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The Southern Cone of infinite possibilities – Part I

The Southern Cone of infinite possibilities – Part I

Wednesday, 8 de February de 2017

An engineer takes the road to get know every inch of the way between Belo Horizonte and Patagonia - and tells us exclusively about his adventure

The Southern Cone is the name given to the geographical triangle formed by Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil –a regions with similar geopolitical characteristics. The southern tip of this triangle, which occupies approximately half of the area, is Patagonia, which has an astonishingly beautiful and windy landscape, comprised by southern Chile and Argentina. It is one of the most important monuments in the world and the destination of many nature lovers.

One of these adventurers (although he does not define himself as such) is the mechanical engineer Eduardo Lages, 50 years old. Lages worked for almost 24 years at the Fiat automotive plant in Betim (MG) and left in 2010 to work in marketing and pursue his passion: cycling. Last year he wanted to “just” travel by bike around Patagonia, but ended up embarking on a bigger adventure. “I could just have just taken a flight to Argentina or Chile, define my itinerary, rent a car, book hotels and go. But then you start researching, looking at Google Maps and you realize that the road between Belo Horizonte and the southernmost part of the continent has a lot more than “just” Patagonia … “.

Instead of flying, Lages decided to go by car and enjoy every “wow” that might come up along the way. ” I did 14.000 Km in a little over 30 days. For such a period of time and such long distances it´s hard to plan everything: the route, where to sleep, how long I have to stay in each place, what to see and do, what to bring … You start planning and you realize immediately that it is best to just go and let it be” he advises. “Anyway, some things had to be guaranteed: the necessary ocumentation to travel between countries, updated GPS, a USB memory with music, suitcases and, of course, my partner: the bike.” What car would be ideal for such a trip? “I went with the Fiat Toro, pick-up of the year, a complete 4×4 diesel version, kindly provided to me by the factory. The car is perfect for this road with different types of terrain, altitudes, temperatures and humidity” , he says. “I needed a heck of a vehicle. After all, it would be like living in it for a month.”

Eduardo on the border of the lakes Nahuel Huapi and Moreno. Bariloche, Argentina

Upon returning, Lages offered to share his trip with us. “I consider it an unforgettable adventure which is why I decided to share it here and encourage more and more people to travel to this part of the world. The diversity of the fauna, the flora, the climate, the deserts and the food is incredible. And the colors of the vegetation, the soil and the water are spectacular! If you are not encouraged to enjoy everything at once, as I did, it is also worthwhile to plan more specific visits and get to know what you consider most interesting. Going by plane is convenient; you see the landscape from above but you also miss a lot. I prefer to see Patagonia instead of the seat in front of me. “

In the coming weeks you will follow Eduardo’s discoveries which will certainly leave you speechless with each photo. His trip began in Belo Horizonte, crossing Sao Paulo, a pit stop in Santa Catarina and then all the way down to Uruguay, the Argentinean Patagonia and the Chilean Patagonia. He then came back through a different route, of course. Once we reach the end of this adventure, in four weeks, it is very likely that you’ll want to plan the same type of trip, so get ready! Shall we go?

Part I – Brazil and Uruguay

When I took the Toro pickup truck at the Fiat automotive pole in Betim (MG), I thought to myself: the bike will go there, in the cargo bed under the hood, and the rear seat will free for me to sleep in, if necessary … And in fact, I slept there 3 nights which was 10% of the duration of the trip!

I left BH, passed through Sao Paulo, and continued through the interior of Paraná towards Santa Catarina. I went directly to the mountainous region because I had this dream of going to some highly recommended places, starting with the Circuito Vale Europeu (the European Valley Circuit).

1. Circuito Vale Europeu – Santa Catarina

Several cities compose the circuit, which is very interesting and has a strong influence from the European immigrants. Pomerode, Timbó, Indaial, Rodeo, Doutor Pedrinho, Alto Cedros and Palmeiras are some examples. The trip can be divided into stages, so you won’t get too tired and have time to see the area in detail. And the topography helps too because the area is relatively flat, except for the stretch between Rodeo and Doutor Pedrinho, considered to be the highest part of the circuit. The neighboring city of Blumenau is also worth a visit. I lucked out: Oktoberfest was just starting!

What’s great about these towns is that they are connected by well marked roads and frequented by cyclists. Santa Catarina is undoubtedly one of the states where bicycles are used the most as a means of transportation, tourism and sports. I was impressed…

A tip: You can reduce your luggage size by not bringing your own bicycle, as several shops rent bikes for tourists to travel around the circuit. In the city of Timbó, for example, it is easy to find such support. Some inns and hotels also offer bicycles to tour the city. But these tend to be simpler models, which I do not recommend if you wish to do the entire route- the roads aren’t paved.

Starting point of the Cicling circuit Vale Europeu Timbó, Santa Catarina

2. The Mountains of Santa Catarina

My base was the small town of Urubici, a quiet place with an interesting infrastructure of inns, restaurants and bars. It’s worth trying the trout which is very typical in this area which also produces apples. Near Urubici, cycling the 17 km to the top of the hill of the church, or Morro da Pedra Furada (hollow stone), is well worth it. By car, motorcycle or bicycle, reaching the top of the mountain is rewarding. The view is spectacular. A warning to cyclists: Make sure you train enough before you face the climb! A warning to all: it is necessary to register and get the authorization in downtown Urubici before leaving for the climb. There is a boom barrier to control the limited entry of tourists per day.

Top of the Morro da Igreja, known as the Morro da Pedra Furada (the hollow stone), what you see in the image. Urubici, Santa Catalina

The temperature difference between the foot of the mountain range and the highest point is quite large. I started pedaling with 18 degrees Celsius and at the top the temperature dropped to 5 Celsius. I saw a video recorded in winter where there was snow and ice everywhere!

After that mountain you have the descent of the Serra do Corvo Branco: a winding, unpaved stretch with breathtaking views. It was at that point of the trip that the Toro pickup began to show its versatility.

Further on is the town of Lauro Muller. It’s the base for climbing the 24 kilometers to the summit of the famous and wonderful Serra do Rio do Rastro. It´s the spot for cyclists from Brazil and the world, and it’s quite a challenge to pedal those ramps and curves. At first it’s easy, but there is a significant slope towards the last 10 kilometers. On the way you can admire the forest, a waterfall and the road itself in the distance with its tiny curves going all the way down. At the end there is an overlook, a beautiful resort and a restaurant. All very well organized (and full of tourists, especially cyclists). I’ve heard that some agencies and bike shops organize climbs in groups. The day I went up, I found a huge group of Spanish tourists enjoying their rented bicycles. Mountains as sensational as these, I had only seen in Europe!

From the top, I went back to Lauro Muller. But if you want to continue, the road goes all the way to Sao Joaquin, a famous destination in winter for snow lovers. But there is also the famous Cascata Pirata (Pirate Waterfall), in addition to some vineyards. The return trip is pure joy since it is a long and fun descent. But beware: hairpin curves with potholes everywhere can be treacherous…

Serra do Rio do Rastro Road, famous for its curves and slopes. Lauro Muller, Sierra de Santa Catarina

3. Uruguay

When I left Santa Catarina, I decided to go down Rio Grande do Sul along the coast. After a day in Torres, a nice and well structured beach with a lot of options, I arrived in São José do Norte. From there to Rio Grande you must take the 20 minute ferry ride. However, I ended up staying 4 hours in line to get on the boat, and apparently it’s always like this…

There are 240 Km from Rio Grande to Chuí, the last Brazilian city in this direction. On the way I was surprised by the magnitude of the ecological station of Taim, one of the largest ecosystems in Brazil. Those flooded fields are awesome! There are many signs that indicate the presence of free roaming animals crossing the road. And indeed, there are a lot!

Upon entering Uruguay, one immediately sees a difference: the roads are very good, crossing several farms and fields with very green grass, all very well kept. I also traveled the country along the coast.

Stretch of road that connects Montevideo to Colonia, Uruguay

A tip: If you are driving, make sure you go into Uruguay with a full tank, as the fuel is very expensive there (as Gilberto Leal also noted). Because the country is fairly small, with a full tank you can have a blast! And then you can fill up in Argentina, where fuel prices are cheaper.

Punta del Este, with its beaches and restaurants, and the city of Montevideo are worth visiting. But the greatest highlight is the bucolic Colonia del Sacramento, Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It reminds me of some of the historical Brazilian cities like Tiradentes and Paraty. There are many people walking around, and the bars and restaurants are always full. Most restaurants offer meat as a highlight. You know what I mean, those small lively cities, well…

From there to the other side of the Rio de la Plata you arrive in Buenos Aires, on a boat they call Buquebus. Buy your ticket at the port station which is very clean and organized. The 45 minute ride is comfortable and your car is stowed at the lower level.

There is also the option of crossing to Argentina from Montevideo. It takes about 1h30, but it is much nicer to roll 180 kilometers to Colonia and go from there!

Sculpture of The Hand of Punta del Este. Playa Brava, Punta, Uruguay

4. Argentina

In the next chapter of our series on the journey of Eduardo Lages to the Southern Cone, he tells us about the Argentinean side of the route. The adventures and photos are as unforgettable as the trip. See you there! o/




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