We were on our way to Barra Grande (Ceará), on a tip, and only ten minutes down the road we were stalled.
The bus was ‘missing’, sputtering and jumping and generally not running well. We pulled over on the side of the road and Jason went to work on the engine, while we tried to keep cool. Even at 8 AM, the heat and humidity was unrelenting.
It took a while to figure it out, but our electronic ignition died. Kaput. Jason swapped it out with and old set of points and we were back on our way.
Barre Grande is a kite surfing destination, but was a ghost town today. We took zero photos.
The next day, we knew it was going to be a long drive to Parque Nacional Lençois Maranhenses, so we got up early and hit the road.
Jason had a plan to knock off 250 km of pavement driving via shortcut that would take us directly there. Most of the roads were on the map as dirt, but there was a missing section in the middle. He checked out the satellite photos and was convinced there was a path where ‘the road should be’. This was our plan – we were going to try to follow the Rio Magú for while and then turn north where there is no road on the map.
After a few hours, Jason turned onto the dirt and announced, “Now the fun part begins!”
The bus was running like crap, so we pulled over to tweak a few things – not much help. Eventually, the road turned too sandy (and narrow) for us and we had to turn back. The power lines were our clue that the road would continue and actually went somewhere, but the sand was just too deep. But, we had a Plan B. We headed inland a bit and tried another route. This one turned from dirt, to mud then to deep sand and we repeated this for a few more hours.
The ‘towns’ we drove through were mostly just a collection of houses, with everyone sitting on their porch looking at us drive by like we’re idiots. The road usually turned to mud around civilization, and in one place we got stuck. About 10 guys from town helped push us out, walked with us another 500 meters where there was another muddy place, pushed us through that and insisted we would be able to make it the rest of the way. Then, it started raining.
Our original detour had cost us a couple hours. The roads we found were definitely 4×4 territory, but we pushed on. It most spots it was very narrow and and had brush along both sides, or was a gully – not even a place to turn out to camp. We had to break our rule and drive at night. This made things way more interesting.
For some reason, the roads in the little villages seemed to be worse than anywhere else on the route. As we bounced a scraped our way through town, the townsfolk just stared out their windows at what was obviously a normal form of entertainment. We lost our skid plate at some point, but hopped out and got it.
In one nameless town (none of them were on a map or had signs to indicate where we were), we followed the road downhill to find giant impassable crevices in front of us. There were also giant crevices along both side of the car, making backing up (uphill) a feat of terror. Again, kind folks in town showed up to help, but in true South American style, there 8 guys yelling different things to us.
The car didn’t have enough power to back up the hill, so I had to start pushing from the front, then everyone else started. But in the dark going backwards, it was impossible for Jason to see where to steer the car, and one wheel started sliding down into the crevice. The bus was dangling at a fortuitous angle, with Jason and Bode inside and me panicking outside. Everybody was yelling and more people started showing up. Some logs and palm fronds (these don’t ever really hold a car do they?) were placed under the wheels and a team of guys put themselves in great danger holding up the right side of the bus to prevent it from sliding further down the crevice.
We finally made it backwards up the hill and we were pointed to detour. It’s the rainy season and major washout can happen, but we were a little amazed that someone didn’t use one of those logs to block the road. Regardless, we made it out safe and sound, with at least another two hours ahead of us.
Except, we were running out of gas.
In the next village, we spotted a hand-painted “gasolina” sign on the side of somebody’s house. I don’t know how we saw it in the dark, but we were absolutely lucky. Nobody was home, so we asked next door and the girl had a key. We managed to negotiate soda-bottle gasoline for R$3.50 a liter, until granny showed up and bumped the price to R$4. The grannies are always the toughest businesspeople. Still, at only a 30% markup over posto prices, we couldn’t refuse.
When we got to our final destination of Barreirinhas after a 14 hour day we were shocked at the modern conveniences and upscale tourist amenities, (there’s a paved road from the north). Wwe checked into a hotel and immediately jumped into the pool.