The longest beach in the world


The art of travel is to let go, to follow your feelings, to allow decisions to make themselves, let time expand and it fills with the spirit of adventure, no boundaries. Although we are used to our own space, our own way of doing things, traveling in our own groove and at our own pace we were excited at the thought of two old friends, Hannah (from Wales) and Derek (from Ireland), joining us. We knew they wouldn’t upset the rhythm, would slot right in, both are so easy going and great characters. And true to form, the last few weeks have been up there with the best of the trip, cycling down the coastline from Porto Alegre in Brasil and into Uruguay.

This part of South America is beautiful but more than that it is the people who have made it so special, it is hard to keep track of just how many people have gone out of their way to help us. We have been left speechless by the generosity, the kindness, the warmth shown by strangers to four bike tourists. And it is so natural, so genuine, it restores your faith in people, sometimes all you can say is “wow”, is this really happening. And so this blog is a big thanks to those people.

the ferryman drawing directions in the sand

The stretch from Porto Alegre to Buenos Aires is about 1300km and for once we are not under any pressure to clock up big distances. We planned to take it easy for the first few days and see how things would go. This part of the coastline is subject to storms from the Atlantic and so on the second day we had to sit out torrential rain and strong winds. We planned to camp but the campsite owner offered us two cabins for the price of camping, out of the cold and wet, the first of the generous gestures that we were to encounter, an auspicious start.

The following evening we arrived at Camaqua with no idea where we would be staying, until we bumped into Marcos, a local cyclist. He brought us to the local bike shop and rang around until he had found us a spot for the night in the local sports center, a spare room we could use for free, with hot showers and a kitchen. It never ceases to amaze us how much people want to know about our trip and the fascination with touring bikes and the people who ride them. These experiences leave us feeling lucky and happy, a good frame of mind when you are on the road. And everybody wants to pose for photos with us…or sometimes just the two girls!

check out the grins on their faces

The route south is busy and we wanted to get off the main road and let Derek and Hannah experience the unpaved roads connecting some out of the way villages and the inspiring countryside which surround them. We are so used to this that we would have simply stuck to the main road. And missed out on what was turning into a bit of an adventure. The bonus of having two fresh travellers becoming clear as the days went on, fresh ideas, a different way of looking at things, a new dynamic. In the tiny village of Pacheca we had to ask for directions and a local informed us that there was a river but no bridge but told us to follow him on his motorbike, bringing us to the river crossing and finding the ferryman. They thought we were loco!

We knew why once we had crossed, the road turning to mud. But we were having fun.

We covered 414km in five days, arriving at the town of Cassino by the sea. On the way into town a car stopped and a guy got out and gave us his number in case we needed any help or information while we were there. Fifteen minutes later he turned up and said he had found a place for us to stay on the beach front, a bargain, the perfect place for a couple of days chilling out, early morning and late evening swimming in the wild ocean at the start of the longest beach in the world!

another two guys going out of their way to help us

The domino effect was in progress. We were on a beach that stretching over 200km south and drivable to some extent. We wondered about cycling on some of it, but needed more information. After a pre-breakfast swim I spotted a cyclist on the beach and stopped her, thinking I would get some idea of how possible cycling was, and how far we could go. And so we met Marcia, a woman in her fifties who cycled 40km a day on the beach, spoke great English and loved Ireland. After some minutes chatting she invited us to join her and Mauro, her husband, for a barbeque that evening. And in between she brought us on a tour of the local city, Rio Grande.

Marcia and Mauro treated us to a night we won’t forget, opening their house to us, cooking us an incredible bbq, and when Marcia’s sister and her husband joined us we caught a real slice of Brasilian life, laughed all night and drank a seemingly endless supply of beer. It turned out that their son had played a gig in the Cobblestone, a bar I used to frequent in Dublin, what a small world.

We have talked about food a lot recently but to be honest, you have to try a real Brasilian bbq at least once in your life.

We had met a rare family, that is for sure. On leaving we were given a small present each. But most of all the night itself was the real present. In a trip of memorable experiences that will come high on the list of the best.

Things were going so well that we decided to ride our luck and chance the beach, planning to cycle 50kms or so and then try to find a way back to the main road. Adrian, the pousada owner warned us that although we could ride down the beach, it would be next to impossible to find the exit road and even if we did then we wouldn’t be able to bring the bikes through the sand dunes. Our thoughts were simple: what is the worst that could happen.

At the place where we supposed the exit was we met a guy in a jeep who told us that it just wouldn’t be possible to get back out to the main road through 8km of soft sand, and anyway, he was meeting some friends further down the beach for a spot of fishing and another bbq. And there was a sheltered spot to camp for the night. So we decided to stick to the beach, another 150km, it was an easy decision to make. Our only problem was the lack of water but several people helped us out and we manage to get an extra 13 liters, absolutely necessary. Marcia had even sent some down the beach with a truck driver in the off chance that we might need some!

the truck driver handing over 7 liters of much needed water

its a stingray!

a sheltered camping spot behind the dunes

We ended up cycling 207km along the longest beach in the world. It was epic and the end of the second day was tough, pushing bikes through soft sand as we sought out a route. But we made it, arriving in Balneario Hermenegildo, just short of the border with Uruguay.

And so onto another country, Uruguay. One we knew nothing about but the first few days here have left a great impression, riding down the rugged coast and quite country roads and now staying in La Paloma, a quirky town, on the beach front again, in a chilled hostel, several days ride from Buenos Aires and a break for Christmas.

I spotted this graffiti the other day and I guess it sums life up at the moment.

“La Vida es como andar en bici, ne se puede parar – Life is like travelling by bike, you can’t stop!”

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