Don’t cry for me, Argentina…………..
After 50 nights in Argentina overall, (in and out of Chile repeatedly since 8th December when we crossed from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Purmamarca in Argentina) today was time to leave it for the last time. In the past 12 months, this is the longest time in a single country apart from Alaska / USA. What comes to mind when I think of Argentina ? Fascinating. Amazing scenery. Problems getting money. Maté. Wind. Barbecues. Never ending (and somewhat boring) pampas. Maté (yes I wrote it twice on purpose !) Penguins and Orcas. Argentina is enormous, and therefore extremely diverse. I preferred the western and southern parts, with the mountains of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, but the eastern coastline certainly had some amazing places and wildlife. Yes, I have enjoyed Argentina, but it is time to move on……….
And Iguazu Falls are certainly a high point on which to leave Argentina. They rate up there with Alaska, Galapagos, Machu Picchu, and the Andes as one of the most amazing parts of this adventure.
By the time I woke up in Iguazu, everyone else in the camp site had gone, so I didn’t get to say farewell to any of my friends. (Yes, for once I overslept !!) So a quick breakfast, a farewell to Ramon (the owner) and his wife, and I headed out of town, via the supermercado for some supplies for the next couple of days. Then it was all of two kilometres to the bridge over the river into Brasil. I have got so used to crossing between Chile and Argentina (8 or 9 times ?!) that I wasn’t sure what to expect for Brasil. As I neared the border, a long queue of cars didn’t bode well – Many Argentinians cross everyday. But the line moved quickly, and within 10 minutes, I was at the head of the queue – Hey, for the first time on the trip since a US / Canada border, I didn’t have to get out of the car – You just drive up to a booth and hand your documents out of the window !! How good is this ? Within 30 seconds he had stamped my passport out of Argentina, taken my car’s Argentinian temporary import permit, and waved me through. Then on through 5 kms or so of no man’s land, across a big river, to the Brazilian border – where they just waved me through………. Can’t be right !! What about my passport stamp ? What about a temporary car import ? etc etc. So I park and walk over to the policeman who had waved me through and he directed me to a passport office – Where I filled out a simple form, handed it in (no queue !), and after 10 seconds my passport was stamped into Brasil and handed back. “What about my car ?” I asked. “No”, the lady replied, and waved me through. I checked with the policeman outside. “Completo ?” “Si.” “Voy a Sao Paulo?” “Si”. Fair enough !! Seems a little odd, but I will accept it ! A man came up and asked if I needed cambio (change), and I decided to change $100 just so I had some Reals in my pocket while I looked for an ATM, and once I had done that, I headed out of the customs area, pleasantly surprised by the ease of the whole process, but at the same time worried that I needed some kind of documents for the car !
I decided the best bet to find an ATM that accepted overseas cards was at the airport, so I drove out there, found an ATM, and got some more cash – And was ready to hit the road. SO nice to be able to get money from an ATM rather than having to find people on the street to change money in Argentina – That really is one of the biggest hassles in Argentina, due to the varying exchange rates. And this border crossing has to be the easiest one so far in the whole trip – Easier even than US/ Canadian borders.
I then drove almost solidly from noon to 7 pm across Brazil – Not the most exciting drive, but quite interesting because it was so very different from everywhere else so far. Quite sub-tropical and green, crops of corn (maize) and sugar cane for as far as you can see in any direction, and an amazing number of “Love” motels – Renting rooms by the hour ! I was surprised by these as I thought this was a central American “thing” – But in Brazil they seem even more common ! Certainly very obvious both in their colours and their names too !! By 7 pm I was pooped and found a perfect gas station with an enormous parking lot out the back. I tucked myself out of the way in a corner (in case it filled with trucks during the evening), cooked my supper and went to bed. In the photos it looks a bit sad, with the collapsed roof, but in fact it was just perfect ! Slept like a log and not disturbed by any trucks at all.
Leisurely get up and breakfast in the morning, and by 8 am I was on the road before the sun got too hot. The traffic lights in this part of Brazil explain why there are so many Ayerton Senna’s and other Brazilians floating around in motor racing - They use the same lights system for traffic lights as they use to start a Formula 1 Grand Prix, or start a drag race !! There are two columns of lights, one of red, on the left, and one of green, on the right. When the light first turns red, the top and the bottom lights (of 6) are illuminated. Slowly, the lights scroll down like those at a drag strip, (although more slowly) and once the bottom red one is the only one alight, it goes to 2 green ones on the right hand side, and the race is on. The same system then happens with the green lights, so you know when you are going to have to stop. And NO ONE runs a red light because they know the people going the other way have their clutches slipping and are ready to go when all their red lights go out !! I couldn’t believe the system, and was so busy checking it out I was a bit slow off the grid a couple of times, and lost a couple of positions !!
Today was much like yesterday – Rolling hills, lots of maize and sugar cane (for all their ethanol, I guess), and also an increasing amount of coffee – At last after the almost total lack of coffee in Chile and Argentina. One town I passed through had a factory roasting the coffee, and the smell was just great – I opened all the windows and sniffed deeply ! The day was boring, but not uninteresting, if you can understand that – I am only going to pass this way once in my life, so it is always interesting to see it all. Apart from the extensive agriculture, there were increasing numbers of BIG factories – Cars (VW, Toyota, John Deere, and Chery were the ones I remember), and lots of Industrial names I recognised – Johnson & Johnson, Copersucar, and tyre manufacturing plants, as well as many others I didn’t recognise. My impressions of Brazil so far are the extensive agriculture, and massive industrialization – The latter maybe more obvious because due to the flat countryside, you can see it from the road – It is not hidden away. And LOTS of trucks on the road, moving goods from one place to another. But it really wasn’t a very exciting day - Just kilometres (1200 from Iguazu to Ubatuba) to be covered.
By 6 pm I was (again !) pooped, having been driving since 8 am, and started looking for a campsite on the Garmin ……Nothing. Just no camp sites out here in the middle of Brazil. So it was then a case of looking for another suitable gas station – I actually needed to do a U turn and go back about 20 kms because I was getting closer to the urbanization of Sao Paulo, and so the gas stations were not the big spacious ones you get out in the country. But the first one I came to, a big petrobras one, was perfect, and once again I tucked myself away in a corner so I was out of the way of any big trucks that might stop later, cooked some spaghetti for supper, and hit the hay.
Why Ubatuba ? Well in Panama, when we were trying to ship the car to Columbia, we had linked up with a great Brazilian family who had been up to Alaska and were on their way home – Mauro, Giovanna, and their children Leticia and Pedro. We spent quite a lot of time with them in Cartagena as we waited for our cars, and they had invited us to Ubatuba once we got to Brazil, Speaking to people on the road, everyone said Ubatuba was gorgeous, so since I have 4 weeks up my sleeve before I have to be in Montevideo, I decided to go and investigate. Ubatuba is just north of Sao Paulo, and about 200 kms south of Rio de Janeiro, and is right on the coast. And it would be great to catch up with them all again.
The next morning I found very few trucks around me, so had a quick breakfast and headed out by 8.30 am or so. After the somewhat tedious drive east across southern Brazil, the increasing traffic as I neared Sao Paulo, especially since I hadn’t really been in a sizeable city since Santiago back in January – So all a bit frenetic trying to get used to it all. Much harder on your own too, trying to co-ordinate maps, maps.me on the tablet, and the Garmin, all of which seem to say slightly different things !! I kept just north of Sao Paulo, and the only real traffic I hit was in Campinas where I thought I was being clever by getting there after 9 am, only to find out that their rush hour seems to start at 9 and go till about 11 am – They seem to start work later over here !! Anyway, made it through, despite an increasing number of people waving at me and taking photos of my car as they overtook me ! Probably more than at any other stage of the trip – And can be quite disconcerting because they suddenly brake after they pass you, and wait for you to pass them again, or change lanes suddenly, in order to take a photo ! But nice that they are so friendly and aware, anyway.
And the toll roads !!! The Peajes, or Pedagios at they are called here in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, are the worst I have seen since Columbia, and maybe even more expensive. I only did about 1200 kms in Brazil so far, and it has cost me 200 Reals, or about $75 US !! But at least the people in the booths are friendly – Every single one of them smiled at my RHD car and made a friendly comment. And at one booth, a guy who was outside the booth came over to take my money and help me reach across to the booth (remember the booth is on the left), and when, for a joke, I put my hand out of the right hand window for my change, he laughed and ran all the way round my car to give it to me ! We all had a good laugh about that one !!
About 250 kms short of Rio, in a town called Taubate, I turned off the main highway and headed east down to Ubatuba, on the coast. We had been up in hills (Sierra da Mantequiera ?) for a while, at about 800 metres, and as I turned to Ubatuba, we climbed higher, up to about 900 metres, and then the road not only got really twisty, but we were in thick cloud for a while ! This was already far more interesting than the last 3 days across the endless countryside across Brazil ! Amazing yellow and purple flowering trees for a while, and then the road started dropping. Steeply. And for the next 50 minutes or so I was in 2nd gear much of the time, trying to save my brakes which were getting increasingly spongy and smelly with the repeated steep downhill hairpin bends. Finally I arrived in Ubatuba, and what a great little seaside town. Quite a few good surf beaches nearby, I understand too. Having only a phone number for Mauro, I decided to drive to the beach and call him from there, figuring he would be able to find me more easily. I ended up parking just in front of a VW kombi with a young couple selling T shirts and beads to passers-by. Mauro does not (yet) speak good English, so I was having trouble explaining where I was in Ubatuba so he could come and find me, so I went over to the couple in the kombi and asked if they spoke English, and if they could explain to my friend on the phone where I was. Once they started talking, it turned out they knew Mauro and I had to stop them chatting on my expensive Australian phone ! It seems Mauro knows most people in Ubatuba after 27 years here, including the people selling trinkets on the beach ! After about 15 minutes Mauro arrived together with daughter Leticia, and we all had a good laugh together before setting off back to Mauro’s home.
Once there we had a fun evening communicating in our mixed English / Spanish / Portuguese – They are all taking English lessons at the moment so their English is getting a lot better than my Spanish (and certainly better than my Portuguese which is almost zero !), especially Mauro whose English is improving quickly ! Mauro and Giovanna have moved out of their bedroom for me, which is vert kind of them, but most embarrassing. I have a list of things to do in the few days I am here – Haircut, try to find some of my prescription pills (I am running out because I thought I would be back in Australia about now), and a couple of problems with my computer I need to fix. So we will tackle them tomorrow. In the mean time it was off to bed – for me so very nice to have a meal cooked by someone else for a change, and to sleep somewhere else than in the back of my car ! And lovely to just be somewhere where I can flop for a few days before getting back on the road again !