I stayed in a República in Ouro Preto, basically a shared house filled with university students. They were a fun mix of geeky guys who, as well as staying up until 4am playing computer games online, enjoyed partying on the weekends. I hung out with them, and of course also got to know the historical centre of Ouro Preto (Black Gold). There are a few quite spectacular churches, but they seemed to think that being a UNESCO site it was fair to charge $5 to enter each church, and still not let you take pictures inside. Because of this, I only went into one church (Igreja do São Francisco de Assis), apparently the most impressive one in town. The mural, on the roof, was strikingly impressive, but you’ll have to Google to find out what it looks like! It’s worth also looking up the Igreja do Pilar with it’s huge amount of gold used inside. Worth a visit, but I prefer Diamantina.
Ouro Preto Panorama
Ouro Preto – Juiz de Fora
I’d originally expected to take the Estrada Real the whole way to Rio, but that wasn’t going to be happening. While it was a little more paved, there was even more ridiculous climbing on dirt roads and instead of 4 days of riding to Rio it’d probably take 10. With my wobbly hub, I had managed to find someone to bring over a replacement, but it meant getting to São Paulo in time for the game on the 19th, and that’d mean no time in Rio if I took the Estrada Real – an easy choice.
It was about 50km on a beautiful, small and windy road on the way to the main road, the BR-40, which connects Belo Horizonte with Rio. I’d been hoping for a shoulder, but that seemed too much to ask for as I think there were maybe 4 or 5 stretches, which all together added up to no more than 2km. They would start and immediately have a sign saying “End in 300m”, why they were even there was a bit beyond me.
I’d not got much of a goal for the day, until I found a fire station in the town of Barbacena. When the sun was going down there was about 40km to go, but I decided it was worth it. My rear light, which has been a bit temperamental, didn’t want to work (I found out later that I’d used a screw that was too big and it had gone through and punctured the battery… oops) and so I was grateful for the reflective patches on my panniers and safety jacket to make sure I could be seen.
The fire station was about 4km away from the main road, and when I arrived there I met with the normal warmth, after a bit of confusion. The chief told me that I was welcome to stay, but that while there was coffee they didn’t have any food for me (something I’d obviously not asked for). I started talking with the other firemen, and all the normal questions came out including if I was sponsored and what I ate. When I showed them the mortadella and cream cheese spread that I had they looked at me slightly aghast and said well obviously you eat in restaurants for lunch as well, right. Of course I generally don’t, and when they heard that they looked at each other and Rodrigues asked me if I liked beef and if I’d accept some food if they called up a nearby restaurant. I thanked them, and got myself a delicious dinner, toasty shower, fun conversation and comfy bed. How I love fire stations.
It was about another 90km to Juiz de Fora, where I’d be staying with Guilerheme from Warmshowers, and it all went well until I got to the outskirts of town when my sandals, which I’d bought a new pair of back home, decided to fail on me after only 2000km. They’re great, when they work, but it’s pretty atrocious how often they seem to like to fail.
Just after that, a car pulled over and waved me down. The driver was Emerson, a local who was intrigued to find out what I was up to. He’s hoping to do a long-term trip in the not-too-distant future. He has ridden a bit of the Estrada Real before, and will do some more coming up soon. Hopefully he signs up for Warmshowers and that way gets to meet lots of cycle tourists to answer his questions and provide inspiration for such an adventure.
I met Guilherme in the main park and he took me to Pina Bikes, where I met the owner, Fabien, and the mechanic, Heitor. They were impressed to play with my bike, and were very helpful giving my chain a good clean (something it’d not had since getting put on in England) and also replacing a part of my rear brake cable that had been a bit annoying since I’d put it on back home. Fabien even gave me a spare rear light when I told him about the problems I was having with mine, and a bag of snacks to eat on the way to Rio.
Guilherme owns 5 bikes and is an integral part of the cycling activism community in Juiz de Fora. It was interesting talking with him about a wide range of things, from that activism, to religion up to my theory of why not. I told him about my experience at the fire station and he was sure that I really should look for sponsorship, something that I’ve not got plans to do.
Things from companies like my wonderful Manta saddle (so far, so comfy), the ClickStand and discounts on my Big Agnes tent – really helpful. The donations that I’ve received from people through the website – humbling. Continuous warmth from people who offer to buy me dinner, accept me into their house, beep in support, treat me with great kindness, make me feel at home or just give me a thumbs up – keeps me going.
I think that if I were to look for sponsorship, it might change something about my trip. For one, I’d have to put something into increasing the number of people who read the site. I don’t know how many people read what I put up, and it’s not something I’m interested in measuring. I started this so my family and friends could keep up with what I’m up to, and if it helps or provides entertainment for anyone else then that’s great.
I’m content to keep travelling the way I am, with my mind open and path undecided. With some deadlines (São Paulo for the England v Uruguay game which I now have a ticket for, Buenos Aires for the end of July to meet Gaz) and a lot of wiggle room. At first accepting the kindness of strangers was a little difficult, but since I started with why not it became much easier. If someone offers me something, or suggests something, I nearly always respond with “why not?” and it provides great results and opens so many doors. The only danger with it so far has been that if I said it all the time here in Brazil I’d have struggled to make it to Rio for the Olympics in 2016, never mind before the World Cup. Even more than riding a bike more, I think that if more people had the idea of ‘why not?’ they’d enjoy their lives more.
Juiz de Fora – Petrópolis
With the help of Guilherme I got my sandals fixed, only taking a couple of hours after he mentioned my trip. I’d got in touch with Shimano, but Shimano Latin America don’t stock the sandals and so I had to get in touch with Madison – the UK distributor – who will send me a new pair that I’m going to see if Gaz can bring over.
The ride towards Petrópolis was a challenge, as it felt like my brakes were on, and that was either psychological or my failing hub was starting to have more friction. It at least had the joy of climbing up to the Serra dos Órgãos and the very intriguing looking mountain range. The mountains surround Petrópolis, a city only an hour north of Rio but being at 800m a nice amount cooler, so where people like the former emperor, Dom Pedro II, went to get away from the oppressively hot summers.
On the outskirts of town, I went past a fire station, and made the obligatory stop as the sun was going down. The fireman went inside to speak with his chief, but unfortunately came back with bad news – I couldn’t stay due to some regulation. We chatted for a while, as another fireman called around trying to find me somewhere to stay, and then, at 6pm, I was invited to the dining room to have dinner which I of course didn’t turn down. By the end of my 2nd plate, having been told to keep eating more, a fireman came in to tell me that the father at the cathedral was waiting for me. I was also given a Rio Corpo dos Bombeiros baseball cap, and t-shirt before the obligatory photo shoot. Even when they can’t let me stay, bombeiros are fantastic.
I made it the last couple of km into town, to see the steeple of the cathedral lit up in blue and found the father’s house. Father Jacques invited me in and his son, Mauricio, showed me to the bedroom where I would stay, where there was a toasty warm shower and a bottle of icy water.
With only 65km to Rio I was in no rush, so I was all too happy to accept the kind offer of a typical Brazilian breakfast of coffee and bread and to chat with the father and his family before I visited the cathedral, where Dom Pedro II is entombed, and pottered around looking at the distinctively-European-looking Petrópolis. Then it was a glorious 20km descent winding down the mountains towards Rio. It was made much easier by a couple of oversized trucks – big enough to be hitting cones along the side of the road – that I overtook near the top but nothing else managed to overtake before the end of the descent so I had the whole way to myself.
Most of the way into Rio there was a nice shoulder, but not for the last 20km to my host’s place. Just as the shoulder ended, a motorbiker called Alissandro stopped to wave me over. He was excited to talk about my trip and offered me a place to stay at his house near the beach. Having already got somewhere organised, I took down his phone number and hope to meet up with him during my stay. He explained my two options to me to get to Vila Isabel, one of them being Linha Vermelha – Red Line – that has lots of signs saying no trucks, and a couple of smaller ones saying a minimum speed of 40km/h and no bicycles. All those trucks end up on the other option, Avenida Brasil. Neither road has a shoulder, and Alissandro was sure that the Linha Vermelha was the better option. I asked him to ride behind me, so I was more visible.
The Linha Vermelha was full with cars flying by, and even though I had Alissandro riding behind me it was still a bit hairy. His idea was that I grab on to his arm and he pull me along, which seemed a terrible one to me, so I went with the tried-and-trusted method of him sitting behind me and pushing my panniers with his foot. I’d had one random guy in Honduras help me like that, although this was much faster and we went along the side of a very narrow shoulder at 65kmph with a sidewind thrown in for fun. That lasted for about 5 minutes, until he had to turn off and then I kept going by myself going past plenty of police who seemed to not care at all that I was riding illegally down the road.
I made it to the place of my host, Leo, and it’s great to be in Rio. It feels like a real milestone, and a huge city. I’m going to be here for a few days and I’ll be doing some sightseeing, although it’ll be mainly trying to go to famous places like Christ the Redeemer and Pão de Açucar aka Sugarloaf Mountain on the cheap, and maybe visiting a beach or two as it’s decididly warm here, with highs around 30c.
By the way, while City of God is the most famous Brazilian movie that I can think of, Tropa de Elite is a fantastic watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eodyqcxtL4M has the full version on Youtube in HD with English subtitles. Watch it. It’s amazing.
Walking around Petrópolis cathedral