We sneak into Salvador on a Sunday to avoid the crazy city traffic and settle ourselves into a campsite. With typical Brazilian hospitality we are invited by neighbours to join their Sunday party - it is Brazil and it is the weekend after-all!
Life in our campsite revolves around our new friends and neighbours, Rodrigo, Sabrina and Bernando (they are permanent residents of the site) and our days fly past in a blur of social events. Everyone is HORRIFIED that we are driving on 20yr old tyres, so much so, that we are forced to look closely at our tyres - they really do look dangerous now! A week of head-banging frustration later we finally find someone who not only sells tyres but they also supply the liners, inner tubes AND fit them all in one place. Nothing is simple here.
Salvador is a special place, more African than Brazilian in culture, it has a vibrancy that we have not experienced in interior Brazil. We are sad to say goodbye to the city, our friends and the humpback whales who have arrived at our beach for the breeding season.
Terreiro de Jesus, Candomble women, Salvador port and fort, campsite monkey and Sabrina cooking another superb pudding.
It’s time to start bush camping on the lovely beaches of Brazil and we only manage to drive a few kilometres before we are tempted by a beach. The next day we drive to a small fishing village called Siribinha (that our friend Rodrigo recommended) and we’re delighted to find ourselves in a ‘mini Thailand’ with fabulous beaches where locals ride horses bareback or cycle between the villages. The men fish in dugout canoes and then carry their catch home in handmade woven baskets and the women do their laundry in the rivers. Everywhere we look there are powder white sand beaches edged with swaying palm trees. If this is what east coast Brazil is going to be like then we are going to LOVE it!
Lula, the Brazilian president, has improved the roads and bridges of Brazil immeasurably but there is still much to be done. A lot of the asphalt roads are full of large holes (enterprising youths fill the holes in the hope of being thrown some money) or a patchwork of bad repairs. Some of the coastal villages still rely on ferries to link them to their nearest neighbours and our aim is to follow the coast as much as possible using these small ferries to cross the rivers. It really is a wonderful way to travel. Our days are spent driving through lovely scenery and our nights are spent sleeping on quiet beaches by small villages. Some of these villages are so small that they don’t have a bakery so twice a day a motorbike delivers freshly baked rolls. The 6.30am delivery is perfectly timed for our breakfast - fresh rolls delivered to us on a beach - it reminds us of Agonda beach in India.
Penedo is a colonial town that sits on the edge of the mighty Rio Sao Francisco, Brazils 3rd largest river, we watch cars, laundry, motorbikes and dogs being washed in the river whilst we wait for our ferry. Although the town is full of restoration scaffolding, we can still appreciate the grandeur of the buildings and we decide to spend the night sleeping in the centre of town by the river.
Brazil is in the grip of local elections so we sit in our truck literally bouncing in time to the music of the passing candidates vehicles. Loud speakers, TV cameras and fireworks make our early evening a hilariously loud event. The next morning we sit having a quiet breakfast watching the fishermen bring their early morning catch ashore to be weighed for the local market. We are beginning to realise that Brazil has everything - a bit of Africa, a touch of Indian and a dash of Asia.
More lovely beaches entice us to stay on the way north to Maceio. We have been invited for pizza when we reach the city - how can we refuse? We book into the city campsite before meeting up with our friends for a night of gluttony. With full tummies we returned to the campsite only to find they had locked us out - I wouldn’t mind so much but it was a very high gate with wooden spikes on the top and I’ve only got wee legs- not quite the adventure sport I had in mind for Brazil!
Leaving the friendly city behind we visit the beaches and villages again and they just seem to get better and better the further north we go - if we keep going at this rate it will take months to get to Belem.
Daily life in and around Siribinha.
Beautiful Ponta do Mato beach, Sao Cristovao plaza and young fruit seller.
Happy to see us! A very LOUD campaign car and Maceio’s lovely city beach.
Ilha Itamaraca is a island that sits only 40 km’s north of Olinda so we can’t resist the chance to visit the Dutch fort and the nearby manatee sanctuary. The West Indian manatee are endangered, like the giant anteater, because they taste nice - it’s a simple as that. The beach-side location of the fort, which overlooks a small island tempts us to spend the night there before making our way slowly to Joao Pessoa and the most easterly point of Brazil - where we will be closer to Africa than southern Brazil.
Our next city is Recife, reputed to be one of the most dangerous in Brazil, so we are surprised to find ourselves feeling comfortable enough to sleep on the street in nearby Olinda. Brazilians are really scared of crime - they sit in-front of their televisions watching news reports of police violence and gun crime and their newspapers are full of negative stories. The Brazilian psyche holds a fear of isolation and violence making it hard for them to understand a European overlanders love of ‘bush camping’. You have to put it in perspective - what are the chances of us being the victims of crime other than the usual city street mugging? Very, very small. We sit in a big truck, with high grilled windows - there are a easier targets for the bad boys elsewhere.
Olinda is lovely, full of colonial buildings with fine views and extremely friendly people, our visit was safe and very enjoyable.
The scenic ferry crossing from Porto de Pedras - sometimes the ferry needs a little push!
Catching and cleaning the fish of the day, young boys at play and a Brazilian beach babe in the making.
Beautiful Olinda with views to Recife.
Forte Orange, a adult and child manatee in pool and orphans getting breakfast.
North of Joao Pessoa we have to decide on which routes to take - the coast is riddled with 4x4 and dirt tracks. We always stop to ask locals about conditions and they usually give good advice so, in Baia da Traicao where we are assured that the terra (dirt) route to Mataraca was ‘very good’, we believe them.
We set off only to find ourselves on a mix of mud, compressed coconut husks and water filled holes before entering a maze of sugar cane dirt tracks. Just as we thought we’d done it we reached the bridge that separated us from asphalt by only 300 metres - it was collapsing. After a long detour we finally found a way over the river - what an adventure!
Further up the coast, and we’re still trying to follow the coastline closely, we came upon a river where locals hand punt cars across on small barges. We are assured that Nessie can wade so Rose steps into the river to check on the depth but as the water laps her knickers she turns back to shore - woosie. Fortunately, a local volunteers to mark the route for us so we follow as he wades in front of the truck - 1 metre / 3 feet was the deepest level - that’s our deepest wade yet in Nessie - tremendous fun!
Several beautiful beaches later we reach the very friendly city of Natal where Nessie gets a good clean, we stock up on food and visit the lovely fort before driving north again.
Lots of tracks that lead to dune buggy only trails and salt water rivers result in several u-turns for us but, with a bit of 4x4 on the sand tracks, we eventually reach a quiet fishing village called Pititinga. From there we continue on very mixed routes stopping along the way to visit a ‘shanty’ village......
Brazil is a well developed and wealthy country but, like everywhere in the world, poverty still exists. It is not uncommon to see people farming the grass verges that line the roadsides. These narrow strips of land are ‘common ground’ where desperate families build simple homes - the walls and roof are made of thick tree branches covered by plastic sheeting, bags and cardboard that has been foraged from the roadside. If you stop to visit a family or community, you usually find a hammock and a cooking pot in the home - that’s it! The word ‘poor’ doesn’t accurately describe the lifestyle that these families live but at least they have the opportunity to grow their own food, unlike the poor in the inner cities.
Anything you can donate is very gratefully received - food, toys, clothing, even old awning material or string is always useful.
The ‘very good’ route to Mataraca!
Lovely Natal Fort, us being guided through a local river and a Pititinga fisherman waiting for high tide.
Beach driving near Manibu and other beach ‘traffic’ - it’s a fresh water stream we are splashing through - NOT sea water!
People of Diogo Lopes and the surrounding area.
Anyway, all good things come to an end, and they do say you should expect the unexpected as a overlander. We are back in Buenos Aires - surprised? - not as much as us!!! Nessie is in storage and we are flying back to the UK for a 3 month trip. We hope to continue our travels next year and we are sure to revisit beautiful Brazil.
In the meantime we will leave you with two EXTREME trucking stories......
We were parked in a truck stop/fuel station for the night and were sitting inside Nessie with our cabin door open. We heard male voices in the darkness talking in excited but hushed tones, eventually curiosity got the better of Dave and he had to go out to see what was going on. He was amazed to find two Brazilian truck drivers fondling Nessie.
Now, we know that Nessie is loved by all, but this really was taking things a bit far. They stood there stroking her bonnet muttering sweet nothings lovingly to her!
Dave did the usual introduction of, ‘ She’s 33 years old and only has 83,000 kilometres on the clock’ but these guys were just not interested - they’d moved onto the bumper by then, grinning like a pair of schoolboys!
Dave retreated back into the truck and we sat giggling at the situation, imagining the conversation -
Trucker one - ‘Ooh, check out the curves on that!’
Trucker two - ‘Oh yeah. Not bad for her age.’
Trucker one - ‘I normally like them younger, but this one’s still got all her curves in the right places.’
Trucker two - ‘Come and feel this - not a wrinkle or dimple anywhere!’
Together - ‘SMOOOOOOTH!’
Trucker one - ‘Oooh. What I could do with that bumper.............’
We are climbing a long and steep hill. Nessie is maintaining a steady 50 kilometres/ hour (admirable considering the climb).
A Brazilian car transporter truck is desperately trying to catch us on the overtaking lane, but he just can’t do it. At the top of the hill we are neck and neck. The overtaking lane is closing and he still does not have the power to get past us.
With no oncoming traffic and the gradient easing, it should be a simple case of the truck pulling out to overtake us. But no - this is a Brazilian truck driver with a Latin American ego. He is FURIOUS and his ego is bruised that an old truck driven by a foreigner has ‘beaten’ his new, high powered truck up a hill.
So, he tries to ram us off the road! Truly, he really did!
We had no-where to go. No hard shoulder, no grass verge - just a 6 metre high wall of solid natural stone! The truck driver moved close enough to push our side mirror. Dave couldn’t believe it - he couldn’t speed up to escape and if he braked the other truck would have lost sight of us in his blind spot and wiped us out with his trailer. Dave started to shout at the driver and the Brazilian truckers passenger took off his seatbelt and tried to crawl over to the drivers seat to escape the imminent carnage. And then it was over. Just like that.
I don’t know why the driver suddenly backed off, maybe because his passengers genuine terror made him realise how crazy he was behaving. Or maybe it was because he realised that we couldn’t give way to him, even if we wanted to. Whatever the reason, it was a relief to see him move out to the oncoming lane to overtake us.
We have driven in over 40 countries in the world and this is, without doubt, the worst case of road rage we have ever encountered.