Hitchhiking: Itararé to Rio de Janeiro

Despite Brazilians’ constant warnings about how dangerous hitchhiking is in Brazil, their doubts about us ever finding rides, and how the roads are full of fear from bandits, they also seem hell bent on proving themselves wrong.  Maybe it is just because they think it’s so dangerous, but I tend to think Brazilians just happen to be super happy, welcoming, and eager to help foreigners when they have the chance.  Here’s to Brazilians proving themselves wrong over and over and over…it’s all about following your intuition.  

The Plan

Goal: Reach Rio de Janeiro by Saturday (2 days) for Colombia match

Distance: approximately 770 km

Intended Route: Hitch to São Paulo, avoid the city, and continue on towards Rio de Janeiro along BR-116

The Journey

After spending I don’t know how many days comfortably at my uncle’s house in Itararé, it was exhilarating to have that feeling you only get being back on the road pulsing through us.  The break had been something like being at Rivendell (of course and LOTR reference), a blissful vacation where you lose track of the days, can heal from your wounds (yet here I am will still a cough), and enjoy food and good company.  Julio and I, however, had both started to hear the road calling to us in the last couple of days so we semi-spontaneously decided we would just go and hope for the best despite not all of our accommodation/plans being totally set in place.  Though we were unable to track down reasonably priced tickets for the upcoming Colombia match we thought the party would be worth the trip and we’d decided to attempt one of the many entrepreneurial enterprises we’ve been dreaming up — painting people’s faces for the match.

Starting hitchhiking in Itararé was, of course, absurdly simple as we were driven out to the first pedágio (the peaje/road toll in Brazil) in by my uncle in his dark teal Volkswagon fusca.  One of the workers had walked out to talk to us in that time to tell us it was probably going to be very hard.  I’m never sure what the motivations are when people do that when you clearly have nowhere else to go.  Inside a city, sure you can take a bus or something but out on the highway there’s really no option but to continue.  Fortunately, it was the best spot on the road for us, though it still took over an hour for someone to pick us up — that’s Brazil.

hithhiking, truck driver

Our first ride wasn’t actually a Brazilian, but an Argentinian so Julio could finally communicate perfectly with someone again.  His family belonged to an old generation of circus people and he was no stranger to picking up backpackers, though he did it more frequently in Argentina.  He brought us almost all the way back to Itapetininga where we had been put on a bus last time.

We were expecting a longer wait, but our strategy of Julio sitting a little bit out of sight and me flagging down cars works pretty well and our next ride actually made fun of us for doing it.  This one was definitely a character with his longish hair, sunglasses, vans shoes, and both his arm in tattoo sleeves–a 40 year old Brazilian surfer/skater dude if there ever was one.  He’d worked in publicity for several years then grown tired, quit, bought to little moving trucks and was doing that instead.  All the way to São Paulo his stories of skating were intertwined with disdain for the politics in Brazil and our craziness for hitchhiking.  Unfortunately the traffic in São Paulo lessened his will to bring us to a good drop off point and around 5pm we found ourselves somewhere close to Av. Salim Farah Maluf a.k.a the middle of São Paulo.

hitchhiking ride, trucker

I went into get some salgadas, our first ‘meal’ for the day, and asked the woman working there about a bus that might go out to the freeway, explaining that we were hitchhiking.  She was more than a little concerned for us, but got another one of the workers to explain we had to get out to Vía Dutra and probably lots of drivers were heading that way.  Tune to play my least favorite game of asking people for lifts directly.  In the mean time some guy Julio was sure was up to no good spotted us and offered to take us out there even though when I first asked where he was going he had said to his house.  He was a bit too insistent… sitting down next to us, pointing stuff out on the map, living conveniently close to a treasure trove of trucks leaving the city, and hanging out for almost 20 minutes while eating his bag of baconitos and coca cola.  There was no way in hell Julio would have gotten in a car with him and I have to admit, he was probably right.   The gas station lady also came out to tell us he seemed off and she was actually the one who ended up procuring us a ride with some guy she knew.

Marcelo lived out that way and first took us to the highway police because we thought that would be the safest.  Wrong. They said police got assaulted right in front of their own building and we couldn’t stay inside anyway.  Off to the next 24 hour gas station… we felt terribly inconvenient, but people really do think we’re going to die if they leave us.  We watched the some game for a bit at the station before Marcelo bid us farewell.  It wasn’t even 8pm yet so we thought we could maybe get a bit further.  So after hanging out for a while and the woman semi-kicking us out because she was cleaning, Julio went in with the map and stumblingly asked directions on where we might go — hopefully a smaller town where we could camp.  He came back with a ride from some guy who it had taken 15 minutes to explain that he could take us up a bit further.

gas station brazil, watching tv

In the 20 km stretch to a bigger station, however, Renato who was either super excited to be interacting with foreigners or just that talkative decided to invite us to his house, eat dinner, sleep, and take us back out at 4:30am when he left home to fight through traffic on his way to work in the city.  You know, if we wanted to.  Here we broke one of the important rules of hitchhiking, but something told us he was just a nice guy.  Consequently, we ended up meeting his parents, siblings, niece, nephew, and I don’t even know who else.  Extremely gracious hosts who opened their house to us without any question.  It’s always incredible to me how people can be so amazingly warm and welcoming; Renato definitely worked his way up to being one of the best rides either of us have ever had.  The only downside (which was probably actually an upside) was waking up so early; I can’t believe people do that everyday…it’s even more horrible than LA traffic.

brazilian family, hitchhiking

The sun wasn’t even up for a lot of the time we waited at that gas station.  It took us till 10:20 to be on our way again, a wait of around 4 hours and we only got the ride because some worker walked up to us and told me which truck was going to Rio.  He was actually going to Espírito Santo, but he would pass by Rio and though he seemed a bit reluctant when I asked him, he actually seemed quite happy to have us in the truck once we were there.  Much of the time he spent smoking cigarettes and eating candy; he was apparently going to drive all night so he could be home by morning.  It’s a rarity here in Brazil.  When we stopped for a bite to eat about an hour and a half from Rio I got a message from some CS hosts that said we’d be able to stay with them.  Everything just fell right into place… I guess we’re just lucky.

truck driver, hitchhiking


I don’t need luck to beat Stephen Colbert at LOTR trivia though.



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