22 July 2012

Brazil - July & August 2012

20/07/2012

It is now 18:30 and just about pitch black. For the first time since I arrived, it is not particularly cold - which is a good thing, my beanie and neck scarf are still wet from yesterday's wash. I am stealth camping again, this time in a tree plantation on some estancia. Based on reports, I was going to stay overnight at a petrol station, but it was not to my liking and there would have been no place to set up my hammock. Tomorrow I should hopefully make it as far as the ecological station of Taim. I have no idea if there is accommodation or indeed if I can even pitch my hammock, guess I will find out tomorrow.

This morning started with a lovely breakfast of sandwiches and sweet breads. A mug of hot chocolate and some orange juice and I was ready to leave. I exchanged pleasantries with my hosts who looked after me very well and even did my laundry which was in much need of a wash. Of course my cycling gear is now sweat ridding again, my shorts that I wear over my cycling pants have white stains from the salt. With tonight looking dry and warm, hopefully they will get a chance to dry out a little.

Borders needed to be crossed and unlike many reports I had read, this was not much of a problem. Then again, being on a bike rather than a bus made it much easier. First I had to back track 2 km's to the Uruguayan 'frontera'. Got stamped out there and then crossed into Brazil. After a little back and forth I asked for directions in the best Spanish I could and a lovely old Brazilian chap responded in his best Portuguese and English where I had to go. You actually have to carry on into a Brazil for a further 3 km's to reach 'their' side of the 'frontera'. A little uncertain I walked in proudly carrying my visa and fee free British Passport. A rather, or should I say very attractive lady caught my eye but proceeded to direct me to a different counter unfortunately. My man studied my passport and then had a chat with his colleague - it seems they were not certain if I needed a Visa or how much I had to pay. The two of them consulted their computers for a bit while the Entry stamp hung in the air. Eventually they satisfied themselves that I needed nothing more than a stamp and 90 days written on my form and off I went. You get a piece of paper with your length of stay and other details written on it. Best not to lose this - will cost you a fair penny if you attempt to exit without it. Not that they told me this, but good research had me well informed. 

Onto the saddle and the cycle of Brazil began in earnest. I knew there was nothing much to see or keep me dawdling about for many miles, so got on with the job of laying done some mileage. Initially the wind played havoc attempting to either push me backwards or off the road totally. On many occasions it did succeed in pushing me onto the hard shoulder which unlike Uruguay was not of a decent standard, full of soft sand and holes. Nor was the hard shoulder an extension of the  road itself, rather an afterthought thrown on at least 6 inches below the road without so much as an attempt at grading the two. So I braved the inside of the white line for as long as I could before pulling off at the last minute when I could hear a truck coming or there was oncoming traffic. Brazilian drivers have a reputation for recklessness behind the wheel and I didn't want to take them up on it. After 10km's of hard graft the road changed direction and at least the wind was no longer blowing directly into me, rather across and ever so slightly from behind. 

I put my feet down in earnest and they didn't seem to react negatively. Took my breaks on schedule, every 15 km's for a 5 minute rest, a few gulps of water and a check on my position. Not that position is important now, the road is straight and I need not move off it for the next 250km's when I near the turnoff to Rio Grande. I am strongly considering going to Rio Grande and catching a ferry as far as Porto Alegre if possible or alternatively, going across the lagoon and cycling the R101 instead of the ring road to Pelotas. Is bound to be quieter and not have as many trucks on it. Will see how things go over the next few days.
A number of good sectors saw me charging along at over 22km/h, up till now, the average speed has normally been around 15km/h. So even though I only left the border at 11:30, by 16:00 I had covered almost 90km's. This now puts the ecological station of Taim in my sights tomorrow. With a much earlier start on the cards, I should get there in decent time and be able to spend the afternoon birding. That will be followed my another morning birding before attacking the road towards Rio Grande. I won't make that by the end of the day, but it will allow me to reach by the following day. Then I will certainly be looking to take a few days rest and get myself and my gear cleaned up. 

By the time I found a place to camp tonight it was already much later than I prefer. Camp got set up in quick time and had dinner on the go ASAP. Reaching into my spares and fuel pannier I could smell the overwhelming aroma of petrol. One of my bottles had broken it's seal and proceeded to empty itself into the pannier. Fantastic, just what I need when I am short of time is this. My spares box, spare tyre and pannier were absolutely soaked in 'super'. These panniers are waterproof which is of course very good, the downside means that they also retained much of the fuel! I could smell this last night but never thought to investigate - stupid muppet. That will teach me to use a cheap metal water bottle to store fuel in. The petrol shouldn't have damaged too much, just the spare wheel I am most worried about. The other spares were all wrapped in plastic bags and most escaped any contact. Insulation tape is buggered though, will have to pick up some more when I next find an appropriate shop. Will need to give the pannier a good wash and airing too, and again hope that it's integrity has not been altered.

Having emptied the box to air a little, I got on with dinner. First kettle boiled and coffee in hand. Pot on with noodles, stupidly not building the water first. Then the stove died half way through. Pot off and wait ten minutes before attempting to relight. By now I had a mushy mix of pasta and pasta water. It all turned into quite a sludge, but the pasta was just about cooked and it was going to have to do. Tomato purée in for taste and it wasn't all that bad. Pot is now sealed in pasta glue, will need a good wash tomorrow. 

Nose is very sore, didn't think to put sun cream on it and I probably have something approaching a 3rd degree burn now. Must remember tomorrow! Left ear is badly scabbed - I though a mosquito had bitten it the other night in PN Santa Teresa, but it looks to have been bitten my something much more potent, possibly a spider. No sign of infection or swelling, just a rather large scab. Perhaps the effects of some mild cytotoxic venom? Knees and ankles didn't play up today, so I definitely think that my saddle position has made a big difference. Pampas Fox calling in the background as I type and what sound like Brazilian Cavy's (very similar to a Guinea Pig) scurrying about not too far away.
Night sky is again in stunning form, being so far away from any large city that there is no light pollution here. Only a mild chill in the air now, but not even my fingers are cold - definitely helps not being near the coast! Onwards to Taim tomorrow, will tap out a few emails now and then get some sleep.

21/07/2012

Up at the crack of sparrows fart. I did not want to be caught by the land owner or any of the cattle herders. Bit chilly today, but nothing like coastal Uruguay. After successfully dragging my bike out of the forest and then along a beech sand road, I was back in the saddle all ready for a big day. One of my earliest starts and looking forward to more of what I had yesterday - nice flat road and minimally affective wind. I got to keep the flat road, the wind had other ideas. About 20km/h into my face, all damn day. 

I purposefully did not write this blog entry yesterday, as I suspect it would have been littered with profanities and general ill will to all and sundry. I am sick of the wind, I hate it - more than anything I have experienced in my life, hell I’d even eat a mango a day if it stopped the bleeding wind. All other weather conditions might dampen your spirit, but they don’t attempt to slow you down much - wind kills you, you use more energy trying to move forward, you get battered around and spend even more of your leg energy trying to keep going in the right direction. You invariably get knocked on and off the road and over the cats eyes - size of bloody Capabara heads in Brazil and they come in pairs to. You just about get your shit together and aiming in the right direction and you see an on coming truck - whoosh, you are hit by a brick wall of contrails that further blow you sideways (whats worse is the that they are friendly truckers - give you a thumbs up, tonk their horn or shout ‘hopa’ out of the window - before you get blown sideways). Off the bleeding road you go, check over the left shoulder, back over the 6 inch hump and onto the road, catch the Capybara’s head with you back wheel - bump, slip and slide and back onto the hard shoulder. You start looking forward to passing truck, you at least get 10 metres worth of slipstream - even if that slipstream is trying to pull you under the truck, it is manageable. he sun, could have made a bigger difference to my overall feeling, but it was stuck behind some piddly excuse of hazy stratus clouds - the clouds were barely visible, yet the sun didn’t seem at all interested in making an effort. So the ride was not quite warm or cold, in an effort to reduce drag, I had taken my high viz. jacket off - which made me a little cold, but I persevered in the knowledge that not having the jacket on allowed me to go at least 2km/h quicker.

Besides all this, you have the macho drivers that have given Brazil a notorious reputation. Fly around like stupid maniacs in cars that were never built to drive at those speeds either. It’s one thing to pass me without giving me much more than 12 inches of space - what I detest is these idiots who must overtake and come into my lane when the damn road is empty for miles. I swear they pass at that particular time simply to drive me off the road. I am seriously considering lining my bar bag with decent sized stones for these bastards.

I’ll do a quick comparison to testify to these idiotic drivers ‘skills’. I have cycled exactly 250km of Brazil now, I have lost count of the number of road side cross and memorials to people who have lost their lives on this section of road - which is not particularly busy or hazardous. It’s a pretty straight and flat road with excellent visibility. Most of the memorials only have one name on them - I stopped at a few to see what they were all about, most just had a single male name on them. So these turds managed to kill themselves on a pretty simple stretch of road! Well, long may they continue to do so - killing themselves anyway. The human gene pool can do without their kind. I cycled near enough 700km’s of Uruguay and did not see one roadside memorial - nadda. Probably because the Uruguayan drivers are so much more skilled than this lot - or that they drive at reasonable speeds and pay attention to other road users. It’s a different psyche completely. 

I diverge - but that was about the context of all 80 odd kilometres yesterday. Worst day  have spent in the saddle so far - completely and utterly drained, irritable and dispirited. Towards the end of my cycle I went though the middle of the lagoons, the road is banked up heavily and there is marsh on either side. Teeming with Capybaras and the stench of death heavy in the air. Cycling was quite sickly for the next 15 km’s or so due to said stench. It was either a dead Capybara floating in the water or more commonly, a carcass on the road. Despite all the road signs telling our number 1 drivers to mind the animals and the fencing on either side of the road - there were freshly dead rats every couple of hundred metres. You will have to Google Capybara to fully appreciate how large one of these buggers are - think of something the height of a labrador and as wide as pitbull - they are absolutely solid creatures. Hitting one of these at speed in a car or an SUV is likely to send you off the road - which would be interesting as the waters below are also filled with Broad-snouted Caimans. Having weaved my way through the morass of dead and some live Capybara’s, I reached the Ecological Station of Taim to find that it was very much a research facility and hydrology endeavour. There was definitely no place to stay.

Time was ticking on, time to at least start looking for a place to stay. I cycled onwards into the village of Taim, keeping a beady eye on likely spots. This being a marsh/grassland, the only place that trees grow is where humans have put them. Which normally means that the humans are quite close to. I had one of two spots stored away and just as I was about to turn around I saw a welcoming signboard that had a picture of a tent and some food. Bingo - good thing it didn’t only say that as I would have had no chance. I may be just about getting comfortable with reading and listening to Spanish, but this Portuguese stuff is a mystery. Despite listening to Monica speak Portuguese to her mother for hours in the office, it still sounds like a half breed dialect, somewhere between Russian and Arabic and makes me feel like I have a sticky lump of phlegm in my throat whenever I hear it. Having managed to obtain food, a camp site and even organise a hotel in sign language and plenty of ‘si si’, I shall not even make an attempt at this stuff.
So, having bumbled our way through pleasantries and finally managed to convince the owners of the property that I did indeed wish to camp, I was taken off to the camp ground. The entire place was mine - pick a spot. Decent bathroom and I noted the electrical wires plugged into the shower-head - an indication that we might have some warmth in them. Luckily, the camp site was ringed with trees - I would find out later this was a wind break, but for now I found a spot and set up camp. Took all my filthy kitchen bits and have them a good scrub. At least this pasta glue comes off quite easily - very much like silicone stuck to metal, once you get a grip it all peels right off. Then it was time to tackle the shower, no water... Back to reception where there was now only one of the kitchen staff, more sign language, damn near came to drawing pictures, but eventually she got it. Another chap was summoned and he very quickly diagnosed that the mains water had not been turned on. Quite how I had managed to wash my dishes remains a mystery. The shower varied from just about tolerable to tepid - but I was so dirty and smelly I wouldn’t have budged if it were simply cold. Nose is suffering from sun burn - badly blistered, but only on the side that has been receiving all the sun. Of course, the damaged ear is on that side to, so the sun is compounding the damage it has already received. I now have a similar situation going on with my right ear - this time I know that it was a mosquito that bit it, not nearly as bad as my left ear, so perhaps it was not a spider, rather just the mosquito + sun. 

Went up to the restaurant to see if I could get some dinner. There was a neat WiFi sign too. Managed to order something (I thought I heard the word ‘pasta’ in there, so went for that) and even got the code for the WiFi. Not that the WiFi actually worked. Dinner arrived - it was big pice of deep-fried pastry with minced meat inside. I think they are called ‘Pasteis’. They do look similar to ‘empanadillas’, so perhaps that is what it was. Tasted great, but there wasn’t much of it, picked up a large bag of biscuits on the way out as well as two tubes of ‘Marias’. Clearly the Brazilian version of Marie Biscuits, even the Maria imprinted on the biscuit is the same style only a change of letter. These would go better with my Dulche de Leche than the savoury grain biscuits I was currently eating it with. 

Sat over looking the beech of a lagoon (the size of an ocean, but not an ocean!) doing some bird research and typing some email responses. Climbed into my hammock and continued to tap away. I was about to put the iPad down when I noticed that the number of emails in my app had changed - on pressing my mail app, it would seem that not only was I receiving emails, but that I even had WiFi signal almost 150 metres form the house where it originated. How interesting, one of my most pressing concerns was to check on the sport. i very much wanted an update on the cricket and also to make sure that Bradley Wiggins was still on course to win the Tour de France. I have never paid much attention to the race, but ave quite taken to it recently. We started on about the same day and while they have travelled much further and faster, I do get some motivation on the road from reading about their daily travails. No such luck, CricInfo would not load and nor would Sky Sports. I did just about make it into my Facebook account, but could not even check much beyond one message. Oh well, I had not expected to be able to use it anyway.

Bed time, or not. Having no sooner gotten myself into position - which is some order. One I am in the hammock, I then get into a cotton slip the size and length of my sleeping bag, it is there to stop all my noxious odours and dirt from ruining the sleeping bag. Once I have that on, it is then time to try and find an entry in the sleeping bag. Feet in the right place, pull the zipper up as far as possible before it inevitably jams. Slide up inside the hammock some more to get into a better position. Now the inflatable mattress is in the wrong position - so I perform a caterpillar like movement to push and pull it further up. Now the cotton slip has moved down, get my arms into weird and wonderful position to pull the back into place. I am now lying on the hood of my sleeping back - more over and behind head and back pulling and sliding. A few more adjustments of the inflatable mattress, get my feet covered by my jacket (the inflatable mattress is only 3/4, so I get no insulation). This all take about 5 minutes to perfect. No sooner had I found the right sot and wind picked up something rotten. My fly sheet was being pulled and blown all over the show. I lay there hoping the wind might die down, but it just got stronger. 


Reverse the section above now. Step out of hammock - hopefully no snakes present. Adjust the fly sheet into a nose down position and double tie all knots. Check the tarpaulin covering my bike is secure and then attempt to get myself back into the position I was previously. More struggle and straining of muscles I didn’t know I had before I got a hammock tent. Nod off to sleep - wind howling, waves crashing nearby and some dickheads fishing on the beech listening to really loud irritating music. I wanted to beg one of the drunken louts to come on over and rustle though my belongings - just give me an excuse to put my blacked out SOG Seal Pup to better use. Besides lucking out at the Praia da Capilha camping site, I had to write to today off as rather shite - there would be more days like this to come, part of experience.

22/07/2012


Woke up very early - sun just peeking over the horizon. Slept fitfully, so still rather groggy. Packed my gear up slowly, getting more energetic as the sun got stronger. Noticed that the wind direction seems to be more appealing, not quite a tail wind - but anything is better than a head wind. Diligently applied sun screen to my face and ears, got dressed into my permanently damp and sweaty riding gear and headed off. I knew that if I got off to a decent start, I may well be able to make Rio Grande of Pelotas. Both are decent sized towns which are likely to have hotel/hostel accommodation, warm showers and WiFi that works.

Cycling conditions were imminently better than yesterday, so put my feet into my pedals with much gusto. Decided to up my sectors from 15km’s to 20km’s today. Yesterday I was even taking mini-breaks between each sector, that is how punishing the wind was. The first sector disappeared as I was able to reach speeds of around 25km/h - what is comfortable on a flat road with no wind about. The sun had no barriers either, so I was nicely warmed up. Stopped for my first break - breakfast. Got a brew on and hauled out my Dulche de Leche and Maria biscuits. Hot coffee and very sweet caramel and biscuits. The mother of all dogs came over for a sniff - one part bull mastiff, the other part hippo! For South African readers - think of a Boer Bull on steroids. Fortunately she was a friendly beast who simply wanted to roll around in the building stones that I had stopped next to. The bigger dogs here tend to be very friendly and rarely if ever chase my bike. The dogs I am much more weary of are the little ratshite handbag yappy things. They chase bikes, bark incessantly and always want to piss on my wheels when I have stopped. While I am very much an animal lover, I have come mighty close to giving one of these things some Frans Steyn treatment. Will have to pace myself on the Dulche de Leche - comfortable eat a tub at a time - that ‘eat within 30 days of opening’ was never going to be in doubt. Just hope to find more of it as I go along. They say that Brazil does make and supply the stuff (according to Argentinians and Uruguayans - it is much inferior to theirs, no doubt, but it is caramel to me either way). 


Breakfast over and I get back into saddle. The cycling conditions are goos, so I am for another 20km sector which will tally nicely with the 200km mark for Brazil. So far i have had a few niggle and perhaps one quite serious achilles strain, but those teething problems have been ridden out. You might think that it is ones legs and backside that take the most strain cycling and that would be true over the first few hundred kilometres, but the parts of your body that really hurt are your hands and shoulders. There are no shock absorbers on my bike - I need a strong and sturdy frame and shocks don’t lend themselves to this. So every bump in the road is transferred though your hands and shoulders. Picture being in a semi push-up position for 6-7 hours a day, doing mini push up at every bump and undulation in your path. I change hand positions almost as much as my eyelids blink. My palms go numb after a while, so I am constantly shuffling half a centimetre this way and that to relieve the pressure. My shoulders stop nagging after a while, it is only at the end of the day that you realise how buggered your elbows are. It seems to be cumulative too, the more days of continual cycling, the less responsive my arms are. I have very little feeling in my index finger and thumbs. My left hand is so unresponsive that I cannot even unclip the tab on my bar bag with it anymore - I simply do not have the hand strength required to undue a fairly simple clip. My thumbs have very little motion in them - which manifests itself in all sorts of negative ways as you go about your daily business. I may come away from this tour with slightly bigger legs, but I will definitely have much larger and toned shoulders!

The end of another sector and I am still feeling in very good condition. Crack on for the next sector and the prospect of lunch. Lunch these days is about half a pack of Oreo style biscuits - not much, but more than I was eating in my opening few weeks. The sugar rush keeps me going in the afternoon sectors and I am not so hungry by the end of the day. This is also my general ‘pitstop’ time. For the amount of fluids I take on board, not much of it seems to make its way past my kidneys. Fuelled up and decision time - left to Pelotas or right to Rio Grande, distance is about the same. Left is my original plan, right is something new. I am feeling a little guilty of spending too much time cycling and not enough time birding. Left means another 500kms to Porto Alegre and then another 250kms after that before I even begin to look at birds again. Right means I get a chance to travel a minor road and possibly enter some Atlantic forest. May have fewer large towns, but may give me more opportunity to bird. I go right, which doesn’t seem like a good decision as the wind is howling into me all of a sudden. Rio Grande is only another 20km’s so I get on with it. Cycling down the main street ‘Italia’, I am looking for two things - a hotel and more specifically one that has wireless. I need to do plenty of research into a ferry crossing and the re-planning of my route. 

I am pretty certain that I will need to come back down this road to go to the port for the ferry, so I want to find one in the shortest distance. Hotel Amor Gaucho it is - hopefully it is not one of those ‘charge by the hour hotels’ that are allegedly quite prevalent around Brazil. Back to hand signals and pointing at money etc to try and work out how much and how long. I get the wireless code with less hassle. First things first, check the cricket score - how pleasing, England are getting a caning at the Oval - even more pleasing when I see that one of my school colleagues has also just gotten South Africa’s first triple century. Then to le Toure - Mr Wiggans has indeed trounced the field to much delight, couldn’t happen to a more decent bloke. Read an email from Adrian telling me as much and that as the time of typing Adam Scott was well on his way to winning the Open. While refreshing the cricket scores, I noticed something about ‘Ernie winning’. Some mistake surely, Els hasn’t gotten near a major in years. However, quite atypically an Australian has choked and Els has indeed won the British Open for a second time. Alonso has also won again which please me greatly, a superior driver in an inferior car giving the spoilt Maclaren brats a hiding. 

Right, satisfied with the sport it is time to update my lists before tapping out the missing days of my blog. Not many photos fro the previous few days, so no need to edit images. As I write, there seems to be one massive party going on not far from here - more thumping music. If it wasn’t for me being here to see birds, I’d have already turned around and gone back to Uruguay and probably never left the place. I haven’t been in Brazil long and thus I shall hold my opinion until I have seen more of the place - but to anyone who knows me, that in itself says enough. We shall see...

That about sums things up for the previous few days. Tomorrow is a rest and research day - I plan on doing nothing more than sitting in the sun and working out the next few weeks of my trip. The WiFi has dropped and is no longer allowing me to connect - I know that the router just needs restarting, but that would be a journey into the very linguistically unknown. Luckily I know that there is another WiFi signal that I can tap into, but I will have to go for a walk to get there. Time to upload this waffle and then get some dinner in. Not venturing out onto the street at this time, so it will be something from inside the food pannier tonight. Perhaps I should actually make use of that half kg rice I have been hauling around for the last 3 weeks. 


23/07/2012

Rest day, time to get the clothes washed and pick up some basic supplies. Spent the day researching the bird species I am likely to encounter in southern Brazil. Tried to obtain some information about camp sites and accommodation in general for the next 300 km's, but drew a complete blank. Resign myself to having to make it up as I go along. There is no restaurant at this hotel, nor is there much of a kitchen - just a microwave oven and a kettle. Dinner will have to me something I can microwave. Lasagne does the trick nicely along with a can of local beer, which is drinkable, but doesn't really have much taste - still waiting to taste the beer influence of the German immigrants that are supposedly here somewhere. Can't say I have seen any German looking people yet either. Watch some television for the first time since I have arrived - the only English program on is titled '1000 ways to die', just the type of stuff I want to be watching in the circumstances... Need to sleep, tomorrow I must fiddle about at the local port and attempt to catch a ferry across the harbour to Sao Jose do Norte.

24/07/2012

Rise a little later than intended - must have needed the sleep. Pack the gear up including a few items of clothes that have yet to dry. Socks and underwear are not good washing companions. Thinking of ditching the underwear in any case - not much use out here. One last cup of coffee and the pedal through town starts.

The dock is a little bit of a mare trying to figure out, but after 20 minutes I find the right place to catch the ferry. (it is at the Ipiranga gas station near the Museu do Porto). Costs R4.75 (US$2.35) for me and the bike. It is worth noting that early crossings and late afternoon crossings do not allow luggage. The boat leaves every 40 minutes or so. Crossing in uneventful and the pedalling starts again. 

My plan this evening is to stay at a camp site in Estreito. This is only 30km's from the dock so I take it relatively easy. I've not cycled more than 5km when I see something familiar in the distance - a bicycle setup that looks vaguely familiar to mine! I pull over and exchange pleasantries - there I was hoping that this must be another foreigner, but it isn't. A local Brazilian chap from Porto Alegre cycling a loop around the lakes. We cycle together until Estreito, doing our best to communicate. My complete lack of Portuguese and his almost as poor English. Arriving in Estreito, I bid him farewell and search for the camp sight. The co-ordinates I have are clearly duff and there is barely a village here let alone a camp site. 

It is now 15:15 and decisions have to be made. Stealth camp here somewhere, but leave myself over 100km to Mostardas or put in some effort and try to make it a far as Bojuru, another 35km's away? The cycling has been comfortable so far and there is a decent cross/tail wind going, so I decide to push on. I quickly catch up with my Brazilian cyclist who doesn't seem to have gotten very far in the time that I have been debating. For someone who is intent on getting to Tavares tonight (85km's away, he doesn't seem to be getting a move on). We join up again, but I am done cycling side by side, I take the front and put my foot down. Keep up or drop off, decision is yours. I don't let up for the next 35km's, Knocking along in the mid-30's km/h. At some point I looked over my shoulder and realised my buddy was no longer there - this probably wasn't very friendly of me, but I had places to be - I could not dawdle into dusk.  I won't cycle at night, at his rate he'll be going until tomorrow morning. 

At some point I made the decision that it was already too late to be cooking and setting up camp in the remaning time. I made Bojuru and found the only place serving food. Hot coffee, 3 pastries and a slice of some funny pizza (spongy base about an inch thick). Back on the road - it was now 17:25 and way past my cut off time. Found a few likely looking pine forests, but none were particularly good. As dusk was drawing in, I found a secluded spot - I am now quite proficient at opening these fences and disappearing before anyone sees me. Dashed into the forest, tent up, gear in - dark. Changed clothes, sat down and felt a little more relaxed.

Wind is up, will be a breezy night but the forest does provide me protection from the gales at least. I am now well within reach of Mostardas, early start tomorrow and providing conditions are benign - should be there by early afternoon. Last time I made such a prediction, the mother of all gale force head winds blew... As mentioned previously, I am starting to feel a little guilty about the lack of birding recently, have been knocking out the miles, but not seeing many birds. The reason I changed my route was to try and rectify this. Unfortunately the only forests here are man-made and barren of birds. So, with nothing keeping me here, tomorrow I will push on and get some more mileage out of the way. Who knows when I will hit decent habitat, but I'll just have to keep pedalling until I do. Tomorrow will also see me reach the 1000km mark, quite a psychological point if nothing else. Only have to do that another 39 times and and I should be 2 years older and in Brazil again. 

Dammit - I just got up to check the Odometer now and I missed the seminal moment! I had made said mental note before I reached Estreito, which would have left me needing 36km's to reach the 1000 mark. In my crash, bang, wallop of a session after that I completely forgot about it. So, 1000km's up now, must have passed the mark just as I left Bojuru. 



Enough of that, good sun and no wind tomorrow please.

25/07/2012

Early start to the day, up and out of the forest by 08:00. Wind is quite chilly and have to change into my winter gloves for the first 20km stretch. Mile and miles of pine plantations and badly buggered tarred roads. I know that this stretch was only laid  in the last 3 years - but the logging trucks have destroyed them already. 

Stop for breakfast just after 09:30. Get a brew on the go and sort out some more Dulche de Leche and Maria biscuits. Upping the sector distances in the morning has made no difference to my cycling times - probably because I have some of this super stuff to look forward to. More cycling through damn pine plantations, which are only interspersed by the odd farm house. 

Roll into Mostardas just after 13:00. Not a long day of cycling but it is another 70 odd km's to the total, or 70km's closer to something that might look attractive to my feathered friends. Head off towards Palmares do Sul and Osorio tomorrow. 



25/07/2012 cont.

Dinner was a bit of an affair, sat and waited 20 minutes to get service - Internacionel were playing a football game and my waiter was ensconced, everything else waits for football here. Eventually I got a menu and pored through nothing that I could understand. The most promising wording seemed to resemble a 'mixed grill'. I have been told before that Brazil serves food like upper class bars in England serve drinks - double is standard. Having waited 20 minutes to order, I was starting to wonder what could be taking so damn long in making the food. Half an hour and most of a litre beer had vanished already. Then it was time for the plates to start arriving. Empty plate, plate with two huge steaks, plate brimming with salad, bowl with sweet potato chips, bowl with normal potato chips, bowl of white rice and a bowl of potato and corn salad. See photo below for an idea of this - plates were full size 12 inch in diameter! Nothing for it, so off at went - when all was said and done, I had avoided the rice and left half the potato salad.


Waddle off to bed and started a coarse of Ibuprofen. After a week of increasing loss of sensation in my left hand, I Googled the symptoms. I have 'handlebar Palsy' or at least inflammation/damage to the left ulnar nerve. Starts with a tingling sensation in the outer two digits, which started for me over a week ago - something I passed off as a result of the cold. Then it progressed to loss of complete sensation and finally as it is now, almost complete loss of manoeuvrability. The ramifications are that when my fingers are held straight, it is impossible for me to have all my fingers together, the ring and pinky finger are splayed. You suddenly realise how important those fingers are to your daily routine. Things I have tried and generally failed at because of this include : tying my shoes laces, undoing screw top bottle, cutting my nails, putting sunscreen on, suspending my tent and pretty much any activity which requires the use of two hands. To combat this, I am taking anti-inflammatories to try and reduce the nerve swelling which is most likely occurring in my elbow. Taking it much easier on the bike and generally trying to be protective of the elbow - holding the bar loosely etc. Will give things another week to sort themselves out otherwise will have to get it consulted when I reach Curitiba.

26/07/2012

Having stuffed my face last night, I really should not have been that hungry today. Breakfast looked great and I took full toll on it. Brazilians do like their sweet foods, seemingly at any time of the day. Although not everything that looked sweet was... What looked to me to be a love cream topped sweet cake turned out to be a fish cake! Freshly squeezed orange juice, some baby pizza slices, ham and cheese sandwich and a few coconut cake pieces slathered in Dulche de Leche and fresh cream. More orange juice and then it was time to depart. 

With elbow in mind and no town for the next 130km's, I took it very easy. Concentrated more on the birds today and took many more stops than usual. None the less, still managed a breezy 57 km's by 15:00 before turning into a Petrobras Petrol Station and setting up camp. From other tour cyclists reports, this is apparently perfectly acceptable and there are showers, rest rooms, some form of security all night and generally a restaurant available to. I took my time setting up, lots of people could see what I was doing, but no-one seemed to bat an eyelid. Camp set, clothes changed and went off to the restaurant to see what there was to eat. I could just as easily have made dinner myself, but figured I was camping on site for free, I may as well contribute something to the people here - don't want to be seen to be taking the complete piss. Perhaps I won't bother so much the more I do this but tonight is my first attempt at this.

The pine forest gradually dissipated and turned to rolling farm and marsh land. Stuff I have already spent many hundreds of kilometres going past. So I wasn't expecting much in the way of birds today, but a small number of new ones did present themselves. A few White-browed Blackbirds followed by two kingfishers, the giant Ringed and the diminutive Green. Catching insects under the Green Kingfisher were a pair of Sooty Tyrannulets. Further along I spotted a Pinnated Bittern doing its best Bittern camouflage stunt. They have stripy buff and brown throats, point their beaks skyward and stand stock still. Generally they blend in extremely well with the surrounding vegetation, but my friend was in much shorter marsh grass and stood out easily. Bought the bike to a screeching halt and grabbed the camera and snuck down the grass bank to get within range. Normally these birds are not very confiding, but this one was facing away for me and very intent on catching food. I snuck to within 15 feet, camera whirring away. Brazen thing, either it couldn't see me which is highly unlikely with my canary yellow reflective jacket on or it simply didn't care. Either way, I stood and watched and it walked on over, half my shots were taken from less than 8 feet away. I waited for it to get some distance before moving slowly away - never even looked at me. Well chuffed with that, I pedalled on only to grab a quick glimpse through the bins of a bird that has been frustratingly absent for the last two weeks, a Black-and-White Monjita. Didn't stick about for photos, but no doubt I'll see plenty more of them now.

Tomorrow is much of the same I suspect. Another slow pedal further north towards Palmares do Sul before heading coastward and Capao da Canoa. My 'getting ahead of schedule' has backfired slightly. The target of my birding desires, Sao Francisco de Paula is now within 3 days reach. The problem is that they still consider the month of July to be 'high season', in other words, double the cost of a room and they put another 25% on top of that for weekends! As it stands, I would get there on Sunday the 29th, double bubble and more (R160 for the night) as opposed to the low season during the week rate of (R65). So not only am I going to take it slow to protect my left arm, but I am also going to try and protect my wallet! So while I had considered skipping Capao da Canoa and the possibility of some seabirds, it seems I shall be looking for seabirds and taking my time to get to Sao Francisco de Paula. Just in case anyone had other bright ideas, yes, there are other hotels available in the town, they don't have their own private forest, are not geared towards birds and the cheapest starts at R350 per night...

Late afternoon now and feels like it is going to be a cold one. Am very near the coast again, sandwiched between the Atlantic to my right and the huge Lago do Patos (lake of the ducks) to my left. Looking at a map will demonstrate this adequately enough, but to give you an idea of the size of this lake - it starts at Rio Grande and since then I have cycled some 220km alongside it and am not at the end of it yet. Reports said it would be windy tonight, but right now things are quiet. Expecting another sunny day tomorrow. Have been more self conscientious about putting sunscreen on these last 5 days, at least on my face and my still scabbed left ear. Of course I've forgotten about my legs. I am heading north east, so the sun spends the vast majority of the day on my left hand side - so I now have a very brown outer left calf and half thigh, 3/4 finger tan and a decently brown face with a white mask from the sunglasses. I managed a self portrait today - probably wont show any of this differential tanning, but trust me it is there and getting more defined. At least from Capao da Canoa I change direction and should be able to even the body out a bit. 

27/07/2012

Last night was not the greatest sleep ever. Petrol station was still operating with heavy traffic until 23:00. Got pretty cold too, something that became more relevant as the effects of a half litre of orange juice prior to bed became apparent. Get up and undo my comfortable and warm position only to have to fight my way back into this position - no, I'll have to hold it until morning. 

Having achieved at least some sleep, it was with some relief that morning arrived and I was able to get on my way. Took advantage of an early coffee and sweet bun before hitting the road again. The aim today was to reach Palmares do Sul and stay at another Petrol Station there. The road was very busy, especially trucks. Made steady progress and managed to add a few stragglers to the list. I was starting to think that I was missing the obvious in terms of the Common Miner - but when I did eventually see one, I realised that I had not been mis-identifying them as something else. 

Sun dipped behind some clouds and the day became cold and windy. Haven't been having the most healthy of foods as of late, so pulled into a farm shop to get some fresh vegetables for dinner tonight. My body was really wanting something green, a head of broccoli and some fresh herbs would have to do. A few more birds to the list, Groove-billed Ani and a Bay-winged Hawk. Rufous-capped Blackbird rounded the day off rather well in terms of list additions. 

Palmares do Sul soon arrived and I entered the town looking for a likely place to stay. Petrol station would not do - no trees and looked a little dodge in any case. Perhaps a camp site? Nothing doing. Tried the local banks as I needed some cash - nothing doing there either. I find that small town banks simply won't dispense money on any of my cards. Hopefully Capao da Canoa is a big enough town otherwise I have a small problem...

Giving up on that idea, I cycled another 13km's to Capivari do Sul where I knew there would be another petrol station - even worse unfortunately. Tried another bank, failed again - at least this time there was a message in English telling me to find a bigger bank. Oh well, would have to cycle on and find a small forest to camp in. 

This proved quite difficult, with the reduction in pine plantations most of the small tree patches were around peoples homes. Every time I did come across a decent looking possibility, there was a padlocked gate - not something that heavily laden bikes get over very easily. With time ticking and my options decreasing, I caught site of an overgrown access road that looked like it may take me to a small plantation of trees. I could also see a set of electrical cables running alongside the road - normally this means that another house is there. Given the overgrown state of the road, I thought it worth a punt. 

This road was very overgrown with plenty of thick grass, thorn bushes and pools of water in amongst that. It did cross my mind that this may not be such a great idea - I could hardly see where my feet were going and the last thing I needed now was to come across Mr Snake. Turns out this used to be a farm house - ripped down except for the walls. It would have to do - there was just about time to set up camp and make dinner. There was no place inside to hang my hammock from, so I went around back to find an old citrus grove - at least it was not overgrown, there was plenty of place to set up camp and get dinner organised. 

Camp sorted, dinner tonight would be broccoli, pasta, tinned tuna, some Parmesan cheese and a Butternut instant soup to add some flavour. Dinner cooked and eaten just as dusk was falling. Enough time to pack everything away again and get ready for bed. Time has just passed 19:00 and it is pitch black around me. I am not too far from the main road, and there is still plenty of traffic passing. Hopefully while away a few hours tapping out this blog entry and getting some emails written. 

In desperate need of a hotel/hostel/pousada, anything tomorrow will do - my clothes stench and there is not much I can do with them until I take a day off from the riding. Has been a few days since I last saw a shower too. Having travelled much further than I had expected today, I will most likely push on to Capao da Canoa tomorrow and rest up for a few days, get everything clean again and try to draw some cash. Then it will be off to Sao Francisco de Paula for a three night stay - should do the body a world of good, but also the bird list. Private forest and plenty of bird waiting to be seen there. 

28/07/2012

Woke early today, sounded like something walking around outside my tent. I keep my SOG inside the tent with me just in case there are any unexpected visitors. I needn't have worried though - only some thrushes making a racket. Got the camp packed away, but decided not to change into my cycling gear just yet. Would rather go back along the overgrown road with my boots and longs on. While pushing my bike around the abandoned farm house, I could make out a funny clicking sound. Your ears become acutely tuned to the sound of your bike - the moment you hear anything odd it needs investigation. Normally it is nothing more than a lose strap, but the cause of said noise was no loose strap unfortunately. The rear wheel was flat... Of all bloody wheels to get a flat on, why could my first one not have been the front? I pumped in some air to get me down the track and I would change it on the other side - I didn't need the local farmer to catch me changing a wheel on his property.


Morning was heavy with mist, so not the worst day to waste an hour sorting out a wheel - I wouldn't have ridden in this soup in any case. All the gear had to come off, centre brake gears now become a pain as they need to be loosed to. Wheel off and I am already starting to regret my decision to change it on this side of the road - wet, muddy and full of grease. Tyre came off easily enough, check to make sure that a spoke has punctured it. No spoke punctures, no sharp objects protruding through the tyre. Not really sure what has caused the problem, but change the tube we must.

New tube on, now the fun part of getting the tyre back on. Mud and grime going everywhere including inside the tyre - will most likely cause another rupture at some point, but not much I can do about that now. Push, pull and push some more. Eventually the tyre is back on and pumped up. Refit it to the bike, spend almost as much time fiddling with the brake tension - the inability to use my left hand with any amount of power is causing more than just knot tying issues - I cannot even hold the cable taught while I tighten it. 

With the mist still heavy, I figure I may as well have some breakfast and waste some more time. My favourite spread comes out and some Maria biscuits. Tummy happy it was time to get a move on - no use waiting all day for the weather. Truck traffic was still heavy, but I knew that it would peter out the close I got to Osorio - everything east of that is beech resorts and the like - not the place for timber trucks. Get off a few times to increase the pressure in my back wheel and attempt to find some birds - nothing doing.

Reaching Osorio, I find an excellent petro port. WiFi, good toilets and plenty of food selections. Had I known of this place yesterday, I would have pushed on to here. Many time better than the grotty petrol stations I found then. Perhaps I should have a coffee and see what I could sort out regarding accommodation in Capao da Canoa. Actually a spot of lunch would go down a treat to. By now I have learnt the Portuguese word for chicken - 'Frango', so now I simply look for Frango and see what form of preparation has been used when it is served. More huge portions - butterflied chicken breast, sweet potato chips, regular fries, rice, salad, black bean stew. Must have ben hungry as I finished the lot. At only R14.00, think I'll eat at these places more often. Sorted out some likely looking venues to pitch a tent and headed off to the town itself to find a bank.

More of the same crap from the banks - I have tried to draw money from no less than 15 Santander's in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil now and failed at the lot. Stupid damned Spanish bank that wastes it's money sponsoring Lewis Hamilton - has to be rubbish. Try some local bank, not only do I get money - but it directs me in English even. There you Santander - even the local banks perform better than your international joke of bank.

Off to the coast, cursing that stupid excuse of bank some more as I go. Straight into another heady head wind. Just my luck. Head down, pump the legs, go nowhere. Takes almost two hours to traverse the remaining 30km's. I do love the Brazilian Department of Transport. Capao da Canoa 10km, then 6 kilometres  of dogged cycling later, Capao da Canoa 16km!! I don't find their jokes particularly funny when I am slogging away into the wind. Given the distances to the other locations mentioned, it is quite clear that the twerp that put the sign up should have put it 10km in the other direction of the previous board - must have mis-understood the instructions - mind you, it's amazing anyone understands anything in this language.

Roll into Capao da Canoa, ready to stop cycling and set up camp. Find the road and cycle first one way then all the way back up the other - no camp site. Find a likely looking set of restaurants and bum some free wireless. Transport Department back in action again - one name for a road that is broken into no less than 6 disjunct sections (each little borough has it's own Avenue Beira Mar, and they are not even remotely connected, some run along the coast, some are the second road from the coast). I've whined a bit today, but who the hell designed this place - some drunks playing darts on the town map? The camp site I was after was a couple of boroughs down - I couldn't be buggered to go all the way there. Google Maps gave me another camp site much close to home.

One which actually existed where Google said it did. Despite having a sign outside that said 'Aberto 24 horas, 365 dias', it was locked. A helpful pedestrian showed me where the owners lived and off I went to ring a few bells. Some old cow cam out and shook her hand saying something to the effect that it was shut. I went so far as to haul my phone out and show her a photo of her own sign and then slowly read it back to her. She was quite adamant however that it was not opening today. She wouldn't have understood what I said with a smile on my face. I had spotted what would hopefully be a cheap hotel earlier and returned to in for a few days to sort my gear out.


Not that it lasted particularly long - the hotel I have picked is also playing host to a rather large congregation of motorbikers, seems that I have arrived for the Moto Fest 2012, Capao da Canoa. There are some awfully impressive machines out here - never seen so many Yamaha R1's, Honda CBR1000's and even a the odd Ducati 999, all heavily converted of course. I have a lot of time for my motorcyclist friends in general - it has become apparent from all their hooting and waving on the road that I have been admitted to their "2 wheels good, 4 wheels bad club". Problem is, the little fat boys are all drinking beer, playing loud music and red lining their bikes. I have no problem with all the aforementioned except the redlining. Besides damaging some fine vehicles, they all have them, they all know what they sound like - what is the point. Suppose it wont be long before one of them pops a rod. So much for the 23:00 'silencio' signage around here - the music has gotten louder and shows no signs of abating. Was briefly cancelled out by the mother of all thunder storms, unfortunately that has now blown over.. 


Time to try and get some sleep. Stupid hand is getting worse, battle to hold a fork now, causing plenty of mis spelt words to. Starting to understand what people with one arm go through - your mind very quickly thinks of alternative ways to doing something when it knows that you only have one fully functioning hand. Up to 400mg for the next few days.


29/07/2012

Today was simply a rest day. Wind was blowing off shore, so no chance of any pelagic birds. Most of my biker friends have moved on today - so should be able to get a decent nights sleep. In fact, look like I am pretty much on my own again tonight. Last night will walking about town looking for a cheap restaurant, I spotted a ‘Lavadero’ (laundromat). So my first course of action today was to take all my smelly clothes and have them cleaned.

Unfortunately, like just about everything else in this town, Sunday is closed. Making use of Google Translate, I established that this facility opened Monday to Saturday from 08:30. Monday would have to be wash day then. With nothing else doing, I returned to the hotel to complete some ‘house keeping’. First task was to find the puncture in my tube. Basin had no plug, come to think of it - it doesn’t seem that there are plugs in South America. It is now on my list of things to find, purely out of a matter of interest. So the previously tried and tested method of jamming a plastic bag down the hole would have to suffice. Pumped up the tube and immersed - a loud rush of bubbles pointed to the offending spot. Quite a large puncture - so much for my impregnable tyres... Schwalbe will be getting a letter of complaint. Glue and patch applied, tube rolled up and ready for more action when required - hopefully not any time soon though.

Next - wash yesterdays dishes, then clean out my bathroom bag. Stupidly I had thrown a small bottle of shampoo in without closing the lid properly - goo everywhere now. Hang the sleeping bag for an airing, open up the hammock to dry. Needle and thread out to sew up my cycling glove’s velcro. Shoot upstairs at 09:45 to grab a bite to eat before breakfast ends at 10:00. Happy with my mornings progress, time to sort out my Flickr albums. Quite a mess, but bought back many good memories form holidays past. Edited some more images for other websites and made some new adjustments to the blog. Finally worked out how to transfer my Google Earth data into Google Maps - you’d have thought Google would have made this process seamless - not so.

After all that, it was suddenly 16:00. Time for a wander about town to see if I could find something to eat. Needed to pick up a few supplies for the food pannier before tomorrows departure. I have really fancied a pizza - have no had one in over a month now. Went back to the restaurant that I ate at last night and found one that said ‘Frango’ - I now just point to what I want, I’ve given up trying to pronounce these words. Not even with a Spanish accent does it make any sense to this lot. Her eyes widened and she babbled something - I think it was astonishment as she waved two fingers at me suggesting that the pizza’s were really large. I nodded in the positive, she can’t have known what I can do to a 15” pizza when I’m hungry. Pizza arrived and what a proper pizza - there was more filling than there was base! While I tucked in, the Olympics had made their way onto the tele. Moving half way across the world and I still cannot escape this. Not that swimming is up there with my favourite spectator sports, but it was certainly entertaining to see the superstar Yank swimmer (Lochte) given a hiding in the 4x100 free relay by the French anchor (from at least half a length behind too! Then commentary switched to gymnastics - urgh, never understood how this qualifies as a sport - art yes, but sport? Highlight of the remainder of my pizza was watching the Romanian World Beam Champion coming pip. Four years of work, down the drain at the seminal moment in your life. Actually I didn’t feel too bad for her, she has at least won quite a few Olympic Golds as it is - she’ll live. Pizza complete, my waitress seemingly impressed, I paid and waddled up the street to a ‘super mercado’. Requirements to hand, it was back to the hotel for some more work.

Needed to complete my birding notes - something that has taken me days to get through. Basically a list of all the species I might likely expect in southern Brazil with their characteristic features. Short of hauling out the iPad when I am cycling, I now have a text version on my iPhone to browse through when I am not sure of a specific species. Works for the commoner stuff - not much good for the more technical stuff like the Flycatchers.

Labour of love completed and with precious little else to sort out it was time for bed. My mattress may as well be made of concrete it was that hard. Most people would probably complain about that - but I was as happy as duck in water. I have been known to sleep on the floor if a mattress is too soft for my liking.


30/07/2012

Breakfast at 07:30 sharp. Return to my room, shower, shave and collect dirty washing. Straight to the lavadero and deposited my laundry, which I was told to collect at 12:00. Back to the hotel and pack up my gear. Give the bike the once over, check my route again and load the bike. Check out and return to grab my clothing. I am now in somewhat of a quandary. All my cycling gear is in the clean bag and I need to change. Off to the petrol station - changed, bags packed and ready to go. It is a balmy day - finally I am able to wear only one cycling shirt and even dispense with my reflective jacket. I have been wearing a pair of shorts on the outside of my cycling pants. I had read somewhere that cycling in tight lycra may not be the best thing to do - officialdom tends not to like it much. Clearly this was bunk, but the short added another layer of protection and warmth. Wasn’t required today and actually felt much easier on the saddle without the extra layer. One less piece of clothing to get soaked in sweat needlessly then. 

No prizes for guessing that the wind changed direction the moment I left town. Fortunately I didn’t have far to go before it dies down. The mountains were only 20 kilometres away and they effectively ended the wind factor. They also signalled the end of the nice warm sun with a layer of threatening looking clouds. It didn’t rain, but it certainly looked is if it wanted to. The road smoothed out rather nicely now - the tar that is, not the incline/decline bit. New tar and old tar effect the speed of progression quite heavily. On a flat road, old tar allows me to travel at around 19-20km/h, on new smooth tar, I can jack that up to 26-28km/h. 

I reached the quaint hamlet of Maquine at around 14:30. Took a scheduled break and picked up one of two bits for dinner. I am getting better at this camping food business - can of mixed veg and some beef ravioli. Also remind myself that if I am going to continually buy bits and pieces along the way then there is rather little point in carrying 2 weeks worth of food in my pannier. Need to get through some of that and stop resupplying it!


I figure another hour of cycling should be enough for today, leaves me a little short of the huge ascent I have waiting for me, so I have time to warm up and get ready for the challenge. The road so far has wound through the bottom of a valley surrounded by 1000m high mountains. Tomorrow, the road goes up to the plateau in little over 5 kilometres of road - that is a gradient of near enough 1:5... I soon found out that it would also be on dirt, not tar - deep joy. Just as I left Maquine, the road became unpaved. Immediately my plans began to alter - I wasn’t going to add another 20km’s before it was time to set up camp. Dirt roads slow you down quite a bit - they also jar the hell out of you. Not what I needed on my elbow. Your level of concentration has to double as you wind your way along the smoothest bit of road possible - normally a few inches from the verge. Any slips of lapses in concentration and you end up in the ditch. 

I noticed a sign for a Pousada - 15km’s away. That would do just nicely, about the distance I expected to travel over the next hour or so and no concerns about having to find a stealthy camp site. Made it to the Pousada pretty much in tact, despite all the rattling and bouncing about. No English here, but a very pleasant lady showed me about. I just nodded and smiled. Had a quick look at the chalet - perfect, even a half decent looking forest, and a trail no less. Result, time to sort out checkin and get out while there was still some light about, grey or not. Was expecting to part with a large amount of money and regretting the fact that I hadn’t hardened up and little and found a stealth camp instead. Certainly the number she was quoting me sounded large. I motioned for her to right it down - if the number was as big as I thought she said, I wouldn’t have the cash - hopefully they took plastic (and that it actually worked). Well, that rather imposing sounding number turned out to be just R60.00. Immediately I felt like an idiot for having wasted two days in Capao da Canoa (at almost double the price), when I could have been staying here and seeing birds! 
No time to dwell, dressed, camera, binoculars - forest. Keep one eye out for my scaled friends and the other on the feathered friends. 


Birding under late afternoon, grey skies inside a darkening forest is tricky to say the least. I’m not sure what I was hoping to accomplish actually, but I have been so starved of birding activity over the last two weeks that I had to do something. With luck, there were some pretty straight forward, larger species knocking about that even in dull light could be identified. Azure Jay, the near threatened Yellow-browed Woodpecker, some skittish Green-winged Saltators and even more skittish Grey-fronted Dove, a pair of White-necked Thrushes. I had managed a few decent shots of a flycatcher before entering the forest. Took me a good 20 minutes to find the appropriate culprit - a Yellow-olive Flatbill. There are over 350 Flycatchers in South America and many of them look pretty much the same as the next one. I have 11 now, not really looking forward to the rest. There were a handful of other species that I wasn’t able to get to grips with due to the lighting, a Hummingbird, a Woodcreeper - tomorrow is expected to be bright and warm, so hopefully better luck in the morning.

I returned to the chalet to get dinner ready, but thought I would first head off to reception and catch up on some WiFi and a coffee first. As I entered my chalet - there was a note on the floor that certainly wasn’t there when I arrived. A printed A4 sheet in English (see photo for detail), essentially explaining the ins and outs of meal times, fire wood etc. I have not had the pleasure of praising the Brazilian service industry to date - mostly because it hasn’t existed. Today it did, my hosts Lisiane and her husband to be William had used Google Translate to give me as much information as they could think of. Google may be taking over the internet, but it is making things possible that certainly wouldn’t have been without it. So thanks to Google for providing the service, but even more thanks to my hosts for taking the trouble to care enough to even make use of it. I was quite touched by their thoughtfulness then and still am now.


Off I went to have my coffee and express my thanks. There the three of us sat, Lisiane & William tapping away in Portuguese, me reading in English. Then me responding in English and them reading in Portuguese. I’m still quite tickled about the whole thing. Anyhow - I have a feeling that as great as the technology is, there are still clearly a few things to iron out. I had typed in that I did not want dinner, but a black coffee would be great. Twenty minutes had gone by and no coffee had arrived. Then lots started to arrive, in fact this looked very much like a typical breakfast. Well, I didn’t want to offend anyone so I tucked in - the broccoli and ravioli would have to wait another night. Breakfast/dinner complete, I returned to the chalet to get the log fire going. Someone had very kindly left half a bag lying in my BBQ outside. Unfortunately they were all logs, no kindling. The logs put up quite a struggle, but just before I resorted to cheating (I was going to soak one or two logs in petrol), the fire finally caught. Surprisingly, given that I am in a river valley - the temperature seems slightly warmer than the the typical evenings I have been having at the coast. It is not quite t-shirt weather in the evening yet, so a fire is justified at least. Humidity has certainly risen too - feels a good 80% outside. According to the weather reports, it will be just as warm on the plateau too. 

I like this place quite a bit and depending on the birding tomorrow, I may stay another night. The next hotel has not bothered to respond to my booking request, despite sending the on-line booking form 3 times now. So I cannot necessarily be certain they even have availability. Given the low cost here, I may as well stay another night and then cycle up to the next place on the same day - it is only 60km’s from here and despite the dirt road (which I figure continues for about another 35km’s of that) and the severe climb to come, I will have the entire day to get through it. Lets see what the birding activity is like first, but chances are good I’ll stay here again tomorrow night. 

31/07/2012

I realised this morning that I had been on tour for over a month now. So far so good and that was about as sentimental as it got. Early start for a change, out of bed at 06:15. Dawn had not quite broken yet, so there was time to arrange a flask of coffee and ready the equipment for what I hoped would be an action packed day of birding. Dawn did eventually break, but not a sunny bright day as had been predicted. Weathermen the world over are quite rubbish - unless they are in England where it is safe to predict rain and sun at the same time without ever being wrong. 

So, grey skies it would be. Up the path I went waiting for the bird life to explode. It never really got that exciting - in fact for long stretches of time little seemed to move at all. Being winter, few birds are calling - they are not proclaiming territories or looking for mates, so there is no need. I would have to find them foraging myself then. For those of you who have little interest in birds, save for the avoidance of pigeons, forest birding is divided into two very distinct groups barring the odd exception. There are those birds of the most spectacular colours that can’t sing for toffee and there are the rest, most eloquently voiced but as pretty as the backend of a hippo. Every bird counts, so the I would need to tackle the tricky ones without help from their distinctive calls. This morning was quite barren in species diversity though - partly for lack of call, but mostly due to my unfamiliarity with the various species. 

One that was easily identifiable but didn’t bother to stick around long enough for a mug shot was the most regal Blue Manakin. The Manakins must be one of the worlds most attractive bird families, barely a dull member among them. (NB. For the benefit of my non-birding African readers - the common fret or the Mannikin family found in Africa are not the same). After that highlight I retreated to enjoy breakfast, I would have to rethink my strategy. 
After some very filling brekkie, I wandered along the river banks instead. Action immediately increased, netting some rather dull species (Planalto Woodcreeper), but also bringing me a hatful of Tanagers (another of the very colourful bird families). It isn’t often that the Chestnut-backed Tanager is considered the drabbest of the bunch - but then I did have a Ruby-crowned (showing his ruby crown unusually) and another cracker, the Green-headed Tanager (of which I did manage to get at least a record shot). Blue Dacnis kept the colour scheme varied, a few Bananaquits added nicely to the mix, but it was not long before the bird party faded.

With the river banks exhausted I moved back up the path. The afternoon would end up being all about the brown stuff. Rufous-capped Spinetail, Grey-throated Spinetail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Black-capped Foliage-Gleaner and two awfully cute birds - White-throated Spadebill and Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher. Being near enough to 16:00, I was on my way down the mountain when a spot of drizzle started. I move 5000 miles from England, but the weather has followed me, for today at least. Beat a hasty retreat down the muddy path, barely making it to the chalet before the heavens opened. Spend two hours studying the photos I have taken trying to establish various bird identity.

Time for an hour of WiFi to update my lists and consume some liquid carbohydrates. Bag of wood in hand, I’m off to start the log fire. Fire going, dinner on the stove, showered. Get the bags packed and ready for tomorrow’s slog. It took a while to dawn, but that dirt road is now going to be rather muddy - just what I did not need with my first major climb still pending. Slight concern about covering the distance to my next stop if the roads are in a mess. Hopefully the weatherman has gotten the prediction right for tomorrow. Should be the warmest day of the tour yet - nothing like the sun to cheer you up when the cycling is not moving along as swiftly as I want. 

A good end to July 2012, glad I stayed for another evening. Tomorrow will be a hard start to August, but best to get these things out of the way at the beginning of the month me thinks. Hopefully I will be sitting in another hotel at this time tomorrow night with another decent haul of birds to think about rather than my sure to be painful body.

01/08/2012

Woke up not long after 07:00 to a bright sky and a warming morning. Todays weather looked much improved, just what I needed to keep me going up the hills. Packed my gear and sat down for another excellent breakfast spread. My hosts Lisiane and William had looked after me very well, we said our goodbyes using Google Translate to good effect and had a few photos taken for good measure. 

Onto the dirt road and headed off for the mountains. The first 10km’s continued along the river before veering sharply to the left. This was it, the legs were going to be tested. 

Start : (29° 52'S, 50° 32'W) Altitude : 124 masl Time : 10:40

Very quickly dropped into ‘Granny Gear’, but started to struggle with grip. Road was a mix of gravel, rock and red mud. Despite the weight of the bike and me, the gradient was simply too severe for the wheel to get much grip. At least I had gotten up the first section. As I turned the corner to start the second cutback - I realised that no amount of effort was going to get me up that. Off the bike and revert to Plan B - push. Pushing is much harder than cycling, so it was not an option I wanted to turn to. Your body cannot push from the acutest angle possible, bags and pedals are in the way. You lean forward, the full length of you body and push at about 45° bike. Then you push in the wrong direction or your back wheel slips and you are then pulling to keep the bike from falling over. It doesn’t take long to realise that this is the position I will be in for most of the day. Some of these inclines are near enough 1:2. even fully bent over, it is a struggle to push the bike - push for 30m, stop for a minute. Sweat starts pouring off me, there is visible steam coming off my back. 

Find a relatively minor incline where I can stop the bike and get at my water bottles. So maybe the sun wasn’t the best thing to have today. 


Halfway : (29° 51'S, 50° 32'W) Altitude : 417 masl Time : 11:50

There wasn’t much excitement fort the remaining climb - more pushing, stopping, pushing some more. What was surprising was the odd vehicle, coming down naturally. When you look at a Google Map of this road, there is no indication of the fact that it is not tarred, nor is there any indication that it should not be attempted in anything but a very decent 4x4. Take a few snap-shots of the view - looking at the opposite peaks give me an idea of just how high I have come. Then I feel that damn scourge - no prizes for guessing in which direction the wind is blowing. 


Finish : (29° 50'S, 50° 34'W) Altitude : 910 masl Time : 13:43

So, it had taken me over 3 hours to move 6 kilometres and gain 786 metres in altitude. Overall, the rate of climb works out as a 1:7.6. There were definitely sections that were closer to 1:2 for at least 500metres in length. 
Climb finished, I now have the best part of 30km’s to cover to reach my destination. While I may have been on the plateau now, that did not mean the road was flat. While the hills were not impossible to cycle, the gave my legs some more work to do. The ruts in the road made the cycle feel like being in a permanent earthquake. Fatigue had set in as I started to miss rocks and get bounced about even more. The sight of a tarred road raised my spirits. The cycle would be much quicker and hopefully a little easier, but I didn’t get my hopes up just yet. Time was now 15:30, if I pushed I may make it into town by 16:30. Some more horrendous hills to get up and down. You sweat and struggle up the hill and immediately regret that the decline allows you to move so quickly - you know that you are going to pay all this pack on the next climb. 

Roll into town to find that some genius dispensed with perfectly good tarmac and replaced it with cobbles. Shaken to shit by now. Find a bank - not a Santander in sight thankfully. Banco Brasilia dispenses and I start moving on to find the hotel. Make a few costly errors and travel down the wrong roads. Turn around peddle back, take the next left. At the bottom of the hill, recognise that you have cocked up again. Turn around, back up the hill. Try again - by now I have wasted a precious 35 minutes of light - it is already 17:35, light is disappearing quick. I shove on, asking my legs for one last push. With much relief I see the appropriate signboards and pull into the main gate. Press the buzzer, the usual inexplicable response. So I now just say ‘reservacion’ - the answer that came back didn’t sound promising ‘No’. I waited at the gate for the chap to come down and tell me in a roundabout way, mostly in Spanish at least that the hotel was shut. I couldn’t make out when it was planning on opening again, but there would be no cold beer, warm shower and relaxing evening preceding a heavy days birding. 

Besides being physically shattered, this was the nail in the psychological coffin. Guess this was why no one bothered responding to my website reservations. Survival mode kept whatever I was feeling in check. It was now imperative that I got a shift on - with little more than 15 minutes of remaining light, I needed to find a place to stay soon. A hotel sign showed up just opposite, it would have to do, and being a Pousada it may be a little cheaper than the other hotels in the area. After more battling than usual to make a simple reservation, I got myself a room. Offloaded my gear and stepped into the shower. I head sweated so much that my usually black cycling pants had turned white with mineral crystallisation. Into the shower - hot water took a while to get going and then wouldn’t cool down. Turned the tap to just about on which seemed to keep the temperature just about bearable. Lathered up and then the water stopped, completely. Turn the taps off, on - just a hot drip and occasional trickle. It was at about this time that I figured today was simply not my day. We were nowhere near town and this place didn’t do dinner let alone beer. 
Perhaps I would use the evening to see what alternatives I could arrange? No WiFi, so that was also out of the question. 
Bollocks, probably be safer to go to sleep and try again tomorrow. Physical and mental hardship I can handle just fine - but the absurd lack of quality and extortionate prices that are charged here for such crap is starting to grate at me. I hate to continually bring Uruguay into the equation, but it is the only direct comparison that I can make at present. Even the petrol station have free wireless there - I had wireless in my damn hammock when I was camping. Hotels no less actually serve food, they have drinks and they don’t charge an arm and leg for it either.

Tomorrow I am having breakfast and cycling back into town, despite the fact my backend is on fire and my legs will be stiff as gang planks by morning. We shall find some wireless even if I have to sit on the road outside wherever it is that I find some. The search for alternatives shall then begin - I need birds, all I want is a place that can me in relative proximity to them! Depending on what transpires, I shall then be looking at bus opportunities from here to Iguacu. 
Brazil hasn’t broken me, but is has proved exceedingly disappointing from every conceivable perspective. Barring one shining exception in my hosts over the last two days at Pousada Refugio Verde - this country has simply been an expensive and complete waste of time. I can’t think of any day in particular where the birding was of any decent quality, the service is shit (good luck if you are planning on coming over for the WC in 2014), drivers are generally moronic and there is little to no interest is language education it would seem. You cannot be in the travel industry and call your hotel ‘an International Holiday destination’ and only speak bleeding Portuguese - might work if you could speak at least another language, any bloody language (Spanish? No, English, No - Chinese??). Your International clientele gets quite limited if you can’t communicate in anything other that what your own countrymen speak - lets see, you probably won’t be getting many tourists from Portugal (they are up shit creek with the Greeks - they probably owe you money too), Angolans & Mozambicans (yep, because most of the populations last view of a silver flying thing meant something was about to explode) and a small enclave in India that once spoke Porto, but probably speak Russian now. Good luck to you all, you’ll need more than that when millions descend for the WC.

Try again tomorrow - it certainly cannot be as rubbish as today has been. Dinner - looks like it will be a few bags of biscuits, not much else of offer. Tomorrow I will have a proper feed for lunch and get that beer that would have tasted much better right now. 

02/08/2012

Woke up late, at least that is how I felt. Got dressed only to find that it was just past 07:00, too early for breakfast and probably too early for what my body needed. No chance of getting back to sleep, may as well get dressed and get my gear sorted for the day. Take breakfast at 07:30 on the button - better than expected, so things have improved already! Spend half an hour walking about the gardens outside watching some Chestnut-backed Tanagers dominating the Hummingbird feeder. Every now and then one of the two Hummingbird species (White-throated Hummingbird and Violet-capped Woodnymph) managed to make it in for a quick drink. 

Got dressed, offloaded the bike and set about the short but hilly cycle into town. Walk the length of the hamlet to find that this is the first town I have been in that does not have a free/non-password protected WiFi signal. Picked a small restaurant/cafe that seemed to have strong signal and marched in for a coffee. Asked for the WiFi password which I was given in Portuguese - back to said waiter and with a writing motion asked him to put it on paper for me. 
An excellent wireless connection - one of the best I have had in Brazil so far. Send a few emails explaining yesterdays catastrophe and the lack of promised communication. Have a look for alternate accommodation, maps and various other bits and pieces only to decide that I was in fact not going anywhere. The plan would be to stay exactly where I was and simply bird the surrounding areas as best I could.
Back to the hotel and check that I could indeed stay for another 2 nights. All sorted, grabbed the gear and headed off to the hotel I should have been staying in. I had read reports saying that people had been able to walk around the grounds even if they were not staying there. So I put this into practice - today the garden boy was doing what he was supposed to be doing and not answering the gate. Two young ladies answered and between the three of us, i managed to convince them that I was indeed wanting to look at birds. Ah si... This was no problem, they pointed in the direction of the trail head and off I went. The day was getting better by the minute. Yesterdays troubles had not been forgotten, but hey were not grating quite as much.

Trail looked great, forest even better - but the birds were scare. Admittedly it was after midday - hardly the best time of day. I plodded along, making occasional use of some bird playback. I had specific species that I was looking for today - birds that inhabited Araucaria vegetation. First birds of the morning were some rather accommodating Sharp-billed Treehunters. Thinking I may be onto a small bird party, I played the call of the Mottled Piculet (a small woodpecker species). Quite to my bewilderment, I got a loud response from a Blue Manakin. I still hadn’t managed a decent photo of one yet - so changed calls to see if it would come out. Today she did, and very obligingly sat and posed for some autograph shots. While I won’t complain about getting really good photos of a Blue Manakin - I would have preferred to have gotten the male as opposed to the female. I consoled with the fact that a Manakin is a Manakin after all.

Mottled Piculet did not respond to tape, but one did put in a short appearance later. Forest went quiet again as is it’s wont. When birds did pick up they came in a wave - Golden-winged Cacique and one of the major targets, a small flock of Araucaria Tit-Spinetails! A Scalloped Woodcreeper topped off the first trail. Went around the trail again just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. At one point I saw the legs and belly of a bird behind a fallen tree trunk. Such was the size, it could only have been a Tinamou - but which one. A few people had mentioned seeing Brown Tinamou, so I played the call and waited to see what happened. Nothing, either have the wrong species or they simply don’t respond to playback. I had barely gone one step when the forest erupted in Brown Tinamou calls. Had the right species and my movement had also flushed two of them out of the bush no more than 5 feet from me. Despite deep concentration, they had snuck up on me without a sound or movement. 

The afternoon produced a few birds I had already seen, so headed back to the hotel. I needed to go back into town to have a proper meal for a change. Back on the bike and another short but sharp cycle into the town. Met my ‘friend’ at the cafe I was at earlier. It’s me, the English fellow again... The restaurant had barely opened, but I needed to eat in a hurry and get back on the road. Sun down was 18:00 and I was not cycling in the dark. Monster amount of steak, rice, salad and fries to go with a large beer. Thrown down in a hurry, paid and back on the bike. Perhaps that beer wasn’t such a good idea.. I was past my cut off time and dusk was now settling quickly. Now that Burne was post gorging, there was more weight on the bike and more problematic - less space for my lungs to draw breath. Struggled home in the quickly darkening sky. Tomorrow I will have to leave earlier in order to have dinner and get back in time. Finish the evening editing photos and writing blogs etc. 

Have an interesting conversation with a fellow at the hotel, his three words of English vs my 3 words of Portuguese. We establish that I am here on holiday, I am from Africa - raised eye brows - not the skin colour chestnut again? “Ah, Nelson Mandela, si si si”. (What about the Football WC that just happened there???) Never mind. Lots of head scratching about how I am funding this - family money? No, I find an image on my computer of my tent - I point out that this costs ‘nadda’. My left hand gets inspected - much prodding of my ring finger with raised shoulders. No, I shake me head to make sure he understands. He natters something to the owners two daughters who must be about 16 to much giggling. I can only imagine. I rub my fingers explaining that it costs lots of money. More general laughter before he checks on my age. This degenerates to writing the symbols on paper, more nattering to the two girls. Further inspection of my nationality. Then I distract them with some bird photos - “ah si”, this is what they had asked earlier apparently - why am I here. The the inevitable question - “how you like Brazil”, I tell him with the broadest Caribbean smile I can muster, “actually I’m not liking it that much to be honest, but I’m trying to make the best of it as well as being many miles form the nearest border, so what can I do.” They all seem to think this is fantastic. Then from the inevitable stuff, I get caught completely off guard. The bloke stands up, places his hand on my head and proceeds to make various movements with his other hand while muttering at the ceiling. It dawns on me at some point that I have just been ‘blessed’, but before I can object I am pulled up on to my feet - a big bear hug, then another. I thought there were going to be kisses at one point. I should have been offended, I should have gone completely apoplectic - I certainly would have a few months ago. I’m finding that I really just don’t care, I don’t get ‘offended’ by stuff anymore. Strange how your priorities change when you remove the high stress and pressure of the work environment in a place like London. Either way, makes little difference to me and seemed to make this chap very happy. And good for him to, glad I gave the chap something to smile about - probably something to tell the chaps around the bar tomorrow evening. The English speaking, white African cyclist, who looks at birds...

03/08/2012

Early up and off to the road. There is a panoramic view of the valley below and I have parrots on my mind. Some days you get all the luck - 2 min’s and waiting and two Red-spectacled Amazon’s fly over. Thank you - time for breakfast. Stuff my face as is my wont in the mornings - to think that I never at breakfast for a good 9 years while living in London! Packed a sandwich for later in the day and headed off for a long walk.

Started slowly, not much moving and less chirping going on than I had hoped for. Wound my way down a gravel track for some 8km’s. Did get better views of many birds that I had already seen - but it was new stuff that I wanted! Birds were coming, in dribs and drabs eventually. Sooty-fronted Spinetail and not far above him, a mega -  Striolated Tit-Spinetail. A quick flyby of a Scaled Pigeon - hope to see these better though. 

The road eventually bottoms out and now I have a rare flat section to walk about. Getting on for lunch time, drop my bag and settle to take a bite of my sandwich when a blur of green and red colour lights up the tree in front of me. Trogon!! Camera out and just hope the bugger sticks about. Surucua Trogon - stunning images to boot fortunately. Then the party really started, hatful of Blue Dacnis, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaners, a Green-chinned Euphonia and a bunch of Sayaca Tanagers. Finished my sandwich and started the long walk back up the hill. This was now on the main tarred road and there was precious little space to walk and dodge the trucks and cars moving at breakneck speed on these severe gradients. Stupid tossers.
The heat and humidity was now taking it toll, jacket off, camera away. I kept the binoculars out just in case anything flew up - but figured the chances of this were slim given the traffic. Wrong I was though, and I quite regret having put my camera away as I got awesome views of one of Brazil’s Endemic species : Serra do Mar Tyrannulet. A few raptors flying overhead - Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle amongst the Black Vultures. Not far from the turnoff to my pousada, a Red-breasted Toucan buzzed me. Again, the damn camera was packed and I had barely enough time to get an ID, let alone photographs.

The end to a rather decent day for a change. Loaded the laptop and set off into town to publish some photos and get this rather long blog piece up before it starts to get too long.


Tomorrow I am off, heading towards Iguacu, route unknown - but sure to have a heap load of hills involved. 


04/08/2012

The end of my stay in Sao Francisco de Paula. Woke up a little later than intended, waffling down some breakfast before getting on my way. Being a Saturday, I was hopeful that the traffic would be a little lighter, especially the trucks. The cars are perhaps the most dangerous, but although the trucks try to give me space, it isn't always possible. This results in either a very close shave or me spotting onto what exists of the hard shoulder. Much of the time, the hard shoulder either does not exist or is in such bad condition that cycling on it is prone to causing damage or major bouncing about. 

Traffic is light to start with, which is no bad thing. I have already walked part of the road I a, leaving on today - it is very steep and there is no shoulder. The first 30km's are near enough downhill the entire way. All the altitude I had gained a few days ago has been lost at a rate of knots. I have to rest every 5km's or so to give my hands a rest from the constant braking. I am flying along at 40km/h even with the brakes depressed. Not great for my brake pads or my rims - both get worn down over time. Brake pads are easily replaceable - rims on the other hand are not.

At least my body is not taking a hammering. I'm rather glad I went up the massively steep dirt road, very steep but at least it was concentrated and there was no traffic. Gaining the same altitude over a busy 30km long single lane road would have been murder! So despite leaving quite late, I have travelled quite far in a relatively short space of time. I figure that it is certainly possible to reach Novo Hamburgo with some time to spare today. The roads change quite considerably from this point onwards, no more long downhills, just sweeping inclines and declines. The air has been moisture laden all day, rain threatening at any point. The odd spot here and there is all that I get. 

Easing into Novo Hamburgo, I spot a pousada on the outskirts. My customary procedure is to haul out my iPhone and check whether there is WiFi before checking in. There is, but the place looks shut. Resigned to having to carry on looking, a women walks out at the moment I was about to leave. Indeed the place is open and at £35, one of the cheapest places I have stayed at in Brazil. It has Wireless, a bed and a shower - I have no need for anything else. 

The owner is very chatty, despite making it pretty clear that I have no idea what she is on about. Gear upstairs and into the shower - this one actually works and the temperature is just about right. I hadn't noted any restaurants nearby, so it was into the kitchen for some pasta. Am rather surprised when I find that I have travelled 99km's today, the first 30km of downhill obviously helped. Get some basics done before knocking off for the night - tomorrow I would attempt to break the 100km barrier for the first time. 

05/08/2012

Woke and got packed quite early. For the price I had paid, I wasn't expecting breakfast. However, a basic breakfast was available - a few ham and cheese sandwiches to go with a coffee and I was off. Got clear of Novo Hamburgo and had my sights set on Santa Cruz do Sul. My GPS app is fantastic - has not let me down with directions at all. That is some feat in Brazil where roads are not marked by the towns they go to, rather just the road number. The one thing that my app is not very good at is applying an accurate scale. I had calculated by scale that Santa Cruz was about 120km's away - which should be just about at the top end of what I was prepared to target with a full days cycling. This turned out to be a little inaccurate.

The day started quite cool with rain seemingly imminent again. Although the high viz jacket caused me to sweat buckets, I couldn't take it off due to the cool ambient temperature. By midday I was proceeding well, 60km's down and more than 5 hours to cycle the same distance again I reckoned. The further I got, the more the traffic increased. This seemed damn odd for a Sunday, where on earth were all these cars and trucks going today - there is nothing but a few small towns and a tiny border post some 600km's away. I was in the mood to cycle and aggressively maintained my white line position regardless. With few trucks, I was not quite as bothered - the occasional angry gesture as yet another dumb driver overtook on my side of the road. After this had happened more times than I could count, I stopped to picks up some stones - the next bastard who tried that was going to collect a shattered windscreen. 

Keeping stones to hand was tricker than expected, there was nowhere to put them and I wasn't going to hold onto them the entire time waiting for the next moron. I dispensed with the plan after a few km's but promised that I would work something out for tomorrow. Lunch time arrived and I decided that since I had plenty of time to work with that I would have a proper meal. Found a fantastic spot serving a buffet for all of R9.00. Two plates heavy on protein and carbs before jumping back on the road. It is also useful to point out that besides not naming their roads very well, there are almost no boards showing the distance to the next town. The ones that do exist are wildly inaccurate too. (I stood this morning at a junction that had two boards giving distances to the same places that varied by up to 5km's depending on which board you looked at...)

The first indication I had that something might be amiss with my distance calculation also happening to be the first distance board I cam across. By my reckoning I had another 30km's to go, this board said I still had 60km to go. Bit of a bugger, I had just about enough time - but whether I could push 140km's was more questionable. The right achilles tendon had started o play up again - I knew that if I could feel it hurting on the bike, then it was going to be a major problem when I stopped cycling. There was only one thing for it - get the legs turning and go. With 25km's to go, the tendon was causing the cycling to become increasingly difficult. A signboard advertising a hotel in the next small town was promising. I made what I thought was a prudent decision to hang up my boots here and not to continue the damage to my ankle. The town was 5km off the main road, a few more hills and one hell of a beat box concert going on in the local park. 

Got to the end of town without any hotel in site before coming to painful realisation that I was going to have to turn around and go all the way back. 10km's of waste, but also 30 precious minutes lost. About turn and start off again - 21 km's to go if the board was accurate. Just my luck that all the boozed up kids from the concert were now leaving. Grey skies, getting late and a bunch of drunk Brazilian yobs on the road. These idiots can't drive sober, never mind drunk. 

I spent more and more time watching my ODO, a sure sign that I was getting tired. A motel on the side of the road - pulled in, checked for WiFi, nothing - cycle again. With 10km's to the town, another hotel sign and a price. Nice and cheap and with WiFi it seemed and to was only 5km's away. Started to go up a hill, then another and another and another before a sign told me what I already knew - this was Kipper's Pass and I sure as shit felt like a kipper at the present time. There was my hotel, just a few more pedals and I could rest. Rather I had to carry on cycling - there was a reason that this hotel charged by the hour or the night. It was yet another 'sex hotel', which is fine, but I draw the line when it also has it's own sex shop and show. I was tired, my body was screwed and I could barely feel my ankle anymore - it was so sore it had started to go numb, but I wasn't staying here. Onwards and upwards over Kipper's Pass. 

A few checks of the GPS app to make sure I was entering the town at the appropriate spot. It was now 17:45, I had 15 minutes to get into town and find a hotel. The town was one steep decline, everything I had put into getting over the pass was now lost. The further I went meant the bigger the return climb in the morning. That would be tomorrow problem, right now I just needed somewhere to stay. Unusually I had to cycle up and dow quite a few roads before I found a hotel. I knew from the onset that this particular spot would not be cheap, but had little option. Checked in, R150 which was not as much as I was expecting at least. Through the garage and into the lift area. Then a cunning plan, perhaps I could fit my bike into the lift without taking all the gear off it? 
Clearly the lift company must have had problems with touring cyclists before, they specifically designed this thing two inches too small to fit the bike. The gear would have to come off them I could stand the bike up. 

The rooms were very much apartments rather than hotel rooms. My brother and I had stayed in a place like this in Thailand. Soggy washing into the sink - still no plug (btw : does anyone know if Brazil knows of this device called a plug, I am yet to see one in 17 days here now). Plastic bag again, washing powder and grimy clothes for a soak. Then the same for me. Out of the shower, applied generous amounts of Voltaren cream to my ankle and strapped it heavily. Got dressed, stood up, fell back down again. My ankle has seized solid. Stretch, pull, push, walk - take the pain but don't let it seize. Went for a walk to keep it active at least. 

On my return, ordered room service and finally had that beer I had been wanting for a few days now. Ankle seemed in a better state, but tomorrow morning would be the acid test. Checked the ODO - 157km's today, 100km's yesterday and the same planned for the next 4 days. In a rush? Absolutely. 

06/08/2012

Took my time this morning, ankle felt OK, but I wasn't going to push it. Best breakfast so far, which could be expected at the room rates I suppose. WiFi was absolutely terrible though, always found it strange how the cheap and cheerful places have the best WiFi going, but the more expensive the hotel, the worse it is and invariably you even have to pay for it! Loaded up and left at the reasonable hour of 10:00. Took a punt on a different exit road and to my delight it only had one small hill to navigate. 

Had to force myself to keep within myself, while the ankle felt fine - there was no point in wrecking it today. The next big town of Santa Maria was 140km's away and I was not planning on going that far anyway. The roads were mostly undulating, with some long flat stretches. The weather cleared and a bright sunny day arrived much to my delight. The roads however were very busy - more trucks than I have seen even when the M20 was shut! So I spent most of my day on the hard shoulder. Actually that is a complete misnomer - it isn't a hard shoulder, just a bunch of aggregate thrown down next to the road with the odd bit of tar. Continuous battle between hard and bumpy sections followed by loose stones - neither conducive to any form of speed or comfort. Being very wary of my fit ankle meant that I hardly ever had the leg extended during downhill legs rests. Any bump sends all that energy up the extended limb. 

I was resigned to that rubbish today, in no mood to knock out high numbers by tackling the trucks. I stopped for my first break, rather surprised to have eased out 20km's without having tried very hard. Got the earphones out and selected some calming music to take my mind off the frustrating 'hard shoulder'. Now, you might think that being a birdwatcher (insert every stereotype you like), that my idea of calming music would be something of the order of Beethoven, possibly followed by some Brahms as the day wore on. You'd be wrong of course - my idea of a calming start to the day was a random mix of 5 different Hatebreed albums. Once I had warmed up, the music may change to something a little quicker like Slayer or Pantera perhaps. Yes, I'm a birdwatcher and I listen to Heavy Metal. 

You might think that putting a set of earphones in with metal blaring would be dangerous. The music certainly doesn't drown out the approach of any vehicles and it gets switched off if Ai ever need to flip onto the road in any case. Rolled my sleeves up in the hope that I may redress the shirt tan on my arms. I realised that this also helped whenever I stopped for a pitstop or to get some water. People always gather to have a word - I mean that literally, they talk, I feign to listen without reply and then they carry on regardless. With my shoulders bare, they have stopped talking to me, this can be for only two reasons. Either they have recognised the Irish clover tattoo and realise that I only speak English or they have seen the Black Mamba curled through a human skeleton tattoo and figure they'd just give me a miss altogether. Either way, this has turned out to be a cunning plan which I shall continue using for the next 4 days until I reach Argentina.

By 15:00, I had hit the 90km mark and could probably have put in another 15km's. However, I spotted the perfect spot for a camp. I large Ipiranga Petrol station with plenty of trees to hang my hammock tent up. I debated for a few minutes before deciding that this would do very nicely actually. Those possible 15 extra km's could be made up tomorrow with an early start in any case. Since I wasn't going to make Santa Maria today, I could not be sure of where I was going to stay in any case. May as well take the opportunity provided here. 

Set up camp, got dressed and headed up to the 'Lancheria' for a beer. Had a few pastries for dinner and another beer. The beer was very cheap here - normally a long tom costs around R6.00, here it was only R3.00. Watched a couple of truckers manoeuvring their vehicles - even at my age, I still find these huge machines fascinating. I've driven big trucks before, but never a big rig. Watching a chap reverse a 22m long double trailer to within a parallel metre of another rig takes some skill. You have to have some bottle to drive one of them - 7 axles, somewhere around 50-60 tonnes and almost 3metres wide. When you are on the road, these trucks take up pretty much the entire lane. So when you have two going in opposite directions they are passing each other at around 160km/h (80km/h in each direction for those of you struggled with relativity), with a gap of maybe 50cm's. That is why I said above, truckers normally give me space - but only when they can. When they cannot, there isn't space on the road for three of us - and out of my own good nature I always give way...

It's now 18:30 and the last tinge of orange is falling. Slowly but surely summer is coming. When I first arrived, sunset was just after 17:00, now it is just after 18:00. While it is cool enough to require a jacket tonight, I most definitely don't need my beenie or neckie(?) - its a thing you pull vet your neck to keep warm, just like a beenie but with a hole in it. Fingers are not numb while typing this blog piece, so hopefully there are not many typos. Last few swigs of beer before I call it a night. Didn't sleep well last night despite the huge, hard bed. If it wasn't the sound of a washing machine finishing its cycle then it was my bleeding fridge kicking into a cooling cycle every 30 minutes. Tonight should be my first comfortable evening in the hammock tent, it isn't too pleasant when it is cold! 

The truckers are still coming in thick and fast - fascinated to know where they are going. Brazil has next to no train lines, a legacy of Portuguese colonisation. If the Brits has colonised this country, it would have train lines everywhere and a cultured language to boot. Given that there is next to bugger all between here and northern Argentina, I just cannot work it out. They definitely are not going to Argentina, there is no sizeable border crossing for 1000km's in either direction either. I'm taking a huge punt in going for what I believe to be a border crossing an Sao Borja. I cannot find any information on such a border pot, just what looks like a bridge across the river between the two countries and two small towns on either side - generally an indication of a border I hope. In fact, it is primarily my concern with the size of the border that is driving me to cycle such distances. If I can carry on knocking it 100km's a day, then I will only have 40km's to cycle on Friday. I don't want to risk crossing the border on a weekend when it may be shut. 

Only 90km's today, but will make up some more ground tomorrow with an early start. Should be able to have a small bite to eat and a coffee before leaving at 08:00 hopefully. 

07/08/2012

I must have been tired, having gone to sleep just after 20:00, I only woke once at midnight and didn’t stir again until the truckers started their engines at 06:30. Cup of coffee from the store and slowly packed my gear. Bit of chill in the air this morning, so didn’t want to rush out and start cycling just yet. With nothing else to do, I departed just after 08:00. The roads were still quite busy, so plenty of time spent navigating the crap next to the road. Shouted and gesticulated at the odd motorist for shoving me off the road. Right bastards these car driving lunatics. 

Santa Maria was a much larger town than it looked on the map. Also housed a regional military air base. Got to see some low flying AMX A-1 jets as well a few taking off - quite some racket they make. Got slightly lost in Santa Maria itself, but only temporarily before my GPS system put me back on track. 

Through Santa Maria and the roads quietened down somewhat. Managed to knock out some good sectors before calling it a day near the town of Sao Pedro do Sul. Another 100km day without any further ankle problems, so the next two days are going to be a little larger.

Starting to have a clothing problem - not had any laundry done since Capao da Canoa. While my cycling gear is getting washed and changed every two days, my casual stuff is in need of some attention. Once I am safely inside Argentina I will have this attended to. Plastic bag plug into sink followed by dirty gear - the bandana and gloves would have to go on wet tomorrow. A week of nose wiping, sweat soaking and bike grease streaking - when I can start to smell these things, then they are most definitely rancid. I’ll explain that a little more - I pass so much putrid roadkill, that I barely notice such smells anymore.

Jumped in the shower to notice that I had been rather silly today - while the sun might have sat behind a slightly cloudy veneer, it had burnt my arms to a cinder. While I have been very careful to keep my face and ears protected, I had largely ignored the rest of me. Travelling due west means that I have a very lopsided burn too. Change of kit tomorrow, so the long sleeve shirt will be on. 

It’s another 120km’s to the next town tomorrow, so an early start will help. Fortunately this place serves breakfast from 06:00. Then it is one last big push to Sao Borja of 140km’s, one I hope to be able to complete on Thursday evening. Then I shall have all of Friday to cross the border and start my way into Misiones, Argentina. Still some travelling to do there before reaching the birding spots. Probably need to see a doctor about my ulnar nerve too. None of my fingers on my left hand can touch one another. 


08/08/2012

Today was a long trip from Sao Pedro do Sul to Santiago of around 120km's. Bike packed early and breakfast sorted. Got collared at checkout by a receptionist that spoke English. She was awfully keen to practice the language, since having travelled to Australia, she hadn't had much chance - not many foreigners in these parts! It was great for me to be able to communicate for the first time in three weeks, so we chatted away for half an hour before I decided it was to get my skates on. A little late getting away, but I had the whole day get to Santiago.

The hard shoulder improved and despite a spritely side wind, I was out of the blocks quickly. At the 30km mark I had to make a turn to the north - that side wind now became a head wind. The heat was starting to become oppressive too, I was draining my water supply much quicker than normal. Took a break at the nearest gas station to fill up the water bottles and grab a Fanta. They even have Fanta Grape here, a drink I am very partial to. The wind had slowed me down quite considerably and ever since turning north, the hard shoulder had pretty much disappeared. 

By 14:00 I was just about scraping into Jaguari. I had convinced myself that it was becoming dangerous to cycle in the current conditions. Gusting winds were knocking me into the road and off of it. Head winds also remove your capacity to hear the trucks coming. Jaguari didn't have what I wanted and I half convinced myself that I was being a wimp by bailing out at 14:00 in any case. It only took a few more minutes before I had motivated myself to get back on the damn road and quit being spineless. 

I knew from the shape of the map tracks that I was in for some hills. What I didn't know was quite how high and how long they were to last. By 15:00 I had travelled a further 5 km's. Unless I started to average over 15km/h from this point onwards, I had no chance of making Santiago. Towards the crest of another hill, a campsite and a shop that sold local delicacies. I desperately needed some energy, more Fanta Grape, three squares of fudge and a few minutes to consider my options. Seemed futile, but decided to quit whining and carry on. A huge downhill allowed me to relax somewhat, but I was still running the clock dangerously close. 

Some more hills. By now I was getting quite animatedly pissed off. I don't have a problem with cycling hills, it is tough but that is part of the deal. What was grating me now was why these roads went over the fills in the first place. These were individual, isolated hills, you could see flat farmland for miles either side of them - why was it necessary to build a road straight over the top of them? I can just imagine the scene, "Junior, find me a hill, I have some tar left over from the last one."

Pillocks. My legs went with 20km's to go. I never understood just what the commentators meant by this while watching Le Toure for example. Quite simple really, one minute you can cycle up hills, the next you can't. No amount of will power or huffing and puffing make any difference - your legs simply do not respond. Off the bike and push to the top. Roll down the other side, get off and push some more. To compound matters further, the sun slipped behind some clouds, darkness was approaching in a hurry. 

I passed the first turn off into the town and just hoped that my maps were accurate. Suddenly found an extra litre of energy and pedaled for leather. Cresting yet another hill, I could see the hotel - map and GPS were spot on. The relief was palpable, I didn't proceed straight to checkin, I just sat outside for 10 minutes catching my breathe and letting the relief soak in a little. 

Checked in, again the lift was a little too small for my bike. Drenched myself in the shower. Dinner was next door, a huge buffet and I most certainly made it count. Soup, two plates of mains and 2 plates of dessert to go with a litre of beer. I wondered while waddling back to my room if perhaps I had overdone it a little.

09/08/2012

Feeling a little worse for wear, I packed up and got ready. My motivation was still as strong as ever, but today would be an even bigger one than yesterday - could only hope for a limit on the hills. Filled with breakfast, the first obstacle to clear was another hill. The first 10km's were a little challenging, more hills and an increase in truck traffic. 

The road did eventually level off a little, the head wind turned into a mild cross wind. The heat was pounding me again today, although at least the air was still dry. Very few towns out here and no gas stations. By 16:00 I was a little short of 25km's out, but I really need to eat something. A Shell Garage was supposedly 9 km's away. My legs were still fine, but I was suffering from fatigue now - in the last 6 days I had covered over 700km's in some very trying conditions. My head started to drop and I resorted to eating a sweet every 5km's just to take my mind off the heat and the distance balance. I hit the targeted distance, but no town in sight. There goes the Brazilian transport department again with their mucked up distance boards. 

I hit the outskirts of Sao Borja at 17:00, skipped the by now inevitable ‘sex hotel’ and went straight to the first hotel normal hotel I found. Was able to wheel my bicycle into my room for a change. Showered and became much more aware of my sore backside. I had noticed at some point on the ride that I was constantly having to shuffle about to get comfortable - now I knew why. With vanity mirror in hand I managed to identify the source of the problem - saddle sores. As if I didn't have enough injury concerns to deal with. I figured that they had to go - vanity mirror, sewing needle and some interesting contortions later I had managed to lacerate and drain most of the buggers. Lots of antiseptic cream. Sought much Internet advice - now need to make sure I get my knicks off as soon as I am done cycling and sleep commando.

Time for a decent sleep - tomorrow I cross the border into Argentina. Six days of hellish cycling over, the goal very much in sight.