro II

I Rode out with the barking dogs chasing me to the cattle grid and stopped briefly to visit the monumental Fort Pedro II. Basically, a giant broken-walled lawn.  retracing my route back through the town, I pressed on westwards.

Lying-in shortens the day somewhat. Late afternoon I stopped at Churrascaria Ungaratho near Villa Novo do Sul for fuel and refreshment. Peering at my screen through puffy eyelids, over lace tablecloths and hot coffee, a few people drifted in and out noticing the Peru plate on the bike parked next to the door, stimulating conversation.  Juarez Souza – a man in his early 20s, riding a beautiful green Honda Trans Alp, introduced himself taking a break here himself on his way back to his home in Sao Paulo. He said he’d give me contacts in Montevideo Uruguay when I got there.

I think back to when I was his age, I wasn’t courageous enough to take mammoth solo tours back then… what with the illusion of having too much to lose and putting at risk an imaginary future… 

Stealth Camp

The hour approached five before I got going again. Topping up the tank with Shell’s finest distillation and accelerating westward into the blinding setting sun for an hour brought me halfway to the Uruguayan border somewhere between São Gabriel and Rosário do Sul before discovering a likely-looking hideout for the night: a farm track off a layby doubling back into fenced-off fields, finding a recessed gateway to field, hidden by tall grass. I pitched at sundown and settled inside the tent cradled by a comfortable tractor tyre rut for the night.

Stealth Camp

Resurfacing into a bright, dew-soaked morning, an unseen truck rattled past and down the lane as I slowly packed away. I was away by 10am.

45km brought me to Rosario do Sul. The lack of detail on the paper map sucking me into the heart of the speed humped town in search of the southerly final leg to Uruguay. The junction I needed turned out to lie a few kilometres out of town, not apparent on my photo of Peter’s paper map.

Cafe

I stopped for brunch a small nondescript cafe on BR158 south of Rosario. The vendor folded his arms and pretended not to understand my attempts at Portuguese but took my order after I pointed at another customers plate and I suspected overcharged me. After a brief exchange with two more bikers outside the cafe, I left but they quickly caught and left me in their wake.

Twenty minutes later, two bikes on the shoulder in the distance. Coasting up, they were repairing the top box that had broken free of its mountings and hurtled down the road into the undergrowth on the verge. It looked a sorry state, being held together by bungee cords and string.

Entering Sant’ana do Livramento, I didn’t know where I was going or even where I was going to stay. In my mirrors, the two riders still followed. I adopted a strategy of choosing the busiest direction at junctions before finally stopping at a likely looking central plaza, the two bikers finally passed with a wave.

Plaza Internacional

Cruising around closer to the centre, I soon noticed all the buses had Uruguayan licence plates. I’d wandered too far south so turned back North ending up at the Plaza Internacional, bisected by an open border, similar to the cities of Ponto Pora and Pedro Juan Caballero on the Brazil and Paraguay border, instead flying the flags of both Brazil and Uruguay.

Plaza Internacional, Sant'ana do Livramento

I settled for coffee at Restaurant Don Caggiani on the Brazilian side of the joined cities of Sant’ana do Livramento and Rivera: one urban mass bridging two countries.

Hotel Ermitage

Hotel Ermitage is indicated just down the road. Short of hostels, it appeared to be the cheapest option for a few days in the city. Marcia, on reception, gave me a friendly welcome ‘sem ingles.’ A big private room, secure parking, nice breakfast… I booked 3 nights and, after dark, wandered to a mini-market for some medicinal Cachaça for taming my itchy eyes through which I could watch a movie.

Cachaca

The second day in Sant’ana, I checked out where immigration was located and noticed the customs at Foz do Iguaçu had given me only 30 days Temporary Import Permit on the Bike whereas I had been granted 90 days on the Passport… and I started to worry about what the penalty would be.

Aduana

The immigration office here is separate from customs. The map gives both an old and a new location. Brazil and Uruguay immigration is now located in a shared building but Brazil customs is the police office on Plaza Internacional with the Uruguayan Customs is some 15km south of the border on Ruta 5…

I decided to take a flyer on the Brazilian Permit and skip customs when I leave…

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Itapúa

Camping Praia das Pombas, Itapua

A DRY WEDNESDAY 13th March had me packing away as happily as I could summon for this burdensome task, high with the risk of losing small and useful items. Last call at the Tenda do Umbu for breakfast and an internet fix before humming south down the Rota Romantica.

The air felt heavy with moisture and soon enough, condensed into tangible droplets of drizzle. Before passing through Novo Hamburgo and the borderless industrial scenery merging into Sao Leopoldo and Canoas.

Porto Alegre

Approaching Porto Alegre, the stream of traffic expanded into a 5 lane estuary along the coastal arterial 290 flowing toward central Porto Alegre.

Porto Alegre


Past the colosseum-like Arena do Gremio, one of two gladiatorial Soccer bases for fierce local rivals Gremio and Internacional. Too busy to stop, I was busy with my own personal chariot race, checking mirrors and signs as the throng pushed me into the city, the priority for survival rather than to steer a predictable course. Consequently, I couldn’t swear on my route around the lanes and underpasses that brought be into the colonial interior of European looking statues and monuments of Porto Alegre.

Steering into a side street to check the GPS, It felt like central London, busy with activity, cafe’s swelling with social activity. The map told me that In theory, following the river would bring me to Peter’s house. Peter had been a neighbour of dear departed Debbie in Northampton whom I’d also met years ago just before he put his house up for sale talking of maybe growing avocados in Brazil. No concept at the time I would ever get anywhere near South America. The other coincidence being the guy who bought my Rocket Red, Triumph Sprint ST upon his return from Australia turned out to be Peter’s son. Small world, as they say… at least until you try riding around it.

The route to exit southern Porto Alegre proved no easier than the northern route in. The River Guaiba soon disappeared from view while the streets funnelled me from traffic light to traffic light providing a labyrinthine mystery tour. Towards the river roads morphed into dirt track cul de sacs and to find my way out I followed the routes sporting speed humps.

In the days before GPS, I learned from my truck driving days that Speed Humps were a reliable giveaway of a rat run for traffic between key destinations. Installed to deter through traffic, they inadvertently became a valuable clue for a way out of a city planner’s maze. And so,
I trickled south through the Porto Alegre suburbs of Tristeza and Ipanema.

Itapua

Bright, warm and sunny when I finally arrived at the address, provided by Peter’s son but no answer to the bell at the gate, apart from a trio of barking dogs, prompting me to return to the rustic cafe ‘Bar Cris’ about a mile back. After sipping a beer and returning to the gate, a couple pulled up in an old white Renault. They didn’t recognize the name I offered and I turned around to consider now where to stay.

Cris Bar

Opposite the Bar Cris, I’d been admiring the huge sign to Hotel Caminhas de Nazare set in vast grounds barely visible from the road over green fields. I coasted along the narrow drive with the intention of using the WiFi at the Hotel Restaurant and ordered a Coffee to neutralise the soporific effect of the earlier beer.

Hotel Nazare Sign

The proprietor refused payment and insisted I enjoy the coffee for free. Sending messages over the WiFi brought no prompt responses and I called it a day and booked a room at the empty hotel for a reasonable tenner. Well worth the sanctuary plus the luxury of a shower after my Ben Hur ride through Porto Alegre.

Hotel Nazare

Breakfast: Table for one in a restaurant for one. No further information drifting out of the ether had me bid farewell to the friendly proprietor and pause at Peter’s gate for one last try. No answer, and I took off to visit the lighthouse I’d spotted on the map near Itapua.

Nazare Proprietors

The Officials at the gate told me it was a government installation and wasn’t open to the public but I could see it by boat… for a small fee naturally. A pickup pulled up and offered camping at his site of Camping Praia das Bombas. I followed along a bumpy remote dirt track to a deserted campsite. It was neither expensive or cheap. It was just OK, and I pitched under a shelter with the wind whipping over the expansive Guaiba River.

Camping Praia das Pombas

3am, Adrianne, the partner of the owner woke me from a deep slumber and sat on the sand outside my tent nursing a glass of wine while keen on talking. Politeness prevented me from sending her away, an attractive young lady if a little inebriated. Eventually, the conversation fizzled out and I escorted her back to her home at the gate and left her hammering on the door of her house to be let in while I retreated through the shadows of the trees back to my tent.

15th March, I awoke at 11 in the morning after the night’s rude awaking. Nobody about. Robinson Crusoe-esque… A deserted leaf-dappled site with a couple of wrecked boats in the trees. I left a note at the gatehouse together with half a packet of cigarettes I’d found outside my tent, and set off back towards Porto Alegre, abandoning the intended rendezvous with Peter.

Checking messages near Lami 10km North, there were a few downloaded complete with directions. It turns out that the address I had been given was wrong. Peter had left that one after three months of arrival in Brazil and the new directions put him closer to Itapua, not too far away.

Returning south, the route took me to the yellow bus shelter given in the directions, and then between fields and up an overgrown track to a forested escarpment. A white-haired old man appeared from a shack and I surprised myself by recognising him from our brief encounter those years back.

Peter's

Across the yard stood a grand building built from the red eucalyptus grown in the grounds and he showed me the mezzanine floor where I could sleep complete with a mattress and bug net. Minimalist and spacious. A lot of work had gone into the construction using felled trees from his land taken to a local sawmill.

House

I embarked on a guided tour. Hiking up the hill, it wasn’t easy to match this man’s energy. I tottered up behind him to witness the remains of a granite quarry that suddenly ceased operating because of government intervention to preserve the area. Reputedly these are the oldest hills in South America. The tracks and excavations are now swamped with rampant vegetation.

Saturday 16th March. Peter made me muesli with fresh fruit which became a daily treat, and then on to meet his friends at the Marina in Itapua. Peter has a sailing background and has friends with small yachts in the shallow harbour. The Guaiba River has sandbanks so mainly shallow draught craft here. They invited me for a sail next weekend but I wasn’t planning on staying that long. We enjoyed BBQ and beer before returning home.

Itapua Marina

The following day it rained, and I spent time in the hammock sheltered on the veranda writing and sharing space with the big hairy spider that caught my eye wandering past.

Spider

We spent the following days collecting firewood from fields down the lane, battling the incessant ants undermining the buildings and carving up a fallen red eucalyptus in the garden.

Wood Gathering

I left on the 20th becoming paranoid that overstaying my welcome might become an issue. One more Buffet Livre together. Cheap and good food at the local restaurant. And then I set off, after photographing a map of the region to help with my lack of GPS. Peter recommended the route To Santana de Livramento on the Uruguay Border, instead of the more obvious route to Jaguarao and Rio Blanco. And with that being my plan, I returned north to Porto Alegre.

Peter and Me
Map
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Full Circle: Bento Gonçalves

Mirante Picada Café

EIGHTH OF MARCH. Autumn in the Southern hemisphere. Poking my head out the flap to dewy grey weather over a layby on the Rota Romântica. Slim chance of drying out the tent anytime soon so I pack up the soaking wet camp, pronto, and ride the 300 metres up the road for breakfast at the Tenda do Umbu to recharge myself and my laptop.

Emerging an hour or two later into dry air, refuelled coffee and up to date up on messages, I return north across the valley to visit Nova Petropolis. The day glows bright and warm as I cruise around the town. It’s a pretty enough place, clean and Germanic, but there’s nothing for me here. Too touristy. I have lunch at Cafe Colonia Serra Verde. I thought that meant ‘Cafe’ but ‘Cafe Colonia’ is a kind of full buffet. In the south region of Brazil, sweets and cakes feature at breakfast. Colonial Coffee is a type of breakfast that is almost exclusive to the south and means colonial breakfast. It looked to me like a wedding feast with me as the only guest. Too much for me to eat but the staff were kind enough to offer me a slice of cake and a coffee.

Humbly finishing up and thanking the staff for their attention, I hit the road the 70km to Bento Gonçalves. The road sweeps north down billiard table smooth curves with vistas of distant waterfalls and up again towards Caxias do Sul, where the traffic thickens and becomes aggressive in the usual nature of large cities. 

From there, the road to Bento Gonçalves is fast and furious with trucks buses and cars. The promising looking wild camping site found on iOverlander looks unappealingly industrial and too close to this busy route, and I head straight into Bento Gonçalves.

Late afternoon with nowhere to stay, wandering down a street looking for somewhere for a coffee and WiFi for searching for accommodation, I catch sight of a couple of adventure bikes, a Ducati Multistrada and BMW GS parked outside the Dall’Onder Grande hotel. After coasting by, I slowly U-turn amongst the slowly drifting traffic, coast onto the forecourt and introduce myself to Renato, Gennaro and Regiane.

Renato, Gennaro and Regiane.

Renato speaks comprehensive English and offers me wine, but I only accept the cheese as first hours in a new city are the most vulnerable for me. It feels great to be in the company of this chilled trio, different from the family feeling of the Ruppenthals back in Tres Coroas but equally enjoyable. I am warmly welcomed to their table. Eventually, I have to apologise for my rudeness and connect to the hotel’s WiFi to search for accommodation and while the Dall’Onder would be a real treat, a night at Pousada Thiany a couple of km away landed within my budget.

I socialise for a while longer before I’m reluctantly navigating the twilight to the hostel.  Booking in, I’m handed a remote key for the basement parking area. I can come and go at will and I click the up and over door into lice and roll down the ramp clicking it closed behind me before unpacking the dewy tent and draping over the bike to dry,

This is a hotel with the ground floor at the back partitioned into cubicles. We hostel clients enjoy the exact same benefits of the privateers, barring seclusion and ensuites. The lobby is clean, spacious and comfortable as you would expect from a self-respecting hotel. Fruit, grapes and tea are free and I spend a bit of time in the lobby blogging, grazing on grapes before venturing out to a food court in a nearby mall for a vegeburger.

A British kind of rain sets in all day. After breakfast, I take advantage of the facilities to catch up on writing while grazing on grapes.

2am, I wake with a raging fever and boiling, liquid stomach ache. I don’t really want to cause a disturbance in the middle of the night but I pad along the corridor barefoot, triggering the motion sensors for the blue LED lights that spill over the partitions of the cubicles, scuttle across the animal skin rug in the hostel lounge and just make it to the bathroom.

Relieved after the purge but feeling ill to my core. Unsure whether or not this is the end of a phase, I curl up quietly groaning on the couch beside the door to the bathroom, wishing I had brought a blanket but not daring to stray too far to fetch one. After a time, the cold air over my skin suggests the storm has passed and I pad back down the hall, flicking on the blue LED glow and to bed to crawl under the covers.

Tree of Marcela in the centre of the table of herbs

Late for breakfast in the lobby late morning for tea. I book more nights and say I’m not well. Maria, the owner, instantly recommends Marcela tea and cuts off a few home-grown twigs and drops it into an infusion. Pretty soon I feel miraculously better.

Later, the sun peeps through the soggy blanket of cloud and I venture to the laundry and get my much-needed batch washed. Still feeling a little fragile, I turn in early to update my blog in comfort.

While sitting up in bed, I feel something fall like a beer mat on my neck. I brushed it off and looked around and there was a huge spindly brown spider on the wall the size of my hand. I blew on it expecting it to lumber away but it moved so fast it resembled a magic vanishing trick. It shot under the bed amongst my stored bags. Apparently, March is spider month and spiders in Brazil can be fairly dangerous.

Twelfth of March and I remember it’s my sister’s birthday and make a Skype call in the brief interval between breakfast and check out, I set off at 1pm remembering to swing by and collect laundry. I avoid Caxias do Sul in preference of the route back to Tenda do Umbu via Garibaldi, Bom Principio, Feliz and Linha Nova.

With the rainy weather and everything else, I never felt inspired enough to visit the main attraction of Bento Gonçalves: the wineries. Now I had resolved to return to my southerly course, the clouds dispersed and revealed the warm brightness of the Brazilian sunshine.

I’d memorised how the key junctions looked on Google street view but things had changed between the visit of the Google car and now. An unfamiliar junction appeared near Linha Nova. No worries, I had preloaded the web page so I could check the map on the laptop but it had switched itself off and boots up to a fresh session losing all my stored browser pages.

This means no maps until WiFi so I have to guess whether this is the junction where I’m meant to turn left or whether to keep following the signs to Novo Hamburgo… It’s a 50/50 decision so naturally, I choose the wrong one and I turn right to Presidente Lucena. Entering the town, I take advantage of the uncertainty to grab a pastel, coke and WiFi at a Bar y Lancheria opposite the school.

Tenda do Umbu lies only 13km away despite the wrong turning and, after my refreshments, I backtrack past the junction, along the valley floor and up the hill to Tenda do Umbu and plug the laptop into its life-support before enjoying a coffee.

Carlos and his wife from Sao Leopoldo are on a ride out relaxing at Tenda do Umbu, and we talk about bikes, adventure and the Rota Romântica, after they leave and before dusk, I return full circle to where I’d started my mini adventure to Bento Gonçalves: the layby down the road at Mirante Picada Café. This time there is a car with a couple picnicking at the opposite side of the plateau, but I pitch the tent and settle inside as quietly as possible and pretend I’m not noticed.

The car leaves after dark and a few minutes later, footsteps heard across the grass and the splash of a flashlight over tent fabric as someone browses my pitch. Maybe just a curious passer-by, maybe something worse?

I lay quiet. This is worse than beer mat sized spiders and shrieks in the woods. You never can be sure of the intention of humans, the most dangerous creatures in the world…

Mirante Picada Café

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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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