Brazil, Part 12: Iguazu Falls and Itaipu Dam

November 6 – 10, 2010

With my three month Brazilian visa coming to an end soon (and visa extensions not an easy matter for me), it was time to exit and there’s a grand exit to be had by seeing the impressive Iguazu Falls and Itaipu Dam at a point where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet.

Saying goodbye to the beach life as I head south on BR-101 and climb up the Serra do Mar back to São Paulo.

I passed through São Paulo on my way south and stayed with Fernando and Luciana again for a night. It was nice to see Buma.

I’ve noticed trucks like these all over South America, which I haven’t seen further north. Where there are multiple axles, one of them can be lifted and disengaged from running on the road, increasing tire life and fuel mileage (as rolling resistance is reduced). I’ve seen them on trailers and the tractors. A good idea when running light. Also, almost all the trucks have the forced wheel speed limiters on them (the contraption on the wheel hub). Not sure how well it works, since most of the truckers drive quite fast, regardless.

A typical meal at a roadside restaurant on the tolled highways. For R$13 (US$7.50) you get a piece of fried beef, rice, beans and a salad. The yellow powder is farina/farofa, powdered tapioca flour, which adds a crunch to the meal.

Heading south on the three-lane wide tollway of BR-116 from São Paulo to Curitiba. The curves and elevation made for a fun ride and the R$4.50 in tolls makes quick work of the 475 kms.

There are some sharp turns as the route winds along the hilly coast and there were numerous signs warning drivers not to apply the brakes when in a turn, leading to a tipover but to scrub off speed before a turn. Good driving skills to know. And to become a racer, the next logical lesson is to accelerate through the turn feeling the maximum g-forces.

Meeting up with Reginaldo from Curitiba, outside the city at Portal da Graciosa. Reginaldo is part of the HorizonsUnlimited community of bike travelers and he’s been a helpful source to numerous travelers passing through Curitiba. He contacted me through facebook through mutual overland traveler friends.

Riding the scenic route to Curitiba. Reginaldo’s traveled around South America a few times and on different vehicles, so his knowledge is invaluable.

A fancy bus stop as we rode through the outskirts of the city heading to his house. Curitiba is known as a well-planned city, that too for incorporating ecological principles into its design. I thought I would see more of the city when I came back later to apply for a Senegal visa before heading to Africa, but plans changed.

What was more special about the stay with Reginaldo was that he’s traveled all around South America on a 1996 DR650, 2 years older than mine, so sanDRina had some good company for the night. We poured over maps in the evening and he shared lots of good info on border crossings in Patagonia and where the sights were. He’s a true asset to the overland motorcycling community. Stop by and say hi if you’re passing through southern Brazil.

The next day, it was tollways again, cutting across the southern tip of Brail towards Iguazu. There weren’t any other good options besides the tollway, so you just have to fork over the US $15 in tolls for the 530 km stretch to Cascavel, near Iguazu. The most expensive day of riding in South America, not forgetting the expensive petrol in Brazil at US $5.30/gal (R$2.50/lt).

Signboards on the freeway counting down the approach to a sharp curve, similar to brake boards on a race track. I guess there have been enough accidents of tipped over vehicles, probably truckers who didn’t slow down, that prompted these signs all over the highways.

The great soybean fields of Brazil, feeding the animals of the world. A picture that could resemble Wisconsin or any other rolling farmland.

At a toll booth. They think they can make you feel good for paying so much somehow by putting the word “eco” in their tollway name, but where’s the connection? And the crazy thing is that the price changed from one toll booth to the next.

I met up with Tulio (yellow t-shirt) in Cascavel through CouchSurfing. He’s a lawyer with the government and we had a sushi dinner at a food court in a mall. It felt so removed from my previous sushi dinner in Picinguaba.

The next morning, as I neared Iguazu, I spotted this sign with distances to the capital cities of Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile (in Spanish, the decimal and comma are switched around).

As I neared the town of Foz do Iguacu, a thundering storm was brewing so I put off visiting the falls till tomorrow.

But there’s another site of interest in town, the gargantuan Itaipu Dam.

Built in the early 80s on the Parana River, it straddles the border between Paraguay and Brazil with both countries sharing the cost and benefits.

It was the world’s largest dam until the Three Gorges project was finished recently in China. But since that dam is still ramping up its electrical generation, Itaipu still stands as the largest source of hydroelectric energy in the world.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

It produces 80% of Paraguay’s electricity needs and about a quarter of Brazil’s. This along with developing sugarcane ethanol has led Brazil to be largely fossil-fuel independent compared to many western nations and rightly or wrongly is seen as a model forward for many developing nations.

The large sluce pipes that direct the force of the water to the turbines that spin to generate supposedly ‘free’ electricity. The dam cost US$25 billion dollars and…

One fact that gets repeatedly ignored by proponents of hydroelectric energy is the change to the terrain that happens from the reservoirs that form behind these huge dams – their ecological footprints. While the benefits of ‘clean energy’ are touted as being worth it for the price local peoples and animals have to pay, there is change to regional climate and downstream environments that are ignored. They say this reservoir engulfed a waterfalls as impressive as the Iguazu falls. While hydro is considered a renewable energy, it comes with hidden costs that are not evident in the short term.

Do only humans have a say in how we shape this planet or do the little guys also matter?

That evening I stayed with Kacilla thru CS (center) and she’s going to night school for a degree in tourism. I joined her to get some internet access and Bianca, on my left, of Japanese-Brazilian descent, wanted some help with her English lessons.

Getting some kebabs after classes ended.

There’s a strong Lebanese influence in southern Brazil and it’s evident in the numerous kebab eateries. As usual, Brazilians sprinkle farofa on everything.

Hoping for a clear day, I paid the hefty entrance fee (R$49, $28) to see the awesome Iguazu Falls. One of the natural wonders of the world.

The Parana River flows over an escarpment and gushes water over the edge.

The Brazilian side of the falls allows you to get real close to the bottom of a set of falls and fully appreciate the force of water thundering down. Even with the Itaipu Dam upstream, the force of the water is very impressive.

The falls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina and there are different views from each side. Here, on the Brazilian side, there are walkways that allow you to feel the heavy spray and get engulfed by the sound of the falling water.

Looking downstream of the falls with Argentina on the left side. I think Niagara Falls has a higher flow rate per minute but Iguazu spreading out over a much wider mouth, resulting in about 275 distinct waterfalls, flows more water overall. And Victoria Falls in Zambia keeps the title of the longest curtain of water.

This panorama stitch isn’t the best, but it gives an idea of the views from the Brazilian side looking across to Argentina.

Checking out from Brazil at the federal police office at the border.

My three month stay in Brazil came to an end with one day left in my visa. I had planned to stay for two months, but with how well things were going, it was easy to stay longer. I started in the remote regions of the Amazon and crossed the rainforest on the TransAmazonica Highway and slowly came down the coast towards ever greater development resulting in the megalopolis of São Paulo. Rio on the other hand showed how wonderful a huge city could be, blessed with fantastic geography. I found my slice of paradise in Picinguaba and in all the Brazilians that I came in touch with. There’s an energy you feel that emanates from the people and I think I need to spend more time here to better understand it. Travel is expensive through Brazil (compared to neighboring countries) but with their beautiful smiles and sweet-sounding Portuguese, you’ll be happy to pay whatever it costs to experience some of the good vibes of Brasil.

Next: Argentina, Part 1: The Northeast into Buenos Aires

Previous: Brazil, Part 11: Revisiting Picinguaba

Brazil, Part 11: Revisiting Picinguaba

November 4 – 6, 2010

After experiencing Rio, it was time to head south and get into Argentina as their summer was ramping up. Since I was going to be passing by Picinguaba, it would’ve been rude not to stop and say hello to my friends there and I hoped the weather would be nicer this time, as it was.

Heading south on BR-101 as it hugs the coast with views of islands and mountains blurring the distinction between land and sea.

Stopping for some lunch in the resort town of Angra dos Reis and noting what the locals think of their u-turn signs.

It’s a beautiful drive along the Serra do Mar on a clear and sunny day.

Having a quick look at Paraty, a colonial town known for its charm and lined with cobblestones. If I didn’t know about Picinguaba a bit further down, I would’ve probably stayed here longer.

The dramatic entrance to Picinguaba, passing by this shallow bay as the road winds down the mountains into the cove where the village sits.

A familiar sight, Carol’s home for a few months in Picinguaba.

In the afternoon, I lounged about on the beach, writing and noting the life around. Fisherman here are preparing the nets for their early morning shift. Besides one hotel and a few shops, most everyone else’s life revolves around fishing.

A souvenir shop on the beach.

A beautiful sunset from Picinguaba. Even though we’re on the eastern coast of South America, the village sits on the south-western tip of a peninsula looking across a huge bay, providing nice views of sunsets.

The outdoor cafe where I spent the afternoon, taking inspiration from the waves and putting it into writing.

The waters calmed as the sun set.

And it quickly went dark as Sol went behind some dark clouds.

Peek-a-boo. The last rays glinting across the still waters before the sun disappeared behind low lying clouds.

The rays from the set sun reflecting off high clouds and lighting up a natural drain across the beach into the sea.

Carol was throwing a small party that night and in the ten days that I was in Rio, she befriended Carlos here, a next door fisherman and she got him to bring over some fresh fish and prepare it.

Carol has been enjoying her time in Picinguaba and was sad that her time here was coming to an end in a few weeks. She’s preparing sushi rolls as…

…Carlos cuts up some fresh sashimi.

Fresh sushi and sashimi, straight from the sea.

Carlos was also preparing some soft-shell crabs.

And typical of Canadians, we had baked oatmeal cookies for dessert.

Dinner at Carol’s with some of her friends from Quebec visiting with Vaigenio, his sister and Carlos.

After dinner and lots of wine, the dancing started (iPod speakers an essential item for impromptu dance parties). Here, Vaigenio and his sister, Maria are dancing the forbidden dance of Lambada in a Brazilian beach town. The moment was more special than just that as these siblings weren’t on talking terms until this evening when they were separately invited for dinner. It’s a small village and family politics can dictate life here. Their father had about 13 children from the same mother and some drifted apart while others grew close. Vaigenio said he didn’t want to be seen in public with Maria but they decided to dance for us to show how it’s done. I hope this evening thawed their complex relationship a bit.

I got up early the next morning and observed a fishing village come to life.

Older, traditional fishing boats, which were moored on shore were rolled down to the water on two logs.

Ravens abound waiting for discards from the fishing nets.

As some boats left, others were coming back in.

On the surface of it, life’s a beach here. Kids playing football near the surf.

I spent the day with Carol and her friends and Maria lazing on the beach.

Maria going in for a dip in the Atlantic.

Besides snorkeling for a while, we relaxed and dwelled on the fact of enjoying some sun in southern Brazil.

I was in the middle of an interesting conversation where the Canadians were saying how these were the smallest swinsuits they would dare wear (recently bought in Ubatuba) and Maria, of course saying they should go smaller as she was in her bikini. I knew Brazil would be fun, but you never know how much until you get here.

As I was nearing the end of my time in Brazil, my Portuguese was finally coming strong and I was translating between Maria and the Canadians. It took about two months for my Spanish to flow easily and it was about the same time for Portuguese to start flowing, having superseded Spanish as the ‘other’ language in my brain. But now I was going to be entering Spanish-speaking Argentina and I hoped I could switch back easily.

Sunset across the Picinguaba bay, leaving me with a good taste for Brazilian beach life.

Saying bye to Talia in the morning. She was working extra hard during my second visit, so we didn’t spend much time together but we shared a meal. She wants to do something for the community here, but without treading on their customs. As she has realized, we make global change by acting locally and I hope she succeeds.

It’s the location and the people I knew there that drew me in for a second visit to Picinguaba and I left with a positive vibration. Life isn’t all a beach and we wouldn’t achieve the things we’ve done if everyone lived on a beach, but there’s something special about seeing how simple and full-filling life can be.

Next: Brazil, Part 12: Iguazu Falls and Itaipu Dam

Previous: Brazil, Part 10: Rio de Janeiro, The Marvelous City

Video from Brazil: BR 230 TransAmazonica across the Amazon Jungle

August 15 – 21, 2010

6 days across the Brazilian Amazon on the famed BR-230 TransAmazonica Highway across the jungle. A remote track cutting across the largest rainforest in the world. The road is pretty straight for the most part but got hilly, here and there. It was nice to get up close and see what this famous jungle is about, but also sad to see how much of it is being burnt down for cattle ranches.

Click here for more Videos.

Brazil, Part 10: Rio de Janeiro, The Marvelous City

October 24 – November 3, 2010

After a nice few days in the fishing village of Picinguaba, I headed up to the gem of Brazil, the Cidade Maravilhosa (marvelous city) of Rio de Janeiro. Besides getting to know this icon of South America, I also had some paperwork to take care of, namely visas for Argentina and Chile.

Heading up BR-101 along the lush, mountainous coast route to Rio de Janeiro.

Arriving in time for a little get together at my CouchSurfing host, Sonia’s place (she’s the one in the doorway to the kitchen). Larissa on the left is from Recife who was also staying with Sonia thru CS. She’s a civil engineering student and came to Rio for a conference. The other two friends are Rita and Marsa.

The next morning, after submitting my visa application at the Argentine consulate, I had a tasty snack of an Acai smoothie. It’s a fruit of a plam tree and is gaining global recognition as a super-food for its high concentration of anti-oxidants along with good proteins, healthy fats and always needed dietary fiber. It’s popular all over Brazil and is typically served with granola. Mmm. Tasty and you get a purple tongue afterwards :p

At night, Larissa, being from the northeast, wanted to seek out this particular bar, Severyna de Laranjeiras, which is considered the trendiest place to experience Forró dancing in Rio.

After my introduction to forró in Ubatubu with Talia, I already had the rhythm down, but needed a bit more practice for it to come smoothly. Larissa had patience and said I was improving steadily through the evening. Besides the basic two steps to the left and then two steps to the right, I even attempted a few spins. It was nice to see more experienced dancers and the possibility of the moves in this dance style.

The weather was kind of iffy for a few days, but with the sun out, I headed up to Corcovado, a 710 m (2,329 ft) granite peak located in the Tijuca National Park, for its panoramic views of Rio. At sunset, the colors are beautiful across the city. The dome in the background is Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain).

A closer look at Pão de Açúcar with the fading rays of the sun creating a small cloud around the granite peak, highlighting the difference in height from sea-level, 396 m (1,299 ft). This is just one of numerous monolithic morros (rocky outcrops in shallow waters) that line the coast around Rio. The city itself is fantastic for its culture, but the variation in geology within city limits is what’s really striking to me.

The setting sun piercing through my Arai XD helmet.

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas at sunset from Corcovado, adding to the geologic diversity of Rio. It’s a huge salty lagoon that is connected to the Atlantic. The small strip of land separating it from the ocean harbors the neighborhood of Ipanema. Copacabana is to the left and Leblon to the right.

The sun dipping down below the mountains of Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world. The mountains were stripped bare in the early days of colonialism for sugarcane plantations, but seeing the benefits that forests provide, such as holding fresh water supplies for the city, the Portuguese King Don Pedro II, ordered the mountains to be reforested. And while it’s extremely difficult to regrow a rainforest ecosystem, the forest that exists now is good enough to provide a sanctuary from the city and keep nature close by.

And last, but not least, besides the great views of the city from Corcovado, it’s also the site of the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. An icon of Rio and Brazil. Towering 40 m (130 ft), it was built in the 1920s by donations from the local Catholics to symbolize peace. However, how peaceful can a statue be if it’s got spikes to prevent birds from perching on it?

Heading out in the evening, for a night out in Lapa, a lively neighborhood near the center known for its numerous restaurants and bars. The fun happens under the Arcos da Lapa, an aqueduct built during colonial times.

Larissa getting us some fresh Caipirinhas from a street bar. It’s the national drink made with cachaça (an alcohol from sugarcane juice), lime and sugar.

The view from a club’s balcony of the throngs of party-goers in Lapa. It’s true what they say about the good times in Rio. After dancing away inside, it was good to come out for some fresh air and people-watch from up here, seeing the street-hawkers selling essentials to the crowd: chewing gum, cigarettes, drinks and the blue food stands in the back looked quite inviting.

Towards the end of the night, around 5 am, it was time for some after-bar food. In the US, this would be a big, greasy pizza slice, but here, you can get…

A tasty plate of sausage with rice and some veggies. Anything greasy tastes good at the end of the night.

By now, with enough references written on my CouchSurfing profile about my chicken curry, it’s the first thing that a host asks me about. So, of course, I prepared my curry for Sonia and Larissa.

At the central train station. Sonia is an active participant in Rio’s Carnival (like most Cariocas – people from Rio) and she invited Larissa and I to come along for a birthday party at the samba school that she’s part of.

Taking a metro train to the neighborhood of Gamboa, on the outskirts of the city.

The birthday party underway in the practice hall of the Portela Samba school, full name: Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Portela. The party was in celebration of the man in the white shirt, playing the bongo drums with the two kids.

The blue and white flag of the Portela Samba school, one of the oldest samba schools in Rio, being founded in 1923 and winning the first ever samba competition in 1935. Since then, it’s gone on to win the most number of samba championships (41) in Rio. If you’re not familiar with it, during the Carnival celebration in Rio around February/March every year, there is a competition during the main float parade between the various samba clubs of the city. Each club prepares the whole year for the carnival and it’s been a good way to bring a community together. Winning the competition gives you bragging rights till the next year.

This was a casual party in the off-season to bring everyone together and what do you think happens when a samba school gets together for a party? Well, they samba! Musicians sat around this table, with beer flowing freely and strumming out the energetic beats of samba.

Drums are essential during the samba parade as they keep the beat flowing for the dancers. Each school has around 300 drummers.

Sonia performing some capoeira, which is a Brazilian movement involving martial arts and dancing. She’s in the middle of a ‘ginga’ with her partner, which is the fundamental movement of rocking back and forth with big movements by the feet.

This lively guy grabbed me and wanted to dance and loved the bald head. It’s all good in the samba school.

And what would a Brazilian party be without the churrasco (bbq). Freshly grilled meats were flowing throughout the evening.

Showing the strong connection between Brazilian and African culture, the cake was decorated in the colors of African Unity (red for the blood spilled in defense of the land, yellow for the gold/riches on the continent and green for the lush vegetation). These colors were adopted from the Ethiopian flag by other countries after gaining independence (as Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized by Europe) and by the Rastafari movement, as well. Oh, and the cake tasted good.

The birthday man giving a speech before the cake cutting with lots of references to liberty and justice for Africa.

Spending a nice evening at a samba school with Larissa and Sonia.

On the way home, we stopped at a fair selling various goods. Here’s a selection of sweets from the northeast.

And being from the northeast, there were multiple stages of forró bands.

I had to capture how matter-of-factly this lady was chopping up frozen bottles of water with a machete to keep the beers cold.

All sorts of grilled meats.

Sonia was very nice and let me use her 50cc Aprilia scooter to buzz around the city so that I wouldn’t need to risk sanDRina. I felt safe all around Rio, but a big adventure bike like sanDRina sure does attract a lot of attention. I got a flat tire and am getting the tubeless tire fixed at a borracharia (tire repair shop).

One of the evenings, Sonia’s friend here, Elena invited us over for dinner. I couldn’t help but cut a few onions.

Dinner with Christina, Marsa, Sonia and Elena. We had interesting conversations with me answering lots of questions about India and them telling me about how it’s not popular to be married in Rio these days, especially for these 50-somethings. They were all either single, never-married or happily divorced strong women. You can imagine the shock when I told them about arranged marriages in India and the fact that we have fewer divorces than in the west due to these type of marriages being more out of duty than love.

Copacabana and Leme Beach, famous the world over for its luxuriant sun, sand and beach-goers. It stretches for 4 kms, being defined by forts at either end.

A viewpoint of Copacabana and Leme Beach from the Morro do Leme (a rocky outcrop) on which sits the Fort Duque de Caxias.

Public bathroom encouraging you to go “xixi” here, rather than outside.

Exquisite sand sculpture along Copacabana Beach of bikini-clad women checking out the action on the beach.

Heading a bit further south and after rounding the Copacabana Fort and Pedra do Arpoador, you come across the next big beach of Rio, Ipanema.

Ipanema Beach is considered to be more chic and trend-setting than Copacabana, but you can imagine that there’s a healthy rivalry going on between the faithfuls of either beach. Ipanama is credited with introducing to the world the dental-floss bikini and other beach fashion.

The unique pavement pattern at Ipanema. Every beach has its own design.

Surfers catching some waves a bit further south at Leblon Beach. Ipanema runs along the top.

A view of Morro dos Dois Irmãos (two brothers, because of the split peak) from Mirante do Leblon (viewpoint).

A closeup of Favela do Vidigal at the base of the morro. These were referred to as slums in years past, but now the more correct term is “communities” and yes, it’s true, a lot of violence is centered around them like the news reports, but it’s not all gloom. The unique thing about the favelas of Rio is that the mountainous geology forces them to be right next to rich neighborhoods, compared to say those of São Paulo, where the favelas can be quite separate from the rich areas. Sonia told me that because of this closeness of distinct social classes, there’s a unique relationship between the rich and poor where they both see each other and respect that things are different. She said if gangs from another favela come to rob a rich house close to their favela, they’ll protect the rich house, for nothing in return.

More than the beaches, I’ve wanted to come to Ipanema for so many years to experience this: Bossa Nova where it was born. Besides electronic trance, this is the type of music I listen to most often.

This music store, Toca do Vinícius, is considered a reference for the genre and along with finding classic records, there’re historical pictures and artifacts.

The genre became famous worldwide with Antônio Carlos Jobim’s classic “The Girl from Ipanema.” Here, Vinícius de Moraes who put the Portuguese lyrics to the track is with the actual girl from Ipanema, Helô Pinheiro, who inspired the writers as she passed in front of them, going back and forth to the beach in Ipanema in the 1960s.

Just down the block is the holy shrine of Bossa Nova, the Garota de Ipanema bar (previously called Bar Veloso), where Jobim and Moraes composed their numerous classics and caught sight of the garota (girl) de Ipanema.

Inside, along with cold beer are lots of instruments and artifacts of the Bossa Nova culture. The genre emerged as a mix from samba and jazz with its own unique rhythm. Besides the sweet sounds to my ears, the connection is strong as I played the saxophone (tenor and alto) all through school and enjoyed the jam sessions with my friends in our jazz band. I need to get back in touch when I settle down next.

Entering the André Rebouças Tunnel, which connects the beach neighborhoods of the south with the districts in the north, where Sonia lives. This tunnel, one of numerous around Rio, runs for 2 km under Corcovado.

An elevated highway running through Sonia’s neighborhood near Maracanã stadium.

A sunset shot of the Arcos da Lapa or Carioca Aqueduct, built in the 18th century to bring fresh water from afar to the city, which was surrounded by swamps.

The Escadaria Selaron (the steps of Selaron) straddling the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods. This beautifully tiled staircase is the labor of love of Chilean sculpture Jorge Selaron, who started on a whim in 1990 to improve the steps outside his house. Tiles have been donated by travelers from around the world as his reputation has grown.

He can be seen everyday working on the stairs in his iconic red clothes and loves to show travelers from other countries where the tiles are from their country.

An intricate tile work of Mama Africa.

I sat for a photo with Jorge, but I thought this picture of him with some Colombian girls would be more appreciated.

Colorful colonial buildings in Lapa.

During the day time, when it’s not packed with throngs of party-goers, Lapa is a quiet neighborhood to stroll around and have a coffee.

Cristo Redentor, up on Corcovado (meaning hunchback), towering over Rio.

A view of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) from Botafago Beach. I hope cariocas realize what a stunning city they have.

A sunset shot of Morro dos Dois Irmãos from Leblon Beach.

Saying good-bye to Sonia after a nice 11 days in Rio with visas for Argentina and Chile in hand.

It’s all true what they say about Rio de Janeiro. The beaches are great, the people are warm and beautiful and the city is set in some stunning landscape. It’s well-deserving of the title of Cidade Maravilhosa. I was really impressed with the geologic diversity within city limits of such a massive metropolis: huge granite towers rising from the sea, long tunnels, huge lakes, dense forests and gorgeous beaches. Oh, I need to come back and live here some day…

Next: Brazil, Part 11: Revisiting Picinguaba

Previous: Brazil, Part 9: Finding paradise in Picinguaba

Brazil, Part 9: Finding paradise in Picinguaba

October 20 – 23, 2010

With sanDRina feeling super fresh after all the maintenance work in São Paulo, I headed down to the coast and worked my way up to Rio. I contacted Talia through CouchSurfing in the small fishing village of Picinguaba, about halfway to Rio and close to Paraty and spent a few idyllic days in this tranquil slice of paradise.

Taking the highways down from the plateau that São Paulo sits on. Southern Brazil is quite hilly and it makes the highway riding fun.

I headed down to the coast thru Mogi das Cruzes, avoiding the big port city of Santos.

The coast of southeastern Brazil is flanked by the Serra do Mar (mountains by the sea) and are covered by what’s left of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Rainforest). Taking a break with a view of these waterfalls.

Riding the beautiful coastal highway of BR-101, the Translitorânea, which traverses almost the entire coast of Brazil covering about 4,600 kms (2,875 mi). As I saw in the northern states, it’s not exciting everywhere, but this stretch from Santos to Rio is supposed to be the best riding. This is near the city of São Sebastião with views of two islands: As Ilhas and Ilha das Couves.

Ahh, to smell the ocean breeze again. A welcome change from the concrete of the past few weeks.

The Serra do Mar is protected via numerous state parks as Brazil’s great economic progress is not treading so lightly on its precious natural resources. They’ve tried to encourage the rainforest to grow once more in places where deforestation has taken place, but it’s not so easy with delicate systems like rainforests. The road was constantly changing elevation, twisting up a hill and dropping down…

…to reveal lots of small seaside communities hidden in the numerous coves along the littoral.

A panoramic view of one of many bays along the route.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Now, that’s what you call a coastal highway. The waves almost crashing right onto the pavement.

The twisties were sublime. Traffic wasn’t so intense and I captured lots of good video.

North of Ubatuba, taking in the view of the peninsula across the bay that the fishing village of Picinguaba lies on.

I turned off the highway down a small single lane road snaking down to the water and arrived in the idyllic fishing hamlet of Picinguaba.

I contacted Talia through CouchSurfing but she was busy hosting some cyclists from Uruguay and passed me on to her friend here, Carol, who’s from Quebec and is spending a few months cycling around Brazil. She discovered Picinguaba a few weeks back and decided to stay here for a while. She’s preparing a seafood soup here for dinner.

Carol and Talia having some vegetable fried rice that I prepared for lunch the next day.

The Uruguayan cyclists preparing to leave. They were traveling for a few months north up Brazil. His trailer is supported by one wheel in the back and thus leans to the ground when it’s stopped. He convinced us he wasn’t overloaded (but I’m one to talk).

Views of Picinguaba. The name refers to the indigenous people that used to live along the coast before the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.

Talia chatting with one of the locals as we walked around the community. The Mata Atlântica is lush here and the humidity shows on the walls of the houses.

The steps leading up to Carol’s house. The village is quite hilly as the Serra do Mar spills onto the beach.

A small wooden bridge leading to a residence.

The road ends at the beach and besides this little section where most of the cars were parked, it’s a walking community as everything is nearby.

The end of the road into the village as the beach expands ahead.

A phone booth that wasn’t used much as most people come here to get away from it all.

I spent my afternoons at this little bar with absorbing views of the bay, freeing up my mind to write some thoughts down in my journal.

Views from the bar of Pousada Picinguaba, an exclusive boutique hotel and the biggest business in this cove. Talia moved here from São Paulo to work at the pousada, along with most of the other young adults here.

A panoramic view of the bay at Picinguaba, shot with Carol’s camera after I showed her how to use the stitch-assist feature. It’s dotted with the odd sailboat or two and fishing boats of the Caiçara people, the traditional inhabitants of the southeastern coast who are a mix of people from indigenous tribes, Portuguese settlers and African slaves. Fishing as the primary activity has a deep sense of heritage among them and is still strong in this community.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

A sailboat framed by the thatched roof of a beach bar.

That afternoon, I went for a walk with Carol thru the surrounding hills.

Getting a good view of a low tide beach.

Looking deep into the Mata Atlântica covered over in overcast clouds.

Driftwood along the beach.

The tranquil waters lapping in a cove.

The serenity of the place hit a positive nerve within. The calm waters surrounded by green-carpeted hills running into the ocean and the overcast weather hit a certain harmonious tone that left a lasting impression.

Going for a walk around the village after dinner.

And running into these police officers who were on a fishing trip in this dune buggy.

The next morning, breakfast at Talia’s place of oatmeal, homemade yogurt and other goodies. Talia bubbles with positive energy and attracts all the children into her open home.

Makes for a nice family portrait, eh?

But the little one thought I looked better with these nice goldilocks. What do you say, baldy or blondy?

Matheus bringing Talia some fresh fish from this morning’s catch.

Matheus’ dog faithfully follows him all around the village and found a way to jump onto this wall from the neighboring house to see what his master was up to.

After breakfast, we hung out at the beach and Carol was probing more about how this community was surviving with the young adults wanting to run off to the big cities.

Birds resting on the rocks by the waters in Picinguaba Bay.

Vaigenio, a close friend of Talia’s, did some yoga as he relished the surroundings of his paradisaical beach community.

I could get used to this place and felt very comfortable in my few days here and vowed to return on my way south after Rio.

Around lunch time, another friend stopped by to clean and prep the fish, which I think was some snapper.

He cut some fillets and others for sashimi (raw fish), which they enjoy quite a bit here, but it requires skill to know exactly how to slice the fish for sashimi. A wrong cut and it spoils the taste.

Enjoying fresh sashimi (related to sushi but served without rice), minutes after it was cut from the fish and hours after it was caught from the sea. Talk about fresh. A bit of soy sauce and it was heavenly (I don’t do wasabi, not my kind of spice).

The neighbors were cutting up some fresh sugarcane stalks (the youngins learning the ways)…

…and handed over a jug of fresh caldo de cana (sugarcane juice). This is where brown sugar comes from and of course white sugar, after they’ve bleached all the natural color from it. Interestingly, crystallizing sugar from sugarcane was discovered in India and traveled with Columbus and the Portuguese to the new world with Brazil now being the largest producer of sugar in the world. And in return, the Portuguese brought the red chillies of South America to India, greatly enhancing the variety of spicy food on the subcontinent (before that, we only had black pepper as our strongest spice).

Some of the fish from earlier was baked with some veggies. Served over a bowl of rice. My palate was enjoying all the fresh food.

That evening, with Talia and Vaigenio, I went into town (nearby Ubatuba) in an hour long bus route that stopped at all the small beach communities along the way.

We found a band playing forró music and danced into the wee hours. Talia patiently taught me the steps and I caught on after a while. It’s a dance from the northeastern part of Brazil, but has caught on around the country. Its basic steps are two steps to the left and then two to the right and repeat with all sort of variations. The beat is fast but once you get on it, it becomes quite fun. The music is produced with just three instruments: an accordion, a zabumba bass drum and a metal triangle that keeps the pace.

I had a really good time in these four days at Picinguaba and met lots of positive energies emanating from the location and the human souls. I was looking for a place like this as I knew it existed and all thanks to CouchSurfing as it has the power to draw the traveler to small, out of the way locations that would otherwise be passed up. I had to come back.

Next: Brazil, Part 10: Rio de Janeiro, the Marvelous City

Previous: Brazil, Part 8: Servicing sanDRina in Sao Paulo

Brazil, Part 8: Servicing sanDRina in Sao Paulo

October 3 – October 19, 2010

As you might know, I’m using this trip as a transition from my previous life as an engineer to a future life in the humanitarian field and to get me there, I’m studying for a Masters in Sustainable Development from the University of London while I’m traveling and every October, I need to give my yearly exams at a British consulate. I had to decide back in July (while I was in Quito, Ecuador) where I would take the exams and since then, the clock has sort of been ticking down to my arrival in São Paulo. I had hoped to arrive a few days earlier but with the bike issues I had, I got here the day before my first exam. I was well prepared and the exams went well. The next year of study starts in February 2011 and I’ll be picking up the course materials (dealing with water issues) in Morocco and will probably take next year’s exams in South Africa.

With that taken care of, I had lots of bike maintenance to attend to. I stayed with Fernando and Luciana thru CouchSurfing and they put me in touch with a good mechanic who treated sanDRina very well. There’re lots of maintenance pictures below and if you’re not interested in the oily bits, hold on for the beach shots from Rio next.

Having lunch at an Outback Steakhouse with Fernando and Luciana, my hosts thru CouchSurfing. They were very gracious to put me up for two weeks while I got everything with the bike sorted out. Fernando is a medical sales rep and Luciana is finishing up a biochemistry Ph.D. They traveled to Europe recently and would like to live in the US for a few years, so I shared some info on that with them.

That evening, we were invited by CouchSurfing friends of Fernando for dinner. The two guys are French ex-pat systems engineers, working on a new subway line here and they’re both named Julian. To the right is Eliza, a Japanese-Brazilian and Julian’s girl friend, who’s a journalist. São Paulo has the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan. With the labor shortage in the coffee plantations at the beginning of the 20th century, many rural Japanese families emigrated to Brazil in search of a better life. Along with them, with Brazil’s liberal immigration policies in the past, many others cultures emigrated over such as Italians and Lebanese, creating a cultural melting pot in São Paulo. Eliza grew up in a smaller city north of Rio and spoke of how it took a while before she was accepted as a Brazilian by the locals there. But in the mega city of São Paulo, the Japanese are well-established.

Julian and Eliza are both great cooks and before Brazil, he was posted in Thailand and learnt there how to make the good Thai food that we’re having for dinner here.

In between my exams, Fernando took me for a tour at the Instituto Butantan, where Luciana is working on her Ph.D on developing pharmaceuticals from snake venom.

Yup, snakes. All kinds from all over the world. The Butantan Institute is renowned for the production of vaccines and antivenoms and is a leading research facility in venomous animals. It was started in 1901 to combat a bubonic plague outbreak in the nearby port city of Santos.

I think I’m a pretty rational guy but I still can’t get the societally-installed image (thru movies and our media) of snakes as evil and dangerous out of my mind. I’ve conquered a lot of my fears over the years, but haven’t yet got around to this one.

A green tree snake. Fernando pointed out that the triangular-shaped head snakes are usually poisonous but not always.

The king of the hill here, the Indian Python. It’s not poisonous but is known as a constrictor, meaning it crushes its prey to death, then swallows it. They didn’t have an anaconda in the display cases; it would have been nice to compare the two. After seeing some deadly spiders and tarantulas, I was happy to leave before any of the inmates escaped.

Receiving a care package from my sister in Miami with a new clutch kit, a new tent from Catoma, some new tool tubes and various other items. This box traveled all over Brazil before I finally got my hands on it. It arrived into Rio (two weeks from Miami) and cleared customs there (surprisingly, I didn’t have to pay any customs duties) then it was sent to Kavin in São Luís, but it was too late for me, so he sent it down here to São Paulo. I also got a fresh supply of spices from my mom.

This is Buma, Fernando and Luciana’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. She was fun to play with and reminded me of Zoey, a pitbull I lived with in Chicago. One aspect I really enjoy of staying with people in their homes is meeting their pets and see what their lives are like.

Once my exams were over, it was time to focus on sanDRina. A cousin of Luciana’s put me in touch with Rogerio here.

He’s a Race Tech Suspension, KTM and Honda certified mechanic and perfected his skill in Phoenix, Arizona for many years before returning home to Brazil. He also raced in the Rally dos Sertões with the factory KTM team and had some good stories to tell. I wasn’t having any issues with my suspension but after coming across such an experienced mechanic, I figured a rebuild would be good and I knew I could trust him with the prized bits of sanDRina.

It was a good call to rebuild the rear shock as I haven’t done so since buying the bike and putting around 50,000 kms (31,000 mi) on it since then. It’s a Larry Roeseler Signature Series 420 shock and Rogerio said there was very little oil left and the nitrogen from the bladder had all but leaked out. He put in some good quality Motorex shock oil and said the rest of the unit looked good. The shop we’re at is called Street Fighters and they’re new on the scene but are quickly creating a good name for themselves.

The clutch problems that started back in Bolivia were finally being put to rest with this new EBC Heavy Duty clutch kit from ProCycle. The fibre plates are soaking in engine oil before installation.

This was the little battery that the mechanic gave me in Cambui to get me here. It did really good and Rogerio joked that I should carry it as a spare. It was replaced with a new Yuasa battery.

The front forks being rebuilt. The seals looked good, so the oil was changed and the Race Tech Cartridge Emulators were also rebuilt. The valve springs in the emulators had busted through the housing after probably hitting a few pot holes on the TransAmazonica too hard. My WER steering stabilizer was also rebuilt with fresh oil. That’s Andreas, Rogerio’s right-hand man who worked with steady precision. His ride was a DR800, knows as the DR Big.

Rebuilding the fuel petcocks on the Aqualine Safari tank. The alignment of the holes with the path in the key determines if you’re running on reserve or normal.

I had noticed a notch in the steering and Rogerio confirmed that the bearings were shot. Andreas is whacking out the old steering head bearings that were put in before my Continental Divide trip.

I wasn’t so keen on All Balls bearings after the rear wheel ones failed on me in Peru, but that’s all they had in São Paulo and I was happy they were able to find the specific bearings for my bike. The rest of the guys at Street Fighters were top notch as well and were running around town getting whatever I needed for the bike. It was a good place to be.

As we were working into the evening, a few guys from the next door univeristy (UNIP) came over and asked for Rogerio’s help. Turned out they were part of the Formula SAE program, where college teams engineer and race a mini formula race car against other colleges in a performance and design competition. Formula SAE was my life during my undergrad at Purdue’s Mechanical Engineering and that’s where I learnt most of what I know about wrenching on cars and bikes. Before that I didn’t know how suspensions or differentials worked. I was also introduced to machining there, spending entire weekends over a lathe, turning out bespoke parts for the car. The ultimate reward was getting to be the test driver over the summer; pulling g-forces is an awesome feeling.

They just rebuilt their engine (from a Yamaha R6) and were having some issues with the transmission. The formula dictates the engine size to 600 cc, which means most teams use a sportbike engine. On my team, I was responsible for the heat exchanger and fuel delivery systems. This team was having some issues with over heating and asked me a few questions on it. I had designed a water spray system for our car to take advantage of evaporative cooling, but the added weight wasn’t justified. I still would like to design such a system for the DR – one of the things I didn’t get around to before leaving on the trip.

sanDRina with the whole crew at Street Fighters. I was done with Round 1 and would soon be back for more.

Going for a test ride around the city. São Paulo is a modern city and parts of it feel like New York and other parts like San Francisco (lots of hills). It’s the biggest city in the southern hemisphere with a metro population of around 20 million. It’s considered an Alpha World City, being an important node in the global economic system. There’s not too many touristic things to do, but it’s a great place to get things done.

Fernando had to go away on a business trip for a few days, so I stayed with Julian in his well-secured apartment block. São Paulo is very progressive, but crime is still a big concern and most residences are secured like fortresses.

Julian, being French, moves around with a crepe-maker.

Reminding me of my life in Chicago – he likes to throw frequent get togethers centered on food.

He made all sorts of delicious crepes including the staple Nutella and banana but I requested a special kind here with this Thai chilly paste (which was kind of sweet) with rice. Strange, but it tasted yummy.

At the crepe party, I met Bianca (with the red scarf), one of Eliza’s journalist friends and she asked if I could make my chicken curry for a party she was throwing the next night at her place here. You betcha. This is at Bianca’s place and more of their journo friends.

I love coming into someone’s house and going straight to their kitchen. Bianca asked what I needed the night before and had all the ingredients ready. Here, I’m slowing adding in the chopped tomatoes to get the sauce out of the curry.

I usually make my curry not very spicy due to the sensitive taste buds of South Americans but on request, I made a separate dish that was more spicy.

Fernando getting the hookah going, which is an Indian waterpipe for smoking tobacco (usually flavoured), which is gaining popularity around the world. I’m not a tobacco smoker, but if it’s filtered through water and chilled in the same process with a bit of flavour thrown in, it’s not bad at all.

A shot from the desert tray of baklava (a Turkish pastry) towards the waftings of the Indian curry. Bianca’s traveled around and was pleased at the aromas in her place.

Seasoning the curries with freshly chopped cilantro. I was pleased to see more people went for the spicier of the two curries.

If you’ve been following the trip, you’re probably aware that I’m making the same dish all the time. Many reasons for this: the ingredients are simple and easy to source anywhere, plus with a new audience every time, it’s still new and novel to them. Also, I’ve read that success in anything comes with many, many hours of practice, so my curry keeps getting better all the time.

Stuffed with curry, the diners laze around the low table, taking puffs from the hookah.

Having a drink of Arak, an anise-based liqour, which acts like a digestive.

Sharing a wonderful evening with warm Paulistas over some Indian food.

After a long weekend, it was back to Street Fighters to take care of some long-term maintenance issues.

Giving the starter motor a good cleaning. Everything checked out all right. We also tested the whole charging system: the generator, the rectifier and inspected the wiring loom.

We had to remove the Cam Chain Tensioner to remove the starter motor and if you remember from way back in San Francisco, the mis-assembly of this part was the reason I destroyed my original engine. I expressed my reservations to Rogerio about messing with the tensioner and he assured me that he would show me exactly how to reinstall it the proper way. I released the tensioner with the correct tension on the cam chain and nothing broke this time. I liked Rogerio’s philosophy as a mechanic. He said a motorcycle is simply a machine and if everything is working perfectly, you should be able to disassemble and reassemble every part of it with no issues. Of course, you must have the knowledge of how to do it and enough experience and wisdom to guide you through it.

Having lunch with the Street Fighters crew at the next door Japanese por kilo restaurant. Unique to Brazil are the normalcy of restaurants that charge you by the weight of the food you take from a buffet line. This definitely helps cut down on food waste as you will only take what you can finish. Cheaper restaurants charge around R$ 10/kilo ($2.50/lb) for the regular fare of rice and beans with some meat up to fancier restaurants like this one with sushi and tasty Japanese dishes for R$ 20/kilo.

One of the issues I couldn’t solve at Street Fighters was my jet needle problem. We couldn’t find a spare that matched my needle exactly after scouring most of the moto shops in town. Rogerio sent me to Roberto’s shop here. He’s a specialist mechanic doing custom jobs on older motorcycles.

Roberto’s engine expertise has been called on by the state oil company, Petrobras for designing and machining some parts for oil rig pumps. I explained my problem to him and he went about devising a solution.

The problem with my jet needle was that it was too short, therefore the carburetor was running rich. We couldn’t find a spare at his shop, which had engine parts lying all around, so he figured it would be best to mate on the additional piece that was broken off.

The jet needle with a new head, secured on with a collar, which was soldered on, but being brass and aluminum, it was hard to get a good mate. I installed it in the carburetor and the engine was sounding good again, but this issue wasn’t closed yet. The next day, while riding around town, the collar came loose and the needle fell into the carburetor, making the bike run terribly.

I limped the bike across town to Rogerio’s next contact, Paulo, another motorcycle machinist who’s worked on setting up race bikes, along with vintage ones like this hard tail Harley here.

He machined me a new jet needle out of brass to match the profile of my original jet needle as close as possible. The tapered profile of the jet needle is crucial to smooth running of the throttle. But alas, this solution too did not work. I couldn’t get the bike to run properly with this new needle. The exact characteristics of the profile could not be matched and these small discrepancies meant my only solution was to put back the shortened original jet needle in the carburetor and order the exact parts from the US. Time to fire up my support network: I called up my mechanic, Gus in Chicago and he ordered the parts right away and sent them to my sister, who FedEx-ed them down to me. The logistics of the situation, with my 90 day Brazilian visa expiring (I spent a whole 3 months in Brazil) and visa extension being a complicated process for me meant that the needle would be best sent to Buenos Aires, where I would meet it in a few weeks time.

At least I made a new throttle cable and a spare while I was at it.

I got some new tool tubes in my care package and went over to friends of Rogerio: Julio and Felipe’s hardware shop to source some good hose clamps. When I was ready to pay, the owner Julio said it was on him as he was glad to help a world traveler. He too rides bikes and said he wished he could be doing a trip like mine. The backend of the bike was looking clean now and I thanked Julio for his contribution.

Every Thursday night is a bike night at Street Fighters and the cool thing about the place is that at day it’s a motorcycle shop and at night it turns into a happening bar. I think the place is better referred to as a motorcycle boutique. As you might expect, I was standing around answering lots of questions.

One more day at the shop. In the days leading up to my arrival in São Paulo, on cold starts in the mornings, heavy smoke would billow out of the exhaust for the first few seconds. While not affecting the performance of the bike, I wanted to get it checked out and Rogerio said it was probably my valve stem oil seals seeping oil onto the piston that was being burnt when the engine was cold-started. And since we were removing the cylinder head to service that, might as well go one step further and service the piston. That’s carbon buildup on the piston head from over 46,900 kms (29,100 mi) on this engine. However, I think most of that was from the recent very rich running of the carburetor.

There was a bit of oil blow back past the piston rings (which are tasked with separating the engine oil from the combustion chamber) and since we found an original set of piston rings for my bike at the local Suzuki dealer, might as well change them out now as I don’t think I’ll be going back into the engine anytime soon (hopefully). Rogerio’s running a wire brush here to polish up the surface.

He worked diligently on servicing all the parts. Aware that my previous engine rebuild of my original engine before the trip began lead to its demise (due to my own fault with the cam chain tensioner), I was not deterred of going back into an engine under the expert guidance of Rogerio.

The cross-hatches on the Nikasil coated cylinder walls looking good. This is where the piston slides up and down and the hatches retain oil in them creating a film for smooth piston action.

New valve stem oil seals installed (the green parts), which were also conveniently found at the local Suzuki dealer.

Upon inspecting the valves, Rogerio pointed out the curve that had set in on the valve face. This is an intake valve and the curve meant that when the valve was closed against the cylinder head the seal wasn’t perfect and prolonged use would perpetuate the curve and lead to reduced combustion chamber compression pressure (loss of power).

Not finding new valves, we went over to the machine shop at the university with the Formula SAE team and they were happy to help.

The valve face was slowly grinded flat in a lathe.

Now that’s what a proper valve face is supposed to look like. With the new face, a considerable amount of time was spent re-seating the valves in the cylinder head with a specific grinding paste that ensured the two surfaces mated properly.

A clean-looking piston back in its home of the engine cylinder. The reassembly of the engine went smoothly and the bike fired up nicely with no smoke on subsequent restarts. sanDRina was feeling fresh all over (rebuilt suspension, top end engine, new bearings, cleaned starter motor, etc), except she was still running the shortened jet needle.

We cranked up the rear spring some more when the shock was rebuilt and this raised the height of the bike and rendered my shortened side stand too short now, so I devised this extension system with three bolts. It would work nicely on hard surfaces but would obviously sink in on loose ground like mud, but placing it on a stone would take care of that.

People warned me of the crazy traffic in São Paulo, but it wasn’t bad at all. I guess by now I’ve gotten enough experience of driving through Latin American cities that it comes naturally, that is being aggressive defensive through traffic. But a nice feature of some main routes in São Paulo are these exclusive lanes for motorcycles. Cars are not allowed to stray into this lane and none of them did, making it a breeze during rush hours. This also cuts down on the amount of motorcycles lane-splitting around cars and inadvertently hitting mirrors and scratching doors. I heard the local bikers here, especially the messenger boys, are quite aggressive and will kick mirrors if cars are blocking a path between lanes.

A sign warning bikers to be careful as they cut across lanes near an intersection. Traffic was well-behaved around São Paulo and when there were no exclusive motorcycle lanes, I notched up my lane-splitting experience.

Back at Street Fighters, every Saturday, after closing down the shop at noon, the churrasco (bbq) is fired up and staff and customers enjoy some skewers of beef and chicken with beers and caipirinhas. A big thanks to Rogerio for all the excellent work he did on sanDRina and for teaching me a lot of things along the way.

With the crew at Street Fighters. They accepted me as part of the family over the ten days that I kept coming back here. And I thanked them for the heavy discounts they gave me on the work that was done there.

Things got a little crazy. This beer can was inverted and holes were punched in the bottom with rock salt placed on top with another hole for drinking. They do crazy things with beer in each country down here.

The sun setting over my two weeks in São Paulo. I met many nice Paulistas and got a lot of things taken care of and now it was time to head to the beach and Rio for a bit of R&R.

Next: Brazil, Part 9: Finding paradise in Picinguaba

Previous: Brazil, Part 7: Chapada Diamantina and Minas Gerais

Brazil, Part 7: Chapada Diamantina and Minas Gerais

September 25 – October 3, 2010

From Salvador, I headed inland to the scenic Chapada Diamantina and then turned south through the drylands of western Bahia and northern Minas Gerais, making my way down to São Paulo.

Riding the straight, busy highway, heading out of Salvador towards the interior.

I casually stopped on the side of the road, just past the village of Rosalindho for a small break and was getting bothered by the notchiness of the throttle, so I tried a few adjustments. But, things got worse and the throttle was stuck open, it wouldn’t close with the engine revving to full throttle upon ignition.

I opened up the throttle cable and found my problem – broken strands in the cable preventing it from sliding back to close the throttle. In hindsight, this problem was rearing its head earlier, even on the TransAmazônica, but I forgot to take care of it São Luís and now it was time to pay attention to it. I tried sniping the broken strands but it was no good; I needed a new cable and I wasn’t carrying a spare.

I apparently stopped in the driveway of this small house and went up to ask them if I could please stay there for the night. I explained my situation and they gladly took me in. It was a Saturday afternoon and all the shops would be closed tomorrow, so I needed to wait till Monday before going into the nearby city to procure a new cable. There were no neighbors around and the remoteness was apparent at night with our Milky Way galaxy shining in full brightness.

The man of the house was a veteran of the Brazilian military and was supporting his family on a small pension.

They had a gas stove and some other amenities, but still preferred to use this wood-fired stove for boiling water.

Monday morning, I was put into a bus heading to the nearest city of Feira de Santana and asked my way around till I found someone who could help: this Suzuki dealership. Since my carburetor is not stock, they didn’t have any cables that fit but told me where I could find the separate pieces of the cable to make a custom one for my needs. They were also kind enough to let me use their tools in the shop without charge – I had to grind the terminal heads of the cable to make it fit properly. With a new throttle cable and a spare made, I took the next bus back to the house.

My hosts, the veteran and his wife showing how happy he was to see that I made it back all on my own. The bus from the city didn’t arrive till early evening and he said he was worried that something happened to me and he had started to get drunk to calm his nerves. As this was my last night here, his wife prepared quite a feast of chicken in a gravy, rice, pasta and beans, which was all very tasty. My Portuguese wasn’t that great by now, but he understood what I was doing and we managed to communicate. I thanked them for taking me in.

Thinking my problems were over was premature. I had never opened this Mikuni TM38 Flat Slide carburetor before and was not familiar with all the parts and its delicateness. While installing the new throttle cable, I had to man-handle the slide (black square) due to the tension in the system from the throttle-closing spring and this caused me to snap a small piece off of the jet needle (the brass needle coming out from the bottom of the slide). The result was that the bike would be running fuel rich (too much fuel for air) until I could get a new needle. The bike was running fine, so I figured best to get to São Paulo and figure it out there.

Back on the road, heading to Lençóis.

Rio Lençóis running through the town, which was at the center of the diamond mining boom in the mid 19th century here in the foothills of the Chapada Diamantina (diamond plateau).

The central market building in front of Praça dos Nagôs (Nagos Square). After diamonds were discovered in nearby rivers in 1822, prospectors arrived from around Brazil and setup makeshift tent villages, which looked like bed sheets drying from the surrounding hills and from there came the name of the town, Lençóis, meaning sheets in Portuguese.

A week to go before elections and the campaiging was heating up with this street cart blasting out songs made in the favor of the particular candidate. Brazil is generally a well-developed country but it has a ways to go in terms of respecting personal space as this kind of close-range loud blaring of music would be considered rude in developed countries, but is totally acceptable here. But you know what, it keeps the atmosphere lively and there’s never a dull moment.

The colonial architecture of Lençóis – the best preserved of the area’s diamond mining towns. The boom lasted only about 50 years and the diamonds were more of industrial quality for rock cutting rather than for jewelry. At its height, the French were the biggest buyers, using them for the Panama Canal (before the US took over) and the London Underground. But the discovery of the South Africa diamond mines spelled the end of the boom in Chapada Diamantina.

The central street where cafe tables were setup at night for dinners in the cool evening breeze.

Having breakfast with my CouchSurfing host, Joana from Portugal and her friend, Roberta. Joana came to visit last year and ended up staying and is working with a volunteer project to teach English and also teaches pilates and yoga from her house.

The town of Lençóis in the foothills of Chapada Diamantina, a national park known for its numerous waterfalls and good hiking trails.

After breakfast, Joana and I headed for a small hike to see some waterfalls. The reddness in the water comes from tannins that are leached out as the water flows through a swamp or wetland. These kind of rivers are referred to as ‘blackwater’ rivers. It had the clarity of a good cup of tea.

Water channels actively cutting grooves in the rocks. Geological processes might take eons to make an impact, but they’re happening all the time around us.

I was amazed at the red tinge of the water and initially thought it was due to cyanobacteria and heavy iron in the water, but later found out about the tannins. Either way, it makes for a unique landscape and for me, it’s easy to be entertained by nature’s color palette.

Soaking under a small waterfall in Chapada Diamantina and enjoying a natural massage thanks to gravity and some agua. The water was refreshing as the day warmed up.

Drying out on the rocks after we relaxed under the waterfalls. I can see why Joana was captivated by this place and decided to stay.

On the way back, coming across a rock face that was smoothed over by the river, showing a slice through the various stones.

Saying bye to Joana and her cute little house in Lençóis. She’s a vegetarian, so I prepared a pumpkin curry for her the previous night (it was all she had in her fridge).

Heading out from Lençóis, I rode through the stunning scenery of Chapada Diamantina.

Just from the road, one can appreciate why this place has been referred to as Brazil’s Lost World.

At the north end of the park, after a twenty minute hike I reached the top of Morro do Pai Inácio, and was rewarded with this view of Serra do Sincorá. It appears the crust was split open here, but it’s probably due to water erosion.

There was no one around and the winds were blowing fiercely at the top of the cliffs.

After a night in the small town of Seabra, I continued south to Montes Claros. A budding volcano?

The roads were generally flat with a few hills and curves thrown in.

A dirt road leading into a ranch.

Cacti indicating the dry climate of inner Bahia.

The lonesome Bahia state highway 156 lacking significance to even get painted lines.

Getting on BR-122 as it cut through some rock.

The road was in better condition but I needed some audio books playing to keep my attention up.

A distance board near Guanambi. I was heading to Montes Claros, making this an 800 km (497 mi) day for me, the longest since leaving the US. From Montes Claros, I was heading to Belo Horizonte and then São Paulo.

Now, this is perfecting the drive-through concept. A petrol station with a service channel underneath for rapid oil changes.

Solar rays shining through the forthcoming rain clouds. I got drenched in the last few kilometers.

An oddity I noticed in Brazil was these cargo trucks that tend to lean the cargo out the higher it gets. Wouldn’t this make tip-overs easier?

Staying in Montes Claros with Carol and her mom, through CouchSurfing. Carol is in the middle of her medical school studies.

Her mom prepared a quick meal of fried beef with yuca, rice and fried plantains.

Breakfast the next morning with fresh fruit, chocolate cake, pão de queijo and some tapioca puffs.

I didn’t get the name of these tapioca puffs, but they were quite airy and tasty with butter.

Riding through the hills of Minas Gerais, one of the strongest states in Brazil in terms of economy and culture.

Taking the Estrada Real (royal road) to the diamond mining town of Diamantina. The road was established by the Portuguese crown in the 17th century to bring gold and diamonds from the interior of Brazil for shipment to Portugal and the banning of local production of food made the colony dependent on the crown for food imports to be sent back up the Estrada Real.

The train station in Diamantina, once the center of diamond mining in the region.

The colonial town is situated in a valley with steep streets. This narrow street was still being used by traffic.

A pleasant town to walk around, covered in cobble stones and red tiled roofs.

The Santo Antônio cathedral in the central Praça Conselheiro Mota.

After some lunch, I continued on south to Belo Horizonte. This is where Brazil starts to get crowded and is very well developed as most of the economic activity is based around the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. It would be freeways from here on. And sadly, motorcycles do have to pay tolls in Brazil unlike most other South American countries.

About to dig in to a chicken curry that I made for my hosts, Daniel and his friends in Belo Horizonte.

His cat was just asking to have his picture taken, sitting there so nicely and with his funny mustache, I couldn’t refuse.

Even though it was all freeways, with the southern region of Brazil being quite hilly, it was still fun riding.

Just 150 kms (94 mi) from my destination of São Paulo, another bike issue revealed itself: dead battery. The bike was struggling on the highway and after rolling into this petrol station in Cambui, it wouldn’t start again. I got it push-started but it quickly died again. A local car enthusiast at the nearby borracharia (tire repair shop) said he would tell a bike mechanic (in blue shirt) to come over and help me out. While waiting for the mechanic, Rockk (pronounced ‘Hock’), all dressed in biker leather gear pulled up to fuel his Honda 250 touring bike and I got talking to him. He decided to hang around and give me company until I got sorted out. The mechanic told me my battery wasn’t holding a charge anymore; it had run out of cranking amps and was all used up (it was a brand new Yuasa battery at the beginning of the trip). So, he gave me a smaller battery from a typical Honda 125cc bike that would be good enough for a couple starts and he said it would get me to São Paulo. I thanked him and he refused to take any money for his efforts.

And just our luck that two contemporary bikers would serendipitously connect with a biker from a bygone era. The older gentleman here is Tatita, the owner of the petrol station and attached auto dealer. He came over after the station manager told him that some bikers were hanging around. Actually, I was thinking through options as it was getting late and was asking about possibly storing the bike somewhere for the night so I could get it sorted tomorrow. Tatita came over and said we could use any of his facilities, one biker to another.

A poster on the wall had this photo of Tatita in 1946 on his 1939 Norton 500cc motorcycle. The caption reads that this was the same type of motorcycle that Ernesto (Che) Guevara and Alberto Granado used in their epic journey around South America in 1952 that spawned The Motorcycle Diaries. Tatita seemed quite the renegade for his time. I wonder what he thought about us youngins.

The poster in the office with more classic photos.

Tatita’s petrol station today. sanDRina was alive again, now with a much smaller battery, but good to go for a few hundred kilometres.

Rockk is a certified auto mechanic and was coming from the interior of Minas Gerais and heading to the southern state of Santa Catarina for a workshop. We shared a room that night and here we’re getting some grub in the main square of Cambui.

Stopping at the state border the next day as Rockk wanted a picture of the sign. I did the same thing when I was touring around the US, stopping for welcome signs at each state border.

We split off as we got near the megalopolis of São Paulo as he would be taking a route around the city and I was heading inside. Thanks for the company, fellow rider. When I break down now, instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, I simply ask, “Ok, who does the Universe want me to meet now?” 🙂

Next: Brazil, Part 8: Servicing sanDRina in Sao Paulo

Previous: Brazil, Part 6: Salvador da Bahia

Brazil, Part 6: Salvador da Bahia

September 23 – 24, 2010

I spent two days in Salvador da Bahia, the center of Afro-Brazilian culture and the first colonial capital of Brazil. It’s the third biggest city in the country and is considered Brazil’s capital of happiness due to its lively nature and friendly populace. I connected with Lara thru CouchSurfing and she showed me around her beautiful city.

It got dark as I rolled into the city and I had to capture this awe-inspiring glow from the setting sun over the beach on the eastern part of the peninsula that Salvador sits on.

Old colonial buildings in Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador. The city was founded in 1549 by early Portuguese settlers and is the site of the first slave market in the ‘new world’ with African slaves arriving to work on the sugarcane plantations. The name Pelourinho refers to the whipping post in the central plaza that was used to discipline unruly slaves.

Pelourinho is a very pleasant place to walk around nowadays and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was considered unsafe a few years ago, along with the city of Salvador, but things are changing for the better.

Convento e Igreja de São Francisco (São Francisco Church and Convent), built by the Franciscan Order that arrived here in 1587 but was soon destroyed when the Dutch took over these parts of Brazil. It was slowly rebuilt over a long time. Along with numerous churches, another characteristic of Pelourinho are the pastel-hued buildings.

Cruz Caída, the Fallen Cross, a sculpture dedicated to the old cathedral, which was torn down to make way for a tram line.

Catedral Basilica de São Salvador in the main plaza of Pelourinho called Terreiro de Jesus. The church is a good example of baroque architecture in South America and was built initially as a Jesuit school.

Catching an impromptu demonstration of Capoeira on Praça da Sé and being hounded for a cash donation after taking this picture. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian form of dance mixed in with martial arts from the cultures of the West African slaves that were brought to Brazil. Its signature moves include fluid acrobatic acts and stylized sparring.

People giving reverence to a statue of Zumbi dos Palmares, the last leader of the quilombo republic of Palmares. Quilombos were settlements of escaped slaves in the interior of Brazil and their leaders, including Zumbi are considered heroes in Brazil as they represent democracy, freedom and black pride. The day he was betrayed and beheaded by the Portuguese, November 20, is the Dia da Consciência Negra (Black Awareness Day). Previously, I thought this aspect of Brazilian history was mainly the pride of African-Brazilians, but seeing white and mixed-race Brazilians giving reverence to him shows that all of Brazil respects the fight by the slaves against the Portuguese and I guess it also demonstrates how Brazil is accepting of all cultures, having immigrants from various places around the world.

The Elevador Lacerda connecting the Cidade Alta (upper city) with the Cidade Baixa (lower city). Pelourinho in the Cidade Alta sits on a ridge that drops to the sea at the coast. The elevator was constructed in 1869 to facilitate movement between the two parts of the city. At the bottom of the elevator, which is 72 m (191 ft) tall, is the Mercado Modelo, a market building and from up top here, one has views of the Baía de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay) and the island Fort of São Marcelo, where we headed next.

Taking a boat ride with Lara, who was an excellent host for my short time in Salvador.

The boat took us to the circular Forte de São Marcelo, about 300 m (984 ft) from shore, built on a coral reef.

It was constructed in 1623 by the military architect Francisco Frias and charged with the role of protecting Salvador from foreign attacks.

Looking inside one of the chambers in the fort where prisoners were kept for solitary confinement.

We sat on the fort wall and had some good conversations while watching the sun set.

The pink hues from the setting sun shining down on an old canon, aimed at incoming enemies.

A panoramic view of Salvador with Pelourinho on the left and the newer part of the city and the tip of the peninsula on the right.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Leaving the fort on the last boat with the sun setting behind it.

The golden rays of light reflecting on the waters of the Centro Náutico da Bahia.

Lara introducing me to the traditional street food of Bahia at an Acarajé stand, where the women who serve it wear all white and are referred to as ‘Baianas’.

Acarajé is made with a dough of black-eyed peas (the band of the same name was going to be touring Brazil soon). The dough is deep-fried in dendê (palm oil) and is typically served with Vatapá, a spicy mix of shrimp and coconut milk. It was very tasty.

That evening, Lara’s mom was going to a session at a Braham Kumari school, so I tagged along and had a chat with one of their teachers. This religious movement was started by the Indian spiritual leader, Lekhraj Kripalani in the 1930’s. His teachings have been spread around the world and focus on open-eyed meditation (by staring at the light at the center of the image) and principles of knowledge, practice and service. They believe in dualism (mind-body separation), which I debated with the teacher about.

Having a snack of pão de queijo (cheese bun), a typical small bread of Brazil, which is common on the breakfast table. The taste is amiable because the inside is chewy and moist with a cheesy flavor. It’s very easy to get hooked on them.

The next morning, Lara’s mom was going for a walk in the state park and asked if I’d like to come along. Before heading out, she prepared a veggie drink loaded with dark greens and healthy ingredients like sesame seeds, an apple and other good things for your body. It felt like a much-needed detoxification after eating so much meat recently (I’m not a heavy red meat eater). With some vitamins and nutrients gulped down, we headed out to the park.

Parque da Cidade Joventino Silva (City Park of Joventino Silva), a green space in the city harboring the last of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Rainforest).

A huge bamboo tree in the park.

There was a trail leading deep inside, with many residents walking or jogging and soaking in the respite from the concrete jungle that surrounds this natural jungle.

Plants growing from the trunk of another tree. The air was moist and damp, feeling like a proper rainforest.

The vegetation was thick and the air was alive with numerous bird calls. What a nice way to start the day.

With Lara’s mom, Lara and her sister, Liz, who plays bass guitar for an all-girl band in Los Angeles called Ladysugar.

Their lovely home with nice views of the ocean.

Liz wanted to come along on this tricycle as I was exiting the parking garage. Thanks for the nice time in Salvador, ladies.

Next: Brazil, Part 7: Chapada Diamantina and Minas Gerais

Previous: Brazil, Part 5: The Northeast Region

Brazil, Part 5: The Northeast Region

September 19 – 23, 2010

From Sao Luis, I headed east towards the city of Recife and colonial Olinda and then turned south along the coast towards Salvador.

My route from Sao Luis in northern Brazil down the coast and interior to Sao Paulo and Rio, exiting at Foz da Iguazu to Argentina. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

Heading down BR-316 to Teresina.

I stayed with Gustavo thru CS in this interior city of Teresina, which was noticeably hotter than Sao Luis, where it was warm but a constant breeze kept things cool. He traveled to Argentina recently, so I got some tips on Buenos Aires from him.

His maid prepared some tapioca pancakes for breakfast.

Tapioca pancakes with eggs. This is a typical dish for northern Brazil and I had some sweetened versions of this in Sao Luis. The flour is heated in a pan with no oil, so it’s a bit healthy in that respect.

One of the few curves on BR-316, heading to Salgueiro. These roads were not as busy and they were well-maintained.

Riding into dusk, hashing out the miles. One of my longer days, 622 kms (387 mi). Being generally flat and remote with not too many towns to pass through, it was easier to keep up the average speed.

Sunset in Salgueiro, a cross-roads town with roads heading east to Recife, north to Fortaleza and south to Salvador.

I stayed in a pousada for R$ 20 and got some dinner at the cafe at a nearby gas station. This is some lamb soup.

What better way to get customers to stop by then having a roller petro girl. She was handing out receipts and serving up the free coffee that’s available at most gas stations in Brazil.

Continuing east on BR-232 towards Recife.

I rode through my first rain shower in Brazil, but it was only for a short while.

Close to the big city of Recife, the road turned into a freeway.

I was just snacking on nuts as it was another high mileage day, but I had to stop at this fruit stand for a little extra snack and fiber.

I was delighted to find many fruits that I haven’t seen or tasted since India. The ones in the lower right are custard-apples, which I had in Ecuador and Peru, but they were much cheaper here. It’s a very sweet fruit and I couldn’t eat just one. Next to it, the brown fruit is officially called manilkara zapota, but known in India as sapota or chikoo. This I haven’t seen outside of India, so I gorged on a few of them. It’s also very sweet with a malty, almost caramel flavor. I also had some Jackfruit, another typical fruit of my home land.

Loaded up on glucose, I was ready to enter my first big city in a long time. Recife is the biggest city in the northeast of Brazil and is the fourth largest city in the country. The road was running on a plateau for a while and slowly dropped down to the coast. The signs says “continue to use engine brake.”

Waiting at a traffic light in Recife and you can tell the election campaigning is heating up.

I stayed with Barbara, thru CS and she cooked up a nice eggplant lasagna, which I noted down the recipe for. She’s a marine biologist and just came back recently from a dream dive in the Great Barrier Reef. She specializes in coral reproduction and Recife (which means reef in Portuguese) is suitably a good location for her research. I enjoyed learning a bit about corals from her and the unique way that these animals reproduce: synchronous spawning under a full moon.

Next to the concrete jungle of Recife is the lovely little colonial town of Olinda, known for its numerous churches and unique carnival celebrations. It was founded in 1537 and facing pressure from the new protestant movement in mainland Europe, the Catholic church sought to increase their influence in the New World by increasing the rate of converting the local ‘savages’ and they needed lots of churches to get that done. This is the Mosteiro de São Bento, built in the 16th century along with most of the others churches here.

The colorful streets of Olinda, a good example of well-preserved Portuguese colonial architecture.

Igreja do Amparo (Church of Our Lady of Amparo, which means shelter, protection in Portuguese). This church was founded by musicians in the mid 16th century and was dedicated to Saint Cecilia, the protector of musicians. Between 1580 and 1640, Portugal and Spain were united and taking advantage of the Portuguese weakness at this time, many of their colonies were take over by other imperialists. The Dutch, through the Dutch West India Company, seized Olinda along with other towns along the coast, all the way up to Sao Luis. They were quite brutal in their take overs and burnt most of the churches down, since they were protestants. When Portugal separated from the Iberian Union, they reclaimed their lost colonies and the churches were rebuilt. As a side note, the Dutch East India Company were the first imperialists in India and there too, they were not nice to the locals.

Besides all the churches, being perched on a hill, Olinda offers nice views of the ocean and that’s Recife in the distance there.

Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy), so named as it’s positioned at the top of the steepest hill in Olinda, Alto da Misericórdia, and by the time you reach the top, you’ll be aptly begging for mercy. It’s a cobble-stoned path and was tricky going down with the bike. Next to the church, the first hospital in Brazil was built in the mid-16th century. You might’ve noticed that these churches oddly have only one tower and Barbara told me that it was because of tax evasion by the local churches. Every completed church in those times had to pay hefty taxes to the Roman Catholic Church back in Europe, but if your church was still under construction, you didn’t have to pay taxes or maybe you paid less, so all these churches are technically still “under construction” since the second tower was never completed. And I thought people of the book were supposed to be honest :p

A busty sculpture perched on the corner of a building. Not only did they evade taxes, but looks like they were defying the conservatives back in the old world.

A panoramic view of Igreja da Sé (meaning cathedral), across a beautiful view of the ocean and Recife on the right side. This is the only church with two towers and thus gained the status of being the cathedral of both Olinda and Recife. The view from here is what prompted a dignitary to say “Oh, linda,” meaning ‘wow, beautiful.’
Click here to see the high resolution version.

A cute VW Beetle in the parking lot. Brazil is the only country in all the Americas to have a different-sized license plate, being much longer than the ones in all the other countries. The state and the city are printed above the numerals and I guess they need the space since some city names are quite long.

An interesting flowered roof and stone windows. It was very pleasant to walk around Olinda and I could’ve spent more than a day there.

The historic center of Recife.

The zero marker for all the highways in the state of Pernambuco.

From Recife, I followed the coast down to Maceio and went in and out of a beach towns along the way. This massive surf board billboard caught my attention.

Stopping for some lunch in the beach town of Tamandaré, where Barbara’s research station is based. She heads out for dives in the coral reefs from here.

The cobble-stoned road leading back to the highway through the Mata Atlântica (the Atlantic rainforest, or more literally, the Atlantic Mat). Cute sign of a tree sloth. I waited for a while, but didn’t see any.

BR-101 running along the coast. There was heavy traffic on this route, but the nice views made up for that.

Just like in the Amazon, the hillsides here were shaved clean for sugarcane plantations but as a token to nature, they’ve left the tops of the hills in tact. While being a nice gesture, habitat islandization doesn’t do biodiversity any good. Plants and animals need to move to thrive and the recent Convention on BioDiversity in Nagoya stressed the importance of connecting these various isolated habitats to provide a network for these ecosystems to flourish. What’s the point, you might ask. Well, most of these habitats are surrounded by agriculture that depend on various services from the ecosystem for free, such as pollination and disease control. The worldwide reduction in the number of bees is causing alarm in many countries.

Brazil and the ubiquitous sugarcane plantations. The colonialists removed most of the Atlantic Rainforest for the sake of producing sugar for Europe and this lead to the mass slavery trade from Africa. And in the mid 1970’s, following the Arab Oil Embargo, Brazil harnessed ethanol production from sugarcane and created conditions to encourage the domestic use of this fuel in automobiles instead of gasoline and thus reduced their dependence on imported oil. Today, all new cars and most older ones can run on pure ethanol or the other option of 25% ethanol in the gasoline. Ethanol burns leaner, so foreign vehicles need a few adjustments to run efficiently. This biofuel success story encouraged other countries to follow suit and whilst initially looking like a very green solution to fossil fuels, the food price crisis in 2008 highlighted the double-edged sword of biofuels, in that they are taking up food production land and driving up the prices of food around the world, which seems highly immoral considering the billion or so humans who are going hungry everyday.

A sugarcane milling plant, located in close proximity to the sugarcane fields, since once the stalks are cut, they have to be processed quickly. Brown or raw sugar is made in these milling plants and then white or refined sugar is made closer to where it’s consumed.

Taking in the sunset by the beach road. It got dark as I rode into Maceio, the capital of the next state south of Alagoas.

Being welcomed by Bruno and his mother. He’s part of the choir at his university (glee club) and traveled to Germany a few months back for a competition and their song from the Amazon with the choir mimicking the sounds of the jungle won them first place.

His mother prepared numerous different items. The yellow root in the middle resembled the texture of turnips but tasted much better.

Hanging out in front of Bruno’s house with his dad, brother and this young kid in the red t-shirt was an up and coming stunt rider.

He put on quite a show on his 125cc stunt bike with sandals and no helmet.

Continuing south the next day to Salvador on BR-101. This highway runs along almost the entire coast of Brazil. In some places, it’s the only major highway and thus sees a lot of truck traffic, like through here.

A road-train hauling freshly cut sugarcane to a nearby mill.

Splitting off from the busy BR-101 and riding the more tranquil BA-99, Bahia state highway to Salvador, the state capital.

Riding through the Linea Verde (green line) or intact Atlantic Rainforest just north of the city. It was a welcome change after riding through endless sugarcane plantations.

The speed bumps in Brazil, called Lombadas, probably having some connection to the forbidden dance of Lambada. Brazil loves speed bumps almost as much as Mexico. Maybe the more developed a developing country is, the more speed bumps it uses until finally it can afford enough of a police force to actually enforce the speed limit instead of draconian bumps in the road.

Next: Brazil, Part 6: Salvador da Bahia

Previous: Brazil, Part 4: Taking a break in Sao Luis

Brazil, Part 4: Taking a break in Sao Luis

August 25 – September 18, 2010

Having been on the road for six months since Chicago, and not staying in one place more than a week, I took a three week break in the coastal city of São Luís in northern Brazil, known for its reggae culture and colonial architecture. I met up with an old friend from my high school days in India who was living in São Luís for a year of historical research. While I’m enjoying being a nomad, it was good to be off the bike during this time. I also needed the downtime to prepare for the exams for my masters that I plan to give in São Paulo.

That’s Kavin, a good friend from my school days in India. He’s currently pursuing a Ph.D in History from the University of Pittsburgh and being a musician (he plays the bass guitar in the Afrobeat band, Kokolo), he’s researching the influence of reggae on the local political scene.

Having a street snack of minced beef in a hot dog bun.

Walking around the historical centro, we came across this street performance of Tambor de Crioula, an Afro-Brazilian dance where the rhythmic drums (tambors) and chanting vocals were encouraging women to swirl and gyrate into the energy and seduce the beats.

The drumhead being heated up periodically with a small fire in the street to tighten up the sound.

While he’s here researching, Kavin hasn’t been able to tour with his regular band, Kokolo, but he’s keeping active by playing with this local reggae band.

They were singing the reggae classics (Bob Marley’s Legend) and it was interesting to see how well the lead singer could sing the lyrics in English even though he didn’t speak a word of it. They called on Kavin to fill in and explain some of the vocals during their practice sessions.

I went around with Kavin as he visited various reggae organizations and here we’re at one of the less developed communities.

These kids from the local community are part of a dance troupe that’s trying to bring back Roots Reggae.

The kids put on a show for a reggae tour group that we sat in on.

After the small performance, Kavin discussed their story with the movement leaders. Reggae came into São Luís in the late 70s and 80s, due to its proximity to Jamaica and the culture took off on its own. Currently, modern reggae is the prime music at all bars and clubs. This new reggae sounds synthetic so there is a movement to encourage the warm sounds of Roots Reggae and the open, energy-filled dancing reminiscent of Bob Marley on stage. In contrast, modern reggae is a partner dance. Another feature of reggae here is the sound system where the louder it goes, the better. So imagine the speakers in the back of the room there, multiplied by 10 or 20 times and then imagine the volume. It was deafening everywhere we went; not just loud, but distorted. Kavin found out that which ever club made the biggest sound system, attracted the most people (since they drowned out their competition) and this naturally attracts politicians (to influence votes), so they are intimately related to the sound system companies. The most influential one went by the name, Power System.

As you might know, I enjoyed cooking a lot during my stay with Kavin. Here, I’m actually using my facão (machete) to cut up a chicken.

A spicy chicken curry with some potatoes.

Instead of seeing a lot of street dogs, I saw lots of cats all over São Luís. This guy was relaxing without a care in the world on this counter in a restaurant.

Having a Sunday fish fry lunch for R$ 7.

I was in Brazil during the run up to their major elections on October 3rd. All throughout, from the depths of the Amazon to every town, the streets were filled with images of candidates and their electorate numbers. Elections were on for the president, state governors, federal deputies (like congressmen) and state deputies. And every candidate had a car or a fleet of them with speakers blasting songs informing the public of their message and their number. And here is the funniest of them all. This Maranhão state deputy is named Nilton Damasceno and just because he looks like Obama, he’s decided to tag his name on for more exposure. He was running under a campaign of “Change Maranhão”.

One afternoon, we went to an island across the city to meet some friends to dance forró, a popular Brazilian partner dance. This is the view of modern São Luís across the shallow bay. The tides are quite extreme here.

Kavin dancing with Katya.

After that, we headed to another Reggae bar where Kavin was to interview the lead DJ, and we got a snack of freshly fried Pastel (a pastry shell filled with meat or cheese).

With Katya and her friend and pastels. Kavin gave me a Rasta hat to fit in, yeah mon.

Across from Kavin’s place was this state-subsidized cafeteria where you could get a good meal for only R$ 1 (US$ 0.57) and it was open to everybody.

For R$ 1, you get some rice with beans, some meat, salad, a desert (fruit) and a drink. The yellow powder is farofa, a toasted manioc mixture, which is served on all tables throughout Brazil. It goes with the rice and beans and also can be sprinkled on meat.

Heading out for an afternoon at the beach. Kavin befriended the guys who work at this pastelaria, close to his place and it’s customary to greet your friends every time you see them.

That’s Mardiel and Loiro, who came from the interior to work in the city. They were very friendly and excited to see the big bike. Standing next to the fryer bought back memories from my college days in the US where I worked at the on-campus restaurants, flipping burgers, frying up taco shells and going back home smelling like fried oil but I saved the money and along with paying tuition, I bought a used BMW with it.

On the way to the beach, we got these small packets of frozen yogurt for R$ 0.50. There were lots of flavors and it was very tasty and welcoming for the warm air of São Luís. From what I saw, I can say hygiene is respected in Brazil. Even buying this from a street vendor where you are expected to tear off a corner and suck on it, the vendor reached into the ice box with a napkin, and only touched the one you were going to get.

The beach at São Luís.

Having some soft-shell crabs for lunch.

Enjoying a relaxing afternoon with Kavin at the beach over some tasty crabs. He grew out his hair and I cut it all off, much to the dismay of both our mothers, but we’d average out ok :p

Sunset at the beach, which is very shallow so it took a lot of wading through knee deep water before getting to the deep stuff.

In the evening, the beach front opens up to reggae clubs and these street bars, where we’re getting a caipirinha made. It’s the signature drink of Brazil made with cachaça (an alcohol distilled from sugar cane) and sugar and lime. Very refreshing, similar to a mojito.

Inside the reggae club, where we met the band during their sound check earlier in the evening. The bass guitarist had great facial expressions.

After not touching the bike or anything to do with it for two weeks, it was time to start getting ready to hit the road soon. I had to wash the dust from the TransAmazonica from almost everything I had. Here the boots are getting a wash, the first since I’ve bought them. Other things that were washed (for the first time), my entire helmet, sleeping bag, mattress, liner bags, and anything else that could be washed.

This is the right elbow of my jacket and you can see how the oils from my skin have latched onto the fine dust.

After all the washing, including the bike, it was time for some maintenance. Here I’m mounting the new front Metzeler Tourance tire that I’ve been carrying since Medellin, Colombia. I used some tie-down straps to anchor the bike against that cement bench.

The new Tourance on the left and the old Kenda K761 on the right with 25,630 kms (15,920 mi). I could have ridden on the Kenda some more if I had to, but as you can see, it was starting to cup pretty bad and in the wet, on the asphalt, in curves that wouldn’t be a good front tire to be on.

Replacing the chain that I mounted in San Francisco (having the same mileage as the front tire above). I have the Motion Pro Chain Breaker but if I can find a grinder easily, I’d rather not risk breaking the Motion Pro tool and they recommend this method for chains over 520 width. Sebastian here didn’t even charge me for the work he did.

The one thing I didn’t get done on the bike before leaving Chicago was mounting a chain oiler to constantly lubricate the chain and thus extend its life. So, I explained the idea to Sebastian above and he gave me the bottle along with the tubing and I made a delivery system based on the Loobman Chain oiler. It got the chain oiled all right, but it also splattered oil on everything.

The delivery system made with zip-ties to lubricate both sides of each chain pin, since there are o-rings on both sides.

A park in the historical centro.

The court house.

A view of the ocean from the governor’s house.

Sunset from the governor’s house.

Igreja da Sé built in 1626 in honor of Our Lady of Victory, patron of the Portuguese at the Battle of Guaxenduba when they defeated and expelled the French, who established São Luís.

Baby Jesus getting a lunar halo.

Sunset over São Luís, considered the finest example of colonial Portuguese architecture.

Walking around the many narrow, cobble-stoned streets.

Having a few beers with Kavin and some friends on my last night here.

Saying good-bye to Kavin and feeling refreshed after a nice three week break. Thanks buddy.

It was a different kind of visit to meet someone that knew me from my past after being a stranger to everyone I came across in the past 5 months.

Next: Brazil, Part 5: The Northeast Region

Previous: Brazil, Part 3: The end of the TransAmazonica