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.
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 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.
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 Technically, I’m an unpublished author.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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…