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Montes Claros – Posto Seabra

I’d stayed in Montes Claros so Neto could ride with me and, as he managed to re-arrange the classes he needed to teach, on Monday morning he was ready. He didn’t have a touring bike, or racks, and the furthest he had ridden in a day was 60km, but he had the 3 most important things – time, desire and a bicycle. He was going to use a backpack to carry the minimal amount that he’d bring (little more than couple of pairs of underwear, off-the-bike clothing, iPad, iPhone, chargers, sunglasses, spare tube and a wallet).

We’d arranged to be up and out by just after 6 and João had told me the best way to make sure his brother was awake. That’s why at 5:50 I poured part of a glass of water over Neto’s face. Within 30 seconds he was up! It was marvellous. I’m used to people (including myself) who are pretty terrible at getting up, and would have responded to that by going all-Gremlin and trying to bite my head off.

By 6:15 we were in the bakery getting breakfast and a couple of snacks for the road – Neto is powered by coffee and pão de queijo (cheese bread). We then got to ride around the city on our way to the exit, which was of course on the opposite side of the city from where Neto lives. The increased trend of seeing cyclists in the state of Minas Gerais continued, and we rode on one of the two cycle routes in the city, filled with people riding to work.

Neto’s optimism and positivity started well, and then we hit the 3km climb out of town. He’s a mountain biker, which definitely involves its fair share of climbing, but the contrast with being on a bike and going up this road – which he’d done 100+ times in a car – was stark. It continued that way, as he had a series of landmarks in his head from the 45km stretch from Montes Claros to Bocaiúva and they weren’t appearing as quickly as he expected.

His first experience with the inquisitive nature of people was when we stopped at a petrol station, where he of course got some coffee (it reminded me of Peter’s love of drinking Nescafe at every place in Mexico), and was inundated with questions from everyone around. It was quite fun not having to do the talking for once, as Neto answered the questions that everyone had about me. People would start talking to us, ask questions about me, he’d let them know I spoke Portuguese, and they’d keep asking him instead of me. Sometimes that’d bother me, but definitely not then.

In Bocaiúva we had to go to a bike shop, as in one of Neto’s many crashes he had broken a spoke a couple of weeks earlier. As he had disk brakes, it didn’t interfere with much, but it was good to get it sorted out so a different spoke didn’t break. I used the time to do a bit of maintenance on my bike, tightening some bolts and oiling the chain for the first time since I got back to Brazil. The questions about the Manta saddle continued, but I’d let Neto try it so he could go with his standard answer of “Well, it looks a bit strange, but it’s really comfortable when you ride it! So much nicer than my saddle!” to the group of people who like to prod the blue, antennae-like thing that’s where a more-traditional saddle should be.

After lunching at an all-you-can-eat place in Bocaiúva (only the side-dishes were all-you-can-eat so I skipped the rice and spaghetti to eat copious amounts of salad drowning in olive oil going with my idea of slow-burning, high-fat food) we were on the road to the next stop – a petrol station at Olhos dAgua 50km down the road. It was a much straighter road, and without a shoulder, but there wasn’t much traffic. Neto wanted to ride into traffic, but that idea got canned pretty quickly. He was rather insistent on riding on the white line, or the dirt next to it, so I rode behind him forcing traffic out more. Over the 50km he was less fearful of drivers, and actually started to appreciate that they generally were giving us space.

The petrol station was Neto’s favourite place to eat the aforementioned pão de queijo, and he chomped lots of them down while we relaxed a bit. If we’d had three days, it would have made sense to stop there, but with only two days we had to go another 50km to Posto Seabra, another petrol station. The communities were well spread out, and so there was nothing before it to stop at. When we left, we knew we’d be getting there between 7 and 8, but as we both had lights it would be OK.

Neto’s initial energy, which was spurred by enthusiasm, was running down a bit, and he started to talk about hitching a lift. There weren’t many trucks going past, and I explained how I’d tried hitching a lift while riding with Peter (as in sticking the thumb out while still pedalling) and it hadn’t been much of a success. My guess is that pretty much everyone things you’re giving them a thumbs-up rather than asking for help. You can imagine our surprise then when the second truck that came past slowed down and pulled into the lay-by ahead. Neto sprinted to the truck and by the time I got there Dimas, the truck driver, was helping him throw his bike up. I figured we’d sit in the back, but we were told to sit up with him and Neto chatted away for the 35-40km we got a lift for. I wasn’t listening most of the time, but one thing I did hear was that Dimas had been a trucker for more than 25 years and never had an accident. My type of trucker.

In Posto Seabra we drank the cachaça that I’d been given in Montes Claros, and sat around using the wifi. I got a cold shower, apparently the other one was scalding hot. A salesman for a motorbike helmet company came in for dinner, and sat near us to talk. We chatted away until Neto went off for a shower. The man asked about what I eat, and I said about how it’s normally bread and jam, and he asked me if I’d accept the same meal he’d just had if he bought it. Of course I accepted (multiple people have told me that it would be very rude, especially in Minas, to say no to those offers) and took a pic with him before he left. When Neto came back he was surprised to find dinner, as obviously I shared it with him.

We threw my tent up and both just about fit in it. Neto had a toasty jacket and other clothing on to make up for his lack of sleeping bag or pad, although he was busy playing with the camera taking shots of the stars when I went to sleep.

Posto Seabra – Diamantina

Neto was up by 4:30 and, with the petrol station opening at 5, he could get the coffee he loves so much before we hit the road. It was a little chilly, especially as the day started with a fast descent, but after about an hour it had warmed up enough for the gloves to go. The road was glorious, the eucalyptus forests from the day before had been replaced by sharply rolling hills and increasingly jagged foothills. We had a short break talking to a farmer and he gave us bananas and oranges for an early morning snack.

Within 3 hours, we’d made it to the first town and stopped at a bakery in the first community we had seen all day. I got my lunch, and Neto of course more coffee. It was only 35km to Diamantina, but they were the hardest kilometres, with a 3km climb, followed by a drop into the second, and final, community between Posto Seabra and Diamantina. We got to the bottom of the 9km climb, which Neto and several other people we’d met had been talking up for the previous two days. It wasn’t just the distance, but also the fact that most of it was steep enough that Neto’s car struggles to get up in first gear, never mind him on a bike. His previous longest ride had been 60km, so the 110km and what would be 80km meant he was definitely feeling it.

We stopped at a small restaurant at the bottom of the climb, so Neto could eat a 10am lunch (the joy of starting at 5:30) and, more importantly, psych himself up. I drank far too much of the delicious free coffee that they had on offer while he was eating, and gave myself a headache, not quite what I was needing for the climb.

We started off, and within a few minutes Neto was struggling badly. I rode behind him, and thankfully a little more into the road. Every time he heard a vehicle, he turned around to see if it was a vehicle that he could hitch a lift from, and stuck his thumb out. The problem with that, other than the fact that I knew he’d get up without hitching a lift, was that it lead to him veering into the road and on a couple of occasions he nearly crashed into the trucks he was trying to get a ride from. His cause wasn’t helped as I was waving them all on, a point not lost on Neto as he started walking and told me it was interfering with his hope of getting a ride.

After a break, after about 2km, Neto seemed to accept his fate and stopped sticking his thumb out. He combined spinning with pushing and little by little we made it up. I used the time to listen to a podcast by Diane Uribe about the history of Brazil in Spanish that I’ve been trying to work my way through, and learnt about the African influence in Brazil, and about the treatment of slaves. It was fascinating, and mentioned how before the European influence slaves had been traded between Africa and the Arab world, but that the people became slaves from either losing a war, or for failure to pay off a debt, but that the Portuguese influence lead to increased wars so that tribes would have more slaves to sell, and then into the Portuguese just cutting out the middle man. Life as a Portuguese slave in Brazil was quite horrific, with the average slave living a torturous 7 years before dying, and any trying to have a relationship with a white woman was castrated and then buried alive. The punishments were meant less as a lesson to the perpetrator and more to the other slaves about what would happen to them if they tried the same.

Neto’s torture finished after a couple of hours, although I’m pretty sure it felt longer to him. We summited and had a great view of the historical UNESCO city of Diamantina where my next path, the Estrada Real, would begin. If I’d been by myself, I’d have not known about it, but Diamantina is Neto’s favourite place in the world so we took the secondary access so we could go to the cross that stands above the city, and is illuminated at night.

After bouncing down some bumpy streets, braking the whole way unlike Neto who made the most of being on a mountain bike and treated it like a practice run hopping up and down and jumping his bike around, we got to the bottom of the hill and had to start pushing again because we found my least favourite thing about historical cities – a refusal to use modern paving technology in favour of maintaining streets that were from the time. Or in Diamantina’s case, incredibly uneven rocks that were put in back at the start of the 20th century, are nothing like how they were back in the mining boom, and serve to do little but create money for mechanics having to repair the suspension of cars and destroy the hopes of any cycling tourist with a 50kg bike that doesn’t want to kill himself. Maintain the buildings, keep building codes strict, but make the streets usable – at least outside of the historical core of the city.

After a celebratory cachaça, I met up with André, my Couchsurfing host, and dropped my bike at his shop-to-be. Then we brought my bags up to his place. So glad I didn’t have to push my bike up there. In the evening we went out with André’s partner, Evandro, a friend Fatima and Neto turned up. He had been planning on staying around the next day, at least for a while, but the only bus back to Montes Claros was at 6am, so he had to take that even though his class wasn’t until 9pm. It had been good fun riding with him, and he did a fine job of making it to Diamantina. Hopefully he manages to do more trips in the future!

note – Hub status? Still wiggly. Not broken yet.

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