The Expresso Curitiba Hostel has been a great home for two weeks while focusing on work and suffering a rotten cold, I could almost be back in the UK.
One day the city roars with car horns and the national colours of yellow and green as huge pro-impeachment demonstrations rally with civility and passion. Curitiba is the seat to the Lava Jato investigation which is working through the corruption allegations of Brazil’s politicians, most days another figure is arrested but today was the turn of the previous president Lula, accompanied by a raft of bazar stories even Hollywood could not spin. It’s a step towards trying to fix some huge issues faced by the nation but it’s deeply marred with vested interests, first the country might have to tear itself apart to begin anew.
The staff become good friends and I tick off all the items on the delicious crÃªpe menu but it’s time to get moving, into the interior and towards the monster cataratas of IguazÃº.
Passing Parc Birgui on the outskirts the Capybaras are mastering their zen stillness sat in the lake. No one is a match for their staring contests. The road west is a major trucking route for the agricultural heartland of ParanÃ¡ in the south, the caminhÃ£o are my company now as I roll along the wide hard shoulder for the next week. The truck stops become my home, sleeping out back and keeping me fed on endless deep-fried pastries with such options as; cheese, meat, meat and cheese or cheese and meat. For such a big growing region they offer little in the way of vitamins.
Towns are few and far apart, spread between the constant hills of tick verdant forest and fields of grain, maze and oil seed.
Prudentopolis sounds almost Greek but was founded by Ukrainians, 80% of the town still speak the language.
It’s a very rural area and I notice quite a few cars with a fresh red ribbon on the rear bumper. Red is the colour of the Workers Rights Party; currently in power and the side in support of the government and anti-impeachment, it’s a very different atmosphere to cosmopolitan Curitiba. For a month or so while riding I had kept a bright sock flapping on the back of the bike, purely for visibility. However the sock was yellow, I had inadvertently picked a side in the national argument, in an area strong with red. I quietly removed it.
The robbers of Prudentopolis
On the Rio Dos Patos are the Salto Rickli waterfalls and a half decent looking campsite according to the website, but on arrival, at the end of a long dirt track it’s clear it may have had it’s hay day.
The large restaurant is deserted for the weekend, the bar , lawns unkept and pool a murky thick green. The two younger men behind the bar are welcoming, if a little nervous. They tell the story of the beautiful campsite resort and how it became a habitual target for local robbers. With alarming regularity they would hold the staff at gun point for cash or steal a car, often on weekends. The police happy not getting shot at simply avoided intervening, maybe showing up well after in a token gesture.
The waterfalls are grand but there is an eerie atmosphere, each car that turned into the car park put the son of the owner on edge. Jean is more relaxed and the two of us are keen to practice each other’s language over a plate of chicken nuggets, the only meal on the menu now. When closing time comes he offers his home to stay rather than the campsite so I follow him up the dirt track as the sunset lights up a thunderstorm. We rush as the road turns to mud. His grandmother cooks a homely dinner and we chat away the night, testing the others vocabulary and twisting new sentence.
More hills, one beast requires a rest in a stream to cool off while the 34 wheeler trucks labour past. Anyone who’s sped down a hill on a bike will know the joyous surprise of a bug to the face at high-speed, usually with the unnatural odds of striking ones eye, blinding ones depth perception at such a critical moment. The bugs and butterflies are numerous as well as big, it’s amazing the punch a stunningly beautiful Blue Morpho can pack, leaving you dazed and guilty, sorry borboleta.
Brazil has a relaxed notion of relationships, throughout the country I pass love motels, motels with impressive notions of security, half temple of sex, half fortress of privacy. The gates are high and provide secrecy from parking space to credit card bill, all with lavish names and far more regular than normal accommodation.
At a quiet station I sleep next to the pumps with a kitten for company, waking to the morning farmers filling their pickup.
Another truck stop night the buffet has more sweets and pastries than even my calorie chasing sweet tooth can comprehend, to gorge is the only way to reason with it. One fellow diner greets me with a big thumbs up, he passed me before the weekend and shares his table with me. For the first time the night air has a chill and I’m glad to snuggle up in the sleeping bag.
Dark clouds of a wandering mind
During these days Anne and I talk but I’m spending a lot of time on my own, undistracted, over thinking, still hoping for something that’s simply not there anymore. In the midst of leaving Rio I never quite accepted our relationship was over, we still care hugely for each other and now with too much time to think on the bike my understanding warps. I suggest we meet at IguazÃº but she understandably replies “sorry but it’s too soon” the reality hits me in the middle of a jungle, hard. It’s over. Half of me is terrified of how I got so deluded. It was so obvious.
I’ve never been strong in such situations and the nervous breakdown on the side of the road crushes me, hyperventilating alone, a very long way from anywhere. This would be the dark side of traveling solo. It had been a dream to be part of her life but it was time to wake. It’s the same old story of the human heart we’re all familiar with. I owe Anne a huge thanks for dealing kindly with the silly emotional wreck of an Englishman in the jungle.
The hills keep rolling with the odd village, fazenda and lone bus stop, I’m feeling empty, just turning the cranks. Everywhere I have been on the bike some people always stop and watch me pass, if I catch their eye I give a nod and a smile which I nearly always receive back but here I notice – especially with the younger men, they just stare at the bike and don’t react, it’s unnerving but I understand what I look like to some people out here. Ride on.
Rain arrives alarmingly quickly, my black waterproof jacket sealed away for months in my pannier is thick with a yellow dusting of mould. I wash it in the rain and wonder what will cause me more ill-health.
One really nice touch to the Brazilian road network in the south are the regular vehicle rescue company outposts. Log cabins every twenty miles or so have a small waiting room with free facilities including coffee for anyone passing. They become very welcome sights.
Rains all day but flattened out, get further than expected. Virgilio seemingly oblivious to the thundering trucks and water enthusiastically waves me down to take a few photos and share some stories, he’s a well-timed ray of sunshine on this dismal day. A puncture halts me over a beautiful valley view, it’s nice to have an excuse to just sit and stare sometimes.
One last night sleeping round the back of a truck stop on the ground, stars above and a slight smell of piss coming from the walls around. I book a hostel for tomorrow.
Welcome to Iguazu
Closing in on Iguazu the billboards for Paraguay’s cheep household goods and technology get grander, Brazil’s heavy tax makes a busy trade for its border town neighbours. One final truck stop buffet to fill up before the tourists prices kick in and we’re back in civilisation. I spend a day just sleeping and doing laundry while the other guests go for trips, mentally I need to readjust, the ride is over but with reality claiming the fantasy I cooked up I’ve cheated myself from any sense of closure. It’s a strange moment.
Monkeys roam the canopy above the breakfast area, Coatis, Agouti roam the lawn. It’s nice to talk english for the first time in a week with the other tourists. The trail to the waterfalls is packed as we shuffle along the edge of one of natures grandest spectacles. Hundreds of waterfalls make up nearly three kilometers of river which drops about 250 feet into a gorge. Devils Throat thunders and trembles with hydraulic power. Both Brazilian and Argentinian sides have dramatic walkways out over the raging gravity but the rich clouds of butterflies on the southern side are a calming joy in themselves. Riding over the border for an afternoon in a foreign country gets fun when I realise I enter with no local currency or means of getting money, luckily the helpful park attendant accepts my Brazilian R$ which just covers things. The park welcomes with one of the best road signs I’ve had the pleasure of passing “Slow down, Jaguars”, in a car it makes sense but on a bike I’m left wondering if I’m indented as Jaguar bait.
A few miles away is the Itaipu Dam, one of the seven wonders of the modern world, this man-made version on the adjacent falls is shared across the border powering 90% of Paraguay and boasting one of the largest man-made feat of our time, it’s a strange human competition to Iguazu’s behemoth nature.
Paraguay Day Trip
Green Hostel friends D’Arcy; friendly Canadian (they always are), John; Stoner Aus camper van businessmen (they always are) and I walk the bridge to Paraguay. The boldness of the street traders has us laughing. Stood next to the shotgun caressing border guards are groups of men with flyers for local discount electronics and fashion labels, they immediately ask “You want memory cards, cocaine or guns” it’s a nice mix with an implied normality. We are followed for some time as they try to hawk SD cards to the gringos until D’Arcy notices the stickers over the cards capacities, a quick peel and they go try their luck elsewhere. There are some impressively creative brand forgeries; GoHero, Rraun, Beats but Dr Ray, but the prices are still strangely higher than that of Europe. I bag a small watch as a keepsake, I got three weeks out of the battery which was more than we had joked.
The plan had been to continue south to Argentina and the life long wonder of Patagonia, but things weren’t feeling right, the southern hemisphere winter was closing in, turning the ride into a race, my kit was not wholly prepared but pressingly my mental state was far from ready. The solitude and the ending of the relationship was hurting, recognising a mental low was hard, I needed to save the dream of Patagonia for another day. By coincidence my sister and some friends would be in the United States, exactly what my spirits needed, a dramatic change of plans maybe, but a fortunate one. In the space of a week a new set of schemes get set in motion, to California and a chance to see my sister, except she dint know it.
Time for a playful surprise.
Leaving Brazil was far tougher than I dare to imagine. The bus takes me back to Rio, it feels like an unraveling of the efforts of my bike The Honey Badger and I, back to Start. In Rio the taxi necks a beer before driving me with action film aspirations to my destination, rock blasting, my faith clinging on, adrenalin junkie laughing. I pass through Anne’s to collect belongings, she’s working the night shift followed by her first day of surgery, the inspiring soul that she always is. We don’t cross paths. I say good-by to the animal family; Ziggy, ChicÃ³ria and Migau. Excess belongings are left with a local church, the young volunteer asks of my day; through broken Portuguese I try to get some of the honest emotion out, he’s the first to ask me. No matter the language all people are united in understanding when they see another at a low point.
Tchau tchau Brazil, with a whisper.
Stats & Maps