Crossing two serras on the way to Ubatuba - Costa Verde - Brazil

A collection of motorcycle road trips across Brazil (and some other stuff):

Crossing two serras on the way to Ubatuba - Costa Verde - Brazil

In February 2010 I wanted to check out  Ubatuba, A coastal town located at the northern coast of São Paulo State, also known as the costa Verde (green coast).

I heard some good things about the place (great beaches, mountains, trekking, diving, fishing, surfing, extreme sports...) and looking at the maps, I noticed that it was only about 80 km from Paraty, the historical port town of the famous "Trilha do Ouro" I had  visited several times already.
 
One thing about me is, that if there's an alternative - preferably unpaved - route to get somewhere, I'm going to use that, rather than take the beaten track...
 
 
I had already found a track crossing the Serra da Bocaina and the Bocaina National Park to get to Cunha, another historic place linked to the Gold route, but from there it was another 90 km of unknown terrain, mostly dirt road, leading to the Serra do Mar and Ubatuba. 
 
The first leg of the trip was from my home town (Volta Redonda) to São Jose do Barreira a small village on the "Estrada dos Tropeiros" (link is in Portuguese, but the pictures speak for themselves). Tropeiros were the guys who came all the way from Diamantina in the heart of Minas Gerais with a pack of mules loaded with gold and/or diamonds that had to be shipped from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro and from there across the Atlantic to Portugal...

From São Jose do Barreira to Cunha is about 95km, with 2/3 being dirt road and VERY beautiful. I was lucky with the weather that day. February is one of the wettest months of the year and not a lot of people know that the region called the Costa Verde has the same amount of rainfall as the Amazon rainforest, which is why Ubatuba became known among the locals as "UbaCHUVA" (Chuva = Rain) :o)

Near "Campos de Cunha" I needed to buy gas, so I pulled up at the padaria (bakery), bought some water and asked the lady where the gas station was. She told me that there was NO gas station in Campos de Cunha. Probably due to the expression on my face, she quickly said that there was this guy who  had hundreds of 1.5 liter pet bottles full of gasoline stacked in his garage... She gave me directions and after a few wrong turns, and more directions from other people, I found the guy's house... I bought 2 bottles (3 liters) of gasoline, which would be enough to get me to Cunha, which was about 30 more kms. Of course, this guy charged me double the price of what I would pay at a gas station, but I guess he had to include his transport costs.

 

I got to Cunha, bought a full tank of fuel and started what would be the final leg of the trip to Ubatuba... The plan was, to get there, find a pousada for the night and return to Volta Redonda the next day...

I found the dirt road that was indicated on my GPS, about 2-3 kms passed Cunha and entered it... The first 5 km were ok, there were houses of people living there, but then things started to get harder... As long as there were houses, it's safe to assume that the road will be kept in pretty decent condition, but as soon as the "residential" area ends, you can expect anything. This part of Brazil was battered by very heavy rainfall from December through January, and stories about landslides were daily in the news. Road like these, which are not registered as "BRxxx" or "RJxxx" don't receive any maintenance, so basically it is up to the people who are living in the remote parts of the area, to keep the road open so they can get to their homes... Since a lot of them are using horses to go where they need to be, some roads can be damaged, or even washed away by the rain to the point that there's no way you ever going to get through it by car... even a 4x4...

At some points I had to maneuver my way across stretches of road that had holes in them in which I could easily disappear, bike and all... It's unbelievable what the force of water can do...
 

At one point, the road was blocked by a landslide... the whole road surface was covered with a 30cm thick layer of slimy red mud, about 40m across. there was a small sitio (farm house) close by, so I figured that if I would have a problem, I could ask help there... Having no other option, I decided to go for it (the other option was, to turn back and go home...) I charged into the mud, but after 5m I was stuck...

As I was struggling to get the bike out of the blubber, the people of the sitio (as expected) were watching me from a distance, and as they saw that I wasn't going to get the bike out on my own, two guys came over to help... As they were giving it their all to get the bike back on solid ground, I heard them mumble some stuff about how crazy you need to be to ride a "big" bike like this in these roads...:o)  After a lot of pulling, the bike finally got out of the mud and one of the guys showed me a way to go round the landslide... believe it or not, I had to go down a very steep slope toward the small river that was flowing there, and ride back up after passing the slide... This was how they did it on their horses... Yeah, Right :o) Did they ever see anyone do this on a motorcycle? No, of course not, but if I wanted to go on, that was the only way... I didn't have knobby tires, so it would be very tricky... Long story short, I tipped over at least 4 times - maybe more, I don't want to remember - but I got down and back up the slope in one piece...

10 km further, the final blow...  I came to a place where I had to cross a small stream. the problem was, that due to the rains, the stream had overflown and had almost destroyed the small wooden bridge and left a big pool of knee deep mud that I had to cross to even get to the remains of the bridge. 

Before attempting the crossing, I walked over to the other side to check out the situation there.. The remains of the bridge seemed strong enough to carry the weight of the bike, but on the other side the mud went on for another 50m or so. My brain was telling me that I would never get through this mud with this bike with these tires, but I was so close to the next town (Vila de Catucaba) and the only other option was, to turn back and face that land slide all over again... I decided to take my chances and face the mud...

It was hell. I got over the bridge quite easily (much to my surprise) but on the other side the mud was a lot deeper and the tires didn't get any grip... I pushed branches under the wheels and that way I was able to get 30cm at the time and it would take me a few hours to cover the remaining 50m to the dry ground. After struggling like that for about 30mins (and believe me, this is hard labor in the hot Brazilian sun) my guardian angel (I wouldn't know who else) sent me a guy on a horse, who was passing by. He was kind enough to help me push the bike and that is why I didn't have to spend the night there...

After getting out of the mud, I was kind of letting go of the idea to reach Ubatuba... I had seen enough mud and dirt roads for one day (almost 200kms) and was all covered with mud - as was the bike. I was doubtful that any pousada would even let me in, looking like this, :o) so I decided to get on the first asphalt road and take the fast way back home. It was already getting close to 6pm so it would be getting dark soon. it was about 250kms to get home, and only 75 to Ubatuba, but I couldn't care less about Ubatuba at that point... 3,5 hours later, I arrived home, extremely tired, cold as hell, but glad I made this trip... At least I knew that this was not the way to get to Ubatuba on a XT660R, well certainly not in the wet season it isn't :o)

Raf