bicycle touring brazil--anaesthetised travel?


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Total Kilometers:  79,192 (49,806 miles)
14 July 2010

The maracuja (passion fruit)--very popular in Brazil"What´s bizarre about Brazil?"

"Bizarre?" I questioned.

"Yeah, you know.  Weird. Strange.  Unusual.  Different from your country," prodded Lucas, our latest couchsurfing host.

"I dunno," I muttered, scooping another spoonful of maracuja ice cream into my mouth, fully concentrating on this delicious treat which was melting fast in the tropical heat.

remind me again what we're doing here.

Biking BrazilHold on, I thought.  I'm using a tiny plastic spoon to devour a maracuja ice cream cone.  Now, that's weird.  Back in Montana we like our ice cream cones, too.  But you can bet nobody at the local Dairy Queen orders up maracuja ice cream and we certainly don't use tiny plastic spoons in conjunction with cones.  

Had I become anaesthetised to new experiences?  Was I totally oblivious to my exotic surroundings?  Could I no longer appreciate the nuances of new countries?

Why bother to torture myself pedaling around the world if the wonder of adventure had dried up?  Curling up on the sofa with the Travel Channel would certainly be less painful and I could get my travel fix without developing elephant-like calves and pesky skin cancer.

I'm not one to deny that life in the stationary has some clear advantages.  Most importantly you can actually form stable relationships.  Have friends.  Call somebody up for a cup of coffee.    Re-acquaint yourself with your siblings.  Get a dog.

But the adventure bug still flutters around in my system somewhere.   I made a  pact with myself to wake up from my  zombie-like state and truly experience my surroundings.

So, in my re-awakened state,  here are a few not-so-profound observations about Brazil.

a nation after my own heart.

Bikng BrazilBrazilians are the cleanest people on earth.  Right to a free shower must be enshrined in their constitution. Early into our Brazil bicycle tour, I made the joyful discovery that you can lather up and rinse off the day's grime at any one of Brazil's ubiquitous gas stations.  

For FREE.  No outrageous $5 shower fees like at  US truck stops.  Nope.  Just pop into the restroom, pick out a shower and freshen up after a sweaty ride.  Brazil's a smelly cyclists dream.  

But wait, there's more.  Free public showering is not limited to service stations.  No sir-ee.  Restaurants have showers.  Grocery stores have got 'em.  Libraries, Internet cafés, police stations, churches, schools...the list goes on.  And if you're still stumped for a place to wash up, knock on most anybody's door, explain your predicament, and, knowing the Brazilians and their obsession with keeping body odors at bay, you'll probably be invited right in, handed a fluffy towel and some sweet-smelling soap and be shown the shower.

our lives in jeopardy.

I'm okay with innocuous hygiene hang-ups, but get a Brazilian behind the wheel and he suddenly develops a lethal obsession with speed.   He MUST get from A to B in the least amount of time humanly possible, and if that means cutting you, a lowly cyclist on an overloaded bicycle, off...well, so be it.  He's going to make that right turn into the parking lot just inches from your bicycle, and that means you better be paying attention and slam on your brakes before being smashed to smithereens.  It's a matter of male pride to get the family to the supermarket in record time, shaving off seconds from the trip.   What?  A  cyclist's life in jeopardy?  Never noticed.

Highway riding is akin to taking part in Formula One Racing.  Speeding semi's overtake buses on blind curves while motorcyclists vie for pole position.  Those double yellow lines and 'danger ahead' roadsigns appear to go unnoticed.   

Fellow cyclist Michael from Berlin, one of our helpful readers, wrote recently warning us to avoid all highways sporting the 'BR' designation.NO FUN was his verdict.  Couldn't agree more.  The problem is that the alternative to the federal highways--the 'BR' roads --are sandy tracks reminiscent of our days in Africa.  We gave those peaceful tracks a try, but, were lured back to the highways and smooth tarmac after just a few days of bumping along the backroads.

true fans.

Every goes out to support their team.If hygiene is an obsession in Brazil, then football (or soccer if you prefer) is an absolute mania.  Schools actually dismiss students when World Cup matches are being played.  Supermarkets close down, office workers are given the day off, shops shut their doors...the entire country grinds to a halt when Brazil's on the soccer field.  Come game time, the country becomes eerily calm as crowds gather around outdoor television sets to cheer on their team.  If you're a cyclist, you won't find a safer time to be on the road.

Have hammock.  Will travel.

Camping behind a gas station.The purpose of motels in Brazil is to accommodate amorous couples in search of a few hours of privacy.  

Motel rooms are fronted by private garages where incriminating vehicles can be safely kept out of sight of prying eyes.  

Most travelers don't check into a room for a night. They're costly and why bother when you can sling up your hammock at the local truck stop or city park?  And with all those free showers scattered around the country cleaning up is no hassle at all.   Brazil must be the only country in the world where sleeping rough is socially accepted.  We fit right in in this part of the world.  Well, except for the tent thing.   Hammocks really are the way to go.

slightly schizo

Yikes, another sandy track.While Brazilians may be some of the rudest people on earth when they're behind the wheel, but once the car keys are out of the ignition they couldn't be kinder. 

People invite us into their homes to spend the night.   When we camp, neighbors drop by with cold drinks and tasty Brazilian dishes to try.   Shopkeepers send us on our way with ice cold bottles of water. When we pitch our tent behind a gas station, the owner kindly supplies us with table and chairs to make our stay more comfortable.  Couchsurfing hosts treat us like royalty. 

Slowly, I'm coming out of my period of anaesthetised travel.  Feels kind of like when the novocaine starts wearing off and you begin feeling things again.  The numbness is wearing off.

Brazil has been something of a slog.   Between the sandy tracks and the terrifying highways there have been some tough times on the road.  But looking back, we've got good memories of our time spent here.  It is, after all, the people that make the places.

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You can also connect with us on Twitter and get a better feel for bike touring by watching our Bicycle Touring YouTube Videos and you can sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

If you enjoyed this post, check out these posts and videos:

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20 Inspiring Bicycle Touring Quotes

Bicycle Touring Bests after four years on the road: part 1

Bicycle Touring Bests after four years on the road: part 2

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