Driving 'The Beast' through South-America
We're not done here yet!
By Isabelle Demaeght, May 17, 2019
After 21 days I left home again with a pleasant and grateful feeling. Six weeks would also have been too short to see everyone - I tried to fit 6 weeks into 21 days. Sorry that I had to disappoint some people...
Adriaan was waiting for me at the airport in São Paulo after he himself had traveled (in 20 days) from Porto Allegre to São Paulo. The fear, that I would not get through customs with my big suitcase full of parts (and illegal cheese), was well founded. But I wasn't asked anything and went through. I felt like Santa Claus carrying Adriaan's wish list in his bag.
'Team enjoyment' reunited again! Adriaan had arranged a hotel for the next 5 days so I could catch my breath from the Belgian visit and the trip. We got to know the Brazilian beach culture on the (busy) coast of Guarujá, north of Santos (the port of São Paulo). Families come to the beach with large coolers and spend their day chatting and drinking under an umbrella.
Months ago, in a hotel on Tierra del Fuego, where temperatures did not exceed 20 degrees, we met some Brazilian motorcyclists, who came for breakfast in shorts and Havaïanas (flip-flops). Now that we have been traveling in Brazil for a while, we understand why: 'all' Brazilians dress like this....
A parade of carts and vendors passed us by. So many try to make a buck here by selling booze, knickknacks, coconuts, peanuts, sunglasses... others quickly recruit the empty beer cans that they can later trade for little money. Until late at night there is activity on the illuminated beaches; young people playing soccer and beaches being cleaned again. I didn't do much reading but mainly feasted my eyes.
From the coast we drove north and took the ferry to Ilhabela, one of the largest Brazilian islands. We spent the nights at 2 different campgrounds: the first poorly maintained campground owned by a jaded artist but with a super jungle in his backyard. The second, where we shared the kitchen with a family, we left after 2 nights because of persistent rain. Campgrounds are harder to find than in Argentina or Chile, camping rough is not an option so far.
We found a very nice, super well kept campsite in the garden of a Brazilian-British couple in Paraty-Mirim. In the morning we hiked through the jungle to a lovely, deserted beach. In the afternoon we took the bus to the city where a Jazz and Blues festival was taking place just now. On our second hike (the next morning), a 2.5-meter-long black snake crawled on the path in front of me and was (thankfully) startled by our presence. He (or she?) moved with ease over the meter-high branches of the bushes in the mangrove. Snakes in the jungle remain another fear of mine.
We left the coast and headed inland through the state of Minas Gerais ("general mines") - the most mountainous region in Brazil. The Beast got to work: crawling up the green, steep hills. The climate changed smoothly from humid and warm to dry and (slightly) less warm at about 1,000 meters elevation.
The overnight stay at 'Chakrazen' provided a unique experience on Adriaan's birthday. The place at 1,200 meters altitude is run by two Guarani Indians (brothers, and 60+ and yes, I know 'indigeous inhabitants' is politically correct, but they called themselves Indians and were proud of it). It took some getting used to the idea that we would be sharing the bathroom and kitchen with them. Later in the evening, the eldest also shared a campfire, his handmade instruments, his paper art, and his brother's ceramic stuff. It became an unforgettable evening that gave us an insight into how the original inhabitants lived here. The youngest brother accompanied us the next morning, until our departure, with homemade songs on his guitar.
The warmth and hospitality of the people moved us. For some reason, this country is less frequented by Europeans, which makes us (and The Beast) somewhat unique. We popped into a cafeteria for a nice espresso and asked for the Portuguese name for the pastries that were in the counter. Great was the surprise when the waitress said: apfelstrudel! The German influence continues to reverberate, here in southern Brazil.
I can imagine that the Portuguese language is a stumbling block for many travelers, although we manage to make ourselves understood quite well (with or without Google Translate). The few who learned English find it wonderful to practice it.
We have also adapted to the country's customs when it comes to eating. Lunch starts at 12:00 sharp: for a few euros you can join a buffet and stuff yourself with as much as you can stomach can hold. At 13:00 the most delicious items have disappeared from the buffets, which is why we have lunch at 12:00, like 'all' Brazilians.
In the past (during the 17th and 18th centuries) the city of Ouro Preto ("black gold") was, because of the gold and diamond mines, about the most important place in the country. According to our proudly-Brazilian guide in the money and tax museum that we visited, Brazil paid for the development of Portugal because they ran off with "our Brazilian resources". We hadn't thought about it like that.
Ouro Preto did have enough money (left over) to build no less than 23 churches (for just over 100,000 people), some of which are very richly decorated with gold leaf. The first church we visited was already sumptuous with its 6 side altars in Rococo style, but the basilica seemed to be completely gold-plated.
After cities, churches and museums it was time for nature. We chose the national park Serro de Cipó, where we hiked over a Brazilian savannah to a waterfall with a swimming pool underneath. We like lush nature better than Rococo gold. The well-traveled, resident veterinarian/biologist gave us so many travel tips that we now no longer know where to go first... Just the way we like it!