The Golden Passage
A Bike Journey on the Royal Road in Brazil
In January 2015, I traveled to Brazil to start a new project called The Golden Passage, during which I biked the trail called the Estrada Real. It's divided into 4 routes: Caminho dos Diamantes (Diamond Route), Subarabuçu, Caminho Velho (Old Route) and Caminho Novo (New Route). I decided to take the Old Route, which starts in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, and ends in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. It took around 11 days and 450 miles, crossing 3 states.
The name Estrada Real refers to any land that was in the process of settlement and economic exploitation during Brazil’s colonial period. The Royal Road was the only authorized way to move people and goods to the international market, preventing smuggling and unauthorized trading. Portuguese colonists in Brazil and African slaves began building the road in 1697, shortly after gold, diamonds, and other precious minerals were discovered in the present-day state of Minas Gerais. The road facilitated the movement of these resources to the coast and later, to Europe. Today, the Estrada Real is one of the most exciting trails in Brazil.
We started the trip on January 26 in the city of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, and biked all the way to the coast of Rio de Janeiro to a town called Paraty, where the Portuguese used to load gold onto ships and to send to Portugal. The team was 2 people on bikes and 2 in a support car.
The journey was a time capsule, during which I could see places that remain almost the same as 300 years ago. The baroque influence on every house along the way made this trip a unique and special architectural experience, showing the work and influence of Aleijadinho, a Brazilian master of baroque, on every single church from the country to the coast, around 450 miles apart.
The history on those roads is alive. Parts of the road date back to the 1700s, constructed by African and native slaves. We passed areas where the Emboabas war started, giving origin to the provinces of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.
The locals still believe that are precious minerals lost or hidden along the way, and today you can still see churches with its altars covered in gold. The importance of the Estrada Real to Brazilian history is fundamental. Towns and villages were created as trading posts and support points for travelers, as it does today, but now it supports those traveling by foot, car, horse or bike.
This project shows the architecture, people, and places that were some of the most important places during the colonial period. I explored a lot of textures and architecture, and I departed from my usual style by publishing the photographs in color. Color is important to show the vibrancy of Brazilian culture.
We biked over different types of terrain (rocks, sand, dirt, mud), through temperatures above 100 degrees, and in thunderstorms so we could complete this project and share this amazing route with the world.
Special thanks to the Project Supporters:
César Cavalcante Ken Neufeld Amena Yassine
Isabel Cavalcante Clayton Abbey Trudy Rubenstein (Boop)
Larisse Cavalcante Anchor and Canvas Allison Fleder
Thiago Cavalcante Carin Rubenstein Teon Brooks
Pedro Mamedes Carin Zissis Alex Sczesnak