Maceió – Brejo Grande
Maceió, as with many other cities in the north east, is famous for its beaches but I didn’t go to see them on my day off. I mainly caught up on some sleep, and got my bike organised. It was a little strange staying with a host who wasn’t there, but I was still grateful that Vitor had let me stay. I was up by 6 and out by 6:30 on my way out of town and south, with about 600km or so between me and Salvador. There was one more capital city before that, the city of Aracaju which has the UNESCO city of São Cristovao as its neighbour. In the bike shops I’d spoken with some cyclists about the road, and told it had been repaved recently and other than a stretch of 20km with 22 hills it was a pretty easy ride to the state line 145km away.

I went past turn offs to some famous beaches, like Praia do Frances and Praia da Gunga, but wasn’t too tempted to stop and visit. My main breaks through the day were when it started getting ridiculously hot and I needed to get out of the sun for a couple of short naps. By 4pm I was still going OK, although slightly tiring of the landscape which for the 120km had alternated between sugar cane and palm tree plantations, and arrived at the wonderfully named small town of Feliz Deserto (Happy Desert). Looking at the map the night before I’d assumed that I’d get no further, but with the next town being 25km away I had no reason to stop.

I got to the even better named Piaçabuçu (ignoring that ç is said s it sounds like peek-a-boo!) on the banks of the Rio São Francisco, the 3rd most important river in Brazil after the Amazon and the Paraguay. It provides water to some of what would otherwise be the most arid parts of the north-east. The bridge across was 25km further upstream, but there were boats in Piaçabuçu that would take me over to the next state of Sergipe and the town of Brejo Grande. I got into town just as the sun was going down, and headed to the very run-down ferry terminal. The ferry just left, and wouldn’t be back for another hour at best. It only crosses when there are cars, and the watchman told me that after dark that’s pretty uncommon. He suggested I find a small motorboat that would be faster, and a similar price (5 BRL/$2).

I asked around the port and a very drunk guy called Ronaldo decided that he could help me. For some reason it seemed a good idea, and I started following him. He was walking away from the river and I was slightly concerned that he was going to take me down some back street and try to borrow some of my things so I asked him his name and started making small talk with the idea that he’d not want to mug me if he was distracted with talking. After a while I realised that the main danger wasn’t that I was going to get mugged, and more that the guy was so drunk that he had no idea what he was doing. We had walked away from the river a few blocks and were in a main square when I stopped to ask him where we were going. He told me that we were going to his friend’s house because his friend had a boat. I said that surely it’d work better going to the river and pointedly asked some teenagers nearby about where I could find a boat, they pointed to the river and gave me a look of “no, seriously why are you following that drunk guy? abandon him” so I re-directed Ronaldo and started walking towards the river. He then decided that he would take me over himself in his boat, which if it had existed I’d definitely not have got in. We got back to the river side and he was ambling back and forth. The main activity was people swimming in the river, and I barely saw any boats moving around. Ronaldo made a fatal flaw in having a weak bladder and while he went round a corner to relieve himself I ninjad off the other way as quietly as possible to lose him.

It worked! I took an indirect route and found my way to the riverside a few hundred metres downstream where there was a group of guys standing round. They were in their early 20s and had the decided advantage of not being drunk. They knew a guy who would take me over for 25-30, but I decided I’d rather wait for the next day than pay 5x the price. At that moment I saw a guy, called Anderson, in the river arriving with passengers, and went to where he pulled in. I helped him unload the wheelbarrow that his passenger had brought over, and it turned out he was going back across the river cos he lived there. I didn’t ask about price, but he had charged the other guy 10, which I was willing to pay.

It was pitch black by the time we made the crossing, and Anderson was pretty frugal with his torch usage. He got to talking, and I could make out that he was a cyclist too and thought that what I was doing was cool. The combination of him speaking quickly and trying to shout over a motor made it a little hard to understand, but I “yes yes ahhhhhh yes how cool” bluffed my way through the conversation. He asked me if I was planning on staying in town and I said yes but I wasn’t sure where, I just needed a place to put up my hammock or tent. He’d worked for 9 years as night-watchman at the dock and was sure I could stay there, perfect.

It was 7pm by the time we got to Brejo Grande and Anderson helped me get my bike off the boat, and then I met his friend William who was rather drunk. I was given some salted fish and told to sit down and we chatted away. Anderson loves foreigners, and cyclists, so while it was never said I got a free ride across. I was also given plenty of very salty fish and coke to drink. I could have had some of the cachaça that they were drinking, but it seemed better not to. Willian and Anderson were really fun to talk to, and we even played a bit of basketball with the group of kids hanging around, before it got to 9pm and I made my excuses to want to sleep. I’d been told that I should stay in town for a week for carnival, and that next time I was in town they’d take me to go fishing and see the tourist attraction of some waterfalls. Another Brazilian day ending with wonderfully warm people.

Arriving in the dark

Brejo Grande – Pirambu
At about 3am I was woken by rain falling into my tent. I was in the covered area that I’d been directed to, but being at the corner any wind meant I got wet. My first instinct was to pack my laptop up, and then I got out the tent and started looking for a better place. While I was doing so a giant waterfall started falling where my laptop had been 2 minutes earlier, and my tent was quickly becoming a swimming pool. I took everything out and asked the night-watchman if I could sleep in the restaurant area, and he had no problem with that. I’d considered it the night before, but it was a bit noisier and more visible so I’d avoided it with the assumption it wasn’t going to rain – a poor assumption.

I moved everything over, but the inside of my tent was going to take a while to dry out so I slung my hammock up. Getting soaked and the adventure associated with saving everything meant it took a while, but I was back asleep and it was past 7am by the time I woke up with a bummed-up nose which I think I got sleeping in Maceió with the fan blowing at my face all night long.

It was Saturday, and even though it was just 100km (or 130km if a shortcut hadn’t worked out) to Aracaju, I’d arranged to get there on the Sunday so it was time for a short day. 20km out of town I came across a dirt road that would be 50km, rather than the main road being 80km to Pirambu, it would also avoid a stretch on the BR-101 that apparently had very heavy traffic and no shoulder. The dirt road was compact and a lovely for about 42km passing through small communities, being hard packed, having barely no traffic. The problem was the last 8km were corrugated dirt which felt like I was riding over speed bumps for an hour making for a completely miserable end to what had otherwise been thoroughly enjoyable, especially as the rain was bucketing down. It didn’t seem to do anything to make the speed bumps any more ridable, and just meant my bike got filthy.

At the end of the dirt road, it was just a few paved kilometres to Pirambu and a BR petrol station. I cleaned my bike and spoke with the attendants for a while. It was only 40km to Aracaju, and if my host had been replying to emails I might have been able to arrive a night early, but he wasn’t and I stubbornly continue without a phone. I looked around Pirambu, but it seemed kinda dirty and didn’t inspire me to ride around much more. Back at the petrol station I was told I could set my tent up in the covered area that will, one day, be a shop. There was a bit of music, but when it got to 9pm the lights went out and the workers all went home, to be replaced by a single night-watchman.

Pirambu – Aracaju

I was only 40km from the house of Lourenço, my Warmshowers host, which considering I woke up with all the joys of a head cold was very much appreciated. I made slow progress, going past a variety of lodgings that seemed to be mainly made of twigs looked like they had the structural integrity but it was close so that was no problem. There were a few other cyclists out on training rides, as it was a Sunday morning, but I was feeling too crappy to want to talk with them too much.

Just outside Aracaju a white car slowed down and the driver, called Ailton, lent across to offer me a can of coke. I stopped to accept it and we spoke for a couple of minutes before he drove off 100m, stopped and reversed to ask me if I’d had breakfast. I’d had a bit of bread, so was invited to his place, which was just a couple of minutes away!

Ailton invited me up, and while he was preparing breakfast asked me if I wanted a shower, which I definitely didn’t turn down having not showered for a couple of days. Ailton works nights at the local port and had been driving home when he saw me. I didn’t ask him why he stopped, but he likes to ride when he has time so maybe it was that! He brought out plenty of couscous, eggs and fish and told me to serve myself. I did, but he saw free space on the plate and piled more on top. I was asked if I wanted a coffee or a juice, and then given multiple cups of both. We chatted for a while, while watching the state lottery that was on TV and he had a ticket for. I ticked numbers off, but unfortunately he didn’t win.

Even having worked the night before, he was going to an Auto CAD class that afternoon and also had another job. I felt bad keeping him from a much needed nap, so made excuses to leave after thanking him profusely for his help.

I got to Lourenço’s place to find that he and Andrea, an Italian Nuclear Engineer doing some research here, had just left to go to the beach. The security guard at the entrance to the apartment building made a call and within 10 minutes they were back to let me drop my things off, and then we went off to the beach where the Brazilians swam and had fun in the water, while myself and Andrea hid under the umbrella shifting to keep in the shade. The difficulties of being pasty Europeans!