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Speedy Gonzales

18 Jan Paraty, Brazil
Paraty, Brazil

Doorway in colonial Paraty, Brazil.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
[by Paula]

In a battle between one small rodent and two reasonably intelligent human beings, you’d like to think the superior species would easily prevail.

What chance has one teeny mouse got of evading all the ingenious, dastardly plots we can conjure up to ensure its demise?

As it happens, quite a good one.

Not only did our new visitor, Señor Mouse (aka The Little Bastard), run rings around us for a full week, he also did a pretty good job of unravelling the mental stability of two otherwise quite balanced grown ups.

As previously mentioned, we’d just arrived at the idyllic coastal village of Caraiva, in Brazil’s Bahia state, and that night I’d been woken up by something biting me on the finger.

The following day we discovered a chewed up bag of couscous in the cupboard. We spent a short while trying to convince ourselves it was ‘probably just an insect’, despite the inevitable conclusion staring us in the face. Teeth marks on my hand + teeth marks on the couscous = our first rodent incursion.

That night TLB launched his psychological warfare phase – squeaking, scratching and running around in the wee hours. He was somewhere between the cupboards and the structure of the van, and seemed able to skitter all around us, including behind the panel above our heads.

Speedy Gonzales

In times of crisis there are some obvious first moves – consult Google and Facebook. Turns out it’s really common to get meeces and other undesirables nesting in your campervan. In fact the more we read online, the more amazed we were that it hadn’t happened before now.

We’d promised our hosts we’d be no trouble but by day two we were casually asking them “where we could buy a mousetrap”. Caraiva is a tiny village, and the best we could do was find a shop selling rat poison, which wasn’t really our ideal method. We started to dismantle parts of the van and sprinkled the pellets around, feeling hopeful.

But after another sleepless night we started ripping everything out, spreading it all over the garden and ceasing to be tidy or inconspicuous in any way. Our hosts took pity and gave us a key to a spare room in their B&B so we could store our food and other chewables.

When we took off a rear air vent we found that TLB had shredded up some of the rat poison pellets to construct a little pink nest. Now that’s just spiteful.

What was really concerning us was giving TLB enough time to start chewing through the electrical cables that ran all through the area it was scampering about in. We got so desperate we spent an evening crushing poison into little bowls of honey and trying to recreate a mousetrap people had recommended online – a (with hindsight) hilarious contraption involving a honey-slathered platform dangled over a bucket of water, that’s supposed to send TLB hurtling to a watery grave. We went to bed, feeling hopeful. Was he floating belly up the next morning? Was he hell.

Anyone who’s lived with a rodent will know how head-bangingly frustrating it is. We’d dismantled every possible part of the van, but couldn’t find exactly where TLB was living. Short of smashing the car to pieces (believe me, we considered it) we were out of DIY options.

When not giving the van the spring clean of its life we took as much time as possible to enjoy this special place. We’d made a big effort to get there and didn’t want to leave early just because of a stupid mouse. We swam in deliciously warm calm water, drank from fresh coconuts, and took a canoe to the main village where we tried our first moqueca – a spicy seafood and coconut milk stew that arrives bubbling away in a clay pot. So, not so bad then.

When we did head off we decided we’d have to drive to a big town to seek out some professional help. After a frustrating two-hour search through the streets of Teixeira Freitas, involving fictional addresses, wrong directions and temperatures of 40C, we found Mr Rat Catcher. Relief! We were feeling hopeful.

It’s normally a service for people’s homes and businesses, so it took a lot of explaining and pointing to let him know that we had a mouse in our car, which was also our home. After about 10 minutes we thought we’d finally got somewhere, when he said “okay, so where do you live?”

IN THERE!“, we almost yelled, pointing for the 20th time to the van parked right next to where we stood. “We live in the car, with the bloody mouse!

He peered inside, taking in our bijou home with its million nooks and crannies.

You’ll never find it in there,” he said.

We know that. That’s why we’re here, asking you to do it,” we tried to say.

The only solution he offered his clients was poison pellets…. argh! He was extremely nice, giving us several bags of poison for free and insisting we all had our photo taken together, but we were no further forward.

Rat Catchers

Mr Rat Catcher and his assistant insisted on a photo with the baffling gringos.

We headed to a campsite on the coast at Prado and decided to re-commence battle the next day. But that night was free of eeks, squeaks and scratches. Was TLB just messing with our heads?

Before long a tell-tale smell began to drift upwards from behind the cupboards. We tentatively began to hope that TLB had finally ingested one of the original pellets – either that or it had succumbed to the heat! After a few days we finally declared victory, the mouse had ceased to be, it had shuffled off its mortal coil, it was an ex-mouse. RIP TLB.

Prado was popular with the small but significant community of Brazilian RV travellers, many of whom own massive US-style motorhomes that are bigger than some apartments we’ve lived in. Three couples who were holidaying together showed us some typical Brazilian hospitality by inviting us in to their RV for an evening of coffee, homemade pão de queijo and other tasty snacks. Although one of the group spoke some Spanish and could translate for us, the conversation was still chaotic. On a couple of occasions we resorted to good old fashioned visual aids, including me drawing a picture of a kilt and sporran, and a universally-appreciated discussion about a phallic-shaped vegetable.

Campground pals

Our Brazilian campground mates, Prado, Bahia.

We found ourselves back in Teixeira Freitas to get some repairs done on the van, and weren’t too upset to hear we’d need to wait a couple of days for some new CV joints and would have to check into an air-conditioned hotel nights. Damn!

While there we really started to get into the popular Brazilian style of lunching at ‘per kilo’ restaurants – a brilliant and affordable system where you choose anything you want from a really tasty and varied buffet of fish, grilled and roasted meats, pasta dishes, rice, beans, veggies and salads and have the plate weighed to determine the cost.

Jobs done, we were now on a southwards route along the coast, with a plan to get to Rio de Janeiro in time for Jeremy’s birthday.

In lovely Itaunas we scrambled up its gigantic sand dunes to the wind-whipped beach, and ate the best fresh fish we’d encountered in the country so far.

Paula, Itaunas

Paula heading across the dunes from the beach in Itaunas, Espirito Santo, Brazil.

Summer is also rainy season in that part of Brazil and we’d had a fair bit of it. During a short stay in Setiba the weather was starting to deteriorate more and the forecast wasn’t looking great for Rio.

But it was mixed and there were still plenty of great days. We had a corker when we visited Praia do Forno at Arraial de Cabo – another classic, impossibly perfect Brazilian beach that’s all about the cold beers, cocktails and ample buttocks. In the posh resort of Buzios the posing ratcheted up yet another gear.

Praia do Forno, Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil.

Praia do Forno, Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil.


Beach cocktails, Buzios

No self-respecting Brazilian beach is complete without a cocktail stand. Buzios, Rio de Janeiro state.

By the time we got to Cabo Frio it was lashing. We drove to Niteroi, just over the water from Rio, where we hoped we could camp and then store the van while we stayed in a hostel in the city for a few nights. We found a waterlogged B&B garden with camping, but it was empty and closed. The kind owner – who lived nearby – opened it up for us, gave us a key, went home and let us have the run of the whole property as well as charging us very little to store the van while we went away. Bonus. Niteroi has a fabulous surfing beach, from which – on a clear day – you can see across to Sugarloaf mountain. We could make it out pretty well in the haze.

View to Rio

View over to Rio de Janeiro from Piratininga.

We took the ferry to the city and headed to our hostel, a lovely old colonial house in a district that was brilliantly located for our few days of exploration. With its many coves, beaches, mountains, forest backdrop and neighbourhoods clinging to steep cobbled streets, Rio is ALL about the views. While there’s plenty to amuse yourself with at street level, to see the city you really want to be looking up and looking down. Often the weather doesn’t play ball though, and clouds shroud the mountains, making visibility a problem. We were just excited to be there though. For our first few days the weather sucked but we wandered to cafes, museums and various neighbourhoods, plus did a tour of the renowned Maracana football stadium. While we were at it we bought tickets for a match on Jeremy’s birthday – happy boy!

We had a night out at an excellent live Samba club in Lapa, which resulted in one of our worst hangovers for a long time. Visiting a cachaça bar beforehand, then following up with several caipirinhas was a poorly thought-out plan.

We tried to walk it off the next day at a cloudy Ipanema beach. Even the sight of the guy serving caipirinhas on the beach was making my stomach heave.

Beach cocktail deliveries

Cocktail anyone? Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro.

The forecasts said Saturday was going to be a sunny day. We’d saved all the main look-up-look-down sightseeing and got up with the lark, ready to do battle with the other squillion tourists who had the same plan.

We had a busy, superb day seeing Rio in all its glory. Not only were the views from Christ the Redeemer unforgettable, but we had a lot of fun watching all the crazy people at the top – doing hippie sun worships, belting out religious songs, taking endless selfies and almost hurling themselves over the edge in their quest to get the best view.

But we did also remember to take some photos of the views….

Paramotoring over Sugarloaf

Paramotoring over Sugarloaf mountain, as seen from Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro.

Jeremy took his vertigo for a walk around the base of Sugarloaf mountain while I joined the throngs on the cable car for another incredible vista from the peak.

Sugarloaf cable car

Taking the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf mountain, Rio de Janeiro.

Rio from Sugarloaf

Rio view from part-way up Sugarloaf mountain, Rio de Janeiro.

Christ the Redeemer, Rio

Using special effects to photograph Christ the Redeemer through a hazy sky.

When we met up again we enjoyed a refreshing beer with a view of the Christ from the bay. We returned to the beaches, which were packed with people playing sports, flirting, drinking and getting horrific sunburn.

Copacabana beach, Rio


That night we had another birthday blow-out at a restaurant where the chef specialises in Amazonian dishes, serving up incredible fish in imaginative ways – including a starter of tambaqui ribs (just how big does a fish have to be before you can serve its ribs as finger food?!) and a dish of ‘fresh water tucunaré with heart of palm stuffing, served in steamed collard leaves with cream of banana scented with Amazonian ginger, accompanied with rice and fried banana’. Yeah, sounds pretentious, but everything we had walked the walk. Deeelicious.

We loved the uninhibited energy of Rio. The next day we sat in the Sunday market in Lapa, having some beer and fried sardines and doing our favourite thing, people watching. Every now and again the group at the table next to us – probably drama students or street artists – would stand up and do a little performance, then sit down and carry on with their beers as if nothing had happened.

Across the way an old man sold junk from a suitcase – everything from single shoes to framed jigsaws and old football trophies – while the couple next door got slowly, solidly drunk. People walked through the market in all manner of outfits, flesh often spilling from every possible escape route. A homeless man asked us for a spare sardine and we obliged. As he turned to walk away with it, he paused, came back to take a wedge of lime from our plate, squeezed it on the fish and ambled off. If I ever have the misfortune to become homeless, I’m damn well going to have lime on my fish too.

I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life

We spent the late afternoon watching the football match at the Maracana, between Rio team Flamengo and Sao Paulo team Palmeiras. It was a bit of a lacklustre game but a great experience to be in that massive, loud, iconic stadium. Afterwards the losing home team’s fans rounded on the manager, surging to the barriers and shouting all manner of insults, presumably aimed at his mother.

With a steak and cheese sandwich at the pub to finish off his day, I think it was pretty much an ideal birthday for the boy.

We finished off our time with a visit to the wonderful, colourfully-tiled Escadaria Selarón (the Selarón steps) – an intriguing art project that’s helped enliven a fairly ropey part of Lapa. Chilean artist Jorge Selarón has turned a standard set of Rio steps into an ongoing, collaborative, ever-evolving work – adding all kinds of tiles, including ones now sent to him by people from all over the world. The selection ranges from salvaged tiles, to ones specially designed by the artist, to tiles brandishing football colours, place names, flags, national emblems, messages from tourists, and tacky tributes to the late Princess Diana. Having started it in 1990 as a tribute to the Brazilian people, the artist says: “I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life”. It’s fun to look for the most familiar, obscure, profound or simply beautiful tiles.

But please, we needed a little rest from stairs. We left the city, spent, leg-weary, impressed and happy and returned to the van which was feeling a bit sorry for itself with all the rain and humidity.

Further south along Rio’s coast, we did some less frenetic wandering through the mercifully flat cobbled streets at another UNESCO gem, Paraty, before heading for another dose of beach. Despite arriving in foul weather, the skies cleared and we spent three glorious days at a little campground next to the white sands of Trindade.

As we set off to drive along the Sao Paulo coast it was clear we were in for another scorcher. By lunchtime we could take it no more, and pulled off on to Santiago beach, to throw ourselves into the water for a while.

Jeremy literally runs for the water on a scorching day, Praia Santiago, Sao Paulo state, Brazil.

Jeremy literally runs for the water on a scorching day, Praia Santiago, Sao Paulo state, Brazil.

After that long stop-off we ended up driving late into the evening. We were still using a lot of petrol station truck stops to sleep in – to break long journeys and to save money. Most of them are pretty good, with showers, WIFI and great breakfast joints, albeit with quite a lot of noise from the trucks and road traffic. This night we picked a stinker – a mega truck stop that combined as a bus station.

Zero sleep later we headed south again, and a couple of nights later landed at what we thought would be our stop for Christmas – the island of Santa Catarina, connected to the mainland by a bridge at Florianopolis. Everywhere was getting busy as high season got in full swing. Driving through the city was like being in downtown LA! But when we finally arrived at a lovely forested campground near a beach and lake, it was a fabulous tranquil place.

Nevertheless we were feeling restless. During our Brazil trip we’d been in the process of deciding to end the trip and return to Europe in the new year and trying to sell the van. We’d had a fairly solid offer from a buyer back in the Argentina, and our feet were suddenly itching to get back there. The Christmas weather forecast for the southern Brazil coast wasn’t great, but really we just used that as an excuse to move on. Brazil was an exhilarating, fun, beautiful and exciting add-on to our journey. We packed in a lot of miles in a short period and at times we were knackered with all the driving, but we loved it and were so glad we’d gone. So it was nothing personal, dear Brazil, but we had an urge to get going again.

We decided to spend a couple of weeks by the river beaches in Argentina before heading back to Buenos Aires. The weather forecasts looked pretty good, so all in all a good decision… right? Except that within a couple of days the weather had taken a drastic about-turn. As we traversed Brazil again, in pouring rain, we looked at the news to find reports of major flooding in the exactly the area we were heading towards. We’d driven too far to turn back, so we kept going for the border anyway.

It was getting close to the end of the trip, so why change our habits now? Yes, it looked like it was time for yet another random change of plan.

Days: 1,568
Miles: 47,817
Things we now know to be true: Brazilians really do rather love getting their bottoms out at the beach.


Christ the Redeemer, Rio

Christ the Redeemer, as seen from the street outside our hostel in Rio de Janeiro.

Back to basics in Brazil

29 Dec
Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Getting our culture on: Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Tandil, Buenos Aires province, Argentina
[by Paula]

As we arrived in Brazil we were entering the last new country of the trip. By now we were surely hardened, weathered old pros, weren’t we?

But in many ways our first experiences there reminded us of the beginning of our journey in Mexico, starting with us completely cocking up the border crossing and managing to drive straight into the country without so much as a cursory wave to the immigration service. We drove round the back streets of Uruguaiana, dazed, confused and wondering how it’s even possible to slip through a frontier – driving a fat white gringo-mobile – without being stopped by a single passport inspector.

Unlike our embarrassing rebound into the USA on day one of our trip, we at least managed to find the office before accidentally returning to Argentina.

While there have been loads of little differences between each of the countries we’ve visited, overall we’ve become comfortably accustomed to the more commonly-held customs and practices in Latin America – greetings and interactions, food, street signs, where to shop for things, driving behaviour, or the way towns are almost uniformly laid out and streets similarly labelled with the names of places, dates, military generals or revolutionary heroes.

But Brazil had always felt to us like it would be a different world, mainly because… well, I’m not entirely sure why. The most obvious and immediate difference is that the language of Brazil is Portuguese, not Spanish, and we don’t speak it. While many of the words are similar, the pronunciation can be really tricky for the untrained ear.

When we eventually found the immigration office, the woman at the desk rattled off a very very long nasal-sounding word that was presumably an entire sentence of separate words. We just stared at her. Yep, it was all coming back – we distinctly remembered this sensation of feeling clueless, a little awkward and completely on the back foot.

We stocked up on food, water and cash and set off for what was to be a long journey, albeit with some interesting stops along the way. Driving 3,500km in 8 days is not really our style, but we had a relatively limited time in Brazil and decided to hot-foot it to our most northerly point then give ourselves more time to work our way south down the coast.

Our first night was spent camping on the street outside the Jesuit mission at São Miguel das Missões, as we couldn’t find anywhere suitable to stay and were still too newbie to ask around properly. Next morning a guy called out from his car as he drove past, giving us the thumbs up and pointing at the pop-top. We went to visit the mission and it turned out he worked there. He said loads of friendly-sounding words to us, and we sort of understood about 1 in 10 of them. That Brazilians were typically very warm and chatty was a stereotype we were fully expecting to be true.

We wandered round the lovely site under a warm, clammy sky. We hadn’t set out to do such a thorough study of the 17th and 18th century Jesuit social experiment but we’d now visited missions in all the main South American countries they’d settled in – Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil – and were feeling quite well versed by the time we took off across country.

We’d already noticed the volume of traffic – especially trucks – was huge compared with Argentina, which can feel like it’s practically empty in parts. Not since Colombia had we really had to contend with such aggressive, erratic driving. It was just another new thing to get used to.

Even the horse-drawn carriage drivers did some damned stupid manoeuvres..

On day two we had an early lesson in surviving Brazilian truckers while driving a winding, hilly route through Rio Grande do Sul province. On lengthy up-hill stretches the road would turn into three lanes so slower-moving traffic could yield to faster vehicles. We’re not super quick so as we approached an incline, I moved immediately into the right-hand slow lane.

As we started to climb an articulated lorry loomed up behind at incredible speed, leaning on his horn while over-taking us. We had no idea what his problem was. As his cab passed us he started pulling sharply to the right, cutting us up completely and forcing us off the road. I couldn’t believe what was happening – I was shouting something like “fucking hell, he’s coming in, he’s coming in!” as he came closer and closer and I stepped on the brakes. The double-length truck was so massive it never seemed to end. As it bore down on us there was no way we could avoid him so I had no option but to swerve into the ditch. Thankfully the drop-off was only the height of a normal kerb and we were still upright and unscathed, albeit with pretty shaky legs.

For most of the next hour this homicidal maniac tried to chase us down.

The first thing we said to each other was that it had obviously been deliberate, but we couldn’t imagine why. He had about a kilometre of overtaking lane ahead of him, so there was no need to pull in front of us. We wondered if he had an issue with our US licence plates? This has never happened before though, at least not to our knowledge. I just wanted to get the hell away from him – now that he had overtaken, his heavy truck was crawling up the hill at a snail’s pace. I went to overtake and he swerved out in front of us. He did it again on the second attempt. Wtf?! By the time I finally got my opportunity we were pretty pissed off – as I overtook Jeremy gave that bastard a good long look at his middle finger and I leaned on the horn.

That was, possibly, not the cleverest idea. For most of the next hour this homicidal maniac tried to chase us down, accelerating up behind us when he got the chance and managing to intimidate the hell out of us. We wrote down his number plate just in case, and I drove like the clappers until we could create a gap then pull in to a gas station to wait for a while and let him get far ahead.

It’s fair to say we were suddenly feeling a bit unwelcome! Were all truckers this unhinged? What about everyone else?!

Map of Brazil

It was a long drive, and not always a relaxing one..

We planned on sleeping at gas station truck stops most of the way across the country until we got to the beach. Hmmm. That night we arrived at the first one, and had a quick look around to make sure our ‘friend’ wasn’t there. Maniacs or not, the first couple of days in a new culture are always a bit weird, while you work out what’s what.

We were settling in, feeling a little edgy, when a truck driver came over to chat and ask us about the van. We threw in a couple of Portuguese words but otherwise stuck to Spanish in the hope we’d be understood, and had something resembling a conversation. He was really nice – a really nice truck driver! A few minutes later he came back over and offered us a piece of Brazilian cheese to try. A really nice cheese-giving truck driver – even better!

For the next few days we drove through mile upon mile of agriculture – endless fields of soy, maize and wheat – as well as a stream of towns and cities. We were genuinely amazed at just how densely populated it was. It wasn’t the most relaxing driving experience. Lorries would sit so closely on our tail we could almost smell their sweaty crotches. But at least none of them seemed to be actively trying to kill us.

Our faith was further restored by the reception we were getting from other car drivers. A remarkable number of people were hooting, waving and pointing at our gringo van, giving us the thumbs up. More alarmingly, lots of people were risking crashing by taking photos of us whilst driving along the highway. One guy overtook us then held his iPhone out of the driver’s window to take a picture of the front of our van. I’m pretty sure competence-in-backwards-photography-while-driving-at-high-speed is not in the standard driving test.

If only everyone would behave like a nice, sensible VW driver.

If only everyone would behave like nice, sensible VW drivers.

The weather got progressively hotter, more humid and occasionally stormy. Within a few days we were remembering what it was like to spend a day driving in the van, being slowly boiled alive, but we were relishing the warmth. We drove all day and sweated through the nights at petrol stations.

It’s amazing how quickly one becomes institutionalised. Wake up, drive, eat crackers, drive, stop, make pasta, sleep, repeat. After the fifth day of this we had a ‘big night out’ with some ice-cold beers and our first taste of Brazilian food. Whoop! The night out was about 6ft from the van, in a petrol station bar, but we are very easily excited.

The van veg box

The van veg box gets some welcome additions.

Everything was so lush and tropical. We bought juicy mangoes and pineapples again, okra, cheap bananas and so many limes. How we’d missed proper limes! The insects were of the tropical variety too, like the dragonfly trapped in the bonnet that was so big Jeremy had to use BBQ tongs to remove it. As I stuck my head out the window one day to look down the street, a massive cicada flew straight at me and hit me right between the eyes, actually breaking the skin. I’m not sure which of us was more shocked.

We were starting to get a feel for the place, although sometimes it’s just silly little things make you feel in or out of synch.

After about a year in Argentina we more institutionalised in their ways than we have been anywhere. For example, instead of ringing a doorbell or shouting out, it’s normal to clap your hands when calling at someone’s house or business. Do they do that in Brazil, we wondered? In some countries it would certainly be interpreted as rude. Who could we ask? Maybe we could try clapping and see if someone punches us in the face….

On the other hand, one Argentinian custom we had never quite got used to was the interminable daily siesta where – outside of the big cities – pretty much everything shuts down for up to 4 hours in the middle of the day. We were immediately struck by the constant activity in Brazil – everything open, music, people out and about, working, snacking, drinking coffee or cold beer, all day long! Brilliant.

We were also tickled to hear a new form of greeting that’s common in parts of Brazil. A way of saying ‘hi’ is ‘oi!’. When we said ‘ola’ to people, they’d respond with ‘oi!’, or we’d walk into a cafe and the waitress would shout ‘oi!’. We literally never tired of it.

We arrived in the state of Minas Gerais, famous for the beautiful baroque architecture of its colonial towns – enriched during the 17-18th century gold rush – and its special cuisine. I’ve babbled so much already there’s hardly space to write about it.

We were relieved to find a haven of a campground in Tiradentes, where we could clean up and rest for a few nights, wander its lovely streets and sample some new foods like feijão tropeiro – a hearty spread of pork cooked several ways, beans with toasted manioc flour, couve (kale), sausage, eggs and rice.

We baked in the heat at Lavras Novas, a lovely old town still inhabited by the descendants of freed black slaves.

Lavras Novas, Brazil

Cows wander the streets in Lavras Novas, Brazil


Lavras Novas, Brazil

Lovely Lavras Novas, where even the bins are decorated colourfully.

By the time we pulled into Mariana we were pretty desperate to find a launderette, something we knew could be a bit harder to find in Brazil. We pulled up to get our bearings, when a resident Italian called Flavio came alongside us to ask all about our trip and if we needed any help. I told him we needed to wash our clothes. “There’s nothing like that here, it’s really difficult,” he said.

Before we knew it we were following his little Fiat van (of course) through the winding cobbled streets, at great speed, to an unmarked place in the centre of town. It was a commercial laundry but he persuaded them to take our stuff, then drove us to a car park where he said we could safely spend the night. It would have been okay in different weather, but the heat was utterly phenomenal – we needed somewhere with shade, a shower and some peace and quiet.

We headed to nearby Ouro Preto to camp outside town and enjoy its incredible churches and colourful architecture, perched on steep cobbled streets. At the height of the gold boom there were more people in this small town (mostly slaves) than in New York and Rio de Janeiro combined.

Obviously most of the money was filched by the colonising Portuguese, but the town still retains a shiny feel. These days it’s all boutique B&Bs and chi-chi cafes. Here we finally sampled pão queijo, the region’s addictive and ubiquitous snack of cheesy bread, made with tapioca flour, which has a wonderfully soft chewy texture.

All very cultured, but it was time to turn towards the coast and spend some time lying down with a book. We had our eye on a quiet, relatively remote little town called Caraiva, in Bahia state, which had an amazing beach at the mouth of a river. The town itself could only be reached by canoe, but we were fairly confident we could find a base camp on the other side of the river.

The scenery along the way turned from rolling hills to striking mountains that seemed to have just popped straight up out of the earth. Even some of the petrol stations were beautiful!

Two sweaty days later we reached the turn off for the dirt road down to the village. A collapsed bridge turned it into a 2-hour journey through curvy bumpy tracks. We were knackered and parched when we arrived. We’d planned on going to a B&B that also offered camping, but when we got there it had closed its camping down and nothing else in town was open. Bugger! All previous shyness about communicating went out of the window, as I practically begged them to let us camp in their garden anyway. We were desperate for a nice little space where we could stay for a few days. The lovely family that owned it said they’d stopped the camping service because it wasn’t worth the trouble, but they eventually relented, charging us next to nothing to camp among their palm trees.

Luckily there was an Argentinian staying there who came along later to help translate. “Tell them we’ll be no trouble and we won’t make a mess!” I said.

We’d made it! It was as stunning as we’d hoped. One of the best beaches we’d ever seen. Now we could relax.

Caraiva, Bahia, Brazil

Caraiva, where river meets ocean in Bahia, Brazil


Caraiva, Bahia, Brazil

Chill out time…Caraiva, Bahia, Brazil.

Fishermen, Caraiva, Brazil.

Fishermen, Caraiva, Brazil.

That night I woke up with a start at about 3am. “Something just bit my finger!” I said. We were both so sleepy though that we just ignored it. I’m always dangling my hand down the back of the bed – perhaps I’d snagged it on something on the back door?

Little did we know then that someone had other ideas about us chilling out, just going to the beach, catching some early nights and not giving our hosts any trouble. Señor Mouse had hopped on board for a visit, and he was definitely planning on outstaying his welcome.

Days: 1548
Miles: 47,158
Things we now know to be true: It’s not worth getting into an argument with a Brazilian truck driver.

A FEW MORE PICS BELOW! Click on any image to open the gallery:

And now, the end is near

26 Nov
Van for sale

Van for sale, sunset not included


Guarapari, Espirito Santo, Brazil

[by Paula]

After 88,000kms, 18 countries and more than 1,500 days on the road, we’ve decided that now is the right time to bring this Latin American adventure to an end and return to Europe in early 2016.

In between brief bursts of panic, we’re really excited about making plans and getting ready for the next chapter.

We don’t know exactly where we’ll be living, or what we’ll be doing but hey, these are just minor details. For most of the last four years we’ve had very little idea where we’d end up each day! As long as we’re somewhere with an indoor toilet and hot water, we’ll be up on the deal.

Some people ask us how on earth we’ve managed to live in what is essentially a large car for so long without losing the plot and/or killing each other. Others wonder why we don’t just live this dream forever. We’ve frequently asked ourselves both questions.

So why come back?

In short, we want to be closer to our families and friends.

We’ve done everything we set out to do, plus so much more that we couldn’t possibly have envisaged. This ‘two-year’ trip became a four-and-a-half-year rollercoaster of unbelievable experiences that I won’t try to sum up now. We feel ready to quit on a high, on our own terms, before risking becoming broke, jaded or tired with travelling. Much as we love the life, living in a van is not something we really planned to do forever.

We’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to supplement our original travel budget with decent freelance journalism work, but we’ve reached the stage where we really need to do a lot more than we can realistically manage from the road. We’d also like to be more involved again – in terms of our profession, trade unions and wider politics.

So the van is up for sale, in Argentina. Gulp! Want it? – click here for details.

As ever, there are still several unknowns but we do know we’ll be returning there from Brazil in January to wrap up the loose ends and arrange our trip back.

Do I even have to point out how much of a wrench it will be to leave our little home, and all of this, behind? For all the so-called hardships of life on the road, we know we’ll miss it horribly.

Since we made this decision we’ve had a few wobbly moments. At the weekend we scrambled up a sand dune before descending to eat the freshest fish imaginable on a Brazilian beach, washed down with an ice-cold Brahma. We looked out at the ocean and thought ‘yeah, can’t wait for that European winter….wait…just what the hell are we doing?!’.

But we’re also really enjoying planning our next big adventure, wherever that may be. Not to mention looking forward to spontaneous phone calls, a social life, hot baths, smelly cheese and our very own toilet.

But all that can wait just a little while longer. For the moment, we’re loving Brazil and savouring every moment.

It´s crap here, so we´re leaving.

It´s crap here, so we´re leaving.


Monday morning, Caraiva, Bahia, Brazil

Monday morning, Caraiva, Bahia, Brazil


The commute home from the beach, Itaunas, Brazil.

The commute home from the beach, Itaunas, Brazil.


Days: 1,515

Miles: 44,332

Things we now know to be true: We did it our way