Yes, we are in Brazil!
We spent New Year’s Day with our families, said farewell and left for the airport with our dear friend Valia. A Greek family crying at the airport is not the best way to start a trip like this, or any trip. A last cup of coffee (and maybe a last cigarette) with a friend is the best option. At the break of dawn, we were flying to Brazil, or better, we were flying to Istanbul, then wait at the (why so overheated?) airport for a few hours, then fly to Brazil. We slept, ate several meals, watched many films, sitcoms, documentaries, talked, planned our route and then got excessively bored until – 15 hours later – we finally arrived at Sao Paulo.
At the airport
The funny thing when we got off the plane was that we were anxious about customs, passport control etc. In our luggage one could find a whole Vespa in pieces, the only thing missing was the chassis. “Illegal import and commerce!”. We also didn’t have any proof that we would be going out of the country, no return ticket, nothing. “Illegal immigrants who came to steal our jobs!”. Long story short, no one asked, no one cared. We had our passports stamped and we were ready to go. However, immediately after that, everything went wrong! For some mysterious reason, our phones failed to connect to the airport free WiFi and no matter the attempts we made, they would refuse to cooperate. Our debit cards were locked and we couldn’t call for an Uber either. We just needed to connect to the WiFi to make it all work, but it seemed impossible. We thought of buying a prepaid SIM card and get a Brazilian phone number. But no! We had to be Brazilian citizens in order to do so. That’s the law. We thought of changing some dollars at the currency exchange store next to us, but the rate was more than unfair, it was pure robbery! We thought of using our Greek debit card at an ATM, but the bank commissions were higher than the amount of money we wanted to withdraw! We were stuck there and all our options were bad. What happened next? We don’t know how, but miraculously Stergios’ phone suddenly connected to the WiFi and our 4hour electronic war was over. Simple as that!
Time seems endless when you fly overseas. Or is it because we are anxious to arrive?
“40, 48…52! Here it is!”. The windows of the old two-story building were wide open and we could hear some Ska music coming out. There’s no chance we were wrong, we were at the Scooteria Paulista at last! Three of the members of the scooter club of Sao Paulo were patiently waiting for us. We had told them that we would be there late in the evening and it was around midnight when we finally arrived. Stergios knew the guys. Three years ago he had traveled from Buenos Aires all the way up to Sao Paulo in order to park our scooter here, in the welcoming hands of the Scooteria. Somewhere inside the building there was Kitsos waiting for us. Friendly hugs, beer, jokes and pizza: our first night in Sao Paulo. “At some point, we thought you were never coming back!” told one of the guys while we were seated on the sofa, right next to Kitsos. Our scooter was standing like a museum exhibit in front of the wall with the pictures from our trip. The guys had done a magnificent job hosting it. After all this time and all these kilometers, Kitsos wasn’t just pieces of iron and plastic, he had his own life. “Listen!” told Gabriel as he got up and went towards the scooter. He pushed the horn and it beeped! “It’s alive!”.
At some point, we thought you were never coming back!
It was summer holidays in Brazil and the city was almost empty. The heat was unbearable, the traffic on the streets not so heavy as it usually was, many stores were closed. We were walking on the streets of our neighborhood, Mooca, and we were dripping with sweat. It was almost snowing in Greece the day we left and it was difficult to adjust to the 35 degrees of Sao Paulo. “Who drinks hot coffee with this temperature?” Stergios complained, but I couldn’t answer as my mouth was full with a big bite of “pão con queijo” – bread filled with cheese, one of the most delicious bites! “Here, try this!” I changed the subject offering him a bite of “coxinha” – fried bread filled with chicken.
The Scooteria Paulista headquarters
It was Sunday afternoon when Marcio, the president of the scooter club sent us a brief message: “I’m coming over”. Not more than 30 minutes later, three guys came. Tattoos covered their arms and probably most parts of their bodies, their scooters were so shiny that one wouldn’t dare to ride them wearing their old clothes and dusty shoes. “Let’s go get your scooter out of the room!”. Stairs, instructions given out loud, some swearing in Portuguese about how heavy the scooter is etc… “Caralho, we made it!”. Ten minutes later, Kitsos was standing next to the other scooters waiting to take us for a ride after all this time. The first ride was short but at least we made it to the mechanic’s! A few days ago, one rainy afternoon when we couldn’t do much but stay indoors, Stergios’ patience ended and he decided to see for himself if Kitsos’ engine still worked. He pushed the scooter to the main room of the Scooteria poured some gasoline to the thirsty tank and tried to kick-start it. After a few attempts Kitsos’ weak engine roared and started working, hiding us behind a cloud of blue-grayish smoke. “I knew it!” Stergios shouted with enthusiasm. So, when he kick-started it again in front of the Scooteria he was sure that his trusty scooter would make it.
Kitsos needs some help to go down the stairs!
China, the Brazilian mechanic, told us he’d need 3 days to fix and repair all Kitsos’ wounds. Together with Luca, his Italian partner and “Cabeção” his amazing dog (who preferred to play with us than help) they took Kitsos, dismantled almost every part, fixed and assembled again the tired scooter. Nothing serious, no irreversible damage, only issues related to age and excessive traveling. When Stergios got back from his first ride he had a wide smile stuck on his face and his eyes were glowing. “Let’s go!”.
More than two weeks had passed in Sao Paulo. All this time, we were hosted by the great guys of the Scooteria Paulista. “Our home is your home” they told us and they really meant it. The scooter club of Sao Paulo is a very active one, open and hospitable towards everyone – except fascists, as they say. We had endless talks about music, politics, beer brewing and of course, scooters. Amazing! In the mornings, when the weather was not so hot we’d take Kitsos and go for a ride on the huge avenues of the city. Heavy traffic, people walking almost in every street, tall modern buildings and old neighborhoods, malls, small shops, rich and poor living in two parallel universes. Around the cathedral in the square with the palm trees and the cement benches, homeless people were carrying all their stuff on wooden carriers. On a street just around the corner, Brazilians dressed as Julius Cesars or Tinker-Bells were selling costumes for the carnival. China Town, the place with all the Asian shops and restaurants was crowded. It was almost impossible to walk on the pavement. At the municipal market, a few blocks away, one could find all kinds of fruit and juices and some delicious snacks: Pasteis – fried dough filled with cheese or minced meat or whatever you can imagine – sandwiches filled with an absurd quantity of meat etc. Oh, and the people! How interesting mixture of races, ethnicities and colors! And all of them kind and smiling. All these days in Sao Paulo we hadn’t met any grumpy or impolite people.
Scooterboys are in charge of freshening Kitsos up
Sao Paulo is not as big as it seems… It’s bigger!
On the road
Ready to go! Brand new equipment: motorcycle gear, clothes, everything. Same old riders: a bit rusty but always ready for some more travel. Kitsos was waiting for us loaded with all our stuff. The saddle was as comfortable as we remembered it. The sound of the engine, the smell of the 2-stroke oil, all familiar.
Only 50 minutes after we said goodbye to Marcio and left the Scooteria Paulista, a weird sound came from the engine. “Let’s stop here!” Stergios suggested and we stopped at the fuel station that fortunately, was only a few meters away. Kitsos’ engine stopped and refused to cooperate by any means. Phone calls to China, our Brazilian mechanic, to Costas, our Greek mechanic… we almost called our Argentinian mechanics in Buenos Aires, too. We changed the fuel-jet, the ignition coil, the stator plate, we even changed the way we felt about this trip at some point! At least, the people at the gas station led us to the back yard which was shaded and quiet in order to take our time and see what’s wrong. Every now and then, they’d come and ask if they could help or whether we needed anything. We never understood what happened exactly and after three and a half hours, Kitsos suddenly worked! “He’s probably angry at me for having left him here for so much time” was the only assumption Stergios could make.
What a strange scenery! A light fog was covering the tops of the huge trees. Humidity, heat and a heavy flowery smell we thought was coming from some soap manufacturing company in the area. No, it was the big blossoming flowers on the trees that we could smell. Our GPS was leading us directly to the campsite we’d found on the map, but less than 1km from the city of Atibaia, the asphalt disappeared and we found ourselves doing some off-roading. The steep, narrow gravel road at first seemed to be taking us into some ancient rain forest, but after the first turn, farms, houses and luxurious horse-riding clubs appeared. While climbing a steep slope the engine complained. On the second one, it refused to go up. We remembered the times when we were climbing the mountains of Lesotho or the Bolivian Andes. The times when I had to get off the bike and push it. “Go on, push!” Stergios told me laughing. When we arrived at the campsite the sun had already set. “Campsite? We only have chalets here!” the lady replied and we realized that our day was far from over. Back to the city. At least we didn’t need to climb any more. And then, the rain started. We made it to a gas station which unfortunately was about to close for the night, so we couldn’t stay there. We were tired, soaked to the bone and worried about Kitsos’ engine. Perfect first day on the road, full of experiences!
We were tying our stuff on Kitsos’ racks while dripping with sweat. The sun was burning our skin and we were swearing because we overslept and didn’t start earlier. We had paid for a room in a “pousada” – guest house and we had stayed until 12:00, the exact time we were supposed to leave it. The route was not bad at all, what was awful though was the heavy traffic. Huge trucks and countless other vehicles that were moving fast on the motorway wouldn’t let us take our eyes from the road and look towards the vast fields and the “fazendas” – the farms. It was around 15:00 or 16:00. We were standing under the shade of some tree at a gas station where we had stopped. The high temperature and humidity was suffocating. We both suffered from headache, felt tired and couldn’t breathe the warm air entering our lungs. The two chocolate bars a kind man offered us had turned into a disgusting, sticky paste, the water in our bottles had boiled. Kitsos’ hadn’t been working properly and it was obvious that the problem was the heat. Unfortunately, we had no other option but to continue. It was getting dark when we arrived at this other gas station. It seemed awful, but we had decided to spend the night there. It was dangerous to continue. Unfortunately, the gas station was about to close and there were no trucks and truck drivers around to provide us some security for the night. One guy tried to explain us something, but we were too tired and our Portuguese too bad to understand him. We were about to enter the motorway again when I slightly turned my head and read the old faded sign: “MOTEL”!
So, it was this kind of motel, but it was the only place we found in the area!
“Don’t you even dare to move from here!” I aggressively ordered Stergios. “You have 38.5 fever!”. He stayed in bed looking his exhausted self in the ceiling mirror – yes, it was this kind of motel… And more specifically, the worst one we’d ever stayed. That day I couldn’t imagine in how many other places similar to this one we’d stay later on. Brazil wasn’t that cheap for us, or to put it more correctly: our daily budget for the trip wasn’t that high. To be fair, Brazil was generally a little cheaper than Greece and far cheaper than Western European countries, but we don’t want to spend more than 20€ in total per day and this had proved a bit tricky. (30€ just to spend the night at a campsite in the town Brotas made us cry-laugh…). We had started to change our plans about Brazil. At first, we had thought of going north, to the Amazon. Take a riverboat, get stuck with the scooter in the sand and everything… But we had to admit our defeat. We had just begun traveling and we were concerned about our budget as well as about the weather. Heat wave at the coastal side, rain and 50 degrees in the forests. The same in Belem, Macapa, Manaus, Boa Vista… problems escalating in Venezuela where we were thinking to enter then, mud and rain across the BR319 to Porto Velho… After some discussions we made a decision: we’d leave Brazil behind and come back later, during winter and with more confidence about our (low) budget.
The first day on the road was not exactly an easy one…
The heat was almost unbearable!
There was enough room for the three of us in that hotel
Change of direction
We’re going towards Mato Grosso do Sul and from there, directly into Bolivia (from the town of Corumba). So, after two days in the worst motel ever and with no fever nor dehydration anymore, we continued. We also adjusted the hours on the road according to the weather conditions. We’d start early in the morning, ride until 13:00 with many brief stops and then stop until 17:00 at some gas station with plenty of shade for Kitsos and a good air-conditioning for us, then ride until sunset. With loads of patience and tons of sweat we made it to a campsite next to a town called Presidente Eptiacio, at the riverbank of Rio Parana. From there, we’d cross the 10km length bridge and we’d find ourselves in Mato Grosso do Sul. But first of all, we needed some time to relax. The campsite, even though the owner(?) seemed caring and attentive was a wreck. There was garbage everywhere around, the “chalets” once served as holiday houses were almost demolished as if years of abandonment and an earthquake had done their best and the swimming pool had a disgusting greenish color. And on top of it all, we had to pay 11€ per night in order to stay there. When we entered the site, we asked some people who came towards us for information. They seemed nice, welcoming and polite and they were staying in two of the bungalows that seemed decent (only some bungalows next to the entrance were in good condition). We couldn’t imagine what would follow!
A week has passed in Pr. Epitacio. A week with our new Brazilian family! One of the families that lived in the bungalows of the abandoned campsite invited us for lunch and then for dinner and then, the following day they invited us for breakfast… Long story short, they decided to offer us the house of one of the brothers – Sergio – who was now living with his girlfriend in another place. Oh, we should never forget the kindness we have received the years we’ve been on the road. From a helping hand, a bottle of water or a chocolate bar, to the hospitality of the Souzas in Pr. Epitacio. How grateful we feel! Being in the family’s living room, trying to sing in Portuguese and learn how to dance, sharing beans and rice and trying to communicate. And laughing…
With our Brazilian family, in Epitacio
Our neighbor in Epitacio
Our other neighbor in Epitacio
“Caldo da cana e pastel”, which means sugar cane juice and a delicious fried pie
Sunset by the river Parana
Sunset by the river Parana
Playing with the water
It was around 8 o’clock in the morning when we stopped outside our Brazilian grandparents’ house to tell them goodbye. We had stayed for two weeks in Epitacio and it was about time we continued. “You’ll always have a family here” were their last words before we saw them disappear in the corner behind the big tree where we used to sit and chat in the evenings. We don’t know if we see each other again, but if we don’t, at least we’ll have these days to remember…
In about 800km we’ll be in Bolivia, unless we evaporate due to the (at least) 40 degrees somewhere on the road…
To be continued…