Full Scottish veggie breakfast

A small seasonal clump of Snowdrops (Scientific name: Galanthus) in Craiglockhart woods, Edinburgh

I had been looking after my granddaughter during the morning while my daughter popped out for her pilates class. It was a pleasant experience that went well – I may be a bit rusty nowadays but with 6 daughters I have certainly has my share of wet nappies, bath-times, feeding and playtimes.

When my daughter returned to find a sleeping baby in my arms she suggested that we go for a walk and have a pub lunch. That sounded like a perfect plan for me.

We grabbed our coats, the pushchair, the two dogs and my camera and headed out towards Morningside, a well-to-do area area on the south side of Edinburgh, passing through a wooded park area in Craiglockhart.

The walk took about thirty minutes – a brisk walk with the occasional pause to take photos of flora and fauna – reaching our destination, The Waiting Room Bar, at about midday.

Menu cover at The Waiting Room

The bar, which is dog friendly, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It is one of Edinburgh’s best known bars that serves food though-out the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The dogs were provided with a water bowl before our orders were taken. We had coffee to warm us up while I ordered the Scottish Veggie breakfast from the breakfast menu and my daughter opted for the Vegetarian Hornig’s of West Calder Haggis from the main menu. Both great choices.

Scottish Veggie breakfast

The veggie breakfast included fried eggs, a veggie haggis, a veggie sausage, hash brown potatoes, potato bread, fried tomato, baked beans, mushrooms and toast.

This was a vegetarian version of the Full Scottish Breakfast that I tried a couple of years ago (see post of 03OCT17). Nice.

Good food at a good price.

More about this bar in the coming weeks.

Where

7, Belhaven Terrace,

Mornington, Edinburgh EH10 5HZ

Reservations

0131 452 9707

Or online via their site: https://www.thewaitingroombar.co.uk/

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A Casual Birder

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A speeding blur of black and yellow (* see note at end of post)

A flash of colour. The call of a bird as it flies into the safety of a bush. What was it? A bird obviously. But what sort of bird?

I became keen on birds when I was about 6 years old. I lived on a farm in a rural part of Yorkshire and saw plenty of wild birds. The farm had chickens and ducks, and pigs, but they didn’t interest me much. I liked the small colourful birds of the area and even managed to find birds nests, though how I managed to reach up into hedgerows at that age is a mystery to me now.

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European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) on a fence post, East Sussex, England

My mother was also keen on birds, spending much time in her kitchen looking out into the garden, so she bought a small book of British birds (I think it was one of the Observers series) that she still has to this day – the book must be at least 50 years old. It wasn’t till I was older that I started using the book to identify species that I didn’t recognise.

Now I have a collection of books covering birds of Africa, Asia (including Australia and India), Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America.

 

A few bird books from my collection

While I was always keen to see, and where possible to photograph, birds I was never one for documenting what I saw, where I saw them or what the birds were doing. I have friends that keep copious records, their life lists and country lists, and some that do so in contribution to ecology. I do it for me, pure and simple. I bird-watch for the delight and experience of seeing birds in the wild. If I had wanted to spend hours or longer searching for new species in a rainforest I would have chosen ecology as a career.

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Tour vehicle on the Trans-Pantanal Highway, Mato Grosso, Brazil

Having said that I do keep lists while I am “on safari” especially when jungle-bashing (I run intermittent trips into the Amazon and Pantanal – refer to my post of 7th June 2017) so that if I am lucky enough to get a saleable photograph I have the information available in respect of where and when. I use the term safari in the original arabic/swahili context – that is, when travelling to European city destinations.

So while I regard myself as a keen birder I would certainly not call myself an ornithologist (amateur or otherwise). Casual, that’s me.

Clockwise: Amazon Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Golden-chevroned Parakeet, Hyacinth Macaw, Hoatzin, Green Bee-eater.

 

* The bird was later identified as a Yellow-hooded Blackbird but, although I managed to get a better picture of it the image was blurred by the rocking boat that I was on before I could get a decent shot. 

 

 

When disaster strike again

At the end of 2015 news broke of a mining disaster in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais that sadly took the lives of 19 people and destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues near the town of Mariana, and not far from the picturesque and historic town of Ouro Preto.

A dam that formed part of the mining operations owned by Samarco (jointly owned by Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s BHP Billiton) had ruptured sending tons of toxic sludge down the valley, into the Rio Doce, destroying all in its path.

In that incident, 19 people, considered a high and unacceptable number, lost their lives while the toxic water eventually spilled out into the sea causing devastation for hundreds of miles up to the Atlantic Ocean.

Costly investigations ensued. A significant penalty was imposed on the companies involved.

Just a few days ago another dam, at Vale’s Brumadinho mine in Minas Gerais, ruptured in a similar fashion. The death toll is already five times higher than that of the Mariana incident, about 110 confirmed so far, with 238 as yet unaccounted for. Fortunately, some survivors have been found or rescued. The numbers change as the clock ticks but the likelihood of finding anyone alive now after a week is sadly very low.

TV reports had shown staff on the dam running panic-stricken to reach safely – not all were lucky. The majority of those that died were employees of Vale.

The bank accounts of the company have been frozen while several employees have been arrested. Investigations are underway and while the environmental damage may not be as bad as that of the Mariana incident, the human impact is significantly worse. This is clearly an enormous tragedy but one that, it seems, could have been averted by taking action years ago.

There are several thousand dams throughout Brazil and the lack of maintenance on many of these is of concern.

These two cases (as well as the collapse of a Sao Paulo bridge at the end of last year) highlight the true cost of failing to conduct proper maintenance. All entities, be they small local municipalities or major corporations, with engineering structures under their responsibility, will doubtless wrestle with the financial decisions associated with fixing issues. Costs are costs, but some can be deferred while others need to be dealt with urgently.

As the adage goes “A stitch in time saves nine”. If applied in these cases a million dollars or more spent earlier would have averted a significantly bigger cost: in lives, in fines, in share price and reputation, and in cleaning up the environment. Risk management clearly failed on these occasions. Perhaps on the part of the government as well as the companies involved. The investigation will shed light on the matter – hopefully, faster than in the Mariana case. In the meantime, the families of those who died, or who have yet to be found, are suffering.

Brazilian wine

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An old wine barrel outside a winery in Vale dos Vinhedos, Rio Grande do Sul

I love wine. I was brought up on the stuff from an early age (a glass or diluted red wine at mealtimes was common in many Italian households). My maternal grandfather was Venetian hence my wine preference is that of Italy, though I do like Chilean, French and Portuguese wines.

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Sunlight through the winter red leaves of a grapevine

Brazil is a wine-growing country. Its immigrant populations arriving from Italy and Germany brought with them skills in viticulture and the initial vine stock from their original homelands, so when I first came to Brazil a little over 20 years ago I decided to try the local wines. Not a pleasant experience! The issue was that I could rarely get past the bouquet which I found to be very strong and heavy. The grapes that grew in the garden of the rented house where I lived had the same taste – a leathery skin and thick pulp that I didn’t enjoy. When I eventually summoned up the courage to taste a wine I found it unpleasant for similar reasons. I stuck to imported wine for a few years before taking a journey to the wine valleys of Rio Grande do Sul.

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Wine is so important to Bento Goncalves that even the main church takes the form of a wine barrel

Bento Goncalves is the heart of wine production in the south of Brazil. In the centre of town, there is a fountain across the road from the Mayoral building that squirts out red water in homage to the town’s principal product. Many of the wineries have been awarded prizes in internationally acclaimed wine contests. Those wines tend to be quite good but I find them to be expensive. For the same price in the shops, I can get better quality imported wines.

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Wine fountain in the centre of Bento Goncalves

My first visit to Bento Goncalves was in 2005 though in September ie at the end of the austral winter. Wineries were still working though not all open to visitors. I had made arrangements to visit the Miolo winery, one of the more famous brands, to take have a conducted tour of the complex, to take photographs, and to sample the wine.

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Staff at the Miolo winery putting the tops on the bottles ready for sale

I visited the Miolo winery again last year but the place was crowded with busloads of tourists so didn’t do the tour. The wine shop (and indeed the whole complex) had undergone something of a transformation – expanded, freshly decorated all round, and more of a tourist destination that a winery, though wine production seems to have expanded too.

Miolo is not the only big winery in Rio Grande do Sul, there are several including Chandon which produces sparkling white and rose wines (champagne style). Some of these wines are certainly world class, while some are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have not yet established which wines I would buy on a regular basis – I am not keen of white wines generally, but I shall experiment.

                            Wine barrels and bottles in the heart of the Miolo winery

As a footnote, I recently discovered that the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina, also in the south of Brazil, produces wines. The small town of Urussanga held a wine festival that I decided to visit. I was able to sample just one of the red wines, which was enough (!) but the one Catarinense wine that I found in a supermarket (at about £5 a bottle) proved good enough for me to buy on a regular basis. More on the wines of Santa Catarina at a later date.

 

 

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All images Copyright © Alan Skyrme

We have a number of images in stock and can shoot to order. To license an image please contact us (alan@alansskyrme.com)

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

Pitanga

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       A handful of ripe, partially ripe and unripe Pitanga fruit

Found in Brazil and several South American and Caribbean countries pitanga is a fruit with an unusual shape – like a small Chinese lantern. It is known by a number of names, depending on the country, though pitanga and Brazilian cherry are probably the most well known – I have seen the name Barbados Cherry incorrectly applied to pitanga since Barbados Cherry is an alternate name for acerola (Malpighia emarginata) hence I always include the scientific name when referring to plants or animals to avert confusion. The scientific name of pitanga is Eugenia uniflora.

The plants are also to be found in parts of Africa and in India where, apparently, the plant originated. Many fruit trees have been, over the centuries, taken from their place of origin to become established on another continent. This can be said of pitanga, mango, cashew and cocoa among others.

The plant itself is a large shrub/small tree that can be grown easily within its range as an ornamental specimen, a hedge or specifically for its fruit. It is an important plant with benefits derived from both its fruit and leaves.

 

 

   Ripe fruit on the tree                       Flower buds and partially ripe fruit

The fruit starts life as a dainty white flower before natural transformation takes it from a small green swelling at the end of the peduncle behind the sepals, growing to its final shape and size while still green, then changing through yellow to bright red.

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          Delicate white, four-petaled flower of the Pitanga shrub

 

The leaves, which can be made into a tea with medicinal benefits, start life as a reddish/bronzy colour before turning green.

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 New leaf growth starts out a reddish bronze hue before turning green

The fruit can be used green (in cooking as a flavouring or as a chutney ingredient) or fully ripe (red) to be eaten raw, made into jam or juice. When fully ripe the fruit is soft and sweet with a taste similar to that of sweet, juicy orange.

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Unripe fruit can be used in sauces and chutney

 

Nutrition

Pitanga is rich in vitamin C, also providing vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), and vitamin A. Its mineral content includes calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Eating the fruit helps in weight loss or weight maintenance regimes as pitanga is low in calories and acts in reducing excess body fat.

Medicinal benefits

Many fruits have traditional or tested medicinal benefits. Among them, pitanga has numerous including anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal properties. Beneficial applications include cardiovascular, cancer, skin, eye and common cold treatment.

Preparation

Eat raw to obtain the best benefit. The seeds are not edible but the skin and pulp can be eaten or made into a juice.

Cooking: remove the seeds, chop and add to whatever dish is being prepared.

 

 

ASG images library:

All images Copyright © Alan Skyrme

We have a number of images in stock and can shoot to order. To license an image please contact us (alan@alansskyrme.com)

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

A small garden

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The “main” garden – a small plot of about 5 to 6 square metres

A garden is not a garden unless it has plant life. Our garden in Natal, measuring at most 12 square metres including a gravel border along the length of the house, was a very modest one in size. Just after moving into the house we decided it needed a bit of colour so we had a local landscape gardener provide a few plants in two areas – a few Ixora chinensis plants to create borders that would, in due course, make three small hedges, a few tall spindly trees of some type (name escapes me) that were to provide wall cover, and some variegated creepers that have pale pink flowers (name also escapes me).

In addition to these, we had some small ornamental grasses to hide the runner for the electric gate, two agave plants and a couple of small box bushes. The latter died and were replaced by a pair of thick-leaved variegated plants that were doing well.

The creepers grew uncontrollably so I eventually pulled them out. In their place, I planted Chilean Boldo and Lemon Basil as well as some small-leaved succulents and some Mother-in-laws tongue. All of these were now well-established and thriving despite the heat. The Chilean Boldo is not an attractive plant so I planned to replace that.

After two years the Ixora was starting to look like a hedge to the point that I had begun pruning the plants to coax them into shape. I had, at one recent point in time, planted the small-leaved succulents (Callisia repens, known also as “mouse ear ivy” due to their shape, underneath the Ixora, as well as some basil to fill gaps. Unfortunately, someone mistook them for weeds and they all disappeared!

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(Front to back): Anthurium, Chilean Boldo, Pineapple, Agave, Sword of St George

There is a semi-paved corridor that runs along the side of the house, bounded on one side by a tall wall. Half of the width is paved but the other side is gravel on a sand base, to act as a soak-away when we have heavy rain. While it tends to flood under torrential rain it takes less than half an hour for the water to drain away when the rain stops. The area gets sun during the day so, despite the apparent challenges, it proved to be a good place to plant life. Over a period of a year, I planted Chilean Boldo (a straggly mess which I started dealing with), Lemon Basil, Pineapples, Aloe Vera, Agave, garlic, Sansevieria trifasciata (Sword of St George) and the small-leaved succulents. The pineapples started well but half of them began withering – not sure if the roots became waterlogged or too dry or if some other issue.

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Cuttings of callisia repens, known also as “mouse ear ivy”, in a pot

I bought a couple of Anthurium plants in pots, always meaning to re-pot and train them up the wall, but never got around to it.

We moved out of the house last month. I forgot to take cuttings of the Anthuriums but did take the Callisia, Sansevieria, and an acerola plant that I had been nurturing from seed. These are all now thriving in pots on our veranda in the temporary accommodation of a flat. I can’t wait to move to a house.

Plants add life to any home, no matter what size the garden is.

Jabuticaba

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An unusual but important fruit found in Brazil is Jabuticaba, Plinia cauliflora. The unusual aspect of the fruit, which grows on a small tree, is that they form on the trunk of the tree as well as on its branches and twigs. A mature tree with ripe fruit looks as though its trunk is protected by plastic balls that surround the circumference in a tight profusion of berries.

The Jabuticaba fruit is about the size of a grape thus giving it a common name in English of Brazilian Grape Tree. The skin of the fruit, black when mature, is firm with a slightly sharp taste reminiscent of black-currents, while the pulp is white and sweet, hiding within it a single red seed.

A few ripe and near-ripe Jabuticaba fruit in front of a bowl.

Nutrition

There is a multitude of health benefits in consuming jabuticaba. The fruit is low in calories and carbohydrates and high in protein as well as high in numerous minerals and micronutrients including calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamin C. It is an important source of antioxidant.

Medicinal benefits

Good source of folic acid and calcium means its a great fruit to eat during pregnancy. The anti-oxidants prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, while its anti-inflammatory content can help ease arthritis and similar issues.

Preparation

Jabuticaba is best consumed fresh, washed and raw, eating the skin and pulp but not the seed. The fruit doesn’t travel well so it’s hard to find outside its growing rage.

It is possible to make jam from the fruit – the product having the same appearance and consistency as damson jam. Great on toast for breakfast or a snack between meals.

 

 

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We have a number of images in stock and can shoot to order

 

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

A Moving Experience

If you’re lucky you will move house just once in your life. By this, I mean having grown up in the family home before moving to create your own family home.

This was possibly the norm in the last century until the economy changed and people moved to either be closer to a job or to free up cash held in bricks and mortar. The 1970s saw the rise of property as a commodity rather than as a home.

For many years I was obliged to move from one country to another where my employer provided either a house or a flat as part of the package. After I was married and started to build a family of my own I felt it important to maintain a “home” – a place to return to and for the kids to remember as the place in which they grew up. I didn’t really have that as a child, though things were steadier in my teens.

Having been based in Brazil (another story) for over twenty years I spent some time in the Northeast of the country – in Rio Grande do Norte, the state closest to Europe/Africa across the Atlantic Ocean. All was well till criminal factions developed a stronghold and the place became less known for its beautiful beaches, sand dunes and surf and more for the terror and bloodshed (mainly but not limited to rival criminal factions) that elevated the state into a world-leading locale for death through violence. This sad state of affairs was precipitated by the influx of drugs, low employment rates and a downturn in the economy.

Things got so bad that we decided it was time to leave. It didn’t help that I, as a foreigner, stuck out like a sore thumb, becoming a potential target for robbery or even kidnapping. Added to that was a discovery that a stalker had begun sending messages via social media that, at first, we felt was a benign act but later became evident that it had malevolent intent. This situation, coupled with death threats, provided the impetus to consider relocating.

Having searched various locations we eventually decided on one in September. Such was our keenness to move we signed a rental contract and paid rent on an empty property until we were ready to move.

Packing started in October, slowly at first, but accelerated through to December. It took two days to finalise the packing and load it into a truck. In all 50 cubic metres of personal items, furnishings and commercial items from my wife’s clothes store. Wife, daughter, mother-in-law and dog left by plane while I drove the family car for 5 days at a leisurely pace. Brazil is a huge country. When I moved from the south of Brazil to the northeast I planned on six days driving. I did it in four days covering well over 1,000 kms on each of the last two days with little regard for the speed limits (though only where safe).

The removal truck arrived on a Saturday morning just days before Christmas, quickly unloading all of our stuff that I tried (in vain) to check off my list as they carried each item / box up to the apartment. Two items could not be moved: a fridge and a sofa. We managed to get the landlord to help us with these items so, by late afternoon, everything was in. The beds were the first things to sort out so we could sleep before tackling the rest. The majority of boxes remain unpacked in the vain hope that our property in the Northeast is sold quickly so we can buy a house.

The rest of this week will probably see us doing some serious unpacking. Hopefully, we will do just one more move in the near future to our new home. Fingers crossed.

Pastel de Belem

Pastel de Belem, with added fruit as a breakfast treat

Egg custard tarts, also known in UK simply as custard tarts, are very popular and are available in boxes of 6 in supermarkets, or individually in specialist bakeries. Either way, I have always loved them – the pastry tends to be soft and the custard topped with a touch of nutmeg combine beautifully. I always buy them when in UK and have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version if there isn’t a small bakery or cake shop with fresh stock.

In Brazil, it is often possible to find pasteis de nata in local bread shops (padarias) but, on visits to Lisbon, I found the best of these non-English versions of the humble custard tart – the Pastel de Belem.

Technically the pastel de Belem is another name for the pastel de nata, but the Pastel de Belem has a history going back two hundred years wherein catholic monks prepared pasteis de nata to raise money for themselves, having been evicted in an action against the church. The pastry then became known as Pastel de Belem after the area in Lisbon where they were made and sold mainly to visitors to the Tower of Bethlehem (Torre de Belem), or so the story goes.

There is a bakery, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, that has been selling these tasty tartlets since those times and which, now, is a tourist magnet with crowds queuing to buy freshly baked pasteis.

The Pastel de Belem looks similar to the traditional (and historically much older) English egg custard tart. The pastry is different – the English version is more of a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is a puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

I like both. No, I LOVE both!!

I haven’t yet tried to make my own Pastel de Belem though it isn’t difficult but, when I get around to it, I shall post the recipe that I use.

Note:

Portuguese                English

Pastel                           Pastry

Pasteis                         Pastries

Nata                             Cream

Belem                          Bethlehem

Fabrica                        Factory

A remote gem

Amor em Delicias Cafeteria, Canelinha – SC

There’s a road that takes one from the main highway (BR101), at a town called Tijucas, into the Atlantic Rainforest countryside towards the town of Brusque in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The road, narrow but well maintained, cuts through some villages and small towns that few people would have heard of unless they are local.

We had taken this route in order to avoid traffic but also for us to see as much of the countryside as we could, despite the rain, on the leisurely drive from Florianopolis airport to our hotel in Brusque. Having had a disappointing lunch in a village called Biguaçu shortly after leaving Florianopolis we were ready for a mid-afternoon snack and still had about an hour still to go to reach our hotel in Brusque. We were about to exit the village limits of Canelinha when we saw a small cafe – so we stopped.

The cafe, Amor em Delicias, (roughly translating to Love in Delights, although there is no exact translation in English), was indeed delightful – very simple in design, very clean, and delicately decorated. The place is a gem despite being so remote. The photo above was taken on our return journey, with better weather, hence the nice blue sky.

There were a few people in the cafe when we entered, not full, but almost. There was seating available on the veranda too but, presumably, only smokers would sit out in rainy weather! I didn’t actually count the tables but, from what I remember, there was seating for about 30 people indoors and another 12 outside.

We sat at a small round table in the centre of the cafe and were quickly provided with menus. Plenty to choose from: cakes, pies, puddings, tarts, croissant, teas, chocolate and coffee. Spoilt for choice in fact, and all looking very tempting.

On our first visit, we had hot chocolate, a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of banoffee pie, while on the second visit we just had expressos.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows

The hot chocolate was good, though having had a really good one (several times) in the town of Canela (Rio Grande do Sul) this one

Chocolate cake

The cake was delicious, light yet tasty

Banoffee pie

Expresso, with a biscuit

There seems to be a regular tour of the region for those interested in Italian Immigrant history, and this cafe is on the path. Well worth visiting.

The veranda

 

Where

Rodovia SC 410, Km 18
88230000 Canelinha, Santa Catarina, Brazil

 

How to get there

Map - Canelinha SC

BR 101 northbound from Florianopolis (state capital of Santa Catarina), or southbound from Balneario Camboriu, to Tijucas, then SC410 towards Sao Joao Batista / Nova Trento.

The BR-101 Transcoastal Highway, also known as the Governador Mário Covas Highway, runs from Touros (Rio Grande do Norte) down the length of the Atlantic coast of Brazil to Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul) – a total of 3,000 miles. I drove the whole length in 4 days with only one speeding fine!