Carlitos, if he wins the upcoming election, will become the first State Deputy to have run almost entirely on a bicycle platform. He promises to pedal to work with “sun, cold, or wind” in order to encourage citizens to ditch their cars in favor of the bike. The Secretary of Sports will receive new athletic equipment. Bike lanes will be built. His campaign flier, where he stands firm with hands on hips, helmet on head, and a neon rain jacket that matches the party’s green background, simply says “Carlitos the Cyclist.” His constituency won’t even know his last name.
This pedaling politician and I met randomly on a tree-shaded street, in the modern state capital of Curitiba, during the Friday afternoon lull between the lunch rush and evening commute. He pedaled on the sidewalk. I coasted the street’s white line downhill toward the city center. Both of us looked over our shoulders at the mass of panniers and trailers connected to our frames, as if to confirm the others’ existence in a country where long-distance bikers are as common as snow. After three months in Brazil, Carlitos was the first cycle tourist I had met.
Born in Argentina, Carlitos has made Brazil his home now for over 30 years, fifteen of which he traveled extensively by bike the remotest countrysides and most off-beaten villages. He had completed similar tours in Europe, Uruguay, and Argentina as well. Though 60s-era Student Movement militant, mechanical engineer, businessman, poet, and writer with three books to his name were some of the ways he labeled himself, his politically-charged bike tourist image was the package with which he presented his many lives to the world, the same package he hopes will win him office.
Our meeting was brief. I was late for lunch with my new Couchsurfing host and Carlitos was running errands, why with a fully-loaded bike was beyond me. Before parting ways he invited me to stay in his home during my time in Curitiba and tried to sell me one of his books. Declining both politely, I wished him luck in the elections and pushed into a flurry of falling autumn leaves that stuck in my hair, giving this chance encounter a movie-like quality.