Sometimes in life you get handed lemons. They say you are supposed to make lemonade, but sometimes life hands you a cane … pure sugar cane. On those occasions you make sugar cane juice. The following is the healthy dose I got served while exploring some incredible areas of Brazil via motorcycle. What I recount can in no way do justice to the euphoria experienced under the influence of the country that claims “The City of God” as its own.
It all started while sitting in a barber shop in Atibaia, Brazil.
“Huh? … Oh, yes, por favor. Brigado.”
Everywhere you go in Brazil, somebody is either making you coffee or handing you a small mug. This time was no different as I sipped on some of the most incredible coffee I’ve ever had, courtesy of the barber’s home grown coffee beans. I sat looking through a glass door enjoying my coffee when I noticed several young ladies approach a building nearby, one by one. They all had a couple bills in their hand. Out of curiosity I walked out the front door to see a group of women lined up to get on the back of motorcycles and hand the riders cash. Motoboys. That’s what they call them. I just stared. What a great job … girls … Brazilian girls … money … and motorcycles. I stood there trying to figure out what was going on; it’s something you don’t see in the USA. It wasn’t long before I got my answer.
“O que que voce esta olhando?”
“He wants to know what you’re looking at,” explained my wife.
“Oh, the ah … motorcycles.”
Valdenir, the barber, while waving a razor, explained to me what was happening.
“They are moto-taxi drivers. They take you all over city. Very cheap. They deliver anything or anyone.”
A short note on these “motoboys,” if I may. If you think it’s dangerous to ride in DC, NYC, or even LA, think again. These guys make DC traffic look like hopscotch. They throw caution to the wind in some of the world’s largest and most compact cities. Sao Paulo has something like 19 million people in it (squeezed in only 19,000 square miles)! They weave in and out of cars, trucks, buses, ignore most traffic signs and lights, and give a swift kick to your side mirror if you get too close. In addition, all motorcyclists are by law required to have a helmet. Except many of these guys simply slip their arm through the strap, the helmet wrapped around their elbow.
If you think that’s crazy, try working for Domino’s in Brazil. Apparently a key qualification for employment is to be willing to see how close to death you can get while delivering pizza. I mean these guys risk their lives for a $9 pizza and breadsticks in some of the world’s most extreme traffic, oblivious to most laws or traffic patterns. Either that’s true dedication to the Domino’s business model or the motoboys are brainwashed during orientation to avoid all safe riding behaviors. It’s something you have to see to truly believe. I’ve decided that if I get into the TV industry, I’m going to start a reality TV show about these motoboys (any potential investors can contact my people and we can work out the “details”).
Anyway, as I continued to stare I couldn’t help but wonder if Valdenir was trying to determine if I was looking more at the motorcycles or the “cargo” on the back (my wife, too). To be clear though, I only remember what the motorcycles looked like, seriously. Nearly all were small displacement Hondas, 125 or 150cc’s, most black or red. Nevertheless, before I could think of a reason to justify staring at uninspiring small bore Hondas with Brazilian women on the back, Valdenir asked a well-timed question, “You ride moto-sickle?” Well, that would be an understatement, like asking if fish swim in water. In turn, what followed was a man I never met offering me to follow him to his house 10 minutes away (with customers still walking in the door) to borrow his motorcycle for however long. Only in Brazil I guess.
This story gets better…
Shortly after the rendezvous with Valdenir at his residence, I was shopping in Atibaia around lunch time at a T-shirt shop looking for soccer jerseys to bring back to the USA. The young guy behind the counter, Regis, spoke with me in English, but with a heavy Portuguese accent. At first we struggled to understand each other fully, but soon we started talking about a topic we heard each other clearly on, motorcycles (my wife simultaneously stuffing cotton in her ears).
Whooom, click, whoooooom, click, whoooooooooom, click, whooooooooom, pop, pop ...
“What in the world …”
As my wife, my brother-in-law and I made our way to the front of the house, I saw something my wife knows I have spent too much time reviewing in brochures and drooling over. Up to this point, the largest motorcycles I had seen in Brazil were 300cc Hondas, because the majority of people just don’t have the finances or use for large sport bikes or cruisers. Except this kid. I was as excited as a Bieber fan. In fact, part of the reason I got so pumped was that I have not been able to find a dealer remotely close to me back home who has this bike on the floor to even look at or take for a test ride. And being a retro classic fool that I am, I know all the pointless history of, say, a late ‘70s Hondamatic (thank you, MC). In addition to that education comes knowledge about a dirt track legend. You know the domination that Harley-Davidson was on dirt during the ‘70s & ‘80s? Remember the supremacy of the old Harley XR750? Well, in case you have cancelled your subscription to a classic motorcycle magazine or have given up on your love of all things two-wheeled, Harley-Davidson re-re-birthed this legend not long ago. And I must say, this bike is the offspring of some retro/modern motorcycle perfection. It has the looks of the “back-in-the-day” dirt track racer with the modern upgrades of a competitive sport-bike. Oh, it was sweet! It was like someone mixed Marilyn Monroe with Halle Berry to produce … well, you get the idea. Anyhow, the rider, Regis, was so jacked-up about meeting another motorcycle fanatic earlier in the day, that he swung by that night. So with a free loaner at my disposal, we made a dude’s moto date for the following morning.
This motorcycle adventure could not be complete without an innocent bystander. On that day, my brother-in-law took up the reins often held by my wife. Much to her satisfaction, she watched as we tore out of the driveway to our unknown destinations. What followed were some of the most incredible roads and scenes I have ever had a glimpse of. To make the current deal sweeter, ol’ Regis decided to allow me to ride the Harley. You have to remember, it’s a brand new American motorcycle, in Brazil they pay three to ten times for the same things we have. So, you know he’s got a little skin in the game; me, not so much. Anyway, it was my turn. I looked at Regis (who had four months of riding experience) and said, “Don’t even try to keep up … David! You riding with me? OK … Hold on (wink-wink).”
WHAM! WHOOOOOM! Click. WHOOOOOOM! Click. WHOOOOOM….
I thought I heard a faint voice behind me curse all kinds of obscenities and hostile threats. But that guy was too busy trying to hold on to the meager seat strap for dear life. Apart from that bother, the bike was incredible. The fuel injected thrust and v-twin power was like a shot of espresso Brazilian coffee. It turned the hair up on your neck and slightly wetted the pants of the co-pilot. I imagined as I leaned into blind turns, covered with banana trees, passing Mert Lawwill or Malcom Smith. David was enjoying every minute of it, too. He didn’t stop shouting until we reached the next stop sign when he hopped off the bike and joined Regis.
Needless to say, he didn’t really talk to me the rest of vacation (not until I scored a goal against my own team in a soccer game later that week, in which it was more like laughing than talking). But, to sum up the test ride, if I had the means, I think I’d be twisting the throttle to my own XR1200. Harley-Davidson did a tremendous job re-wrapping and re-working the classic dirt legend. It was a rush to have this rare opportunity to take it for a spin in Brazil. And to top that, we saw some incredible places, rode on some unbelievable roads, saw some interesting people, and did it in unusual style, dirt track style.
To conclude, I have made a short list for those of you out there who may one day go to Brazil.
First, you have to go to Rio de Janerio. Of course, you need to go to the beaches; mainly, Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra.
Rio is touristy, but if you ever find yourself there, don’t pass up Corcovado (Christ Statue) and Sugarloaf, no matter how long the wait. Also, everyone and their mother is going to try to sell you something, from a fake Rolex to grilled corn on the cob (yes, people go to the beach, play volleyball and then chomp away on a corn cob).
If you go to Brazil, you will undoubtedly see favelas, or slums, in every city you go. A true engineering miracle. You will get the best chance to see plenty of favelas in another famous city, Sao Paulo. Don’t be out sight-seeing alone if you go there. Like I said earlier, 19 million people, probably half of them come from the favelas.
If you think the big city of Sao Paulo isn’t your thing, go an hour down the road to Atibaia. It’s pretty indicative of Brazil, it’s simple and nice. If you’re looking for a little bit of everything within an hour of each other, go to Curitiba. It’s a place that’s growing at an incredible rate and is ripe for tourists. See the Jardim Botanico and all the other parks in the area. The city is beautiful.
Then ride a short way out to Lapa. This is where you will get a flash back to what life may have been like 40 or 50 years ago. Brick roads (or pada-lay-lay-pee-pee-dough), impressive architecture, and like all other Brazilian towns, a huge Catholic church. While you’re in Brazil, you have to try: pastel, coxinha (co-sheen-ya), kibe, acai and sugar cane. Oh, and make sure you eat at a Churrascaria.
And if you happen to stop in Atibaia and need a hair cut … I know just the guy to see.