CAMBARA 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.
Thereon, 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.
Two 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.
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.
At 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.
To 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.
The 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.
This 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.
I’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.
Although 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.
The 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.
Lying 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.
The 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.
She 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.
I 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…