24 September 2011

CYCLING BRAZIL (2) - Rio de Janeiro to Ilheus

On arrival at the airport in Rio I took a taxi to the Wave Hostel in Copacabana Beach and was lucky enough to find a bike shop across the road where they put my bike together again. What a bargain! The hostel was not too bad, as hostels go. It was situated close to the beach, and with breakfast thrown in and free WiFi, one could do worse…

28 August - 3 September - Rio de Janeiro

I spent most of my days in Rio shopping for a new sim card for my phone, camping gas for my stove and a good map of Brazil that shows the kilometres travelled and the road north/west of Rio. The vague plan was to cycle along the coast towards French Guiana, a small country bordering Brazil and Suriname.

I also had to wait for Amanda, who had decided to join me in cycling South America for a while, to arrive. I had a strong suspicion that this was going to be loads of fun…!

In the meantime I cycled into the city centre so I could ‘recky’ the route so that it would not too stressful for Amanda getting out of this large city by bike on her first day. I also got a Brazilian sim card for her phone as it is much cheaper to use a local card.

At the same time I enjoyed the good sunny weather in Rio. Although it is considered winter, the beaches were packed with tanga-clad sunbathers, deck chairs and umbrellas. I could easily live in a place like this. It’s just a pity that things are so expensive.

Rio is very much a party town; you party all night and sleep in the day!! Not something I’m too used to, but what the heck, as they say, “when in Rome…….”!

Amanda arrived on the evening of the 31st, dead tired after 22 hours in the air. We had loads to chat about and besides her being very tired, we only went to bed quite late. She must have been VERY tired as she did not utter a word about the fact that the room was terribly small and we had to share a bed!! Something I know (from childhood) she hates, seeing that we always had to place pillows between us whenever we had to share a bed!

The next morning we woke to a cold and overcast Brazilian day, not good for our sightseeing plans. First things first though: we took Amanda’s bike to the bike shop. Afterwards we took a stroll to the famed Copacabana beach, the colourful local market and backstreets where men were playing cards in the park. After which Amanda had a quick nap. We soon set off again, this time by bus to the very famous Sugarloaf Mountain. The price for taking the cable car was a bit steep for us (on a cloudy day) so we gave it a miss and hoped for better weather the following day.

The streets come alive after dark with literally thousands of stalls selling touristy things and bites to eat. We had a beer on the beachfront and then headed for the backstreets to find some food. The cheapest meal we could find was two pizzas from the bakery that we could cook in the microwave at the hostel. We ate our pizzas accompanied by a cheap (and terrible) bottle of wine. The wine, however, did what it was supposed to do and Amanda nearly fell asleep with her head on the pizza.

The following day we headed up Corcovado, the 710m high mountain with the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the top. A tram ride up the steep slopes brought us to the 38m high statue, and although very touristy, the views over the city were fantastic. It was fairly cold and windy so we did not spend too much time up there and soon headed down to the warmth of the city again.

With all the sightseeing done it was time to pack the panniers and start cycling again.

4 September - Rio de Janeiro - Marica - 56km

It was Amanda’s first day on the bike and we were lucky in that it was Sunday and the beach road was closed to traffic. We had an easy ride to the ferry terminal where we could get a ferry to take us across Guanabara bay, saving us from having to cycle all the way around to Niteroi. Our luck did not end there as we found out that on Sundays you can take bikes on the ferry free of charge. It was really our lucky day as, while we were waiting for the ferry, we met a local chap who lives along the coast, close to Marica. He had bought himself a bike in town and was planning to cycle home as he could not take the bike on the bus. So he offered to show us a shortcut and lead us out of busy Niteroi onto a much more traffic-free road. He stayed with us all day until he had to turn off - what a nice guy! Not much further along the road we spotted a sign for a campsite and headed in that direction. It was just before Marica, about 3 or 4 km off the road along a dirt road. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived as it was a stunning place with lakes, forests and a fantastic lawn. Although Amanda was tired, it was a good day with all the good fortune we had had.

Once the tents were pitched, we cooked some noodles that we fortunately still had in our bags and that was us done for the day.

5 September - Marica – Itauna Beach - 59km

After a cup of coffee we packed up and headed back to the main road. It was day two for Amanda and she was looking for an internet connection to put the bike and bags on e-bay - ha ha! It was actually quite a nice ride, mostly along the Costa do Sol, with densely-wooded hills on the inland side.

We stopped several times so Amanda could get her Coca-Cola fix, or just rest under the trees. Once we reached Saquarema we looked for a campsite but found none. We did some shopping at the
supermarket and headed off again to Itauna beach, where we eventually settled for a pousada (a chain of luxury, traditional or historical hotels in Portugal). We stayed in luxury for the night, right on the well-known surfing beach of Itauna.

6 September - Itauna Beach – Arraial do Cabo - 65km

We had breakfast at our pousada and then headed north along the coast. The road runs between the coast and a lake, which we realised was obviously a salt lake as we passed many salt farms. We picked up a strong tailwind, and I was happy for Amanda as she seemed rather tired by that time. On arrival at Arraial do Cabo she felt nauseous and had cold shivers.

We camped at the local campsite which was quite a disappointment - although it was close to the beach, I thought it was overpriced for what it offered. Amanda retreated to her tent, never to be seen again. I cycled to the supermarket and bought the necessary items for supper, as well as loads to drink for Amanda (I suspected her problem was dehydration).

We stayed put the following day in order for Amanda to fully recover before heading off again. We did however take a walk to the colourful harbour and ate at one of the well-known “self-service” restaurants. These restaurants are actually the best value for money as one pays by weight. Amanda is also a fussy eater so these are the best places for her to eat.

The wind picked up and was blowing at storm-strength - we even had to move our tents around in the night in order for them not to blow away. I was however not quick enough, and the wind broke one of my tent poles, something which seriously peed me off!

8 September - Arraial do Cabo – Buzios - 35km

Amanda looked a lot better after a day’s rest and, although it was still very windy, we packed up and cycled the short distance to Buzios. Well done to Amanda for not complaining about the wind, she only rolled her eyes a few times but continued on. Once in Buzios we took a room at Buzios Hostel, where I could fix my tent and we could use the internet. Amanda, no doubt, was the first to spot a sign advertising a bus trip to Salvador along the coast!!

We took a walk to the local supermarket to get some food for supper which we could cook in the hostel’s kitchen. Amanda also discovered that she was a victim of credit card fraud! What a disaster!

9 September - Buzios

Although we packed up and were ready to leave quite early, contacting Amanda’s bank to report the credit card fraud took some time. By the time we had completed the time-consuming job of contacting the bank and cancelling the card it was after midday so we stayed another day in pretty Buzios.

Buzios is known for its beaches and it did not disappoint. The wind dropped and we took a walk along the beach and enjoyed a stunning sunset. At least Amanda had a good rest and looked ready to take on the road again.

10 September - Buzios – Macae - 81km

We were incredibly lucky and picked up a strong tailwind. We hardly stopped along the way and flew down the road past Rio das Ostras and onto Macae. Accommodation looked a bit a pricy, so we continued on until just past Macae. The sun usually set quite early so by 17h00 we needed to start looking out for a place to stay. Just outside Macae we found a small pousada along the road. The price was nearly the same as some of the campsites. Needless to say, we were very happy. Although it was on a rather busy and noisy road, we had a sea view, a fan and a bathroom.

We cooked some food in the room (it was more an experiment than anything else) - not the most tasty of meals, I must admit, but a meal nevertheless.

11 September - Macae – Campos dos Goytacazes - 94km

It was Amanda’s birthday and she had the best present the road could possibly give us. A tailwind! It was also an overcast day, which was a good thing as it turned out to be quite a long day on the road. Although Amanda was tired and her backside quite sore by then, she continued on. Not that there is much one can do if there is no accommodation along the way, except for wild camping. We stopped a few times along the way and I must admit, there’s nothing quite like a cold sugarcane juice when cycling. Amanda did not like the taste and stuck to her tried-and-tested Coca-Cola.

On reaching Campos we took a hotel room as I don’t think Amanda was up to cycling around town looking for a cheap room. We found the aptly named “Canaan Hotel”, and while she relaxed in the room I went shopping for the few items we needed. She later claimed that the only things she could move were her eyes so all she could do was just lie there, staring at the ceiling. Later we got a take-away pizza to eat in the room (seeing that Amanda could not move). The pizza was so big that we could only eat half so we packed the remaining half to eat along the way the following day.

12 September - Campos dos Goytacazes – Quaxindiba - 56km

After 16km of cycling we turned off the BR101 and headed for the coast again. The coastal road gave more opportunities for accommodation and seemed more interesting that the main road.

We cycled past large sugarcane fields, cattle ranches and pineapple fields. Along the way were numerous stalls selling pineapples at incredibly cheap prices. On reaching the coast at Quaxindiba, Amanda spotted a decent looking pousada. I did not argue as by then I had heard the phrase “this is not for me” a hundred times. The room turned out to be far less glamorous than the outside. It was the most smelly, dingy room one could imagine, but we took it as it was very cheap.

13 September - Quaxindiba – Marataizes - 65km

We continued on along the coast, partly on a dirt road and past many small villages. Sugarcane trucks abounded, all on their way to the factory. We once again cycled past vast pineapple and sugarcane fields. We were now in the state of Espirito Santo, overlooked by tourists and truly stunning. It was also out of season so it was just us and the locals!

Marataises was our first beach town along the coast. We took a room as first priority was for Amanda to get to an internet connection in order to arrange for a new bank card to be sent to her.

14 September - Marataizes – Piuma - 26km

With most of the internet stuff done we set off along the coast past Itapemirim. We did not get very far as Amanda flopped down on the nearest beach, claiming she could cycle no further. I did not blame her as by then we had had four days of cycling, of which two were fairly long days.

We splashed out and found a very nice place for the night. It was more a flat than a room as it came with two bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. We had plenty of time to do laundry and the fact that they had washing machines and driers was an added bonus.

15 September Piuma – Guarapari - 55km

We unfortunately had to leave our lovely accommodation, and after a hearty breakfast (jelly, cake, bread rolls, cheese, ham, coffee etc) we packed our clean and nice smelling laundry and set off again. We biked along the coast, past fantastic beaches like Iriri, Anchieta and Ubu. Guarapari was a much larger city than we expected. Just past Guarapari it started drizzling so we opted for a room. The owners were ever-so friendly: I’m sure they had never had two foreign cyclists staying at their pousada.

Amanda amazes me more and more every day - she now even swallows down a beer or two, something I’ve never seen her do before! Amazing what a few days on the bike can do.

16 September - Guarapari – Carapina Beach - 84km

Nothing came of the predicted rain. Although it was cloudy, it was a good cycling day. Amanda set off at quite a speed and I could not believe that she was getting stronger and stronger - normally people get more and more tired as the days go by. At Vitoria we had a frustrating time as the authorities did not allow us to cycle across the main bridge (Ponte 3) so we had to cycle all the way around the city to cross at Ponte Florentino Avidos! With Amanda’s fear of water and heights, she was across that bridge in record time. Vitoria turned out to be quite an interesting town with both an old and modern section. Once we reached the beach again, accommodation looked a bit pricy so we continued on.

It was easier said than done. The road led us through various villages, jam-packed with traffic! I’m quite sure we took the wrong road. Eventually we reached the coast again. By that time Amanda was not a happy puppy anymore and threatened to stop right there and then.

We managed to continue on until we reached Carapina Beach where we found a very reasonably priced pousada right on the beach. Although the room was large it had clearly not been cleaned since the previous occupant and there was no bedding. Good thing we had our own sleeping bags!

17 September - Carapina Beach

We stayed in Carapina for the day and did little else but sleep, eat and drink. My Portuguese is obviously not improving. I try in my best Portuguese to ask for directions, food and accommodation, but people generally look at me as if I have just landed there from another planet. When they eventually get it, the remarks are always the same: ”aaaah pousada!” I don’t get it - that was exactly what I said!! How many ways are there to say “pousada”?!

18 September - Carapina beach – Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach - 50km

Refreshed after a day of doing nothing we headed up the coast again. It was a beautiful day’s cycling. The road was scenic and led us through many small fishing villages, past craft markets and nature reserves. We soon spotted a campsite and although it was still very early, it was such a good site, right on the beach, that we camped for the night. It was a stunning spot, and we took a walk along the beach looking for some food but everything seemed deserted as it was Sunday. We cooked up some pasta and washed it down with a beer or two. Food is harder to find than beer in this country! Soon the rain came down and by 8pm we were in our tents hiding from the rain.

19 September - Barra do Sahy, Putirí Beach – Linhares - 80km

The coastal road came to an end so we headed inland to join the BR101. We cycled past vast timber plantations. The road was undulated and Amanda had to push her bike up a hill or two. The best part of the day was a tailwind and cycling past ylang-ylang plantations. The sweet and exotic fragrance of the flowers filled the air. I can’t think of anything better than cycling with the smell of ylang-ylang in your nostrils.

Although the BR101 was a busy road there was a nice wide shoulder to cycle on. We stopped for cold drinks at a roadside stall and looked at all the lovely crafty things for sale. We could not buy anything but took a few photos and were on our way again.

On arrival at Linhares we cycled around the not-so glamorous town to find a reasonably priced room. We also discovered that the address that Amanda had given to the bank, (where they could send her bank card) was not at all where we thought it was: the inn she had found on the internet turned out to be along the coast and not in Sao Matheus, where she thought it was!

20 September - Linhares – Barra Nova - 85km

The only option we had was to head to Barra Nova to see if her credit card had arrived in the meantime. After we had cycled for about 60km along the BR101 we saw a huge sign advertising the inn that we were heading for. We consulted with locals at the turn-off and concluded that, yes, it was the right turn-off. 23km the advertising board said. We cycled and we cycled but no inn. The tarred road ended and became a dirt road but still no inn! The sun started setting and Amanda was (as can be expected) by this time claiming that she was going to catch a bus! We were on a stunning but rather deserted road, so where she was going to get the bus, I had no idea… We stopped a few people along the way to ask for directions but they seemed rather perplexed that we wanted to go to Barra Nova, which according to one man was still very far away and across a river (with no bridge, indicated by rowing of arms).

Eventually it started getting dark and we made the decision to “wild camp” (a first for Amanda). We pitched our tents at the entrance of what looked like an oil refinery (to great amusement of the security staff). Amanda looked anxiously around for a toilet and was mumbling something like: “I could have been somewhere in a hotel room…”

The security guards at the gate were not only very friendly but also quite curious as to what two women on bikes were doing in that part of the world. Once again the directions to Barra Nova varied between 10 and 28km.

21 September - Oil refinery – Barra Nova - 20km

After we had coffee we packed up and followed the gravel road in the direction the oil refinery security guys had indicated. After 20km we reached the river. This may not seem like a problem to anyone else but for Amanda (who suffers from a fear of water) it was a huge problem. After asking around we found a guy to paddle us across the river for a reasonable fee. A much bigger problem was getting Amanda onto the boat and across the river. We managed to find a life jacket but that did not do much to ease her fear at all. Although scared shitless, she eventually got onto the tiny wooden boat loaded with bikes and bags and arrived alive on the other side. I felt really sorry for her, but what else was there to be done? We had to get across the river and to the other side. Shaking and wide-eyed, she reached the other side where we found the inn we were looking for. Unfortunately no post had arrived for us and there was no internet connection for us to find out what was going on. Amanda swallowed a beer in about two seconds and looked a lot more like her old self again.

Now if anyone ever wanted to disappear off the face of the earth, this would be the place to do it. The inn was located on the river, and had stunning rooms, a lovely restaurant and a bar, all set in a lush garden with palm trees and humming birds. There was nothing more to the village than the inn, a few houses dotted along a dirt road and a pub or two. We were the only people at the inn and the staff doted over us like we were the Queens of England. After Amanda’s ordeal of the past two days, it was well-deserved treatment for her.

22 September - Barra Nova

The following day we took a taxi (at quite a cost) along a sandy track to a nearby village (which was not so nearby). Amanda (again) had to hang onto the door frame for dear life, as we sped along the bumpy, sandy track. All in search of an internet connection and a bank (both of which we found). It appeared that the bank had not even sent the card yet!! We retreated back along the sandy track to the “AratuPousada” to make a new plan.

Information from the staff indicated that it was 25km, on a very sandy track, back to the main road and on to the bigger town of Sao Mateus. That evening Amanda was already stressing about the sandy road and remarking that it was going to take her the whole of the following day to do the 25km. She feared that she would have to push her bike all the way (mumbling her by-now trademark phrase “I’m never going to make it”).

23 - 24 September - Barra Nova – Sao Mateus - 40km

The following morning we waved the friendly staff goodbye and set off along the sandy track. Every now and again I heard an anxious “oh shit” behind me. We soon discovered that the “25km” was only to the next village, but at least from there on we were on tarmac again. We headed for Sao Mateus to find a hotel with telephone and internet facilities. We were however unable to reach the South African bank that Amanda wanted to phone. She did, however, still have time to update the website.

The following day Amanda had more “work” to do so we stayed another day in Sao Mateus so that we could (hopefully) sort out most of the credit card requirements.

25 September - Sao Mateus – Itabata - 90km

We did all we could have possibly done to get a new bank card sent to Amanda. Now we would just have to wait and see. We set off on a breezy cloudy morning, heading north on the BR101. As soon as we crossed into the state of Bahia the road deteriorated. There was no more shoulder to the road and the many trucks made it plain dangerous to be cycling. Fortunately we soon spotted a roadside pousada where we could take a break for the night, hoping that there would be a turn-off for the coastal road soon. Well done to Amanda as she stuck it out, put her head down and made it all the way.

26 September Itabata – Caravelas - 65km

It was another eventful day on the road. We turned off the busy and narrow BR101 and headed for the coast, past cattle ranches and tiny local villages. We stopped for a cold drink break when Amanda spotted a man on a donkey and muttered something like that would be a more suitable means of transport for her.

Soon we reached the tiny village of Mucuri where we stopped for a quick snack, before continuing on.

After 65km and one flat tyre we reached the sleepy fishing village of Nova Vicosa where the road came abruptly to an end at a colourful fishing harbour. We had no other option than to ask one of the fishermen to give us a lift across the mangrove swamps to the next village, which did not look too far away on the map.

We, once again, negotiated a price and loaded the bikes and bags onto the boat. Amanda was still very apprehensive but a tiny bit more comfortable. At least the boat was somewhat bigger than the canoe of a few days ago. Amanda approached the boat rather reluctantly and swore that I had picked the smallest one in the entire harbour. We set off (literally) into the sunset and putt-putted across the mangrove swamps. Amanda anxiously looked on while I gave the skipper a break to work the bilge pump! There’s always something intriguing about mangrove swamps and it was a lovely time to be out on the water. The sun started setting and still we sailed on.

The birds started settling in the tree tops, the fire-flies came out and phosphorescence started appearing in the wake of the boat – and still we sailed on! It became pitch dark and the stars shone brightly. Amanda was (understandably) very uncomfortable (to put it mildly) by this time. Our boat seemed to have no lights whatsoever. Eventually, 3 hours later, she excitedly spotted the lights of Caravelas over the water. Well done to both Amanda and our skipper for making it across the dark waters of the mangrove swamps.

We were extremely lucky to find not only a very cheap but also very comfortable pousada with even more friendly staff. A walk down the road revealed a still open “self-service” restaurant (Amanda’s favourite).

27 September - Caravelas – Prado - 50km

After a lovely breakfast at our Posada dos Navegantes, we biked along the coast past Alcobacato Prado. After Amanda’s stressful previous day, it was a good idea to make it a short day and just relax at a beach. We studied the map and there appeared to be no river crossings or anything of that kind for at least another day or two.

People along the way were incredibly friendly. We got the idea that they dearly wanted to talk with us but the language barrier made it rather difficult. A couple in a car flagged us down and told us that they saw us a few days ago in Vitoria. They looked ever so disappointed when they realised that we could not speak Portuguese. It will always remain my biggest regret that I’m not fluent in the language of the country I cycle through.

Just before Prado we crossed a river via a rather rickety bridge. Amanda, with her fear of heights and water, was across that bridge faster than Lance Armstrong! I’m so proud of my sister!

28 September - Prado – Cumuruxatiba - 35km

We left Prado on a stunning coastal road but the road soon deteriorated. We headed over the hills on a rather sandy, rutted and corrugated road. In fact, it was so corrugated that Amanda lost one of her fillings! I thought it was a fantastic route but Amanda had her own description of the road... It was as off-the-beaten-track and remote as one could get - absolutely glorious! Cycle touring at its best!

Amanda pushed her bike up the rutted hills and down the other side. I must admit that the road resembled the Baviaanskloof at times. Finally we reached Cumuruxatiba. We met a very friendly couple along the way and they showed us to a local guesthouse, which turned out to be one of the best places to stay. It was set in a lush garden with a lovely sea view, all for a very reasonable price.

They later returned with instructions on how to cycle along the beach instead of along the road. How nice of them.

29 September - Cumuruxatiba – Corumbau - 35km

We were told that we could cycle along the beach instead of the bad road we had been on. So we did, and although it was fantastic, it did not last very long. After about 2km we came to some rocks and had to return to the road to get around them. Once around the rocks, we headed back for the beach along a sandy track. All to no avail. We soon reached some more rocks and had to drag the bikes up the embankment and back onto the road. A few kilometres later, local knowledge told us to try the beach again. Which we did. Soon, however, the sand became so soft that we had to drag the bikes across the soft sand for quite a few kilometres. Exasperated, we gave up and dragged the bikes up the steep embankment again and headed inland looking for a better road. It was a rather isolated area and there wasn’t much of a road, just a sandy jeep track. We dragged the bikes along this very sandy and isolated track for what felt like quite a few kilometres, with Amanda mumbling something to the effect of “we will most likely die of thirst, never to be found again!” Even I started thinking that we might never reach civilization again. Eventually we reached our old sandy and rutted road from the previous day.

At last we spotted a guy on a motorbike and asked for directions. It appeared that we were, in fact, on the right road and had (in the process) cut out a long detour. We were a mere 12km from Corumbau, our destination for the day. On reaching Corumbau we realised that we were running low on cash. We were in a rather remote part of the world - there was no T.V. reception, cell phone reception or banks. Cash seemed to be something one could not find easily in this part of the world.

We eventually settled for a basic bungalow (which we could pay for the following day) and decided to take the bus into a nearby town the following day. We explained our situation in our limited Portuguese and understood that there was only one bus a day. The bus apparently left at 6h00 in the morning and returned at 14h40. We dearly hoped that it was all going to work out!

30 September - Corumbau

We were up early and ready for our 3 hour - 70km - bus trip. The bus ride turned out to be quite an experience. It was Friday and end of the month. The bus was full of locals heading into town to do their monthly business. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. Old men wore hats and the ladies were in heels and floral dresses. Everyone seemed very jovial and greetings were extended as people boarded the bus. They all seemed to know each other, even us, as we spotted a lady from a guesthouse were we had enquired the previous night.

In town our fellow passengers all disappeared off in their individual directions. We did our banking business, which took quite a while as the queue extended out the door and only half the terminals were functioning. We wondered around the small town, bumping into our fellow bus riders busy doing their shopping. Soon it was time to catch the bus back. Most of the morning’s passengers were on the bus again, and we were greeted like locals. Our fellow travellers were loaded up with shopping bags containing anything from chicken feed to groceries.

There appeared to be no rush as the bus stopped at a local store where everyone got off and did their bakery shopping. Collective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were exclaimed as we rattled along the bumpy gravel road back to Corumbau.

1 October - Corumbau – Trancoso - 50km (+12km by beach buggy)

We left our basic bungalow and waved our host Maria goodbye. We continued down the sandy road for what only turned out to be 6km before we reached mangrove swamps again. We pushed our bikes along the sandy beach, all to the great delight of the locals. No sooner had we started pushing our bikes than they all joined in to help. We were ferried across the river by a 6 year old girl (still seemingly sucking on a dummy) - not good for Amanda’s nerves! All this they did without wanting any money – it was just some fun on a Saturday afternoon!

We understood we could cycle along the beach to the small and remote village of Caraiva. The sand was however so soft that it was quite impossible. No wonder there was a beach buggy running up and down the beach, ferrying people to and from Caraiva. We loaded our bikes on the buggy and zooted across the loose sand. Amanda threatened to get out and walk as she was not comfortable in the buggy, which was swaying across the loose sand, very close to the waves! No sooner had we pulled off than our buggy ran out of fuel. We waited patiently in the shade of a palm tree while our barefooted driver ran off to some nearby houses to locate more fuel. He eventually dropped us at Caraiva where we had to, yet again, cross a river in order to get to a road of sorts.

Caraiva is a tiny remote village without any TV reception, mobile phone connection or banks. The slow pace of life has attracted some hippies, who live a quiet life along the coast. As there is no bridge nearby (and therefore no cars), all goods have to be ferried across the river (even the horses seem to know this and swim across at leisure).

We were back on our bikes and the road turned out to be one of the worst roads we had been on so far. It was sandy, rutted, muddy and just plain hard to cycle on. Right in the middle of nowhere we found a shop making lampshades out of candle wax! It was so stunning that we lingered a while before setting off again. We cycled past vast fields of papayas (I guess they’re the only thing that can grow in these sandy fields) en route to Trancoso.

It was out of season and guesthouses were offering rooms at hugely discounted prices. We found a luxury room for a fraction of the price it would cost in high season. It came with a hammock, air con, mosquito nets and a lovely breakfast! A just reward for a day’s hard work.

2/3 October - Trancoso – Arraial d’Ajuda - 40km

Instead of following the dirt road along the coast, we opted for the paved road. The paved road was a bit further but by then we had had enough of dirt roads. As soon as we reached the road we seriously doubted our decision as we encountered rather steep hills along the way. Amanda was in no mood for hills and swore she was going to take a bus. After one too many of these hills she refused to get back on the bike and wanted to phone a taxi. She plonked herself down by the side of the road and it took some serious convincing to get her back on the bike, with my promising that we would turn off for Arraial d’Ajuda to make it a short day.

Arraial d’Ajuda is a small coastal village with paved roads and a grassy central plaza. Reggae music blared from the tiny colourful shops surrounding the square. Old time hippies lazed around incense-filled bars. What a cool place to hang out in! We found a hostel and Amanda fell asleep, exhausted.

We stayed on the following day, did a bit of laundry and Amanda updated my website. By the time she pointed out the fact that we had to close our bedroom window with a plank, I knew that she was well rested and that it was time to move on again.

4 October - Arraial d’Ajuda – Belmonte - 80km

We were slow in packing up, but eventually headed the 4km downhill to the ferry port. This time we crossed the river by barge and although by then Amanda had tried many different kinds of craft to cross the many rivers we had encountered, the sight of the overloaded barge did not instill much confidence in her. We did however reach the opposite side safely and continued along the coast, past palm-filled beaches with bright yellow plastic chairs.

As if one river crossing was not enough for Amanda, we soon reached yet another river where we had to cross by means of a barge. On the opposite side the road wound through dense forest and past remote beaches. We did not see anything we liked along the way so we continued on to Belmonte.

No sooner had we reached Belmonte than we were approached by a local skipper offering a ride across the mangrove swamps to Canavieiras the following morning. We negotiated a price and arranged to meet him at 8h00 the next morning (and dearly hoped his craft would be seaworthy).

Soon afterwards we found a basic pousada (guesthouse) at a very cheap price. At that price we could not complain about the lack of facilities. We cooked up some noodles, had a beer and then it was off to bed.

5 October - Belmont - Una - 56km

We were up early and headed to the small port where we found our skipper. He turned out be the local water taxi to Canavieiras. We waited (together with the locals) at the port for the tide to come in. The mangrove swamps can only be crossed at high-tide, which gave Amanda the assurance that at least it was not that deep! We once again loaded our bikes and bags onto the boat (which even had a life jacket for Amanda) and headed off through the watery jungle.

Against all odds (according to Amanda) we arrived safely at Canavieiras. Our first priority was to locate a bike shop as we noticed that Amanda’s back tyre was torn close to the rim. It was an easy task as even the smallest village had a bike shop of sorts. The guy from the bike shop was ever-so friendly, he gave us a good discount and even fitted the new tyre for free.

We cycled the fairly short distance to Una on a good paved road, past densely-wooded forests and plenty of small villages. Una was slightly inland from the coast and therefore it was a fairly hilly ride. In Una we found a very basic pousada right on the main road. As usual, the locals were very curious about what we doing there, where we were from and where we were going. The friendly lady running the pousada told us to put our bicycles in our room (which was huge). The on-lookers wasted no time in carrying our bikes up the vertical stairs for us (something I did not protest about). Soon the rain started coming down and it was a good place to hide for the night. Later that evening we took a walk to the bus station where one is always sure to find some cheap nibbles. In Brazil people seem to eat a big lunch and just nibble in the evening. We also bought some cake which we had with our coffee later on that evening.

6 October - Una – Ilhéus - 61km

We woke to bucketing rain but by the time we left it had all cleared and it turned out to be a hot and humid day. We cycled towards the coast again past Ecoparque de Una where one can see the golden-headed lion monkeys. Unfortunately, we learnt from the sign board outside the park that one needs to arrange a visit beforehand. There was no way I was going to drag Amanda up a 7km dirt road to the park gate which may or may not have been open. We flew downhill back to the ocean and enjoyed a flat coastal ride to Olivenca and on to Ilhéus where we hoped to find a new bank card waiting for Amanda.

We located the Hotel Ilhéus at the address Amanda had given the bank, but sadly there was no post waiting for us. What the hell is wrong with FNB??? The Ilhéus Hotel turned out to be quite an interesting place. Centrally located in the old part of town and built in the 1930’s, it came with a vintage elevator and very few electrical points. At least the showers were hot and it had good views of the river. The hotel was built to accommodate rich cocoa traders of the time and had a bank and cocoa deposit on the ground floor, as well as a party saloon and casino. It must have been quite a fancy place in its day, but it is now showing its age.

No comments: