Every once in a while – especially after exceptional efforts – it just feels right to escape the busy city and spend a few days on the beach. We did just that as we decided not to turn inland and visit the bustling megalopolis of São Paulo, but to follow the coast southward instead.
The exceptional effort I am referring to is the one we undertook yesterday – cycling more than 80 kms through hilly (if not mountainous) terrain with 30 kgs of gear each proved to be too much.
When we woke up, our legs were sore and heavy. We had to go at a leisurely pace, even though the stretch after Juguehy was flat as a pan and the BR-101 thus succeeded at proving me wrong (remember, I said that it never runs straight). Also, Ben is suffering from a persistent cold. We really need to nurse that, but so far the pousadas we have been staying at since Juguehy have given us no incentive to spend more than the shortest amount of time possible there.
The scenery after Juguehy was not as exciting as it had been during the previous days, yet every once in a while a few huts, some mountains in the distance or a river crossing gave the eye something to rest upon and warded off any boredom. At one point, the road ran straight over a small hill instead of going around it.
Seeing as our progress is slower than planned, we decided not to go to São Paulo. Visiting the biggest city in South America would have taken several additional days and we were doubtful whether cycling in such a massive urban landscape would be particularly enjoyable. Instead, we agreed on sticking to the coast on our way south. The plan was to board a ferry at the town of Bertioga that would take us all the way to Santos, where it looked like we could cycle along the beach for some days. However, at the port of Bertioga we realized that the ferry to Santos that Google Maps had found for us does not actually exist. There was a ferry, but it would only take us across the river to the next island. Crossing that island in order to catch the ferry to Santos would mean an additional 30 km with potentially severe climbs. Again, this seemed just too much. We booked into a pousada, enjoyed some free pizza courtesy of the owners, and even indulged in some ice cream before heading to bed.
The next morning and after rolling off the ferry, we found out that the road on that island was very pleasant, with little traffic and hardly any elevation. That changed when we came to Guaruja, the largest town on that island and a sort of suburb to Santos. The streets suddenly became busy and we were racing some buses that kept overtaking us in order to cut onto our lane and brake to a full stop immediately after.
A word on Brazilian bus drivers: they are a menace not to be underestimated. While I generally admire the patience and discipline of bus drivers around the globe, bus drivers in Brazil seem to consider themselves above the rules of traffic. In fact, I think that an important part of the education of bus drivers in this country is a brainwash not entirely unlike that Alex undergoes in the movie Clockwork Orange and that eliminates every trace of empathy for their fellow human being. Only that way can it be explained that they crash into other cars and continue driving without looking back, overtake us at a distance measurable only in nanometers and don’t even stop for a guy in a wheelchair waving at them from a bus stop. We have witnessed these scenes, and worse.
But I digress. We were surprised to find a bike lane on the beach boulevard in Guaruja, and even more surprised to see that there is a ferry to Santos exclusive to bicycles!
The bike lane continued for another 10 km along the beach of Santos. It is funny: Brazil undertakes notable efforts to promote cycling, but most of this effort only emphasizes the sandwich position of cyclists between pedestrians and motorized traffic, excluding them from traffic instead of making them part of it. So when either of these groups meet (at intersections, for instance) usually everyone is confused and does not know what do to. To my mind, that creates an unnecessarily dangerous situation for everyone. But I digress again.
As a last challenge, we had to cross a busy highway without any flyovers before we could continue our journey on the beach for the rest of the day. According to the locals, Praia Grande measures an impressive 23 km – but we cycled more than 30 km on it today! When we reached a giant pier stretching out into the sea, we started looking for a pousada. Today we will continue along the beach until its end before we turn inland.