9 Impressions from the Road in the Last Year

It’s often the little things which make or break an overland trip. When we write regular blog posts we tend to report about major destinations and sights. Thus little things sometimes aren’t reported because they don’t relate to any topic we write about. At the end of last year I published a post about things we hadn’t written about . Here I add a number of photos depicting small impressions, which stayed with us from last year.


1. Brazil is a Rice Growing Nation

We were surprised to find enormous rice fields in the south of Brazil, particularly in Rio Grande do Sul. We have since learned that, after Asian countries, Brazil is the biggest rice growing nation in the world – even though you don’t often find much Brazilian labelled rice outside the country. The south seems to be especially suited since much of the low lying land is naturally under water for much of the year.

For most of our stay we bought excellent Brazilian rice everywhere, even locally produced Arborio rice. That was until we were about to leave the country, and bought our last 5-kilo bag, which is of inferior quality to all other rice we had previously bought in Brazil…

One of the many rice fields we drove past in southern Brazil.

One of the many rice fields we drove past in southern Brazil.


2. The Small City of Curitiba is a World-wide Model for Town Planning

When we drove into Curitiba, we immediately noticed two things: the traffic was comparatively light, and the middle lanes of most roads are reserved for buses. Later we took in more details, like the long tube shaped bus stations and that buses have their own traffic lights on many intersections, giving them instant right of way.

Faced with rapid growth in the 60s and 70s, the town planners embarked on a project called BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), modelled as an above-ground public transport system. Now over 70% of Curitiba’s population is using the town’s public transport to commute to and from work. The enormous length of their buses (the longest in the world!) reflect the popularity of Curitiba’s BRT. For a deeper insight we recommend the following 2 articles:

Curitiba Bus System is Model for Rapid Transit
The Guardian on “how radical ideas turned Curitiba into Brazil’s ‘green capital’”

The middle lanes of all wide avenues in Curitiba are reserved for buses; note the length of this bus!

The middle lanes of all wide avenues in Curitiba are reserved for buses; note the length of this bus!


3. First of all, we are all Brazilians

We don’t want to portray things through rose-coloured glasses, but we gained the impression (as outsiders) that the racial divide is of lower significance in Brazil than in many other countries. We often watched people of different racial roots getting together to celebrate, have a drink, or share a vacation trip. Workplaces are almost always shared by people of different races.

This photo, taken in Pomerode (the self-proclaimed “kleines Deutschland” ), shows what we experienced many times over: kids of obviously different racial roots all happily pulling along the same path.

Multi-racial pre-school kids wandering past our camper in Pomerode, Brazil.

Multi-racial pre-school kids wandering past our camper in Pomerode, Brazil.


4. If you can eat it you can buy it at a Buffet – by the Kilogram

Even though we don’t eat out very often, we loved the Brazilian ‘per kilogram’ buffet style restaurants and other eating places. From our last trip we still remembered vividly the ice cream buffets, where you can pick as many flavours as you fancy. They usually have a huge selection – more than ordinary ice cream parlours (40+ flavours is not unusual!). You don’t necessarily end up with a large portion because you serve yourself, hence you might take only a teaspoon full of some flavours, a little more of your favourite ones. When you think you have enough you walk to the check-out counter, place your bowl on the scales, and pay for the weight of it.

Pistache in Ubatuba: one of the ice cream parlours selling by the kilogram (though: in this one, an exception, no self-service).

Pistache in Ubatuba: one of the ice cream parlours selling by the kilogram (though: in this one, an exception, no self-service).

We also had Sushi twice from a buffet (yum – you get to taste so many more roll combinations) and once, cake per kilo in Pomerode at the German ‘Tortenhaus’.

Part of the cake buffet at the 'Tortenhaus' in Pomerode: you can try as many cakes as you like (and can pay later).

Part of the cake buffet at the ‘Tortenhaus’ in Pomerode: you can try as many cakes as you like (and can pay later).


5. The ‘Namoradeiras’ – Flirting Women Busts in the Windows

They seem to originate from Minas Gerais , but now you can find the little ‘Flirts’ (translation of their name) all over Brazil. Most are dark skinned women, but once or twice I saw light skinned Namoradeiras with blonde hair. They almost always sit in an open window looking at you… The internet doesn’t provide much information about their history (maybe you’ll be more successful).

Older Namoradeiras were often carved from wood; now they are mostly made from clay. Almost all are still hand-decorated. You can find them in glossy glazing or matt, like these ones (which I like better). If you ever want to bring me a typical present from Brazil: one like these would make me very happy!

Three typical Namoradeiras for sale in craft shop in Pirenópolis, Brazil.

Three typical Namoradeiras for sale in craft shop in Pirenópolis, Brazil.


6. Astonishing Trees which Make You Stop in Your Tracks

When we drove past this tree in Pirenópolis, I literally slammed my foot on the brake to have closer look. I know some trees from Australia which have flowers up their central stem, but nothing as spectacular as the ‘Couroupita Guianensis’ , commonly known as ‘Cannonball Tree’ thanks to its fruit.

This tree, a relative of the ‘Brazil Nut Tree’, is native to the northern part of South America. In India and Sri Lanka it is considered a sacred tree for both the Hindus and the Buddhists. There it’s often planted near temples. One question which bugs me: how did it get from South America to Asia thousands of years ago, if history is correct and Columbus was the first to discover the Americas?

Well, if you notice the fruit you'll understand the common name 'cannonball tree'. Its flowers make the 'Couroupita Guianensis' a really stunning tree.

Well, if you notice the fruit you’ll understand the common name ‘cannonball tree’. Its flowers make the ‘Couroupita Guianensis’ a really stunning tree.


7. Corruption and the ‘Forgotten Road’

The GPS wanted to take the route in the top section. The one below is shorter, but...

The GPS wanted to take the route in the top section. The one below is shorter, but…

Yes, not everything is hunky-dory in Brazil. When we left Pirenópolis for Goiás, our next World Heritage listed town in Brazil , I was wondering why our GPS wanted to take us south (along the same route marked on the Google map above). To me it appeared from the map that there was a perfect main road a little north, shorter and going the right direction…

Well, we soon found out! Although the BR-070 is the shortest way from Brasília to Goiás it somehow seems to be a forgotten road in parts. Perfectly tarred, but all the bridges are missing! So you drive 3-8 kilometres on smooth asphalt, then it ends abruptly, turns to gravel and goes downhill, to cross a rickety old wooden bridge. We are wondering which company and politician shared the funds for this unfinished road building project…

The forgotten road (or at least the forgotten bridges) of the BR-070

The forgotten road (or at least the forgotten bridges) of the BR-070


8. Land-Clearing by Burning Off

This is a practise we came across way too often for our liking: land in Brazil being cleared by burning off. Sometimes our driver’s cab would be filled with smoke for hours – coming from these fires. Surely this should be a thing of the past!

Countless times we drove past the smoldering remains of a burn-off in Brazil.

Countless times we drove past the smoldering remains of a burn-off in Brazil.


9. The Condors of the Colca Canyon in Peru

Summer is not the best time to see condors in the Colca canyon in Peru. But we gave it a try anyhow; the landscape alone was worth our visit. We slept over night on one of the older, now closed parking lots near the view point. Over night it was truly miserable: heavy rain and fresh snow on the mountains around us. But, typically for us, we got going rather late, just when the sky was clearing up…

When we arrived at the new viewing platform it was busy with tour buses, so much so that I had to park Berta a little down the road. But we lingered longer than most and were rewarded: we had the opportunity to watch around 7 or 8 condors slowly circling through the valley, higher and higher, until they were finally above us in the sky. We felt sorry for all the people who had come with tours from Arequipa – they missed this sight because the parking lot was nearly empty by the time we left…

We were lucky to see condors circle above the Colca canyon in Peru; summer is not the best time for this.

We were lucky to see condors circle above the Colca canyon in Peru; summer is not the best time for this.


Because sometimes the little things leave lasting impressions

Most of the above photos are from Brazil. That’s because we spent nearly half a year there. Brazil, which is densely populated in general, nevertheless has a lot of interesting sights to offer. We find it a shame that the majority of Pan-Americana travellers seem to bypass it completely or only visit 2 or 3 highlights…

Sometimes the little things leave the most lasting impressions. We can visit all the well-known attractions and write about them. At the end of the day we often gain more insights by taking note of the small things which surround us in a foreign country – day by day. Here are 9 impressions that stayed with us from 2016 in South America.

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Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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