It has been a long time since we explained where in the world we are. I’m not talking about our exact location in a specific city or country. Rather, where does our position in the southern hemisphere relate to a more familiar location in the northern hemisphere? Somewhere between Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo, we officially crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. Last Christmas, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer near the tip of Baja California, Mexico. After about a week of traveling through Idaho, we found signs indicating that we were on the 45th parallel which is significant as that is halfway between the equator and the North Pole. In the Southern Hemisphere, the 45th parallel is located in southern Chile. Although It may be a couple more months until we arrive at that location. From a longitudinal perspective, our location is a bit more tricky to pinpoint. Near Rio de Janiero, our location was further east of any point in the US. We were actually about due south of Greenland. When we return to the Chilean coast, our most westerly location will be equivalent to New York. Anyhow, I hope that was informational! Now, back to the blog.
Our flight from Manaus arrived at the Campinas airport at 6AM. The cheap red eye flight got us from A to B but we were exhausted when we landed. From Campinas, we boarded a bus that returned us to the airport in Sao Paulo where Marcelo picked us up. It was a cloudy morning in Sao Paulo perfect for a long daytime nap to catch up on lost sleep. Once we awoke in the late afternoon, we visited for a while, then took a walk to a neighborhood burger place called Busger for some burgers, fries and beer. Marcelo and Helena said they had seen this restaurant before but hadn’t taken the time to see if it was any good. We enjoyed it greatly and would return again in a heartbeat, the next time we visit Sao Paulo.
In the morning, we said goodbye to the boys, including Marcelo, and rode with Helena to Guarulhos to retrieve our truck. Paulo helped us get our keys and we were ready to hit the road. We said goodbye to Paulo and Helena and were loose all alone in the big city once again.
We left Sao Paulo to the west, generally heading towards the city of Curitiba. Near dark, we set up our camper in the mist along a scenic highway and settled in for a cozy night’s sleep. In the morning, we followed the windy, scenic highway towards Morretes. The pine trees with perfectly manicured grass and abundant flowers was a treat to watch as we made our way down the mountain.
And sometimes your cheap windshield wipers fall off during the drive…
In Curitiba, we made a few stops. First, was the Botanical Gardens. These beautiful gardens are butted up right next to the high-rise apartment buildings near the city center. It was nice to have a chance to stretch our legs and get a little exercise after traveling so much the previous few days. Next, we visited the Paiol Theater. This theater began life as a storehouse for blackpowder more than 100 years ago. As the need for blackpowder declined, the building was abandoned before being converted into a theater. We learned that this curious looking building was one of the first venues in the city and helped bring culture to the city. Our final tourist destination for the day was the Opera de Arame which is a glass opera house nestled into the trees by a waterfall and pond. Getting around Curitiba was surprisingly easy. Its clean streets and laid back feel made us really appreciate the city.
That evening, we met up with friends of Marcelo. Bonatto, Marriana and Maria kept us company for the evening as we parked for the night at a coffee shop they recently opened in a house that was Bonatto’s great grandmother’s. After many years living in China, the three of them returned to Brazil in search of a change of life. The coffee shop is called Dalat Cafe referring to a region of Vietnam known for coffee. We had to try the Vietnamese style coffee that has a small amount of condensed milk in the cup and a small gravity drip filter on top of the cup fills the cup to the brim. As the night grew late, we drank all of Bonatto’s beer as we swapped stories about traveling and life, finally settling into bed around midnight.
In the morning, we enjoyed a quick breakfast and drove across town to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. Oscar Niemeyer is probably the most famous Brazilian architect with many accomplishments actually built over his long life and even designed the layout of the current Brazilian capital of Brasilia. Brasilia never existed until a new capital was set to be built and Neimeyer designed the city to resemble an airplane. We explored the museum and enjoyed the artwork filling its walls.
After the museum, we met our friends for a fabulous lunch at their home. Our conversation continued and we used their local knowledge of the area to plan the remaining portion of our Brazilian adventure. Early in the afternoon, we hit the road heading to the south.
South of Curitiba is another Brazilian oddity. A large region surrounding the city of Blumenau is known as the European Valley as it was settled by immigrants primarily from Germany. As we came closer and closer to Blumenau, the architecture began to change to resemble German homes. Within an hour of arriving in the small town of Pomerode, our frustration set in as the language changed from Portuguese to German. Once again, we were back at square one in the language department!
The following day we finished the drive to the city of Blumenau which is home to the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany. As the gates opened at 6PM, we ventured into the land of ale and sauerkraut. Having never been to an Oktoberfest, the experience initially hit me as very odd. After my third beer, the music and lederhosen became more normal. We wandered around the enormous event for a few hours before preparing to leave. With all of our drink tickets used up, we made our way to the carnival portion of the event. We hopped on the Ferris Wheel for a short ride, then to the main attraction called the Kamikaze. We made our way back to the camper and settled in with the Oktoberfest behind us.
We packed up our camper in the morning and celebrated our one year anniversary of traveling. Exactly one year ago, we left Casper for an adventure of a lifetime. Over this year, we have had experiences we never could have imagined, good, bad, and a lot in between! Also, on this same day, our trusty Dodge rolled over to 250,000 miles. As romantic as celebrating one year on the road sounds, here is a summary of the day to show otherwise:
We woke up with a slight headache at 8AM as people were setting up their camper next to us. After listening to them for an hour, we finally got out of bed to begin getting ready to leave. We drove to the next city and stopped to get a tire rotation. Although very friendly, the guy tried to gringo us initially asking over $60 for a tire rotation. We settled on a better price and waited for an hour as they took their time rotating the tires. We hopped in the truck, drove ten minutes and decided to pull over to make a PB&J sandwich. An hour later, we began entering the city of Florianopolis and were met with heavy traffic for nearly an hour. When traffic began to let up, a motorcycle passed us very close and we figured he was annoyed as he made the gesture of cutting his throat as he sped away in front of us. We navigated to the wrong spot on the island. When we finally arrived at the right spot, the camp spot was less than ideal so we tried another spot. When we arrived at the next spot, there was no place to park and it was also less than ideal. We ended up driving twenty miles to the north to find a better spot. At 7PM, we finally arrived at a descent camp spot and made dinner and watched Grey’s Anatomy before going to bed.
The weather for our two days in paradise didn’t cooperate as planned. Throughout the night, the fog rolled off the ocean and right onto our camper as we slept. In the morning, a steady rain fell but eventually subsided in the early afternoon. We enjoyed the lazy day on the beach but we did fell a little bummed that our tans wouldn’t match those that we had in Central America. Oh well, next time!
Florianopolis was our last visit to the ocean in Brazil as we pointed the truck to the west. Over the course of about six hours, we gained elevation as we arrived at nearly 4,000 feet in the quaint town of Treze Tilias. In the heart of the European Valley, this region was settled by Austrian immigrants in the late 1800s. With legitimate pine forests and rolling hills, Austrian architecture coupled with small, rural farms dominates this region. More importantly, the German influence on local beer was also apparent as we found our way to the Bierbaum Brewing Company that served us pizza with “liters of beer” and allowed us to camp in the parking lot free of charge. Heck of a deal! The overnight temperatures caught us off guard with lows of 51 degrees, much lower than the otherwise tropical temperatures we quickly got used to.
We set out to walk the streets of Treze Tilias in the morning, enjoying the dramatic change in architecture from the rest of Brazil. Our favorite stop was at the Municipal Museum, which was actually the city’s founder’s home from the early 1900’s. Andreas Thaler’s home has been turned into a museum that displays plenty of photos and artifacts that date back to the city’s earliest days. Although we didn’t learn too much about him specifically, we did see many portraits that showed he had a magnificent beard. So magnificent was it, that there were actually four copies of the same portrait in the museum!
While at the museum, we learned about the significance of the Edelweiss flower, which is a name used by many businesses in the region. The Edelweiss flower is native to Austria and only grows above 1,700 meters. Interestingly, when preserved correctly, the flower lasts for several decades and is a symbol of love, affection, and friendship. This gave new meaning to businesses who use the name of this flower as their business name.
Over the next few days, we drove. And drove. Then drove some more. We felt as if we had been temporarily transplanted back to the US as the landscape entirely resembled the pine forests and large rolling hills that can be found in Idaho. Near the city of Foz do Iguacu on the Argentinean border, the landscape was nearly identical to what we had seen in our first week in Brazil as our location put us only a couple hundred miles away from where we first crossed into Brazil. For the time being, our Brazilian adventure was over.
So, what did we learn about Brazil? Here are a few observations we felt worthy of mentioning before wrapping up our Brazilian blog posts:
Brazil is much different than every other Latin American country we have visited so far. The racial diversity is immense and may even be greater than that of the US. Unfortunately, slavery was a big contributor to the diversity, but the huge area of Brazil also includes indigenous populations, as well as, huge European and Asian populations.
The Portuguese language may be another reason we felt like ducks out of water. (See what I did there? Ducks out of water. Drake… duck.) Written Portuguese is fairly easy to understand with a Spanish background. Listening to spoken Portuguese on the other hand was almost impossible for us. We think the language barrier is a big reason the border between Brazil and its other neighbors is more than just an international border. That said, Brazilians are incredibly friendly and travelers should be willing to get out of their comfort zone to tackle this great country.
Speaking of the friendliness of Brazilians, the Brazilians we ran into during our two months were the most outgoing and curious of any people we met on our entire trip. I would venture to say that every single day, we would have at least three different people give a thumbs up or wave while passing us on the highway. When we were stopped at fuel stations or grocery stores, random people would stop to say “hello” and ask where we were from. Many random people offered us their phone numbers instructing us to call if we needed any help during our visit. We really enjoyed the people of Brazil.
As we have mentioned time and time again, Brazil is EXPENSIVE! Everything from fuel to camping to tours are way more expensive than we are used to. We did discover that buying Brazilian made products were much less expensive and actually quite affordable compared to imported items. We only paid for camping a handful of times and free camped the rest of the time which certainly helped the budget. Many of the free camping was had at truck stops. As non-sexy as this sounds, we appreciated the restrooms, access to water, ample parking space, safety, and relatively inexpensive fuel. Nearly every Brazilian truck has a huge box attached to it that is filled with food and grilling equipment. At the end of the day, the truckers all open up their boxes and have a barbecue party. It’s actually pretty entertaining and creates a fun environment.
Finally, we loved the diversity of landscapes of the country. From the Pantanal to the Amazon, beaches and mountains, the natural beauty of Brazil was much greater than anything we could have imagined. We highly recommend everybody to experience a road trip through Brazil to experience this diversity.
After Brazil, our route will take us through Northern Argentina as we make our way back to Bolivia for a drive through the Salar de Uyuni then onto the Laguna Route and into the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. These three areas are places we have been looking forward to visiting since the early stages of planning our trip and will be certainly worth reading!