A DRY WEDNESDAY 13th March had me packing away as happily as I could summon for this burdensome task, high with the risk of losing small and useful items. Last call at the Tenda do Umbu for breakfast and an internet fix before humming south down the Rota Romantica.
The air felt heavy with moisture and soon enough, condensed into tangible droplets of drizzle. Before passing through Novo Hamburgo and the borderless industrial scenery merging into Sao Leopoldo and Canoas.
Approaching Porto Alegre, the stream of traffic expanded into a 5 lane estuary along the coastal arterial 290 flowing toward central Porto Alegre.
Past the colosseum-like Arena do Gremio, one of two gladiatorial Soccer bases for fierce local rivals Gremio and Internacional. Too busy to stop, I was busy with my own personal chariot race, checking mirrors and signs as the throng pushed me into the city, the priority for survival rather than to steer a predictable course. Consequently, I couldn’t swear on my route around the lanes and underpasses that brought be into the colonial interior of European looking statues and monuments of Porto Alegre.
Steering into a side street to check the GPS, It felt like central London, busy with activity, cafe’s swelling with social activity. The map told me that In theory, following the river would bring me to Peter’s house. Peter had been a neighbour of dear departed Debbie in Northampton whom I’d also met years ago just before he put his house up for sale talking of maybe growing avocados in Brazil. No concept at the time I would ever get anywhere near South America. The other coincidence being the guy who bought my Rocket Red, Triumph Sprint ST upon his return from Australia turned out to be Peter’s son. Small world, as they say… at least until you try riding around it.
The route to exit southern Porto Alegre proved no easier than the northern route in. The River Guaiba soon disappeared from view while the streets funnelled me from traffic light to traffic light providing a labyrinthine mystery tour. Towards the river roads morphed into dirt track cul de sacs and to find my way out I followed the routes sporting speed humps.
In the days before GPS, I learned from my truck driving days that Speed Humps were a reliable giveaway of a rat run for traffic between key destinations. Installed to deter through traffic, they inadvertently became a valuable clue for a way out of a city planner’s maze. And so,
I trickled south through the Porto Alegre suburbs of Tristeza and Ipanema.
Bright, warm and sunny when I finally arrived at the address, provided by Peter’s son but no answer to the bell at the gate, apart from a trio of barking dogs, prompting me to return to the rustic cafe ‘Bar Cris’ about a mile back. After sipping a beer and returning to the gate, a couple pulled up in an old white Renault. They didn’t recognize the name I offered and I turned around to consider now where to stay.
Opposite the Bar Cris, I’d been admiring the huge sign to Hotel Caminhas de Nazare set in vast grounds barely visible from the road over green fields. I coasted along the narrow drive with the intention of using the WiFi at the Hotel Restaurant and ordered a Coffee to neutralise the soporific effect of the earlier beer.
The proprietor refused payment and insisted I enjoy the coffee for free. Sending messages over the WiFi brought no prompt responses and I called it a day and booked a room at the empty hotel for a reasonable tenner. Well worth the sanctuary plus the luxury of a shower after my Ben Hur ride through Porto Alegre.
Breakfast: Table for one in a restaurant for one. No further information drifting out of the ether had me bid farewell to the friendly proprietor and pause at Peter’s gate for one last try. No answer, and I took off to visit the lighthouse I’d spotted on the map near Itapua.
The Officials at the gate told me it was a government installation and wasn’t open to the public but I could see it by boat… for a small fee naturally. A pickup pulled up and offered camping at his site of Camping Praia das Bombas. I followed along a bumpy remote dirt track to a deserted campsite. It was neither expensive or cheap. It was just OK, and I pitched under a shelter with the wind whipping over the expansive Guaiba River.
3am, Adrianne, the partner of the owner woke me from a deep slumber and sat on the sand outside my tent nursing a glass of wine while keen on talking. Politeness prevented me from sending her away, an attractive young lady if a little inebriated. Eventually, the conversation fizzled out and I escorted her back to her home at the gate and left her hammering on the door of her house to be let in while I retreated through the shadows of the trees back to my tent.
15th March, I awoke at 11 in the morning after the night’s rude awaking. Nobody about. Robinson Crusoe-esque… A deserted leaf-dappled site with a couple of wrecked boats in the trees. I left a note at the gatehouse together with half a packet of cigarettes I’d found outside my tent, and set off back towards Porto Alegre, abandoning the intended rendezvous with Peter.
Checking messages near Lami 10km North, there were a few downloaded complete with directions. It turns out that the address I had been given was wrong. Peter had left that one after three months of arrival in Brazil and the new directions put him closer to Itapua, not too far away.
Returning south, the route took me to the yellow bus shelter given in the directions, and then between fields and up an overgrown track to a forested escarpment. A white-haired old man appeared from a shack and I surprised myself by recognising him from our brief encounter those years back.
Across the yard stood a grand building built from the red eucalyptus grown in the grounds and he showed me the mezzanine floor where I could sleep complete with a mattress and bug net. Minimalist and spacious. A lot of work had gone into the construction using felled trees from his land taken to a local sawmill.
I embarked on a guided tour. Hiking up the hill, it wasn’t easy to match this man’s energy. I tottered up behind him to witness the remains of a granite quarry that suddenly ceased operating because of government intervention to preserve the area. Reputedly these are the oldest hills in South America. The tracks and excavations are now swamped with rampant vegetation.
Saturday 16th March. Peter made me muesli with fresh fruit which became a daily treat, and then on to meet his friends at the Marina in Itapua. Peter has a sailing background and has friends with small yachts in the shallow harbour. The Guaiba River has sandbanks so mainly shallow draught craft here. They invited me for a sail next weekend but I wasn’t planning on staying that long. We enjoyed BBQ and beer before returning home.
The following day it rained, and I spent time in the hammock sheltered on the veranda writing and sharing space with the big hairy spider that caught my eye wandering past.
We spent the following days collecting firewood from fields down the lane, battling the incessant ants undermining the buildings and carving up a fallen red eucalyptus in the garden.
I left on the 20th becoming paranoid that overstaying my welcome might become an issue. One more Buffet Livre together. Cheap and good food at the local restaurant. And then I set off, after photographing a map of the region to help with my lack of GPS. Peter recommended the route To Santana de Livramento on the Uruguay Border, instead of the more obvious route to Jaguarao and Rio Blanco. And with that being my plan, I returned north to Porto Alegre.