Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lages, Santa Catarina, Mile 334, November 23, 2010

Greetings from the city of Lages, Santa Catarina.  I rode here today from Curitibanos, where I stayed yesterday, due to rain.

Very little of import happened yesterday.  It stopped raining about noon, and, had I not already left my clothes to be washed, I would have left yesterday.  O well.  I took the bike out in the afternoon and rode around town for a few miles, and read the second 25 cent book I had brought with me.  I had found a very good Italian restuarant a few blocks from my hotel, and Sunday night I had an excellent lasagna; last night an excellent pizza.  The lasagna was funny, because it was served in what ammounted to a deep dish pizza tray, and cut into four slices like it was a pizza.  It tasted good...

This morning, I got up, paid my bill, and retrieved my bike from the store room where I had kept it.  (Some hotels let me keep the bike in my room, some insist I lock it in a store room.  I am flexible.)  Today dawned cloudy, cold and windy.  I rolled out at about 8:45, stopped at an ESSO station (Who is old enough to remember ESSO in the United States?) and bought a Coke and four bottles of water, and rode out the south side of town on SC 457.  In about two miles, 457 ended at BR 470, which is a main east-west highway in Santa Catarina.  Here I turned east, and immediately road straight into the wind, and also started climbing.  This got cold fast, so I stopped and put my sweatshirt on.  The shoulder was lousy, and there were too many trucks.  The story of my life on this trip, in other words.  I might add, that this streth of BR 470 is NOT a toll road, and is (poorly) maintained by the federal government.  Luckily, I only had to ride about nine miles before I came to the little town of Sao Cristovao do Sul, where 470 crossed BR 116, a north south highway that runs all the way to the Uruguayan border.  This is where I figured something out.  BR highways that are PUBLICLY maintained are disasters for a bike rider.  On the other hand, BR highways that have been concessioned out to a private operator, as this stretch of BR 116 has been, are in excellent condition, and have wide shoulders.  (State highways, I might add, have been in quite good shape too, at least in Santa Catarina.)  BR-116, also known as the ¨Autopista Planalto Sul¨, was two lanes with wide shoulders, and an additional third lane whenever it made a significant climb.  These third lanes are not my friends.  When I see one coming up, it means that I will be gearing down, and grinding my way up some long grade for a while.  As an example of what I mean by a third lane, by the way, anyone who has driven out from DC to Shenandoah Natl Park on US 29-211 will have encountered such a lane the last five miles or so up to the Skyline Drive.  Now, imagine climbing that on a bicycle.  I get to do that multiple times every day.

By the time I got to the 470/116 junction, I had climbed up from about 3,300 feet to 3,630.  Here it got fun.  I immediately dropped 500 feet over about three miles.  I do not think I was under 30MPH the whole time.  This was fun.  I was also now heading south, not east, and the wind shifted a little bit, so I had the wind at my back.  I was positively flying along.  After about 20 miles, I came to the town of Ponte Alta, which has nothing much to reccomend it, and after another eight or nine, I ame to Correia Pinto, which was even less interesting than Ponte Alta.  I did less climbing today than I have in a while, the road was mostly, if not flat, then at least minimally hilly.  Several times, I came to areas where I could see for ten or 15 miles in front of me, and it was very pretty.  The day remained cloudy and cool, although I did take my sweat shirt off after a while.  It never rained, luckily.  A few miles after Correia Alta, I came to a toll plaza, which I road through.  The 40 mile or so stretch that I rode today would have cost a car R$2.90, and a motorcycle half that.  About $1.75 for a car, in other words.  A similar stretch on MX 2 from Tijuana to Tecate would run about $7.00 US, so I have finally found something in Brazil that is cheaper than it would be in Mexico.

A few miles after the toll plaza, I came to the cut off for Lages.  I still had another six or so mile ride ahead of me into town, and then through town.  I finally found a hotel a few blocks from the downtown cathedral.  Total distance ridden today was 53 miles.

Once in town, I went in search of an ATM, since I was running low on Reais, again.  This is not as easy as it may seem; not all Brazilian banks are linked into the CIRRUS system that my credit union uses.  I went looking for a Banco Bradesco, who I knew would accept my ATM card, but did not find one.  After trying Banco do Brasil and Santander unsucsessfully, I went into a HSBC, and their ATM worked.  I have now taken out R$1,730 on this trip, and have had $1,020 disappear from my account.  This works out to a rate of 1.70 to one.  I am hoping to make it to the Uruguayan border in another seven or eight days; at this exchange rate, the sooner the better.

Lages is the biggest city I have been in yet (not counting Curitiba), and probably has 100,000 inhabitants or so.  There is a nice plaza and cathedral downtown, and it looks to be a prosperous place.

The State of Santa Catarina, incidentally, is one of 26 Brazilian States.  Considering that Brazil has a larger land area than the 48 continental United States, that means the average Brazilian State is almost twice the size as the average American State.  Santa Catarina is slightly smaller than average, but it is still quite big, say the size of Missouri.  Rio Grande do Sul, which is coming up next, is actually significantly BIGGER than Uruguay, and is somewhere between double and triple the size of Santa Catarina.  However, my time in RS will be a straight shot down the coast to the Uruguayan border, instead of the meander I have been doing here in SC, so my distance travelled there should actually be less than what I will end up travelling in Santa Catarina.

Having read (and discarded) all the books I brought with me, I wandered into a book store in search of more.  The prices were incredible.  A Portuguese translation of ¨Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow¨ was going for about 12 dollars, for a paperback with less than 200 pages.  ¨A Brief History of the 20th Century¨ was almost $30 US.  I am going to go back to the hotel and ask them if they know of any used book stores near here. 

Tomorrow, I continue to head east.  Let us hope it does not rain...

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