Today was the start of my mini road trip south of Sao Paulo, and it of course had to begin with collection of the rental car. It had turned out the cheapest place to pickup was the international airport, so I had a roughly 1 hour journey to get there. The journey involved what was probably the busiest bus I have ever been on, with people crammed in until they literally couldn’t move. I was uncomfortably huddled over my luggage, while desperately trying to find something to hold on to; I was certainly glad when it was over. On arrival at the airport I was soon handed the keys to a nice economy Renault, and was on my way.
It didn’t take long before I found out driving in Sao Paulo isn’t easy, even with satnav. It’s not that the people drive particularly crazily like in other places I’ve been (Lima, Palermo for example), just that the road system is extremely complicated. It reminded me somewhat of driving in Minneapolis of Chicago, where despite the best efforts of the satnav, it can’t help you with what lane to be in when a six lane motorway splits into three different roads, all going in completely different directions out of the city. Either way, I eventually was on the motorway heading southwest in the direction of Florianopolis.
I also soon learnt why people from Sao Paulo hate driving so much – the traffic is ridiculous. I suppose with 20 million people trying to get somewhere for the day, no road system can really be good enough (the road planners presumably didn’t know so many people would end up here), and I could see my planned schedule for the day slowly slipping away. Luckily I had prepared for such an eventuality by looking up hostels in Curitiba, which is a city just over halfway between Sao Paulo and Florianopolis. Feeling relaxed that my 500 mile drive had become just 300 miles, I began to enjoy the drive more as I finally got past the city traffic.
As I left the city and got out into the countryside, I learnt another thing about Brazilian cross-country routes: they are primarily used for haulage. In fact, I was often the only car in site, while dozens of lorries trundled along next to me. This wouldn’t have been a problem on a wide road, but I often hit bottlenecks where a large number of lorries were bundled up. There were also road works to contend with on one stretch, which set me back at least another hour. On the plus side, the service stations were well equipped, and I had a great sandwich for lunch on the way.
Once I got past the aforementioned road works, the rest of the drive primarily took me through a national park composed of rainforest-covered mountains which the road wound its way around. It therefore improved significantly, as the road widened to three lanes and I was able to take in the beautiful scenery. I quite quickly got into a more South American style of driving, which involved freely cutting across lanes in order to take corners by the most efficient method. This meant I could maintain a decent speed on bends, and fit in nicely with the few other cars on the road. Throughout the park I kept on having to stop at toll booths, which I found rather frustrating. Rather than making you pay a large fee at the start, or giving you a ticket and charging you depending on how far you go, you continually have to stop and pay a small 60p toll. I must have passed around eight of them altogether.
Once it got dark, I was glad to be close to Curitiba and not planning to drive another 3 hours to Florianopolis, since there were no streetlights in sight. I checked into what is probably the best hostel of the trip so far, and had a think about what I will do tomorrow. It turns out there are some great coastal towns nearby, so I think I am going to skip Florianopolis and stay in this area for the day tomorrow – it will also take pressure off having to get back to Sao Paulo by Friday (and there’s no need for unnecessary pressure!).
Overall, it’s great to be back on the road after so long without driving properly (Easter Island was just deserted dirt tracks). Driving 300 miles cross-country on your own on the other side of the road in a country where you don’t speak the language isn’t for everyone, but I loved it!
Photos of the day: just me and the lorries, and about to go round a bend in the rainforest national park. (note to self: stop attempting to take photos while driving).