All roads lead to... the beach (cycling Bahia!)

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May 18th 2014
Published: August 10th 2014
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Bye bye Salvador de Bahia!Bye bye Salvador de Bahia!Bye bye Salvador de Bahia!

on the other side of the Bay de Todos os Santos
My dad and I left Salvador with a pinch of sadness. It had been the perfect introduction to Brazil for us with the beach culture around the colorful historical center (Portuguese heritage), lively music on cobblestone, Afro-Brazilian rhythm mixed with capoiera, modern buildings laid out next to intriguing favelas, and a great combination of local smiles and happy tourists. The city had treated us well and we both agreed we would be back in Salvador de Bahia in the near future. But today we were leaving the city for the true beginning of our cycling adventure in Bahia!

We rode from our guesthouse in Barra to the Terminal Maritimo 5 km away at the foot of the old quarter. It was about 10 o’clock when we reached the harbor and we got to witness the crowds around the markets: what a lively city with music, street vendors, exotic fruit (for us at least!), all kinds of arts and crafts, and of course crazy traffic ! Catching the ferry to Ilha de Itaparica (on the other side of the bay) was quick and easy. We parked our bikes next to the cars and we gazed at the city, its old churches
On Ilha ItaparicaOn Ilha ItaparicaOn Ilha Itaparica

You can see Salvador on the other side of the bay
and skyscrapers getting smaller and smaller… We accosted on the other side of Baia de Todos os Santosand rode off the ferry to find ourselves in the Bahian countryside: tall grass, sugar cane, forests of palm trees and other green fields for cows everywhere! It was such a contrast from the city of Salvador! The sun felt like fire on our bare arms and we were very excited at the idea of cycling along the coast to explore the numerous beaches on Itaparica. We found some very quiet trails that linked one little town to another. We got to see some gorgeous houses along the coast (most certainly people who live inSalvadorown a beach house in Itaparica) with some incredible gardens and swimming pools. Unfortunately the weather turned to clouds and rain too fast and we decided to cycle on without spending any time at the beach…

We were riding towards Valenca (150km) from where we would catch a boat to Morro de Sao Paulo, or as guidebooks describe it, a “fabulous tropical paradise.” When you travel on a bike, the journey on the road is as important (if not more) as the destination itself. And it was all
May 2014, in BahiaMay 2014, in BahiaMay 2014, in Bahia

on our way to Valenca
the more true on this first leg of our trip. I guess we didn’t really know what to expect. We hadn’t done so much research when we were planning this adventure. I knew roughly how many kilometers there were between each main town on the map but we didn’t know what kind of scenery we would find, and we didn’t know how hilly it would be! I naively thought somehow that riding along the coast or through the forest by the coast, would be fairly flat! I was soooooo wrong! From the moment we passed the bridge and reached the mainland, it was all up and down, with some very long and steep uphill and somehow some very quick downhill! Isn’t it always the case on a bike?! We were however very nicely surprised by the quality of the roads. We had read that roads in Brazil were terrible due to crazy drivers, lots of trucks, and the lack of shoulder room… but the road we followed (mostly the BA-001) was smooth and we had plenty of space to ride on the side of the road (also nicely paved). The scenery switched from mangroves to farm fields, to forest (jungle-like with lots of palm trees) and the occasional little farm.

We rode from Itaparica to Nazare (60km of ups and downs) and arrived in town just before sunset (5.30pm). We looked for a restaurant in which to have a quick meal before riding out of town to find a place to camp for the night. We didn’t have many options in the small town of Nazare. The first restaurant only served chicken but no rice or noodles or bread… We had been riding the whole day and I wanted something consistent. I entered a 2nd restaurant but was told that the cooks were away… as we clearly approached the end of town, we were advised to stop at what looked like a rest area right by the road. I walked in without much hope but it really looked like our last chance before a steep hill that clearly marked the end of town… There were 2 cute shop assistants inside and we didn’t understand each other at all, but I somehow understood we could get some food with rice, beans and some kind of meat. The sun was going down, and I really wanted to eat as fast as
oh Yeah! haha!oh Yeah! haha!oh Yeah! haha!

in Nazare, Bahia. If we ever go by the BA-001 again, we'll stop in Nazare to enjoy barbecued beef again!
possible in order to avoid having to look for a campsite in the dark, so I agreed with whatever they suggested. The price was reasonable (14reals a person = US$ 6.5). We ordered a cold beer that tasted out of this world after the numerous long ascents we had undergone all day long. We then headed to the public bathroom where we each had a shower in the sink… This is why we look all wet (not sweaty!) on the pictures at the restaurant! All clean and refreshed, we welcomed our food. And let me tell you: the best piece of meat ever! 2 big pieces of beef and 1 of chicken spit-roasted, tasty, seared, melting in my mouth, delicious, scrumptious! And of course the usual rice, beans, salad on the side: 13 dollars! It was so good we celebrated with a 2nd beer! It was almost dark when we left the place but we didn’t care anymore! We rode a few km out of town then we slowed down to look for a field, a trail, anything that could lead to a quiet (and dry!) place to spend the night. The side of the road was soaked and muddy (I might not have mentioned it, but it rained pretty much every 2 hours or so during our first week inBahia), trails led to houses with electric fences (I checked!...). We eventually found a spot only a few meters from the road, by a barbed wired fence, but there were some very high grass and other plants between the road and us so, in the dark, drivers or other people who would pass by wouldn’t see us (at this time of our trip we were still a bit paranoid about safety in Brazil… not that it prevented us from wildcamping! As usual my Dad fell asleep very fast and I followed shortly. I woke up a couple of hours later as a car stopped by only a few meters away. The driver spent more than 40 minutes on his phone talking to his wife (or girlfriend) telling her she didn’t need to worry about him going out… at one point the passenger got out of the car and walked back and forth on the road, just by our tent. I’m not sure whether he didn’t see us or simply ignored us but he got back in the car eventually and they drove off.

We woke up at 6 and rode to Valenca (40km) pretty fast. Once again we had to climb some steep hills but the sky was blue, the sun felt warm, and we were heading to an island! Good life! In Valenca we filled up on water and food for some camping on Morro de Sao Paulo. We also stopped at a bakery and enjoyed 2 Brazilian portions of cake! Brazilian portions are BIG portions! No kidding most people inBrazilare well padded! But we loved it and we needed the energy! Plus Brazilian cakes taste awesome!

I was expecting a big ferry to get from Valenca to Morro but we didn’t find any (didn’t really look either). We found a booth for tourists right in the city center, on a canal, where we could buy tickets for tiny speed boats to Morro de Sao Paulo. Lots of tourists were waiting to embark there but the people working at the dock were not friendly at all. They made us wait for a long time (no reason given) and even though we had already paid extra to take the 2 bikes along, the captain (boat owner) asked for even more money before we could get on… he barely looked at us and ignored us intentionally. It drove me crazy but my Dad reminded me we were on holidays, that it was the first time (and only time I believe in our entire stay) in Brazil that people were rude to us, and that we had saved money by camping many times already so we could pay the ugly fart and get going ASAP.

There is no car in the town ofMorroso streets are all quiet. The island is all hills and as soon as you land, you need to climb a very steep street to get to town. Tourists who come with big suitcases (many of these!) hire local men to carry their heavy belongings on a wheelbarrow up and down the cobblestone lanes. These guys are amazingly strong and we stood for a while looking at them push the heavy loads up the streets: remarkable effort! I guess we had it easy with our bikes and the panniers: it rolled nicely! The weather changed (again!) as we were waiting for the boat in Valenca and it was all clouds and rain over Morro when we arrived. We traveled to the beaches (number 1, number 2, 3 and 4… that’s how they’re called there!) but we weren’t impressed. We knew Morro would be touristy but I guess we weren’t ready for it… and the weather was so dim we didn’t feel like staying on the beach. Naturally prices in Morro were much higher than wherever we had been so far. So we went on and followed the beach to see where we would end up. A man who set up an Italian restaurant by the beach made a joke about us getting ready for the Tour de France. We asked him whether it was possible to ride around the island and he said it was, but he also warned us to be careful and stay safe if we decided to get away from the touristy area. We were surprised to hear this. We were on a tropical island, cycling on the beach, people were drinking fancy cocktails or eating ice creams but we should be worried about crime here? We didn’t know what to think. We parked the bikes by the mangrove and headed to the natural pools (at low tide).

After a quick swim, we rode farther on the beach and reached the old village of Morro where all the locals live. There is no hotel, no fancy restaurant there, but a bunch of little convenience shops and a few bars/eateries where people watch football. We were cycling and looking for a quiet place to pitch our tent for the night but there were people everywhere and it was either thick jungle (no space for a tent) or windy beach. In my guidebook there was a camping place on the other side of the island… since it was still early and the island wasn’t so big, I convinced my Dad to ride there. Well, we tried! There is only one trail that crosses the island (otherwise you have to follow the beach all around) but we quickly realized it can only be undertaken on foot or in a tractor! It was simply impossible to cycle: there was way too much sand, or too much mud, or huge puddles, and then more sand (I’m talking 50cm deep of soft sand) and on top of this the trail was steep as hell! We pushed our bikes for a while thinking the path couldn’t possibly be so bad
enjoying Brazil!enjoying Brazil!enjoying Brazil!

Les Saint Albanais au Bresil!
the entire way… but after a kilometer of pushing I spotted a flat area by the jungle and I told my Dad we could hide the bikes in the forest and come back at night to pitch our tent. He agreed and so we dropped our bikes and panniers behind thick bush, we kept 2 backpacks with our valuables (World Cup tickets among others!) and we kept going on foot to the village of Gamboa.

My Dad likes to bike and run but he’s not a big fan of walking somehow… So he wasn’t too pleased when all we found on the way to Gamboa were gigantic puddles, flying bugs, mud and quick sand (no, I’m joking! But almost!) We did find the camping ground in Gamboa and it would have been nice to stay there but we had left the bikes and our stuff 4 kilometers up the hill so… it would be for next time! The owner of the camping/guesthouse asked us to hurry up if we wanted to make it back to Morro tonight. The tide was coming up and the unique way to reach Morro was by the beach… So we ended up walking all

Good life!
the way back to Morro and then along the beaches where we had cycled earlier on… to eventually reach the village where the locals live, to have a nice dinner (another one!) while watching a football game. The restaurant got crowded and it was fun to follow a match with a bunch of Brazilian fans! The World Cup was coming, how much fun would this be in a month time! We left everyone a few minutes before the end of the game and we disappeared in the dark… We pitched our tent and enjoyed a very peaceful night in the jungle. We woke up to the noise of a tractor that was taking a dozen people across the island at 6am.

I really wanted to make it to the neighboring island of Boipeba but according to my guidebook, we had to take a boat from Morro to get there. And it cost US$ 100 a person… without the bikes! Since we had the bikes, I wondered whether it was possible to cycle there. We just had to wish that every trail wouldn’t be like the one we took the previous day… An old man told us to cycle to
happy cyclist!happy cyclist!happy cyclist!

c'est l'aventure!
the village of Garapua (about 10km away) and from there on, we could simply follow the beach all the way to the river that separated Morro from Boipeba. Simple enough. So We bought some water and started cycling. The road was bad… puddles, sand, we could cycle, but we had to get off so many times and push in deep sand. It was hard! It was incredibly hard! And worst of all, there was no sign indicating whether we were in the right direction. No sign, no people to ask. We were struggling, and it kept on raining on us (not long of course, but it was so grey!) and I thought of turning around a couple of times, but my Dad laughed at me and refused to turn around. It took us more than 2 hours to cover 8km… It would have been faster to walk there! But we made it! Garapua is a sleeping village with 2 streets. Kids don’t wear shoes there. Moms do laundry in the river. People get around on motorbikes but it’s a world apart from Morro and the tourists. We decided to have an early lunch there and we were invited in a family-owned restaurant to enjoy chicken filets and you guessed it, rice, beans and salad! We seemed to be the village attraction as dozens of kids peaked at the window to look at the foreigners eating. The owner of the restaurant was extremely friendly and we talked for a while. He congratulated my Dad on this cycling adventure and even danced a little for us to show us some Brazilian moves! He also gave us some cold water and told us to follow the beach all the way to the end, where we’d see the village of Boipeba on the other side of the river. Cycling on the beach (again!) was fantastic, especially when the sun came out. I rode ahead and savored this incredible feeling of freedom. After a few minutes, I stopped and dropped my bike on the white sand. I ran to the ocean and dove in! Unbelievable life! My Dad followed. We were like 2 kids on a summer vacation!

We got stuck in sand a few times but overall, riding on the beach was fairly easy (but slow) on this part of the island. We reached the river around 4 and many fishermen stopped to ask us whether we wanted to cross to Boipeba. I didn’t want to get to the village and have to stress to look for a place to camp before night so we stayed on the Morro side of the river and watched the sky turn purple, while preparing dinner on the gas stove. We pitched the tent under tall palm trees and fell asleep on soft sand, extremely pleased with ourselves…

On a quitté Salvador avec un petit pincement au cœur, mais avec la certitude que, aussi bien papa et moi, nous serons de retour dans la région dans les années à venir. Nous avons roulé jusqu’à l’embarcadère de Salvador et après un petit tour au marché coloré près du port, nous sommes montés à bord d’un gros ferry et avons rangé nos vélos à côté des voitures. Salvador, ses vieilles églises monumentales en haut de chaque colline et ses gratte-ciels en contrebas s’éloignèrent rapidement pour laisser place à des forêts et quelques habitations de fortune le long des plages désertes du nord de la ville. De l’autre côté de la baie (sur l’Ile d’Itaparica) c’était la verdure qui nous attendait ! La forêt, des champs, des prés à vaches, des palmiers… et une route tranquille menant d’un village à l’autre le long du littoral. Nous avons pu apercevoir quelques très jolies maisons de vacances avec de beaux jardins et des barbecues à rendre jaloux les Australiens! Malheureusement le temps s’est à nouveau gâté et nous n’avons pas profité de la plage à Itaparica. Nous avons trouvé abri dans une supérette qui servait des pâtisseries énormes (à la taille du Brésil !) puis comme le temps semblait vouloir rester au gris, nous décidâmes de rouler : direction Nazare (70km) puis Valenca (40km) d’où partent les bateaux pour notre prochaine destination: la belle ile de Morro de Sao Paulo.

Lorsqu’on voyage en vélo, la destination n’est souvent pas aussi importante que le voyage (sur la route) en lui-même. Et cette étape au sud de Salvador nous remplit de surprises. Tout d’abord, j’avais imaginé que la route, le long du littoral serait plus ou moins plate… J’avais tout faux et nous avons passé 2 jours à monter des côtes (les descentes paraissent toujours très courtes en vélo! ). Ce fut difficile mais quel bel entrainement… pour la suite du voyage! On s’attendait également à trouver de vilaines routes toutes cabossées, mais en fait la BA-001 était un régal pour nous, cyclistes : route lisse, propre, avec un large bas-côté qui permettait de nous sentir en sécurité lorsque quelques voitures ou camions nous doublaient. La route a été découpée au beau milieu de la jungle. C’est donc dans la forêt parsemée de champs et de petites fermes qu’on a eu le plaisir de rouler jusqu’à Nazare. En ville nous avons eu la chance de déguster de beaux morceaux de viande à la broche avant de reprendre la route à la nuit pour trouver un endroit où piquer la tente… Sans grand succès, c’est entre des barbelés et de hautes herbes dans le fossé qu’on s’installa pour quelques heures de sommeil bien mérité!

C’est avec le soleil et la tranquillité de l’aube que nous reprîmes la route pour Valenca. Et à nouveau les montées et les descentes s’enchainèrent sans relâche. Une nouvelle grosse part de gâteau chacun en ville, les gourdes remplies et les sacoches pleines de nourriture, on alla acheter les tickets de bateau pour Morro. Avec du recul, c’est le seul moment du voyage où les gens ont été désagréables : on arrivait dans un endroit prisé par les touristes et donc tout le monde cherchait à en profiter. Les prix des bateaux, des hôtels et des restos à Morro flambent; les gens cherchent à vendre et c’est envahissant. En plus il faisait gris quand on est arrivés sur l’île, et donc on s’est sentis un peu lésés à notre arrivée à Morro… Heureusement, nous avions les vélos ! Car quand un endroit ne nous plait pas trop, on peut rouler et aller voir plus loin! On a donc roulé le long de la plage, loin des touristes, loin des restos aux prix exorbitants et on a atteint un petit village tranquille. La question restait de savoir où nous pourrions planter la tente. Il y avait du monde de partout. La jungle était beaucoup trop dense et la plage trop ventée… Sur mon guide j’avais l’adresse d’un camping de l’autre côté de l’ile. Il était encore tôt, vamos! Il y a 1 seul chemin qui traverse l’Ile de Morro mais on s’est très vite rendu compte qu’il n’était praticable qu’à pieds ou en tracteur! C’était du sable super mou sur 50cm, des saignées géantes causées par la pluie et les roues de tracteur… et quand ce n’était
and this is where we ended up campingand this is where we ended up campingand this is where we ended up camping

just by the sandy trail, in the forest
pas du sable, c’était de la boue et des flaques immenses… Il nous était absolument impossible de rouler! On a quand même poussé les vélos sur 1 km (plus?), évidemment, ça montait effroyablement! Quand tout à coup je vis un espace surélevé, juste en amont du chemin impraticable au plein milieu de la forêt. Pourquoi ne pas cacher les vélos et nos sacoches ici et revenir à la nuit tombante pour y dormir? Ni une ni deux, nous mettons un antivol à nos 2 montures et nous voilà partis pour le village de Gamboa (où il y a le camping) avec un sac à dos chacun (et nos objets de valeur… comme les tickets pour les matches de la coupe du Monde par exemple!)

Papa aime bien rouler à vélo ou courir mais il n’aime pas marcher… il n’a pas été déçu quand le chemin jusqu’à la plage s’est avéré être rempli de flaques, d’insectes en tout genre et de la boue tout du long! On a réussi à trouver le camping, mais comme les vélos et nos affaires étaient restés dans la forêt à des km, on s’est dit qu’on allait repérer les lieux pour la prochaine fois
C'est l'aventure!C'est l'aventure!C'est l'aventure!

great memory! But at the time we were very skeptical about the whole plan...
! Le patron du camping nous a conseillé de faire vite pour relier la ville de Morro car la seule façon d’y arriver est par la plage, et la marée était en train de monter! On s’est donc retrouvés à faire tout le tour de la partie touristique de l’ile en un après-midi. Comme ça, c’était fait! De retour dans la partie paisible du village (où les locaux habitent, à 1 ou 2 km de là où on avait caché les vélos) nous avons trouvé un restau sympa où le chef nous gâta d’un bon gros repas brésilien! Et puis il y avait du foot a la télé donc le resto-bar s’est vite rempli. Quelle ambiance! Un petit mois avant la coupe du monde, on pouvait déjà sentir toute la ferveur qui allait s’emparer du pays le 12 juin!

Réveillés avant 6h par le bruit de tracteurs sur ce chemin de misère, on s’est rendu compte que les tracteurs tiraient de grandes remorques remplies de passagers qui devaient sûrement se rendre au travail de l’autre côté de l’ile. En tous cas, avant cela, on s’est bien reposés toute la nuit à la quiétude de la jungle. Je voulais vraiment aller faire un tour à Boipeba, l’ile voisine, mais selon mon guide il était seulement possible d’y aller en bateau depuis Morro et les prix étaient de 100$ par personne (sans les vélos). Mais on a des vélos ( !), alors, je me suis demandé s’il ne serait pas possible d’y aller en roulant… à condition que les chemins soient meilleurs que ceux d’hier…... Un vieux monsieur me donna quelques indications. Il nous fallait simplement rejoindre un village (Garapua) et puis ensuite suivre la plage jusqu’au fleuve qui sépare l’ile de Morro de celle de Boipeba : facile! Sauf qu’il n’y avait pas une seule pancarte indiquant la direction, et que le chemin de pierre au centre du bourg se transforma très rapidement en chemin de sable, avec des flaques si grosses qu’on aurait pu s’y baigner… du sable et encore du sable, si bien qu’il nous était presque impossible de rouler. Le plus dur était de ne pas savoir si on roulait dans la bonne direction! Il n’y avait pas une maison, pas une personne pour nous orienter, que du sable et des buissons… J’ai pensé faire demi-tour plusieurs fois mais papa refusait. Nous avons marché, nous avons poussé les vélos, nous avons galéré plus de 2 heures pour faire les 8 km jusqu’à Garapua! Quelle délivrance ce fut d’arriver! Garapua est un petit village de sable où les enfants vont nu-pieds, où les femmes lavent le linge dans la rivière. Nous avons quand même trouvé un restaurant familial très agréable et on a été servis comme des princes! Le patron était sympa et drôle. Papa et lui ont même entamé quelques pas de danse à la fin pour montrer leur joie de vivre… et leurs jeunes âges !

Quel plaisir de rouler (à nouveau) sur la plage! Le soleil a même fait son apparition. La plage était déserte de ce côté de l’ile (quel contraste avec la partie touristique) et pourtant : sable blanc, palmiers, eau claire et chaude. Un régal! Je ne pouvais m’empêcher de m’arrêter plusieurs fois afin de piquer une tête dans les vagues. La vraie vie! Papa m’a rejoint et nous avons vraiment savouré notre après-midi à la plage. Une fois arrivés au fleuve qui sépare les 2 iles, quelques pécheurs ont accosté de notre côté pour nous emmener à Boipeba, mais là, je n’avais plus envie de rouler à nouveau
sunset on Ilha da Tinharesunset on Ilha da Tinharesunset on Ilha da Tinhare

We'll cross to Boipeba Island tomorrow
pour chercher encore un endroit pour camper. Alors nous sommes restés sur la plage, au bord du fleuve, à regarder le ciel devenir rose, violet puis orange sous les cocotiers. Nous avons monté la tente à la nuit tombée et nous nous sommes endormis sur le sable fin, plus que satisfaits de cette folle aventure à vélo au Brésil !

Additional photos below
Photos: 196, Displayed: 40


on the ferryon the ferry
on the ferry

Tchau Salvador!
freshly arrived at Ihla Itaparicafreshly arrived at Ihla Itaparica
freshly arrived at Ihla Itaparica

What a change of scenery! It's all green here!
passing by a few farmspassing by a few farms
passing by a few farms

this is what Itaparica looks like
colorful street scene on Ilha Itaparicacolorful street scene on Ilha Itaparica
colorful street scene on Ilha Itaparica

Vera Cruz village ( I think)
Cycling Bahia!Cycling Bahia!
Cycling Bahia!

May 2014 Father and son
Cycling Ilha ItaparicaCycling Ilha Itaparica
Cycling Ilha Itaparica

the weather's changed. Rain is coming!

10th August 2014

want to do a bike trip as well
Your journey and your blog is making me want to do the same kind of bike trip a bit more every time I read your new blogs ;) Nice beaches and wild camping are the best!

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