If you've ever played a race car video game then I think you might be ready to take on the roadways of Brazil. For in truth, it felt much the same except instead of the car spinning off the road and then revving up to keep going, I had to be certain not to die. Before traveling, I'd read many articles warning not to drive in Brazil: cars that don't stop at stop signs for fear of being robbed by the people on the street; police pulling over tourists just to get money out of them. But even with these warnings I decided to rent a car and drive from Rio to the surfer town of Ubatuba, São Paulo BR since it was the only way to get there unless I took a very late bus.
I had easy directions (or what looked like easy directions) from the airport to the place I was staying so I didn't get the gps for $21.00. The first thing I realized as I started driving were that the road signs were horrible and didn't match my directions at all. Ave Brasil, the road I was looking for, was on every sign pointing in every direction but none that said Pista Centro. UH OH! Cars did stop at traffic lights, but then they raced ahead. Suddenly I was on a race track and to be honest though it scared the hell out of me as people weaved and trucks didn't let me merge, it was exhilarating. The other thing I realized was that people actually were watching what they were doing. Instead of talking on cell phones or being blanked out only seeing their path these drivers were constantly aware of every car around them.
But I had a bigger problem than how fast I was driving or crazy traffic, I didn't have a clue as to where I was or how to get back to the airport, to pay anything they asked, to have GPS. The neighborhoods were getting sketchier and what was this? People were crossing the highways and selling fruit on them. So now I was dodging people, fruit and cars, while trying to figure out where the hell I was.
I had put on my list of dreams that I wanted to be able to trust in a higher power always...it's been one of the hardest to make come true ( more on that later) but here I was in a foreign country, many fears running through my head, no idea where I was and all I could do was trust that God would protect and guid me. After about forty-five minutes (but felt like hours) I finally turned off into a gas station. The attendant immediately starting smiling and laughing when I walked out of the car with my map in hand (turns out I was already off the map). Four attendants and I played charades as I tried to explain where I was headed. Finally they pointed for me to keep going in the direction I was headed gesturing that I would pay three tolls and then turn to the left.
Okay, no problem. Now I'm cocky. Look at this, God took care of me and showed me the right way even when I thought I was lost. I started racing along winding roads, changing lanes, and having a blast as the green landscape of hills rushed by. So I wasn't on the coastal route I had planned, but I would take it on my way back to Rio and this way I got the chance to see the countryside.
Two hundred kilometers later I was nervous. Again I stopped and played charades and they told me n the best way they could how much further I had to go. At the third stop I was told the actual exit, but when I got to the exit once again there weren't signs, but a nice gentleman directed me around curves.
I thought I was home free after three hours of driving, until I came to the road that led to Ubatuba. Hair pin turns had people pulling to the side as transmissions and breaks overheated. Darkness had fallen and my windows were fogged with humidity as I made my way through the jungle.
And then it was within my sights, Ubatuba, but wait this wasn't a tiny surfer village, it was five times bigger than Cabo San Lucas center. I thought finding the place would be easy, but traffic was horrible and people were everywhere in the streets. I had directions but I thought I was looking for Rio Santos. Dummy me didn't realize that rio meant road and when the sign said Santos that was the road. So three more gas stations and I'm on my way. At this point it's been a good twenty-four hours of travel with little sleep. I'm hungry and grumpy and my rental car is making a funny noise turns out I had a flat, but didn't know that till morning. I found the road, but once again this couldn't be right, I thought I was staying in the jungle away from the city..that's what the pictures showed. I turned around not realizing I was one minute away from my destination...once again no road signs. I figured there had to be a road further down that was near the beach and the jungle, but I hit the ocean and a ritzy part of town - maybe where I should've been staying - and lines of traffic going into Ubatuba centre were on the other side.
Exhausted and near tears, I stopped at a nice hotel. There the people called my host of the homestay in Ubatuba and thirty minutes later my savior appeared on a motorbike. He guided me to his domicile, showed me to my room, brought me fruit and cereal, and within the hour I was fast asleep to the whir of a fan as I wondered....why the heck do I do this? But the next day I realized...