Bikepacking Brasil: A Volta Em Minas (Film)
“A Volta Em Minas” is the story of two friends on a 1,500-kilometer ride across the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, in search of the most important thing in the world. Watch the film, enjoy a fantastic gallery, and find out what gear filmmaker Fernando Biagioni used to make this poignant piece that reflects on the history, culture, and nature of Minas Gerais…
Film, words, and images by Fernando Biagioni (@fernandobiagioni)
Crossing Minas Gerais by bicycle was an old dream I shared with my friend Marcelo. We constantly talked about the possibilities of opening up our backyard and making a movie. To be honest, it’s all we’d been talking about for a few months. I bought a map of the state, hung it in my living room, and looked at it every day. I imagined perspectives and scenarios. We started researching the regions, characteristics, terrain, climate, and attractions.
“A string of endless rainy days. Some of them with such constant rain that our clothes didn’t even dry anymore. We cycled for 4, 8, 10 hours in the rain. I don’t even know anymore.”
I started drawing three possible paths but was always open to local tips. Thus, we ended up discovering shortcuts and rarely traveled trails, and we eventually arrived at the ideal route. We would cross the state from the northernmost town to the southernmost one. Our route would take us along roads and trails that have never received much attention or traffic from cyclists. We wanted to avoid the obvious paths when thinking about traveling through Minas by bicycle.
About Minas Gerais
The ride took 14 days and it was almost 1,500 kilometers long. Brazil is a country of continental dimensions, and Minas Gerais is the size of France. It sits on the southeast of Brasil in the same region as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Espirito Santo. I was born here and now I understand it better. The state was where you would want to be if you were living 300 years ago during the gold rush. There are accounts saying there was tons of gold just lying around in river beds. At one point, they estimated that ten million people were scavenging rivers and mountains in search of the precious metal. It was the most populated place in the world at that time. What we have left from that time are ruins and poorly told stories, as people were too busy panning for gold to write stories. Despite the tourist potential from the beautiful nature, incredible mountains, and many rivers and waterfalls, the state is still blighted today by iron mining that gradually takes away what was left of the mountains.
A Volta em Minas is a dream come true. Through reflections and questions, we crossed the immensity of Minas Gerais. What is the most important thing in life? This question is a motto for the trip and became our starting point. The trip was an expedition to record and immerse ourselves in the history, culture, and nature of Minas Gerais, made by two artists on a self-sufficient bicycle trip.
We left Juvenília in the far north. Symbolically, we crossed the border between Minas and Bahia and then started from there, taking a shortcut heading south. In the first few kilometers, we would be surprised by a picturesque landscape, the “sertão” that lives and pulses in the heart of this Brazil. The heat was so intense that at the first stop in Manga, we would enter the São Francisco River with our clothes on, all without even knowing if the waters were clean there. In the late afternoon, while we were looking for a place to camp, the road we were taking ended up at a locked fence in Parque Mata Seca. As there were no footprints or tire marks, we deduced that for days no one had been there, and it seemed like a safe place to camp. We jumped the fence and found an amazing lake to set up camp on. The next day, talking to a local in the next town, we learn that the lake is a haven for jaguars.
A few days later, we would make an incredible discovery. The little-known Cavernas do Peruaçu National Park was certainly the highlight of the trip. It was impressive to enter the Gruta do Janelão. It’s surreal to think of the persistence of water sculpting these caves that can reach 200 meters in height. A mixture of immensity and eternity. The feeling of being inside the earth, as if it were a temple of nature. Not to mention the walls that keep the records of those who lived there 12,000 years ago. We were silent.
The real is neither at the beginning nor at the end, it shows itself to us in the middle of the crossing. (João Guimarães Rosa)
We continued up the São Francisco River. Traveling the north was to experience Guimarães Rosa. How could one not contemplate the size of the hinterland? We meditated with ravines and created stories that even Riobaldo, the storyteller from João Guimarães Rosa’s “Grande Sertão: Veredas”, would be proud of. “The real is neither at the beginning nor at the end, it shows itself to us in the middle of the crossing” to quote from the novel.
The north having been won, then came the price of traveling in the summer. A string of endless rainy days. Some of them with such constant rain that our clothes didn’t even dry anymore. We cycled for 4, 8, 10 hours in the rain. I don’t even know anymore. On one of the nights, with so much water on my head, I even missed the 43-degree Celsius temperatures in the shadow of the hinterland. I thought about selling the bike while dragging it through the mud when the tires weren’t turning anymore.
But after the storm comes the calm. As I say, the hardest part is leaving home. The storms were left behind and the stars realigned in our favor. They were so lined up that on one of those nights pedaling along a dirt road, Marcelo started to yell: “Turn off the lights! Turn off the lights! Do you see this?” I looked up at the sky and saw a row of flying saucers lined up, about 50 of them. I was speechless. I was sure it was an alien invasion. They moved at a constant speed, totally silent. Little by little, the lights were disappearing, but what we had witnessed was real. I thought about how insignificant we are in the universe, but the center of our universe for ourselves. I felt homesickness mixed with a sense of accomplishment.
We entered the south of Minas crossing paths that would only be possible on a bicycle. We crossed moors, mountains, swamps, rivers, and lakes. We observed the changes in the landscape and vegetation, and the terrain wrinkling and creating the valleys and hills that were close to Mantiqueira. The twisted trees of the north that rejoiced the soul gave way to dense, impenetrable forests. We arrived at Extrema, crossed the border with São Paulo state, closing a cycle without realizing that we were starting another one.
North, Midwest, South. How many cultures, people, stories, dreams, desires, and daydreams cohabitate in a state? We went out to see the backyard and came back with a world. How many worlds did we live in during the last days? We enact paths altered by our perceptions of the universe, we live what is only possible while on a bicycle. How are we going to live from now on? As Guimarães would say, living is very dangerous: it always ends in death, but we die to prove that we lived.
Oh, and I later learned that the flying saucers were the 60 satellites just sent into space by Elon Musk. If only they were real aliens…
As for equipment, I mainly used a Fuji X-T3 and an iPhone. With money from a sponsor, I bought a 15-45mm lens so I wouldn’t need to change lenses all the time to avoid dust and debris. Although it’s a really dark lens (f/3.5-5.6), it seemed like the perfect focal length overall. It has a built-in image stabilizer, which helps a lot in handheld shots. I also bought a Rode mic but it was a bit of a hassle to attach it for interviews, as they were always very spontaneous, so ended up not really using it. I had the camera on me at all times on a waterproof hip pack so I could get to it even off the bike. I wish I brought a brighter lens for night shots, but hey, living and learning.
As for the iPhone, I can’t recommend the Quadlock enough. It makes it handy at all times and it’s exactly why we managed to get some candid moments. I also had a good Anker power bank so that I would never run out of power. Wish I could have used the phone more but a small crack in the glass stopped me from filming the really rainy days.
The drone shots were done with a Mavic Pro, the first generation kind. It’s been my go-to drone for the last four years. It’s still in great shape after so many thousand kilometers shaking in my custom-made handlebar bag. The bag only attaches to the handlebar, so it’s kind of floating, not taking too much beating. The inner bag is a water-tight compartment filled with padding from an old camera bag.
I must say discretion is necessary, especially traveling around Brasil, where you don’t really want to show you are carrying some expensive equipment. The last system I had was a Sony a6300. Although they did a really good job on being a silent camera for video, it felt so cheap and plastic in hand. So, when I had the chance, I fully switched to Fuji. I really like their system, even with the noise it makes when video recording. I’ve had an X-E1 for seven years now and still works like a charm. My only complaint with the Fuji X-T3 is that it eats battery if you are filming.
Fernando Biagioni is an adventurer, photographer, filmmaker, father, and cyclist from Minas Gerais. Fascinated by the stories of the gold rush, he is currently getting a degree in history to legitimize the research he has been doing about his home. Find him on Instagram @fernandobiagioni.
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