Day 43 – Back Up To Sao Paulo

Friday, September 7, 2012 - 04:45

Today was the last full day of my Brazilian road trip since I have to return the car in Sao Paulo tomorrow by midday. Rather than rushing up from Curitiba tomorrow morning, I decided I’d end up back in Sao Paulo tonight instead. Therefore I planned a more leisurely route back which would take in more of the coast and require the whole day to drive.

The first 100 miles or so of the day were backtracking through the rainforest national park from two days ago. I then turned off, and started heading east towards the coastal town of Ilha Comprida. It was a pleasant drive on a single carriageway with forested mountains on either side, and the road was lined with locals selling bananas at small stalls or out of their cars. I don’t like bananas so didn’t purchase any, though I’m sure three large fresh bunches for £3 is a good deal. Unfortunately as I got closer to the coast, clouds started moving in, and by the time I was at a village called Iguape, the sky was completely overcast. It then turned out that to get to the beaches at Ilha Compride, you have to pay a toll to cross a bridge. Given the weather, I decided against it, and thought I would instead continue up the coast and see if the weather improved.

On my way out of Iguape I took a wrong turn, which saw me climb a steep mountain road. I wasn’t complaining though since the views were getting better and better as I got higher and higher. I therefore made no attempt to turn around, and eventually ended up having to get a dirt track for six miles back to the main road. This resulted in the car being absolutely filthy, though it was definitely worth doing. While I was on the dirt track I pulled over to stand up for a bit, and it was just me and the wild chickens. One of the cockerels did a cock-a-doodle-do, and then ran off with some hens as I took photos – not something you would see back home.

My next stop was a small town on the coastal route called Peruibe, where I got out for a snack before driving right up the beach. The beach was nothing spectacular though, with the weather still overcast and the sea looking quite dirty and unappealing. Slightly disappointed, I pulled out the map and decided my final beach attempt of the day should be at the city of Santos, around 40 miles south east of Sao Paulo. The drive was an easy one, taking me up a dual carriageway through quite a poor area. It was strange because every couple of miles or so there would be a pedestrian crossing right across the road. Signs requested drivers to slow down to about 25mph, but most just carried on at a comfortable 60.

When I got to Santos it felt like I was back in a major city, with people all over the place and heavy traffic in both directions. I later found out this was due to it being a public holiday tomorrow, so everyone was travelling away for the long weekend. Not fancying sitting in a lengthy traffic jam, and given the sun was going down soon, I decided to head back up to Sao Paulo. It turns out to get back, you have to take a motorway right through a national park, with some stunning mountain scenery as the road climbs up through the mountains and passes through a number of tunnels. Once the climb ends, you come out on a nice stretch of what I would call ‘proper motorway’, with four lanes and the fastest speed limit I’ve seen yet in Brazil. I was glad to be heading toward to the city, since on the other side there was a roughly 15 mile tailback to get to the coast – definitely the worst congestion I’ve ever seen.

Overall today was a bit of a disappointing end to the drive. Had the weather been better it would have no doubt matched up to the previous days. That’s the problem with tropical weather; it seems to alternate between warm and rainy, warm and cloudy, and hot and sunny on a daily basis.

Photos of the day: driving the dirt track, and the country road from Iguape.

Some observations about driving in Brazil:

  • No one observes the speed limits. This isn’t to do with the drivers being particularly crazy (though there are obviously a few who are), but more because the speed limits are set far too low. The thing is, if you set the speed limit at 70mph on a motorway and it seems sensible (such as in the UK, USA etc), people will generally observe it because they agree with the logic. However, if you set the speed limit at 40mph on a motorway, people will completely disregard it (and rightly so in my opinion), and this results in people not being quite sure how fast they should drive, and a large variety of driving speeds. The only other place I’ve seen such blatant disregard for badly set speed limits was in Sicily, where all roads seemed to be 30mph, even on long clear countryside stretches. The thing both these places have in common is that the highway police are highly corrupt; therefore maybe they set the limits so low so they can try to get bribes out of unsuspecting tourists
  • Brazilians love one way systems in their towns and cities. This can be very confusing at first, since like in American cities, the blocks seem to alternate which direction traffic can travel down them. I’m pleased to say I only turned down a one way street (the wrong way) once, and when I did I was cheered on by locals who seemed to think I knew what I was doing and was just trying to get somewhere faster.
  • Brazilians also love speedbumps, which are abundant on all non-motorway routes. These require you to slow down to at least 15mph, which is very frustrating, and even then, the bumps are often huge and rattle up the whole car. Usually there would be a sign accompanying a speed bump to let you know you were coming up to it, but at times there weren’t, and I think I may have damaged the cars suspension as a result!
  • License plates are issued by each individual town/city, and it means you can quite quickly tell where someone is from. My rental car was from the city of Recife which is in northern Brazil, and I often had people driving past looking in the window in disbelief at how far I had supposedly travelled. At one petrol station an attendant called his colleague over before pointing at my license plate and remarking ‘Recife!’. Perhaps long distance driving isn’t particularly common here.
  • Talking of petrol stations, you never have to fill up yourself and there will always be an attendant to do it for you. By the end of the drive I was getting quite used to this, so it’ll be a shame to go home and have to actually get out of the car again. Like in America, there are certain stations which are cheaper because they only take cash and debit cards rather than credit cards as well. However, I didn’t realise this at first and just thought I was getting a bargain. When I brandished my credit card at the attendant he told me I couldn’t use it, to which I looked concerned and made some hand motions asking where the nearest ATM was. He had no idea what I was doing, but instead conceded and allowed me to use the credit card – I felt quite bad for costing them the extra fees, though I am a tourist!
  • Some traffic lights have countdowns so you know exactly when they are going to change. This was a great touch and something I would like to see in other countries too.
  • Overall, driving in Brazil isn’t particularly crazy like people may lead you to believe (as well as numerous guide books and travel blogs I read). If you have driven in Italy then you will be just fine here, with perhaps a spot of American city driving to top things off. It certainly was nothing like the driving I witnessed in Peru, where I would genuinely have been apprehensive to hire a car.


Sounds quite an adventure! X

You are becoming the original Brazil nut!

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