Once out of Bolivia, there was much work to be done. First the expedition funds were dwindling to oblivion so I had to design a few websites and write a couple of programs to get the ball rolling again. Then there were my troubling teeth which took a few painful visits to the dentist to dig, cut, dress and fill. Then it was the bike that needed a few maintenance such as beefing up the camera box, fixing a few leaks here and there, and a good tune-up – not counting the painstaking job of getting the Bolivian dust and mud out of every hole of the bike. All said and done, I was in a position to start back on the road again.
The plan was to visit Brazil, but since Brazil is a gigantic country I had to break it into two trips. One trip would cover the southern and eastern parts, the next and big trip would cut through the western parts and through the Amazon jungle and finally crossing into Venezuela. From Caracas in Venezuela, I’ll ship what is left of the bike to western Africa and the journey will continue inland from there.
Taking on the first voyage to Brazil, Lourdes was my passenger, and we packed very light. We left out every piece of winter clothing as weather in Paraguay and all over Brazil was in high 70’s and 80’s. Also I wanted to lighten up the load since Bolivian roads almost destroyed the bike’s suspension and I was going to fix that after the first trip. The weather started perfect and on the hot side, and we covered the 400km to the Brazilian border the first day. Crossing the border to Brazil was a pleasant and very professional experience. The Brazilian custom officer spoke English, and she took care of all the paperwork by herself. This border crossing was a treat indeed.
We spent the first night in Foz do Iguaçu, at Lourdes’ cousin’s and I passed out at 8pm from being so tired. The next day came bright and sunny and we packed the bike and headed out going east. While we were packing, I had the bike parked on the sidewalk out of the way in front of the apartment. For the first time, a police officer gave me a warning for bringing the motorcycle on a sidewalk. Parking bikes or even cars on the sidewalk in Latin America is equivalent of the god given right to breath! No Police Officer will ever bother to say a word about it unless it’s blocking the whole sidewalk and even then, it’s unlikely. But Brazil is different.
Although counted as a Latin American country, Brazil is not Latin in any sense that would be associated to the rest of the continent and it shows it in its laws, art, culture, race, language and food. First the language is Portuguese not Spanish. People are taller and fair skinned, cities are very clean, and stop-lights and traffic signs actually mean something. I was amazed at the architecture and city planning of Brazilians and this is not based on big cities, even the tiny nowhere towns are well laid out and extremely modern. There is no shortage of street and highway signs in Brazil and public roads are very well maintained and in my opinion even better than the US highways.
We quickly got off the tolled interstate and hopped on a series of short and tangled highways that went through the less traveled parts of Eastern Paraná and Santa Catarina states. These roads were absolutely beautiful and packed with so many twist and turns that after a while I was wishing for a straight stretch. The only problem was that navigating through these roads became a chore as they all intersected here and there and they had no numbers or name. I had to memorize the name of the towns for the next 50 miles as all the signs pointed towards the towns and since pretty much every settlement in Brazil is named after a Saint somebody, to me they all sounded alike.
We spent the second night in Francisco Beltrão, the biggest city in Eastern Paraná. We got there after dark and most hotels were full and my GPS was taking us on a wild goose chase through the hilly city. A nice motorcyclist stopped and helped us find a cheap hotel and we settled in. For some reason, the town seemed deserted. Even though it was the weekend; all shops and restaurants were closed at 9pm. For the next two days everything stayed closed all day long in every little town we wandered into.
The weather started to get colder and colder until we were shivering. The high 80’s turned into low 40’s and drizzling rain and cloudy skies made for some beautiful but teeth shattering ride through the Santa Catarina mountains. We put on everything we had with us which were all short sleeves and I gave my rain gear to Lourdes to use as wind breaker. Our traveling hours changed dramatically as we waited for the warmest time of the day to start and we got off the road before 5pm when the temperatures dropped to almost freezing.
We looked high and low for some warm cloths but not a single store was open on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, we found a few stores in a small town but the asking price of $60 for a not-so-warm sweater sent us back on the road. The cold aside, the route that we took was a beautiful section of Brazil which not many people travel to because there is nothing touristy there. The people were friendly and talkative without exception and since Spanish and Portuguese are very similar, they somehow understood what we said and we tried hard to understand what they said. This worked out well until I had to fix my banged-up suspension and I wished for a Portuguese translator.
Brazil is by far the bumpiest country I have ever seen. México can’t even hold a candle to the number and size of speed bumps that Brazil has to offer and México is a pretty bumpy country. The good news is that every single bump is clearly marked at least by 100 meters but my sagged springs didn’t like all the ups and downs. The bike kept bottoming out at every bump to the point that my back started to hurt. In Medellin, Colombia, I had a great machine shop make a set of custom shock-absorbers for the bike which worked extremely well until my Bolivian odyssey, but I used the springs from the old shocks.
Now I needed to adjust the tension on the old spring further than normal to limit the free travel and for that I needed a hefty hydraulic press. Relaying what I needed to the mechanic shops was fruitless so I kept looking around until I found a shop that had a honking 20 ton press. We found a hotel across the street and I took off the shocks in their garage and went back to the shop. They guys at the shop were really cool and left me alone with the machine to do what I need to do. They refused to take money for the use of their equipment but I insisted anyway. Thanks to their press, the bike is not bottoming out anymore but it needs a new set of springs sometimes very soon. Stay tuned while we inch our way towards the Atlantic coast and hopefully see some sunshine soon.