August 30, 2005
Today was basically a work day as we needed to arrange for travel back to the US. First we visited a travel agent who was helpful in finding what flights were available and who also contacted Varig Airlines, the Brazilian national carrier, to find out who we could talk to about help with the flight. Luckily, the Varig office was just down the road, so we stopped by and spent a couple of hours talking about ALF and trying to get the office manager to give us a free flight back. He wasn't able to help us with that, however he was able to give us 20 percent off the fare. This was great so we made our reservations to leave Rio de Janeiro on September 15th.
By the time we were finished it was already late in the afternoon, so we drove to the outskirts of Recife and set up camp with the truckers for another night.
August 31, 2005
Today was just a simple day, a short drive of about 260 km (160 miles) as we headed through the city of Maceio to a small beach, Praia do Frances. The draw here is an off shore reef just about 50 meters off the beach. At low tide local fishermen take people over to the reef where you can sit in natural pools right in the reef. In summer time, (now it is winter), local restaurants set up shop on the reef (not too environmentally savvy) from which they will have waiters serve you drinks and food.
We drove down to the end of the beach looking for a quiet parking lot to camp in when, surprise, we found a campground with three Brazilian motorhomes parked in it. We decide to join them for the night. We thought about swimming over to the reef as it didn't appear that any boats were taking passengers, but then we noticed a lot of foam in the water and realized that the water was actually quite polluted - so we changed our minds. We did get to watch the waves break over the reef at low tide.
That evening we were joined by one of the campers who spoke English, so we had a pleasant time talking about the area and getting some of our questions answered. One question was about the many shanty towns and protesters that we see along many of the highways. The people are living in shacks covered in plastic sheets and they have different flags showing the organizations they are affiliated with. We were told that the people are landless farmers who are trying to secure land on which they can raise enough crops to survive.
September 1, 2005
Today we decided to try our luck with another detour on secondary roads that travel along the beach. The road was in really good shape, even better than the main highway was. We meandered around small towns and through many sugarcane and coconut plantations. Some of the towns sport new weekend homes for the wealthier families from nearby cities, but most of them are home to fisherfolk and ranchers. We spotted some women weaving baskets and handicrafts and stopped for a closer look, buying several small baskets.
On one deserted stretch of road we spotted a Unimog camper that looks similar to our Fuso and tried to flag down the travelers in it. They had a big "Alemania" (Spanish for Germany) written across the windshield so we figured they must be from Germany. However, even though we were waving at them and pulled over and stopped in the road, they just kept going. It's too bad, we have not come across any other travelers driving anywhere in South America and would have liked to talk and to share information. We guess that they must not have seen us - even though there were no other vehicles on the road.
September 2, 2005
For the first time on the trip, we missed a turnoff and ended up going a lot of miles out of our way. Even when we tried to rectify our mistake, the roads shown on our map heading back the way we wanted to go never materialized! We finally decided to just take a different route to our day's destination, which was Salvador in the state of Bahia. One of the things we needed to do in Salvador was get the Fuso serviced for its 20,000 mile checkup. We stopped at a Bosch service center as we had been told that they would be able to do the service. Wrong. They weren't equipped for it, but they were helpful in calling the local Mitsubishi car dealership to see if they could service us. Amazingly they were willing. But the next question was, how would we find them? No problem. A visiting salesman was heading in that direction and would lead us. After a 20 minute drive through hair-raising traffic, we spotted the dealership and our guide waved and disappeared.
We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by the English-speaking finance manager who introduced us to the service manager. The service manager pulled the Fuso into the service area and had the mechanics stop everything else they were doing to work on our truck. They were extremely helpful and when they were done, it was after-hours and dark, so they let us spend the night in the dealership parking lot.
September 3, 2005
Driving into the historical center of Salvador wasn't too difficult as the city had good signage pointing the way. The Salvadoreans are very proud that their city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since we were expecting tight streets and a lack of parking, we decided to find a parking spot, any parking spot, within a mile of the center. As we neared the area, we found a couple of banks that we know accept our ATM cards so we can withdraw money, and even more surprising we found a parking space in front of one of the banks. We then spent the day wandering around exploring the old buildings and the many churches. We visited a government tourist office and were able to buy a map of the city - now we can drive knowing where we are, and we got some information on a couple of Candomble ceremonies scheduled for the next two nights. Candomble is a religion brought from Africa and celebrated by Afro-Brazilians. The ceremonies involve drumming by the men and dancing by the women until they enter a trance.
After spending most of the day in the historic center, we drove south of the city about 30 kms, keeping to the coastline. It was interesting to watch the rocky beaches of the city change to large sandy beaches with rough surf as we drove out of town. Right in the city, we spotted three old forts build by the Portuguese, one of which is now serving as a light house.
When we got to the campground we were surprised to find it full of people. Campgrounds here are different than in the US. This one seemed to be almost full, but with people who either appeared to be full time residents, or people who have set up huge tents that they leave up for the entire season. That way, we think, they can come anytime and have their little getaway all set and ready. We met an Argentine couple who are driving around the country on vacation and were very interested in our journey as they hope to be able to do something similar one day.
September 4, 2005
We decided to just take the day to relax at camp and to walk along the beach. In the late afternoon we drove back into the city to find one of the Candomble ceremonies that we had been told about, but when we arrived at the location we found that we were given wrong directions. In the meantime, we managed to stumble into the middle of a huge gay pride carnival-like parade with thousands of people packed along the route. We made our way back to the tourist office to get new directions for the ceremony but still couldn't find it. To get around town we took three very different taxi rides. The first one, the driver tried to take us on a long circular route and as soon as we realized it, we told him to stop and we jumped out and flagged down a different taxi - no, we didn't pay for the first one. The second taxi took us to the right place, taking a direct route through very dodgy areas and down narrow back streets. The last taxi drove like a bat out of hell and really scared us, he came very close to hitting a couple of pedestrians too! Once we got back to the Fuso, we decided that we would just find a restaurant at the beach and watch the action along the beachfront.
Sept. 5, 2005
We hoped to head into the mountains today to what we've heard is one of the jewels of Brazil's National Park system. However we got caught in a major traffic delay, it might have been an accident, but we never found out, when we got through it, there wasn't anything there. Then the roads deteriorated to the point where we calculated that it would take us another two days just to reach the park. Since the park is not even in the direction we are heading and considering our flight deadline in 10 days, we don't think we can get to the park and then to Rio with enough time to find storage for the Fuso before we must leave. It's very frustrating that Brazil, with the 8th largest economy in the world, should have the worst roads in South America - even worse than its less fortunate neighbors. This problem makes it difficult for us to easily calculate driving times in this large country. We can only speculate at the problems this causes businesses, the people and even the government to suffer, and to think of how much better the economy and the lives of the people would be if the roads were maintained just a little bit better. There are even ordinary people working on the roads, filling potholes with dirt in an effort to earn some tips from the drivers.
Our drive does take us up into the higher elevations and it is actually cool this evening. During the day we drive through some beautiful country with great rock formations which remind us of Yosemite Park in California. We looked around for a spot to wild camp, but unlike the American Southwest, there are fences everywhere and few roads leading into the wilderness.
Sept. 6-7, 2005
We have been driving long hours to make sure that we make it to Rio in time for our flight. Tonight we attempted to find a state park to camp in, but the directions we followed didn't show any distances and the going got slow when the road turned to dirt. As the sun was going down, we stopped at a little restaurant to ask for directions and found that we were still six miles from the entrance of the park, and we didn't know how far in the campground was. We decided to park for the night in the restaurant parking lot and actually had a very quiet and restful night.
Sept. 8, 2005
We visited the park in the morning and saw an animal that we had never seen before. We think it was a guati but we aren't sure. It looked like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey. It was only about 8 inches long with a ringed tail that was probably 20 inches long. Very cute with tufted ears and an old man's face. We also saw monkeys in the park, but we weren't able to identify the type. When Don tried to get close enough for to take a photo, one monkey appeared to throw small sticks in his direction and even seemed to try to pee on him.
We finished up our day by driving to the colonial town of Ouro Preto and having to turn around when our big truck wouldn't fit down their skinny roads. Fortunately there was a by-pass road that took us to the opposite end of town where we found a campground.
Sept. 9, 2005
Today was spent visiting the historical town of Ouro Preto. Gold was discovered here in the late 1600's and the deposits were the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Ouro Preto became a very wealthy town and beautiful homes and churches were built. Eventually the gold ran out, but the city was declared a Brazil historical site in 1933 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Sept. 10, 2005
In the morning we visited Minas de Passagem, an old gold mine that still has wooden cars running up and down a cable, carrying the tourists down into the mine. (See photos) It was an excitingly steep drop into the mine and we had to keep watch on the low ceiling so that we didn't hit our heads on rocks. The mine opened in 1719 and was worked by Black slaves, many of whom died dynamiting into the rock. Unfortunately the tour was in Portuguese, but we really enjoyed seeing the shrine to the miners at the bottom, the underground lake (that today cave divers can explore) and the massive operation that was begun almost 300 years ago.
Leaving the Ouro Preto area, we headed down the road. Periodically the contemporary road crossed over the "Estrada Real", the Royal Road, which was built by slaves hundreds of years ago to haul the mined ore down to European ships waiting along the coast. Still visible are the old stone bridges and in places you can still see the ancient stone slabs used to cover the road. In one spot we drove over an old stone bridge that was still being used.
In the afternoon we stopped at the town of Congonhas. From Sept. 7-14, the Basilica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos celebrates the Jubileu do Senhor Bom Jesus do Matosinhos and it is one of the great religious festivals in the state. Every year approximately 600,000 pilgrims arrive at the church to make promises, do penance, receive blessings and give and receive alms.
Parking the Fuso a ways from the Basilica, we hiked up the hill (why are churches always on tops of hills?). Reaching the top, we saw large groups of people shopping at stalls set up along the pathway to the church. Bypassing the stalls, we entered the church and watching a line of people filing past an effigy of the Senhor, kissing and touching a ribbon that had been strung through the case enclosing the carved figure. After passing the case, pilgrims dropped money into a bag at the end of the line. Looking around the church, we noticed that there were many bags waiting to be filled.
Exiting the church, we passed the other reason to visit, the statues called The Prophets, carved by the famous artist Antonio Francisco Lisboa, known worldwide today as Aleijadinho (little cripple). Aleijadinho was born in 1738, the son of a Portuguese architect and a Black slave. His nickname was given to him in the 1770's when the artist began to suffer from a terrible, debilitating disease that caused him to lose his fingers, toes and the use of his lower legs.
Undaunted, Aleijadinho strapped hammers and chisels to his arms and continued working, advancing the art in his country from the excesses of the baroque to a finer, more graceful form known as Barroco Mineiro.
At the time we visited, an outside service was being held, but it ended shortly after we arrived and many of the people outside the church left. This allowed us to view The Prophets and six chapels with carvings also by Aleijadinho without having to push through the crowds.
However when it came time to leave, we chose a different direction than we had arrived and this proved to be a mistake. Funneling down another line of stalls, we were forced into a crush of people. Some trying to go down the hill, others trying to come up. Fortunately everybody in the mob remained calm, but it took us probably 10 minutes to negotiate our way into a less crowded area. We tried to keep to the sides so that if there was a violent crush of people, it would be easier to get out of the way. At one point we noticed a woman off to the side, crying, and we assumed that the crush was just too much for her.
A comment about the festival. There were far more people outside the church buying things from the vendors (that were not religiously oriented) than there were pilgrims worshiping. I would have to say this was more a social gathering than a religious observance.
Sept. 11, 2005
Today was spent on the road, but the scenery was quite attractive, with hills and rivers interspersed with ranches. Late in the afternoon we veered off the main highway to visit a National Park.
Parque Nacional da Serra dos Orgaos is located in the town of Teresopolis and was easy to locate. When we pulled up to the entrance and inquired about camping, the workers looked at us quite dubiously. The size of the Fuso was a concern for them and they wondered if we would be able to traverse the park's narrow roads. Giving us the go-ahead to try, we started up into the hills of the park. The road was quite narrow, but it wouldn't have been so bad, but because it was late in the day the sun was blinding. Fortunately, we have two sets of eyes watching and we managed to avoid the low rooflines, tree branches and signs that threatened us along the way. Finally, we reached the campground, to find what we have begun to realize is typical: a small grassy area (enclosed by a fence) and a parking lot where you get to leave your car (not close to your campsite.) Lucky for us, all we really need is a parking space, but the parking lot was very small so we ended up parking sideways and taking up 2 or 3 spaces. Fortunately there was only one other car there and no others came in. We were able to take a short hike before it got dark and we saw a couple of nice birds and an armadillo. It was very quiet and peaceful and a nice end to a driving day. Tomorrow we head for Rio de Janeiro.
Today was pretty uneventful, other than a near miss with a kamikaze driver. This was our first near miss and its weird that it would happen on our last day of driving on this expedition. Some one driving a really small car cut us off as they were trying to get on the highway. I never saw them but Kim yelled out and I swerved to avoid them. Apparently this happens all the time as the driver of the vehicle next to us moved out of our way so I didn't hit them. It was all over in a blink of the eye, but luckily we missed what could have been an ugly situation.
This happened as we were driving along a peripheral road around the city of Rio de Janeiro. We have decided to forego exploring the city at this time as we need to concentrate on finding a secure campground to leave the Fuso. When we return in December we will spend some days exploring the city. We had gotten some very vague directions to a campground from some Brazilians we had met in Ouro Preto, and hoped that if we drove around we could either find it or ask for directions.
As luck would have it, we did find a campground but it was very popular and very full. However, one of the employees - who happened to be working his first day there - spoke English and decided to help us find a secure parking place. He went with us to a neighboring campground where we were able to get directions to yet a different campground that probably had space.
We drove just another few miles, actually found the campground and decided that it was the right place to store the Fuso while we returned to the US for a couple of months.
The next couple of days were very rainy and we could prepare the interior of the truck for time we would be gone. The day of our return flight, the rain stopped and the sky cleared, yeah! So we were able to cover the truck and prepare the exterior for its storage. As the sun set, we finished our preparations, ate or gave away our remaining food, and had everything ready by the time our taxi arrived to take us to the airport.
We are excited to return home for a break, but are already making plans for our return in December. We will head across Brazil to Iguazu Falls, then drive to Buenos Aires then down to the tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego. See you then!