From the concrete to the real jungle

After an eleven hour flight, I arrived at Guarulhos int. airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The view of the city from above had been truly overwhelming: high buildings for as far you can see.

The last hour on the plane, I spent learning my first words of Portuguese. Basically just enough to excuse myself for not speaking the language and to be a respectful visitor.

I could practice them right away with the immigration officer who was super friendly. These people see thousands of travellers passing through every day, so he really surprised me with his interest in my trip and the advice he gave me where to go in this enormous country.

I wasn’t sure how to get to my hosts in the centre of the city. It was getting dark, so cycling was not a good option. I asked some people how I could take the bus, but they didn’t know. Instead they offered me a ride to the centre though! I couldn’t believe it! In the end they even dropped me off all the way at my address! What an incredible start.

I was excited to be in Brazil, a country I knew almost nothing about. That same evening, I assembled my bike and sorted out my stuff, and we went out for dinner and drinks at night. I was up for about 26hrs. So no need to ask whether or not I had a good rest!

The amazing mix of people reminded me of South Africa. But here people seemed to live together peacefully, not hating everyone with another skin colour.

I loved the fact that I could also be a Brazilian. If you go out, you don’t stand out that much, and I think that in a way this is less exhausting than being the special white guy in Africa.

The huge city (25 million people) had a lot to offer. First of all, the size is just spectacular and it’s a must to go to the top of a skyscraper and admire this concrete jungle.

Then there is the music, the fine restaurants and the big parks. When meeting friends of my hosts, I always felt super welcome. I loved how people give each other a kiss on the cheek and a real hug, even to strangers.



And I also didn’t want to leave before speaking more of the language and before knowing some history of this vibrant country.

The big question was whether or not to cycle out of this enormous city. Locals advised against it, saying it’s not safe because of the traffic and of the robberies which happen in the suburbs. But I had a good look at the route with google street view, and thought it was safe if I stayed on the main road. Thieves are not going to come up to you when there are many people passing by.

So I left! I sure was excited.

Through the city there were quite some cycling lanes, which disappeared in the suburbs. Progress was slow with many traffic lights and bad tarmac with many potholes. I had left at 1 pm and only managed to do 40 km. The legs weren’t feeling great either, but I had never drank so much beer in my life as I did in Sao Paulo, so that may explain a lot.

Anyway, it started to get dark and I found myself in a place called Itaquaquecetuba (what a tongue twister!). It all looked very negative. Big walls with razor wire, a lot of dirt, people hanging around,… So I thought I really had to take care of myself well. I even wanted to pay for a hotel just to be safe, but even those were dodgy. With names like ‘Amor hotel’ and ‘love motel’ and with a rate per two hours, they didn’t seem the right place for a traveller.

So I looked for an official building (for example a school or police or firefighter station). I didn’t see any, but passed a church where I tried to explain what I was looking for using google translate.

They told me to look for the mayor, because it were almost elections and he was handing out money to everyone. So I left my comfort zone of being on the main road and headed into the suburb. I got to another church where I found some people helping his election campaign and they were very helpful!

They brought me to their office where I was introduced to a deputy who could host me. I was quite tired, and just wanted to sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon with all the people working long hours just before the election. And apparently there was also a birthday party… But I didn’t really care, because I was happy to be safe.


In the end it was a lot of fun! As usual, there was a lot of beer and good live music (seems like everyone can play the guitar here). In the morning I could return the favour with making an election video (check my facebook profile) in my best Portuguese… All quite funny really! What a first night!


In the end it took 65 km to cycle out of Sao Paulo. Of course I have cycled on nicer roads before and one could argue why not taking the bus out of the city. But if you skip every part which may be difficult, then you will never have the real experience of your trip, no? The main goal of my travel remains to learn. And I know I’m not going on a holiday when I leave to continue cycling the world. But every experience is an experience, no matter if it’s good or bad.

Needless to say, I was relieved to have cycled out of this concrete jungle and I was happy to be on quieter roads through gentle hills.


When I arrived in a small village at the end of my second day, I asked some people for a place to stay at a small shop. I could only explain myself in a few words, but that didn’t seem to bother them. I could stay behind the shop, sheltered from the rain. And although the place looked a bit dirty, it came with a hot shower (which was very nice after a rainy day) and Wifi!



From there it was just 70 km to Ilhabela where I was invited by Helga, a friend of a friend.

Due to the rain, the visibility was quite bad when going down towards the Atlantic. But it’s always amazing to reach the ocean! It brings back sweet memories of reaching the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.


I ended up staying five days at Ilhabela (meaning pretty island). The weather was still rainy, but I could still enjoy mountain biking to the beaches, waterfalls and mountains!



Full album here






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