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 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.
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…