Brazil - May & September 2011

From May 6th to June 1st 2011

Chuy is a strange border town between Uruguay and Brazil. The exit formalities of Uruguay are to be done before the entrance to the city. The town is a kind of free zone, where some stores offer duty-free items. The main street divides the city. On one side, the currency is Uruguayan Pesos , on the other Brazilian Real. The formalities to enter in Brazil are to be done on the other side of town. In 15 minutes time, we were ready to hit the Brazilian roads.

We drove along the coast with the Pacific Ocean on one side and lagoons on the other side. At the Ecological Park of Do Taim, we had the opportunity to see some sunbathing caimans, swimming capybaras (looks like a giant guinea pig) and all kinds of birds.

In the southern region of Brazil called Terra dos Gauchos, we crossed hundreds of kilometers of fields cultivated by Gauchos (farmers). Horses were everywhere. They were used to plow the crop, to travel, to transport all kinds of rubble.

We temporally left the coast, drove through mountains and reached Canela. Nearby, we visited the Parque Estadual do Caracol, where a 131 meters high waterfall appears in the infinite green vegetation.


We reached Santa Catarina Island, near Florianopolis. We expected to find a nice relaxing place but as the weather was not so good, we decided not to say. It was on peninsula Bombinhas that we have been welcomed by our friends Mauro and Delia which we met in Montevideo. We took this opportunity to do our laundry, some cleaning and some adjustments on our vehicle.

Mauro is a doctor and a musician at his spare time while Delia is a psychologist and an artist. We met several of their friends. Travelers, artists, yoga teachers. Everyone was happy to invite us to spend time around a mate or a good bottle of wine. It was also a week of great cooking experimentation. I made some vegetarian sushi, Delia made us discover a Brazilian dish called "Feijoada", which she adapted to a vegetarian way, Aless made his famous Italian pasta and our new friend Toco cooked flambéed bananas.


We decided to make a short trip to Rio de Janeiro before the second visit of Béatrice, my mother. After several days of hesitation, Mauro and Delia accepted to join us. Vamos a RIO DE JANEIRO!! We made a first stop in Curitiba where we spent the night with their friends Minera and El Gordo. Mi casa e tu casa. They live very simply, but for sure they have the sense of welcoming people. Minera spent some time preparing a wonderful vegetarian buffet with lots of vegetables we never seen nor tested. Finally someone who understands that vegetarian does not only mean lettuce ... After installing our vehicle in Siddhartha's garage (a friend met in India), we went to Rio de Janeiro with the night bus.

Taina and Carlo, two friends from Delia and Mauro, living in Copacabana, offered to host the four of us. Every Sunday, the road along Copacabana beach is closed to traffic to make room for cyclists, walkers, skaters and runners. The temperature was nice and warm. Swimming in the clear waters was a delight. On Ipanema beach, there was everything. Live music, surf contest, volleyball games and more.


The Corcovado offered a breathtaking panoramic view. On the one hand, we could see Ipanema and Copacabana with the lake on one side and the ocean on the other. It also offered a beautiful view of the bay entrance with the famous Sugarloaf, a rocky hill which can be reached by cable car. From there we could also see that the city was built in the nature. There were lots of greenery, walkways lined with huge trees, lakes, hills, rocks and of course the ocean. The favelas were more organized than what I expected. Some are even equipped with an elevator which gives a direct access to the metro station. The Escadaria Selaron is the work of a Chilean artist who has colored the neighborhood of Lapa by covering stairs of used mosaics. The tram ride through Santa Teresa was an adventure. The vehicle stopped several times to reconnect the electric cables. We were shaken in every direction. It felt like a roller coaster driving along beautiful Mansions and offering beautiful view of some suburbs.


Is it time to split with our friends Delia and Mauro ? Why don't you join us for a few more days in Sao Paulo on the way back to Curitiba ? We accepted and were welcomed by their friend Carol. We assisted to a concert of Brazilian popular music played by most of their friends and had a wonderful evening accompanied by an excellent guitarist and a singer with an extraordinary voice.

Back in Curitiba, we were hosted by Siddhartha who made us discover his culinary talents. His amazing Indian Thali and Pani-Puri revived spicy memories.

Beatrice, my mother joined us in Curitiba for a few weeks of travel. After two days on the road, we arrived to the famous Iguazu Falls. It was difficult to imagine the configuration of the 275 waterfalls falling down 80 meters into the Rio Iguazu. A short helicopter tour allowed us to see it all from the sky. A platform installed in front of a fall made us feel and see the impressive flow of water. Both the sunlight and water particles formed multiple rainbows. Nearby, we also visited a bird park, where tourists can go into different aviaries. Toucans posed for pictures and were very playful while parrots flew from side to side. We also visited the Itaipu dam, which produces the most energy in the world and is part of the seven new world wonders. The energy generated supplies 90% of Paraguay and 20% Brazil needs. Finally the figures, statistics and technological work are more impressive than the visual tour of the site.


We crossed the Argentinean border to see the falls from another angle.

Of the few countries already visited in South America, Brazil has been the land of hospitality. We were greeted by Delia & Mauro who have not only opened their home, but with whom we have linked a great friendship. Their friends Minera & El Gordo in Curitiba, Taina & Carlo in Rio de Janeiro and Carol in Sao Paulo did not hesitate to transform their apartments into a camping to accommodate us. Finally, we were welcomed with open arms by Siddhartha, Dhwani and Laila who prepared a beautiful room and cooked some amazing dishes while renovating their house. The open mind of these friends have enabled us to communicate in a language we were not familiar with, speaking Spanish with Portuguese accent ... Outside this circle of friends, we found communication sometimes difficult.

Click here to read the following story in North Argentina.

From September 1st to October 10th 2011

After spending a week in Puerto Quijarro, our French friends, Maud and Sebastian met five months earlier in southern Argentina arrived. They joined us for three days in the Pantanal on board of a boat sailing the Rio Paraguay. In Corumba, our van embarked on a barge towed by a passenger boat heading to Porto Joffrey. In the heart of the Pantanal, we had the opportunity to see hundreds of caimans, egrets, herons, kingfishers, cormorants drying their wings on the sun, tuiuius nests in the trees, capybaras, deers, macaws, roseate spoonbills, snakes and more ... We looked for the jaguar, but he won the hide and sick game.


Having left their car in Puerto Quijarro, Maud and Sebastian made a loop with us. This was an opportunity for Aless and me to test our guest room and our friends to experience the vagaries of travelling with a Volkswagen van...


The engine of Zorro, Season 3, Episode 1: Sixty kilometers past Rondonopolis, when passing a truck, a sound which could come from the clutch forced us to stop immediately. A few hundred meters away, a truck was parked on the roadside. Celine at the controls, Maud, Sébastien and Aless pushed our van to the truck. They had two flat tires and expected a mechanic from Rondonopolis. Two hours passed and no-one showed up. Sébastien and Aless decided to find another solution by walking to a ranch a few hundred meters away. They offered to send a tractor in order to tow us to a safer place. Waiting for the tractor, a police car stopped. They offered to send a mechanic from the next village, ten kilometers away. After fifteen minutes the mechanic arrived and towed us to the garage. In just one hour, the engine was down. Verdict : the connection between the flywheel and crankshaft was broken. Aless and the mechanic loaded the engine on a pick-up and drove to Rondonopolis to repair the connection and returned in the evening. At sunrise, the engine was mounted and we hit the road again.


Along the way, we made a stop at Sete Quedas waterfalls where we enjoyed a swim in the beautiful natural pools.


The engine of Zorro, Season 3, Episode 2: Unfortunately the engine was leaking oil. In Campo Grande, Friday 11 am, we found a mechanic who was willing to get our engine down for the seventh time of the whole travel to change the retainer. At the same time, he found a solution to the gearbox leakage we carried from the beginning of our trip.

Saturday morning we took the road to Corumba. About eighty kilometers away from Campo Grande, we stopped on a rest area. Within minutes, there was a puddle of oil under our vehicle. What to do? Turn back and wait until Monday to start over? Continue to Corumba and see if the mechanic has an idea? Aless called Mauri, the mechanic from Campo Grande to see if he had any suggestion. They were still on the phone booth when Mauri who had gone fishing saw us on the rest area. That was fast ! He suggested to spend the weekend in a balneario and get back to the workshop on Monday in order to identify the problem.

The engine of Zorro, Season 3, Episode 3: On Monday, the engine was lowered. One hypothesis was that the oil leak was related to the broken connection repair between the crankshaft and the flywheel. He suggested making new holes and changing the guides. The work was not done as requested. Instead of new holes they drilled larger holes in the existing ones and put larger guides.


We took the road to the Bolivian border, spent a night in the southern loop of the Pantanal. After 30 kilometers of bird watching we turned around and reached Corumba. The engine continued leaking.

The engine of Zorro, Season 3, Episode 4: No more tinkering, we decided to change the entire crankshaft. During the three days in a mechanic of Corumba, the engine was completely dismantled, the engine block was sent to an engine adjustment's specialist in order to correct a slight clearance and was assembled again. During the operation, we realized that the four pistons and two connecting rods were not mounted correctly in Roboré. This mistake could explain the damage which occurred to the crankshaft. Despite all we did, the engine continued leaking slightly.

The engine of Zorro, season 3, episode 5: After a resting night, Aless returned to Corumba in order to identify where the leak came from. The good news was that it no longer came from the engine block but from the oil cooler. Hypothesis, the Brazilian motor seals are not exactly the same as the Mexicans.


After a month exploring the Pantanal region and moving from one mechanic to another, we were ready to move on. Always accompanied by Maud and Sébastien, we hit the road to Miranda where the Tucan tree was waiting for us. In the city, every day from 17 hours, dozens of toucans play on a huge tree located near an abandoned park. We spent two more nights in a Posada kept by a Swiss. This was an opportunity to see, photograph and play with a beautiful Blue Macaw.


We continued toward Bonito, known for its translucent rivers, caves and lagoons. During the two days stay at the Camping Rio Formoso, we spent our time snorkeling up and down the river. The water was not so transparent, but enough to have lots of fun. The prices of the tourist attractions were crazy. One immersion of scuba diving costs between 130 and 300 USD given that the normal price can vary from 25 USD in Mexico to 80 USD in the Maldives. Two hours of snorkelling in Laguna Misteriosa costs 60 USD when it costs 5 USD in Mexico for the same kind of place, for a full day without having to wear a life jacket restricting the underwater exploration.

Despite the price, in Jardim we decided to do the snorkeling descent of the river "Rio Da Prata." We were not disappointed !The water was transparent, the sun illuminated beautiful schools of fish. With a gentle stream, we only had to let go and enjoy the underwater life scrolling in front of us.


Saturday morning, we arrived at the border of Pedro Juan Cabaillero in Paraguay. After having done the Brazilian exit formalities and the Paraguayan immigration formalities, we were informed that the Paraguayan Customs was closed and would not open until Monday morning. Meanwhile, we spent two days wandering in a huge duty free shop. It was the opportunity to buy a new camera. Monday morning, the customs formalities for the vehicle were done, we were officially in Paraguay.

Click here to read the following story in Paraguay.

See the album "Brazil - May & September 2011"