Our arrival in Brazil (Brasil, as it is spelled in Portuguese) was in the middle of a storm, it was long past sunset and it was pouring with rain. Thankfully we had already arranged to stay with a Couchsurfing host, Rogério. From the moment we arrived, dripping wet and exhausted we were treated like family. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to take a much needed break from riding.
Santana do Livramento, the city where Rogério lives is the Brasilian side of a city that straddles the border. The Uruguayan side is called Rivera. Being in one city that is split between two distinctly different countries took us a while to get our heads around. Hearing both Spanish and Portuguese (and a mix of the two, known as Portuñol) being spoken, and using two different currencies was confusing to start with! Rogério taught us a lot about Brasilian life and he invited us to experience some aspects of it with him. We went to an asado at his sister’s house which was amazing and he also took us to a traditional festival just out of town. There was music, dancing and food all of a style typical in the southern region of Brasil. We also visited the school where Rogério teaches English and we met two different groups of students to tell them about our trip and give them a chance to practice speaking english with some native speakers
We stayed a day longer than planned due to another storm rolling in. Even by their normal standards it was a big one, roads and fields became flooded and the thunder was relentless all day. We were more than happy to stay. Rogério took us to visit the new house he is building, it was really interesting to hear about and see the way buildings are constructed here and his new house will be lovely once it’s finished.
After a few days of rest, which included plenty of amazing cake made by Rogério and his mum, we were on our way. Choosing our route through Brasil took a lot of thinking about. Our initial thoughts of taking in more of the Southern states before heading inland to Iguazu Falls were soon rejected after realising that it would be several thousand kilometres. Brasil is absolutely enormous. Eventually we decided to take a fairly direct route north to Iguazu, this actually involved re-entering Argentina in Misiones province which meant our experience of Brasil was very limited. Despite only riding through a sparsely populated corner of the most southerly state, Rio Grande do Sul, we both got enough of a feel of Brasil to know that we want to come back. The scenery was beautiful with red dirt roads running through endless rolling hills, giving us plenty of opportunity to wild camp.
Whenever we did reach a town the people were super friendly, and always wanted to chat. We had a fellow cyclist help us find some accommodation and several others offered us food and water. The Bombeiros in Santiago were big cycling fans themselves and as a parting gift we were given a riding jersey and some stickers for the bikes. Considering we speak almost no Portuguese the hospitality we received was amazing. Before we return to Brasil we will definitely be brushing up on some of the language.
This area of Brasil, Misiones province in Argentina and the eastern side of Paraguay had many Jesuits come from the Spanish and Portuguese empires to organise the indigenous communities into a workforce that could be used to make money. But the missions ran with a degree of autonomy and offered protection from slavery to the indigenous people, so it was actually an attractive prospect for them. The remains of many of the missions can be visited and one of the most impressive sites is at São Miguel das Missões.
Our ride there took us on some fairly terrible dirt roads which were forever undulating, making the riding pretty tiring. The ruins were well worth it though, the impressive remains of what would have been a huge building at the centre of a Jesuit settlement.
Our last stop in Brasil was the small town of Porto Maua and after arriving in the dark (as is becoming quite a regular occurrence with the sun now setting before 6pm) a local family kindly offered their garage for us to camp in. We left early the next morning to catch the boat across the river and re-enter Argentina.
As much as we had enjoyed Brasil, being back in a Spanish speaking country again was great. Buying some supplies in the next town after the border resulted in the longest conversation we had had with a local in quite a while. Making our way through Misiones province was a fun few days. We spent an evening watching a bicycle themed street performance with tiny clown bikes, giant tall bikes, unicycles, stunts – that kind of thing. After speaking to the host (and lead performer) we learned he had actually toured by bike a lot when he was younger, he had cycled to over 50 countries!
We hadn’t planned on stopping much along the way in Misiones as we were both keen to get to Iguazu Falls but upon learning that there was a yerba mate (said ‘mah-tay’) factory on the way that offered guided tours we couldn’t resist. After all, mate is a national institution in Argentina. We learned that nearly all of Argentina’s yerba plants are grown in Misiones (so that’s what we had been riding past for the last few days), and we were shown the process of cutting and drying the plants to eventually make the tea-like drink. It was a really interesting tour, and we were given some free samples of the different types of yerba that the factory produces.
Since leaving Santana do Livramento the riding had been characterised by never ending undulations in the roads, heat and incredible humidity. It hadn’t been the easiest couple of weeks of cycling and we were both feeling exhausted. Arriving in Puerto Iguazu knowing we had some time off the bikes felt fantastic, not to mention we also had one of the natural wonders of the world to go and visit. We’ll tell you about that in the next blog!
Until then we’ll leave you with a few more random phots from the last few weeks,
Ben and Steph