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Even with the offer from Rodrigo and family to stay much longer in Guanambi, I had to move on. If it weren’t for the 6 month visa limit, I could definitely have seen myself staying longer, not only in Guanambi but in other places too. The people here are constantly saying I should stay a few days more, so much so that if I accepted them all I’d probably barely get to Rio by the Olympics, nevermind the World Cup.

From Guanambi to Montes Claros, there was the best part of 400km, with a fair amount of headwinds. Four days would be pretty easy, but three days sounded doable. I also wanted to try out my new headlight, a B&M Luxos U, which I’d picked up so I actually used the dynamohub that I’d barely used since getting it installed a year earlier.

My idea of leaving at 6am got scuppered as usual, as Rodrigo’s parents offered me breakfast and we sat around chatting for a while, and it was closer to 8:30 by the time I was gone. As I’m getting away from the equator, and seasons start to exist, the sweltering heat is dropping. The ride was definitely sunny, but my desire to take time off the bike was more to break up the wind than a need to get out of the sun before turning into a lobster. One of those pauses took place at a health clinic, one of the few buildings I’d seen for a while, where I sat down in the shade and very shortly after was given a cup of coffee, and then an orange juice, by the nurse working there, a lady called Rouchele. She and her friend Sidnéia were rather surprised to see a cyclist from England sitting around, and made the most of the opportunity to natter and take pictures with me. I was a few km down the road when a car passed me, pulled over and then waved me down. Sidnéia was inside having decided that the coffee and orange juice weren’t enough and gave me a fresh bottle of cold water.

Because of the late departure, and the wind, the sun was starting to go down by the time I entered Minas Gerais, my 13th state. It was the first state I remember not having posto fiscal, the checkpoints where lorries have to stop to get their load checked out. Apparently Minas Gerais is the first state where it is now done electronically. It was also where I left the north-east and entered the south-east region of Brazil (it’s split into 5 – north, north-east, centre-west, south-east & south) and apparently where the country starts to get a little wealthier.

As I arrived into Monte Azul, it was already dark, but at least with the almost-full moon and my new headlight I’d had no problem seeing. Of course my tail-light had broken completely so I was relying on my reflectors to be visible. It was cobbled so I was stood up as I rode towards the police station to ask for help. Just before I got there a lady on a bike rode by me and started asking me questions about my Manta saddle. I stopped to chat and at the end asked her if she knew a place to put up a tent, so I was told to follow her to a nearby petrol station.

We got to the petrol station, and I was about to ask if it was OK to camp there, when the lady, Z, asked me if I wanted a juice or some açai. I went with my normal why not and so we went to a nearby ice cream place to get some açai. While we were sat around, she waved at a number of the cyclists who seemed to be constantly going past, and introduced me to them. By the time I’d done with the açai I was offered an omelette, which I obviously didn’t turn down, and more cyclists turned up to chat. One of the guys that arrived was the leader of the cycling group, a guy called Marcos who had started cycling recently to lose weight. He sat down with his wife and two very young children and we sat around talking. All was fine until BANG.

Monte Azul is a small town, and everyone knows everyone, so there was no chase to stop the cause of the BANG. It had been a woman in her 30s with mental problems. She had been walking past, picked up a tennis-ball-sized stone and thrown it at full tilt at Marcos. I don’t know if there was anything more to it, but she made her mark as she hit him about half an inch above his left eye and caused a large amount of bleeding. It was lucky she hit him, because he was holding his baby, who was less than a year old, and if the baby had got hit… it would have been a lot worse. Everyone around jumped up and crowded around Marcos to work out what happened, and no-one seemed to be following the lady who had thrown the rock. I kept an eye on her, as she walked down the road, stopped outside of a shop 50m down the road and seemed to start arguing with someone there.

People tried to call the police, but there was no reply, and so Marcos was driven to the nearby hospital to get checked out. Z and I stayed behind with a few other cyclists who were busy talking about the so called crazy lady. It ended up taking the police about 90 minutes to arrive, in which time Z and I had left our bikes somewhere safe and she’d given me a lift up to the hospital to see Marcos on her scooter, given me a tour of the town, taken me to eat some skewered meat, and then offered to pay for my hotel for the night. Marcos even had time to get seen to in the hospital and was back at the ice-cream shop by the time the police turned up.

I’d been told by the group of cyclists that I should stay for another night or two, so we could go out riding together, but I had decided it wasn’t possible. Instead I waited until around 9:30 so I could thank Z before I left. Monte Azul in the day was beautiful, with the perfect blue skies that must have been the reason it got the name, and there were mountains along the side of the road most of the way to my next goal, the town of Janaúba.

During the day I was stopped by several people who asked me if I’d given an interview, and after the initial confusion I worked out that they were mistaking me for Andy from Smudger Samba Cycle. He’s from Watford and since January has been riding from Porto Alegre in the south on his way to Manaus for the first England game. He’s visiting all of the world cup stadiums and, despite not speaking much Portuguese, giving interviews and being in the media on the way to help him raise more money. It was fun to feel like a famous cyclist for a while.

In Janaúba I went to only my third fire station here in Brazil. The sergeant wasn’t there when I arrived, but within 20 minutes he turned up and had no problem with me staying. I’d asked for a place to put up my tent and was shown to an area. After a warm shower, I asked about a bakery cos I was getting hungry, and told that why not come inside. It turned out that two of the firemen were celebrating their birthdays so it was time for a pizza party which I was the third guest of honour for. I was asked questions and told things from all sides, including some that told me that they didn’t want Brazil to win the world cup because it will hide the corruption that’s marred the process so far, until people started going to relax. I then sat around to talk with two of the firemen for more than an hour, one of them called Rafael and the other one… I’m not sure. They told me that I should stay until 8am the next day because that’s when their shift was over. They worked 24 hours, and then had 72 hours off. When I was getting tired, and was about to go outside to put my tent up, Rafael told me to wait. He called his sergeant, who had gone off to do something, to confirm that it was OK for me to sleep in a spare bed. The request was granted and I got my own room. Yup, firemen are wonderful.

In Monte Azul – Blue Mountain

The ride from Janaúba to Montes Claros was about 140km and rather pancake-like most of the way. It went past a number of fazendas, but little else. The mountains from the previous days had gone, and I was left riding down an almost perfectly straight road with little by the way of a shoulder. It turns out that the road from Janaúba to Montes Claros is one with the most accidents in Brazil, and I can definitely understand that. There were multiple times when I had to leave the road because either a truck coming from behind wasn’t waiting for there to be space to overtake me, or – even worse – vehicles from the other way deciding to overtake because there was nothing in my lane (other than me).ã

The road got even worse, for the last 30km, as the sun was going down and the amount of traffic tripled as my road merged with another. The main road was generally smoothish, but the shoulder predominantly resembled a gravel pit. With the increase in traffic, I got the fun of riding in a gravel pit. There were times when I’d venture into the main road, but that was short-lived because people would hold down their horns until I got out of the way. Possibly the worst was when a bus overtook me on a downhill, running me off the road, and then slammed his brakes on to stop 100m further ahead. Absolute and utter moron.

When I eventually made it to my host’s place, I was met by his brother João as my host had had to leave on work. João took me out to show me around Montes Claros and out to a bar to relax, and get over my fighting with stupid stupid traffic.

During my time off in Montes Claros I’ve noticed that my front wheel has developed a wiggle and narrowed it down to my hub. I contacted the makers and they say that it sounds like the bearings are shot. It’s ridable for a while, but will get progressively worse. Probably not quite what I want with a large stretch of off-road coming up. Their service option involves posting the wheel to them and they’ll fix the hub under the 5 year warranty. However, that not only involves me being without a front wheel for I guess 3-4 weeks, but also the large cost of return shipping, and fear of being hit by import tax when it comes back. Hopefully we’ll be able to come up with a better option than that.

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