Monday, April 29, 2013

Rio, Sao Paulo, Uruguay

The ride to Rio de Janeiro was the best part of a 1000 miles, and all but the last 200 were pan flat. The road was lined by hundreds and hundreds of miles of sugarcane, in fields stretching beyond the horizon. I had witnessed what I thought to be large-scale sugarcane farming in Queensland, Australia, but by comparison it was like a small holding. Ethanol is on sale everywhere in the fuel stations as a petrol alternative and I believe up to 20% of normal petrol sold here has ethanol in it. So it represents an important part of the economy.
I rather forgot to take photos of the flat lands, but remembered to start again up in the hills...I found this chap enjoying the view and had a bit of a chat.

A friendly gang of bikers on their way to a bike gathering outside Rio...they kindly asked me along, but my plans were in place

The rights and wrongs of this are complex. On one hand the use of largely carbon neutral fuel is a huge positive, which combined with a near 90% of all electrical generation being provided by hydro and great efforts to recycle makes it probably one of the world's more environmental practitioners in terms of energy pollution, it is counter balanced by ferocious deforestation. Although on the decline through tightening enforcement, it is still destroying hundreds of thousands of acres per year with the potentially frightening global climate changing consequences.

The anticipation of visiting Rio has been long acute. I guess it conjured up a heady blend of excitement and romance. True enough, riding into town one quickly notices the extraordinary natural setting of bays, sheer mountains and extraordinary beaches. It was the capital for a long time so there are many historical buildings going back to the foundations of the country, contrasted by sharp new office towers.

In side the City Library...for some reason I hardly took any snaps of the older parts of town...probably too engrossed in the story of the city

War memorials

These stairs have had tiles sent to the creator from all over the world. Typical of much of the colour and energy of the place.
My purpose, beyond seeing the city, was to meet one of our artists, Michel Cox. He had joined us since I'd been away, so it was good to meet him and his team. We had a very enjoyable and fascinating lunch together. His success as an artist in Brazil and our hopes for expanding that around the world was part of our chat, the other being the possibilities of setting up a branch of the agency in São Paulo. This was an idea he had a great deal of useful thoughts on, so it will be interesting to see how it develops. I was due to go to São Paulo the following week, so I was all the more prepared.

This was about the first city I had been to in South America that did not have various "free" walking tours available, so I got in touch with a fee-based one. I turned out to be the only client and had the delights of Luciana all to myself. Great in terms of undiluted and undisturbed immersion in the tour, but the bonus of meeting other travellers denied.

Being alone in a city, for me, is not the greatest fun, particularly of an evening. I was offered cocaine and hash as soon as I set foot outside the rather rundown hotel I was in, and although in a party central area, it did not entice me to find any. Language, shyness and age being the main reasons.

Copacabana Beach. I know it should be of lots of Bikini clad beauties...but there where disappointingly few...mid week and out of season I guess

I made two attempts to go up to the mighty "Christ the Redeemer", that famous statue of Christ, arms held wide, looking down over the city. The first time the train was not running so I went back to the hotel and jumped on Batty, programming the GPS to get me there. It was a great journey climbing up through cooling and finer ancient streets of the city. As I approached the summit it became all too apparent that the threatening clouds had got to the top of the mountain before me, and the ticket clerk for the final ascent more than fairly refused to take my money. Hope on the next two mornings of finally getting there were dashed for the same reason. Though a disappointment, I still saw some amazing views from the trip up.

Christ the Redeemer looking down over the city. I was in the park fronting the beach
When I've remembered, I have tried to get a film to watch pertinent to a place I'm in. For Rio, it was a favourite Michael Caine film called "Blame it on Rio", Acapulco was "Buster" with Phil Collins, and now that I am in Uruguay "Battle of the River Plate" awaits viewing.

São Paulo was a two day ride and about half way is the seaside resort of Ubatuba, I was probably the only tourist in place, now that it was 3 months passed the season, even the camping sites were closed. The only reason really for mentioning the place was that the next day, on the ride out of town I came across a large crowd of people around a stationary lorry, practically blocking the road. As I edged past I saw a mangled up motorbike under one of the axles and I'm afraid a pair of feet poking out from a bloody tarpaulin. The police had arrived by the time I passed, but the dismay and horror of the crowd was very infectious. I imagine it was a local girl somehow caught up in a careless manoeuvre on either her part or the lorry drivers. This was the second death that I had witnessed on the road, the previous one being in Honduras.

 São Paulo is home to between 18 and 40 million people, depending on who you talk to and what area they designate the city by. Either way it is one of the world's largest and tower blocks stretch beyond all horizons, making New York almost village like. I was only there for a couple of days of sightseeing and it took nearly another getting in and out. I had wanted to feel the place from a commercial point of view, which left no illusion as to it's wealth and sophistication. Alas there is a sizable number of homeless who scatter themselves underneath many of the cities' road bridges in houses of cardboard and salvaged materials, not making trouble, but in search of dreams by and large. A place of huge contrasts. The subway/underground system is very modern and efficient, and being added to all the time in preparation for the Olympics and the World Cup.

It rained a lot when I was there...a quick snap of some of the others on the tour...
Rawdon, my brother-in-law, had been in contact with a couple of fanatical windsurfers in their successful combined international pressure to retain windsurfing as an Olympic sport. He had introduced them via Facebook and very generously Kasuo blindly invited me over for dinner with his family along with fellow windsurfers, Raul and Fernando.  Apparently Kasuo's wife had asked him if he knew me, and was I a Hell's Angel?  He did not have an answer, but maybe it was relief mixed in with the big welcome that I saw in their faces when I walked out of the lift. They live in a smart part of town, and 22 storeys up in a very new apartment block….the warm welcome and fabulous views overcame my wobbly height-fearing legs and we had a great evening, ending with Raul insisting on driving me the 30 minutes back to my dodgy hotel, before he headed home, an hour and half away.

Raul, Filipe, H, and Fernando

The view from Kasuo's apartment

Kasuo, making a photo shoot of Batty the next day infront of the Pioneers sculpture

The next week was largely taken up with work things, and housed myself in the pretty seaside village of Praia do Rosa. Again I was alone in the hotel for much of the time, and had excellent wifi connections for our 5 hour video conference call. We worked through all that had happened over the last quarter, and the plans for the next. As ever the energy and enthusiasm of the business goes on unabated, and my return all the more excites…for me that is.
In the office
 You may have noticed no comment had been made about Batty so far on this post. All the way across the country and down into Rio de Janeiro all had been going fine and apart from the odd adjustment to a cable or some such, it had been a very smooth run. I had noticed it and had rather optimistically thought that she knew she was on her way home, and did not want to cause any trouble. By and large this remains the case, however since I had put on a cheap rear tyre early on in Brazil, punctures had started being a regular occurrence. These gave cause for greater interaction with my host population than practically anything else. Two occurred on the trip between Rio and São Paulo and both were readily and easily solved either by being bang next to a Gomaria, the tyre fixers, or by my old friends the road rescue crews that patrol the main roads (tolled).
Not the best example, but the whole of South America honor their dead most elaborately. In Brazil there are often what I first took to be beautifully kept cottages, housing their forebears.

I got bored of the flat coast road and found some beautiful gravel roads up into the hills

Only trouble was that I got a puncture, the policeman pictured with this family, found me and asked the family if they could look after the bike, whilst he took me a couple of miles down the road to get it fixed. When we got back, they had lunch prepared and insisted that I join them...a puncture well worth having.


A beautiful camp spot, but pretty cool after dark

Such had the daily disintegration of the kevlar bike trousers, that I found some material in Sao Paulo and did a perfectly awful job of patching them...but it works.

2 more punctures complicated the next couple of days. The last one, on the final leg to Uruguay was 70 miles from a town, in a National Park region. The rear tyre had disintegrated and there was no way to fix it…off came the wheel (now only taking a minute or 2) and I locked up the bike as best I could and raised my thumb for a ride.
The end of the road for this tyre.

Batty all locked up. taken from across the road as I started trying to hitch.
A local farmer stopped and called the police for help. He advised me to stay with the bike and the police would be along in and hour…'mas o minus'. Having taken the opportunity to fix a few niggles on the bike, oiled the chain, topped up the gearbox oil etc, the  2 and a half hours until they came seemed to go quite quickly. After the obligatory documents check, they set about helping me. They called up a local park warden to come along with his trailer so that they could safely store the bike, whilst they loaded me and the wheel in the back of the car and took me the 70 miles to town. It was a journey that was to take me 2 hours later that evening, but they did it in 50 minutes. It was a unique experience to be above the law, with the law, as they drove at 90-100 miles an hour along 40-60 mile an hour restricted roads. The local Honda dealer fitted a new Pirelli tyre, pointing out that the old one was a poorly done retread….I had thought £30 was a bargain at the time.
My Police best friends. Isnar is on the left and I think Juan. International relations at it's finest.
 The 2 police officers had by this time become very friendly and conversing with a bit of school room English and Spanish, we had a great old time of it. They flagged down a lorry and instructed the somewhat bemused driver, Marcello, to take this luckless English man back to the park rangers, which he kindly did. This whole experience was very much in tune with how the people of Brazil have treated me…with generosity and kindness, and my appreciation of the country is very high.

Despite Brazil being the last country to ban slavery in the 1890s, there is hardly any racism and people from the world over happily mingle and prosper (by and large) harmoniously together as any society I have witnessed. That is not to say they don't have issues that flair up from time to time, and corruption within government selfishly rotting away the opportunities of many.  Nevertheless Brazil's rapidly rising wealth and influence in the world should benefit the whole region, whilst bringing flare and colour to the world's high table.

Reimon and I had met in Buenos Aires, by introduction of Fabiana, and he had kindly said we should meet at the Brazil/Uruguay border town of Chuy. Sure enough there he was on his new Royal Enfield at the appointed hour and place. South we drove for a couple of hours or so to his summer house on the coast at Jose Ignacio. I write from there, enjoying homely comfort and good company before heading onto Montevideo.
With Reimon, a man who makes his 61 years seem many decades in the future
Outside a local RE dealership, that only opens for the summer time trade
At Punte del Este on our way to lunch with a pal of his called Sergio. They are both in the paper business as sort of friendly rivals, both now single, and both having a ball.
Why can't their be more fun bridges in the world. These are such fun, and give the place an extra dimension. I am sure it puts a smile on the face of everyone crossing it...everytime.
The good ship Grande Cameroon is the vessel assigned to ferry Batty and self to Europe. The times and options for disembarkation ports are changing by the day, with the options shrinking to Antwerp or Hamburg, at the last count. I guess it will continue to evolve over the voyage, so have adopted a relaxed and philosophical attitude…whatever the route, it is all part of the trip and will be fun and fascinating.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brazil, travelers meeting, lots of camping, running repairs and Dams

"So what time should I turn up?" I asked Alex, referring to Maria's birthday party. "After 11:30 PM" he said.

Apparently a typical time to start a party in BA (Buenos Aires). It was Saturday night and after a day of writing the last blog and doing a bit of tourist stuff I made sure that I had an ample siesta that evening to accommodate these late hours that seemed to be nothing but the norm.
By 3:30 AM it was time for me to go after a jolly evening, certainly on my part however requiring most of the conversation to be in English did make it a wee bit more taxing for my fellow guests, although they all seem to speak English near fluently. I was the to second leave, apparently Maria and Alex got to bed after 7 AM, again the norm.
It was the second gathering that I had been kindly asked to marking Maria's 26 years. The first had been at her mother's apartment in central BA, which is great fun but a little earlier, starting at 9:30 PM.

I always enjoying going to art museums, BA has two excellent ones, one modern The Malba,  and the other The National Museum of Fine Arts,  and enjoyed what remained of the following day in amongst fabulous collections largely from an era when BA was one of the richest capitals in the world during the 1920s.

 I had met John on my previous visit to BA, on the free walking tour. We had exchanged numbers and met up to do some further sightseeing. It was my last day there and he generously said that we would do anything I wished. He had been in the city for a couple of months, and had another month to go so was on a pretty relaxed schedule. One of the most visited spots in the city is the La Recoleta Cemetery, where many of the great and good from Argentina are laid to rest. It is remarkable for its architectural extravagance and variety. One thing you quickly realise is that almost every name on the tombs are also the names of streets in the city.
right in the heart of the city


Eva Peron and family vault
Wanting a moment's respite from all the delicious yet non-stop abundant meat, it was suggested to go to Chinatown and have lunch there. This we did enjoying soups and noodles of the same quality that you would find in any Chinatown around the world. John is very good company, having spent a life time in the US education system and teaching extensively abroad, his world knowledge and variety interests made for an enlightening day.

Back in Misiones with Alex, a couple of days later we caught up with Georg and Jacek, bike travellers from the Panama - Columbia crossing. They were going to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Iguazu and were drifting around that part of the world for 10 days. We had a fine dinner and the next day I left for Brazil, intending to head towards Rio.
Jacek, Alex, H, and Georg

Good bye to Alex after a great visit and generous hosting

On the ferry boat between Argentina and Brazil

A rather odd picture of some shocking needle work in a desperate bid to keep my bike trousers, with their kevlar lining, going till the end of the trip
However once in Brazil I did some sums and worked out that there was time to join them at the meeting, so dropped Georg and Jacek a line suggesting we met up. This was agreed and a day later we had hooked up in Brazil and spent the next week camping and slowly riding to the meeting. It was the first time I had actually ridden with others on the whole trip for anything other than a few hours, and was great fun. Of course there was a bit of a miss match of speed, they having machines with 10x the horse power of Batty,  however they tended to  stop after a few hours riding and was never more than a few tens of minutes before Batty loomed into view.
Brazilians have been generous to a fault....this nameless man bought me lunch quite out of the blue. The following night we all had dinner laid on for us at a campsite, prompted by a local DJs excitement at having 3 travelers in town
The son of the campsite owner dreaming of adventure...well actually his greatest interest was UK football, and seemed to know every team and player in the league...I was not a great fellow enthusiast, which perplexed him.

I got a little lost on one of the legs, but enjoyed every moment when roads take you to scenes like this.

Across a railway bridge that doubled as a road crossing as well

One interesting incident was being stopped by the police. Documents were pleasantly demanded, however my driving license turned out not to be valid without an international license. I hesitated to show the out of date one that I still had, but did in the end and they were 'just' ok about it. Subsequently having taken advise from my fellow travelers, we set about 'ageing' the out of date license so that the expiry date was rather obscured…..

The south west of Brazil is a lovely area…pretty rather than spectacular, and reminded me of West Dorset or apparently areas of the Black Forest in Germany.
Spending time with these 2 was great fun. They are both married and have families in Switzerland and Poland respectively, and get great support from them whilst on their journey. Jacek has a factory in Poland making socks and supplying the likes of Tesco in the UK, and George ran a top notch men's clothing chain in Switzerland until it was sold a couple of years back. So we had an amount in common in terms of business and managing things whilst on an extended journey.
Georg and Jacek...camping in the rain

Pre-cooking the bangers on the BMW's cylinder...made for it

Georg serving up another delight

Jacek disrupting a rather staid dance with some more expressive dance moves to the delight and dismay of the rather grown up dancers.

A small village down in a valley

They had been traveling together for much of the last 4 months and had camping down to a fine art. Georg at the stove every night creating delights and Jacek, with a new helper, at  the washing up. We all needed wifi and found campsites with a degree of access. It was a rather charmed life for those days.

On the final day's run to Foz do Iguazu where the HUBB meeting was, I had 2 punctures. The first from a nail, the second from a badly fitted inner tube…a rather frustrating time, but got to the meeting place 4 hours after Georg and Jacek, where they had cold beer awaiting.
The roads are patrolled by the most efficient service that is rather like the RAC or AA in the UK, but it is free...the guy on the left was to the rescue within 10 minutes of each of my punctures, and this truck took Batty 10 miles down the road to a bike shop to sort out the second blow out. He too arrived inside 10 minutes from the radio call...amazing service.
A consequence of numerous knocks and bangs over the miles lead to the rear brake to collapsing, quickly followed by 2 of the 3 seat bolts riping out of their metal brackets just before Foz. Help was at hand in the form of Rodolfo, who was running the meeting, with an introduction to a  mechanic. However it was Easter weekend, so had to wait for the Monday before anything could get done.

The meeting was a good gathering of like minded and interested folk…not a huge number, but the highlight for me was riding across Itaipu dam, a hydro electricity plant that provides 17% of the countries electricity.
Raul, Hugo, David, Georg, and Jacek watching a bike movie at the Iguassu Motorcycle Travellers Hostel

Rodolfo on right next to his creation. He does a lot to help people buy and sell bikes legally to each other. There are lots of slightly dodgy ways that bikes  are exchanged between travellers, but he does it properly, which has to be worth it.

The Itaipu dam

The press were out, capturing our historic ride across the dam

40 kgs of rib, 10 hours in the cooking...
Batty is back today, Tuesday after the full treatment from Luciano and Naldo at G&B motors. Several new parts milled and turned for the rear brake and a near as dam it new seat, all at a price that would leave western mechanics in a state of shock.
Luciano and Naldo after seeing Batty back on the road

The seat back with beautifully repaired brackets etc. Riding with the seat wobbling about and at a precarious angle was not a bundle of joy.

Tomorrow is the start of a 3-4 day ride to Rio. I am beginning to sense a slight de-mob, or end of term feeling as the last weeks of this trip begin...a lot of happiness at the thought of seeing all my old friends and family again after such a long time, coupled with tinges of sadness at the end of a life of constant movement and daily new discoveries.