Friday, December 21, 2007

On The Road Again, Rio and the coast south...

Well, much to my amazement, and a few other people as well I am sure, we are back on the road.

On monday as previously stated we headed to Macae where we went looking for a suitable bearing. Rodrigo was sure we would fine one, I was a bit more pessimistic but what the hell, I didn’t want to depress him too much. Sure enough, the first place we went to didn’t have the bearing, but said that they should be able to get it by tomorrow. Ok, sounded good. Just in case we checked a couple of other places, but little luck. So we headed back to Casimiro empty handed. I spent the afternoon, doing some additional work on the bike so it wasn’t a total loss.

The following day we headed back and picked up the bearing, it was of course not the correct one. The bearing I needed is a 61917C3 bearing, the bearing I got was a 61917 which was close but not quite correct. If you have read my blog/web you may remember the transmission work I did last year where a C3 bearing was required. Basically, a C3 bearing has a larger internal clearance, allowing it to work with high heat, and not wear as quickly. I had explained all this the previous day, to no avail apparently. It turns out that they had called around to all the importers and there was simply no such bearing to be had in Brazil!! So I had to take it. The alternative would have been to hang out here for the next 10 days or so and hope I could get it directly from Europe. I decided to take my chances and try to continue and have the correct bearing sent to me in Montevideo. Luckily the seal was available, so we now had the parts necessary to put everything back together.

While in Macae, we decided to see about getting me a new rear tire as Rodrigo didn’t have one in his shop. We checked a couple of shops and finally find one. Not just any tire, but a tire I had been looking to try for quite a while now, the Michelin Sirac tire. We asked for the price, considering ourselves lucky to have found a tire and getting ready to take it and head home. Not quite that simple. The salesman said that he couldn’t get the price since the internet connection was down! What? Sure enough, after checking around, asking someone in the back, he came back with the same line, no internet, no price, no tire. Rodrigo and I could just look at each other and laugh. Ok, we would wait a bit and see if they got their internet back. After an hour we had to give up and head back. No internet, no tire, no sale!

Back at the shop I got everything back together, with a few minor problems, but nothing that a machinist and a lathe couldn’t solve. Not to mention a press and a cooking stove. The first was that the brake guard had to be re-machines as taking it out had been damaged a bit. They weren’t able to machine a new one, but we cleaned up the old one and made a tool to help install it. Next was that we used a press to put the bearing on the gear and the cooking stove to put the bearing into the cover. Nothing to it.

The following days, the bike was back on the road. We had decided to take a day and test everything, not to mention try to get the tire in Macae, maybe their internet would be working. The test ride was north to Nuovo Freiburgo. A city founded by a group of Swiss who had migrated here. The ride was fantastic, it went up along a valley and followed the Sana river for a while before crossing some hills over to another river. The town itself is pretty much a typical Brazilian town with few hints of its Swiss past, such as some of the street names, or a few building here and there. The main thing that you notice about Nuovo Freiburgo, is that is seems to be the lingerie capital of Brazil. Something which was completely unexpected, but there you have it.

After Nuovo Freiburgo, we headed back down to Macae and low and behold, after speaking to someone else, who apparently didn’t need the internet, but did need a telephone and someone in the back, came back with a price. I ended up getting the tire for 150B$ which is around 50% of what it is worth. Not bad, we took the tire and hightailed it out of there before they came after us with another price. The bike was running fine, there was no vibration or any other sign that the bearing wasn’t working, so we decided to get on the road again.

As luck would have it, rain had caught up with us again. The morning dawned wet and dark, we said out goodbyes to everyone and headed out in the direction of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Too bad that it was raining so much. Rio was awesome. From Niteroi you go over a long bridge from where you have a great view of both the bay and the city of Rio, and the hills around the city and the bay. Then you head into town on an elevated highway where you glimpse some beautiful architecture downtown, the port on the opposite side and finally you end up on the world famous Copacabana beach road. It really is a very scenic and interesting town. We will have to come back one day when we have more time and hopefully better weather. Not to mention that I will avoid it during the x-mas shopping rush.

After that the next highlight (I will avoid discussing the miles of strip malls and traffic south going in Barra and Recreio) was the road south of Itaguai. Just fantastic is a good start. The road goes along a rough coastline, full of hills, valleys, islands, bays with some very scenic towns, a nuclear powerplant and a road that gives you some fantastic views of everything. Too bad there are so many great curves that you have to choose between enjoying the ride or enjoying the view!! It is something like a cross between northern California, the east and the west coast of Canada. Enjoyable even in the rain.

Although the rain didn't let up during the two days it took us to get back to Sao Paulo, it is a ride I will not soon forget. I can only imagine what it all would have looked like in dry sunny weather.

Luckily for us the welcome that we got at the Pousada dos Franceses made us quickly forget all the rain. It was a real "homecoming" for us, and it should be a wonderful x-mas among our extended family here.

So we hope that all of you enjoy your Christmas where ever you might be in this world.

Merry Christmas from Katheryna and myself.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stuck in Casimiro de Abreu and stories from the Litoral

Merry x-mas

Ten days after leaving Cumbuco and our kite surfing career behind we find ourselves in Casimiro de Abreu, a bump in the road in the state of Rio Janeiro. After three or four days of making "strange" vibrations the final drive on Strider finally died, almost leaving us stranded on the side of the road. Luckily even after having lost all the oil in the final drive due to a blown seal, the bike made it 10km back to the last town we passed, namely Casimiro de Abreu.

This is how a bad day can start...

Here we were directed to the only bike mechanic in town, where I took the bike and waited while Katheryna checked the hotel situation. After checking all 3 hotels in town we ended up taking a reasonable pousada right across from the mechanic, so we unloaded everything and I got started dismantling the bike.

Rodrigo and I hard at work, and finally the offending part..

With the help of Rodrigo, the friendly mechanic we got the final drive apart, and after having a look at the parts, he seemed certain that we would be able to get the bearing and seal in Macae, the next larger town, 60km away. Unfortunately it was now Saturday afternoon so everything would have to wait until Monday, when he would drive me and the parts to Macae to see if we could find what we needed. In the meanwhile I got to do some other minor work on the bike (re-soldered the brushes I had to install in Canoa Quebrada for example), and spent much of my time answering questions about the trip and the bike from all the customers who had heard that a couple of travelers were in town, and had found an excuse to come by and have a look. As always the bike is a real people magnet.

Marcos Szerman

One of the customers Marcos, who was having some work done on his bike invited us to a beer later which we took him up on. Turns out he has a ranch nearby and he had been to Switzerland 8 times to buy cattle for cross breeding. This turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Over a few beers and a pizza in a local restaurant, we talked about his career as a financial lawyer which he gave up in order to do some ranching. He also spent some time in the U.S. as an exchange student, and later buying cattle for his breeding operation, so we also got to talk about places we both know. In return Katheryna and I regaled him and his girlfriend Allessandra about traveling abroad and in Brazil.

Waterfall on the Sana

The following day Marcos and Allessadra invited us to take a ride to the nearby town of Sana, where there are some great waterfalls and pools on the Sana river. The area is a former hippy hangout, which still has a collection of people leading an "alternative" lifestyle, i.e. neo-hippies. The area was really beautiful, with hills and the river running through everything. There was even a house which had two streams of water running through it, to a pool with a fountain in the middle.

Katheryna enjoying the cool waters of the Sana river.

We spent a wonderful afternoon, walking along a path along the river having a look at various small falls and pools along the river. Marcos regaled me with more stories of his fascinating life, which included, among other things running a real estate business, looking for breeding cattle all over the world, running a construction company, managing a number of properties and of course his first career as a financial lawyer, which he abandoned in order to concentrate on his real passion, his farm. The farm on which he now mainly produces feed for horses, and fattens up beef cattle for other people is his great joy as he doesn't enjoy living in a large city anymore. As he is sure that we won't be leaving too soon, he has promised to take us to have a look at it on Monday or Tuesday and give Katheryna a chance to do some horse riding.

Canoa Quebrada

Getting to Casimiro de Abreau has taken us along some of the nicest and most interesting part of Brazil, mainly the Littoral or beach road(s). The highlights being places like Canoa Quebrada, south of Fortaleza. With sand dunes, red sandstone cliffs, some nice beaches and a distinct hippie "vibe", is definitely a place where one could spend quite a bit of time. Unfortunately, like many other similar places along the coast, it is also relatively expensive and upscale for us, mainly due to the fact that a lot of foreigners and locals have discovered that these places are a "must see" on the coast tour. Other similar places, Praia da Pipa, Porto da Galhina, the beaches south of Ilheus, Arraial d' Ajuda, and Caraiva are all similar in the clientel if not necessarily in scenery. Praia da Pipa, has some cliffs, coves and nice beaches. Porto da Galhina, has a protected lagoon, wide beaches and plenty of barracas. Ilheus has lots of very nice looking accommodations south along a very long stretch of wild beach, and also has a nice lagoon in the middle of the city. Arraial d' Ajuda, has a narrow beach and lots of beach side accommodations. Caraiva has no cars, dark water and empty beaches (oh, and a pretty nasty 30km dirt road to get there, where in the end you have to park your car, and take a small boat over to the village). More to our tastes were for example Praia Tabuba, where we found one of the nicest accomodations we have had anywhere, the Pousada Arco Iris, build and run by Heinz Widmer a swiss, who has been here since the mid 90's. In all of Brazil, this is the best value for money accommodations we have seen, and although a bit dear for us, was definitely worth the visit. The beach is a wide bay, which during the week is deserted, and on the weekend (as everywhere else on the beaches in Brazil) full of locals.

Port da Galinhas

In addition to these "highlights" there were plenty of other places which we would have liked to spend more (sometimes less) time in. Natal had plenty of beaches which looked pretty nice, but we would definitely have skipped Ponta Negra, which turned out to be a spot packed with tourist and locals along a narrow strip of sand, if we had known what we were getting into. But of course Ponta Negra is an "in" spot. The beaches of Joao Pessoa, looked pretty nice, but we had no time, we only came here to have a look at the western most spot on the contient. We also went through Olinda and Recife. Olinda was pretty interesting with some very nice architecture, but no real beach. For that you needed to go further south to Recife, which we just drove through.


On this quick journey we met some interesting people a couple of which I would like to share with you. Besides Heinz, who I mentioned above, we have met a couple of other interesting Swiss on the road, for example a gentleman from Geneva who came over to us in Cumbuco at the gas station, and after a few questions and comments he was so impressed with our trip that he pulled a 50B$ bill out of his wallet, and put it in my hand and said he was sponsoring us a tank full of gas, and then drove off. In Arraial d' Ajuda we met Pedro, or Peter from Biel, who has been here for around 20 years. He flagged us down as we were riding by and invited us to a beer in his little seaside workshop. Turns out he has travelled all over the world in various modified buses. He showed us the bus he was working on now, which if he finished it would be taking off in October for a few months of South America touring with room for around 8 to 13 people ( Turns out that besides the workshop where the bus was, has three houses and a restaurant on his piece of land. During the hour or two we spent talking I had a look at his travel maps on the wall of his shop and was duly impressed with his travels. The map of South America had so many routes marked that they looked like rivers running all over the continent, very impressive.

So now it is just a matter of waiting for Monday to see how the story continues, stay tuned...

Technorati Tags: , , , ,