A bad day!!!, but also a good one in that I reached my target destination, and in one piece...
The night was spent in a Brazilian love shack, somewhere you can rent by the hour. I have resolved to return one day in order to stay-in, and photograph Brazil's "motels", for they are weird, wonderful and some of them damned luxurious! On this occasion, the privacy afforded meant a complete lack of windows, secluded garaging, (a plus!), and a very seedy atmosphere.
There was some interesting stuff on the box that evening, as well...
Not as early a start as I had planned, and I had just loaded up the bike, when the whole thing toppled over bending my brake lever, but luckily nothing else. Before I could get her vertical I had to remove all the very, by now, muddy luggage - such a Mick Pugh moment!
Having got up a head of steam, I could not for the life of me, locate the correct road North. I rode up and down endlessly whilst the heavens opened. Not an unfamiliar problem in itself, except guess who had forgotten his waterproofs? I decided to brave it out and press-on to see if I could leave the now torrential rain behind. Eventually, after 40 km or so, I conceded to the elements and decided to make a pit-stp. As the the bike had now started mis-firing badly, and as I didn't know whether to blame the fuel, the rain, both or neither I decided to top-up anyway. Whilst astride the bike, I opened the fuel cap and started to dismount. As I did so, the bike came with me. I ended up on the deck with with a fully loaded bike and fuel pouring from the tank all over yours truly - a comedy moment indeed, as we all scrambled, slipping and sliding, in frantic attempts to right the bike. Back in the UK, this would have been an incident worthy of informing the CFDA and closing the gas station, but not here. They hardly batted an eyelid, and I was amazed to see people continuing to smoke, not 3 metres away. After stopping for some food and multiple coffees, I was approached by someone I presumed to be the owner of the restaurant. He was keen to learn of my intentions and equally keen to inform me as to the quantity and quality of women in the North East of Brazil.
Once more on the road and the bike behaved no better, but I did manage to procure some very rubbery waterproofs on the way.
As I reached a point some 100km outside Florianopolis, it seemed like a total eclipse was in progress as the sky blackened, the rain beat down reducing visibility to some 10 metres and I was treated to a display of thunder and lightening immediately above my head. I spotted a supermarket, itīs lights flickered wildly pending a power cut. Diverting to the car park, I joined other bikers mostly dressed in T-shirt and shorts, where we sheltered good-humouredly from the worst storm I have witnessed.
Half an hour or so, and although the storm had only partially abated, I decided I should carry on. As I got up to full speed, I could see a double line of traffic up ahead, a car on my side of the road, heading my way, at a rate of knots. The driver was flashing his lights madly, and only by jammng on and hugging the lumpy nearside of the road could I avoid this lunatic, or should I say, criminal.
As I arrived in Florianopolis, somewhat more soggy than I left Osarios, I reflected, gratefully, when checking into the hotel, that had I been in a car, little could have been done to avoid a head-on collision.
I managed to exit the city with out too much of the hassle that has become the norm. Philosophically, I have come to accept it as a means of exploring my environment more thoroughly.
The narrow mountainous roads through the Serra del Mar seem to have a reputation as a kind of "death valley" because of the huge numbers of lorries plying their trade to and from Sao Paulo. Wrecks line the route acting as a constant reminder of deadly possibilities. On negotiating another bend in these challenging roads, I came upon uprooted vegetation scattered across the road, (which I later realised was a local hazard warning). This was followed by twisted road furniture, and finally, a lorry skewed across the carraigeway. A sight I have since become all too familiar with.
Walter - he drives lorries and drinks tequila. He transports stones 11 times a year from Fortaleza to Curitiba, some 9,000 km. He hates it.
It was in these hills that I met Joao Charles, the owner of a Yamaha Tenere. This was unusual in itself, as although to Brazilians, motorcycling is almost a religion, they tend to worship at the temple of Honda.
My new friend informed me that he worked for Samur, the equivalent of our emergency ambulance service, and when he learnt that I was in the same business, he offered to show me their facilities, some 50km away.
The station was staffed by a doctor, nurse, two drivers and 2 dogs, with a basic response vehicle and a UTI, (Intensive Therapy Unit, NOT Urinary Tract Infection!). Dr. Berragano treated me to some video footage and a gruesome set of slides showing me the type of work they undertake, put simply, trauma, trauma amd more trauma, with only about 2 cardiac conditions a month. The slides continued: truck on truck, truck on pedestrian, truck on tree, and with resources that come no way near matching the calibre of work they undertake - true heroes.
Thanking them for their hospitality, I moved onto the sprawling mass they call Sao Paulo. I had not reckoned on the complete lack of road-signs, which made the incredible friendliness and will to help of other moto-riders very welcome. But to no avail, and I got hopelessly lost as usual. With darkness looming and with no obvious direction to head in, I was failing to find Santos, and the beach at Praia Grande. It was at this point that I realised that I had no lights, (I had not planned on riding at night, anyway ), so I decided my best means of defence was to tailgate a lorry. This proved a horrendous experience as we overtook crawling lorries, and faster moving ones sweeping downhill, inches from me, all the time spiralling, cornering, cornering with the constant smell of burning brakes filling my helmet and the hydraulic screams filling my ears, all the time, darker and darker - no moon.
Eventually, I found Praia Grande, I checked in at the first hotel I found without looking at the room. They invited me to leave my bike at reception. When it's all over for the day and it's been this chalenging, you feel tired, but you know you're alive.
The next day, this is what greeted me, the beaches at Flori were wonderful but now I had sun aswell...
The road to Rio~
The drivers in Rio are the craziest yet. I witnessed my first accident within minutes of arriving in Copacabana. They treat the roads of the city as a race track, which is ok if you know where you are going. I didn't.
The beaches of Copocabana and Ipanema are undoubtedly beautiful, but normal by Brazilian standards. The city is expensive, and well...overrated. I guess as a week's clubbing package it's quite good.
Managed egress surprisingly easily.
The benefits of an early start. I could have taken a handful of wonderful pictures, that morning...
Arriving in Salvador by boat, one Sunday afternoon...
Bahia - mile upon mile of white sand and swaying coco palms...
I prepare to depart Natal after more than 2 weeks here, getting the the essentials done, like sorting the bike out, resting, catching up on e-mails and burning myself to a crisp. Tomorrow I head West towards Fortalezea, Sao Luis and the Amazon where I will catch the boat towards Venezuela at Belem.
I have seen many facets of Brazilian life. In fact, Brazil appears to me as many countries depending on the perspective you have at a given moment in time. This country is fascinating and as diverse as the races that inhabit it, that is not to say it is not rascist, as some people will have you believe: generally, the whites have the money, the blacks don't, 'social' division runs deep, and wealth nestles alongside poverty everywhere. In my opinion, this is a deeply sexist society too, as the large numbers of North European males here, will happily testify to.
Certainly, from a motorcyclist's perspective, this is a dangerous country, and it seems almost that way by design, notwithstanding the nation's penchant for reproducing photographs of laryngectomy patients on the back of ciggy packets. Smoking won't do anything to me that Brazilian motorists haven't tried to do already. In fact drivers in Brazil are BAD, and what they lack in skill, they make up for in agression.
Having said all this, for thousands of kilometres, I have encountered nothing but smiling, curious faces, and apart from whilst riding, never felt threatened. At times, the unconditional generosity and will-to-help have overwhelmed me, and caused me to retreat, mobbed as eager hands compete to tighten a drive chain or bolt-on loose parts.
In Natal, I have been made welcome by B-17 Motoclube, and in particular by exiled Glaswegian, George (Escosses) McMillan, and Marcio (The Bat) Antunes, who expertly worked on my bike, above and beyond the call of duty. Due to their hospitality I have been lucky enough to celebrate New Year, paddling in the sea at Buzios and enjoy necking Oysters in a bar overlooking the exquiste Pipa Beach and coastline south of Natal.
Bringing in the catch - VERY early on the beach at Macarajui -
Still wriggling, some looked a little small to me...
'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.
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