CASA 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Stopping 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.
The 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.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
From 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.
Back 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.
I 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.
Itaimbezinho 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.
Itaimbezinho 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.
My 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.
I 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.
The tent was up before dark and I had no WiFi so I had plenty of time to ruminate, meditate and finally nod off…