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Second Half of our Road Trip – Aracaju to Volta Redonda

January 24, 2015
road south

Trip south, returning home. Thanks to Google Maps.

If you read my last post about our Brazilian road trip, you know that our trip north was a bit of a marathon.  We had secured hotel reservations ahead of time, locking us into a three-day travel schedule that really wasn’t much fun at all.  Despite what we thought,  BR-101 was not a great road for sightseeing, and the slow trucks and the need to pass them at regular intervals on the two lane road made for a stressful trip.  Enough bitching about the highway – I think I got my point across on the last post. On the return trip, we decided that we would make reservations just a day in advance, and I picked out a handful of beach towns based on the fact that they were a comfortable 4 to 5 hour drive per day.  We figured we would take a week or so, allowing for us to stay an extra day or two in a place if we liked it.  We really didn’t have a deadline to get home, but going much past a week would mean that we’d have to find a place to wash clothes.  Some time after arriving at our destination, I’d break out the laptop and search out a hotel for the next night.  Because we were only working with one day’s notice and we were staying in small cities, we often didn’t have much of a choice.  Trip Advisor, Decolar and Booking.com were very helpful in getting this done.  We did have one problem reserving a room.  You know when the web page says “Only one room left – book now!”…..sometimes they mean it.  I had reserved that last room after someone had already booked it and the internet site wasn’t informed of that fact.  We were able to get a room there anyway, and ended up staying a second night.

After about a week in Aracaju, we started our return trip.  Immediately after our arrival, we wanted to sell our car and buy plane tickets home, but a week of being spoiled as guests of Monica’s awesome Aunt Lais gave us a chance to forget the pain of our trip north……so we started our trip home.

Headed to Salvador

After saying our goodbyes, we headed south to Salvador.  Monica’s uncle,  Anacleto, was nice enough to guide us to a shortcut that would have saved us some time over using BR-101 for the southbound trip.  Since we had already seen (and learned to hate) BR-101, we gave it a shot.  It would have been great, but the morning rush, compounded by all of the vacation traffic left us stuck in traffic for an hour or two.  Punching up the destination on the GPS, we were routed out to BR-101 southbound for about 70km and then routed back onto the same shortcut highway.  Linha Verde (green line) was a terrific highway – for one thing, trucks were not allowed – so the crazy truck-passing stuff stopped.  This road was also flatter than BR-101, which also made for an easier drive. Of course, there was a down side.  We started looking for a gasoline station when the gas gauge hit a quarter full.  We didn’t find one until about 30km after the light came on.  Yes, that was a long 30km, but we made it without running out.  Just a few minutes after the gas light came on, we saw a sign that said 28km to the next gasoline station, so I knew how far I had to go…..

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Praia do Forte

On the way, we passed Praia do Forte in Bahia.  We had heard about it and decided that we’d stop, take a look and perhaps eat some lunch.  We had plenty of time to get to Salvador, anyway.  It was just a bit disappointing.  After turning off the highway, we were directed by municipal police officers into a big parking lot where we we saw lots of signs that said that we were going to pay R$20 in order to park. There was, however, no place to turn around if you didn’t agree with that.  This is about $8 in US dollars.  OK, so we parked the car and took the shuttle bus into the town where we were dropped off in a tourist area.  We wandered through the area – about two blocks wide and six blocks long, ending at the beach.  There were no cars allowed in the area and there were lots of families walking around, many of them munching on yummy stuff.  There were plenty of restaurants – almost all of them really expensive.  We found a reasonably-priced one, but no tables were available.  We chose another one, but got up and left after ten minutes of no one serving us while steam came out Monica’s ears.  We ended up at the beach-side restaurant, where we had lunch.  After some bad food and worse service, we paid our outrageous bill and headed for the quickest way out of that tourist trap.  Since we were both still hungry after that joke of a lunch, we stopped for some predictably overpriced ice cream on our way out.

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Monica at Praia do Forte

Well, we’ve seen Praia do Forte.  I don’t think that we’ll be going back any time soon, though.  Nobody got hurt – it just cost us a few hours and about a hundred reais.  No real harm done, and now we can say that we’ve been there.

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Hotel IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho

We arrived at IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho before dark and wandered out to get something to eat after cleaning up and setting up in our hotel room.  We had planned on seeing some sights in Salvador, so we arranged to stay for two nights.  Our room was modest but clean and modern and the hotel was everything that a hotel should be.  They even gave us a huge current transformer so Monica could use her 127 volt hair dryer in the 220 volt receptacles used in this part of the country.  Fortunately, our laptops have dual-voltage power supplies that worked and Monica could charge her cell phone using a USB port, so we were set, electronically.   We found a place to eat dinner and drimk a well-deserved beer or two and made plans for the next day.  Fortunately, there was an agent selling tours at a desk a few steps from the elevator’s ground floor exit, so that made it easy.  We bought a sightseeing tour for the next afternoon, and hoped that we’d get to see some of the touristy stuff.  Salvador is one of the oldest cities in the Americas and was the original colonial capital of Brazil.  The city dates to 1549, and has a really neat historical area where tourists can mill around like cattle without worrying about getting hit by cars while they’re looking at all of the neat architecture found on the churches.  We did some walking around ourselves before the tour bus got there, but it was cool and threatening to rain, so we didn’t get in any beach or pool time.  Ibis has an awesome buffet breakfast and we enjoyed that both days.

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Our tour guide in a restored church

Our tour guide took us on a nice tour, which included stops at a cheesy souvenir shop, a museum and a number of churches – most of which required a modest admission charge.  There was also some guy that followed us, snapping pictures that we could buy later (we did).  We did, however, have a nice afternoon and saw a lot of neat stuff – there must have been ten really old churches in a quarter-mile area.   The tour guide was a likeable guy and seemed to know a lot about the area.  He was also doing pretty well for himself.  The guy that sold us the pictures gave him a wad of money after unloading his photos on the tourists.  I couldn’t help wondering what his deal with the cheesy souvenir shop was – I’m pretty sure that the churches churchdidn’t split their admission money – it was only a couple of dollars, anyway.  In any event, we got to soak up a bit of culture, see the inside of lots of old churches – including more gold leaf than I’d ever seen in one place before….

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This lady REALLY wanted to sell Monica something.

We finished up the tour without getting rained on and were delivered back to our hotel by the tour operator.  IBIS Salvador Rio Vermelho is in an area described as “Bohemian” with a lot of neat old bars and such.  Most of them, however, seemed to be located outside.  We walked a couple of blocks and found ourselves a seat where we had a nice dinner and waited for the rain to stop so we could walk back to our hotel. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to look around Salvador, but to do it properly, we’d need to hang with someone that knew the area.  Since that wasn’t available, we did the best we could and made plans to head for Ilheus the next day.  We made reservations at Hotel Ilheus, which was supposed to be in the historic area of town.  They also had a vacancy – important when you’re making reservations one day in advance. After another nice night at the IBIS, we headed out the next morning for Ilheus.

Ilheus

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Hotel Ilheus elevator, built 1930.

The Hotel Ilheus is the oldest hotel in the city.  It was opened in 1930 by a cacao baron who also ran a bank on the first floor.  It had the very first elevator in the area, and it is still there and in use.  Otis builds some amazing stuff, huh?  The drive, once we left Praia do Forte, was uneventful until the very end, where we found ourselves lost.  Hotel Ilheus is on Rua Eustáquio Bastos.  There are TWO streets in Ilheus with that name.  Our GPS sent us to the wrong one (of course.)  Not a problem, we asked for directions and phoned the hotel and found our way there – curiously, the GPS was a big help, as the hotel is next to a Bank of Brazil branch, which the little box had no problem finding.

hotel

Hotel Ilheus

The hotel is next to a river and right in the middle of a historic area.  The interesting thing about this historic area is that the famous history happened in a series of novels by a famous Brazilian author, Jorge Amado.  I haven’t read any of his stuff (and I’m not going to find it in English while I am here), but I plan on ordering some of his novels from Amazon when I get back to the States.  Hotel Ilheus was right around the corner from a famous bar that was featured in Amado’s novels.  We found our buddy Jorge there and convinced him to let Monica take a picture with him….well, he didn’t complain about it, anyway.

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Monica and Jorge Amado. He seemed kinda quiet…

We scoped out some other famous locations from Amado’s novels, all of which were within a few blocks.  This only took a few hours, and soon we were ready to head for our next destination, Alcobaça, a beach town in south Bahia.

Alcobaça

The drive to Alcobaça was uneventful. We arrived at Pousada Verdes Mares as scheduled and went to the office, where we found out that the “Last room available” that I had reserved the night before was not available and that they didn’t have a room for us.  Actually, they didn’t have an air conditioned room – there was a room that would be available in an hour or two, but it didn’t have air conditioning.  I am OK without A/C as long as there’s a ceiling fan, and Monica agreed.  Actually, the inn was quite nice, and we decided to stay for a second night in order to see the area better.  The pousada had a back entrance that was just a block or two from the beach, so we walked over there while we were waiting for our room to be ready and had an adult beverage or two.

Alcobaça boats

We found this little bay after walking an impossible distance along the beach…

Alcobaça has a central square that is a kilometer or two from our pousada, where they have a party every night,  They had vendors, a stage with performers and even a big musical train that kids loved to ride around the area.  It looked like a place where people would stay a week or so on a beach vacation before heading back to Minas Gerais or Brasilia (two states whose license plates we saw at our pousada).
We found a nice place to have dinner, sitting on a table out on the sidewalk and walked around to see the town before heading back to our room.

For a beach town Alcobaça seemed a little sleepy during the daytime.  I liked the area, though, and it’s a shame that it’s so far from where we live.  We almost bought a small pousada just across the street from the beach, but that’s a story for another time.  We enjoyed ourselves and Alcobaça was the best stop on the return trip.  After two too-short days, we loaded up our Fiesta and hit the road for our next destination, Conceicao da Barra.
I followed the GPS to get back to BR-101, and it took us along this really interesting road,  We had to cross a bridge over a small creek that was little more than two planks nailed over railroad ties that were supported by who-knows-what.  We hesitated before going over it for a minute ( I had thoughts about taking a picture of the bridge, but there was no place to stand.)  We went over it without a problem, and the 10km of dirt road that followed it was packed pretty well, so we made good time – but it was an experience…..

Conceicao da Barra

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They spent all of their money on this nice sign.

Being prime vacation time, I had to take the accommodations that were available.  When I searched for Conceicao da Barra, they only had one place available with a room the next day.  We reserved a room at Pousada Beth Shalom because it was available.  Conceicao da Barra is a beach town located in Espirito Santo, the next state south of Bahia.  Upon first glance, the area looked a little like Alcobaça.  It was a beach town that had a long paved walking path along the beach, where you could rent bicycles, or just walk for exercise.

Our pousada was a bit of a disappointment.  The room was small and seemed like it was in a basement, although it had a window that opened up into the owner’s driveway.  There were no electrical outlets that we could use without unplugging something, and the electrical work was embarrassing.  Wifi was available in the room, but only for a few minutes after resetting their DSL router (good thing they didn’t change the default passwords.)   We got our stuff unpacked, went upstairs to check out the green (yuck) pool and headed to the beach, which was just a few meters away.

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Might have been a little windy….

We stopped at a beach side restaurant and immediately noticed that it was really windy.  There was a constant breeze from the sea that was strong enough to make us uncomfortable.  At one point, Monica’s beer blew over.  Not good.  We took a really long walk along the shore in the wind, enjoying the nice sidewalk and then went back to our hotel for a shower and dinner.   We went into town, where we found a similar square with a similar environment to Alcobaça, but because of the wind, it wasn’t nearly as pleasant.  It was nice to get back to our pousada and make the plans for the next day.  We fell asleep to the howl of the wind past our window and woke up in the morning to the same noise.
The pousada’s breakfast wasn’t bad.  No warm food, but lots of fruit (I had watermelon for breakfast at every pousada) and bread and fresh juice.
Due to the icky wind, we decided to get an early start on our way to the next stop, Marataízes.  As we were leaving, the owner of the Pousada Beth Shalom gave us a couple of her business cards so we could pass them to our friends.
Right.

Marataízes

We arrived early in Marataízes because we left Pousada Beth Shalom early,  Really, there was no reason to hang around Conceicao da Barra.  The wind was annoying and our room at the pousada reminded us of someone’s basement.  Our next  place, Pousada Palácio das Garças, was  much nicer.  We found the pousada without any trouble, checked in and got comfortable.  Wifi didn’t work in the room, though (this is not good), but there were some common areas where we could use it if necessary.  The wifi thing is a deal killer for Monica, though.

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View from our room. Pool wasn’t green, but it was too windy to use it.

The wind was still there.  According to the folks that we talked to, the wind is always worse in the afternoon – and it was almost as windy in Marataízes as it was in Conceicao da Barra when we arrived in the afternoon.  After getting comfortable, we drove into town, skipping the beach, as there was no need to have our lower legs sandblasted again.
Perhaps we were getting tired (and we were), but there wasn’t anything special about Marataízes.  They had the same center area, the same noisy musical train full of kids, etc.  It was Alcobaça again – we just didn’t like it as much.  We had dinner and went back to our pousada for a night without Facebook.

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Our room. It was great, but the wifi stopped at the door.

We left the next morning after a nice breakfast and a conversation (in English!) with Roger, who owns the pousada and lives there with his wife.  The wind had died down a bit, but we were already thinking about sleeping in our own beds at the end of the day and we just wanted to get on our way.  We abandoned BR-101 by asking the GPS to take us to Tres Rios on the way home, making sure that we would use BR-393 instead.  That way, we bypassed Rio de Janeiro and the traffic that we would meet there.

We arrived home in the late afternoon – 4300km and 19 days after we left.  We have a new appreciation for road travel in Brazil.

Unless there’s a really good reason, next time we need to go to Aracaju, we’re buying plane tickets.

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