(17) Brasil: Manaus
Rodolfo came and sat by my suite. We talked about, among other things, his Trans-Brasilian passage. Worry etched his sober features. My unsympathetic understanding readily discernible by the easy laughter that wracked my frame. Perhaps sometime later he would share my thoughts, but not now.
They wanted money to offload my bike in Manaus. God only knows how they loaded it in Belem. I decided I did not want to know. I said "NO" to their request for money and everyone went for coffee.
When they returned, I said "Maybe". There was a flicker of light, but not much so I started to negotiate. I settled on 26 Reais. By the time they were done I would have gladly paid 100 R and thought it was cheap.
These guys are as tough as nails. I wouldn't pick a fight with them for anything. The hold of the ship was about 6 ft below the top of the dock. With the ramp in place the opening in the ship was not tall enough to permit passage of the bike. They practically had to lay the bike on its side and roll it up the ramp to get it through the opening. Try that with a 560 lb motorcycle on a 30 degree incline and tell me again that 26 R is not a bargain.
Who would have thought I would ever be in Manaus...ever...never...especially with a motorcycle? MANAUS, tucked away in a highly visible but remarkably inaccessible corner of Brasil, quite inhospitable and nearly forgotten, since the laundry failed to return from Europe, after the Rubber Boom, bust. Manaus...SHE remained a symbol of another time when fortunes were made and lost like slaves sold at a Pelourinho.
My boat docked at 7:00 PM. It was dark. It was even darker by the time the RANA was unloaded and 8:00 PM chimed on the town clock. The dock area was not the best part of town...probably the LEAST best part of town. A few loops going reverse direction on the many one-way streets placed me in front of my hotel. I had failed to make a reservation and paid for the errors of my ways. It was full.
I was ready to take the expensive option I had passed on my journey here, but the attendant took pity on me. He recommended an hotel of equivalent value to his and then made a phone call to confirm they had a vacancy. I thanked him and dodged oncoming traffic on my wrong way passage on yet more one-ways which blocked my way. Remarkably I found the hotel in short order. In the 35 C heat and 99% humidity I arrived looking like I had stepped out of a sauna after neglecting to undress first. The attendent eyed me cautiously. "You must be the white guy on the moto." I nodded in approval. I was starting to feel like Rodolfo...the stress of travel was showing after only a few hours. I didn't even look at the room first. If it had 4 walls it would be fine. It was better than fine. It was almost perfect.
Manaus was like a giant sauna. There was much to do but it involved walking. After the first few steps I was always soaked to the skin...my shirt painted against my body like a second, colorful skin. I washed my shirts 10 times in 3 days and had more showers than I could count. I was always sticky...always hot...always wet. I couldn't even imagine what this place was like in the Victorian era with the clothes that they wore then. Even with no clothes it was too hot...too humid...too much.
It was 800 km from Manaus to Boa Vista. There was no way of knowing if there was an intermediate place to stop, but probably not. The books never listed any options.
Presidente Figueroda was a small town 130 km from Manaus. It was too close but it chiseled a small chunk off of the large block. I decided it was a good plan to stay there. The remaining 650 kms I could do even if the road was not so good...800 kms would not be possible unless I left at the crack of dawn and that was not appealing. Besides with the heat and humidity it was best not to push things too hard...both me and the machine. Haste makes waste and I really wasn't ready for that white marble headstone...at least not yet.
The road condition was yet another unknown. I suspected correctly that in this remote, northern corner of Brasil it would be less than prisine. This road had been paved for less than 10 years. I shuddered to think of what it looked like before it was hard surfaced. I could not even begin to imagine trying to attempt passage on a rutted, pot holed road, whose red clay surface was often soaked by passing showers. It would not have been doable.
Just beyond Presidente Figueroda I found a nice Fazenda Hotel, Iracema Falls. Located in its own tropical paradise it provided a glimpse into virgin jungle. I contentedly poked and prodded through the heavy growth, vines, ferns and mammoth trees until fear of becoming irretrievably lost in this trackless wilderness returned me to my chalet, saturated but pleased with my discoveries.
They say, even today that only 1 in 17 logged trees actually makes it to market. Here in my little discovery trek I discovered logging from a past era...perhaps from when they had built this place. When and how did not matter; it was intriguing; it was like finding lost treasure.
As I settled in to dinner a screaming noise rose from the jungle. It was half an hour to sunset. It started like a background noise and then built to a crescendo, loud and disturbing. It was more like a scream; like train wheels skidding against rails; a penetrating and distracting noise. It continued until after sunset and then in an instant faded into oblivion. The jungle solitude returned. At sunrise it started again but lasted for hours...well into the morning. It was created by a screaming, jungle bird...hundreds perhaps...screaming in unison...performing their daily ritual. I never did find out the birdīs name. Those who worked here didnīt know and didnīt care. I alone was the curious one.
In a place built to accomodate hundreds I was the sole guest. Breakfast was fashionably late but nutrituous. My plans for an early departure quickly vaporized as I returned to my room after finding the restaurant locked up despite a promise for a 7 AM repast. I packed my bike and dressed in my riding gear to sweat out my wait for breakfast if and when they decided it was time. I had to wait. As far as I knew there would be no place to eat until I drew near to Boa Vista. I needed my sustenance for the long, hot ride ahead of me.
Fortunately when they built the road the Brasilians had enough foresight to intall Petrol Stations every 100 kms. That removed the need to carry extra gas. I topped up at every one just in case the next one did not have any petrol. They did not disappoint me. They all had liquid gold in the pumps.
The road north passed through the Yanomami Reservation. In an area rich in minerals and natural resources the Yanomami were fighting exploitation by the government. Theirs was an uneasy truce. Still living a traditional lifestyle, influenced by western civilization, their villages could be visited by a tour. They could be viewed like caged animals as they lay about their environ, peering into a camera lens, waiting for the unpleasant and unnatural experience to end so normalcy could return until the next busload of 'whiteys' arrived.
As I moved north I met them walking along the road in 1īs and 2īs, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Dressed in western garb...a T-shirt or Polo shirt and shorts...they carried their traditional weapon, a strung bow and arrow held firmly in one hand, at the ready. I suspected they were hunting...walking the road in search of lizards, iguanas and other reptiles that might migrate onto its surface for an adrenalin injection.
I did not intrude into their lives. I did not stop for a photo. I did not interrupt their routine. I simply waved and moved onward. They returned the gesture.
As it turned out there was an hotel 3 hours south of Boa Vista, within striking distance from Manaus in a single day. However, my selection was a better choice...a more pleasant alternative.
Boa Vista steamed in the late afternoon heat. Not a breath of fresh air coursed her streets. Yet another planned Brasilian city, Boa Vista was built in the '60s as the capital of the state of Roriraima. Planned and built in the shape of a 'U' it was much prettier on paper than at street level.
On entry into town I passed through a "Federales" check point. I treated this like all the others I had seen and blew through at a moderate but reduced pace. This time it was not to their liking. Oblivious to the mayhem behind me I merged, passed and swapped lanes at abandon. Finally I checked my mirrors. Over my left shoulder I could see the red and blue flashing lights of a Federale SUV trying to overtake me...or was it me. I accelerated and passed as the traffic thickened. The pursuit persisted. Finally I was trapped by merging traffic and the SUV pulled alongside me. The blackened window rolled down at the flip of a switch and I was motioned to the curb.
I selected a pull-out where we could conduct our business uninterrupted. By the time I had dismounted the troops had surrounded me. The two of them were somewhat excited, but not too bad. I had seen worse, like the time the Mexicans chased me for 5 miles as I passed and accelerated through traffic, up hills and around cars, their underpowered Nissan in Hot Pursuit...but that is another story. "Passport and documents please", he managed to blurt out, frustration showing on his flushed complexion as the excitement of the chase diminished somewhat with the capture.
Paperwork in hand he retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of his cab. His partner remained on the scene, eyeing me suspiciously, to ensure I did not attempt a get-away. His hands rested lightly on the twin 45's slung western style just below his hips. A brief shower passed through. He turned his back to the rain and never flinched...never attempted to move towards the SUV...never removed me from his concentration. Rain trickled off of his brow, down his cheeks and comingled to run off of his chin. His shirt stained with wetness. Still he did not move. I remained in my waterproof jacket with helmet intact, quite oblivious to the shower.
Before the intrusion I had been looking for this exact spot to pull over and do a position check. I proceeded to do that now. I pulled out my guide, checked my hotel selection and then located it on the map. However, I did not know where I was relative to where I wanted to go. I approached the 'gunslinger' who seemed content to help me with my problem. He removed his hands from his guns and traced the map with his finger. Then he proceeded to tell me how to get from here to there.
At that time his partner returned with the paperwork. All was in order and he handed the documents back. The 'gunslinger' verified the instructions he had given me with his boss. "No, no, donīt go that way," he said. "You should go this way." They had a short discussion between themselves. Finally, the boss turned to me and provided verbal instructions accompanied by a myriad of hand signals. I looked at him quizzically. He looked at the map and then back at me and then down the road. "Follow me", he stated as they both returned to the SUV. With red lights flashing we moved down the road. A few minutes later they had me on the main road to the hotel. Before they waved me on they pulled over and stopped, and both came back to me. "Go straight until you get to the second red light. Turn right and the hotel is at the end of the block." With that they both shook my hand and wished me "Safe Travels." Not bad guys...really.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at September 08, 2006 01:19 AM GMT