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    Two touring cyclists ride towards the camera on the sand by the ocean.
    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

    One year in Brazil | 9,000 km by bike

    Expedition Statistics

    The Brazilian Welcome

    Challenges on the Road

    Inspiring Encounters

    Go With the Flow!

    Unexpected Plan B

    Expedition Statistics

    1 broken wheel
    3 chain changes
    8 tires
    10 km/h: average speed
    16 punctures (Vanessa 6, Bertrand 10)
    18%: steepest slope
    40 °C: hottest days
    9,000 km: total distance cycled
    40,000 metres of ascent (approximate calculation)

    The Brazilian Welcome

    For the first time ever, I’m discovering a new country and a new language at the same time. Luckily for me, Vanessa speaks good Spanish. So begins our adventure, gibbering portugnol. This linguistic mix of Spanish and Portuguese is popular in border regions. Thanks to its Latin origins, after several months I was able to speak, understand and read this magnificent language. Let’s just say Portuguese is easier than Russian! The expression fique à vontade (make yourself comfortable) often echoed in our ears. Throughout our adventure, we fell in love with the Brazilian welcome, a hymn to friendship and love.

    Near a lush natural setting, a young man and a young woman pose for a photo with their bicycles and a retired couple.
    Right from our first night in Brazil, luck led us to the right place at the right time with Terraflor and Margo!

    Challenges on the Road

    Whatever the country, a trip on two wheels always involves challenges. Read in Lonely Planet Brazil: “Cycle touring is not recommended, long distances, countless trucks on the main roads […] risk of theft, etc.” In fact, good reflexes enabled us to avoid a head-on collision with a truck passing another…

    Imposing cactus between two cyclotourists in white sweaters riding to the right.
    Heading towards Jericoacoara on the Rota das Emoçoes, the Emotions Road – Piaui.

    In Sao José dos Ausentes, at an altitude of 1,200 metres, we met André, our first cyclotourist. It was 3 °C when we visited in June. Snow is not uncommon in July in the mountains of Rio Grande do Sul. With André, we also experienced the most frightening moment of our adventure. We were sitting on the ground eating our lunch when, all of a sudden, a Highway Patrol car stopped. At the time, I still didn’t understand any Portuguese. But the message was clear… These men were threatening us with their weapons and wanted to check our papers. After a few minutes, the tension diminished. However, our Brazilian friend, who protested, had his luggage checked. After this, shall we say, brutal paper check, André gave us the best advice of our trip: “When you need anything, the Brazilian people will always be there for you.”

    Our greatest challenge during this adventure, however, was the Sun. Only ten days of rain in one year. Heat exhaustion and fatigue, temperatures could exceed 40 °C. Moreover, the drought made our water supplies tricky. No less than 10 litres a day for two.

    Near a dune and a palm tree, a woman in her thirties pushes a loaded bike along a sandy path.
    For many, sandy beaches mean vacations. With our bikes weighing over 65 kg each, that wasn’t always the case…

    Inspiring Encounters

    Belem, Manaus, Fortaleza, Salvador. Year after year, these major Brazilian cities make the sinister list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world. Not to sweep this problem under the carpet, but most of the time, this Brazilian violence doesn’t concern tourists. Here, as anywhere else, it’s possible to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Vanessa and I were prepared for the worst, while expecting the best. During our journey, we visited eight cities in this dark picture, including the urban centre of Recife.

    Cityscape, with lush vegetation and colourful old houses in the foreground, and modern buildings in the distance.
    In the foreground, the historic heart of Olinda contrasts with the modern buildings of downtown Recife in the distance.

    And that’s when our friend Audrey stepped in and said: “You’ve got to meet Bel and Mago in Recife. You’ll love them!” These two inspiring people (below), welcomed us with open hearts to the Centro de Capoeira Sao Salomao.

    Let’s join in the roda! The music echoes to the beat of the berimbau, a musical instrument no doubt of African origin. In his other hand, Master Mago holds a small bell-shaped caxixi. Around him, Bel and Buiu play pandeiros, a kind of drum with cymbals. Then the singing begins in chorus, with the students clapping their hands. In the middle of the circle, the two capoeiristas get ready for the dance combat.

    The movements, both slow and fast, are incredibly precise and the acrobatics breathtaking. But what fascinates me most is that there is (in theory) no contact. To me, it’s like a game, a fine balance between duel and acrobatic dance, with every part of the body involved. With smiles on their faces, the two capoeiristas demonstrate their creativity, strength and flexibility. And after several fights, Master Mago, Bel and Buiu slow down the rhythm, while harmony and peace still float above the roda. It’s magical!

    A woman in a white T-shirt and a man in a blue T-shirt smile at the photographer. Behind them, long, colourful, single-string instruments can be seen on the wall.
    Master Mago and his wife Izabel from Centro de Capoeira Sao Salomao in Recife. Behind them, these colourful instruments are called berimbaus.

    Since 1997, Centro de Capoeira Sao Salomao has also been involved in the community. During our visit, some children were part of the Caxingueles program. Every day, before or after school, they attended classes in reading, writing, music and, of course, capoeira. More recently, the Caxingueles Jovem project involved no less than eighty teenagers and adults for five months. In Recife, the needs are immense. There are over 60 Special Areas of Social Interest (ZEIS). Yesterday it was Pina, today it’s not one, but five ZEIS around the new premises of Centro de Capoeira Sao Salomao. To the sounds of the berimbaus, let’s once again join the roda, where education, love and preservation unite to fight poverty.

    A native man in traditional dress gives a filmed interview with a woman from behind near a small tent and brick house.
    In the community of Aldeia Velha, Paty is involved in a project for indigenous education, and the cultural affirmation of his people is his daily struggle.

    Brazil’s indigenous population is growing year on year (according to the latest statistics, 900,000 inhabitants). However, of the 240 or so remaining tribes, 73 are made up of fewer than 500 people, and 18 of fewer than 100 souls. In southern Bahia, we explored two of the 36 Pataxos aldeias over several days.

    Go With the Flow!

    “Let’s ask at the first house on the left to camp”. If the answer was nao, we kept going until we got a sim. At first, people were suspicious of strangers coming by bike. But curiosity won out. It wasn’t long before trust was established. Regularly, we had the privilege of sharing the traditional arroz com feijao with our hosts. They would offer us a shower, and sometimes we had the opportunity to wash our clothes and even sleep in a room. In the big cities, our places to stay were better planned. The Warmshowers website was a precious ally. We shared the same simplicity and vision with our hosts: a love of cycling and meeting new people.

    A four-generation family poses for a photo.
    What a wonderful stay in Belém thanks to cyclist Lupa (seated on the ground) and his warm family!

    During this year in Brazil, we were luckier than Youri, a Russian cyclotourist we met on the famous BR-101. “I’ve travelled a lot around the world, and Brazil is one of the toughest countries. It’s impossible to camp here, because of all the fenced-in fields and farms,” he told us. Not easy, either, for a lone man who doesn’t speak the local language. For our part, as we travelled along the secondary roads, our campsites were varied. In people’s homes, of course, but also on roadsides, beaches, churches, village halls, fire stations, gas stations and even cattle paddocks!

    A woman sits on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the ocean. Next to her, a green tent and bicycle touring bikes can be seen.
    “If you want to sleep here, you’re the one who puts up the panniers and bikes,” Vanessa told me, exhausted by our day. Eight return trips later, our tent was set up near Icapui in the state of Ceara.

    Unexpected Plan B

    I still can’t believe that this wonderful adventure in sunny Brazil happened after our failed expedition to Russia…

    Despite the support of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa and Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our special request for a one-year visa had remained on the ice of Lake Baikal. And after several weeks of waiting, the phone had finally rung: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow is granting you a one-month visa.” A MONTH?!? Our world had collapsed after two years of learning the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian, doing all the paperwork, preparing our equipment and our 10,000 km itinerary. Nothing to do. “Not everyone spends a year in the land of the Tsars,” concluded Charlevoix journalist Émélie Bernier at the time. Our house was rented, we had to leave. But where to?

    Vanessa made me smile again by suggesting a Plan B for Brazil. I remember it like it was yesterday, the excitement was at its peak! This change was sudden, extreme and unexpected. And yet, just ten days after our Russian disaster, we were flying off into the unknown.

    At sunset in a large bay, a child, glass in hand, throws a curved stream of water into the air.
    Light is life. Life is light. A sunset and a child playing in the water. Nothing extraordinary perhaps. But to me, this image sums up our trip to Brazil. What a contrasting journey! So many decisive moments! So many surprises along the way!

    Looking back, I realize that this unexpected Plan B was probably better than our initial project in the land of the tsars. What a life lesson for us! In our book and documentary on Brazil, Vanessa and I want to share with you some of our journey. However, the essential is invisible to the eye and remains in our hearts. Brazil even gave us the greatest gift on earth… Vanessa was pregnant during the last three months of our trip!

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