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On the road . June 2010 . Brazil

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Cristiano's pad, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 28-06-10
Big hearted Brazilians

Paraty to Belo Horizonte via Rio De Janiero (12 cycle days; 10 days rest; 850km; 10213m)

Paraty to Angra dos Reis (99km; 694m)
Angra dos Reis to Itaguaí (84km; 982m)
Itaguaí to Rio de Janeiro (91km; 506m)
Rio de Janeiro to 13 km after Mage (78km; 250m)
13 km after Mage to Quinta da Barra (29km 1025m)
Quinta da Barra to Três Rios (80km; 709m)
Três Rios to 20 km after Juiz de Fora (77km; 924m)
20 km after Juiz de Fora to 3 km before Barbacena (72km; 1023m)
3 km before Barbacena to Conselheiro Lafaiete (82km; 897m)
Conselheiro Lafaiete to Ouro Preto (54km; 1415m)
Ouro Preto to Rio Acima (73km; 1046m)
Rio Acima to Belo Horizonte (32km; 742m)

Before I get started on our experience with rains of a biblical nature, I'd like to talk in general about the people we have met. It is kind of difficult to put the generosity of Brazilians into perspective. They open up their houses, their lives, share their food and wine and knowledge; organise everything for you; help you get in contact with others who in turn give you the same warm hearted treatment. If you have a problem, they will offer to help you solve it; offer you discounts; and they then load you up with so many gifts that your panniers will overflow. This really presents a whole new meaning to the word hospitality. But I think the most charming trait is how down to earth they all are. Not only are they incredibly accepting of a couple of nomadic cyclists and their strange habits but so enthusiastic about what we are doing. They are not shy about telling you either.

We have cycled 2774 kilometres and climbed upwards in the vicinity of 24 kilometres in Brazil and yet we are leaving with so much of the country still unexplored. Brazil is a mighty big place. But that only gives us due cause to come back again one day. At best we leave South America, with enough new countries to visit and some special places which we plan to return to. This region of the world is incredibly diverse culturally, but it is time for a new challenge. And I'm sure the return to the western world will be all of that.

Our America's journey from the north in Vancouver, Canada down has taken us across 25,500 kilometres: just a little more than half of our total distance covered so far. You really could spend a lifetime here on a bicycle.

Biblical reflections
In the nearly fourth year of travels: in the sixth month, on the first day, the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon our tent for four days and four nights. And the waters prevailed upon the campsite. And it came to pass in the six month, in the fourth day that she said unto him: has it stopped raining YET? And he removed the covering of the tent and looked and beheld the face of the ground. It was dry. The day looked so much more promising for a change.

They say the wettest month in Paraty is February. I would just hate to be there then. Nonetheless, we put all that water, confining us to our tent to good use. A new website was planned and got a well earned facelift. Food was cooked and eaten. Mosquitoes came in to annoy us. And of course the future return to Europe was discussed with plenty of excitement.

That's the way aha-aha...
We had both begun to think that the sun would never shine again. A four hour non-stop torrent finished last night around 10 pm with our tent left resembling a strange green shaped ark. We fell asleep anxious that it may start again, but that was it. It really had finished. This morning has sprung up from the damp and miserable to radiate perfect cycling potential: now that's the way I like it.

Ali takes full advantage of the great conditions and pedals off like Superman trying to break his own speeding bullet record. I expect Speedy Gonzalez on drugs would have a hard time keeping up with him, let alone me. But the cycling turns out to be so fine with views of jewelled oceans on one side and green jungle on the other, that I just move along at my own pace admiring the countryside and feeling good about being back in the saddle.

Brazil is organically luxurious with the most fern species I've seen up close anywhere in the world. And if the vista isn't green from plant growth, its green from parrots or green from mould. The latter stuff will eventually sneak its way into everything we own: the bottoms of our panniers; our clothes; mattresses; and even our tent. the sort of green I can do without.

The route is easy on the legs, though a touch of climbing involved. The not so brilliant road at the beginning of the day becomes super smooth by lunchtime and we are steadily clocking up the kilometres. It is around this time of day that we meet Klaus. He is standing on the shoulder snapping us with his massive digital SLR as we cycle closer to him. Klaus makes a calendar each year and he is here in Brazil to take photographs for it. A spontaneous and animated man, who brings a smile to our faces and adds a little book of inspirational quotes to our kit.

A few campgrounds dot the coastline up until Frade, but from here on in there is not much in the way of accommodation. Wild camping opportunities are slim too. We pass a nuclear power station and thereafter the highway is more populated.

By the time we ride past the turnoff to Angra dos Reis (99km; 694m), darkness is looming and we are not really sure if anything suitable for pitching the tent exists or not. It is very built up around here. We decide its better to head back into town. The on-the-ball lady at the tourist information sends us to the cheapest place on offer in this vibrant town. Hotel Kuxixo is 50 reais and the bare basics; but clean and for the first time perfectly acceptable. Again: that's the way I like it.

Never quite makes it
The sun is really trying to make good of a rather suspicious weather day, but he never quite succeeds. Plenty of ups and downs until Jacuecanga, sporting the massive Petrobras harbour. A long persistent climb follows. A few more decent hills get us hot and sweating until the rain descends and we immediately become cold. A highway of pretty ugly stuff including an eclectic collection of abandoned theme parks leads us to a couple of very daunting tunnels. The last one having no lights and no shoulder. Its a good thing they are not too long or I may not have made it. Tunnels scare the living daylights out of me.

Itaguaí (84km; 982m) has no accommodation below 100 reais (45 euros). Even around the bus station we can't find anything appropriate. Venturing further out of town we find a hotel at last. Unfortunately, it is full, but they direct us to another in a side street. The 70 reais fee is more acceptable. Especially so as the heavens open up and the streets are flooded in seconds. It is becoming the norm for us in Brazil. The hotel is fairly average for its price tag and even with its recent renovations, I'm afraid won't make best accommodation of this month.

At the Copah-copah-cah-bah-naah, where football and fashion are always a passion...
When planning this trip to Brazil, there was never any doubt in either of our minds about cycling into Rio. I can only say that we have cycled into some pretty mean cities in our time and so far, the general feel here in Brazil has been all good. Friendliness prevails. But after listening to - from mostly Brazilians mind you - so many tales of crime and terror, I in particular, have been talked into a certain cautiousness. Ali printed a Google map off of our route and even that conveys miles of favelas [slums] lining the highway. It is these areas that you apparently have to be careful of. So far in our travels, poormans' territories have only revealed warm greetings from those who live there. But who knows? Maybe Rio de Janiero is completely different? Is this the place where we will finally get mugged? Have all our gear stripped from our bikes; our only possessions in the world? Sounds totally over the top? Well this really is the picture Brazilians have painted for us.

In all honesty though, that sort of stuff might happen in movies; if you are damned right unlucky; or you go around looking for it. Firstly, our Google maps must not have been updated for 10 years, because the so called favela is actually a chicly tiered environment of light marble and dark tinted glass apartments. Secondly, a 17 kilometre bike path runs from Parque Chico Mendes towards the heart of Rio de Janiero and it is full of stylish fashion followers strutting their stuff. Hardly the slums we had been warned about.

Thirdly, the customary "not stopping for red traffic lights" because it is supposedly too dangerous is a total farce. I imagine Brazilians don't stop, because they are in general, lazy drivers and this is probably one of those urban myths that is favourable to stick to. Nonetheless, I have been influenced slightly by all the horror stories and I almost jump out of my skin when someone shouts "Oi" from a not so rich neighbourhood. I turn around and see a poorly dressed man flaunting a half set of teeth and holding his thumbs up in a gesture of admiration. I am put at ease immediately.

The first section of our journey had been planned so we could follow the coast: first venturing through Santa Cruz and then hitting the Avenida de Americanas which will lead us out of the city bustle. Expecting a double lane highway, it comes as bit of a surprise when we find ourselves bouncing over potholes on a single lane road.

Further along our route at the turn-off to Barra de Guaratiba, we are told by locals that recent rains have caused landslides and the road is impassable. Retracing 7 kilometres of seafood restaurants and mangrove swamps is not such a problem, but knowing we need to enter a 10 million plus populated city means we are a little apprehensive with anything that wastes time. Under certain circumstances a mistake like this could mean racing against the clock to get to our destination before dark. It is pitch black just after 5.30pm these days.

A few kilometres of hill takes us up and over a height of 141 metres. And it is now that we drop down into the supposed favela region. Making our way to Parque Chico Mendes, we cross a small bridge where crocodiles sun themselves and locals stare in wonder at their size. We hit the beach front where its my turn to stare in wonder at the opulence. It is so overwhelming that I don't notice how beautiful the beach.

Literally, we follow a bike path for the entire way into Rio: the only flaw in the route, being the steep leg crunching gradients of the hill in Joã. The view at the top though is great. A bit more road riding before another bike path materialises and takes us the rest of the journey to Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro (91km; 506m)

Entering the heart of Rio is stunning. The beaches are the most beautiful city surf I have ever laid eyes on and coming from a rather critical Australian viewpoint, that is saying something. There's plenty of parading up and down and "I love my body" attitude too, but any pretentiousness has to be lost watching local volleyball - both hand and foot varieties; admiring the abounding white sand and sea culture; and sipping on something exotic at one of the numerous boardwalk cafes. You can drink a local favourite, a caipirinha of rum or vodka with lots of lime and sugar for as little as 3.00 reais: that's about €1.35. Where else in the world can you laze in the sun - right smack bang on the beach front - getting some pretty serious people watching done without taking out a loan for the drinks bill?

Tourist spots on the other hand are budget breaking stuff. Fourty-five reais will get you into see Cristo Redentor [Christ the Redeemer] at Corcovado or up both lifts at Pão de Açucar [Sugar-Loaf Rock]. The art deco Cristo wins the coin toss, though sadly the train that normally winds its way up the cobbled paths is not functioning. Due to the recent floods and landslides, we have to take a taxi. We had been told by a local that it would be an easy route to cycle. I'm not so sure. There are people cycling up as we motor past them in the white mini-van, but the gradients taking them up to 700 metres above sea level really are crazy. I'm quite happy sitting back, watching the 635 tons, nearly 40 metres tall figure of Christ get larger and larger. While the 45 reais fee per person is a whopping blow to the wallet, the view over Rio de Janiero is absolutely breathtaking. There is nothing to compare it with.

Jardim Botânico [The Botanical Garden] is also worth a visit if you like strolling around a big park with lots of wonderful trees and flowers. Otherwise, you can walk the lengths of beautiful beaches full of beautiful people. If walking is not your scene, then jump on your bike, in line skates, skateboard, whatever and take advantage of the great bike paths Rio has on offer. We are lucky to be here when the Copo du Mundo [World Cup] is on and witnessing Brazilians passionately watching their team play football on a giant screen, right smack bang on Copacabana Beach, is something out of this world. The whole of Brazil closes for the momentous occasion. Literally. Banks, boutiques, supermarkets, museums, markets: everything is shut. Unless of course, they have a television screen and they serve alcohol.

In general Brazil is expensive when it comes to accommodation and especially so in big cities. It is definitely time to pull out the contacts via Warmshowers or Couch Surfing. When we stayed with João in Curitiba, his flatmate Juliana put us in contact with Rodrigo and Tatia. They have an apartment right in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Without their wonderful generousity and thoughtfulness, we wouldn't have been able to stay as long as we did, nor would we have had such a great time experiencing all that this effervescent city has on offer. We received not just any old welcome but a warm heartfelt reception; not just a warm shower, but a piping hot shower, and not just your average vista, but a super hot view overlooking Ipanema Beach.

Easy in, easy out
There are an amazing network of bike paths running around Rio taking you through tunnels and along the middle of busy highways. They lead you to and from the promenades, where you can comfortably cycle along lanes filled with joggers, walkers; inline skaters and fellow bikers. It is a wonderful way to get around the city.

From Ipanema to the Niteroi ferry terminal is almost one continuous 16 kilometres of bike route. Just before the path ends at the airport, you need to get off the comfort zone and back onto highway. Zig zag your way through backstreets to make your way to the ferry gate at Praça XV [Plaza or Square 15].

It's a quick trip to Niteroi, which in contrast to Rio doesn't have any bike paths taking you out of the city centre. We opt to ride on the footpath for a good part of the journey. The highway is fast and furious. It is not a particularly pleasant cycle past smoggy industry and plenty of slums.

After 44 kilometres, we turn off BR101 onto the very poor conditioned BR493. It appears to be a major truck route and lacks any decent shoulder space for us. Farmland is in view until Magé. Soya bean crops return and the supermarket prices drop to a more reasonable level. 13 km after Magé (78km; 250m), we pull into the Ale service station on the other side of the road for the night.

They're crazy
As we head off from the petrol station: one of the more decent spots we've been in for a while, we are fully aware of the climb ahead, but are looking forward to it. There's something quite magical about seeing the mountains in front of you and then working your way slowly up and over them. The region is stunning: like Colombia. The traffic is ridiculous: like Mexico. The trucks in particular with their crazy attempts at overtaking one another on the 15 kilometre, 900 metre climb to the top.

In general, there are way too many vehicles for what the BR116 has to offer and for minutes long it can be a non-stop flow of vehicles. Drivers are impatient and opposed to obeying road rules resulting in kamikaze stunts as outrageous as those performed on Indian roads. Not even God's finger pointing up from the roadside cliff near the pass [936m] would be able to pull these exploits out of a fix should they run amiss.

From this vantage point, the outline of Rio can be traced in a shroud of haze and the heart of Teresópolis is just a kilometre or so away. On the way out of town, after shopping for dinner, we find the sign pointing to campground Quinta da Barra (29km 1025m). It is probably the best camping facilities we have had in Brazil to date and well worth the steep incline on cobbles from the main road. A hot shower and some warm food later, we are ready to crawl into the tent.

Never ever a dull moment
We encounter road works all day long and while the waiting is a little annoying, the stunted traffic flow makes riding on rather poor roads so much easier. Why they still insist on making concrete slab highways here is beyond me. The first lengthy hard climb of nearly 13 kilometres takes us up 550 alti-metres along a beautifully green winding path. A whirlwind descent of gentle gradients drops us back down 21 kilometres and 700 alti-metres into Itaipava.

The town itself is nothing to get excited about: quite dirty really with disarrayed housing perched close to the litter strewn river. The children in the outskirting slums, waving madly and eagerly yelling "bon voyage", are far more entertaining.

For most of the way, we pedal merrily downstream towards Três Rios (80km; 709m), where we intend to withdraw enough money for the rest of the trip to Belo Horizonte; shop for the evening's supplies; and then ride out of town to the nearest petrol station. Plans are bought to a halt when Ali can't get any money out of the bank. We try another. The same story. Our credit limit has been reached. I immediately expect the worst and suggest that we immediately contact our bank. Fat chance of that though with it being Friday afternoon, 4.55pm and a 5 hour time difference. All but one internet cafe will let us use our own computer. Ali tries the help line, but the Skype connection keeps dropping out.

Nothing left to do, but attempt to exchange some American dollars and a travellers cheque. We learn fast that changing travellers cheques in Brazil is a very bad idea and you probably won't get past square one: trying to find a bank that will do this, let alone give a decent rate and not whop a hefty fee per cheque on top as well. Changing over American dollars is also a problem. Banks don't often offer this service: you will need to visit an official exchange. Considering we are in the middle of Brazil where not many tourists visits, our chances seem unlikely.

And this is where our guardian angel, Julio steps in. He had seen Aaldrik earlier try desperately to get money out of the ATM's at the Itaú Bank where he works. The bank is now in the process of closing, but Ali is allowed to enter; passed the machine gun and security guard. Once everything is explained, the staff ring around to find out where he can change over American dollars. A place is found and Julio takes Aaldrik there personally. Money for the weekend is solved, but the inability to access our bank account is still worrying.

On the way back, Julio takes Aaldrik to Hotel Olivier, one of the cheapest in town, but where the price is 90 reais per night. Our chance of cycling out of town now is impossible. Ali explains that it is too much for us, since we were only able to change 150 reais, and after some negotiations the owners says we can stay for free. Ali doesn't want that either and suggests he pays what we can afford: 50 reais. That's also fine with the owner and Ali makes his way back to find me: sitting on the footpath, swatting sandflies, watching the bikes while the sun sets and daylight diminishes.

Via the wifi connection in tghe hotel we can log into our bank account and sure enough, someone has been skimming it. Ali gets in touch with Interhelp and blocks the card immediately. Luckily, I have a card too, so we will be able to withdraw money for the following week or so in Brazil. Otherwise, we really would have been in a pickle. Skimming, we find out over the course of time, is becoming a seriously big problem and it doesn't just happen in way off countries. It is a common occurrence world-wide.

A couple of tips when pinning cash overseas
Firstly, try and withdraw your money at an ATM connected with an actual bank and not at an independently standing booth. This is especially true in Latin America. Banks are heavily guarded and the likelihood of criminal tampering with machines is diminished.

Secondly, if there is a pamphlet holder or any other paraphernalia hanging near the machine, don't use it. There is a chance that a camera is attached somewhere to capture you typing in your security code. Stands to reason then, that you should always use your other hand as a cover over your pinning action too. Be sure to take your receipt with you.

Lastly, keep an eye on your bank transactions or at least have someone back at home doing that for you, should you be in remote areas for extensive periods of time.

If you want to read more on the hows and whys of bankcard skimming take a look at the urban legends reference page.

Julio pays a visit as I'm preparing a cold evening meal of avocado salsa, corn, chickpea and pea salad; with cheese and bread. As would a guardian angel, he has decided to check that everything is okay with us. He brings three t-shirts (his own) and a music cd as gifts. When it comes time to leave, he pushes 100 reais (an odd 50 euros) into Ali's hand saying; "this is so you won't have any problems over the next few days". Ali of course refuses, saying that Julio has already done enough for us, but before he exits, he tucks the cash under a book on the bedside table. Brazilians really are some of the most unconditionally generous people we have met on our travels so far.

And since there is never a dull moment while cycle touring, three days later, we will be indebted to Julio for his gesture.

A real truckers' stop
Its a climbing sort of day. Not half as steep as yesterday, but the unrelenting 842 altitude metres of ascent over the initial 57 kilometres means the legs get a decent workout. We are surrounded by greenness contrasting blue skies. The sun is hot and people as friendly as ever. The only downside is that the highway is incredibly busy and hence The Estrada Real route is not quite what we expected it to be. Any decision to head off down dirt tracks is easy enough to dismiss, since the signposting is not at all clear. You just don't know where you might end up.

I find Juiz de Fora to be an ugly town. Ali considers it modern. Nonetheless, we both agree it is a long ride away from the bustling centre: past slums and a rubbish strewn river. The campground we have been told about doesn't seem to be known by locals and no-one can give us directions. Eventually, we stumble upon a suitable petrol station to camp at 20 km after Juiz de Fora (77km; 924m). There's communal seating with television and washing space. It is the epitome of what you would expect from a truckers' stop. A bunch of burly men absorbed by a soap series wedding however, is not.

Gums and grass
We leave the truckers behind this morning. They are all settling in for today's three football matches. Brazil is playing last, so I guess most of them will spend another night at this posto de abastecimento [petrol station]. The shoulder ends almost immediately, but traffic is at a minimum on account of the game. Pleasant rolling hills with the accent on going up dominate the first stretch of road. We stop for banana and chocolate cake feast while a man in the latest model audi pulls up and dumps a sack load of household rubbish next to the bus shelter we are sitting at.

Gum trees and grass have taken over this region and much of the roadside is in the process of being burnt off. While it is necessary in this overly dry area, it isn't much fun as a cyclist pedalling into a slight headwind transporting a lung full of smoke. Santos Dumont is far from picturesque, but a little later the gums and grass give way to acuaraia trees and banana palms. A little past the large service station: Posto 40; the shoulder reappears and the road is good for the subsequent climbs. A dive bomb descent lasts only a few seconds before the chain is slipped down into the granny gear and a steep thigh crunching chore follows. Brazil scores two goals while we ascend.

Just as we arrive at the bedraggled petrol station 3 kilometres before Barbacena (72km; 1023m), they score again. We can put up our tent though in hindsight, we should have stopped a few kilometres before at a much more appealing place.

A different world
We climb high and then drop into Barbacena. The LAN House [internet cafe] is not open; as we had suspected. They tend not to open early in Brazil. Only supermarkets, bakeries and automotive shops are in full swing this time in the morning. So at 9.30am, we venture out and back onto the highway, which is now minus a shoulder. It continues like this for the complete day, except when the road becomes what Brazilians call a dupla, where a concrete barrier is placed between the left and right carriageways. Somehow, they manage to find enough room for a wide shoulder too.

Otherwise, it is a balancing game on the white line, especially near the numerous road blocks. As we get closer to Conselheiro Lafaiete, trucks have the tendency to get nastier too and on a couple of occasions almost swipe us from the road. The petrol station 5 kilometres from the centre looks like a prime spot until we begin investigating the area a little better. Condoms are scattered everywhere: embedded in the soil and discarded with little knots in the ends. It doesn't take a scholar to work out what this carpark is used for. The hastened exit of a truck parked further up confirms our beliefs and we too make a just as hurried departure. Don't quite fancy perching our tent on a load of used rubbers.

As we whirl down the hill towards the outskirts it becomes apparent just how monstrous the city of Conselheiro Lafaiete (82km; 897m) is. One major climb gets us closer to the centre, though we have to navigate a path in the wrong direction up a one-way street to get there. Certainly beats the even steeper road that we theoretically should take. and if Brazilians can do it, I can do it too. Unfortunately, a few cars decide to make life a bit of a misery during our attempt.

There is no accommodation for anything under 100 reais, which is totally crazy. Especially seeing as they don't even look fancy. For that matter, neither do the people I see wandering in and out of these overpriced hotels while Ali is off in search of something more akin to our budget.

We end up having to enter the other side of town via a passageway underneath a bridge which locals have warned us not to cycle over. And by "the other side", I really do mean a different area. It is the complete opposite. Fourty reais gets us a bed at Hotel Haya with ripped sheets, but they are clean; very old furniture but a slightly modern bathroom that functions well; a broken glass window that doesn't bother us too much, since we are not going anywhere except to sleep. It is almost like stepping into another world. From the rich side of town to the poor side via an underground tunnel. One thing is for sure: they are still mighty friendly here too.

Nothing like a good old climb?
We don't leave until late. Ali visits an internet cafe and Skypes our bank. Basically the skimming issue will get worked out when we get back to the Netherlands. But at least the bank knows about it and Ali's debit card has been blocked. Luckily I have a card too, so we can still withdraw money.

An old man in town takes it upon himself to give us a very detailled route description. It takes forever. He is a little crazy, but it is amazing how people like to involve themselves with our tour. They feel as though their input is essential, even if it is simple directions out of a city. We like that. There's a mighty climb towards a Cristo Redentor: one not quite as tall as that in Rio de Janeiro.

A casual single lane highway leads us towards Ouro Branco and "up and down" pretty much describes the journey. By the time we reach this quaint Estrada Real township we have rollercoasted 21 kilometres and 451 alti-metres. The scary drop into town and then the rather drastic "get off the bike and push" up to the plaza is due reason to enter the bakery for some well deserved pastries, cocadas e rapadura amendoim [sugary coconut plus crushed peanut and condensed milk slices]. I exit an equally drastic five euros later.

We drop down and then clammer to our first pass of the day at 1215 metres. A real brake clencher follows, through a much nicer forest environment. There are still plenty of road works to contend with before the next knee crunching scramble up to Itatiaia [1059m]. Three more climbs of equally difficult terrain need to be accomplished and they are all nasty thigh burners. Finally, we reach the outskirts of Ouro Preto after a welcomed downhill splurge. The massive aluminum factory with adjoining bus station is almost surreal in comparison with the Unesco World Heritage status of the old town.

We have to climb yet again, even though I'm pretty well done for the day. And then we hit cobbles which are ridiculously steep and in very bad shape. I stop at the start of he hill leading to the plaza and that's it for me. I'm not pedalling another revolution. Luckily Pousada Imperatriz, Ouro Preto (54km; 1415m), is right where I decide to finish the day's cycling. Sixty reais for the night with a clean share bathroom is alright by me tonight. The notion of lying down after a hot shower are the only real thoughts on my mind.

We take rest day in Ouro Preto, wander around in the mist and buy a few souvenirs at excellent prices. Besides the roadside stalls in this region, it is actually the best place to stock up on ceramic and stonework. The town is renowned for its collection of churches, though you have to pay to enter many of them. Fully recovered with a bit touristy culture, we plan the next two days journey.

More wonderful hospitality
Besides the cobbled push of 10% average gradients away from our hostel in Ouro Preto, the trend of the first leg of the morning is that of easy rolling hills. After 43 kilometres and 571 alti-metres, we take the dirt road turn-off which will take us all the way to Rio Acima. Cristiano in Belo Horizonte has organised a friend of his to meet us there and we'll spend the night with her. When we first arrived in Brazil, he contacted us with a really sweet welcome letter and offered to help us out should we need it.

In the beginning, we wind ourselves along a similar path as the river. It is a pleasant surprise compared to what we've been used to on The Estrada Real. Lots of jungle green; flowers and absolutely no traffic. I think we see about six cars in total. The track is in extremely good condition, but its dry. After some rain, this area would turn quite muddy and convert to difficult terrain quickly. We climb a bit [378 metres] and fall a bit too [480 metres] before reaching the township in the mid afternoon.

Raquel comes immediately into town and leads us back to her peaceful homestead set in the back blocks of farmland, Rio Acima (73km; 1046m). This vibrant lady is anything but peaceful: she not only has a passion for life, but also for mountain biking. Her mantelpiece is full of medals and trophies. Soon enough, the kitchen table is laden with fresh cheese, pitanga fruit jam, crusty bread, pão de queijo [warm brazilian cheese buns], spicy olives and a deep fruity red wine. The ambience is bursting with enthusiastic travel chatter and the rest of the evening is spent feeling very warm and very welcome at Raquel's house.

Such a nice ending
After a relaxed breakfast the following morning of pretty much the same delicious goodies from last night, we wait for Cristianoto arrive before heading the thirty odd kilometres into Belo Horizonte.

It is another football day and the road is quiet until we reach the outskirts of town. Traffic in the city is absolutely mad, but Cristiano guides us expertly to his apartment, conveniently situated in the middle of Belo Horizonte (32km; 742m). We enter to the wonderful smell of Rachel's cooking: stuffed zucchini and tomato pie is on the menu today and after the more or less continuous ascent from Rio Acima to the top climb of the day [1060m] everything is devoured with delight.

We are also indebted to Cristiano and Rachel for their amazing hospitality. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to get in contact with the people we needed to see, nor organise half of the stuff that we did. We thank them for their relaxed way of doing things; their generousity and truly warm kindness.

It is the end of our Brazilian tour and while the cycling was not always the best: traffic is totally mad; weather is totally unpredictable; and normal accommodation totally out of our budget, we are leaving with a good sentiment. The people of Brazil make this country what it is. It is, at best, diverse in between the large distances. There is the advantage of being able to camp freely at petrol stations. And exploring the north needs to find its way into our future touring plans. We leave feeling indebted to the folk of this vastly gracious nation.

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