Driving hazardous loads in Brazil's mountainous south

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The mountain roads of southern Brazil may be beautiful but they are also perilous. When truck driver Aldinan Cézar Rodrigues transports highly corrosive chemicals in the region, he puts his trust in his Volvo VM and his safety training.

The mountainous Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil is not as famous as the country’s spectacular beaches and jungles. Even so, the Serra Catarinense is every bit as beautiful. Where nature has provided peaks, ravines and rivers, man has contributed with orchards, vineyards and picturesque towns. The area enjoys nationwide fame for its apples, and for a chilly climate which differs from the rest of the country. Visiting tourists are likely to find accommodation with names that include words like “cold” and “snow”.

Truck driver Aldinan Cézar Rodrigues

For Aldinan Cézar Rodrigues, this is home turf. He was born in the town of Otacílio Costa, which, he explains, is where most of his family and relatives live. It is also where the dream of driving trucks was born. His father and uncle both drove their own trucks, and Aldinan and his cousin used to be taken along on trips. “I loved that”, Aldinan recalls. “The freedom of the road, getting to see new places and meeting new people, those were the things that made me want to be a truck driver myself.” 

He speaks fondly of a childhood filled with other typical countryside delights such as climbing trees and swimming in the river. 

Locals wave as the truck passes

“Nature for me meant everything. It still does. These days I gather my family whenever I can, to go fishing or to simply spend time at our country place.”

The 50-year-old has now been a truck driver himself for some 20 years. When he was younger, he spent some years in bigger cities, working in construction, but has kept coming back to the region and the job that he loves. In Palmeira, twelve kilometers from Aldinan’s home, is his employer Silpar, the logistics division of chemical company Avanex. Loading up a tankful of sulphuric acid for the metallurgic industry or aluminum sulphate for companies involved with water treatment, Aldinan sets off to make deliveries. 

The Volvo VM crosses a wide river

A bonus of being on the road in this part of Brazil is the stunning scenery, not least along state highway SC-390. It cuts through the mountain range Serra do Rio do Rastro, zigzagging down from an altitude of some 1,400 meters to sea level and the bigger cities along the Santa Catarina coast. The trip up and down the mountain range in itself attracts many tourists from Brazil and nearby countries like Uruguay and Argentina, often on motorcycle. But, as Aldinan Cézar Rodrigues tells it, the road is far from every driver’s dream.

The driver sits outside a cafe and takes a break

“I’ve seen truck drivers panic when seeing the Serra do Rio de Rastro for the first time, stopping their trucks at the first sharp turn and simply walking away from their vehicles.”

Aldinan says that he himself has never hesitated about taking the SC-390 or any other of the roads in the area. It does not, however, mean that he ignores the challenge. “When driving steep and winding roads I increase my attention. The truck is heavy, and the load is dangerous. A sudden encounter with another truck at a tight corner can be dangerous for both my truck and the other one. It’s not like transporting apples or wood,” he says.

The Volvo VM truck crosses a wide river

Like his colleagues who drive similar loads, Aldinan has had special training for the job. “We learn about how each product works, how it reacts with nature. How each should be eliminated if it gets into contact with nature,” he says and explains: “All products have a certain way of affecting air and water. Driving chemicals is not just about driving something from point A to point B, you have to know about the product so that in the case of an accident you know whether to call the police, the fire department or if the area needs to be sealed off. Luckily, with nearly 20 years on the job, I have had no accidents,” he says.

As it turns out, this day Aldinan’s drive along the SC-390 ends at the point where the road starts its downhill climb. Orange traffic cones with blinking lights point Aldinan in the direction of a police officer, who explains that there is a temporary stop for all trucks heavier than six tons. Aldinan’s Volvo VM 330h weighs  6.5 tons. 

“However you look at it, the entire country depends on truck drivers. Everything you see, everything you eat, everything you wear – it’s been delivered by us.”

Aldinan Cézar Rodrigues

The reason for the stop is that there are large cracks in the concrete surface winding its way down, and weeks of constant rain have increased the risk of accidents for heavier vehicles. 

Aldinan is not too worried about the news. He will simply have to find an alternate route down from the serra. After stretching his legs and taking in the scenery from the viewpoint, Aldinan gets back behind the wheel and heads for a dirt road. “This is why I still love this job. Every day is different and there will always be surprises,” he says.

Making his way down to sea level through dusty back roads not only means that Aldinan avoids the cracked concrete of the SC-390 but also that the encounters with traffic coming from the opposite direction happen on passages with even less space. And this on roads full of potholes of varying sizes. 

“Driving on a dirt road with many ups and downs, crossing narrow bridges, I’m delighted with this truck. It’s very drivable, very comfortable. A good working environment,” says Aldinan, who has decades of experience driving Volvo trucks. “The first Volvo I drove was the little NL 340. It was very strong but compared to the Volvo VM that I drive today, the difference is great,” he says. 

Road to the horizon with rainbow in distance

On his detour Aldinan passes so close to the apple orchards that at some points he would be able to pick a fruit just by stretching out an arm. Although not as grand as the descent along SC-390, the alternate route certainly offers its own slice of natural beauty. When he turns off the engine to pause for a while, all is silence except for the gentle rustling of leaves and the characteristic high-pitched squeak of the seriema bird.

Taking a moment to reflect on his role in the big picture of transportation, Aldinan feels that truck drivers in general don’t get the recognition they deserve in Brazil. “However you look at it, the entire country depends on truck drivers. Everything you see, everything you eat, everything you wear – it’s been delivered by us.”

Silpar Transportes Rodoviários Ltda

Founded in: 
2001.

Owner: 
Grupo Avanex.

Number of employees:
24 drivers and 5 office personnel.

Number of trucks:
26, 24 of which are Volvos.

Volvo truck models:
VM260, VM330, VM270, FH440, FH460, FH540.

Vehicle combination weight:
41 tons.

Main loads:
Chemicals for the metallurgic industry and for water treatment.

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