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The Road Less Travelled

IguazuIguaçu Falls had been one of the major milestones along my meandering path across South America. It was also responsible for my northerly track in Paraguay from Encarnación into Brazil instead of continuing south to Argentina. Thus, there was no longer a reason to keep me here in Foz do Iguaçu. I’d been here 5 nights and I have to beware of the smothering beast of ‘comfort’ sneaking up on me. Familiarisation of a location encourages roots of habit probing fertile ground for establishing a new home. The beast tells me “Stay here, life gets easier.” but what it does is use its cosy blanket to try to suffocate my spirit.

Mandala Garden,Foz do IguazuThis morning was born hot and airless, whipping up a lingering sweat from the lethargic effort of packing and loading. I had one more rest in the hammock to cool down and gather my thoughts before taking off. “I’ll have to get one of these…” I thought to myself. Especially after the lack of places to rest at Tati Yupi. I’d short-changed myself by not buying a hammock sooner.

Foz do IguazuOn my way to Ruta 277, I discovered the kiosks where the hostel receptionist said I should look. Cheap. Only about £15, and I double strapped it, still in its black bag, on top of the luggage on the back of the bike.

At the junction to 277; down the road to the left lay the border with Paraguay. I glanced that way beyond the traffic one more time before turning the page into a brand new chapter, turned right toward the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

Florianópolis on the coast was the next big box to be ticked and that was about three days away. Two if I was desperate: 930km via Curitiba.

Much of 277 is fast smooth dual carriageway necessitating a constant watch in the mirrors for tired truck drivers roaring up behind me. Over a long period, it becomes tiring and numbingly tedious.

The further from Foz I got, thinner the traffic became and two hours saw me about 150 kilometres away with dark clouds looming over the horizon ahead of me. Right then, a convenient cafe appeared around a bend.in the countryside. Just the job… an oasis of relief from monotony and foul weather. My waterproofs had blown away somewhere between Cuidad Del Este and Tati Yupi so my revised tactic was to dive for shelter before encountering rain and wait for it to pass.

I’m ready for a break after two or three hours and I use this opportunity to enjoy a coffee during the shower and search the web for somewhere to stop for the night along the way. A lakeside wild camp spot at picnic area pops up on iOverlander.com, just to the south of Ruta 277 at Rio Bonito do Iguaçu, 300km from Foz. Another three hours and I would be there. After about an hour and a half enjoying the coffee and peaceful ambience while watching the showers come and go, the weather noticeably brightens up and I hit the road,

 

After the rain, the air feels surprisingly cold in contrast to the sweaty heat of Foz and I stop to retrieve the orange mountain jacket from the pannier.

ShelterA couple of hours longer in the saddle, I’m cold and tired and had already ducked into bus shelters during brief showers and a false alarms by the time rain started to fall consistently at Nova Laranjeiras.

 

I swung into a supermarket to buy some peanuts and beer for later but I sat on the sheltered seat outside the supermarket grazing on the nuts, keen to move on but reluctant to get wet, listening to the car tyres hiss on the shimmering asphalt as they drove by.

I set off as the rain eased but before it had spent its last few drops, and by the time I reached the junction for Rio Bonito I felt chilled to the core. Just before the junction, there’s a terrace of shops set back in a large layby including what looks like a trucker’s cafe. I doubled back the fifty metres or so, and pulled in to warm up with a hot coffee and meal. The sky threatened rain but the clouds appeared to slowly creep away and I felt certain the sky brightened a little despite the looming dusk dragging the afternoon westward into night time.

Rodovia, Lanjeiras do SulI’d had enough of the fast and aggressive Ruta 277. What use is travel if it’s only about saving time? Where will that saved time be spent?  It’s not that I didn’t like the road, it was the attention that the fast traffic took from me. I wanted to enjoy the scenery and the journey here and now. I plotted the following day’s escape on the GPS searching for “The Road Less Travelled,”

Rerouting along the more southerly Ruta 280 toward the smaller town of Caçador instead of Curitiba looked the part. Perhaps longer, certainly slower. This put Rio Bonito en route which made me feel better about that particular detour. I didn’t even care if the road turned out to be dirt track, as long as it was warm, peaceful and scenic. Somebody showed me a picture of a sinuous mountain road in the state of Santa Catarina. I was in that state now but had no idea where the pass was. A simple question in a Facebook group returned dozens of sarcastic and unhumourous replies but, later,  also the single answer revealed. Further south, I would visit Serra do Rio do Rastro in the weeks to come.

I only had 15km to the camp spot which I estimated half an hour if the trail was typically rugged cobbles or earth. I wanted to be there by dark so paid the bill and bid my farewell to the friendly proprietor of Lanchonette Rodovia and traverse the huge layby back to the road.

I pull out onto the last few hundred metres of the 277 before the junction with Ruta 158, turn south on the dim and chilly asphalt to Rio Bonito do Iguaçu and then rattle along the cobbled track in twilight down to the Rio Iguaçu lagoon, its presence betraying the likely existence of a hydroelectric dam somewhere in the valley.

I had been travelling east all day but this route southwest now drives me into the clutches of a squall which starts to pummel me in earnest only about a kilometre from my destination. I locate the site, squinting through wet, misty spectacles in the gloom, and ride directly into the picnic area past the “Veículos Proibidos” sign and pitch the tent as fast as possible.

By now the downpour is established with the wind is driving the rain at a shallow slant soaking through my coat to my back as I wrestle and pin the tent to the ground. My eagerness for shelter seems to put every movement into slow motion but finally, I get the rainfly fastened over the dome and dive inside into 1cm deep puddles. The vulnerability of the design of this tent means that the waterproof groundsheet becomes a paddling pool while setting up in the rain, The rainfly can only be added after the inner is securely up.

Kneeling in water, I use my microfibre towel to sponge out and dry the interior the best I can. My clothes and bags are wet but the bag’s contents are dry and I do my best to keep them separated from the wet items.

Almost dark, I decide to turn in, stripping off my wet clothes but keeping on my t-shirt and underwear hoping that my body heat will dry them out while I sleep.

It works I awake dry and warm but the clothes I took off are still soaking and I get dressed cringing like I’m wading into a cold pond.

Rio Bonito do IguazuThe warm morning sun dries out the tent while I’m packing and I’m away by 10.30. I feel content in the dry warm air under a blue sky marbled with white cloud. It should be a good day for drying out in the airstream on the bike. People sit in the cabana about 60 metres away and I give them a wave wondering whether I should offer to pay for camping. I decide to coast out of the park slow enough that they can approach me if they want to. Nobody moves and I retrace the trail back to Ruta 158 and turn on my revised route south.

The warmth of the sun, the rustic roads and the chill of the air reminds me of Anglesey where the wind blows steadily off the Irish Sea before being thrust upwards over Snowdonia condensing the moist air into thick dark clouds. These quiet country roads of rustic asphalt become a more agreeable platform for absorbing Brazil’s natural ambience as its grass verges rush by to the hum of the Yamaha motor.

By lunchtime, the sun burns strong from overhead, branding thoughts of refreshment and urging me to park the bike in the shade at the side of an inviting looking roadside restaurant nestling behind a gas station.

Walking in and picking a table near the window, I order lunch and orange juice and relaxed and gazed out over the white-hot expanse of dust and gravel to the road about 100 meters away watching the world going about its business in, out and past the gas station here on the edge of town.

“Do my friends and family miss me?” I wonder. Nobody really knows where I am… I barely know where I am myself “What town is this?” I check and then later forget. What difference does it make what others think? Here and now is all we really have and it’s what we, ourselves, think about it that’s important…

I finish my second cup of coffee, pay and step out into the car park. The sun has moved far enough so the bike is no longer in the shade and everything feels hot to the touch. The air stream that dried my clothes earlier now only has to keep me cool.

I stash the dried jacket back in the pannier and ride in my fleece and t-shirt since it lets the air through to cool me and protects me from sunburn at the same time. The arm and leg shields in the bag have never been used. Correction, they were used once on the mountainside stretch between Santa Teresa and Santa Maria returning from Machu Picchu, Peru but they wouldn’t have helped the 100-metre plunge off the trackside cliffs and I got a sweat rash under the straps. They are too uncomfortable to wear. I need to get rid of them. I ride as I first started on my first bike in 1979: plain clothes. I just have to make sure I don’t come off… it could hurt more.

The shadow stretching out ahead of me tells me the afternoon is wearing thin. Up ahead dark clouds gather but seem to be moving in the same direction as me. I’m 40km from Caçador before I hit cold air and wet road. The sun is still bright in the azure sky behind me but the storm has already visited here not too long ago and I’m gaining on it. I didn’t want the same experience as yesterday so started looking for somewhere to camp, but where? Most places along the road are fenced off and there is nothing shown on the map between me and Caçador.

CacadorOut of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a gap in the grass bank to the left and double back for a closer look. Tractor tracks carving their way into the woods. I follow the muddy tracks into the wet undergrowth of a pine forest, no gates, no fences. This could be a logging track judging by all the trucks I’ve seen along the roads fully laden with stripped and cut pine trunks.

CacadorDown a slick muddy slope, I turn right onto wet grass and pine needles to discover another narrow track traversing a ridge. High ground is what I need if it’s going to rain again. Over the ridge and down the slope is a beautiful pond. The water looks too green to drink and the ground is too low to ensure dry camping so I return up the slope to the crest of the ridge. I can see traffic on the road from here about 100 metres away but they can’t see me this far into the woods and I pitch the tent on the crest of the ridge directly on the trail. I expect no traffic due to the established plant growth all the way along it.

CacadorThe trees dampen the noise of the passing trucks and cloak me in a blanket of silence. The last of the day’s sun paints tiger stripes through the trees across the orange carpet of pine needles and picks out the pale emerald raindrops hanging on the ferns and leaves of the verdant undergrowth. Cool and colourful: literally and metaphorically.

I attempt to string up the hammock using the straps off the bike. They aren’t long enough for the diameter of the trees, it’s not warm enough, it’s too wet and a few mosquitos persuade me to retreat to the tent.

CacadorThere’s an understated life force here in the peace of the forest, without boundary restriction or regulation. This is what we are born to, the gift of life, why should my first thought be “Am I doing wrong by simply being here?” The answer is, it shouldn’t and perhaps even asking the question is a form of insanity induced by the conditioning by and for civilisation. A civilisation that keeps us chained to the treadmill of work, money and sleep blindly trying to keep up with the ever-accelerating pace of modern life at the expense of our innate humanity. Where does all this paper authority and artificial restriction come from?

Best not think about it, I settle back on the sleeping bag and read a Kindle book and graze on peanuts until darkness falls and my eyes begin to close with fatigue and contentment…

Foz do Iguazu to Rio Bonito do Iguazu

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jackie March 10, 2019, 8:30 pm

    “Here and now is all we really have and it’s what we, ourselves, think about it that’s important”
    Maybe not. Our thoughts can do strange things to our experiences. Experience is perhaps all there is.
    I loved reading this piece. Well done for keeping all of us updated and for sharing your experience and your thoughts. Love you xx

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