Hitchhiking: Buenos Aires to Belo Horizonte

Hitchhiking is fairly common for backpackers, but a majority of the people I have met or know think you’re absolutely crazy for doing it and would never try it on their own.  Even the drivers who pick you up are constantly saying how dangerous hitchhikers can be (even though they have just picked you up).  I’ve always enjoyed the experience, the fantastic and the absolutely miserable (at least in hindsight).  So here’s what approximately 3,000 km looks like from our point of view.

The Plan

Goal: Buenos Aires, Argentina to Belo Horizonte, Brazil in time for Colombia vs. Greece World Cup match on June 14.

Distance: approximately 3,000 km

Intended Route:  Take a bus north from Bs. As. to the outlying town
of Zaraté and head for Foz do Iguaçu; in Brazil continue either straight
north (Londrina, Riberão Preto) or cut in towards Curitiba, up to
São Paulo for Belo Horizonte.

The Journey

We left Buenos Aires later than we wanted; our ‘crack of dawn’ intentions drowned in the pouring rain that persisted till noon.  Julio was, in fact, still packing so even if it hadn’t been we may still not have left his place till around 1:30pm.  Hitchhiking is always for effective when you start early, but better late than never — we had already stayed around 5 days longer than I expected.  From the city we took bus line 60, which the internet–falsely–told us would go out to Zaraté; it’s real terminus is Escobar.  While we may have been able to start here we elected to take a direct bus to Zaraté instead which, unfortunately, cost us each almost 20 pesos (barely $2, but compared to the normal 2.70 peso fare it seemed exorbitant).  Almost three hours later we woke up in the center of of the small town.  Having fallen asleep and missed our stop, we  had to walk back towards the roundabout at the town entrance to reach the Zaraté peaje where cars exit for the two roads that run north, 9 for Cordobá, 14 for Brazil.  Though the sun was setting, a death sentence for catching rides, we managed to get one that was long enough to curtail the possibility of returning to the city to sleep.

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Gustavo was about as Argentinian as you could get.  We spent the entire ride drinking maté (so much that neither Julio or I could fall asleep – although that may partially have been that we were in a gas station) and talking about Argentina and his life.  While he worked in Buenos Aires, his family was from the northern region and though he loved it there, the city had a way of corrupting you.  Once you’ve lived in the chaos it’s difficult not to become addicted to it.  He took us around 430 km north to Concordia.

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Of course we weren’t the only ones out on the road trying to get to the World Cup.  This group of eight Argentine friends were heading to Rio de Janeiro in a less than mechanically sound bus.  We passed by them on the side of the road a few hours after we had met them here.  I hope they made it!

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When we told him we were going to Brazil he said we were very lucky, as long as we didn’t mind speed.  He was heading to the border too, not Foz do Iguaçu, but straight to Brazil.  He drove at least 50-100km over the speed limit the entire way. This photo was while he was driving and he often looked back while speaking to Julio. We were both a bit concerned given the conditions of the road, but nothing happened and he got us to the border about 5 hours sooner than we expected.  Exactly 363 days since I departed São Paulo, Julio and I entered Brazil in Santo Antônio do Sudoeste.

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João Berto was our first ride in what would prove a circuitous route through Brazil, owing largely to the fact that we started with no map (a necessity most times in Brazil).   From the moment we got in his car, he was playing various kinds of Brazilian music.  When Julio said he liked the music and asked what it was called, our driver gave us a CD to take with us.  He was the first of a string of Brazilians that tried to help us out by dropping us off in the places they thought were the right place to hitch — it didn’t really work out so well for us.

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Spelling of foreign names is difficult names is difficult so I’m going to say Hidu is what it sounded like.  He let us have some of the citrus fruit that was rolling around on his dashboard.  It was another short ride that brought us up to where the road split.  One road went up towards Cascavel and the other would eventually go towards Curitiba.  Having made great time in Argentina we thought we’d be able to cover the 650 or so kilometers to my uncle’s house in Itararé.  After about an hour of trying to hitch towards Cascavel with a sign that said ‘São Paulo’ some guys told us we were going the wrong way.  When we asked the highway police about the route towards Itararé we learned that a lot of the roads were closed because of rain, but they gave us a route they thought would get us there.

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He was heading south towards Santa Catarina, but told us he could drop us off at a good place that would lead us directly to Curitiba.  At this point we had started to become a bit paranoid about which direction we were taking and it became worse when we stopped to talk to more highway police only to learn that several bridges had fallen or been blocked in the recent (unusual for this time of year) rain that had just swept through Paraná.  We were very quickly entering a warp hole of closed roads.

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Surprisingly this was our real first ride with a truck driver.  He was working for a farm nearby, bringing construction material back and forth, but at the moment he didn’t have any cargo so we bumped along the road rather quicker than we should have.  He was on his way to Curitiba and for a while we considered going all the way there.  We passed through a wind farm; it was the first time Julio had ever seen those windmills that people always get in a fuss about for ruining the view.  This guy hadn’t heard about the road closures until we told him, but when we stopped for dinner the word finally seemed to have spread to most people on the road.  There was no going further this way — Ponta Grossa, Curitiba, everything was totally cut off.  Most truck drivers were just waiting for the water to go down and the bridges to be cleared.  The lack of clear information was the most unsettling part, closely rivaled by how cold it and windy the weather was.

Missing 2 Drivers.  After spending all night (even if it was inside) in a place that felt much colder than Buenos Aires, we picked up too really short rides, but were too cold and tired to remember to take their photos.

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El Gordito had been stuck in the same service station as us all night.  Instead of waiting for the roads to reopen he decided to turn back around and head towards Cascavel to take the road up to Londrina.  It was a full two day loss for him as much as it was for us.  He was from the northeast of Brazil and I have to admit that it made him a bit more difficult to understand, but he was very nice and was cracking jokes most of the time, though they were mostly lost on us.

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When he saw us on the road he told us he’d initially passed by, but then remembering his youth he decided to turn around and give us a ride.  He loved dancing and was currently taking dance classes for a specific type of Brazilian dance that he showed us a video of.  While he’d only visited Buenos Aires a single day, on a business trip, he wanted to go there and do a tango course for a week.  It was one of the rides that finally got us back on course and he was nice enough to drive us a bit past the city so we’d have a better chance of getting a ride.

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This guy had also hitchhiked around parts of Brazil once upon a time which is probably why he picked us up.  We stopped at one of those side of the road joints and had some salgadas de milho which are a bit like tamales and a very, very sweet bolo de milho that brought us out of our midday doziness.  The highway we were was the highway of contraband, he said, as it goes straight down to Paraguay, the traditional favorite of Brazilians for shopping, especially electronics.  Some less savory items all come up that road as well and, apparently, the favelas of Rio and São Paulo are supplied by drugs and guns taking the same route.  There’s some great things about Brazil, but it definitely has a lot of issues and the cost of living here is very high for what Brazilians get in return.  Case in point, the fallen bridges that plagued us on our road.

Missing: 1 Driver who left us in a horrible place between Londrina and Maringá — incidentally the two cities I had trouble between last year going the opposite direction.

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Robson Martanelli was crazy enough to stop in the deathtrap of an area we were in and he turned out to be a very fun last ride.  As one of our more enthusiastic and talkative drivers it was pretty obvious he had stopped to enjoy our company.  He loved American rock music, especially Duran Duran and Simple Minds.  He had a very idealized point of view of the U.S., which is understandable if you get your information through the classic music and movies, but was also eager to share things about Brazil.  When Julio gave him 1000 Colombian pesos as a gift, he gave his 2 reais back… a pretty good exchange rate. LOL. We got super hopeful when he offered to find a ride for us to São Paulo or Belo Horizonte, but it didn’t quite pan out.
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With the World Cup opening match taking place the next day in São Paulo, we soon realized that entering the city would be all but impossible, especially on a hitchhiking ride.  We decided to go to the Londrina bus station, about 2 km from the gas station we had been left at.   In the end we opted for taking a bus to Belo Horizonte instead of missing the game…  I’m not sure we could have made it even if we left earlier.  Like the rain that delayed us in Buenos Aires, I think it was ultimately the rain that stopped us in Brazil.  Bad luck for us, tragedy for the thousands of Brazilians living in the affected areas.

After a nearly 24 hour bus ride (that was supposed to be 20) we arrived in Belo Horizonte.

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Julio and I with our CS host Michel and his family in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

 

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