April 11, 2006 GMT
Red Dust

When I was at primary school we did a ´project´ about Brasilia, as it had just been finished and become the new Brazilian capital. I´d always wanted to see the reality, and now I have.

It´s a fascinating city, architecturally and geographically. But the one thing that Niemeyer forgot was that people have legs. So although traffic moves smoothly and there´s plenty of parking, it´s really difficult to walk anywhere. When I tried to walk to the cathedral I found the pavement stopped short at a dual carriageway and I had to do all sorts of strange road- and grass-crossing and stuff to actually get there. That´s when I found that the locals have created their own ´people highways´ (a bit like the penguin highways in the Antarctic) - there are paths worn across the greenswards, all very neat and disciplined but there nonetheless, going to and coming from where people actually want to go as opposed to where the planners think they ought to go. In fact, the council has clearly rolled over for this as a few of the paths have actually been paved for part of their lengths.

Yesterday I had one of *those* days. Knowing I had to ride nearly 900km from Barreiras to Bahia, I set off at sparrow´s to maximise the 12 hours of daylight. The ride took me 13 hours in the end.

About 90% of the route was paved. Ish. The rest was rather Cambodian. Still, it was easy to spot the dodgy bits - a large cloud of red dust through which I could discern a bunch of trucks milling around apparently aimlessly. Time to get up on the pegs again. It was even more fun when the mega thunderstorms broke, as although there was then no dust the visibility was no better. When I finally emerged on to asphalt again after each mudbath it was still a bit of a trials course, as the road was so potholed and the holes so deep that even the big 18-wheelers were doing about 5 miles an hour and winding around all over the place to avoid them. I was soaked to the skin (it´s too warm for Goretex) but at least I wasn´t cold, and you can´t get wetter than wet. Getting the suit washed in Rio was a waste of time, though.

I finally reached the ring road at Feira de Santana at dusk, in yet another thunderstorm, and turned on to the dual carriageway down to Bahia. The trucks and buses immediately sped up to around 70, so I surmised that it was probably safe to do the same as I couldn´t see anything by this time. In fact I ended up without goggles and specs as the only way to make anything out. Riding in the dark anywhere outside Europe is aways a nightmare as there are no catseyes and even if there are road markings they´re never reflective, so unless you have extremely good lights it can be pretty difficult to see where the road is, even in good weather conditions. In last night´s conditions it was impossible, so I glued myself to the back of a truck doing around a speed at which I was comfortable, and finally made it not only to Bahia but to a decent hotel on the seafront who´ve insisted the bike is parked on the marble right outside the main doors to Reception.

A note about decent hotels: as I´ve said before, I think, they can actually be cheaper than cheapies, and even if not they can be extremely good value. For example, in Brasilia I squelched into reception at a posh place; "It´s nearly the weekend so a room´s half-price. And we like you and are impressed so you can have a 12th-floor corner suite with a balcony on two sides and a stonking view of the city for that price", the price being around UK B&B level. And here in Bahia, the same sort of deal.

I have some more long days to do (Brazil is *very* big), but have to have a rest afterwards as the little man sitting on my shoulder with the red-hot dagger starts getting restless after about two hours´ riding, and at the end of 13 hours yesterday was clearly very, very angry.

A note for non-British chaps about ´little chefs´. Little Chef is an extensive chain of roadside diners in the UK.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at April 11, 2006 08:11 PM GMT

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