A snorkel, Brazilian hospitality and riding the Tranzamazonica.
Itaituba, Amazonas, Brazil, August 12, 2009.
A lovely tarmacked road took us from Cuzco in the direction of Urcus and Ccatca.
Great typical Peruvian views, then the road changes into a track and the climb up over a high pass up to 4800 meters starts. Suddenly the temperature went down and we got hail and snow. The Andes shows here her snowy peaks, a glacier and then fog. Road works made us wait a long time, before we could continue. It got dark and we had to cross a river, which we didn't expect to be so deep. Didn't put the snorkel on. In the middle of the river some stones blocked the wheel and the engine got drowned, it stopped the engine, so I had to jump out of the sidecar. Immediately I was wet up to my bum. Together we tried to push, but nothing happened. It didn't feel very adventurous to be in the middle of a cold fast flowing river in the dark, trying to move about 500 kilos of bike. Luckily a man turned up and started to pull our rope. Totally out of breath we got the bike back on dry land. A snorkel is a great idea, but using it even better.
Shivering from the cold we drove into a village, Quincemill, all the hostels were full. A nice couple asked the 'Padre' if we could stay at his place and yes, that night we slept, with hands above the sheets, in a church. Whatever happens, everything always turns out good at the end.
The next morning Andy drove the Padre, while speeding, in the sidecar around the Plaza. He enjoyed that! And we left some money and chocolate for the children.
Our shoes and cloths were still wet and it was cold. We are in the jungle now, but because of the Patagonian winds, it's COLD!
We could not leave the church before 12, there were roadworks going on, stopping everything till that time. After that the road opens and first you have to cross another river. Loads of cars and trucks were already waiting. I had a look at the river and also Andy, we both walked through it, so we could see what the best place was to cross it. We decided to go as the last ones, just in case we would get stuck, we wouldn't be in the way for other drivers. The trucks drove slowly through the water, they all made it, but the first normal car got stuck. Together with a Indigenous woman I went into the water and stated to push. The men were just watching. She pulled up her skirts and I saw a huge woolen underpants (it reached to her knees) and when she saw my surprised look she started to laugh. Together we were very strong, dug stones out in front of the wheels and pushed the car to the other side. By that time it was full of water.
My hero Andy drove the bike into the river, snorkel mounted to it. Exactly after 10 seconds the wheel hit a huge stone. Back in the water and push, no problem, but we were both afterwards a bit disappointed. The snorkel is a good idea, but it doesn't keep rocks away.
We both were soaked again and the ride over muddy jungle tracks made it a long day. The hostel in Puerto Maldonado was so noisy that we checked out some other places to stay. Nothing fancy. Then we found a place called 'The Anaconda Lodge'. It has wooden huts in an enormous jungle garden. All the howler and spider monkeys came to greet us and wanted to be stroked.
Gunnar and Wadee, the owners, are lovely people. We stayed there for 3 nights to dry our gear. What a great excuse to play with these monkeys! One is stealing my pegs, so the wash is falling in the dirt again. I try to chase it, but I saw the peg never again. One doesn't want to come off Andy's head and we have to ask Wadee to take it off. When I am reading in a hammock they come over to sleep on my lab. If paradise exists, this comes very close to it.
I don't know if I want a baby piggy or a monkey for my birthday.
At the last evening we have company, 6 Irish girls. They have a guitar with them and while Wadee is painting my nails they sing with golden voices U2 songs. Bono sounds badly comparing to them.
The road to the border is an unsurfaced track that cuts into dense jungle. It's hot, hot, hot. Butterflies everywhere. Then asphalt and the border.
Going out of Peru is a piece of cake. The border officer just stamps passports, but the one for the bike paperwork had to change cloths first and spray him self with aftershave and lotion before he can deal with me. Then over the bridge into Brazil. The change is visible, more white people and in 5 minutes I spotted 3 people with beautiful green eyes, the Brazilian Border officer, the police guy and the cute one from the Aduana, who let me sign 4 papers about swine flu. Stamping passports no problem, but we have to come back the next day for the bike paperwork, it's half past four and the office will be closed in half an hour. Strange. But the next day we will find out why.
The hotel in Assis Brazil is shell shocking expensive (like most things in Brazil), but comes with the best shower since ages.
The border officer that takes care of the bike paperwork is a woman. Blond, lip stick and high heals. The electricity goes of 3 times in her modern office, so nothing works. She only wants to deal with Andy and offers him a seat. I have to sit at the other side of the room. But when she finds out she can't deal with Andy in Portuguese, I am allowed to come over (still no seat offered). We have to go back in the town for copies....the lad can't work out how to cope with the copy machine, but after 7 tries he did. Back to Blondie. To make it bearable she turns on the CD player and Eric Clapton is singing 'Let it go'. Later she shows me her freshly made tattoo's on her back. Together we smoke outside a cigarette and we leave, after spending all morning at her office, with each 3 kisses on the cheek.
Next to the road we see loads of big farms with Brahman cows, lots of jungle is cut back. Almost no cars on the road, maybe because the fuel is so expensive.
We don't understand nothing from the language, they don't understand our Spanish. This is how the word Internet sounds in Portuguese...Internethutschjhu. I can say that, but Andy is braking his tongue.
In Rio Branco I am trying to find a bank that takes our card. When I come back to Andy he is surrounded by 7 heavy tattooed bikers. After I while we find out that they want to ask us to go with them for lunch. Yes, of course! Gentile they guide us through the traffic and together we eat all the nice stuff from the buffet on display. Then they ask us to come with them to the Bike Festival that is starting today. Well, us, hardcore bike party animals, haven't been to a bike rally for ages and these bikers are very nice to us, so we go. From the moment we arrive till the moment we leave, we get a lot of attention, something we didn't expect at all. Thousands of questions, loads of smiles and happy faces. We drink beer, dance for hours. The music is fantastic. I learn to dance Brazilian style, but I can't keep up with the full blood Brazilian hips. By the time Andy thinks that it's Michael Jackson instead of the Rolling Stones, it's time for bed.
The next morning we stick our head out of our tent and there is a TV film crew waiting. No time to comb my hair or to put lipstick on. We do our best, but afterwards I find out, that while we got filmed, my zip wasn't up. Another film crew is waiting, we haven't brushed our teeth yet.
We get an award, handed over by Kakioca, the President of the club. The people are screaming for a speech. In Spanish, Dutch and 2 words of Portuguese I try to say thanks for the great hospitality and the fact that we enjoy it so much. Nobody has a clue what I am saying (I am very red by now), but there is a big applause.
We get loads of invitations to stay with people, it's so overwhelming. There is something about the Brazilians, they are a happy bunch, make a party out of everything and the biker hospitality is legendary!
Kakioca escorts us out of town, tears in his eyes when we say goodbye. That's another good side of riding a bike, you meet nice people, great bikers...
To everybody we have met at the bike festival; THANKS very much for inviting us and being so nice and friendly to us!! And thanks girls for taking good care of me!!!!
In Villa Extrema we find a very nice room to chill out (to many interviews) and the next morning the road is blocked, as a protest, in the opposite direction we want to go. Blockades are not only a Peruvian habit.
Drove to Porto Velho and were hunting for a tyre. Three years ago we were here as well, after we came from Manaus and believe it or not, but we met the same guy we had met then and had helped us out with a tyre then! He recognized us and helped us again with finding the right tyre. We could do some bike maintenance at his shop the next morning.
Mad Max (he was given this name after a trip over the border into Bolivia to reclaim his stolen bike!) and Santa had offered us to stay at their house. Mad Max is the president of the bike club the 'Anacondas do Asphalt' and owns a bar that is also their bike club house. Lots of bikers that we had met in Rio Branco came by to say hello and it was so much fun to be there. Santa is a lovely warm woman, nothing was to much for her. Of course it was difficult to communicate, but the we got rescued by the guy from next door.
They took us to the bike shop, took us to the hospital for malaria medication, let us stay another night, cooked for us, made us feel really happy! Together we enjoyed the music of a band called Edinho Santa Cruz Banda. In a perfect way they cover bands like the Stones, Dire Straights, Joe Cocker and more. They played 'Wish you were here' from Pink Floyd, together with a big classic orchestra. Everybody who was watching and listening was singing, shouting and screaming, all together at the same time, the Brazilian way of enjoying music!
Max gave us a CD from the band, I am very touched by that. One of the things I miss while traveling is music and this CD is also a great memory.
Max and Santa went on the same ferry with us, all the way to the sign that shows the border of the state of Rondonia and Amazonas. To ride along together for a while is a beautiful way to say goodbye. A last picture, a last hug. Max put a last sticker from 'Anacondas do Asfalto' on our bike, time to go....
Santa and Max, OBRIGADO and OBRIGADA for spoiling us so much!
The smell of more adventure is in the air.
We are on the Transamazonica proper now, or the BR 230, that will take us to Maraba, 2125 kilometers to go, most off road and through the hot jungle. We stayed in Humaita, did the last shopping and bike preparations and had an ice cream next door and guess what, the owner recognized us and even remembered our names!(After we had been on the road from Manaus to Humaita 3 years ago, first thing we did was eating ice cream at his shop). We also met 2 Brazilian bikers, Carlos and Darlan. They also had planned to go for the Tranzamazonica. We talked about the route and also about body language. If you ask a Brazilian for the right direction they give a kiss in the air in the right direction. If you as if it's far, they kiss in the air again, which means 'Yes, it's far!'
We camp in the jungle under the stars, it's full moon. It's never quiet in the jungle. We hear big moths humming like helicopters and a beetle bumps into our tent and plays 'dead' afterwards. It's so big, it would be the biggest one on display in a museum.
We have sprayed the plastic ground shield with anti ant powder. 3 years ago our tent got eaten by ants on the first night camping in the jungle. Ants like to eat the inside of a helmet as well, so they are locked up in the bike.
The track is like a roller coaster, big steep hills, jungle everywhere. We drive between 15 and 35 km an hour, depending on the quality of the surface. Some bits are bad, but not impossible to drive on.
In a small town we buy a drink and the woman of the shop is so happy to see us that she gives us a big round white cheese. We are pleased with that. That evening I fry pieces of it in a pan and it's nice to eat. It also creaks when you chew it.
Loads of bridges to cross, some are in a bad condition, but we manage every time to reach the other side. There are ferries to cross, one charges us 20 reales and we don't know if we got ripped of or not. Normally it costs us 10, but they had to get the ferry from the other side first, before we could hop on.
Hundreds of butterflies are going east, like us. Mainly yellow and white ones, but also big blue ones and red colored small ones. Why do they all get east, I really like to know. Andy calls this 'the road of butterflies'.
Andy is obsessed by a little bee, every morning when he got out of the tent he believes it has been waiting for him all night, ready to chase him. I get enough of that and tell him to get on with it. He and his bee...later that day I get stung nastily twice by a bee, now I won't say anything about bees anymore.
We drink enormous amounts of water and are sweating carrots (Dutch saying). We get up at first light, go to bed before dark, so the mosquito's don't start to bite and sleep for 12 hours easily.
By this time we are covered with a thick layer of suntan cream, mosquito spray, sweat and red dust. Haven't had a decent wash for 4 days, we use wetties, but that doesn't do much.
We see monkeys crossing the road, big blue and yellow parrots, a very scary snake and birds that look like turkeys, well the Amazone version of them.
Somewhere after Jacareacanga (not an attractive place), you drive through a national park. The track gets smaller and there are steep hills and loads of ruts, which need a special skill to avoid them. Andy drove slowly and carefully, very concentrated. We only got bogged in once, but that was enough in the burning heat.
My bum is killing me, every muscle in Andy's body is aching.
We drove out of the park, the road got better. Still very dusty, but not bad. Found a nice place to stay, a former mission. It's quiet here.
Always fun to arrive with a sidecar that is covered in red clay, two people on it, also covered in red dust, who are asking...do you have a shower? As if they can't work out that we really need it, the smell must be like Chanel no 5 after 5 days jungle camping!
Andy's saying of the day 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger'. Nietzsche.
Soon the bee will be waiting for him again.
ARAGARCAS, BRAZIL, AUGUST 26, 2009.
A VERY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ANDY AND BIKE AND BREAST BRAKING TRACKS.
This mission post near Itaituba used to be a orphanage and school, especially for the children that were left behind in the 1980's, when their parents got obsessed and poisoned by the gold rush. Most parents died in the mines or became drunks. This part of Brazil has more horror stories. The Transamazonica, the road we are 'riding' on, has been built in the seventies, in three years h. It is about 5500 km long and goes from east to west Brazil, about 3500 km had to be cut out through the Amazon jungle. After three years most of the workers were dead, due to diseases like yellow fever and malaria, or animals and exhaustion.
It took another 40 years to destroy big parts of the jungle, to turn it into farm land. The heart of mother earth is burning in many places, so grass can grow. Give it another few centuries and it will be dessert, maybe with some palm trees and everybody on earth will get overheated, because the Amazon is dying.
We stay another day at the mission post, to recover from aching body parts, to have an extra shower and to do the wash. All our cloths are getting in a bad condition now, the humidity causes tears in our trousers. We both have each one pair of trousers left and they are totally red from the dust.
That evening I interview Andy.
Me; 'Why do you want to ride the Transamazonica?'
Andy; 'Because there are no Mac Donald's?'
Me; 'How is it to ride the Transamazonica?'
Andy; 'Hot and long'.
Me; 'What do you think of your sidecar passenger?'
Andy; 'Oh, you mean the cook'.
End of interview!
It's the start of an evening that makes the neighbors think; 'What the hell are they doing?'. We just could not stop laughing, well it was more howling. We both ended up almost crying from laughing.
Just a fart and the howling started again. Jungle madness.
There is only one broken spoke to repair, but of course, we need to take the wheel off and 3 other spokes out to fix one. Andy is working in the shade of an enormous tree, but he is soaked from sweating. The heat is almost unbearable.
The road to Ruropolis is very bumpy, dust everywhere. Every time a truck is passing us, we don't see anything for a while.
The endless stream of butterflies has stopped. We miss them.
We put our tent up in a quarry and while sunset is happening an airplane starts the engines....the sound of chicades. It's almost impossible to hear each other. As unexpected as it starts, it stops. A big blue lizard walks by, monkeys are howling, but this night no mosquito's and it's a bit cooler. Half way the night it even gets cold and we use our sleeping bags. It's one of those magic jungle nights.
Riding the Transamazonica is not only a hot, thirsty, dusty and bumpy thing to do, you also have to be fully self sufficient, just in case something breaks. We are lucky, just 4 km out of a town called Medicilandia Andy discovers a broken bracket, the bit that carries the exhaust is broken in two. The only thing we don't carry is a welding machine. We find a place to stay and the friendly owner takes us to a garage. The mechanic and Andy are surrounded by a crowed of nosy men. The mechanic makes a great job out of it and when Andy offers him some beer money, he refuses. I give him a happy hug in front of everybody, he is very brown, but turns red and I understand his Portuguese when he says that he likes the hug. All the man are laughing.
The track gets a bit better, there is more traffic on it and we see more farm land. No more big trees and less jungle, it's less interesting for us.
Everything changes again....enormous potholes, deep red sand, bloody stones and then, totally unexpected, asphalt, just before Altamira. Like a clean diaper for a baby bum.
We take a big ferry over the river. Boys are diving from the ferry and swim with us to the other side.
Every time we stop people come to see us. It's a bit much in the burning heat and we still can't communicate very well. People here have no feelings if it's about body space, they are often standing to close to us or they will poke you to get your attention, something I can't stand. To stop it I poke back. We try to find a place for a cool drink without people, but they always turn up out of the blue.
In Anapu a lady gives us bananas, sweet little ones.
We have seen some snakes on the track, but the one in front of us is extra long and very slow. To my BIG surprise, Andy parks the sidecar, with me in it, right next to this snake. It turns his head and I am frozen, I even can't speak. I never expected Andy, my prince of darkness, to park me next to a creature like this. The snake moves on, I can speak again....Andy's replay is; 'But it's only a boa constrictor!'.
Another broken spoke. The track gets really rough now and the hills are getting steeper. Loads of bike killing corrugations. Hard work. It's my birthday, so we stop in Novo Repartimento. We find a restaurant, chickens running everywhere, but the food is fantastic. We drink to much beer and enjoy talking to each other. I am happy to be 50 now, I made it! Now I am a senior as well!
A 100 km of pretty flat track, then the bike and breast killing procedure starts again. There are so many potholes and corrugations, I get enough. Riding off road is great, but all this shaking, rattling and bumping up and down in the sidecar in this heat is not always fun......and then, there it is, about 20 km before Maraba, the black, flat, smooth, so well wanted asphalt starts. We fly now!
And the stupid thing is, we both know that soon we will miss this type of track. Asphalt is nice for a while, but it's also often boring. We will miss the jungle camping and the strong feeling of not knowing what to expect, what to deal with. The feeling of adventure.
I also realize that we have been extremely lucky by not having any proper rain. If you get rain on this track, you are fu...ed (sorry Grant). It's already hard work without rain, but with rain, we would have been still crawling around in a mud bath.
Anyway, we made it to Maraba!
After Maraba there is that beautiful asphalt and then it's back to dirt and dust. By this time I was sitting in the sidecar with a tyre around my belly. Just to get some more miles out of the old tyre. It would stay with me for another 3 days.
Than onto the BR 153, a road coming from the north, going south, full of potholes and big trucks, difficult to deal with after having been riding for months on deserted tracks and little used roads.
We contacted Andy's mum and told her that we were out of the jungle. Her reply to Andy; 'So you can put your machete away then'.
We stayed 2 nights in a hotel. Andy was very tired. We felt a bit lost, we hadn't planned the next bit of our route. We had a look on the map and decided to go to the Pantanal, a big wet area where you can see many animals. It might be a bit difficult to get there, we are not sure about the conditions of the tracks and bridges. After that we go into Paraguay.
Back on the BR 153. No places to camp, but great restaurants next to the road, where you can eat all you want for not too much money. Brazil is paradise if it's about food, no ears of a pig to eat, like in Peru. And they do loads of green stuff for me and good meat for Andy.
After days on the BR 153 we went on the BR 070, going West. A much smaller road, almost no traffic and guess what, we had rain! Lots of it. First I enjoyed the smell of it, but then it became a pain in the bum. We got very wet. In the hotel I washed illegally all our cloths and now they don't want to dry.
Tomorrow we will go in the direction of the Pantanal. We are looking forwards to see the wild life.
Andy is snoring away at the moment, I am sure he wants pizza when he wakes up.
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