Friday, 26 February 2016

Estrada Real [ Brazil - April 2014 ]

Estrada Real is the name that identified the whole complex of those rural roads that at the time of colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese Crown were opened in the process of exploration and economic exploitation of the enormous resources of that new land.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, contextually to the economic crisis of sugar cane and the expulsion of Dutch settlers from those areas (in 1654) it turned-up necessary to find new resources and more attractive economic interests.
This brought many entrepreneurs and business operators, especially in the São Paulo area and more particularly Portuguese mestizos with indigenous known at that time as Bandeirantes, to organize a series of expeditions (bandeiras) in those inland areas that later would become the nowadays states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
The "lower part" of Estrada Real which connects the historical town of Ouro Preto to the Fluminense area on the Atlantic coast was commonly regarded as Caminho Velho and was mainly used to collect and transport the gold firstly to the town of Paraty, then to Rio de Janeiro and finally to Portugal.

    The trip step-by step    

09.04.2014: Mariana
10.04.2014: Mariana - Ouro Preto, 12km/H496m
11.04.2014: Ouro Preto
12.04.2014: Ouro Preto - Conselheiro Lafaiete, 56km/H1296m
13.04.2014: Conselheiro Lafaiete - Prados, 92km/H1691m
14.04.2014: Prados - São João del Rei, 38km/H362m
15.04.2014: São João del Reis - Carrancas, 84km/H1455m
16.04.2014: Carrancas - Cruzilia, 61km/H1137m
17.04.2014: Cruzilia - Pouso Alto, 64km/H842m
18.04.2014: Pouso Alto - Cachoeira Paulista, 78km/H797m
19.04.2014: Cachoeira Paulista - Lorena, 19km/H70m
20.04.2014: Lorena - Cunha, 66km/H950m
21.04.2014: Cunha - Paraty, 59km/H1067m
22.04.2014: Paraty

    Total : 14 days - 629 km - H10163m 

Pictures below: 
getting into the direction of Mariana - Minas Gerais 

Pictures below: 
my arrival to Mariana - Minas Gerais 

9-APR-2014: Mariana
From here, Mariana, in the heart of the Minas Gerais mountainous region, today officially begins my journey along the so called Caminho Velho of Estrada Real

10-APR-2014: Mariana - Ouro Preto

After a delightful evening in a local churrascaria listening to some of the top hits of the most genuine “musica mineira” divinely interpreted by Paula Fernandes, today, April the 10th, the day starts with an excellent breakfast truly based on the most authentic local tradition with sweets and the inevitable pão de quejo, a delicious sort of baked bread and cheese.
It’s half past seven and, with a temperature of 27 °C and a fantastic weather, I’m plenty of time to stop in the main square of the town, known as Praça Minas Gerais, just for a few shots prior to definitely take the direction to Ouro Preto.
After a few miles of a gentle slopes road, I decide to stop along the route to visit the now exhausted gold mine known as Minas da Passagem. After the visit, at a certain point not too far away from Ouro Preto, a guy with his girlfriend, I’d guessed, makes me sign to stop … just to ask me where I was from and so far frankly confessing that he too was dreaming to become one day a cyclist ... perhaps in the aim to start to go around the world ... more or less as myself !!!
Once in Ouro Preto it wasn’t difficult to find an accommodation in the centre, despite most of the places were already fully booked because preparing to celebrate the 21 of April as the anniversary of the death of Tiradentes, a national hero, here considered the true historical leader that started such political movement that would have conducted Brazil to its independence from  Portugal (Celebrações da Inconfidência Mineira, 21 April 1792).

On the way to Ouro Preto a mandatory stop at the gold mine known as Mina da Passagem
The superb and absolutely unrivaled arrival to Ouro Preto
Myself and the "aspiring cyclistin front of the hotel of Ouro Preto
11-APR-2014: Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto, the heart of the Baroque in the Minas Gerais region, definitely in the past, at the time of the colonization, one of the most populous cities of Brazil and a strategic point of the entire area for activities related to the exploitation of diamonds and gold. Very interesting a thorough visit to its rich heritage museums (Inconfidência, Casa dos Contos, Casa dos Inconfidentes, Museu do Oratorio) where the whole story of colonization is definitely well documented and offered to the visitor.

Around the year 1789 the conspiracy for independence from Portugal attracted here in Ouro Preto many people belonging to the army and the circles of priests, intellectuals and poets. Joaquim da Silva Xavier, known by his pen name as Tiradentes, became the most visible and enthusiastic exponent of this independence movement. Three persons who had joined the uprising, however, betrayed the cause and revealed the plans to the government. The rebels were arrested in 1789. The legal proceedings against the conspirators were implemented from 1789 to 1792. The Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Paula Freire de Andrade, Tiradentes, Jose Alvares Maciel and eight others were sentenced to the gallows. Seven others were banished and condemned to live in the African colonies, and the others were acquitted. During the trial, the Queen Mary (Maria I of Portugal) commuted death sentences in call for all except for people whose activities were deemed particularly serious. Tiradentes assumed full responsibility for his actions and the creation of the rebel movement. He was imprisoned in Rio de Janeiro and hanged on April 21, 1792. His body was torn to pieces, then sent to Ouro Preto in the captaincy of Minas Gerais, to be exposed in places where he had spread his ideas. The anniversary of his death, precisely on April 21, is celebrated as a national holiday in Brazil.

Villa café ... finally a decent café expresso
Memorial plaque at the base of the monument dedicated to Tiradentes in the main square of Ouro Preto
12-APR-2014: Ouro Preto-Ouro Branco-Conselheiro Lafaiete

After very warm greetings by the guests of the small hotel where I spent the last two nights I started to cycle for an interminable steep road prior to Ouro Branco and then Conselheiro Lafaiete. A journey of little satisfaction, with a few photographic opportunities, all paved, busy and definitely boring. I was hoping to see something better at the Casa de Tiradentes about 8 km after Ouro Branco ... but I found it completely abandoned, a decidedly ungenerous treatment for who has passed to the history of Brazil as the major architect of its independence from Portugal !!!

The alleged home of Tiradentes ( ... )

13-APR-2014:Conselheiro Lafaiete-Queluzito-Casa Grande-Lagoa Dourada-Bandeirinhas-Prados

Very tough day today: apart from a few short stretches of asphalt, for the rest only dirt tracks, rocks allover around and above all a long infamous climb. 
Despite to have a very detailed reference track loaded onto my GPS (… before leaving I always thought of it as a totally reliable one .. !!!), I found myself more than once on trails ending-up into the nothing, along colapsing stretches of mud and landslides, from time to time into private properties closed by gates, fences and barbed wires, often on sections of a path simply impassable !!! For the rest gentle pastoral landscapes, lush vegetation and silence, the most beautiful silence I’ve ever heard.
At the end of the day, pretty tired and by now definitely late in the deep dark of the evening I eventually arrived to Prados where I hardly could find the “hotel” booked the day before.
After a quick shower, I still nevertheless had the strength to go to the centre of the village roughly two miles walking from where I was !!! Along the streets, in front of the churches a lot of people and music everywhere ... it’s the Holy week I was told (… maybe because Easter?), this is Brazil I thought !!!
“Little detail” about my dinner in Prados: as I’ve said above, that evening in the town it was going-on a sort of a religious celebration. Thousands of people everywhere, stalls of all kinds, a deafening din. Looking around for a place where to have dinner I eventually sat at a table of a not properly appealing lanchonete (a restaurant) and asked for something to eat. In a very tiny open space facing the main square there were two giant modern TV sets broadcasting at the same time two different news and music programs. On top of that other music coming from all around,  people talking shamelessly aloud and undefined nuisance noises..
At a certain point, no more than a couple of meters from where I was, stopped a car with two bold chaps who, without hesitation, opened the car rear trunk where there were a minimum of a 10 megawatt stereo set that they switched-on at the maximum volume !!!  Terrible, everything started to vibrate, tables, dishes … even the fork and knife in my hands !!! … that’s Brazil I thought, again !!!

Deep in the forest ... the welcome by Raphael e Volney ... two local cyclists
On the left a wonderful anthill, cupim as they call it here
Prados, Bichinho, Tiradentes, Trilhos da Maria Fumaça, São João Del Rei

Definitely a quiet bit of a route today; small villages scattered all over around, the usual climbs of course .... and, above all, a big headache about tomorrow stage (…)

Getting out of Prados
Passing by Bichinho
"Fusca"  ... here a genuine relic retailer !
Along the streets of Tiradentes
Looking for Maria Fumaça
Maria Fumaça ... safely sheltered at the "station museum" of São João del Rei
São João de Rei, "Architettura trifase"
São João de Rei
15-APR-2014: São João Del Rei-Itutinga-Carrancas

The idea of having to cycle more than 80 km under a pretty heavy rain and, what’s worse, mainly along a sort of red mud roads with an estimated climbing of over 1400 meters didn’t appeal to much to me !!  Furthermore, unfortunately, as far as I could understand, there weren’t credible alternatives. So, today, it’ll be a pure and total improvisation stage!!!

After 40 km of BR-265, at the height of Itutinga, I preferred to abandon the main street and take on the left the MG-451 in the direction of Carrancas.

Deposit specialized in Fusca e Brasilia wrecks
Madre Deus de Minas: Fusca d' epoca
... taking the very "hard" decision to turn on the left in the direction of Carrancas passing by Capela do Saco
"mata biker" ... a "cyclist killer" grid !!!
Supermercado Rodrigo ... o Ponto Certo da Economia ...
16-APR-2014: Carrancas-Fazenda Traituba-Cruzilia

Fazenda Traituba (Cruzilia), kind courtesy of Walter Magalhaes, from his novel “Uma bicicleta, uma lata e muitas imagens”, aventura fotográfica de bicicleta pela Estrada Real

At seven-thirty in the morning, at the time of the departure, a dark black sky wasn't promising anything good.
Despite these initial inauspicious predictions however the sky very slowly started turning-up serene and with a mild temperature of 25 ° C  I could succesfully conclude this stage in the most beautiful possible way.

The myth of Fazenda Traituba, for me the heart of my Estrada Real
17-APR-2014: Cruzilia-Baependi-Pouso Alto

Today I must  say  that at a certain point I had to, or better, I simply preferred to "defect" the Estrada Real opting for the busiest but much more “fluent” and "civil" asphalt (...).  Apart a reasonable traffic, the way showed to be quite awesome, with affordable slopes, several shaded stretches and definitely beautiful views.
Arrived in Pouso Alto in the early afternoon, I immediately rushed into a small pousada (hotel) where, thanks to a still warm and bright sunshine, I took advantage for cleaning the bicycle and washing the essential.

Baependi, desde 1924 "BAR FECHA NUNCA" ...  tà fechado !!!
Passing through the main (fresh) square of Caxambù
Along the superb BR-354
18-APR-2014: Pouso Alto-São Sebastião do Rio Verde-Itanhandù-Passa Quatro-Cachoeira Paulista

Nice bit of a road today, not too tough, half dirt paths and half asphalt. Unforgettable the single-track along the dismissed railway to Itanhandu and the suggestive views through the Serra da Mantiqueira up to the heights of mount Cruzeiro.

Nice single-track along the dismissed railway in the direction of Itanhandù
Passing through Passa Quatro

... signs of a one-upon-a-time railway ...
Cachoeira Paulista: "Architectural wires"
Cachoeira Paulista: "Joga Cartas e Bùzios" ... ligue (12) 3101 3175
19-APR-2014: Cachoeira Paulista - Lorena

Getting out of Cachoeira Paulista (SP)
The arrival to Lorena (SP)

20-APR-2014: Lorena-Guaratinguetá-Cunha

I was supposed to take advantage of my  room in the centre of Lorena for a relaxing sleeping night but starting from midnight till dawn, to celebrate Easter as they explained to me later, they started with fireworks first, then with a large brass band, eventually with a megaphone shouting to the crowd ... in short, a nightmare!!!

Getting out of Lorena the Easter day
Passing through Guarantiguetà the Easter day
Just before arriving to Cunha coming across with a group of local cyclists ("a turma de Mariana")
21-APR-2014: Cunha – Paraty

Today, April the 21st, here in Brazil is a national holiday. They do celebrate "O dia da Inconfidencia" which coincides with the death of Joaquim da Silva Xavier, better known by the name of Tiradentes, here historically considered the greatest architect of the movement of disobedience to the Portuguese crown that would take a few years later to the independence of Brazil from Portugal (September 7, 1822).
The route, starting from the hotel where I spent the night  in Cunha is pretty much a tremendous uphill till the boundary line between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where, among other things, all of a sudden the asphalt ends.

From this point on, at 1500 m.a.s.l., it follows a trait of a road that I would define, from my point of view, simply glorious.
A crazy 20 km descent along a winding and terribly muddy road till to reach the sea through the so-called Mata Atlantica da Serra do Mar; all around an awesome and lush vegetation, humidity that could tarnish my glasses even though I was constantly moving, oozing rocks on all sides and finally to end-up with the sighting of the sea and the Bay of Paraty.

A truly unique experience !! So now I'm in Paraty, just a short break ... just enough time to get organized to reach Rio de Janeiro.

... a last glance to my beloved girlfriend in Cunha !!
... getting out of Cunha
WARNING: starting from the km "70" ... 4X4 only !!!
Crossing the borderline in the between Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo ... from here onwards only heavy mud !!!!
The wonderful descent towards Paraty on the atlantic coast
In the view of the bay of Paraty
The arrival to Paraty

22-APR-2014: Paraty


  1. i love your pictures and have a nice comments of Estrada Real!!!
    cyclehugs from Brazil - joaozinhomenininho

  2. É muito interessante ler o relato de um extrangeiro pela Estrada Real. Parabéns pela viagem e pelas lindas imagens Corrado.

  3. Hi Conrad - very interesting!
    I'm planning something similar myself on Caminho Novo from Rio to Ouro Preto and further north to Diamantina. Preferable with a fast bike (cyclocross/racer) and "bikepacking" with a minimum of baggage. So, this would be mostly on asphalt, though I'm a little concerned about the traffic. Any information you may provide will be received with thanks!

  4. Hi Øyvind, first of all you'd better check the Estrada Real official website for any updates - Here you can find gpx tracks and alternative suggested routes. Myself, between Mariana and Paraty, I've been using a different gpx track found on internet. You always have though the possibility to swap for asphalt but the actual ER track is 70% unpaved. I don't know the Caminho Novo and know just a little bit of the Caminho dos Diamantes. Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Sao Joao del Rei are along the Caminho Velho. It's a pity that you miss the 13 km approx along the dismissed railway (known as Maria Fumaça) starting in Tiradentes and ending up to Sao Joao del Rei. Also Paraty should be a must !! Good luck.