The heat of the day had given way to cool mountain air which soon turned to miserable cold, cutting through our mesh jackets and pants and made worse by the sweaty grime on our bodies. We spotted a sign pointing out a “Mirante” (vista point) to the left. To our right, we were barely able to spot a pink concrete portal reading Hotel Rio do Rastro. But we were looking for the ECOhotel, so we plowed on through the fog.
The road abruptly became a steep, downhill corkscrew, and we soon realized we had passed our hotel, as we were now riding the acclaimed Serra do Rio do Rastro. There would be nothing but forest and steep drops for miles ahead and because we had reserved the room back at the top, we knew we had to turn around. The road was so narrow and steep, I wondered how I would turn the bike around, and the trucks kept on coming at us through the fog. Soon, I found a wide shoulder on the side of the road and pulled over. Would I be able to turn the 400-pound, fully-loaded bike on this steep and narrow road? I began pushing the bike remembering to look where I wanted to go. I made the turn but stalled the bike in the middle of the foggy night. What had I gotten myself into?
About five years ago, my husband Eric and I learned to ride motorcycles. A year later, we bought our current bikes. He rides a 2010 R1200 GSA, and I ride a 2010 F650 GS. Yes, they are big bikes for new riders, but we needed solid bikes to make a 50 mile daily commute on I-80. We have ridden quite a bit together since then and have racked up more than 40,000 miles on our bikes, including trips to several states as well as a weekend at Rawhyde Adventures. So when Alberto, an online friend, suggested we ride in Brazil, it sounded like the natural next step in our quest for adventure. After all, I was born and raised in Brazil and speak fluent Portuguese. I figured if we stayed away from the crazy big cities like Rio and Sao Paulo, how bad could it be?
Soon, I was researching BMW motorcycle rentals, and Eric was looking for reasonable airfare. I found two places that rented BMWs and while working on the April availability of motorcycles, we were also talking about the upcoming trip with Alberto over Skype. Seeing that we were struggling with finding bikes we liked and seriously concerned about riding out of a huge city like Sao Paulo, Alberto suggested he lease us the bikes. Did I forget to mention that he is a partner in a BMW motorcycle dealership in the town of Cascavel? That came as a big relief since Cascavel is relatively small and close to the area we wanted to travel. Eric immediately booked us tickets to Foz do Iguaçu.
After a long flight, we were grateful that Alberto drove to Foz to pick us up and take us back to Cascavel, two hours away. There, he would not allow us to simply rent his bikes and leave, but, in true Brazilian fashion, he took us to lunch and introduced us to many of his motorcyclist friends. One of these friends even planned a route for us to ride, recommending hotels, restaurants, and even gas stops along the way. That night, we ended up having dinner at the house of some new motorcycle enthusiast friends, and the night ran late. The next day we picked up the bikes, got through the paperwork and were led by Alberto to the edge of town to send us on our way. There we were, Eric and I, on our first motorcycle trip outside of the U.S.
Before I talk about the trip, I need to explain some of my fears. On the drive from Foz to Cascavel, I had the opportunity to observe Brazilians driving in that region. Although I had driven many years in Brazil, this was different. For one thing, I would be on two wheels, without a cage around me. Additionally, motorcycles in Brazil are everywhere. When we were last there nine years ago, we hardly saw any bikes. Now it seemed everyone had a motorcycle, both men and women, and they ride like lunatics. As if that weren’t enough to make me nervous, the night before we started our ride our new friends warned us that the road we would be on was very dangerous. “Many people die on this road, stay in the ruts made by the truck tires, and watch out for the trucks because it’s harvest season.” Ugh!
When Alberto finally sent us on our way, I was scared, tired, and on a strange bike. I was riding a G650GS, the lowest bike GS Alberto had in his stock and Eric was riding an F800GS. The road was indeed bad, and there were lots of trucks, speed bumps and speed traps.
Because of all this, we underestimated the travel time and arrived to our first planned rest stop way after dark. We pulled into a small town called Palmas and proceeded to look for a small hotel that had been recommended. It was dark, there were a lot of trucks around, and we got lost in the narrow streets. When we stopped by a couple of gentlemen and asked for directions to the hotel, they began to try to explain all the turns we would have to make until one of them said “never mind, follow me!” Sure enough, we made so many turns I started thinking he was pulling our leg, but soon enough he led us right up to the front door of the hotel. He waved and quickly drove off. The hotel cost $45 a night, was quite clean and comfortable, and served a hearty breakfast buffet with fruit, juices, yogurts, cold cuts, fresh breads, pastries, scrambled eggs and cakes which were all included in the price of our stay.
On the following day’s ride we started getting used to passing double-trailer trucks and got better at spotting the dirt-camouflaged speed bumps. Before long, we were enjoying the beautiful countryside and gaining some serious weight from all the wonderful Brazilian food. Everyone was very friendly wherever we stopped, although they were a little surprised at seeing an older couple riding motorcycles. I say older, because we didn’t see many riders over the age of 30, especially women.
At the end of the third day we found ourselves at the bottom of the Serra do Rio do Rastro and I stalled my bike. But, being a BMW, she started up without a hiccup (unlike my heart, which was hiccupping a lot) and we headed back up the mountain. Sure enough, when we rode off the road into the dirt under the pink structure that said Hotel Rio do Rastro, we saw the small letters “ECO” which in the dark and fog were invisible from the road. From the portal-like entrance, we proceeded into the darkness, not seeing anything ahead and blindly trusting the occasional double arrows on each side of the “road” to show us the way. The long driveway wound down a hill, and we bounced along through ruts and over rocks. At the bottom of the hill we went through a little creek that crossed the driveway and were splashed by a wooden water wheel on the side of the road, barely distinguishable in the fog and dark. A lodge reception light appeared ahead of us, and when we pulled up we were treated to a cup of wonderfully thick dark chocolate, the keys and directions to our cabin. After changing our clothes, we wandered down to the restaurant and enjoyed an amazing dinner and some wonderful local wine.
The next day we got lost on our way to the coast and had to cut through 22 km of dirt road. Again, it was hot, and we were soon caked in red dirt. But, once we got to the asphalt and proceeded to climb again, we again found ourselves in fog. Soaking wet, cold and filthy, we arrived late Friday night before the Easter weekend in the city of Florianopolis. That was the hardest riding day of the trip.
On the motorcycles, we visited three states in the southern portion of Brazil and spent most of our time rushing from one town to another because of all the people we promised to visit. Though scheduling issues only allowed us to ride for one of the two weeks we had planned in Brazil, it was an incredible week. Miles and miles of coastal rainforest, amazing views, incredible weather, and…the FOOD! The hospitality of Brazilians is unbeatable, and we felt like royalty because of everyone offering us food and lodging. They gave us directions and were disappointed when we didn’t have more time to ride around with them. We returned the motorcycles unscathed and are very grateful to Alberto for the opportunity he gave us.
In a country with so many motorcycles on the road I noticed that car drivers were very aware of motorcyclists. Motorcycles there are a useful, economical and often the only affordable way to travel, and car drivers seemed to respect that and even make room for bikes, allowing them to split lanes. I hope that someday this courtesy will be common the U.S. as well.
It was a wonderful ride and we’re planning to go back again for more beautiful Brazilian scenery, delicious food, and, for sure, more adrenalin.