Guide to cycling the South of Brazil

Before I left on this trip, I had no idea where to go or what to expect of Brazil.

So I wanted to write a general overview of my Brazilian experience answering all the questions I had when preparing my trip.

 

How to get here?

I started my South American trip in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Being Belgian, I had to fly to get here. I like to take a direct flight, minimalizing the chances of getting your bike thrown around at the airport.

Four and a half months before leaving, I found an affordable (550 euro) flight from Barcelona, Spain to Sao Paulo with Singapore airlines. The baggage allowance was amazing! I could take two pieces of 32 kg each with just an economy ticket. The best part: the bicycle just counts as checked-in luggage, so there is no additional fee if you don’t exceed the 64 kg divided over two pieces.

Once landed in Sao Paulo, I was thinking of taking the bus to the city centre from where I could take a taxi. But when I asked someone how to catch the bus, he offered me a ride instead! His family even dropped me off all the way at my address! So I don’t know much about the busses etc. in Sao Paulo. But what a great start of my trip!

I arrived at 5pm, so didn’t have much daylight to reach my address. Therefore I thought it was better to take the bus. If you would land earlier and would like to cycle into the city, you’ll be cycling on some very big roads where you’ll have to be careful. But I would say it’s possible (when leaving, I cycled out of the city). Read more over at ‘is it safe?’

 

Changing money

I wanted to change some money at the airport to pay for the bus or taxi. The commission was a staggering 40 reais (11 euro). You may want to change some beforehand to avoid this commission. I didn’t check, but there must be plenty of ATM’s at the airport too. So you could also just get money straight out of the wall.

 

Where to withdraw money

I always used ‘Banco do Brasil’ to withdraw money with my Maestro card. Once I used another bank cause I quickly needed some cash. Unfortunately I don’t remember the bank’s name, but I do remember there was a 20 reais fee and that the rate was almost 10 % worse… In every town there was a ‘banco do Brasil’ btw, so there is no need to carry much money on you.

 

Where to go?

All I knew about Brasil when I arrived, were the waterfalls over at Foz de Iguacu. I did find a route from a Brazilian cyclist going from Curitiba to Foz over smaller/quieter roads. Check this link (In Portuguese, but easy to find the road numbers and names of towns on your map): http://vadebike.org/2015/12/cicloturismo-atravessando-parana-curitiba-ate-foz-do-iguacu/

But I met many cyclists around Sao Paulo who showed me pictures of the canyons and waterfalls down South. Google ‘Serra do Rio do Rastro, Corvo Branco and Canyon de Itaimbezinho’ if you wonder why I went South instead of visiting Foz de Iguacu, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Also, I thought that cycling from Foz de Iguacu to Montevideo would be rather boring, so the South of Brazil sounded more exciting.

Check out this google map to see all the points of interest!

amerika_floripa-cambara-13

Morro da Igreja, close to Urubici

 

Cycling in and out of Sao Paulo

The size of Sao Paulo is impressive and with about 20 million inhabitants it sure makes up for its nickname ‘the concrete jungle’. I stayed a week, because the people hosting me were lovely and I had a great time going out every night. But I don’t think it’s a must to stay/ visit here.

It took 65 km to cycle out of the city. Of course it’s not very relaxed. I didn’t find any cycle paths and the busses are pretty aggressive. But I do have a small rear-view mirror which keeps me safe.

Later I did some research and found this great map showing all the cycle-paths around Sao Paulo:

http://cetsp1.cetsp.com.br/mapabasico/map.aspx?map=infraciclo

If you would link these up, cycling out of the city wouldn’t be THAT bad. I only left in the afternoon, making me finding a place to sleep in the suburb. This was not so straightforward but turned out pretty funny (read my blog!). But obviously it would be smart to leave early and get to the country side in one day.

amerika_tarbes-barcelona

 

Flying to Sao Paulo and don’t fancy staying in the city/ cycling out of it?

But here’s a tip! There is a ‘casa de ciclistas’ in Sao Vicente, close to Santos, at about 100 km from Sao Paulo. There are direct busses from Sao Paulo to Sao Vicente (about 50 reais). So you might also land in Sao Paulo, hop on a bus, and put your bike together in the ‘casa de ciclistas’ (more info: where to stay). The company ‘cometa’ seems to have direct busses going there: http://www.viacaocometa.com.br/pt/

This way you would avoid cycling out of the city. Of course, you could also visit Sao Paulo and take the bus out of it.

amerika_ilhabela-joinville-3

Beach at Santos

 

Where to stay

  • Casa de ciclistas

Casa de ciclistas literally means: ‘house of cyclists’. It’s basically a place where cycle tourers can stay for free. In Sao Vicente for example, I saw how the cyclists from the area contributed to make this place happening.

I only know two in Brasil: one in Foz de Iguacu and one in Sao Vicente (close to Santos and Sao Paulo). I stayed in Sao Vicente for about 4 days. You’ll find the address and the WhatsApp number there of the caretaker, Rafael Rizzato Santos, here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/casadocicloviajante/about/?ref=page_internal

  • Camping

I never wild camped in Brasil. I would say it’s possible to find a place out of sight in more remote areas, but I find it much more interesting to ask people to camp in the garden.

  • Staying with locals

After traveling in Brasil for more than two months, I can say people are really hospitable! During this time, I only got refused once! But I would say, that it’s essential to speak some Portuguese though (don’t worry, when I arrived I also couldn’t speak a word!).

About one hour before it gets dark, I start looking for a garden to pitch my tent. I talk about myself and my trip as long as it takes to gain confidence. This is something you’ll have to do in Brazil, because there do is some criminality here. But with the bicycle in your hand, it’s always easy to convince them you’re not a thief, just a tired traveller looking for a place to roll out your mattress for the night. I also took a shower EVERY night and was offered food! So once they accept you, they take care of you like you’re part of the family.

I’ll write a blogpost later with all my tips for staying with locals!

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-15

  • Cyclists: one big family

Apart from this, I met many cyclists along the way who put me in touch with their friends in the towns/cities on my route. They always received me wonderfully. And of course, they have friends in the next town… This was great to spend more than one day, make new friends, do some laundry…

  • Warmshowers

There is also a big community of warmshowers.org in Brazil. With so much help from cyclists I met along the way, I just had to use it once in Cambara do Sul (a must go!).

 

Is it safe?

Yes.

There are two rules I have for all my travels though:

  • No cycling at night
  • Camping only with permission of people or in the wild and out of sight.

Many people will tell you it’s very dangerous. The media sure succeeds to scare the people by showing only what went wrong. But if you follow those two rules, I don’t see any danger.

amerika_tarbes-barcelona-10

Take care on the road though. Traffic on big roads is dangerous. I basically did a crazy amount of detours to avoid the big roads and to visit the most spectacular places. A mirror is an absolute must. Drivers normally don’t slow down to overtake you. They also don’t horn if they don’t have enough space to overtake you safely, they just go for it. So if you’re on a big road, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the traffic with your mirror.

 

Road conditions

Paved roads are of good quality. Usually there is a hard shoulder. But a paved road with not much traffic was quite rare in the region I cycled. So you might want to head down some dirt roads!

 

Average costs

I spend 800 euro in just over two months of traveling. This comes down to about 12,50 euro or 46 Brazilian real/ day. I never paid for accommodation. But I did go out quite a lot to bars and ate a lot in restaurants.

Brazil is not so cheap. The supermarkets are roughly twice as expensive as the Belgian ones.

Food in restaurants is affordable though. If you cook a meal yourself, it won’t be that much cheaper. Definitely in the South there are amazing restaurants for lunch, offering an all you can eat buffet for about 15 Real (4 euro). Food is very tasty and nutritious too. Main course is rice with sauce of black beans with meat.

In the cities I always spend a lot of money with going out, visiting the city,… There are just much more distractions. But once on the road, the Brazilians really took care of me, feeding me super good! And not accepting any money in return.

So if you plan your own trip and you have a different way of traveling, bear in mind that this budget is based on basic comfort, with no budget for accommodation and with many meals offered to me.

 

Which sim-card to get for your phone

I got a ‘chip’ from Claro. In the cities and bigger towns this worked fine, but that’s about it. It was also a hassle to get it set up.

I would advise you to get one from Vivo or TIM, which are the biggest companies.

With Claro, I paid 20 real for 600 MB with a one month validity.

 

Wi-Fi

You’ll find Wi-Fi in many bakeries, petrol stations etc. so even on the road you’ll be able to connect when just taking a small break to refuel.

 

Language!

You can do it! Learn some basic Portuguese! I didn’t study before arriving, because I basically needed all my time to work to save money for this trip. I had a listening course on my Ipod which thought me some basics, but most I learned with Google translator.

I would advise you though to get a small phrase book, because it will be easier to study. Brazilians really respect their guest, and they won’t correct you often. I speak French pretty good which is a great asset to learn Portuguese because it has many similar words.

Amazing people

Amazing people

 

 

So go!!!!!!

It’s a beautiful country with amazing people. Check out my different blog posts to read more stories and examples of hospitality.

 

Any question? Don’t hesitate writing me at wouter.cocquyt@gmail.com or by commenting below.

 

See you on the road!

Magical km's on Joaquina beach, Floripa

Magical km’s on Joaquina beach, Floripa

 

 

 

Last stretch of lovely Brasil

At a glance:

  • Visiting the amazing canyons and waterfalls of Fortaleza and Itaimbezinho, close to Cambara do Sul, in Rio Grande do Sul region, South of Brazil
  • Avoiding the big city of Porto Alegre
  • Cycling the longest beach in the world! (Cassino beach, 240 km long)

The region around Cambara do Sul had been one of the reasons to travel South in Brazil instead of going to the waterfalls of Foz de Iguacu in the South-West. I was lucky enough to have a warmshowers address to stay. This was the perfect base to explore the waterfalls and canyons of the area. Ricardo is organising bike rides in the region too, so it wasn’t too hard to know where to go.

Great lunch with my host Ricardo and his son, Nino, at a local party

Great lunch with my host Ricardo and his son, Nino, at a local party

The Fortaleza canyon was already impressive, but Itaimbezhino left me speechless!

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-11

After visisting Itaimbezhino, I continued on the dirt road East, descending for the last time into the Santa Catarina region. The road was so bad that I had to be braking all the time to dodge the big rocks. It would have been very complicated to cycle up this pass.

At the end of the downhill, I met another cyclist who showed me around the small city of Praia Grande. Jackson then invited me to come camp next to his house. I had no idea about this area. Turned out you can access the canyons here! After a big camp fire and a quiet night, we hiked into the canyon in the morning.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-15

Jackson and Gisele live a simple life with a small income, but at least they have time to enjoy life! I really liked staying with them.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-17

After 40 km on a beautiful and quiet road, I was forced to pick up the busy BR 101 again. This is the main road from Sao Paulo to the South, and I have been avoiding this monster as much as possible.

I had to follow it for only 25 km, but I had such a strong tailwind that it was a lot of fun! I cruised at 35/40 km/h down the road and did 75 km on it in no time.

From Osorio, I took the road towards Mostardes and Sao José do Norte. This road looked really boring, but the alternative was another busy monster, the BR 116, from Porto Alegre towards Rio Grande.

But with this kind of tailwind, the 400 km till the end of the peninsula at Sao Jose do Norte would be a piece of cake!

Again, a wonderful family hosted and fed me. I could sleep in their old house.

I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t sleep well. My whole body was itching. I had borrowed some pillows from them and figured that maybe they had some bugs in them.

Of course, the wind turned changing my pace dramatically. The 400 km suddenly seemed really long. I still managed to do more than 100 km a day, but it wasn’t so easy.

The itching continued a bit during the day, although when I was cycling, I didn’t bother me much. But my saddle was also killing me. I had a couple of wounds on my bottom, forcing me to get up once in a while.

The owner of a pine three plantation let me camp in a new house, but again I couldn’t sleep well. My whole body was itching again. Especially my hands and insides of my feet were really burning. I seriously wanted to rip my skin off. But I tried to stay calm and managed to get some rest.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-22

The next day, it rained hard from the early morning till 2 pm. The headwind would continue a couple more days too.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-26

I just had the music on the Ipod to get me in ‘the zone’, hoping time would pass quickly and I would be able to make some progress anyway.

By 6 pm, the sun finally reappeared and all was good again.

I could camp next to people who harvest the resin of the pine threes. They didn’t have much confidence though and for the first time my hosts didn’t ask me if I wanted to take a shower (bad timing after the rain).

One more day of headwind and I got to Sao Jose do Norte where I took the ferry to Rio Grande, a city with about 200.000 people.

I cycled to the Cassino beach, 20 km further, where I was planning to go to the camping. I met some students in the park though who were slacklining. I joined them for a while and ended up staying with one of them, Luan.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-29

My plan was to stay for one or two days and continue my way to Uruguay, but I ended up staying six days!

It was very nice to have some “student time” again, to hang out with people of my age, to party and to make new friends. Luan especially became like a brother to me.

Championship of bands in Cassino

Championship of bands in Cassino

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_klein-33

Thinking that I had bed bugs, I brought my clothes to a company to get them washed. I put my other stuff in plastic bags and let them burn under the hot sun. Some people said I didn’t have bed bugs, but I did see a couple of wants in my tent. So I thought it was better to wash all my stuff anyway.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_groot-8

It was only the morning I left, that I made up my mind about which route to take. Cassino beach is with its 240 km the longest beach In the world. The sand of the beaches is hard normally, so I should be possible to cycle all the way on it. But many people told me it was too risky. They told there were sections with soft sand where I wouldn’t be able to cycle and that there were big river crossings. And that there is rarely any car passing, so if I would have a problem it wouldn’t be easy to hitch a ride.  After the skin problem, I wasn’t sure if I was up for this adventure.

Saying goodbye to my brother, Luan

Saying goodbye to my brother, Luan

But the alternative road seemed very boring and I had watched ‘Into the wild’ with Luan the day before, so my spirit for adventure was fuelled again.

So I loaded about nine liters of water on the bike and popped by the supermarket to get enough food for three days. Luan had also showed me a great website: www.windytv.com. This shows the wind directions! I had waited around the town of Cassino until I was sure to have a tailwind.

So off I went. Hoping for no soft sand sections.

In the beginning there were still some people on the beach, but after about 30 km, I had it all to myself. I really couldn’t believe this beach was going to continue for another 210 km! I mean, that’s almost from one side of Belgium to the other. Without seeing anyone! With just cycling on a beach!

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_groot-18

I had only started around 11 am, but with nothing to stop for, I made good progress. I didn’t even stop to eat, just had some food while riding. With the tailwind I managed an average of 21 km/h. After 150 km, I pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere on the beach.

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_groot-16

The second day, the wind still helped me. Early in the morning, I met Mr. Vanderlei who was walking (!) the length of the beach! He didn’t even had a backpack, just a small water bottle. To my question ‘How do you manage to carry enough food and water’, he simply replied: “I just economize what I have. My body gets used to work with very little food”. Fair play!

amerika_cambara-rio-grande_groot-14

After another 40 km or so on that second day, I started getting back into civilisation. There were some fishermen living, although many of the houses seemed abandoned too.

DCIM100GOPRO

I met a couple on the beach fishing. Mr. Cardoso and Marlise invited me to come have lunch with them. I could take a siesta there too, but I continued, because I planned to cross the border with Uruguay. Exciting!!!

Photoalbum here!

Up in the mountains! And switching my bike for a horse!

I had been following mostly the coast going down from Ilhabela to Joinville, so I really needed to get into the mountains and travel on some quieter roads.

First I headed to Corupa, where I walked for three hours to visit 14 (!) waterfalls. I couldn’t see the last and most impressive one (120m) though because of the clouds, but it was still very impressive. Because it was as if an airplane was taking off, but I couldn’t see anything. It was so close and so loud, yet I couldn’t see ten meter away from me. It was even a bit scary maybe.

amerika_joinville-floripa_klein-4

I was now also in the “European Valley” where many people speak German. Very interesting! I stayed in Timbo with a friend of a friend I met when cycling around Joinville. Nice how cyclists help me along the way and get me in touch with their friends along my route.

But most importantly, I was now cycling though green valleys full of rainforest or banana trees over quiet dirt roads. I really had a good time!

amerika_joinville-floripa_klein-8

Then, I headed to the island of Florianopolis. Continuing over dirt roads to avoid the tar road and its traffic meant working hard to get over the mountains, but it was definitely worth it. I find main roads to be very impersonal and boring. And if you have no deadline, it’s fine to be making slow progress.

When I crossed the bridge to Florianopolis, I got a strange message though… The guy that was going to host me, suddenly wrote me that he couldn’t after all. “Really? You are telling me this now?” If he had told me earlier, at least I would have had the time to find another place to stay.

But it was now 6pm, and I was in a big city I didn’t knew. The guy send me an address though in the centre where people commuting to work by bike can park their bicycles and take a shower. So I went there, explained my situation and luckily the mechanic at this place offered to host me in his house.

Next morning, I woke up with a fever… Just perfect!! Haha. So I slept most of the day at this bike parking and spend another night at the mechanic’s house. I also met many cyclists there, and one of them, Daniel, offered to host me longer on the island.

First, I recovered a bit more from the fever and then I went cycling around the island for two days. It’s a beautiful place, but also home to about 400.000 people. Therefore there is a lot of traffic and Brazilians are not very patient with cyclists…

But Daniel’s family was truly adorable so It was hard to leave…

Magical km's on Joaquina beach, Floripa

Magical km’s on Joaquina beach, Floripa

 

I planned my route over some more secondary roads towards Sao Bonifacio and Braco de Norte. In both places, Daniel had given me addresses to stay. First one being a beer brewer! Just perfect J Avoiding the main road, meant some more climbing again, this time to about 800 m (coming from see level).

I descended again, this time over dirt road towards Braco de Norte where I stayed with Daniel’s nephew, Pedro. At one point I got very lucky (see picture), this made me laugh so hard!

Then a big challenge awaited: the Corvo Branco pass (over rocky dirt road towards 1239m). Climbing went gradually, but the last 3 km were brutal! Straight up over bad road. But the whole ‘serra’ is very beautiful, making it all worth it.

When I took a break 20 km after the pass in a restaurant, I met Marcos who invited me to come stay with him. He breeds horses, so it was interesting to help him a bit.

Next morning, I left my panniers at his place and climbed to the Morro da Igreja at about 1800 m. Truly incredible!!!

amerika_floripa-cambara-13

This whole region is amazing actually…

I was now on the ‘altoplano’ (high flats), but it sure wasn’t flat! After about 100 km on the plateau I made it to the famous road ‘serra do rio do rastro’. It sure is spectacular!

amerika_floripa-cambara-20

I stayed with Daniel’s parents at Urussanga, close to Criciuma. There, I went shopping for some stuff. I for example needed new shoe laces, which was very nice to look for, because it seemed that all the pretty girls from town are working in the shoe stores 🙂

I cycled out of town and camped at a rice farm. Then I headed to another challenge: Serra do Rochina over dirt road back to the altoplano.

amerika_floripa-cambara-27

I had now cycled a long way since my last break in Florianopolis and I was getting a bit tired. Climbing to this pass therefore took half a day. I also learned an important lesson: a dirt road under construction is much worse than a normal dirt road! It’s very rocky instead of hard sand for example.

I stopped at the first farm I passed after the pass to ask to pitch the tent. It was a ‘fazenda’ with about 300 cows and around 350 hectares of land. The people in this region are called ‘gauchos’, which could be translated to Brazilian cowboys (although they also live in Uruguay and Argentina).

The owner was getting older and his children came to help because all the cows had to get vaccinated. They told me it was quite a lot of work and asked me to help the next day. I couldn’t wait! Always great to get some experience, besides the cycling.

Next morning, I first saw how they milk the cows by hand and gave it a try myself. It took some time to get the technique, but I had a patient teacher. Then the mother came to make ‘camargue’, which is basically half a cup of coffee filled with fresh milk straight from the cow.

amerika_floripa-cambara-30

We then went to collect the cows to vaccinate them and give them some medicine. The one year olds were also branded/ burnt with the owners label. I was forced to improve my Portuguese. “No, not this one, we need to get the black one and her calf!”

amerika_floripa-cambara-34

Then the cattle had to be moved eight km to another field. In the morning, I had sat on a horse for five minutes and now they asked me if I wanted to ride the horse to guide the cows. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was going to learn a lot If I accepted.

So there we went, Gabriel and I, behind about 100 cows on the public road.

I did some horseback riding when I was 7 and later I made some laps once with my sister’s horse when I was 17, so it’s not an understatement to say my experience was rather limited. And now I had to ride 8 km and I was also responsible for not losing any cows. They gave me a whip to scare the cows so they would move and we headed out. Luckily the road was quiet, my horse was very easy to control and the road was fenced, so the cows can’t really escape. But still, I didn’t knew the route and open gates along it and it was difficult to understand the rare directions that I was given. There were also some slippery wooden bridges with holes in them which kinda scared me.

Using the whip was rather difficult, so I had to scream my voice out to keep the cows moving. It got really interesting when we got to the field and had to keep two herds apart. We had to speed up, I was now galloping fast and I got the hang of the whip.

So there I was. On a horse. Racing across a field to avoid the herds to mix, slamming my whip and shouting ‘yihaa’!!! If you would have told me the day before I would be doing this stuff, I would never have believed you.

amerika_floripa-cambara-37

We got all the cows safely to the field and I returned with a big grin on my face. The rain didn’t bother me, I loved the factthat  I was learning things by just doing them.

 

This was for sure the best experience of the trip so far. It made me realize cycling is not important. It’s just an opportunity to meet new people and do new things.

Next morning, milking the cows went a lot better already and I also learned some knots to tie the cows to the wall. Then I fixed the roof of the barn by reinforcing the wood that had rotten and replacing some roof tiles.

In the afternoon (after another great lunch!) I left to reach Cambara do Sul, where I had a warmshowers host.

I think I could have stayed much longer at the farm because there were still many things to learn. But I should get to Patagonia in summer, so I kinda have to keep cycling a bit for now. Still I’m traveling a lot slower than before. I’ve now cycled 2300 km in Brazil in 7 weeks, but Sao Paulo is only about 1300 km from here. Talking about some detours… But going slow is the only way that interests me these days, to get different experiences like I had at the farm.

 

Cambara do Sul is a small town in a beautiful region where one can admire many waterfalls and canyons. I’ll write more about this in Montevideo, Uruguay, which I hope to reach in about two weeks.

 

photoalbum here!!!