September 08, 2006 GMT
(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 bird´s name. Those who worked here didn´t know and didn´t 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 1´s and 2´s, 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, don´t 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 01:19 AM
September 06, 2006 GMT
(16) Brasil: The Long Float cont´d
The Amazon grew darker, trading its khaki drags for something of a more chocolate tone.
It was still placid...just darker; forever splitting into channels, divisions, rivulets, courses and streams, forming lakes, ponds, islands and peninsulas as it went. Then co-mingling to become a vast, broad expanse of water that most images conjure up.
Finally it became black. As we approached within two hours of the mouth of the Rio Negro the waters became darker, almost black. What river is this, the Negro, that can change the complexion of the Mighty Amazon. I would like to meet this river.
What is the color black? Is it negro as in negra or is it some other color? I thought black was brown before I came here. That was my mental image of black as befits this river. It is not as I imagined.
You see, the Amazon is brown as in 'silt laden' or as in a 'river in flood'. That is the only color we know in North America. I thought originally that the Amazon was blue, but no it is brown. If the Amazon were blue than I thought the Negra might be brown and hence the name. But the Amazon is brown, and the Negra...well the Negra is black...Black, BLack, BLACK. Like midnight; like the Ace of Spades; like coal; like a negro...black. I hope that´s clear now, because it is to me. Black is not brown and brown is not blue. Black is black, especially here in Brasil.
Black people, black rivers...what will they think of next...black trees? Yes, they have those here too.
The first day went fast. So did the second and the third. In fact the whole trip became a laid back blur. Some people thought it was too long. For me it was just right.
Life on board the N/M Amazon Star was slow paced and relaxing as we followed the shoreline west. There was no scheduling and planning to be done. Simply wake up and wait for three somewhat irregular meal calls.
The "Suite People" ate separately and from a different menu than the 'hammock' crowd. We always ate after them. I thought the food was acceptable, but always the same. The menu never varied. Fish never appeared. Steak, steak and more steak. Peter S. would have loved it. Steak three times a day for a week. He would have been in heaven.
Remote homes, twos and threes and the odd small community littered the banks of the Amazon. Solitary dugout canoes with one or more occupants paddled out to greet us. Mostly they were looking for us, the 'boat people', to throw them a care package wrapped in a plastic bag.
The odd canoe paddled directly and furiously towards us, on what appeared to be a collision course...a suicide mission. At the last instant he turned sideways and gaffed one of the tire bumpers dangling from the side of the ship. Paying out his line he gradually increased his grip, to avoid being yanked out of his boat by the differential velocity. Then he gathered up his line and pulled his boat up to the gaff where he anchored it to the tire.
If he missed he was done for the day. If he was successful he boarded the ship and proceeded to sell his wares...in this case, fresh cooked shrimp. Perhaps he had heard about the monotonous menu that was served.
Most of these places look to be little more than shacks with no interior partitions. Sometimes however the shed comes with a satellite dish and presumably a Honda generator to power the accessories.
Often we pulled into a remote town or village to discharge cargo and passengers. I have noticed on more than one occasion that these people suffer from glaucoma...that clouding of the eye that leaves the face with a haunting, surreal look that frightens and yet draws the eye to focus on it. A disease that disfigures the face without distorting or changing it.
As we moved west cockroaches began to board the ship. Initially there were none present. Then there were one or two in the aisles. The children made good sport of them. Finally their numbers increased and they moved from the aisles into the rooms. Bigger flying insects that intimidated became common. Bees, the size of butterflies whose giant wings appeared to rotate like helicopter blades hovered about intimidating even the most seasoned travellers. This morning the deck was littered with Mayflies or their equivalent.
The ship rested at the port city of Santarem and exchanged its contents. I and a few others remained constant, determined to follow the river to Manaus, that fabled city built by the wealth of rubber, where people squandered their riches for there was seemingly no end to it all, in that frenzied lifestyle of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Rio Tapajis joined the Amazon at Santarem, its clear blue waters in stark contrast to the murky brown of the Amazon. We disgorged our passengers and our contents. I remained the sole proprietor of my suite, confident that any more than one person in my 7ft x 7ft suite would be one too many.
I met Juvian today. He was from Florianopolis. He was travelling by bicycle and had been nine months on the road. He was considering exiting Brasil at Iquitos, Peru and returning home down the west coast before crossing the Andes again to return home. He was riding, not a fancy 24 speed mountain bike, but an aging one speed that looked to be at least seventy years old.
I met Jackie on the boat. She came over to talk to me. She had been married more times than I had fingers on my left hand, and I still had all of them. She was 27 going on 40, or was it 40 going on 27? She lived in Caracas, Venezuela and was returning from an assignment in Brasilia. She had eyed me up for a few days now and we had traded occasional light conversation. She had been scheming and now it was time to put the plan into action.
Several weeks ago she had left Caracas for a four day assignment in Brasilia. She was accompanied by her work partner, Rodolfo. He was 25 going on 26. Her method of execution, for the project, was somewhat flawed from the beginning and continued to be riddled with holes as the whole dastardly plot unravelled over the days and weeks that followed. Now she had spotted me and was considering casting her web in my direction to ensnare the gringo. I eyed her cautiously.
Initially, she had conceived the notion that a direct flight from Caracas to Brasilia was too expensive. A plan began to hatch and the seeds of disaster were sown before she even left town. A 2-1/2 day bus ride from Caracas to Manaus would position her for a cheap flight to Brasilia. The problem was there were no cheap flights from Manaus. In fact there were no flights from Manaus. VARIG had gone bankrupt and stopped flying. A flight to Brasilia was difficult to obtain and expensive...more than the original flight from Caracas to Brasilia would have been.
With almost a week in transit the 4 work days in Brasilia seemed hardly worth the effort, but a necessary evil just the same. Now, with the work completed it was now time to return home to the head office.
Her partner, Rodolfo, the junior employee was in over his head but there was naught he could do to stop the carnage. All he could do was hang on and hope for the best. With the entire travel budget consumed in getting to Brasilia it was now time to return to Caracas as cost effectively and expediently as possible.
Jackie put her mind to the task. In short order she hatched an even more heavily flawed plan which she put into action. They would catch a bus from Brasilia to Belem and take the boat to Manaus and then return by bus, much the same way they had started on their adventure, 2 weeks ago.
It shouldn't take more than a few days in total she reassured herself. Little did she know that the trip from Belem to Manaus was five days. Plus three days to get from Brasilia to Belem and another three days to get from Manaus to Caracas. They would surely give her up for dead before she returned to the office.
They would be gone almost a month before they would return from a 4 day assignment. And poor Rodolfo. He was guilty by association. The strain showed on his face. His boyish features were aging quickly. Even Jackie was beginning to show the stress of the ordeal...the Trans-Brasilian passage.
Now, she had spotted me, the Gringo, and formulated yet another plan. She was suddenly motivated to return to Caracas as quickly as possible. What possible difference would one or two days make now?
Her plan...seconde the gringo and his moto. After all, the public perception of the moto is "mas rapido". Manaus to Caracas...3 days by bus; surely no more than 1-1/2 days by moto. It was 1100 km from Manaus to the border and at least another 1000 km from there to Caracas. She would film the entire event with her movie camera. Her ever present body language provided full accompaniment to her speech and ensured all external parts of my body were fully caressed during the intercourse.
This plan was as ill conceived as the program that had carried her this far. I smiled openly as she unravelled the plan. She did not see the humour in her words and questioned my reaction. I had to let her down gently. I had to erase the whimsical and fanciful adventure she had dreamed up without hurting her feelings. I broke it to her gently.
Rather than try to explain the realities of motorcycle travel I simply put my plans on the table. 3 or 4 days in Manaus, 2 days to Boa Vista, 4 or 5 days to Caracas. "Boa Vista" she exclaimed. "Why the hell do you want to stay there?"
I smiled again at her reaction. An uneasy silence filled the deck. The Jantar Lady arrived to announce dinner. With a haughty shrug Jackie was off to reformulate her bus plans. The Jantar Lady beckoned me to follow. I would partake in yet another beef offering.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 06:38 PM
August 29, 2006 GMT
(15) Brasil: The Long Float
I arrived at the port at 4 PM. Udivan was there to greet me. He wanted to be paid for the moto shipment.
They had an X-Ray scanner for the luggage. Guns and knives were OK but my helmet failed. I had stuffed it with peanuts and they could not interpret the image. I emptied the contents on the table. I was free to go.
The baggage handler insisted on helping me with my things. I had jugs of water, luggage and my riding gear. I relented. He fleeced me 10 Reais for the lot. I asked the lady next to me. She said she had paid 20 R...somehow I doubt it.
I thought we would get supper but there are no meals on the day of departure. They would start tomorrow with breakfast. The little things they don't tell you. I could have eaten at the hotel.
The RANA was up front on the main deck. I checked for missing parts. They had pilfered the small stuff...the chrome clasp for my tank bag, but not the contents. They had tried to steal my "Green Rana" but could not free him from his perch. He dangled precariously, tethered by the wire I had used to secure him.
I checked my suite, No. 06...right next to the wheelhouse. No neighbours. It should be nice and quiet. I waited out the time. No one arrived to claim the extra bed. I had gambled and won. I paid half fare based on double occupancy and took the risk. I would be alone until Santarem at least, our next big port of call. That was nearly half the journey, so life was good.
We left at 7PM in the dark of the night...too bad. I thought we were supposed to leave at 6PM. Perhaps we were running late. It didn't matter. We were running and we would probably arrive at the other end when we did and not before. I erased all scheduling concerns from my mind. I had no worries, no concerns.
It took some persistence to get a "Receipt" for the bike. I was't going to pay and not get a receipt and then have a problem later on, if and when they do a paper check.
"Who did you pay?"
"Udivan, the same guy I paid for the passage."
The attendant returned a blank stare.
I produced his "Card."
Udivan had shown up at the hotel. He was legit. He talked with the travel agent. I didn't get it. Why the games?
Finally I went to the pursor and got a receipt. Nobody wants to accept responsibilty for anything. That's the trouble with these Latin people. They talk a line but nobody will sign on the line.
Night fell upon Belem. Lightning streaked the overcast sky but no rain fell. The brown waters parted as we pulled away from the dock. Ahead the sky was clear and blue, the water still brown...not pollution but the silt carried by the Amazon. Even in the low season the river still did its work.
At Manaus, the height of this great river varies 46 feet from the high season to the low season...a normal seasonal variation, not an anonomoly.
The city lights shrank in the distance to be replaced by an incredible night sky, undiminished by artificial light.
I went back to my cabin to watch the news. Incredibly I had 127 channels and the reception was crystal clear...CNN, TNT, Showtime...I had them all. I wanted to see who shot who in Lebanon, was Saddam guilty? Was that a murderer who killed Jon Bennett or just an idiot pretending to be a murderer? Were the stupid Iranians still playing their childish games or had the Americans nuked them? Surely there must be something important going on. Yes...a jetliner had crashed in Russia...???....
The only problem was there was no TV to receive the signal...the questions remained unanswered...for now.
The captain steamed on. He had a mission. I had a life preserver for a pillow support. I checked the boat for life boats...no boats but about 40 rafts...about half of what we would need to save everyone. If we went down the RANA would die...perhaps me too. I looked forward to crossing over to the dark side. I could be in the News.
"Biker dies while trying to navigate the Amazon." Who would care. Nobody even knew where I was. My Passport No. wasn't on the manifest...just my name, correctly spelled this time, and CANADA. I would be easy to identify. The only white guy...a Beluga Whale. They would stop and stare. My tombstone would read.
White Guy from Canada
Etched in white marble it would outlast my past.
I warmed slowly to my Amazon environment...or perhaps too quickly. The relentless heat, the high humidity and perhaps the ravages of time travel took their toll.
I became unwell on that first day of sailing. I welcomed the relief of my air-conditioned room and traded the environs of the Amazon Delta for the spartan comfort of my climate controlled confines. Sleep was easy to find as I alternated between naps and short forays onto the deck. I could not afford to miss much but I could ill afford to be sick. I hoped my compromise was correctly balanced.
I worked my way steadily through the 15 liters of water I had carried on board....15 liters for 5 days. It would be enough. A day later I was upright again, revelling in the bright outlook the new day had brought.
I quit trying to find out when meal time was. It was always different than the posted time. The "Jantar" Lady always sought me out wherever I was. She would never let me miss a meal. That seemed to be her mission...keep the white guy fed. On a ship that could carry 676 passengers I was a conspicuous anonomoly, and ever more conspicuous by my absence.
The "Jantar" Lady would come to fetch me. She treated each event like it was "the first time." If I looked at her quizically she would cock her head to one side, like man's best friend, and beckon me to follow. She would take a few steps and then turn to see if I was behind her, and motion me onwards. "Ya gotta love these Brasilians."
We sailed and we sailed and we sailed. The landscape was a million shades of green...a million variations of vegetation...a million combinations of water, estuaries, islands, trees, plants, beaches, ships, boats, canoes, houses, stilts, gardens, cattle, horses, water buffalo and people...yes, people.
People were constantly present, making their lives here beside and on the Amazon...living together or in solitude...living with nothing or seemingly plenty, but living a life unmolested by the vagaries and evils of civilization.
There was a stark simplicity to their lives even when contrasted with the utilitarian conveniences of my ship. It shared similarities with a similiar trip I had taken down the River Nile, a decade or more ago. Similar in that we glided passed their lives for a brief instant, obtaining but a snapshot of these people...the landscape ever changing...their lives untouched by ours...we merely a temporary intrusion into their world.
It is not possible to effectively describe what passes before my eyes. It is both sensory and visual. The soaring thunderheads, the whimsical clouds, the white egrets fluttering against the breeze, the ponds, the lakes and backwaters, the river beaches and the trees too numerous to name, the river traffic from dugout canoes to barges and ocean freighters, the lush, fresh smell as the afternoon heat dissipates into the cool freshness of evening, the sun rising over the Amazon, the sun setting over the Amazon, the quiet sobreity that evening brings as it closes the door on the day. How can you put that into words? You cannot capture it or film it...you must experience it and take the memory with you.
Belem was 2-1/2 degrees south of the equator. Santarem was 3 degrees. Manaus was a little more. I had to check my map to confirm it. I didn't believe I was at the same latitude as Quito, Ecuador. I was! But what a difference 8,000 feet ASL made.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 09:32 PM
August 23, 2006 GMT
(14) Brasil: The Amazon River...a perspective
I was about to embark on a journey up the Amazon, the world's mightiest river. A journey that would take me from Belem to Santarém and onward to Manaus my final destination.
The Amazon River Basin drains 6 million sq. km. and is the world's largest both in terms of drainage area and volume. With depths of up to 120 meters it is navigable by ocean going vessels beyond Manaus all the way to Iquitos, Peru. Even its tributaries are mighty...the Rio Juruá, the Solimões, the Rio Madeira-Mamoré, the Rio Purus/Pauini and the Rio Negro. Only the last two are less than 3,000 km in length.
The first know foreigner to navigate the Amazon River was Captain Francisco de Orellana, in 1541. Second in command on a expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro, the group ran desperately short of food while still in the upper reaches of the river. Unable to turn back, for they knew well the deprivation they had suffered to reach this point, with Gonzalo sick and ailing, Orellana volunteered to lead a splinter group a few days journey downriver in quest of food while the main body of the expedition remained in the encampment to conserve their energy and meager resources.
Immediately distrustful of Orellana, Gonzalo hesitated but desperation finally drove him to release the scouting party. Once in the clutches of the might river the small party was borne downriver. The food situation remained dire with the unforgiving jungle yielding little to their quest. It soon became evident to the group that they had no possibility of return to the main party. The strong currents, the lack of food, the hostile Indians and the impenetrable jungle made return by water or land impossible.
They continued to follow the currents for instinct told them that this mighty river would eventually exit to the sea. Months later, almost naked, for their clothes had worn and rotted off of their bodies, and suffering terribly, they arrived at the mouth of the river...the Atlantic Ocean.
In spite of the trials they had endured much lay ahead. Orellana knew he must continue. He must somehow get back to Spain. He and his crew fashioned a seaworthy craft of sorts and proceeded to follow the shoreline north. Their destination was Cartagena, the Spanish stronghold. Along the northern reaches of South America a Spanish Galleon picked them up and ferried them onwards to Cartagena. Barely alive, naked, starved, dehydrated and sunburned they were nurtured back to health.
Orellana knew he had survived the journey but the battle had not been won. He must now fight for his life, like never before. He had disobeyed a direct order from his Commanding Officer, Gonzalo Pizarro, by not returning to the encampment. He had no way of knowing if Gonzalo had survived, for over 6 months had passed and internet service had not yet reached this remote outpost of South America. His only hope of acquittal was to plead his case directly to the King himself, for he knew he had fallen out of favor with the Pizarro clan, whatever fate Gonzalo had suffered.
The King warmed to him slowly, but after considering the incredible story of adventure, discovery, suffering and deprivation he acknowledged Orellana had made the correct choices, granted him full pardon and promoted him to Captaincy. Orellana had gambled once again and had won, for to have lost this final battle he would have relinquished his life after enduring so much. It would all have been for naught.
It was into this land of the Amazon that I would proceed next...a land somewhat tamed and plundered since those early days but still unsubdued, unconquered, unforgiving and punishing.
The taxi would pick me up at 16:00 hours. The short 10 minute ride to the port would bring me one step closer to departure. I longed to see if the RANA had been loaded...if everything remained intact or if she had been stripped to her bones. I longed to see if I would share my suite or if I would enjoy my solitude. I wondered about the all-inclusive fare. How good or bad would the meals be? This was not the Love Boat. The swimming pool was the Amazon. The deck was the hammock area for those not willing or able to ante-up for the prime cabin space.
The journey would take five days. I would arrive in Manaus on Monday. Perhaps I would have some answers then. Until then my friends...
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 02:47 PM
August 22, 2006 GMT
(13) Brasil: Santa Ines and Belem
They say it is tough to leave Brasil. To the layman that doesn´t mean anything. When I first read the statement, I had the typical, standard reaction. "Oh yeah...what do they mean? Why would it be different?"
After over two months of travel Belem was still out of reach and time was ticking away. I had fallen into the trap. It was hard to leave! In order to avoid becoming a prisoner I decided to cross off items from the itinerary and make a concerted effort to reach Belem. Even once there it would be almost three weeks before I could leave Brasil, if I left at all. I could feel the noose tightening. I could feel her fingers grasping mine...was that you Brasil or was it someone else?
The road north from Santa Ines went to Belem. It was the only road north. The sign said it was 569.8 kilometers. I pointed the RANA north.
The problem was there was no road. It took 3 hours to travel the first 100 km. It was a non-road. There was no part about that first section that resembled a road, except for maybe the edges that provided a demarkation line.
The semi-trailer traffic, myself and the odd car struggled through the maze of ruts and craters using whatever piece of the road looked the best. Oncoming traffic sometimes passed on the right with a semi in the middle and me on the left. It was a scene right out of a dodge-em car carousel. Holes four feet deep and ten to fifteen feet across marked the path. It was the poorest excuse for the main and only link north that there ever was.
The second section resembled a road but was still a non-road. It too had crater sized vados and pavement shrapnel littering the surface. This road had not been neglected for years...it had been neglected for decades. A road only becomes this bad after it is totally abandoned for untold years.
Brasil you have turned your back on the north. You have nourished and fattened your Politicians, Wealthy Land Owners and Business Owners to the south of Rio but this is the forgotten north...the nameless land. You have turned your back on 2/3 of your country and its people. Shame on you BRASIL.
The last 200 kms were actually a road that deteoriated somewhat as I approached Belem. My fond memories of Brasil had been scarred. The poverty here was out front...in your face. It is absurd to rape and pillage your own country and provide nothing in return but Brasil has played the game well...they were trained by the best.
The RANA clicked over 190,000 kms on the way to Belem as together we contentedly hummed down the last few kilometers of pavement to that port city. We had some hard knocks on the journey here...we had endured alot together...we had cursed the road and pounded through holes...we had fought the weather and its vagaries and won. In five months of travel you could count the hours of rain on the fingers of one hand. We were both seemingly in good health. We moved towards the next phase of the journey.
Belem was the eastern terminus for staging trips up the Amazon to Santarem and Manaus. From Manaus you could go further west to Iquitos Peru, all by river. There were no roads west from here. The Amazon River was the road. The Brasilian dream of a Trans-Amazonas road had vaporized years ago. The jungle was now busy reclaiming man´s most recent assault.
Crowne Plaza Belém. In my quest for a place to stay the Crowne Plaza stood out from the crowd. It was new and shiny and tall. I knew it would be expensive but I needed to stop somewhere and get my bearings. I pulled into the entrance area. Almost immediately there was a flurry of activity about me.
"Good to see you sir. Welcome to the Crowne Plaza. I am glad you stopped to see us. Please come in and we will give you a tour." The words rolled off of his lips like stacatto gunfire.
"Easy does it. Hold on a moment. Well...since you are here, how much is a room?"
"We are not officially open today but please come and tour our facilities."
"OK, so that´s it. I had stumbled onto an 'Open House' and by the looks of things I was one of the few people to show up today." I pulled out my City Map. "Can you show me where I am?"
"We are right here. There is a hotel here and here and here."
"Thank you very much."
"Come back and see us."
"Yes, maybe tomorrow." Nice chaps but they need to take a pill.
Visions of Jakarta danced before me. A clean shirt lasted exactly 5 minutes...the length of time it took to take the elevator from my air conditioned room to the lobby, step outside and walk to the curb. With the humidity at 99.9% and the thermometer at 35.9 C I instantly looked like I had just run a marathon...my shirt soaked through and stuck to my body like paint.
I delivered my bike to the docks on Monday. They put her in the bowels of the N/M Amazon Star...or not. I would know for sure when I returned on Wednesday to sail. They offer the suite, the standard and the hammock at deckside. I paid extra for the suite, a 10 ft x 7 ft box with air conditioning, a bunk bed and a private banõ in a separate room. I can't even begin to imagine what the standard room would be like. I hope they have a light passenger load so I don't have to share my cramped quarters.
The rainiest city in the world never shed a drop.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 09:32 PM
August 19, 2006 GMT
(12) Brasil: Hondas and Santa Ines
Down here and in the rest of Latin America, Honda has put the common man on wheels. He has been given freedom of movement which he otherwise would not have and could not enjoy.
From the venerable Honda 50 that started it all, to its big sister the Honda 90 and its inbred children the 125, 150, 175, 200 and 250 Honda is King. For over 46 years Honda has not relinquished its stranglehold on the motorcycle market, to any of its competitors.
These singles are the heartbeat of the common man and woman. They provide economic, personal transportation...sometimes for entire families of 4 or 5 people. They serve as moto taxis, general delivery and Pizza delivery bikes. Add a side car for bigger payloads and supermarket grocery deliveries. Strap on a side bracket and carry your surf board. Build some saddle brackets and carry 2x50 lb propane bottles or multiple 20 liter water bottles. Make a 4-wheel semi-trailer unit by adding a trailer. Remove/modify the swing arm and end up with a trike to be used as a closed-in moto taxi. Honda builds these 3-wheelers especially for the South American market and probably for the Asian market as well. Take the front wheel off and weld the forks to a large, front end trailer and you have a vegetable wagon. These are more than conveniences. They are the life blood and work horses for an entire civilization. Honda you have done yourself proud.
In Santa Ines, Maranhäo, I stepped out of the hotel and into the street. People stopped and stared. They looked at me as if I was from outer space. I checked to see if I had forgotten to put my shorts on. Everything was in order. I guess they had never seen a white guy before. I flashed them my best smile and said "Good Afternoon". Nothing...just a blank stare...not even a smile.
I moved down the street and hailed a passing boy on a bicycle. He skidded into a 'U' Turn uncertain if he should flee or heed the call. I reached out and steadied his ride. The women on the sidewalk stopped and stared, not sure what I would do next, now that I held him captive. I asked him where the nearest Internet Cafe was. He looked at me blankly, his eye wide and wild. I repeated the question, more slowly this time. "Oh, just down here...one block. There are two."
"Which is the best?" I asked.
"They are about the same", came the reply.
I released my grip and carried on down the street. I entered the first cafe and settled in at my machine. Five minutes later the boy opened the door and surveyed the crowd. Satisfied when he found me he closed the door and returned to his bicycle, probably to report to the astounded ladies on the sidewalk.
I flagged down a trucker today. I could smell brakes burning but there was no hill. Ahead of me, in the distance I saw the semi. As I drew near the smell intensified and the smoke increased. Oblivious to it all he motored ahead. Here in Brasil they dump the diesel exhaust out the side, behind the cab. They do not use the chrome stacks so prevalent in North America. If he did check his mirror and saw smoke he probably assumed it was exhaust smoke.
I pulled beside him and caught his attention and then pointed to his wheels. He quickly interpreted the gesture and pulled over. He jumped out of the cab as I walked towards him.
"What's wrong?", he asked, as he looked at the front wheel.
I pointed to the second set of duals on the tractor. A trail of smoke rose from the hub. One of his air brakes hadn't released. He shook my hand vigorously. "Thank you" (Obrigado), he said.
"Denada", I returned.
I left him to his chore. I would be on the air waves tonight. Breaker, breaker, 1-9er. There's a bear in the air and a gringo biker on the ground. My hub's a cook'n, but the gringo was look'n and now my bacon's saved. The brakes ain't died because he spied the smoke aris'n from my side. That's a big 10-4 brother.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 10:21 PM
August 17, 2006 GMT
(11) Brasil: Piaui and Ceara
Yet another cleaved chicken bites the dust. That makes two in a row. I have to start eating in higher class joints...perhaps tomorrow.
I had been riding the lowland and coastal frontage for almost two months now. Pretty much all of the time since I and we had left the state of Minas Gerias and headed for the Foz, returned to Rio and headed north for Belem, elevations had characteristically remained in the less than 1,000 foot range and more often than not in the 300ft and less range.
Now, here in the state of Ceara an escarpment loomed before me. I spiralled upwards from the parched lowlands at a few hundred feet to 2,800 feet. The late afternoon temperature dropped 10 degrees to 26 C. I welcomed the relief. Parque Nacional de Ubajara was my destination.
The caves of Ubajara were not remarkable but rather normal, as I had suspected. However, not willing to pass up on a good prospect I gave it a try. The location however was spectacular, much better than the attraction itself. The teleferico (cable car) to and from the caves was also and intimidating experience especially with the gusting cross-wind.
The host of the Pousada, where I spent the night, offered an interesting side trip on my way back to the highway. I accepted, but probably misunderstood the instructions or went to the wrong falls. After about 30 minutes the road dead ended at some falls which were unremarkable. I had understood that the road would continue and connect with the main highway.
At the falls I approached an older gentleman to see if he could confirm my suspicions. Intimidated by my poor Portugese he volunteered the assistance of his daughter who spoke perfect English. It turns out she was married to Stan and they live in Lethbridge, Alberta. Stan is from Lethbridge. They were vacationing with her parents who live in Fortaleza. What was looking like a wrong turn had some unexpectedly, pleasant results.
On the highway to Natal I met Eric. He was from Cordoba, Argentina and in my brief encounter I received a paraphrased summary of his life...past, present and future. He was riding an aging 2-Stroke twin, 250cc or so, heavily laden and moving north for the Amazon. The blue smoke from the oil-rich mixture almost passed him as he plodded along at 70 kmph. Any faster he explained and he would get detonation at these low, sea level elevations. He had changed the plugs and the jets to no avail and so settled on this compromise of speed and rpm.
He had liquidated his assets to finance the trip. All of his worldly possessions were contained within the bike and its contents. He would have to work in Venezuela he volunteered as he would be out of money by then. In the meantime life was fine except for the temperment of his bike.
I indicated I was getting off of the highway at the next town and heading for the more relaxing pace of a coastal secondary highway. My eyes followed him down the road as he disappeared in the cloud of blue smoke that was his constant companion. I finished my water break and checked my maps before continuing. My mount was looking rather "top drawer" compared to his. An hour later I passed him on the coastal highway, forewarned of his presence by the blue cloud announcing his passing.
I had an intruder in my room the other night...actually two. A flash of movement caught my eye at the edge of the sink. Not sure what it was, I peered underneath. Hiding beneath the lip of the sink was a tiny tree frog, dark green in color and looking quite contented with his lot.
Early the next morning I tugged on the roll of toilet paper. It felt like it had a heavy counter-weight attached. Then as I overcame the inertia the roll spun forwards. My eye caught the flash of something attached to the roll and I released it and instinctively sprang backwards, expecting a cockroach or some other terrible beast, more frightful in its appearance than deadly. There clinging to the paper was a bright orange tree frog, his suction cup toes firmly attached to the paper as he rode out his wild ride.
At the Parque Hotel Siete Cidades I had still yet another visitor. Returning to my room after supper I settled on the edge of the bed to do some paperwork. A flash of movement caught my eye. I followed it along the edge of the wall where it meets the floor. It was a rat! This place was built in 2001. I had picked it over the older hotel because I had expected it would be rodent free.
I hurried out to get the bell boy/waiter/receptionist. He returned with his mop, which looked more like a witch's broom, and squeezed the life out of the pest. Then he whisked it out of the door, onto the balcony and into the night. Together we checked the room. The rat had probably entered through a loose board in the bathroom ceiling. I kept that door closed with the light on for the rest of the night. "Sorry", was his parting word as he departed to continue with his other duties.
Parque National de Sete Cidades. You don´t have to be in a drug induced stupor to imagine that these natural rock formations are the ruins of ancient cities but it sure helps. That is the conclusion Erich van Däniken came to after visiting the site. "Destroyed and burned by aliens some 15,000 years ago."
Hallucinagens, a wild imagination, a publisher and an audience willing to pay money for your thoughts is a recipe that has served van Däniken well. A dozen or more books theorizing on extraterrestial involvement in everything from the Pyramids at Saquarra to the temples of the Aztecs and the Mayas, to the cities and constructions of the Incas is proof that van Däniken's mind is not at rest but simply disconnected with reality, history, logical thought and evolution. Perhaps he never believed what he wrote. Perhaps he simply invented an alternative choice to create income. That is more plausible than extraterrestials and time travel.
The Park runs on a different program. The entrance fee is nominal at 3 Reals but you can only visit if accompanied by a guide. The guide service costs 15 Reals. At 3-4 hours for a tour the guides don't get rich, but they do make a living.
Cities they were not. Perhaps an interplay of some igneous activity or not, and natural erosionary forces combined with some other interplay of rock composition and weather has resulted in the formation of these weird and unique formations.
Ancient peoples were here but they were of the Cave Dwelling genus, perhaps some 15,000 years ago. They painted the walls with their red ochre formula in shapes of the human hand, lizards, a man (flying?), a solar calendar (some interpretation required), and an assortment of geometric designs perhaps representing....what??? For the most part these petroglyphs have not been studied or deciphered. They are just waiting....
I like it when a young lady greets me at reception. They go out of their way to help you. The men just shrug you off. Today was no exception. At Hotel Pousada dos Ventos here in Paraibu, before I checked in I wanted to see if and when I could take a tour of the Mangrove Swamps. Initially I was told the tours ran only on the weekends. Today was Thursday. I didn't want to wait an extra day.
Perseverence and persuasion paid off. There were four service companies providing the service. Calls were made, a connection was established and yes I could get added to the list of a tour departing tomorrow at 8 AM. They would pick me up and drop me off at the hotel. Now that's service! A man would never had done that, for me! And to top it off I received a 25% discount on the room rate.
Finally I found a restaurant in Brasil that knows how to cook shrimp...Camaraos del diablo...simply perfect. Served with a pasta and a "hot", tomato pepper sauce it was just excellent. I was almost ready to give up I had had so many disappointing dishes. The Mexicans however are still KING of the shrimp dishes.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 07:40 PM
August 14, 2006 GMT
(10) Brasil: Cocoa
Cocoa... Kaa-Cow is how they pronounce it down here. They should know, they grow it and harvest it.
Having not seen a Cocoa Plant before I found the experience rather interesting. It is actually a tree that will only thrive and produce harvestable fruit in a shade environment. Therefore a Cocoa Tree is a secondary level in a rainforest ecosystem. It must be within the forest to thrive.
Cocoa grows as a large oblong fruit, about the size of an elongated soft ball. Each fruit grows separately as a single projection from the trunk or branch and hangs from a stem. Many are attached to a single tree.
Research is developing fruits double the normal size and of varying sweetness and color. Cross-breeding with different plant species also produces some unusual hybrids not yet in commercial production. Over 2,000 people are employed in the CEPLAC complex, from labourers for planting and harvesting to scientists working in Research and Development.
The Cocoa Pod is a thin-shelled fruit which when cracked open yields a cluster of 30 or more oblong seeds about the size of a cashew nut. They are coated in a white, slimy milk which is sweetly addictive when sucked off of the seed. The seed at this stage is not edible.
Commercially the shell is cracked open and the seeds and milk are allowed to ferment in vats for 7-10 days. A sweet liquer is the result. The seeds are then removed from the vat and placed on large grids to sun dry. After drying they are crushed to produce the cocoa powder which is then sweetened and blended to taste. The raw, dried cocoa is not unlike baking cocoa and alot of the local people prefer that taste to the sweetened, sugared flavour of contemporary chocolate as we know it.
In 1998 Brasil lost its world status as a cocoa producer. A virus decimated the crops as it raged unchecked through the cocoa fields. Recovery has been slow as the Philippines were quick to capitalize on the loss.
The CEPLAC Research Facility consisting of roughly 760 hectares studies the viruses and infections to try to be ready with a remedy when the next epidemic occurs. In the meantime Brasilian Cocoa struggles to regain its foothold in the World Market.
The CEPLAC facility with its large land holdings also provides a sanctuary for birds and is a center for studying and protecting the two species of sloth found in Brasil.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 11:45 PM
August 13, 2006 GMT
(9) Brasil: Miscellaneous Ramblings
I found my first scones today.
I walked into the room and scanned my surroundings. There nestled in the corner was a group of scones. I almost overlooked them, but there could be no mistake. They were definitely scones. I don´t know who brought them here...the British I presume. I managed to put three of them out of their misery before I moved on.
The Service Stations here have definitely put the service back in Service Station. They pump the gas. They give you a discount for VISA. If you need some air they pump the air. They use a digital air pump. Just set the required air pressure and hook up the hose. The machine does the rest. There is no need to check it with a pressure gauge...no need to add or subtract air...it is exactly right every time...how very civilized.
Normally Service Stations provide a complimentary cup of coffee or glass of water. On one particularly hot day I was given a cup of ice cream. At the last Service Station the young lady attendant filled my tank, offered my a glass of water and then spotted my empy 5 liter water jug strapped to the bike. She filled it for free. Now that´s service.
The venerable Volkswagon...the people´s car, the gift of the Frueher, lives on into eternity. Even though it is no longer in production Brasil has revitalized the BUG. They sell plastic bodied KIT CARS using the VW drivetrain. Transformed into Dune Buggies they have become an all important component of the Yuppie lifestyle, especially here on the northern coast where sea and sand merge into huge dunes, and life is easy for some at least. Modernized with fuel injection and electronic ignition it has become a reliable and necessary component of beach life.
They are always scratching their balls. Just like baseball players, whenever they get a spare moment the hand drops down and they spend a few minutes massaging those puppies, just like it was the most natural thing in the world to do...perhaps it is. Try it, you might like it.
Way back when, a couple of weeks ago, Sandy and I were checking into a hotel. In my best Portugese I asked the room rate and then with my practiced phrase I asked if I could see the room first. All I received was a blank stare in return. After my third attempt with no success Sandy had had just about enough. "Give me the F---ing Key. I want to see the room," she almost shouted. The clerk sprang into action and moments later we were on our way. I am glad the room was to her liking.
Motorcycle tires are out there in all shapes and sizes...you just need to find them. Today was the day. I spotted a shop with some BIG bikes in the show room. I did a 'U' Turn and pulled up front. After exchanging pleasantries and reviewing the trip with them, it was time to re-direct their attention to MY needs. They didn´t sell tires. Sooo, could they please make a few phone calls to see who had the tire I needed? Carlos stepped to the plate and in no time had located a Michelin Anakee. He even offered to buy it through the shop so that I could save an additional 15%. Now that´s service. 15% of 530 Reals is a good saving.
OK, could Carlos give me directions to the store. No!! We would take the wheel off here and he would drive me to the shop so I could buy the tire. Michelin tires are sold through the Michelin Distributor who sells mostly car tires...easy huh, and sensible too. They however, didn´t mount tires so we were off to another shop that Carlos used. The mounting machine at this shop was broken so the Owner put the wheel in his car and drove to his friend´s shop to get the tire mounted, while we waited. Now that´s service.
Back at the moto store I took Carlos and his wife out for Churrasco (barbeque buffet) while someone else washed and waxed my bike. When I returned it looked cleaner than new. The soap and cleaners they use down here are just incredible. They remove everything but the paint. The cost of all of this service and attention...nothing!! Simply incredible...just the cost of lunch. I am glad that I could at least contribute that much...well, and a CANADA pin.
July 28, 2006 was a memorable day for Brasil. That was the day they became self sufficient in oil...an honorable achievement considering all of their reserves are offshore.
I had a 1/2 chicken for dinner the other day. I had conjured up a mental image of a nicely prepared chicken breast with thigh attached, juices running out as I cut into it, potatoes and salad. I received a plate full of chicken parts cleaved into submission. Broken bones stuck up out of the meat which had been fried to desert dryness. So much for memories.
When I talked to people, especially those at the service stations they returned the same phrase..."You have a lot of courage." Initially I took this to heart and was intimidated by the fact that everyone made the same statement. I took it to mean that Brasil was unsafe to travel in. I pondered the statement. I measured the risks. Finally I had the answer. I am convinced they were referring to the entire trip...To travel South America alone, on a motorcycle. With that conclusion I felt more at ease with my program and moved on to the next refilling station.
Churrasco. You see the signs everywhere. They come in a variety of forms but Carlos showed me the best. You pick your salad and condiments from a salad bar. Then a series of waiters work their way through the restaurant with fresh barbequed parts on a skewer...every cut of beef imaginable, pork, chicken, chicken hearts, etc. etc. When you see something you like the waiter cuts you off a piece or two or three. Eat as much as you want but eat all you take. We did! Not bad for $6.00.
Bony Fish. More often than not I end up with a complete fish on my plate, head and all. Then you have to pick your way through the mess removing bones and fins and assorted body parts as you try to consume the best parts. They seem content with this technique but I much prefer a filet. The trouble is the most interesting sauces and methods of preparation seem to apply only to the fish and not to the fish filets.
Perhaps the sign of a 3rd World country is the fact that they always seem to have trouble with pipes and wires...plumbing and electrical wiring. In almost every country now, I have had at least one room where there are no traps on the sinks or the floor drains have been hooked up to the sewer vent without traps. I stayed in a 2 year old place the other day and it suffered from the same problem. They still haven´t got it figured out yet.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 08:34 PM
August 08, 2006 GMT
(8) Brasil: Salvador
Zimbo Tropical was tucked away on Isla Itaparica in Aratuba.
Philippe from Old France had ended his wanderlust here. He had fallen in love with the country, the land, the climate and at least one of the people. With his local wife, Sueli he had built up nine (9) isolated cabins in his own creation of a tropical paradise.
Heavily planted with banana trees, palms, ferns and dense tropical foliage you could live in isolation without fear of peering into your neighbour´s business. Semi-tame, miniature monkeys moved about the canopy or at eye level if you had something to eat.
Zimbo Tropical was only 35 km from Salvador and its 2.5 Million people but it could have been a million miles away. It was easy to add days into my program to relax in the tropical ambience. The bathtub warm waters of the Atlantic were less than a 5 minute stroll away.
But Salvador beckoned. It was a Love/Hate relationship. It was a Colonial Gem that came with the stigma of crime and a large, black underemployed population. It was the African Soul of Brasil. It grew with the slave trade...that trade in bodies wretched from their Mother Country, packed onto slave ships and chartered to the New World...to Salvador.
Over 10 Million were shipped to the Americas over the 300 year period from 1550 to 1850. 3.5 Million came to South America. From the mines of Potosi, Bolivia to the coastal hell of Brasil many came but few survived.
They worked the banana plantations, the sugar cane fields and the mines. Those riches combined with the gold and diamonds of Diamantina flowed through the ports of Salvador to Europe and fueled a religious frenzy the likes of which the world has not witnessed before or since. A total of 365 churches, cathedrals and basilicas were reportedly erected, one for every day of the year. Some plazas had three and four such constructions, packed side by side and cheek to jowl.
The Carmelites, the Franciscans, the Catholics, the Jesuits...they were all here competing for God´s attention, erecting not just stone boxes to house the sinners but rather artistic monuments smothered in idolatry and gold. Gold, GOld, GOLD!! The walls literally dripped with excess. The vows of chastity and poverty long forgotten as religious fervour was replaced with pagan pageantry.
In their quest to populate the New World with Portugese genes even the priests openly pursued the acts of procreation. Some even kept mistresses within the confines of the Church. One Bishop reportedly wrote: "I feel that I am on the edge of Soddom and Gomorrah and there is naught I can do about it."
And still the slaves came. And still the slaves died. Pelourinho, the whipping post, was where they were brought for sale and beat into submission while awaiting the autioneers gavel. The neighbourhood still exists today but the post is long gone...destroyed, broken, burned and buried in the quest to destroy the memories. But the past can never be destroyed or forgotten. The memories are too severe...too unforgettable...too unforgiveable.
Then the sugar market collapsed, the gold and diamond mines dried up and the slaves won their freedom. It is almost as if in protest of all the pain and suffering and wasted lives they have rebelled against the society that brought them here. They have not worked a day since and continue in that fashion today, contributing to the stigma that is Salvador...Black Africa in the New World!
Salvador is built on the folded grid, bent spoke pattern where there are no parallel or straight streets in the entire layout. It is Old World, Portugese planning at its best, unsurpassed, even in Rio. Added into the mix are one-way streets diverging into infinity.
It was with this chaotic thought that I disembarked the ferry. I could see the "Old Town" from where I stood but could I get there from here?
I had barely touched Terra Firma when my guide materialized before me. Did he have a premonition or had he received a call? It did not matter. I hired him on the spot.
I volunteered the names of some hotels I had selected that sounded promising. The first one was Hotel Convento do Carmo. It had a charming name and a pretentious setting and an undisclosed price since it was new on the market. We navigated the maze of hilly streets, lanes and alleyways until I questioned whether my guide was leading me off to a Sacrifical Salvadoran Slaughter or truly taking me to my destination. His Honda 125 easily outdistancing me as he zigged and zagged through the chaotic frenzy of cars, trucks and minivans and navigated through two foot gaps.
Finally, the pristine majesty of Hotel Convento do Carmo loomed before me. This was no $50 hotel I could tell. The bellhops stood at the ready in their pressed black suits and starched linen shirts. Not one to be intimidated by excess, I parted the crowd and walked to reception in my full riding suit, the cool air-conditioned room saving me from heat exhaustion and collapse.
The rich definitely live different and today I would not share that excess with them. A single room was 1200 Reals but I could have it for only 800 R. Truly a bargain I would have liked to take, but not today. Back on the road and half an hour later I had my poor man´s room that was perhaps better suited for my program.
I warmed slowly to Salvador. In my escorted driving tour of Cidade Alta I saw many contradictions. People flooded the streets in cars and on foot. That provided a sense of security. But, the uneven cobblestone streets amidst the decaying architecture and derelect blacks easily removed any sense of confidence I had gained. There was an untidy, unkempt, insecure feel to the whole area, arrested in part by the highly visible Tourist Police presence. My mind calculated my options as I processed the data. I would stay one day at least.
My guided walking tour totally upset the data I had collected and collated on my riding tour. At street level the same flaws were evident, but the grandeur and beauty of the city opened up before me. It is neither possible, nor practical to iron out 450 years of growth and destruction, wear and tear, decay and neglect to make a city presentable. The cracked mortar showing through the freshly painted stucco added character. The neglect and decay mingled with the restored added a sense of realism to the scene. The grandeur and majesty of man´s creations mingled with his pagan erections to his servient gods added a surreal flavour to the ancient, urban scene. Decaying men lied amongst ruined foundations in stark contrast to the brilliant restorations and hip hop tourists whisking through the scene in a Dali-esque collision between the two worlds.
The Blacks ruled the night. The Whites ruled the Blacks. But who ruled the Whites?
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 10:19 PM
August 02, 2006 GMT
(7) Brasil: North of Rio
Hoteis OK had been our home in Rio. The staff became our friends. We were their only Canadian customers...their only English speaking patrons. We were their first and only moto customers. They all extended a personal welcome when we returned. They all extended a personal goodbye when we left.
Eduardo, the bellman was studying English. He surprised me the first morning of our return with a "Good morning Robert." I clapped him on the back in congratulations. When I left, he stepped forward, extended his hand and said, "Have a good trip." He had been practising that one. I pumped his hand vigorously, fired the twin and with my best "Royal Wave" I departed.
I would miss them all, from the attendants at the parking lot to the entire staff and manager of the Hoteis OK. I especially wanted to say goodbye to Paulo but he was on days off.
Rio was simmering in the 35C heat. The smog descended like a thick fog. You could feel it. You could see it. You could taste it. It blanketed everything for a sixty mile radius. It parted as the bike moved through it and folded closed behind us.
Four lanes merged into one. The traffic snarled. The bike cooked and I baked. Finally I was through it. The humid 35 C air felt cool at 100 kmph. I moved out of Rio, across the ponte (bridge), through the suburbs and slums and out into the country. The road swung inland cutting through yet another variation on the scenery theme.
The tropical, densely treed landscape south of Rio gave way to nude hills and nude beaches further north...an unlikely combination but one much to my liking.
I missed my turn...or not. I don´t know. I didn´t see the intersection but the road swung coastal. Maybe the map was wrong. It didn´t matter. It was going in the same general direction...north.
I chased it to the sea. It followed a rige and then a valley. We crossed through sugar cane fields with their putrid stench...a cross between rotting meat and some other horrible, undefinable smell.
The heavy truck traffic ground the road into ruts. Hundreds of trucks rolled along at a snail´s pace forming a seemingly unending train to infinity. The thermometer climbed to 39 C. I stopped to refuel and cool down. The line-up plodded by as I rested. All of my hard work wasted.
I turned off of the main road and headed for the coast again, this time with purpose. Immediately I could feel the cooling effect. The thermometer plunged 5 degrees Celcius in as many kilometers.
Marataizes was my home...a small fishing village come tourist town...it had a beach. While scouring the fish stalls I met Alfredo. He was a career fisherman with a sense of humour to match.
"Where are you from," he asked.
A brief pause, and then he announced "I´m from Brasil."
I kibitzed. "Brasil!!"
"Yes," he nodded, and we both laughed.
The daily catch was in and he busied himself gutting and skinning fish and splitting fish heads for soup. His well worn cutting block was a testament to years of faithful service. His cutting knife, honed into a crescent moon shape told the same story.
Marataizes was a two horse town, but five of them were hitched out front of Maria Maria´s saloon and cafe. Their owners had ridden into town for a few beers, that evening.
Further north of Rio the population thinned out and the country opened up before me. Broad expanses of sugar cane fields and coffee fincas stretched to the horizon. A more basic lifestyle became evident. People had less and lived with less. There was a sense of poorness. The prosperity of the industrial south disappeared. The traffic thinned out and the roads became better.
Eucylaptis tree farming was happening on a massive scale. Ready to harvest in only seven years the perfectly straight rows of trees were easily removed. Triple trailer semis hauled them to the nearest mill where they were reduced to cellulose and then exported to Europe for further and final processing.
As is typical of countries that have neither the monetary resources nor the technology, foreign countries provide the sevice but at a high cost. Brasil gets a few jobs for planting and harvesting, a little technology and a few more jobs for the first stage of production. The raw product is then shipped overseas for secondary and tertiary processing with the higher technology and additional jobs. The high mark-up that goes with the finished product is kept by the technology provider.
Brasil gets a little, the European multi-national in this case, gets a lot. The pretense of industry is there without the real benefit. The money is in the finished product not the feedstock. A few jobs are created, a few officials at the top get kick-backs for "Inking the Deal" and little changes for the common man. The cycle of poverty, unemployment and under-education continues unabated. It cannot be broken. There is no trickle-down. It is fully and completely top-end loaded. It provides the political pretense of industry and growth without benefit, but with the evils of corruption and graft. It is a cycle that cannot be broken for that is the mantle that foreign investment works under...that is the fuel for the World Engine. There is only the spectre of aid as the raping and pillaging continues into the 21st Century.
Until the disease of corruption is removed, the concept of foreign aid and industry is wasted. Africa is living proof of that...living proof of the trillions upon trillions of dollars in aid and investment that have all but been Pissed into the Black Hole of Corruption. Heaven help us all when the raping and pillaging stops for lack to places to ruin.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 12:17 AM
July 25, 2006 GMT
(6) Brasil: The Way Back to Rio
Statistically Brasil is a 3rd World country. Visually it is something totally different, especially in the section south of Rio de Janeiro to Foz Iguaçu.
The infrastructure is 1st World. The architecture is 1st World. The people are 1st World. I have not seen anything to support the label.
Alcohol fuel (Alcool) is available universally at roughly half the cost of gasoline. LNG is available in the major centers, a step North America has not yet made. Fuel of all sorts is readily available throughout the country.
There are more paved roads than it seems they have the time and money to maintain now that they are built.
The hotel infrastructure is at least as good as North America, if not better. Tourist hotels and facilities rival the best. Prices range from a few dollars to over a thousand for a nightly stay. Water parks and leisure facilities are world class. Beaches are immaculate.
Restaurant food and services have been excellent. Only in one other country south of the USA border have I been able to patio dine without being pestered by vendors and people begging. That other country is Argentina. None of the others can make that claim. More often than not I have had to pick up my food and retire to the sanctity of the interior to avoid the begging. In the poorer countries they follow you inside and stand by your table. Not so in Brasil...at least not in this part of Brasil.
Brasilians are beach people. On the weekends it is a tradition to go to the beach. Any place with a strip of sand and some water seems to attract the crowds...or not.
You would think they would tire of the beaches, but they seem to crave them. Small towns swell to many times their size with the beach crowds. Come Monday everyone has gone home except for one gringo and a gringa.
A hotel room always includes breakfast in the fare...a nice buffet of coffee, fresh fruit, assorted cold cuts and cheeses, breads, sweet breads, cookies and cakes, cereal and juices. The standard American breakfast is but a fading memory. It will be difficult to re-adjust once the time comes.
Brasil is heavily industrialized. Industry is conducted on a world scale. Large factories and plants dominate the landscape. In part, industry has been located outside of major centers to ease the transportation burden and to provide employment in outlying areas...a concept that is no stranger to America.
Brasilian cities have no equal in all of Mexico, Latin America and the rest of South America. Wherever a population base exists a "wall city" quickly evolves. Dozens, even hundreds of skyscrapers for businesses, hotels and apartments spring up. Most city scapes have a "Wall Street" look extending for miles across the urban sprawl. This look is limited to only a few North American cities but here in Brasil it is more common than not.
I think in the background lurk the hidden evils of poor education, illiteracy, poverty and health care. Somehow, this part of Brasil south of Rio de Janeiro has managed to cover those evils...to keep them from prying eyes much the same way America has. Statistically they must be there but they are not on the surface like in Mexico, Latin America and the rest of South America.
Brasil...you paint a pretty picture of a country confident of the present and proud of your past. You are a definite crowd pleaser...you are a 10.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:27 AM
July 16, 2006 GMT
(5) Brasil: The Journey to the Falls
We zig-zagged our way south to the Falls...the Foz...Foz Iguaçu for the Brasilians, Foz Iguazu for the Argentians and Foz Iguassu for the Paraguayans.
Hotel Fazendas became our home. We sought them out as we travelled to enhance the experience. We had given up on towns and cities...traded the crowds and cars for the placid solitude of the Country Inn.
We became spoiled. Travelling in the low season we were often the only ones at the Inn. Other times we shared the complex with one other couple. The entire staff was at our beckon call.
The roads meandered through the rolling hills which continued forever. In all of our travels we never drove out of the hills...never found a flat piece of earth or a straight stretch of road.
The road was built over the hills and not through them. The gradients at times were quite steep. The heavy trucks roared down the hills at 140 kmph and ground their way up the other side at 10 kmph. We on the other hand maintained a more consistent velocity of 90-100 kmph.
Able to pass at will we defied all of the rules of the road, the signs and the markings. My navigator, unaccustomed to my behavior, surely questioned my judgement at times but was in no position to alter it. Have no fear. It was a well calculated move with an adequate margin of safety. It just didn´t look like it at the time.
The Portugese on the other hand defy all logic when executing a pass. It seems they have not the patience to wait for an opportune moment or the horsepower to execute the move once the time has come. They poke their noses into the oncoming traffic at gay abandon narrowly avoiding impact. They pull out into oncoming traffic before the oncoming vehicle has moved past them. They truly are a suicidal bunch...the whole lot of them.
Whatever the reasons, the results are catastrophic more often than not. With a population of 160 million more than 100,000 die in traffic accidents each year. That is at least twice the USA fatality rate for twice as many people. That means for an equivalent population the Brasilian fatality rate is about 4 times the USA rate.
However, it is even worse than that. Since over one half of the population lives below the poverty line the number of vehicles is substantially less than in the USA...perhaps as many as 10 times less. That makes the carnage on the roads unfathomable. The poor have their just reward. Trapped in a never ending cycle of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy they are the ones building the roads...the very same roads that the 20% of the rich use to end their lives in disproportionate numbers.
The Brasilians are proud of the Itaipu Dam. And why shouldn´t they be? It is touted as the largest operational dam in the world and they are quick to point out that it will not be surpassed by the Three Gorges Dam in China when it is completed. I am not in a position to judge, but they believe it here.
But what is the cost of this infamy? At a final cost of $18 Billion it will certainly never pay for itself. After 20 years of operation it has returned only $2 Billion in royalties. It has buried the world´s largest waterfall, Sete Quedas, and created a 1400 sq. km lake. Environmentally it has changed local weather patterns and populations of plants, animals and indigineous peoples. The ultimate effects will not be realized for decades.
We took a bus tour to see the dam. That was the only way. We settled into the luxurious comfort of a padded seat, surrounded by cool, climate controlled air. We temporarily lost our minds and thought this was the way to travel. We arrived at our destination and our bus and twenty others disgorged their contents. Hundreds of tourists snapped pictures of everything that moved and didn´t move. They crowded the railings for the best shots. They elbowed and shoved each other to try to be first.
We could never be part of this. Who were we kidding. We moved away from the crowd anxious to return to our two wheeled freedom.
In spite of such engineering feats and the fact that Brasil is heavily industrialized it is still a 3rd World Nation...a label they despise. However, it takes more than industry to become a 1st World Nation. Brasil is industrialized but they forgot about their people on the road to commercial enterprise. They turned their backs on 40% of their population and left them illiterate, poor and living in squalor. Today, the richest 10% control 54% of the nation´s wealth.
The disproportionate distribution of wealth is staggering. The misery of the poor in this wonderful country compares with that of the poorest countries in Africa and Asia.
No Brasil, you are still 3rd World with a thin 1st World layer. You need to provide education, health care and reform. Then and only then will you be eligible to climb the ladder.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:40 AM
July 08, 2006 GMT
(4) Brasil: The Mountains cont´d
Big Al continued to work throughout his lifetime.
He decorated Churches and built edifices. Everywhere around Ouro Preto and in the neighbouring towns and villages his work can be found. Perhaps his most famous work is the Twelve Prophets which are located in front of the Church in Conganhas.
In Ouro Preto, his home town, the majority of his work can be found. Ouro preto (black gold) and the name of the town whose fortune was derived from the mineral, provided the funding to finance the many churches Al was commissioned to build.
The Igreja do Carmo holds perhaps the single greatest Oratorie collection in the New World, if not the World. We gazed upon this magnificent spectacle in all of its splendor and uniqueness. Never before had I experienced such a collection. Never before had I understood the value and use of Oratorios. I had encountered them throughtout Mexico, Latin and South America...beside roads, in mines, on mountains. I had gazed upon their presence without understanding their place in this world. Now I knew.
......................................... ................................. ......................
Today was the first day of the rest of my life.
I walked into the operating room in the Brasilian Hospital wearing only a blue hospital gown. Only the day before, I had entered the realm of the Portugese hairless sect as my parts had been shaved in preparation for the day´s events.
A stainless steel operating table separated me from the doctor. He was flanked by two nurses. A tray of instruments lay on one side of the table...scalpel, forceps, scissors and a variety of other tools.
I walked up to the table and looked silently into the doctor´s eyes. He nodded. I reached under my gown and placed Harry on the table. Harry recoiled in horror at the cold, septic feel of the table. I reached back under my gown and placed him on the table once again.
The doctor leaned forward. "There is a lot of swelling" he volunteered, as he prodded Harry.
"That is his normal size", I returned.
"We must proceed. It is for the best." With that he reached over and picked up the scalpel. He glanced back at me for an instant, then looked intently at the task before him. A thin line of blood traced the path of the scalpel. Forceps pried the folds of skin apart. I felt something probe inside the opening and then Harry was placed on the table.
I stared upon him with sadness. We all looked silently at his lifeless form. Then the nurse stepped forward, snatched him up and placed him on a tray. In a single fluid motion she turned around and retreated to the door.
I tried to speak but the words wouldn´t come. She exited the door and disappeared down the hall. I tried desperately to say something...to shout after her but nothing came out. I motioned frantically.
"It will be OK," the doctor said, finally. "You have two. You can still enjoy a normal sex life."
"It is not the same. I grew up with Harry. We travelled together. We lost our virginity together. We were one."
"You will be just fine" was all he said. "Call me if you need help", were his last words as he exited the room.
The nurse helped me to the dressing room. I undid my gown and let it drop to the floor. The image in the mirror frightened me. I looked lop-sided. I had lost the symmetry of my form.
I dressed slowly and stepped out into the street. The sounds of the city rushed up to greet me. People were walking, laughing and playing. They were having fun. Suddenly I felt very alone. I felt different. I retreated to my room.
I awoke with a start. I sat bolt upright in bed. Sweat coursed my brow. I threw back the covers and looked upon my form. Harry was still there snuggled up against his other brother Hairy. The Control Center lay coiled across them planning his next move.
I was whole. It had all been a bad dream. The doctor with the glass eye. The topless nurse with the stiletto nipples (well not all of it was bad). The operation. Today would be a good day. I dressed and rushed out into the street....
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 07:38 PM
June 29, 2006 GMT
(3) Brasil: The Mountainous Center
Rio was just too big. It had outgrown the infrastructure and administration that sought to control it...to govern it...to create sense out of chaos.
With close to 9 million people the novelity of being in Rio wore thin in a hurry. The crush of people and traffic overwhelmed the senses and the sense of well being. We were seemingly the only two white people in town. We were overly conspicuous as tourists and foreigners. We were easy marks. It was time to leave and move on to some place more to our liking.
Homeless people abounded. They filled the parks and benches. They slept in the streets and doorways...anywhere they could find a patch of grass or a piece of concrete. The smell of stale urine reeked through the streets. The desperation that was Rio drove us out. The city was crumbling before our eyes. Structures and buildings that were once proud edifices to a time honored past were rotting into ruin. There was not enough time and money to arrest the decay. We left.
We headed west, into the mountains. Our target was not far away, because we had to get out of Rio first. We mapped our course and set out on a Saturday when traffic was less than on a work day.
It looked easy. A left, another left and then a right at the National Museum. The museum wasn´t there. We missed it somehow. We moved on, following the flow into oblivion. I could see the highway physically and on the GPS. I just couldn´t get there from here. Finally I pulled up beside a police cruiser parked on a side road.
I explained that we were looking for the road to Petropolis. He started to explain in Portugese and readily saw there were too many instructions. He turned on his flashing lights and beckoned me to follow. Ignoring STOP signs and RED lights we moved through the traffic. Only a few blocks away was our Exit. He stopped in the middle of the road and I pulled up beside. He wished me well. We shook hands and then we were off. The GPS tracked the road.
A few kilometers away, the road split. We didn´t see the signs...we missed the Exit. Suddenly, we were heading for Sao Paulo. Usually in Brasil there are RETOURNOs after an exit to assist the unfamiliar in recovering from a mistake. There were none. After a few kilometers I took an exit to a side street and crossed back under the freeway looking for an Access Ramp.
The signs were there. My spirits picked up momentarily. They directed me further away from the freeway and into a poor neighbourhood. The area looked rough. It became rougher. Still the signs encouraged me to continue...deeper into the ruins.
We moved on apprehensively. Enquiring eyes peered into our helmets. As long as we kept moving we should be fine. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity another sign appeared and we swung back towards the freeway. Minutes later we were on the ramp and accelerating...looking for the sign directing us to Petropolis.
The road continued north and west to Brasilia. Is was the main road link with the Capital. It was a four lane divided highway...two separate roads...one exiting Rio and one entering Rio, as it squirmed up and down the mountains that formed a barrier with the coast. The traffic flowed, but 65 kmph was a good average speed. The road had more corners than a pretzal. It was delightful.
Petropolis was jammed. It was too close to Rio. We could not escape the crush. They were having a beer festival. Traffic was backed up for miles. We took a room on the edge of town and enjoyed our solitude. To hell with Petropolis. It became unimportant...
We moved on to Saô Juan del Rei. We must have encountered a thousand motorcycles that day. Travelling in groups of two, four, five, ten or even a baker´s dozen, they moved on towards us. It was Sunday. Rio´s bikers had been out terrorizing the countryside all weekend. They were now returning for the work day tomorrow. Harleys, BMWs, Hondas, Ducatis and a solitary Yamaha. They were all there. Hundreds of Harleys, dozens of BMWs and more crotch rockets than you would normally encounter in a lifetime...some with their Pacha Mamas glued onto the pillion...others solo. Motorcycles dominated the road. It was a pleasure to witness...
Saõ Juan del Rei was where we first met Aleijadinho. He was Brasil´s Michaelangelo, living from 1730 until 1814. Christened Antonio Francisco Lisboa, he quickly earned the unflattering nickname Aleijadinho which he carries to this day and which labels his work.
You see, Big Al (as we came to call him) lost the use of his hands and his legs when he was still a young man. However, disabilities could not hold him back. He had a mission in life and he moved forward to complete it. With hammer and chisel strapped to his forearms and someone to move him around, he wrought art out of stone.
Aleijadinho...Little Cripple...as he became affectionately known went on to become Brasil´s most revered and respected artist...a Michaelangelo...a legend.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 05:18 PM
June 19, 2006 GMT
(2) Brasil: Rio de Janeiro
I purposely planned my entry to Rio de Janeiro for Sunday. I assumed there would be less traffic than on a normal day. I was not totally prepared for what I experienced.
I entered from the coastal south. The two lane coastal highway fanned into an eight lane divided carriageway. It was simply deserted. There could not have been more than a dozen vehicles occupying the space in both directions. It was like a scene from Mad Max or War of the Worlds. There was little evidence of life.
Occasionally a vehicle blurred by me at twice the normal speed. Other than that I enjoyed the weird sensation of travelling alone in a megatropolis. I moved into the city centre. Still no life, except for a few street peddlars. The city had an untidy look; an unkempt feel. I moved on with trepidation. How could a place this large be empty?
I longed for the small towns I had spent the last week with. I longed for the beaches and the green of the countryside. I longed for some sign of life...
I found my hotel and went through the motions of checking in. I really wondered if I should be doing this. I felt like leaving town before I had arrived. I decided to give it a try. I could always move tomorrow. I had ridden enough for today.
The hotel was a delight. My spirits picked up immediately. The room was wonderful. The staff helpful, resourceful and reassuring. I hit the street. I did a two block loop. Incredible! I saw more remarkable architecture in that small space than I had seen in the past month. Sights abounded...parks, buildings, restaurants and people...yes, there were people here too. Wonderful. My spirits climbed exponentially. This was the right spot. I was staying.
How can you tell you are in Brasil? I know it´s another question and I am probablly pushing you all to the limit, but I pose it anyway. The breakfast decision should be over by now so your mind should be free to wander...but don´t let it go to far. It might get lost.
BRASIL...the land of beaches. Perched mostlly above the Tropic of Capricorn, it is a country where people enjoy being topless. Clothes get in the way down here. And why restrict yourself to topless when you can go bottomless too?
Yes, a heavenly delight. With all surface hair removed the body parts were tanned to an even, light bronzen hue and buffed to a mirror like finish. I gazed contentedly on forbidden fruit. Was that my smile reflected back to me or was I simply imagining things?
I had truly arrived at Heaven´s Gate. The door was open just a crack. St. Peter don´t test me now. I had but a few brief days before life would return to normal with the arrival of my wife. But wait...I was never normal. What would change? Nothing! I returned to reality...
Yes, that was my reflection..."Jesus, God Lucie keep passing the open windows."
There are a lot of Black people here.
"Say what, mahnn. Who youse calln black?"
In all of the other countries there was no evidence of a black society. Of course we already know that in the altiplano regions of Peru and Bolivia the blacks cannot survive. In Chile and northern Argentina I had encountered none. Here in Brasil evidence of the slave trade was everywhere. They formed a large component of society. Further north they would be even more dominant.
There are a lot of Taint people here.
Taint...taint white, taint black...Taint
"What did I tell you."
And...there was a token white guy...or maybe two.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:37 AM
June 17, 2006 GMT
(1) Brasil: The South
What a difference a border makes. I left Argentina at the Foz and entered Brasil. Immediately the country changed.
The land became more open. Gently rolling hills stretched to the horizon. A lush greenness covered the land. Farming on a massive scale was happening here. Corn, sugar cane, mixed farming, cereal crops, tea. It seemed that just about anything would grow in the rich, red earth. Grain elevators were stacked ten and twelve deep, fifty feet in diameter. Massive tractors ruled the land. The scale was at least equal to what is evident in the mid-west and west of North America, if not greater.
Of course, not everyone is happy in Brasil...or perhaps something is lost in the translation of this Billboard.
The road carved its way through the valleys and over the hills. It was a motorcycle rider's delight. It went on forever. It lasted all day and into the next and the next...would it never end?
Thousands of good paved roads went seemingly everwhere, like spaghetti on a plate. Massive bridges spanned the rivers. Large scale interchanges were stacked where the roads approached cities. The cities, even out here were on a grand scale. Hundreds of high rise buildings, offices and apartments. Nothing was small about Brasil, least of all the size of the country. Larger than continental USA it would take some time to traverse this land and get a feel for what Brasil was all about. That was my mission, not to be confused with the Jesuit Missiones, which we are not going to talk about any more.
Being in Brasil is like travelling in a foreign country. Gone is the familiar language I had grown to understand and use. It had been replaced with Portugese. Initially, I had thought that Spanish and Portugese shared a lot of common words. Now, I think they are all different. Even the numbers which appear the same in the book are spoken diffeently. It is hard to make sense of the numbers as uttered...sometimes I can...sometimes I can´t. They speak fast and with a different inflection than I was accustomed to in Spanish. Everything is a blur.
"How much is a room for one person?"
"OK, let´s move on. Can I see the room?"
"Why didn't you say so before. I´ll try another hotel."
And so it goes. One word at a time.
I was 4 kilometers from the coast as the cuckaburro flies (wrong country but it´ll do). Perched on the Brasilian altiplano at 2235 ft ASL I looked down upon Caraguatatuba and my first view of the Brasilian coastline. Just one of many resort cities and towns that provide the type of relaxation and entertainment Brasil is famous for. I nudged my front wheel over the edge. 24 kilometers later I was at the coast.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 09:14 PM