ADV Americas Ride – Rio Finale

June 15, 2012
By Danny Morris
It was raining heavy in Porto Alegre and l still had many miles to ride before l reached Curitiba. That night l didn’t even try to dry my clothes as the forecast was rain every day. So the next morning l rode out of town sodden and followed signs for Florianopolis. After 30 minutes riding, my gut instinct told me l was on the wrong road. l pulled over and asked the guys at the petrol station for directions. They pointed me south, six miles and then turn left to join the 101 which would take me along the coast and back north. I set off on the highway and was leaving the traffic lights when `boom` the chain snapped.

Taking the chopper above Iguassu Falls which divides the beautiful countries Brazil  Paraguay and Argentina.
Taking the chopper above Iguassu Falls which divides the beautiful countries Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

I was at the side of a really fast dual-carriage way wondering what to do then l looked across the road and there stood a Honda Motorcycle Dealership (…what were the chances?). l simply wheeled the bike across the road, where the dealers put me in touch with another motorcycle store. My bike was collected, fixed and l was back on the road within three hours with a new chain. Pure luck describes my trip so far, but l suppose everything happens for a reason – though patience, a smile and handshake always seems to help get the desired result.

I set-off to Curitiba at 1:30 p.m. My boots were filled with water – socks, pants, helmet and goggles just soaked. I rode through the afternoon and into the night, chasing the highway to Curitiba. When l pulled into the town l was completely unaware of time thinking it was around 11 p.m. then l looked at my watch and saw it was 4:30 a.m. I had been riding for some 15 hours.

My eyes were red-raw from the continual rain, so l grabbed a cheap hotel, pulled my bike past the reception and fell into a much-needed deep sleep. l spent a super couple of days in Curitiba before I rode out west and onto the Iguassu Falls, which border Argentina. After a full nine hours riding with petrol and food stops, l pulled into town and grabbed a hostel, showered, headed to the bar and drank cold beers and shared stories with fellow travelers before heading straight to bed.

The next day l had a fantastic tour of Iguassu and slightly cheated by taking the helicopter for a 10-minute ride, as I had been told that the Brazilian side wasn’t the most impressive for a good view of the Falls. But to be honest after walking the trail and seeing from the air – the Brazilian side took some beating! The next day l rode from Iguassu back to Curitiba when all of a sudden, one hour into the journey l had a problem with the bike, which l automatically thought was the clutch, but it turned-out the front countershaft splines had been stripped (…Doh). I pulled over, it was Sunday and l realized l was doomed.

Heading back towards Curitiba and the countershaft splines sheered  with luck a pick-up truck takes me to Matelandia.
Heading back towards Curitiba and the countershaft splines sheered, with luck a pick-up truck takes me to Matelandia.

What do l do this time, maybe my luck had run-out for sure? I stood staring at the bike in the middle of nowhere. It was hot and l was wondering where to start when a pick-up truck pulled over and the mechanic could see l had problems. We loaded the bike onto the trailer and rode to the next town Matelandia. At the petrol station the mechanic spoke to the staff and confirmed a motorcycle mechanic would be on his way, along with the local hotel owner and his wife.

The mechanic loaded the bike into his truck and the local hotel owner confirmed his love of bikes and that he had ridden all over the world: North, Central, South America, Russia, Alaska – he had really covered the globe on a BMW R1150GS. We were kindred spirits and what were the chances of our meeting within 30 minutes of my breakdown?

We unloaded the bike at the mechanics and then rode to the hotel where l proceeded to check-into a fantastic room and to see pictures of the hotel owner in parts of Alaska and Russia hung-up on the walls. It was just the luck l needed and it always felt like someone was watching over me to ensure l had a safe journey. John, the hotel owner requested that l join them for lunch, so we drove out of the town to a farm in the hillside, where l was introduced to their friends cooking a BBQ lunch. They were a mixture of ages from 40-60 and the best part – they were all motorbikers.

So one hour ago my bike had problems, the next hour and here l am drinking beers and eating the best BBQ in Brazil surrounded by really fine people. l felt right at home. Everyone was sharing stories, and John told me a funny local saying about the sugar cane crop and why it was split into three parts – 1. sugar, for the blood, 2. cachaca, the alcohol for the body and 3. Ethanol, for the motorcycle. We all laughed and l realized it was just the Brazilian way! It was a really super, fun and friendly afternoon. It felt good to be alive.

Hanging with John and the mechanic. They really helped pick me up and get me back on my way; I owe them a lot of thanks.
Hanging with John and the mechanic. They really helped pick me up and get me back on my way; I owe them a lot of thanks.

The mechanic called and confirmed that my new part could take three to four days to arrive from Argentina, but the next day we got a call to say the part had arrived early and was at the Argentinean border. The hotel owner, the mechanic and myself drove back to Iguassu, crossed the border, collected the part and made our way back to Matelandia. The conversation was somewhat broken due to language barriers, but they were both super helpful and really cool guys, and John said from his experience of travelling around the world, a motorbiker was never alone.

I stayed an extra night. The next morning the bike was ready to ride. I paid the mechanic and later went to pay the bill for my hotel and beers, but John’s response was, “you owe me nothing, it was my pleasure to look after you.” Through all my insistence to pay, John and his wife wouldn’t take a penny. What a super guy and perfect experience for a solo biker. l realized that Matelandia, the mechanic and the owners of Hotel Faeli rocked!

I continued onto Curitiba for an overnight stop, before l pushed north along the 260 miles to Sao Paulo. It was a long, hot day. The temperature was increasing the further north l rode. I pulled into Sao Paulo at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening. The rush-hour traffic was crazy, there were literally millions of motorcycles everywhere buzzing around like flies. It just seemed crazy. I watched a burnt orange sunset descend between the high-rise buildings and truly felt myself get closer to Rio de Janeiro.

I grabbed a hostel for the night in Vila Mariana and the next morning was about to push north towards Goiania to a small village called Ipameri to stay with friends. While l was using the ATM a guy on a Yamaha Tenere pulled-up and asked where l was heading and introduced himself as Fabiano. I explained the journey l had just taken and being a biker, he was totally interested, so we decided to head-off and grab lunch.

After a long ride to Sao Paulo I meet-up with Fabiano. We head out  grab beers and taste the best pizza in town.
After a long ride to Sao Paulo I meet-up with Fabiano. We head out, grab beers and taste the best pizza in town.

Fabiano and l got along great. It was motorbikes and kindred spirits. We chatted bikes and trips and then he insisted l stay at his house with his parents, where we could discuss my story in more detail and take a ride around the city. People’s hospitality had been fantastic on this trip, so with such a great offer laid open l accepted and headed over to meet the parents. First I took the bike to the wash for a proper steam cleaning before it would be finally locked away at the end of my trip.

I stayed for another night in Sao Paulo and realized the city was crazy, probably really dangerous (…or so we are led to believe). But Sao Paulo is also filled with great people and a super positive atmosphere, so it seemed strange to sit and watch the London riots unfold from this city, a place where we have always been taught to fear the dangers. l watched London burn from the comfort of my host’s home in Sao Paulo. It made me a feel a real sadness, because here l am in a country that is progressing rapidly and looking at a country, my home, that just seemed to be taking so many backward steps.

The next morning we rode out of town, Fabiano and his friend wanted to take me as far as Campinas, just north of the airport. It was a good ride and we said our goodbyes, shook hands and l knew l would be back in a week or so. Fabiano had offered me somewhere to store my bike. He also said once he was married, there was a chance we could ride to the southern tip of Argentina and into Ushuaia, so l took him up on the kind offer.

I headed north to Mococa and enjoyed the afternoon heat and the sweet smell of sugar cane that lifted from the fields. I pressed on north and joined the highway to Orlandia, up towards Uberaba and Uberlandia. It was a beautiful ride, super hot weather, beautiful sunshine and that ever present sweet smell of sugar. I pulled off the road, into a small town, but it just seemed so small that l genuinely thought l had gone to the wrong place.

Hanging out with Georgia in Ipameri. The family and village took me straight back to my home in Nottinghamshire  UK.
Hanging out with Georgia in Ipameri. The family and village took me straight back to my home in Nottinghamshire, UK.

My heart sank thinking this isn’t Ipameri. I pulled-up at a petrol station and sat down next to an old guy. l was burning up with the heat and not even sure where l had landed. I showed the guy the name of the town, the street name and address. He laughed and pointed to the street in front of petrol station. l was in the right town after all, and by chance l had landed on the exact street. I jumped on the bike and headed along the street, circled around when the garage doors of a house opened. My friend, her mother and father greeted me and that’s where l spent the next five days in the luxury of their home. We had BBQs, hung out in the pool and drank too many beers and cachaca, plus celebrated my journey from LA.

Ipameri was symbolic to the end of my adventure. It reminded me of Cuckney, the Nottinghamshire village where l grew up as boy – a village where the dreams and adventures first began. It was so similar, small, quaint and everyone knew each other in the local bars, restaurants and shops. It was a real community village and I knew l was ready to head home after this exhausting, exhilarating and very special journey in my life.

I said my goodbyes to the family and that afternoon pushed south, back towards Uberlandia, Uberaba and then headed east in the direction of Belo Horizonte. l began to lose the light and watched a distant sunset fall behind the horizon. I continued for a few hours, stopping to refuel and to grab cold drinks, but motored on when my gearshift came loose again. l managed to stay in fifth-gear and kept the revs-up, until l finally saw a small hotel on the brow of a hill. l slowed down, pulled the clutch in and drifted to the hotel to check-in.

The next morning, l was excited as it was the last day. l grabbed breakfast, tightened the gear-shift, jumped back on the bike and headed out. This was it, the final day to Rio de Janeiro and it felt really super. l rode past Belo Horizonte and then south towards the best beach city on the planet. The journey across Brazil had been fantastic, and the journey behind played through my mind. Brazil is a fast growing economy, you can see the change-of-pace and it made me wonder what England must have felt during the Industrial Revolution and how the US took shape in the post-war 1950s, the sudden rise of power and wealth – really exciting times.

It was a super feeling to finally have Rio de Janeiro in my sights after months on the road.
It was a super feeling to finally have Rio de Janeiro in my sights after months on the road.

I made my way south towards Rio de Janeiro, watching the sunset and as l approached the city. In the distance l could see the famous ‘Christ the Redeemer’ overlooking the city. l pushed on further and further, then turned toward the coast and picked up signs for Copacabana beach. It was an amazing feeling and the adrenalin was sky-high that night when l pulled-up onto the curb overlooking Copacabana and into the night sky.

It was pretty emotional feeling as l had actually made it, so I stood watching the world go by. l ordered a couple of strong Caipirinha drinks, called my mother, sister and friends to tell them l had arrived – l made it to Rio de Janeiro! I rode slowly along the beach trying to take it all in, that my journey was complete and l felt tired, excited and a little exhausted. I then found myself a small hostel on the backstreets of Ipanema for the evening.

My body was cooked from the day’s sunshine, but l was happy that a single thought was turned into a dream and that dream made into a reality. The next morning l grabbed a light breakfast and rode around the city on the motorbike, through the back streets, enjoying the views of the beaches. I called my dad and then jumped back on the bike and picked up the highway back to Sao Paulo. I had to return the bike to storage at Fabiano’s. It was a busy Sunday afternoon and took five hours to ride the 260-mile journey before l pulled into the center of the city. I grabbed the same hostel l stayed at on the first night and a million thoughts pushed through my mind, ranging from overwhelming happiness to exhaustion as l fell asleep and let the body unwind.

The next morning l called Fabiano, who had just returned from seeing his fiancé in Porto Alegre and took the bike over and stayed a final night. We ate dinner, chatted more about the trip and the feeling of completing the journey, and solidified a fantastic friendship over beers. The next day l coated the bike in WD-40, covered it with a large tarpaulin and hoped one-day l would get to ride her again south to Ushuaia. We said our goodbyes.

Scaling the heights to the Christ Statue and looking back over this glorious city basked in sunshine.
Scaling the heights to the Christ Statue and looking back over this glorious city basked in sunshine.

l grabbed a taxi to the airport and caught a 40-minute flight back to Rio de Janeiro where l spent five days relaxing on the beach, looking at the beautiful shape of the girls, topping-up the tan and recovering. The taxi drove me from the airport to Copacabana. l dropped into a rental agents and picked-up a one bedroom apartment for the five nights, nipped to the supermarket, stocked-up on food and sat in the apartment and fell into a deep exhaustive sleep.

The next few days were spent relaxing on the beach, walking-up and down the strip, phoning friends and family and aligning myself a new contract back in London with a US company based in LA. Everything went to plan, and the relaxation was much needed, but it was soon time to go home. l grabbed my bags, boarded the plane back to Heathrow and quickly found myself settled back into my apartment – as if l had never been away.

The first night’s sleep was pretty strange. l was very unsure of where l was and all the time kept waking with a jump, as though l was still riding the bike and had fallen asleep, but l was safe in the knowledge that l made it. My first dream motorcycle trip from Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro without map, compass, GPS – just faith in the bike, myself and above all – every person l met along the way. I didn’t have one puncture, and while the bike had its share of problems, I kept chugging along with nothing more than basic chain, tire, oil and plug replacement. I had really put myself to the test with this journey – the mileage, the number of days, the temperature range, the crazy Peruvian roads, the 10-18 hour days riding, distances up to 600 miles per day. But I’m glad to say the Honda rocked and maybe next time l will push for a softer saddle, to stop me walking like John Wayne.

But l made it! The journey was complete: Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro across 15 countries in 15 weeks and covering a staggering 15,000 miles. Now l can only say one thing – ‘if you have a dream, no matter how big or small, you have to chase-it because l promise, you’ll never regret making it happen.’