'Jeri' is a pin-prick of a place on the Northern shores of Brasil. I headed there because it sounded like a convenient stopping over point on the long haul between Fortalezea and Belem. As so often happens in Brasil, if you get road signs they are plentiful, too numerous until a crucial point, like an intersection, when they diasappear altogether giving no clue to the next move. every direction sought is contradicted by the next, and instructions are vague.
This day, I made a detour of some 70 clicks before I realised my mistake, and had to retrace my route with the extra inconveience of a downpour. The same happened again, and I spent the next hour exploring a sandy, seldom visited village, much to the consternation of it's inhabitants
Eventually, found some signage which put me some 12 kms off-target, at which point I was approached by 'guides'. 'No', I say, I feel I am almost there as I shoot off with them in hot pursuit. Koritsimou performs well as we hurtle through the sand and gravel, startling chickens, pigs and people as we go. Deep sand is followed by deeper, where, until I can free Koritsimou, bemused gangs of locals watch on.
Closer and closer I get, but where are the homes, the bars, the people? And then there is no more, just sand, BIG SAND, dunes as high as a 7 storey building. By this time my escorts have caught up, offering to guide me to 'jeri' and proffering accommodation. I ask 'how much?' as I try to look casual and spark up a crushed Marlboro. They tell me 'R$s 40'. Well, I've used one of these fellas before and it was ok, a little pousada at the right price, and well... it is getting dark. In my new spirit of 'openess', I accept with a little grudging for effect. I am almost disbelieving when they tell me that we have another 26km to go. I thought I was pretty much there.
These two scallywags are gong for it, two-up on a 125 sans licence plate. I am tired, with a well-laden bike and half a clutch lever, the result of an early morning mishap in Fortalezea. At one point they almost wipe out a piglet as we fly past, and through, the usual menagerie of livestock. The reaction is a toothless grin from the curly-headed pillion passenger gazng back at me.
They guide me inexpertly through lumps bumps, gravel and sand. We cross wooden bridges, a lush river delta, burnt out coco groves. The setting is surreal as the sun slides below the dunes.
Suddenly, a stop, and they explain that now we need to let the air out of my tyres, as even deeper sand lies ahead. This is all getting a bit much, and I curse, just to let them know that I have been happier. My suspicions are rising also, as I contemplate what a perfect setting for a mugging this is. I try to decide which peices of luggage I really need to keep whilst I ponder the positioning of my pincer pliers.
Suddenly, we break out onto a huge expanse of silken, moon-bathed beach and my heart leaps in wonder and relief, but where is the village? They point excitedly into the distance where lights flicker. We all grin - lets ride!
70 kms of beach and dune ride with a river crossing thrown in - it all took me about 4 hours!
Elisa, my landlady at 'Pousada Juventude' - I ended up staying 4 days.
Almost there - waiting for the ferry at Camocim
For some reason, I feel like singing "Gilda is a Punk Rocker". It is true that hours and hours spent sitting on a bike watching the road slide beneath you can have strange effects. This is one of them, but I feel it unlikely that Gilda was a Punk Rocker by virtue of her birthplace, (Fortaleza). However, she is of the correct age, dies her hair jet black, calls herself "Sheriff" or "Witch", probably rides a broomstick, is seldom sober and would have made a rather good Punk, I feel.
She is a great character, and from the moment I told her to, 'calm down', and parked my stinking, muddy bike in the hallway of her hostel, she seemed to take a shine to me.
Like all aspects of this journey to date, people and places have found me, rather than me seeking them out. It often feels like the journey drives itself, and I am present merely to bear witness. Perhaps this is just crap, perhaps things occur simply because there need to be occurences. Perhaps all the journey contributes, is to multiply the ingredient factors, allowing increasing permutations of possibilities - so be it.
I took Gilda for a ride on the bike in order to arrange my boat tickets, although she hated riding pillion. She also invited me to the home of a friend in a Favela, where we ate a wonderful Feijoada and drank too much beer. I wondered how our host, 'Jo Jo', could afford all this, and offered to pay towards the beer. I was pleased that my offer was not refused. One of the things I have learnt on this journey, is to accept graciously the kindness of strangers, but the unexpected prescence of gringos eating all your food and drinking all your booze calls for a bit of balance.
This is an e-mail that I sent from Belem to a very few dear friends;
On the way to the internet cafe today, I passed a man with no arms or legs, just a head and torso balancing on the pavement. It made me smile, he looked so weird and happy.
Just a little message to the people who I think give a damn...
I am on my way up the Amazon tonight, 4 days in a hammock, banana-shaped. Oh boy, you should have seen the palaver getting Koritsimou on the boat. Just thought I'd let you know that despite ongoing mental problems, and a recent malaise which I put down as much to having a dose of something nasty as anything else, I am well.
I like Belem, and will be sorry to leave. It's equatorial and lush, remnds me of Guayaquil sometimes. I'm also reminded of the faded splendour and green open spaces of Buenos Aires. I cannot help thinking that the French had a hand in the architecture and sense the meddling of other colonial hands everywhere.
I was raised in a port city, and there are the same resonances here. It is cosmopolitan in an unselfconscious way. I am less of a curiousity or cash-cow here and more of a guest. It still has a little of The Frontier about it.
The weather changes in an instant here and nobody is ever ready for it. I emerged from a "cybercaf" last night with a heavy heart, 52 minutes earlier the day was hot, bright and dry and now it is cool, dark and raining. No matter, shorts and flip-flops are equally serviceable for either. And just like the rain, from nowhere, I hear the familiar sounds of a street procession. As usual, a massive PA presides, pumping out samba, accompanied by a multitude of drummers banging out a frenzied rythm on anything to hand. Everyone else gyrates and the most outllandishly beautiful women sweat sex and parade like fillies whilst crazed drunks try to keep pace. The air is thick with passion and violence, and fists fly.
I guard my pockets and folow close to the wall. This is not a show for tourists. I can enjoy for a while, but I have been here before. I am too white, too tall, a gringo, and soon the sideways glances and nods of the head will start.
This music, these people, inexplicably move something deep in me. I will take my opportunity to break away from the throng and there will be tears in my eyes.
The main attraction in town
Marcos risking all for the perfect sunset photgraph
An unexpected highlight was crossing the 120 km stretch through the Waimiri Reserve, a little way short of the Equator en route to Boa Vista. A lot of Brazilian countryside is disappointing. Obviously, the areas in proximity to roads are the first to be settled, and native vegetation makes way for the ubiquitous beef cattle. In other areas, particularly where sugar cane is grown, the sides of the road are constantly on fire, making for a spectacular display when riding at night - lorries swerve to avoid the flames, in fear that their cargoes will catch alight.
The Waimiri Reserve, however, brought home to me how this part of the world would really look if it were not for man's interfering hand. Forbidden from negotiating the road between the hours of darkness, I thought I might just have time to make it as the sun neared the horizon. My encounter was wonderfully atmospheric, almost mystical, as I flew through an enchanting primeval land. Every nook was crammed with different species of vegetation, towering into six separate levels. There were black pools presided over by white storks, whilst parrots chattered in the trees.
The experience was a little scary. Forbidden to stop, film or take pictures, because of "incidents", I almost expected to see an Indigeno crouched in the undergrowth, spear in hand. The indigenous people of this land objected strongly to the construction of the road, and they made those feeling plain. My thoughts raced, and turned to concerns over fuel, punctured tyres or mechanical breakdown.
To emerge unscathed just as the sun was setting was a relief, but depressing too as I caught sight of the "normal" Brasilian land that comprises desolation and beef pastures as far as the eye can see.
Where am I - Still in Venezuela?
Isla Margarita was a gas - 16 days of Sun, Salsa and well...ah hem, Rum, but more of that later, things to do.
I spent 2 hard days, slogging across the hot, dry plains of Venezuela from Puerto de la Cruz to get here. Being stopped every couple of hours and having all my stuff pulled apart by fascists, (sort it out Chavez), was a bit of a pain. I have learnt, also, to make the best of these situations. My aims are;
1 To make them smile against all their best endeavours not to.
2 To refuse to part with any money, (or 'presents'), despite implied threats/facial contortions
3 To leave them thinking I actually enjoyed having my bags unpacked and unceremoniously inspected.
4 To educate them to the fact that England is part of Great Britain, not the USA.
Arriving all of a sudden in the foothills of the Andes was a shock. It was like an amphetamine rush - maybe it is the light, maybe the altitude. The arid, dirty, noisy, smoking plains were replaced imperceptibly, (but, I'm definitely getting something), by the breathtaking beauty that only mountains can bring. I could not stop stopping, to look at the incredible Alpinesque views, listen to the silence punctuated only by the gurgling of streams or the birdcall. To me places like this represent true freedom, such a contrast and relief from my experiences of this country in it's seige-like state. Why, even the women became more beautiful, Indian features enhanced.
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