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On the road . May 2010 . Brazil

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Rodrigo and Tatia's penthouse, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 12-06-10
Should we stay or should we go?

Foz do Iguaçu to Curitiba (10 cycle days; 644km; 8537m)

Foz do Iguaçu to 5 km before Madianeira (56km; 700m)
5 km before Madianeira to 5 km before Cascaval (77km; 1015m)
5 km before Cascaval to Guaraniaçu (82km; 805m)
Guaraniaçu to Laranjeiras do Sul (67km; 1083m)
Laranjeiras do Sul to Tres Pinheiros (57km; 921m)
Tres Pinheiros to 12 km after Guarapuava (75km; 1000m)
12 km after Guarapuava to 16 km before Irati (67km; 712m)
16 km before Irati to 13 km before Palmeira (69km; 931m)
13 km before Palmeira to turn-off BR 376 (42km; 751m)
turn-off BR 376 to Curitiba (52km; 619m)

It is hard to drag ourselves away from the comforts of the hostel in Foz do Iguaçu, but we really need to get back on our bikes. Especially when mould starts to grow on the damp straps of your bike helmet tucked at the end of the tent. There has been so much to busy ourselves with here and quite frankly, sitting around in a nice and well equipped environment with plenty of travellers coming and going is really pleasant. So much so, that the discussion each evening for the last week has been: should we stay, or should we go tomorrow?

We both know, full well that its going to be hard enough getting the bottoms back into shape after four weeks of physical idleness and besides, Brazil is a ginormous place. Even with our new 3 month visa, it is going to be hard pedalling to get to Fortaleza in that amount of time. And so we gear ourselves up for the hard ride on Sunday: a usually quiet traffic day in most cities in Brazil.

The first day reminds me exactly how hard loaded cycling is. I can't believe that I normally lug this amount of weight up and down mountains; along dirt paths; and balance it on white lines on busy highways. Surely there is something wrong with my bike? I must have a flat tyre or maybe Ali's slipped a brick or two in my back panniers before we left. No, none of that: just out of shape, I'm afraid.

But the good news is: it doesn't take long pedalling up and down the corn fielded undulations in the next few days, before our backsides feel right at home of the saddle and our leg muscles are hardened to the strain. It wasn't that hard after all.

Bless the shoulder, for we need it greatly
The first day and every one thereafter, we bless the wide shoulder that we have for basically the entire 10 day trip. It gives us our own private space to pedal back into form. From Foz to Curitiba would normally require 8 or 9 comfortable days, but fate has it that my back rim will split; we will have disastrous weather; and a headwind will taunt us silly.

On the first day, we are exhausted after just 4 hours and we don't really welcome the 1½ kilometre climb just outside San Miguel do Iguaçu either. It feels justified to stop a little early at the Esso Service station 5 km before Medianeira (56km; 700m).

Trails of corn
We follow the same up and down route with nothing much to see but miles and miles of rolling corn. A busy road adds to the frustration the headwind dumps in our path. We spend a good part of the day riding on the wrong side of the road. The appearance of a slow lane means the departure of our shoulder and for obvious safety reasons we switch sides. Besides, cyclists seem to ride wherever they like in Brazil.

Road tames a little close to lunchtime and clouds drop a bit of rain preparing us for what is to come in the next couple of days as we follow traces of corn kernels and soya beans. A petrol station 5 km before Cascaval (77km; 1015m) is a life saver, though facilities are grimy. We perch ourselves on the only patch of green and as far away from all the discarded rubbish as possible.

Flowers to cheer me up
The start of the new day is again miserable, but weather lightens up as the hours roll on. Nothing spectacular to report except the sight of the first roadside heliconia. Flowers always cheer up a dull ride a little. I also play a game, where I try to make each hill without changing down to my granny gear. It never works. Not once. The undulations are too long.

The wide shoulder is again a godsend and the roadworkers are obviously taking their job seriously in Paraná as the verges are freshly clipped and neatened. They whipper-snipper from behind their mobile wire fence barriers. I think we add a bit of entertainment to their day as we pedal past. They are full of smiles and stop what they are doing to wave.

After the turnoff to Cascavel, we continue in an easterly direction, while many of the trucks head north. Traffic lessens, though there are still way too many hair-brain stunts performed by impatient drivers. A shop-stop in Ibema is a quaint and friendly pause to the day's ride before continuing on to Guaraniaçu (82km; 805m) where both petrol stations have rather dismal surroundings for pitching the tent in. I guess flower beds are out of the question.

Cycling to nowhere
Twelve kilometres after Guaraniaçu and we pass a much more pleasing gas station. Ten kilometres after that and I discover the not so pleasing sight of a crack in my rear wheel rim. There's nothing else to do, but continue on carefully and avoid as many bumps as possible. Besides, its only mid morning and only 45 kilometres to the next decent sized town. Unfortunately, it takes forever. We ascend like crazy. The amount of time spent pedalling on our left in the safety of the road's only shoulder, attests to that. With every kilometre, the conditions worsen and so does the size of the split in my rim.

The indigenous settlement we pass through is quite novel: locals out in roadside stalls weaving colourful baskets and the rather peculiar road warning sign: cuidado, indígenas na pista [careful, indigenous on the road]. Don't know that you'd get away with that in the western world. Scenery is akin to Colombia, though unlike the distinct road passes there, we never seem to get to a plateau or clearing where we can admire the green rolling view. We just go up and down similar terrain, ad infinitum. Almost like cycling to nowhere.

The town of Laranjeiras do Sul (67km; 1083m) eventually comes into view and we immediately go on the prowl for a decent bike shop.

At first things look rather grim, but after finding a local bike repair shop which has absolutely nothing to offer us, we are pointed in the direction of Loja do Ciclista on Rua Marechal C. Rondon. As their moto "tudo para sua bike" [everything for your bike] states, they have a full range of bike parts, though on the inferior end of the scale. But we can't be fussy at this point in time. We need to come up with a solution to at least get me to Curitiba. The turn of events goes something like this:

They have a rim. Brazilian made Escape Aero: cheap at 25 reais. Bottom of the range, but trustworthy enough.
They can respoke the wheel, using my hub and my spokes. And...
They can have it done in a couple of hours.

We wander off: check out the hotel on the corner in hope that we could possibly stay in town tonight instead of scrambling out in the direction of the nearest petrol station. It is bare basics and it is a costly 70 reais. Above our budget, so we resolve to make the dash as soon as the bike is ready. We shop, sit on a terrace and have a beer as the sun begins to set, before making our way back to the bike shop.

They haven't done the wheel, because the rim is 36 spokes and my hub is 32
The owner believes it is possible to lace a 32 hub to the 36
The fact that lacing works in sets of eights and not fours, worries me.
The owner is still certain, it'll be okay.
There is no other option
The original spokes however, are too long and the bike shop only has cheap and nasty looking spokes
They could cut mine down and rethread them, I suggest
The owner is not convinced
Then he is for some reason and off goes an assistant to find a threading tool
The lad comes back with one and we establish that tomorrow morning at 9.30am the bike will be ready.

And all that in a spattering of Portuguese, a bit of Spanish and some English thrown in for good measures!

I am still doubtful that the wheel will be able to be trued satisfactorily, but we'll just have to wait and see what sort of job they do. In the meantime, we book into the expensive (for us) Hotel Sandro and decide, what the heck: let's go all out and get a pizza for dinner. Just as I'm settling into the idea that things aren't all that bad - the thought of eating pizza can do wonders for the spirit - we are dished up one of the worst, soggy-based, pancake consistency pizzas of all time. Things don't look so rosy anymore as I push the floppy cheese dough into my mouth.

The next morning making up for last nights gourmet disappointment we enjoy a super "all-you-can-eat" buffet breakfast before Ali goes to see how things are spinning in the bike shop. He returns with the news that they have drilled four holes in my hub to compensate the extra spokes. I'm mortified. "There is no way they'll get the wheel straight now", I cry. My pessimism is largely influenced by a bit of internet browsing on the subject. Though in truth, not one person has answered the, often enough asked question:"Can you lace a 32 hub to a 36 spoke rim?". There are a lot of: "Of course you can" and "NO, absolutely not" remarks with no further explanation whatsoever. Followed of course by the "Why bother, rims are so cheap" comments, which come from those totally missing the point of sharing information on a wider scale. Then, there are the varied number of enthusiasts, who promise to go away and try and work out a lacing pattern for future reference. But, of course, no one does actually come back and give any concrete information about this question at all. Forums drive me crazy!

Well, now we can answer the question for you: "Can you lace a 32 hub to a 36 spoke rim?"
And the answer is: yes.

Yes, drilling holes in the hub works and is probably the quickest and simplest solution to the problem, but getting the rim perfectly straight is impossible. Still, proving me completely wrong, you can ride your loaded bike and that is the crux of the matter when improvisation is your only option.
No, I don't think the wheel would last the rocky roads of the Peruvian mountains, but it gets me, well and truly into Curitiba, some 400 odd kilometres further on without a hitch. And, I'm pretty sure the wheel would have gone on a lot longer too. I have to say, the young boys who worked on the bike did an excellent lacing job and when I initially wasn't happy with the couple of wobbles in the wheel, they worked diligently to try and remove them. And they did manage, with great respect, to get the wheel as true as possible considering: see tip of the month previous page.

And the shoulder goes: Bump-a-bump-a-bump-a-bump, bump...
We hit the road at around 10.45am after only paying for the parts. Labour was a gift, a sweet gesture and we are really touched, once again, by the generousity of Brazilians. If there was ever any test to see how my new wheel will hold up, then today is it. The entire shoulder is punctuated with speed humps and the condition is really bad. Again it's a ride on the left hand side sort of day as we go up-bump, up-bump, up-bump.

Our tent hardly ever gets the chance to dry out these days and after a night in a hotel, we feel it necessary to stop in the afternoon sun and hitch it over a few signposts to lessen the moisture load. After Cantagalo, a neat and colourful village with perfect grass verges for camping on, the road improves somewhat and there are less velocity regulators. The further into the rural areas you go, the friendlier everything is. Truck drivers give us the thumbs up and toot softly to let us know they are there, or just simply say hello.

The service station Tres Pinheiros (57km; 921m) is a massive roadhouse and it has a grassed section out the back that we may camp on. Unfortunately, the women's wash-area is out of order and the shower I was panging for is out of the question. Still, after a bit of a clean-up in the basin in the restaurant toilets, I'm only good for some food and sleep: today was quite difficult. The next morning, the facilities are open and when I see what I missed out on, I am a little aggrieved.

Bad weather day
The weather looks dismal before we rise from our Thermarests. We are waylaid an hour as we ready for a departure with clear skies. But, only a few minutes down the road and the heavens open up again. They don't close again for the rest of the ride into Curitiba. Everything, everything, everything gets wet and remains wet.

It is a perpetually annoying cycling day as the terrain gives no mercy: the uphills and the downhills are of hard hitting rain, torrents of dirty road water and very, very dodgy brakes. We do however, when it isn't pelting down, get to view around us for the first time in the trip. A never ending vista of the dips and curves we will eventaully be navigating through.

After the major town of Guarapuava and its ugly outskirts of industry; its smoke and factories; its car and agriculture commerce, the truck traffic increases immensely. Rubbish floats past carefree, while we continue to slog the warm difficult ascents and shiver on the uncomfortably cold descents. My toes are swimming in my boots, the water droplets on my rain jacket have formed a river; dribbling down my back and adding more wetness to the already sweat-saturated inside of my coat. I get close to thinking about packing this all in and then Ali shouts: "five kilometres to the next petrol station". I can handle that. Surely?

Sure I can, after 70 kilometres and nearly 1000 alti-metres: even if the heavens open up just that little bit wider and dump another few buckets of cold water on me; even if we have to climb, climb climb in the wet, wet, wet. I can do it. And I do. I don't hesitate buying two shower tokens at 3 reais each at the service station 12 km after Guarapuava (75km; 1000m). I want to be warm. I want to be dry.

And so does the spider that wanders into our tent during the evening. He's a rather nasty looking creepy-crawly and when his mate joins him, although I generally won't harm any creature, poisonous or not, these two give me the distinct impression, they'll slip into our inner tent at any given opportunity. I kill them: just to be on the safe side.

Another on the road birthday
Another bad weather day. In fact a bad weather birthday! I knew that at 3.00am this morning. The rain had started again: hard and fast and unrelenting. It is difficult to rise at 6.30am. Ali hasn't mentioned anything about my birthday either. What a miserable day to have a blinkin' birthday anyway. How could he forget it? I check my watch, just to make sure I'm not mistaken. I mean what sort of husband doesn't remember his wife's birthday? I wander off to the toilet, a little upset. No really upset. Surely he can't have forgotten?

As I sloth dejectedly across the car park puddles: back towards our rain drenched home, I hear someone whistling. It is coming from our tent and it is the "Happy Birthday" song. He didn't forget. Boy, is he lucky!

There are three little pressies to unwrap: for a past problem (a new oil container); for now (a block of chocolate) and something for a future use (a wire cable which could work as a lock for a cupboard or wardrobe). Also there's a verbal gift of a nice bottle of wine tonight - like gold in Brazil. All we have to do is find a supermarket with something decent to purchase.

Feet wrapped in plastic bags and clothed in yesterday's soggy bike gear, we finally hit the road in a moment of clearing at 10.45am. The thought of a warming bottle of red and chocolate at the end of the day are about the only things keeping me going. Though there is not quite as much water as yesterday, it is still a dire ride. Twelve kilometres from where we camped last night is another opportune petrol station. It also marks the beginning of 7 kilometres of downhill. Normally, we'd be rubbing our hands with glee as we begin the slide to the bottom, only this gradient is disrupted with speed humps for its entire length. Every 3 to 4 revolutions of the wheel comes a ka-doomp: and quite a big one at that. Cyclist's hell. When we can, we ride on the road, but the one lane highway and fast moving traffic makes that difficult. At the end, we are rewarded with a toll gate and the chance for a free cup of coffee: a generous gesture from the highway department in Paraná.

After 50 kilometres we stumble, quite unexpectedly, upon a campground. On Saturdays (today) however, it is unattended and we figure we can get a few more kilometres in before it gets dark. A petrol station hasn't been seen in miles, so there must be something around the corner. There is, but it is absolutely awful, so when they tell us another gas-stop is 10 kilometres up the road, we go for it. What we don't know, is that a 3 kilometre hill in between means it will take nearly an hour of cycling to get there.

The weather is downright miserable. I entertain myself by having a television interview with a tax office representative in The Netherlands. Believe it or not, they are still sending us little bits of bureaucratic paper stating that we owe them or they owe us; which really does bring truth to the rumour that once the tax department gets a hold of you, they will never let go. Even when you leave the country.

Anyway, I run circles around this poor guy and my monologue certainly keeps me occupied for the worst part of the cold trip. The petrol station at 16 km before Irati (67km; 712m) is another grotty dump, but there is a green patch of wet grass, which beats sloshy mud any day. And although there are no showers, the toilets attached to the restaurant are something you would normally only see in a five star hotel. I'm not kidding: marble tops, palms, sensor taps and paper dispensers and lots and lots of mirrors. Never judge a petrol station by its cover.

Wine is opened and even though it is total rubbish for the 19 reais price tag, it is enjoyed by us both immensely along with the tomato coconut soup with sweet potato, corn, cabbage and noodles accompanied with cheese and bread. To finish off we devour the Hershey's block of chocolate as quickly as we call it a day. Another on the road birth-day.

Taunted by sunshine
Rainy, cold, drab and misty is the weather outlook as we peer from under the tent flap this morning. A break comes and Ali gets excited, but it is still bleak in the distance. More breaks come and go and the clouds teasingly exhibit snippets of virgin blue while the sun tickles us with his warming rays. But just as quickly as the pleasantness appears, it vanishes, leaving us once again in the fire line of drizzle. We go up and down just like every other day.

Towards the end of our journey, when the clouds uninhibitedly part and the sun breaks though with force, a petrol station comes into view at 13 km before Palmeira (69km; 931m), there is a dry patch of earth and the shower is piping hot. A bit of normality finally returns to our routine.

Same, same...
Nothing out of the ordinary to report, except that Ali is so obsessed with his book "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini that he doesn't mind leaving a little later today at all. In hindsight, we probably could have made Curitiba at a push, though there are still quite a number of hills to traverse. We camp at another petrol station just moments before the turn-off to BR 376 (42km; 751m). A wet night pursues.

Welcome to the Brazil's most bike friendly city?
The ride is simple enough into Curitiba (52km; 619m): straight along the highway. We are quite excited to enter one of Brazils's most bike friendly cities, so it comes as a complete shock then, when traffic roars past dangerously close, with little respect and there are no safety haven cycle paths anywhere. Any thoughts about trying the cobbled footpath are dashed, since it is not fit for walking on, let alone pedalling a loaded bike. It becomes quickly obvious that our internet source is totally misleading and it is confirmed when we see the drains running perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Any town that does this is definitely NOT a bike friendly place.

We arrive mid afternoon. Our Warmshowers host won't be back from work until 7pm, which means there is plenty of time to spare to get my rear wheel fixed properly, though I must say the improvisation job the boys did in Laranjeiras do Sul performed really well. Biketech on Av Nossa Sra Aparecida 713, is easy enough to find and we begin the difficult task of deciding what option to go with considering the mixed array of parts they have on offer. Luckily the owner, Cristian, speaks English otherwise it could have taken forever. It comes as no surprise either that my rear hub is completely shot after 16 years of riding. Plenty of deliberation follows before deciding on another 32 spoke, Japanese made, Shimano hub combined with an Alex D18 rim. The job is done in a few hours and while the parts are 110 reais, the labour just 10 reais.

It is well and truly dark when we find our way to the front door of João's apartment block. He shows us through the house and welcomes us warmly in true Brazilian spirit. He also makes excellent pizza on Thursday and some of his friends join us for the feast. It is a fun evening getting to know them and chatting about their and our travels. We now have a long list of names and places where we can stay throughout Brazil as well. Eveyone is so hospitable here.

There are a couple of theories roaming around about how Curitiba got its name. Both stem from the indigenous Tupi language and which ever you choose: Kurí tyba [many pine seeds] or the combination of kurit [pine tree] and yba [large amount] they both have to do with the abundance of Araucaria pines in the region. Everywhere you go in Paraná there are stalls selling pinhão: the nut gathered from these trees.

Curitiba also has a number of interesting places to visit too. Unfortunately, the Botanical gardens and the Ópera de Arame [wire theatre] are way out of the city. Instead, we spend a day sightseeing the centre, visiting museums, which are generally free in Brazil and then the rest of the time cleaning and drying all our gear from the soaking it has recently had. We also do quite a bit of catching up on internet, which seems to be more and more necessary these days.

Ready for a bit of island hopping
Curitiba to Bertioga (8 cycle days; 484km; 1966m)

Curitiba to 12 km before Paranguá (106km; 617m)
12 km before Paranaguá to 2 km outside Superagüi (14km; 46m)
2 km outside Superagüi to Ararapira (25km; 31m)
Ararapira to opposite Cananéia (18km; 17m)
opposite Cananéia to Ilha Comprida (57km; 20m)
Ilha Comprida to 6 km after Miracatu (80km; 539m)
6 km after Miracatu to Vila Nova Itanhaém (81km; 310m)
Vila Nova Itanhaém to Bertioga (102km; 386m)

Back on the highway
On Sunday we leave with Bruno, Juliana and João for the ride along the Estrada Graciosa. This is quite a famous route for weekend cyclists to take. From Curitiba, there are almost 45 kilometres of rolling terrain before you actually reach the park entrance and I find it really difficult keeping up with everyone with my fully loaded bike.

A pastel [fried turnover pastry filled with meat or cheese] and caldo de cana [sugar cane juice] stall is at the gate. They are everywhere in Brazil and a great calorie loaded snack to enjoy before a bit more climbing and the massive 10 kilometre drop that follows. Getting to the top is not that difficult and we then embark on the initial two kilometres of smooth riding. But the bitumen ends and cobbles take over. It is well cobbled; but cobbles are cobbles and the next 8 kilometres are bone rattling and wrist jarring to say the least. An easy and flat stretch takes us all the way to Morretes: a quaint touristy town, where it is customary to catch the train back to Curitiba instead of puffing your way back up the hill in the other direction. We say goodbye to Bruno, Juliana and João are once again back on the highway.

There is absolutely nowhere to camp compared to numerous official and unofficial opportunities on the road into Morretes. Dusk has fallen and we are still on the busy highway. The first petrol station we see gives a firm "no" to our request to camp. I have been expecting this answer sooner or later and until today we have never received it. Of all times for this to happen, this one is pretty annoying. The SAU won't allow us to pitch the tent either, but across the road is another gas station 12 kilometres before Paranaguá (106km; 617m). Even in the pitch dark, we can see It is the absolute pits and right next to a chemical plant of sorts. But views of metallic cylinders, smoky industry and a massive pile of strange fluorescent yellow powder are nothing compared to a rat scurrying around in your tent in the wee hours.

Give me sunshine and the earth beneath my feet. Smooth sailing?
The extent of the filth we have camped in comes to real light the next morning when we rise from the tent. The non-stop rain last night doesn't help any and we are smack bang in a pool of muck. We had just got everything dry and now we are back to square one. Waiting for the rain to become light drizzle before setting off, we try to pick one and other up with thoughts about the next, rather unusual leg of the journey.

Paranaguá is 12 kilometres up the road and thank goodness the grotty heavy-vehicle entrance gives way to a picturesque, though a little dilapidated centre. This marks the beginning of ferry hopping along the coast.

The balsa [ferry] leaves opposite the Hostel International and in the dampness of it all, we are tempted to spend the night in Paranaguá, but a boat promises to leave at 2.00pm for Ilha do Superagüi. It costs 20 reais per person. Instead, we perch ourselves under the shelter of a cafe awning, order coffees; a pastel each; and wait while watching a township of wrinkled sailing men wander past in disheartening drizzle. It looks far worse in the distance and I just wish it would brighten up as much as the colourful buildings. Come on, please give me some sunshine.

The trip takes 2 hours in all and for most of it I am gripping the seat as our boat exercises its ability to sway 45 degrees to left and then to the right in a matter of seconds. I close my eyes for much of the white crest wave sailing, but not enough to miss out on seeing all the dolphins playing in the grey choppy waters. Still, this trip verifies once again that I am more suited to having the earth beneath my feet.

The water is high
Soon enough and before sickness actually sets in, we are bobbing up and down next to a set of concrete steps leading out of the water. Getting the bikes off the boat at this stage is a little more difficult. Not that we asked, but apparently a room in a pousada is being prepared for us, so we go and check it out anyway. When the price of 30 reais each for a transportable converted room is mentioned, we thank them but move on. They keep telling us: "the water is high".

Cycling out of this little village with mostly hardened beach sand tracks is quite a dreamy experience. I get excited about the prospect of our first beach camp since Uruguay. Past colourful wood houses, through forest where ferns brush your face and fiery pink bromeliads line the path. Past one of the biggest snails we have ever seen in our lives and I guess he was lucky we are vegetarians. Everything is pretty smooth sailing until we get to a bridge with half the walk boards missing on the far end. Ali rips one out of the beginning and smacks it in a little further along so we can at least rest one bike wheel on something more substantial than just a slippery wet pole. I freak out a bit about the task ahead, but it is easier than I imagine. Due more to Ali's brilliant balancing skills than mine. I certainly was not born to run away with the circus.

First hurdle completed, we continue on believing we will make it to the beach before nightfall. However, another river inlet blocks our path and this time the bridge is omitted altogether. It is too wide and too deep to cross. So, this is what the locals meant when they said: "the water is high". We'll have to wait until morning to venture further.

Going back over the bridge to a mossy plateau 2 km outside Superagüi (14km; 46m) is not as difficult, but I'm still not quite ready to join a stunt crew yet. There is just enough space for the tent above a sheer drop river bank, so night navigation will need to be exercised with caution.

With blue skies and warm sun
Water is way out to sea when we wake and its a good thing as we discover seven more channels to cross this morning. While some are shallow enough to push the bike through, others need us to lift both wheels off the ground. All used to have a bridge of some sorts, once upon a time. The path in comparison is great: tropical and secluded; narrow and adorned with nature; and very firm sand. If only the rain would go away.

Reaching the grand white expanse of beach marks the commencement of the part that has had me somewhat skeptical from the moment we heard about this trip possibility. Riding on beach sand? When it comes to using wheels, I am not a lover of sand in any form, but this stuff is so fine and so compact that its a dead cinch. You can cruise at around 14 kilometres per hour and with blue skies and warm sun this would have been the perfect ride. Instead grey heavens meet a grey ocean all churned up and riley. With blue skies and warm sun, I might not have noticed how much rubbish is scattered on the shore line either.

Survivor series stuff
There are many more inlets to navigate as we pedal along the island's only thoroughfare. There is something liberating about cycling right next to the sea. The tide is gradually coming in, but at the rate we are moving, we figure we should easily reach the end of the 29 kilometre stretch with enough time to ferry across to Ilha do Cardoso and find a campsite. Things might have turned out the way we planned had the mangroves not obstructed our path.

Two hours of precious tide-out time are spent lifting our bikes around eroded coastline and through the ocean; hacking our way in and out of the tangle of roots and branches; and unloading the bikes and dragging everything by hand across the obstacle course. I curse everyone and anyone who said "Cycle along the beach? Yeah, no problems: you can go the whole way". It is like being on a reality television survivor show only minus the cameras; minus the fame and minus the damned machete - which would have come in very handy.

Nonetheless, covered from head to toe in sand; adorned in barnacle cuts - damned things grow on mangrove roots you know - and utterly exhausted, we break free of the Expedition Robinson setting and strike rideable beach once more. Only problem now, is finding the most suitable part to cross the river inlets which are becoming increasing deeper and seriously wider. We approach the last one with minutes to spare. Ali starts looking around to see where we can traverse the water, but it is rising fast and furious. I just say "Here! We cross here. And now, quick".

Even with the two of us carrying my bike over the 40 odd metres: wheels just skimming the surface; water at mid calf, my biceps give in towards the end and the rear nearly gets a salty dunking. Wading back we are in knee high tide and Ali wants to lift his complete bike across.
"I can't do that", I say. I really know I can't. I nearly lost my bike and it is 10 kilos lighter than Ali's. "We have to take the back panniers off and come back for them a third time", I tell Aaldrik.
"No, you can do it", he says optimistically.
"No I can't!" And I mean it.
"I can't, I can't" Ali nags sarcastically back.
"Yes Aaldrik, I just can't. I know my limitations and the way my arms are feeling, I'll drop the damned bike in the water for sure".
"Well, then you'll drop it". he replies

That is hardly an option as far as I'm concerned, so instead of arguing anymore about it, I just take the bags off, against Ali's wishes, and we proceed to lift his Ridgeback bicycle over the intensifying swell. His bike is still heavy enough to be a strain for me and the river is much wider now. We return in thigh deep waters to rescue the panniers from an ever decreasing patch of sand. By the time everything is safe on the other side, we witness the last wave come in and close us off completely from where we, only moments before, were standing.

The rest is easy cycling, except for the rain that is. It is pelting down again. Its only a short distance to where some boats are moored, but a campsite comes into view just before. While Camping das Palmeiras in Ararapira (25km; 31m) looks quite damp and a little drab, it is at least some sort of shelter and the couple that own the land are full of big, warm smiles when they see us. I think they feel very sorry for us and in sympathy both come out in the rain with their rakes to clean up the area, which was not at all necessary. Considering some of the spots in service stations that we have camped in recently, this spot is very clean.

Ali and the owner rig up a tarpaulin over our tent. So, for 5 reais each we can camp here; have a cold shower; sit with them in their little wooden hut and drink coffee and eat crackers with margarine. If we want to use the kitchen that's fine too; washing area; washing line; anything just ask. They are so incredibly sweet. Brazil really does have some wonderfully virtuous locals.

Brazil also has a lot of sand and it now has a little less since Ali, I, our bikes and gear are caked with a substantial amount of it. Probably why the camera lens on my panasonic point and shoot wont close properly either. Everything inside the bags managed to stay miraculously dry, thanks to our Ortlieb roller panniers. What a beating they have had today and during the nearly 4 years of continuous travel. If anything should deserve the survivor award, it's them.

A ferried full day
When we awake, the blue skies and warm sun make all the difference to our outlook on the day. Everything is almost dry: tent, bags, even our clothes. Things are looking brighter than they have for a long time and we don't get too upset at the rather pricey cost of 15 reais to take a fishing boat a few hundred metres across the river bay to Marujá. Besides, the 16 kilometre ride along the beach thereafter, is sensational. Dragonflies flitter; seabirds twitter; crabs skitter while the grey ocean of yesterday glitters a brilliant turquoise. As we draw near the bluff, it becomes obvious we can't get around the island and we are grateful there is someone on the beach to ask where the ferry terminal is. He leads us down a little path taking us to the other side of the island, chatting away in Portuguese as locals tend to do; even though we understand very little of the conversation.

Brightly painted pousadas, a couple of restaurants and a small pier, 100 metres further on, are about the extent of the village of Marujá. The ferry leaves at 1.30pm, so we have a couple of hours to kill. Placid jazz and a few outspoken kids entertain us while we wait. Things are looking cheerful as we board and sit down for the 2½ hour ride. The optimism wanes though as the money collector informs us that we have to pay 51.00 reais [22 euros] each. This is an outrageous amount for Brazil and especially seeing as this is hardly Her Majesty's Royal Vessel we are sailing in. Besides having no facilities on board except a toilet, we are plonked in uncomfortable plastic party seats set way too high off the ground. What offends the most though is that locals pay 5.10 reais.

The conductor is all apologetic and says its not his fault, which of course it isn't; but it certainly doesn't stop the stinging effect that this sort of inequality has on me. I hate it. Really I do. Don't they realise that for the total sum of 102 reais, we could get one of us on an overnight ferry with bars, restaurants, casinos and sleeping chairs from Italy to Greece? Anyway, I'm a bit of a sour-puss for most of the float along pristine mangrove lined islands. The dolphins playing in the channel bring a smile to my face a bit later on as does the colourful fishing scene and painted housing in the little village of Cananéia.

As we pull in, the punt to Ilha Comiprida is already departing, so we wait nearly an hour for the next one. It is a five minute free crossing and the surprise find of a campsite another five minutes on, is too good to refuse. Camping Bom Adrigo, opposite Cananéia (18km; 17m) charges 10 reais each for their excellent facilities: green grassy lawn; hot shower; hammocks to laze in under a gazebo; washing machine; refrigerator and just a pleasant, peaceful little set up really.

In somebody's backyard
Everyone has departed the campground, owner included, before we have the next morning. The establishment is left open, which when I witness something like this - and we have on numerous occasions in rural Brazil - it is obvious that those who write guidebooks don't really visit spots such as these. If they did, then they could counteract their terror stories of crime and peril in the big cities with tales of relaxed and trustworthy environments as well. People have been incredibly friendly in all the places we have travelled to in Brazil so far. And for the record, we have felt nothing but perfectly safe.

We hit the beach again. This time for a leisurely 45 kilometres of close to the surf riding. We are not the only traffic either: other cyclists; school buses; beer trucks; locals in cars; with fishing boat trailers; and on motorbikes. Everyone uses the shoreline as a road, which is novel to say the least. There are plenty of inlets to cross, but none difficult: the tide is out. The way is occupied with vultures picking at dead fish; quero-quero birds squawking hard; and crabs scurrying away from our wheel's vibration, blowing bubbles as they do. Dragon flies follow; herons stare and fishermen wave hello as they hold there nets firm in the breaking waves. We feel perfectly happy.

We reach the touristy, but now sleeping town of Comprida early and easily enough. Finding a campground open is another story. The three that we visit are all closed. As we are leaving town, resigned to the fact that we'll have cycle a few more kilometres for the day, a signpost pointing to a supposed camp area materialises.

Camping Dona Lourdes on the outskirts of Ilha Comprida (57km; 20m) is a camping concept we will see more of in Brazil and one we still have to get our head around. Mind you, we are thankful that there is at least somewhere to park ourselves for the night. Still, paying 15 reais per person to set up your tent up in somebody's backyard is quite hefty. Ali gets 5 reais knocked off the price on the account that we cycled here, which the woman is quite impressed with. On the positive side, it is very clean and as eveyone keeps telling us "it is safe".

The safety issue seems to be quite a phobia among locals in Brazil. Every time we ask where a camp spot is, they only suggest places that they believe to be secure. So, no wonder that people go around thinking that Brazil is an unsafe country with thieves waiting around the corner for the golden opportunity to pinch your stuff. The gap between rich and poor is certainly apparent in a very big way, but we are not convinced that the security issue is quite as bad as people make out. On the other hand, we are also not really prepared to give true wild camping a trial run, which along this touristy coastal stretch means either petrol stations; the occasional pousada, which shatters any attempt to keep within budget; official campgrounds; and as we are doing tonight: pitching in somebody's backyard.

Rain, the unstoppable rain.
I wish I could have kept on grinning like the woman we left behind this morning. Laughing heartily as she "Bom Voyag-ed" us. "Coo-raar-jeh! coo-raar-jeh!", she yelled enthousiastically as we pedalled down the cobbled-dirt track toward the ferry crossing. I really do wish I had her spirit, but I don't. We decide to take the bridge instead of wait for the ferry and pedal through the back streets belonging to the poorer folk of this town. Vultures nest on rubbish piles and residents watch us timidly.

The rain: the unstoppable rain begins first thing this morning as we were riding into Iguape. It buckets down and then subsides a wee bit so we can ride round and round in circles trying to find our way out of the town centre without getting too wet. Someone forgot to follow through with putting up all the road signs. Stocked with white bread rolls and cheap rubbery cheese - our affordable staples in Brazil - we head on down the BR222 in the direction of São Paulo. Alongside cottage industry stalls with pumpkin squash and pickled chillies; banana palms and deep green succulence: luring us with their rich colours. This rolling rural highway could have been a lot of fun. But it isn't. Because of the rain: the unstoppable rain.

There are consistently arduous climbs with very bad or no shoulders for the 57 kilometre stretch leading to BR116. A long hard descend possessing pretty harsh gradients will take you to the top climb of the day (265m), 7 kilometres before you hit the highway. And you might even see a man, missing every second tooth, walking along this same stretch of road. On the steep sections he can almost keep up with me. Near the top, stopps like us to shelter from the rain: the unstoppable rain.

He disappears while I am taking photos of heliconias. At the peak, he emerges from the opening bus door, smiling with a simple wave in acknowledgement of what we have achieved. A small bit of local recognition. It makes all the difference. I smile back. The 7 kilometre long descend begins with the rain: the unstoppable rain, stinging our faces at a 45 degree angle. I can't see a thing and I have virtually no brakes at all. A couple of insignificant hills follow before the we turn off into mayhem.

A truck with 200 hundred hairy swines; a truck with 20 cars or more; a truck with 40 tonnes of cement; with petrol; with bricks; with food; with trash; with, with, with. Whirring-whizzing-past-fast-furious-frenetic. The odour of pigs lingering in the hot humid air; the fumes; the black smoke; the petrol; the diesel; exhaust mixed with damp wet road smell: smells. Whining-grinding-humming-whooshing-purring-whinging-knocking-motors. Thirty two tyres in a row; humming-droning-beating-thumping swirls of wharrooms into the air. Splashed grey; sputtered black; gritty grotty gunge; sandy, dirty debris. We are on highway BR116.

The Esso service station 6 km after Miracatu (80km; 539m) is not much better. We move from the pungent fumes of bad sewer to a sloped patch around the back and on a hill. I wish I could have kept grinning like the lady from this morning. But the rain starts again: the unstoppable rain.

Under the spotlight
Why does it always rain on me? I don't really know. I don't even feel like writing about it. I really don't. The oily spray from the highway, the noise, the cold dampness that is creeping into my bones like the mould growing at the bottom of my ortlieb panniers and in the bathroom I showeed in last night. Its spreading like a illness. I'm sick of being wet. I'm sick of everything being wet. I'm sick of muddy legs and sandy gear. I'm sick of cleaning and wiping things down and I'm sick of trying to tidy up the mess: the sandy, wet, sloppy, mushy mess. I'm sick.

It's raining as we climb the first hill of the day after shifting from the smooth wide shoulder of BR116 to the mud, grass and gravel shoulder of BR55. It is one of the most ill-maintained roads we've been on for a while. The traffic is torture. They are not particularly friendly either. All the towns are off the highway and we need supplies. After a daily total of 40 kilometres, we take the turnoff to Peruíbe. The rain continues to spitter and sputter, but a shoulder eventuates and the road is good. As we enter the town, we scramble under shelter as the heavens really open up. I disappear, wet and miserable into a supermarket while Ali waits outside.

I surface from the long lines of shopping trolleys filled with a zillon plastic bags to find blue skies and a radiant sun. Peruíbe is a vibrant little town with several bike shops so, Ali decides it is a good opportunity to get his brake blocks and cables changed. The first place doesn't have what he needs, but just down the road at Ciclone Bike on Av. 24 de Dezembro 273, they are fully stocked with all sorts of odds and ends: some really top quality and some not so parts. While we are waiting, another local loaded cyclist pulls up on one of the most eclectically adorned bicycles you have ever seen: he dressed like a leathery Harley Davidson rider and his bike complete with rubber chicken, large plastic doll; motorcycle panniers; handlebar streamers, tomahawk and bull horns, to name just a few of items attached.

The town has such a nice feel about it that the campground near the beach, the shop owner mentions, becomes an enticing thought. All hopes dashed when we arrive and it is closed. Another campground: closed. We push on: first down a well used ciclovia [bike path] and back out onto BR55 again.

The highway has now become a major thoroughfare leading to Itanhaém, 33 kilometres on. There is a good shoulder as safety net, but it is ugly riding, especially as we near the city. Again we are met with no possible camping spots, no petrol stations with a secure spot for our tent; its all simple housing or slums. It is almost dark too and here we are stuck on a damned highway. A fire station appears just outside the town. What a stroke of luck: I think. Firemen are renowned for their generosity in giving a couple of cold cyclists a roof over their head. But not so fortunate tonight. This station is combined with the military and they turn us away. Into the night; into the dark; on a major highway. I can't believe it. We take a look at the rubbish strewn vacant lot next to the service station. Our eyes cast back to the park next door to fire station. Can we camp there? Ali thinks so. I'm not so sure.

We hear a whistle: one of the firemen is beckoning us towards the wire fence out the back of the station. He seems to think that it will be okay to camp in the park at Vila Nova Itanhaém (81km; 310m). There are plenty of flood lights and there is 24 hour security where he is and at the gas-station across the road. He also offers us the use of their showers. So, firemen are generous, it is just the military that are cautious. We pitch, not before cleaning everything down, have our showers and something to eat and curl up for the bright night's sleep. The only real flat section of grass was next to a flood light. More under the spot light we couldn't be.

The tent pole that broke the cyclists back
It started raining again last night and it is drizzling as we pull out onto the highway. More slums line our path and those less fortunate wheel cardboard laden wheelbarrows in search of anything recyclable: anything that can get them some cash. Houses here are also for sale; as if anyone would want to buy the ramshackle dwellings. The surroundings are a mess: rubbish strewn everywhere, roofs full of old iron; old bikes; old bricks; old roofing tiles; old and falling apart.

We skirt around São Paulo via a spaghetti network of strutted concrete highways. Cars let us in sometimes; sometimes they don't. Trucks dominate the road; rubbish and broken glass dominate the shoulders. I get an untimely flat tyre close to Cubatão. We skirt around the sprawling metropolis of Santos and tackle the up's and downs the BR55 presents us with on the way to Bertioga (102km; 386m).

Finding the only campsite open is not difficult after a questioning a couple of locals. Camping Humaitá is without a doubt one of the worst value spots we have ever stayed in. For a whopping 50 reais for the night, the facilities from 30 to 40 years ago come with barely luke-warm water let alone a lock that works or a door that isn't falling off its hinges; without a light where we pitch our tent; without tables or chairs; the electricity is dubious; with plague proportion mosquitoes that are driving me totally insane: we have to burn a coil continually to have some peace and you know...I have had enough.

I expect Ali could put up with it a bit longer than me: boys are like that, but I am at the end of my tether. Which of course means he has to put up with my discomfort too. So he is at the end of his tether as well. We argue and scream at one another while setting up the tent. A tent pole snaps and then I just come out and say it: "I don't like cycling in Brazil. It's dirty and cold and wet and ridden with mosquitoes and accommodation is way too expensive to afford any creature comforts. So we have to drag ourselves through the rain and dirt and then camp in it as well every night. Sure, there have been a couple of special moments, but they are few and far between."

And it is no way a judgement on the people of Brazil, they have been wonderfully accommodating and incredibly generous. But at the end of the day, they go home to their warm and dry house. We don't. We are camping, because we can't afford the price tag of accommodation here. Pitching our tent every night in petrol stations and tip toeing around grimy bathrooms was novel in the beginning, but it is now wearing a little thin. Everywhere you look it is damp and dank and covered with mould or moss and it is no wonder because the weather is total crap. It has rained continually in the last month or so. And not just a drizzle. Torrents of the stuff have come down from the heavens.

And now we have the chance to stay in a town, the damned campground wants 20 euros for abysmal facilities. It is just not good value for the money we are spending here. Besides everything is breaking down and needs repairing or replacing. I'm ready to change plans.

Ready to change plans
Bertioga to Rio de Janeiro (4 cycle days; 257km; 2431m)

Bertioga to Maresias (74km; 585m)
Maresias to Caraguatatuba (55km; 703m)
Caraguatatuba to Pereque Açu (55km; 375m)
Pereque Açu to Paraty (73km; 768m)

We sit at Camping Humaitá for four long days while Ali tries with desperation to book tickets out of the country. In the process both our banks block both our credit cards and in the meantime, the cheap flights disappear. Ali has to skype his brother-in-law to pull us out of financial tragedy and with the two of them online, in different parts of the world, they manage to book us and our bikes onto a flight out of Belo Horizonte on June 30. New plans are good.

Not only had my headset been making some very strange noises on the way into Bertioga, but there is way too much movement in my front fork as well. We take it to a local workshop, where it gets repaired satisfactorily, but with our assistance, since the owner is not too clued up on he workings of my bike. It is the first time in Brazil that we don't ask about the price beforehand.

So far, we have met with honest and "very happy to help us out" people. But this guy totally rips us off and he knows it too. You can tell by the fake jovial way he is sucking up to us after telling us that the repairs will cost 10 times the amount we have paid anywhere else in Brazil. Making his obvious greed worse is that he quotes his price in American dollars. An automatic red light goes off when people do this. The sort of outright deception makes me sad. And mad. We leave Vista Linda Bicicletaria and won't recommend going there. There are other shops on the main drag to investigate.

Camping by the local
Weather spitters and sputters and occasionally shines for the entire length of our stay. Mosquitoes come and stay and the tractor, used to collect the racked leaves laying idle for days on end, spurts out more exhaust in an hour than I saw in a day of cycling into Istanbul. On the morning we want to leave, sunshine greets us and it is a promising start to the next leg of the journey.

The first 64 kilometres are easy enough though with plenty of undulations. Each beach is in the valley and it generally means a climb up and over over before reaching the next one: this stretch of coastal highway has hundreds of beaches. It means a perpetual roll of clean and green shoreline, except when we drop down into one of the poorer villages. While they are infrequent, they are noticeable against the up-market tourism of the rest of the townships. Perfect surf accompanied by shops selling all the necessary gear; trendy souvenir boutiques next to idyllic coffee parlours are a strong contrast against muddy dirt roads leading to corrugated iron shacks embracing overloaded washing lines of cheap kid's clothing.

Boiçucanga's camping facilities are closed and there is no choice but to embark on the 3½ kilometres leading us up the 285 alti-metres of thigh, calf and knee crunching climbing. I walk in some sections; even that is difficult. The whirlwind drop down the other side is such a welcome relief.

The centre of Maresias (74km; 585m) has residents doning Billabong and Ripcurl gear, but the campground we find is not so self important. Its not a real campground in all honesty, its another "camping by the local". An older man, greying, full of warmth and smiles opens the gate to us. For 10 reais per person we can pitch the tent in his backyard of fruit trees. He is poor, that is obvious, but his simple grounds are neat and tidy and we have a damned sight better shower than we have had in days. Our entertainment for the evening comes not only from the band that starts rehearsing at 8pm in the community hall next to us, but the four itsy bitsy kittens; mum; and the dog that thinks he is a cat. There's not a dull moment. Especially when it comes to our dinner time. Six pairs of hungry eyes is mighty hard to keep under control. We fall asleep exhausted to the drum beats and croons of locals. I can't tell you what time they stopped. Neither can Ali.

Where the rich guys live
It's an up and down coastal affair - wth pristine beaches and gated condominiums; spectacular bay vistas and sandy white shores hemming the red tiled metropolises of the rich - for pretty much the entire way from Bertogia to Pereque Açu. With the occasional exception of towns like Porto Novo. They are anything but spectacular.

In Caraguatatuba (55km; 703m) we are forced to stay at Praia Hotel for 70 reais, which looks good from the outside, but the room is old; the toilet leaks and the fan only rotates at a speed of a jet plane. We both have to sleep fully clothed snuggled up together on thread worn bed linen. Breakfast the next morning makes up for the uncomfortable night. It is a real treat.

Campgrounds dot this stretch of coast, though not all are open, which is surprising for the amount of holiday makers and sun lovers we come across on the beaches. There are plenty of shopping opportunities too and supermarkets are open on Sunday serving fresh bread. Roads are good and most of the time there is a shoulder and we can usually dawdle our way up to the top of the steep inclines - on the wrong side of the road of course.

Camping Usina Velha in Pereque Açu (55km; 375m) is a notch up the ladder as far as maintenance is concerned. Thoughtful amenities blocks with piping hot water; sensor lights and well kept grasslands. The price is still up there at 22 reais [nearly 10 euros] per person, but I think they consider themselves an eco-spot of sorts. We get 4 reais knocked off on account of us cycling in, though that takes quite a bit of pleading from Ali. Too many sand flies and mosquitoes and the fact that they provide no tables and chairs are the only drawback.

The coastline from Pereque Açu to Paraty is again dotted with camping prospects, but shopping for food supplies is limited. There is little traffic to contend with and it is a wonderful cycle, though the road is of a lesser quality. Everything about the route is way less touristy and you'll be sidled up next to pristine jungle on one side and stunning ocean views on the other. It is not called Costa Verde [Green Coast] for nothing. Trees tangled with vines that tarzan would delight in, sky-scrape and the common household monsteria grows wild from rocky bluffs. It is great to see so much natural forest still intact.

Paraty (73km; 768m) is a beautiful colonial town on Ilha Grande Bay and it is no wonder it is a tourist attraction. Closed cobble streets with brightly painted housing; and beautiful beaches to explore. If that's not enough, then tropical forests with mountain views and picturesque waterfalls rise up high above the town. During the Ciclo de Ouro, [Golden Century] when Minas Gerais was in full swing with gold production, Paraty was one of the most important ports in Brazil. A new road replacing the difficult trek between these two towns meant that this colonial village was soon forgotten. These days it has been revived and bustles with tourists instead

It is a pity that Camping do Pantal doesn't have some of the same ambience: rundown and just plain old "old". The owners are sweet and all and raking the grounds of its leaves everyday (a perpetual job in Brazil), but meanwhile the roof is falling in, in the women's toilet; mould is seeping into every wall; and for a country that has recycling facilities, there's no decent rubbish collection.

We pitch in the sand close by a light source, that we are not yet sure will work. It does. Now, all we have to do is get them to rig up some sort of electrical supply to us and we will suffice.

Another month has passed. It has been a hard month. A very wet month. But we now have new plans and are excited about them. We are not sick of cycling, just wanting a bit more out of our travels. Rio de Janeiro is next on the agenda, which we are looking forward to immensely and then a rural stint along the Estrada Real to Belo Horizonte. We are hoping the next leg of the journey will give us another taste of something different and add an enjoyable to end our South American tour.

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