Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

For the kite surfing, though the nice tropical beaches and hot weather will be an added bonus! I lived for a year or so in the city back in 2000, though I hear much has changed in that it has got ever larger. Will be great to be back and catch up with some old friends and definitely looking forward to the coming week. The city isn’t the most beautiful in the world in terms of architecture etc, and it does have its problems – harsh inequalities, crime, and it is not safe to be out away from the tourist places at night. However, it is an enjoyable place to be, and I do miss the ocean breeze, its accessibility and walking along the Beira Mar promenade. Will certainly be the warmest training project (and arguably the most fun…. but then again, every project we have done so far has been challenging and the rewards of managing to complete them have certainly outweighed any “suffering” we have had to endure in the process!!). But yes, flight at 11:30pm on Friday night and back in São Paulo next Sunday. Here we go!

buenosaires-natBuenos Aires is a wonderful city, and a welcome escape from São Paulo – and going to the San Telmo market on a brisk morning is certainly one of the highlights.

 

Opening upA shop lady sets up the outside of her stall in the morning along one of the colourful roads in the centre of La Paz. Plenty of neighbours competing to bring in the commerce from the tourists who stumble across the street and the number of people going along the street goes up massively as the day progresses.

 

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

It had been a while since in Edinburgh, and as neither Natalia nor Paulo had been in Scotland before, we had a day off scheduled in the city. We stayed with Melanie, an English teacher, and Charlie, her husband who is an actor. As with many other hosts, we met them through Warm Showers. Both Mel and Charlie were wonderful and extremely helpful, giving us tips of things to do in the city and it was great chatting with them. They did a cycle tour of New Zealand for a year which sounded like it was great fun. Mel unfortunately got ill with a migraine while we were there, though we had a great meal with Charlie on the evening before we left.

The windows and flags of St. Giles

The windows and flags of St. Giles

In Edinburgh we just did the normal touristy things, really; wondering around the Royal Mile and the Castle (though we didn’t go in), St Giles’ Cathedral, and Mary King’s Close – which we did pay the GBP 12.50 (each) to get in, a price that we felt at the time, and had absolute certainty after the tour, was expensive, bordering the extortionate… Okay it was interesting. The tour gave us an idea about life in the Closes of Edinburgh before, during and after the Black Death, and how things were cramped for the inhabitants. It was interesting seeing the small rooms where families lived and the extremely narrow alleys where all the sewerage was poured  into from all the windows of the tall houses that lined them. Not the nicest of places to live. The actor who gave the tour was good and understandable as well. But, it just seemed expensive for an hour – maybe am just used to Brazilian prices (obviously, converting to the Brazilian Real and you get a much higher number and you don’t get many simple guided museum tours costing BRL 40+ per hour in Brazil, though this ultimately doesn’t mean much). The information that was provided in the tour also wasn’t particularly revelationary for anyone with an incling of an understanding of general history and ways of life in the 16-17 hundreds…

But anyway, we met with Paulo as well and he had been to a doctor in Edinburgh to examine his knee. It wasn’t great news as he was told that he had ligament problems and he was advised that he should rest at least for 7-10 days or so, otherwise he would risk causing permanent damage to the knee. Not what any of us wanted to hear. So to put it simply, that was the end of his LEJOG. The only way for us to proceed was to just give Paulo tips of things to do in Edinburgh, London and Europe in general and to proceed. It would have been nice if he could have come up to John O’Groats to see us arrive there, but to be honest, John O’Groats is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t exactly much to do there so, as this was Paulo’s first time in the UK, we thought it would be good if he could at least enjoy his days before his return to Brazil. But what Paulo will need to do in Brazil is go to get a full examination of his knee and ensure that he is in a condition where this problem will not happen again – the last thing that we can have in the actual journey is a repeat of this only a few days in… So this is an ongoing concern.

We only spent the afternoon on the rest day in Edinburgh city; enjoying a bit of a sleep-in, and then we didn’t stay in the city very late – no chance to enjoy the night life at all as we would have a long ride up to Blairgowrie on the following day. The meal with Charlie in the evening was great – first time I have had vegetarian haggis, which was really good – and the conversation with Charlie was excellent. Definitely would be great to stay in touch!

Ring of Brogda, Orkney

Final destination after John O’Groats – the Orkney Islands

The next of our main training projects is coming up fast – Land’s End to John O’Groats, in the UK winter… sounds like fun..?! The route is being finalized – we are speaking to a lot of great people through warmshowers and couch surfing and it is really nice getting positive responses from them and will be a massive help. Also, I think it will make it that much more interesting as we will get to meet lots of people from across the country we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet if we stay in bed & breakfasts or our own tent for the entire route. I think that many people think we are a bit nuts doing it in the winter, but I guess they are probably right! But anyway, here is an overview of the route (not with all the stopping points) – if anybody wants to join us for any of the particular days, we would be happy to chat with you and see what can be sorted out…!

 

There are some great places that am really looking forward to passing through – down in the south we will pass through Burnham-on-Sea, where my family and I spent a long holiday in a caravan park when I was younger, and we got a fantastic stunt kite with which I almost decapitated half a dozen people on the beach when I was learning how to fly it…!  This place is close to Bristol and Bath – towns I have never been too, but have wanted to for a long time as they are really quite beautiful places.

The Ashton Memorial, Lancaster, in summer – just a bit greener than what it will be like when we are there…!

Going north and we eventually get to Lancaster, the place where I spent most of my high school and where I worked at McDonalds (I know, I know…!) for a time saving up money for my gap year in Brazil, and for general university life; Carlisle, where I went to boarding school for a couple of years; Edinburgh – lovely city just close to my university at St. Andrews (unfortunately we won’t have time to get there – really is a nice place), and then the route up to northern Scotland through to Inverness and eventually John O’Groats at the northern-most tip. To end the journey with a bit of a romantic-ish flourish, we will pop up to the Orkney Islands and the village of Stromness, where I grew up as a toddler… even staying at the old house where we lived, which is now a guest place! Really looking forward to that – I imagine that it will be a lot smaller than I remember it: I guess I was a bit pint-sized when we left the islands on the ferry for the last time about 25 years or so ago…

IMG_0010Aside from not being the easiest place to get to by biking, Pousado Paiol was great. The price was very reasonable, there is a swimming pool, and the food at dinner and at breakfast was superb. There was even a sauna room as well, but we were just there for the night with no plans on staying too long in the morning… The only problem is that here in Brazil there are three or four different types of power sockets, and the place had only the newest ones… which were not compatible with the charger I was using for my phone and GPS… Note to diary: remember adapter next time.

IMG_0004We did, however, stay longer than we should have, as we needed to work out how to mend the baggage rack on my bike so it didn’t keep falling on top of the wheel. We managed it, by taking off the front bag from the handlebar bag on Natalia’s bike, which wasn’t being used to carry much, and use the screws to secure the bottom of the rack to the wheel. We were able to use one of the screws on one side, but the second didn’t fit on the other, so we transferred a few of things from my panniers into Nathalia’s so as not to have too much weight in a fragile setup. It worked, though.

The problem  was that this all took a bit of time and we ended up leaving the place at around 10am. We thought we would be alright as we didn’t have so far to go on this day – around 65km. However, when the sun was as hot as it got on that day, even the shortest of distances become exhausting. Especially when there are long… endless stretches going uphill. The GPS ran out of battery after 27km, though looking at the readout afterwards, it started off at 30C and ended up 40C, with a peak of 44C – this was before midday and before the hottest part of the afternoon. Which, when we saw one of those signs indicating that there was a steep uphill over the next four kilometres, was soul destroying! The climbs were not the hardest in the world – definitely not as steep as going up Santa Ines into the Cantareira mountains that we did on the previous day – but they were exposed to the sun, with few trees and little shade for long stretches. So everywhere we did find a big tree, we would stop and pause, and drink water to make sure we didn’t dehydrate.

The town of Morungaba was a welcome pit stop after a nice descent – we stopped at a biker’s bar (not cyclists; motorcyclists) and we just parked our bikes alongside some ultra-powerful, fast and modern racing bikes that were about a gazillion CC or something like that. Not at all out of place, but ah well. The people were nice and the extra litres of water and Gatorade, along with some cake  for a bit of a change from our  energy blocks, was extremely welcome. After the town, however, it was still painful with more uphill in the afternoon heat, even though only 20km between the town and Amparo. It just all seemed endless, and there was no decent hard shoulder to go on. We thought it was over when we knew we were getting closer to the city and there was a sign saying 4km of steep descent… which there was, and it was great… just we got down it all too quickly and… then more uphill.

Finally we got there – after this final climb, there was a fantastic descent into Amparo. So much easier! Shame there were no buses back to São Paulo, but it gave us chance to catch up with some of Natalia’s family in the town (with a fantastic bbq!), and we were able to get back home via a  bus to Campinas.

IMG_0015

Courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house at Atibaia www.http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

Photo courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house near Atibaia (www.http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

The ride to Amparo, as I said before, was… eventful. The rainstorm on the Saturday was great fun (though admittedly, had there been no hard shoulder to ride along on the main road, I might not be saying this), and after it finished, we were able to dry off a little at a restaurant in the town of Mairipora – about half way to Atibaia, where we would stay the night. We ended up not having much to eat as while we ordered a light lunch, we decided to give up after an hour waiting as we needed to push ahead – annoying at the time, but actually it turned out okay as we were doing good with the energy block bars and we did not end up riding with heavy stomachs.

The rest of the journey up until Atibaia was smooth. While the rain stopped, it still remained cool, which was great for riding up and down the hills; not too much traffic and on the whole good progress along the roads. We were able to get to the entrance of Atibaia by around 6.30pm – around an hour and a half before it would get dark. From Atibaia, we had, however, an additional 12km to ride to get to the guest house where we would stay (Pousada Paiol). Now, there were two ways to get to the guest house; one going largely along the highway and the other, going through the town. I had programmed the route through the town into the GPS. We thought, once we got to the highway exit, maybe it would be better going along the highway, but as the route wasn’t programmed into it, I didn’t want to risk it – we weren’t sure what the roads would be like going through the town, but at least we wouldn’t get lost…

Asphalt road into earth track...

Asphalt road into earth track…

With hindsight, I really should have looked at the satellite views of the roads beforehand – you can clearly see how the surface of road we went over changed in the screenshot – though as it turned out, we would have faced similar conditions eventually had we gone the other way. At least we would have been prepared, psychologically, however..!

Final stretch to guest house

Final stretch to guest house

At first it was fine, but then going through Atibaia commercial centre wasn’t pleasant with lots of traffic and lots of drivers not accustomed to sharing lanes with cyclists. Getting through this we then had a good few hundred metres being shaken around riding over cobblestones. Onto the asphalt after this and then suddenly my back wheel starts making a noise. I get off and can’t see what it is, and see that it can’t turn backwards and it was slightly tight trying to turn it forward. After a while I realize that the screws securing the baggage rack to the bottom of the frame by the wheel had been shaken out and that the top of the rack had fallen down so it was resting on top of the actual wheel (it was pretty hot to touch because of the friction!). It was getting dark as well and we still had a good eight or nine kilometres to go. We had no spare screws so I had to work out how to balance the rack above the gears so it didn’t keep falling on top of the wheel. It worked for a while… until the road turned into an earth and rock track with lots of  bumps and holes to go over and around. Every couple of minutes or so the rack would be coming off and landing on the wheel again. Oh, and Natalia was getting a sore knee (with the shaking from the road her seat had come down a little bit, we realized in the morning). With the darkness coming down, all we wanted to do was to get to the guest house, have some food and rest, and work out whether we would be able to continue to Amparo in the morning or not.

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada  - http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada – http://pousadapaiol.com.br/)

The road continued with intermittent stretches over rough earth and then good asphalt, though night settled in and the lights came on. Getting to our destination was top priority as being out at night in that place wasn’t particularly agreeable. As we got closer to the marker on the GPS, I checked the name of the guest house to make sure we wouldn’t miss it, though with everything that had been going wrong, this was worrying me – would we actually find it…?! And we were quite in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, as we got closer, we saw a sign with the name of the place, telling us to keep going. The baggage rack stayed up and balanced and we were able to slowly but surely get there by 8.30pm – just half an hour before dinner ended. Can’t say I have been much happier to have found a guest house than how I felt then, and the place was well worth the suffering to get to…!

Sao Paulo - Amparo - ElevationTo get into shape for the UK bike tour, we need to get used to riding long distances on consecutive days. What better way to do this than to go to Amparo – a small town north of São Paulo – via Atibaia, a town to which we already know the route pretty well? It would have been a good 170km if we had gone straight according to the route, but we added on another 30km or so with detours, so it was a reasonable way to go. It proved to be a good couple of days that had a fair few highlights: riding through scorching sun, a ridiculously strong rain storm, punctures, a broken baggage rack, endless steep climbs, nice smooth asphalt highways, cobble stones and bumpy earth and rock roads, and a really nice guest house in between it all… a lot of fun.

Sao Paulo - AmparoIt is amazing how riding in the rain (when it’s hot, at least!) is so much better than riding exposed in the sun. Starting off at 10am on Saturday morning, it was a little later than I normally like to head out – 7am or earlier is much better, so we don’t get completely fried under the tropical sun. Fortunately, while it was hot, it was a little overcast, which helped. As we climbed the steep Santa Ines road up in to the Cantareira mountains, it stayed hot so we stopped on a number of occasions not because of the steepness of the hill but simply because the heat sapped our (sorry for the cliché!) souls! However, the clouds started to accumulate and the sky became darker and darker.  It started to rain just as we got over the summit of the mountain. It wasn’t too hard, but going downhill and the rain was driving into our faces and it actually hurt the skin a little. You also really feel the difference especially when braking: Down this stretch I normally go around 50km per hour as it is steep but there are a few long curves that need to be taken with care, but going that speed in the wet would have been just dangerous – as soon as you brake a little hard and you can feel the loss of traction and it’s a bit scary, so I was pumping the brakes pretty much constantly to make sure I didn’t build up too much. Flying off those curves or losing control with cars coming from behind or the opposite direction would not have been good.

At the bottom we discovered that Natalia had a puncture – back tire again, which has the most weight on it with the panniers and body weight – though fortunately we got a break from the rain to be able to fix it. We are getting better at dealing with punctures and it only took a few minutes to change this time. I think Natalia will need a new one with slightly better grip as her tires don’t seem so thick. We found a small piece of glass (about 25mm) that had pierced the rubber – always good to check the tire, so as to reduce the chance of the same object causing another puncture in the spare tube.

Temperature - to AtibaiaSo on we went… one more big hill and then flat highway to Mairipora. That’s when it started to really pour down. I didn’t have my waterproof jacket on and I was soaked within seconds. There was no point putting it on after that so I just kept going. Large puddles began to accumulate by the side of the road, and visibility was reduced dramatically (a 100metres or so). We got sprayed by the cars and trucks passing by… but again, we were so wet it made no difference at all. At the same time, however, it was really great. Visibility wasn’t really a problem as we weren’t going fast enough for it to be so important; our lights were strong enough to pierce the rain and make so cars could see us. It was so flat, there were no braking issues… it was just refreshing. Looking at the Garmin route analysis and the temperatures dropped from a peak of 35C before the rain to 18C… nice and warm. There was a problem of drying once we stopped for lunch in Mairipora, but while the lycra clothes are skimpy and maybe not the most fashionable things to wear(!), one of the good things about them is that they dry quickly. It was just our cycle shoes which took a little longer to dry off and it felt we were walking with feet underwater for a while.

Plenty more to tell about the ride, but I think I have written enough for now..!

Pirapora do Bom Jesus

A little while ago, after completing the Santos Challenge with André and his group, filled with a bit of confidence for long distance riding, Natalia and I went on a long ride by ourselves to Itu, a 105km ride from our house, along the Estrada dos Romeiros road. Most of the cars that go to Itu would take the perfectly maintained, smooth and straight Castelo Branco highway, which is much more direct, for the large part of the journey. The Estrada dos Romeiros is still nicely maintained, with good asphalt and not really any potholes that could throw an unwitting cyclist, though there are plenty of hills and bends to go along and it doesn’t have much of a hard shoulder which is always nice to have to protect against some of the more vicious drivers around…

Ciclotur para Itu conhecendo as cidades turísticas, Santana do Parnaíba , SPThe day we ended up going to Itu was a Sunday and it eventually turned out to be one of the hottest days in the year. Okay, when you are riding you get cooled down by the wind going past, though that wind diminishes massively when you are going up those hills and it turned into quite an exhausting journey – we drank a good few litres of water, Gatorade… more water, coconut water (thank goodness there were places along the route where we could stop off and restock!). At the town of Barueri, just as we got to the main road, the hills began in earnest with a short but a sharp 15-20% climb… then after this it was constant up and down, with little or no shade.

The countryside as we left the city was great – plenty of green, and a river going by; just no substantial tree cover at least for the first 50km or so. We stopped off at the historic town of Santana de Paraiba, which has a lovely historic centre and market, and also at a quick break at Pirapora, a good 17km further along the highway. We didn’t spend long there, though it was definitely one of the more picturesque places I have been through for some time. After Pirapora, a few more rather lethal climbs through long exposed sections of the road, and eventually the number of trees by the road increased and we were able to have more time cycling in the shade, which helped make life easier. With all the trees and with stretches of the road going along the river, it almost felt like we were going through some areas of Canada – very lovely, and made up for the suffering beforehand!

One of the more shocking sides to the journey, however, was the amount of pollution in the river. Pirapora was lovely and picturesque, but you could see foam in the river (which flows from São Paulo city) which originated from pollutants. As we got towards Itu, there were stretches of the river that you could not actually see any of the water – just this white foam that was a good foot or two deep. Not nice. It is amazing to me that nothing appears in the news about all of it as am sure it can’t be healthy. Talking to people later and we were told that when the wind picks up, the foam gets blown into the towns and can cause burns…

We managed the journey comfortably in the end, taking it easy with good breaks and going on average about 17kph (there was one great, long, clear, smooth downhill where I went up to 65kph… quite an exhilarating change from the tortuous uphill that preceded it!). We left at 8am and got to Itu at about 5.30pm. It was great getting there and we were able to find a German restaurant recommended by our friends where we were able to relax a bit before bundling our bikes into a bus and heading back to São Paulo. On the learning side of things, I did get a punctured tyre… and we didn’t have a spatula with us… Guys at our bike store had shown us how to take off a tyre without the tools and made it look quite easy, but it sure wasn’t as easy for us. Fortunately this was at Santana de Paraiba, and there were other cyclists around who were able to help us. First thing we did when we had time in São Paulo: yes, buying spatulas and a better couple of repair kits!

And so to Santos – the aim of our training with André, O Bicicreteiro. Santos, on the coast of São Paulo state with the largest port in Brazil; the home of Santos Football Club, which in turn is the club that Pelé played for along with a number of other fantastic Brazilian football players, including Neymar at the moment. Robinho… Elano… Leonardo.. loads of them. Good club to go watch play football, though their fans can be a bit quiet when things are not going so well.

The route we took to Santos was 100km from the main starting point (another 8km away from our house), so a healthy distance for a day’s ride. We were in the green shirts for “beginners”, whilst people in white shirts were “advanced” riders – a distinction that swiftly became apparent was very much subjective, depending on people’s own opinion about themselves, rather than based on any evaluation of technical skills and capacity! But it didn’t really matter in the end – we were within a group who had a good mixture of people who definitely did know how to help when we needed it, as well as less experienced riders.

Section along the Maintenance Road – one of the hilliest parts of the route

Though around 800metres lower than São Paulo city, for a coastal town there were plenty of hill climbs upwards to navigate. Altogether, the net height climbed over the length of the ride was about 2,250 metres, whilst net descent was about 3,050 metres. Some pretty tough climbs in there as well, with one gradient of around 24% going up taking a lot out of all of, though both Natalia and myself managed to make them all without pushing our bikes. People described it as a “wall”, but in comparison to the Sorocaba training, this just seemed easier – maybe because it was shorter rather than a sustained long climb, or maybe it was because our training rides had had a good effect on us. Still pretty brutal though and the legs were burning a bit at the top, though the downhills on the other side made up for it in the end!

The first third of the journey covered the route we took to Rio Grande da Serra, along the loose rock and stone road where Natalia got a puncture the last time. As with the big climbs, it all seemed a lot easier this time, and thankfully no punctures. To get to the highway maintenance road (the old highway used now only by cyclists and highway maintenance cars), we had a stretch going along the hard should of the Immigrantes Highway the wrong direction – not particularly pleasant, but fortunately no cars decided to use the hard shoulder as traffic was flowing quite freely.  The maintenance road itself was picturesque (with the exception of the main highway above us, it felt like we were in Jurassic Park, with the forest around us) and in reasonably good condition – we just had to keep to the middle to avoid the slippy moss/algae growing on the sides. Hitting that stuff at speed and turning could spell disaster.

Gradient profile of the route to Santos – some pretty hilly sections there…

We got to Santos at about 5.30pm, cycling in from the neighbouring industrial town of Cubatão, through the city to the promenade where we had some rather salty fish and squid. Too bad the football team was playing away from home, but I think we would have been too tired to go to any match. We had to wait till around 8pm for the bus – the driver of which was particularly unhelpful in terms of getting the bikes into the luggage containers at the bottom. It was torture seeing our bikes all piled on top of each other, but everything got back to São Paulo in one piece, thankfully, and we managed to sleep as the bus edged its way up through the traffic.

More cycling adventures have been coming thick and fast – during the week, we have been doing training such as riding up and down hills leading up to Avenida Paulista, and 50km rides through the city at night, just getting used to more and more riding. We have been slowly getting more and more things for our bikes as well – extra inner tubes, pumps, puncture repair kits, stands, speedometers – and we will need to get a whole lot more: spanners, keys, baggage racks, cycling shoes and pedals with clips (makes riding soooo much easier, though need a little while getting used to), oils… and plenty more.

But in the mean time, the cycling with the Bicicreteiro group has been going well, and the weekend before this last one, we went to Rio Grande da Serra, a nice 75km cycle ride away from the city on a route that would see us cycle there and get a train back. This week Paulo, who has relatively better experiences riding longer distances, joined us. At the meeting point by the smelly River Pinheiros (about 8km away from our house), there was a group of around 30 of us, though as the day drew out, the group split into a number of smaller pelotons as we went along the cycle path at our different paces, and tried to not get lost as there were parts where we took a little while to cross-reference what André had written in the route plan and with the different road names around us.

Though shorter than the previous routes, this was definitely harder (though again, quite picturesque, with us going by lakes outside of the city and taking short trips on the car ferries over these lakes) mainly due to more the different surface types – we went along gravel roads this time as well as the smoother asphalt highways. Incredible the difference it all makes – average speeds of around 30km+ per hour along the flats on the highways, with my maximum speed getting up to just over 60km going downhill on the smooth, well-made surfaces, whilst the steep cimbs up hill on these same highways saw people reduce to around 7kmph. Many got off their bikes on the gravel tracks. I managed to make it staying on the bike (much to my happiness!), though not without a good deal of aching in my legs and, with the hybrid tyres , I occasionally felt the bike slipping in the gravel and the bike losing grip.

Am definitely not a fan of falling off bikes: the thought of the pain in my chest when I landed on top of it after falling head-over-heals in Bolivia is somewhat off-putting, as is Natalia’s experience inBolivia when she suffered a similar fate though a few more cuts than myself; as a kid riding along I also had a good few bad experiences losing control, not being able to make the turns on roads and going into ditches and walls… not nice. So losing grip and falling off on the rough surfaces of these roads would definitely not have been very healthy. I think the actual speed you go needs to be a careful balance – though this is just my opinion: you go too slow and you are tense, your bike is more easily affected by the grit and stones in your way, whereas if you go a little faster, these stones will just pop out of your way. If you go too fast, however, and you do lose control – the loose stones are too big to budge, from under your tyre or you are stuck going into a turn, then you are that much more vulnerable to doing serious damage to yourself when you are fall.

Fortunately, we did not suffer any accidents like that, though the journey to Rio Grande da Serra wasn’t without problems… (to be continued)

Thanks to André for the photographs!

Fortunately no accidents like that for us this time, but there were other problems… (more to come)