South America-Another Story

Discussion in 'Ride Reports' started by dave, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. dave

    dave New Member

    Public Enemy to Public Hero !!!

    Parking is something we always have to consider when looking for a guest house. This isn't as much of a problem as it may seem because most places are happy to find some corner of the courtyard, corridor, reception or cafe for them despite the coating of mud or dust. You would think steps might be a problem but it's amazing what you can get a Transalp up with the enthusiastic help of a landlord keen to fill beds. Strangely, in all our travels this is the only time the ground clearance of the Transalp (which is no motocrosser) has been a problem. The Hotel in Santa Cruz was just such a place and the bashplates left their customary scars on the front step early one morning as we headed out for a day ride.

    Now, many of you would imagine that months of endless touring in exotic places is the ultimate motorcycle experience (and you may be right) but I must confess even now I miss that typical Sunday day-ride experience. But this was a Sunday and we were off for the day, no luggage, no boarders and we even knew the road! Admitidly your average day-ride probably doesn't climb 1200m out of the jungle to the ancient ruins of a mystical civilisation but when it comes to the ride, well, I for one was more interested in scrubbing the edges of my tyres.

    The road from Santa Cruz is virtually all tarmac and once it reaches the edge of the flat jungle basin with its many villages, speed bumps and kids it winds its way up a lush forested range with towering cliffs and tumbling rivers. This is the road we came into Santa Cruz on but then it was shrouded in dense wet cloud. Now we were going back to check out the ruins of Samaipata and the sky was bluest blue. Jane won't let me bore you with a corner by corner account but suffice to say that we arrived with big smiles. The view from Samaipate was breathtaking and the 3000 year old dwellings had some of the best locations you could ever wish for but I'm afraid it was the long tight corner sequences that sat my heart thumping that day.

    For Gerhard, our German companion, it was a different experience that got his heart going. On our way back through the dozens of villages around Santa Cruz one of the kids playing by the road suddenly ran right into the side of his bike as he road past! We were going slowly thanks to the speed bumps but the 4 year old was knocked to the ground and hit his head when he fell. It is a sickening thing to happen, but luckily it wasn't any more serious than needing a couple of stitches. We stopped and Jane accompanied the casualty to the village medical center while Gerhard and I became the uneasy focus of a gathering crowd. Once Jane returned and we were happy the kid was receiving treatment we decided to continue on our way but certain elements of the crowd had other ideas and tried to stop us demanding cash. Gerhard being so clearly blameless we dismissed these claims and pushed our way back to the road.

    None of us felt very happy riding back towards town and when we were flagged down by cops at a checkpoint we knew what it was about. You could tell it wasn't your usual check by the way they unbuttoned their gun holsters as we approached! (We reckon cops here have to buy their own guns because they all have something different. Buttless pump-action shotguns are popular but we've seen everything from an ancient bolt-action rifle to modern machine guns and a stray Kalashnicov. These guys were just sporting pistols.) Someone in the village had phoned the cops and obviously spun a horror story about foreigners idiscrimintly mowing down kids and riding off. We were public enemies. We emphatically stated the facts (thank God I've picked up a basic grasp of the language) and luckily for us the more senior cop seemed to believe us. He confiscated Gerhards passport though and made us wait for the kids parents who were on their way down to the local hospital to have the stitches done.

    As an illustration of how concerned they were about the child, they came to the police station first to argue about money. (Perhaps the effect of a lack of state health system to pay for the hospital costs.) It was clear we wouldn't get away without parting with some cash while they still had Gerhards passport however blameless he was. It became a struggle on our behalf to make sure anything we did pay was really for the benefit of the boy and not for the pockets of the police or parents. We fought every demand to pay cash directly to the cops or parents and instead accompanied them to the hospital where we paid the efficient hospital staff directly. Unfortunately we were told the pharmacy was shut so we had to give the parents cash for the prescribed pills which may or may not have been purchased.

    When the family left the cops still held the passport and started demanding that we pay them too! (Apparently innocent people who are run into by kids have to pay the police "electricity bill"!) They even went so far as to point out that they could arrest and hold us for 8 hours or we could take the matter to the traffic police in Santa Cruz where they could hold us for 2 days. They had no statements, no signatures, not a single official document so, smelling the bullshit, we called their bluff and agreed to go to H.Q. which promptly halved the requested amount. Sick of it all by now we paid and left with chummy handshakes from the smarmy cops.

    This sort of experience considerably sours one's opinion of a country and people, but a change of scene gave us time to recover as we headed deep into the Amazon jungle for a week. We were a group of 7 plus 3 guides on a flat bottomed wooden boat with a small outboard motor and a tarpaulin roof. This is the only way to cover much distance in the jungle and spending most of the 6 days on the boat meant we could get deep into the "primary growth". It was a really interesting trip. We got to see all sorts of animals as well as seeing how people live along the river from the farms and river traders to the hunters and poachers. We saw plenty of camans (crocodiles), monkeys, giant otters, capaybara (like a cross between a pig and a rat), foxes and all sorts of birds including huge heron, bright colored macaws and dazzling king fishers. In the water we saw river dolphins and a big ray as well as catching catfish and paranah to eat.

    It was great but after several days the bench seats and incessant buzz of the motor started to overcome the novelty and wonder. We were always happy to get to camp in the evening where our guides pitched tents and cooked great food. We even had comfortably cool weather which reduced the number of animals about but virtually eliminated mosquitoes! In the deep jungle the endless variety of the trees and plants surrounded us with an aura of lush tranquility the expanse of which is more felt and heard then seen. What with the hammocks and fresh picked fruit it was all quite idyllic but we did feel a bit dissapointed by the lack of information from our guides. When we asked them things they would spin elaborate fabrications and by the last day their input was reduced to pointing to anything that moved saying "pavo" (turkey).

    It was good to get back on the bikes (even if Jane's did have a puncture) as we headed east into the wealthier cattle country. The flat jungle basin gave way to rolling hills where the original forests are interspersed with rich grazing and impressive gateways guard the tracks up to hidden ranches. Occasionally we would see large heards of motionless white Indian cattle standing like ghostly spirits against the rich green landscape.

    This area is known for a series of 18th century Jesuit missions with distinctive churches facing smart squares. A number of these have been restored over the last 20 years to their initial elegance by the late German architect Hans Roth. Having seen a lot of churches over the last months we were ready to be unimpressed but instead found their simple structures and superb decor charming. Exhibitions of Roth's other more contempory work in the area were good too and the simplicity of the villages with a noticeable lack of squaller really endeared the region to us.

    Riding back to Santa Cruz was a different matter. The relatively major road (from the Brazilian boarder) was in a shocking state. Some sections were totally unmade such as the long diversion from a washed out road bridge. The trucks that use the road had just driven a track miles across scrub, forest and bare rock to a railway bridge which they use instead. Bouncing over the track & sleepers is no worse than the road. Even the made sections of the road are awful. Much of it is just clay which is squelched into interwoven ruts when wet and then sets rock hard in the sun. The dry clay is then ground into fine dust that lies inches deep across big sections of the road and feels like water to ride through! It hides the ruts and is swept up into an impenetrable cloud with every passing vehicle. (Luckily there aren't too many.) At one point we reached a section that had just been rained on. There was no warning the surface just turned to sticky mud and we slid and slithered for 100m until I stopped and Jane fell over (point!). It was punishing on the bikes and when we eventually reached potholed asphalt we found Janes bike had another puncture but, worse, the rear suspension had collapsed! We limpe3d into Santa Cruz and hauled the bikes back up the hotel steps.

    Closer inspection showed that the bolt connecting the bottom of the shock to the suspension linkage had come loose allowing the shock to jump out of position. This bent the bottom mounting points and the crooked loading damaged the seals loosing all the damping oil. With our knowledge of Santa Cruz bike shops we knew we could get the mounting points straightened out but rebuilding the shocky was out of the question. There was no chance of getting a replacement locally either as they just don't have bikes like these. They do, however, have them in Germany and we had Gerhard, our German connection. To cut a long story a bit shorter he got his sister (Thank you Barbara!) to buy a second hand replacement and send it by courier to La Paz. It cost US$180 all up but it was our best option. All we had to do was get to La Paz with a slightly bent un-damped shocky.

    Luckily the road to La Paz is one of the few well paved roads in Bolivia. There are a few "geologically unstable" sections that don't have asphalt but what can you do if it slips off the side of the hill every year? Cochabamba is about half way between Santa Cruz and La Paz and about half way up from the humid jungle to the freezing altiplano. It's agreeable climate, varied surrounds and easy going feel make it a popular city with travelers. We had to stop here to visit some friends we met in Toro Toro who had rescued a camera we left behind. Claudia, Miro and their American guest Carla gave us the most amazing lunch which, for the first time in weeks, included loads of fresh salad and no rice! (Thanks guys and thanks for saving the camera.)

    The other highlight of Cochabamba is, according to Gerhard, "the big cheeses". It took us a while to figure out that he was actually referring, in his German accent, to the large statue of Christ that stands (5mm taller than the one in Rio) on a hill above town. We took the cable car up to the big Jesus and the view was O.K. but we decided the crude concrete construction was best seen from a distance. (This was partly to avoid being hit by the hand of God as the outstretched arms are in the process of being saved from falling off.)

    Riding up to La Paz we climbed steeply to find huge glistening white mountains. We're back in the Andes! La Paz is a nice city with everything we needed: A U.P.S. office to receive the shocky, a cheep hotel with indoor parking (up steps) and cheap food. We can live on about US$4 each while waiting for the delivery which is just as well because our financial situation is now very tight and delivery was delayed by the annual "La Paz Day" celebrations. These consisted of dozens of marching bands and troops of baton twirling majorettes parading the streets in every direction. The bands are of varying musical accomplishment but the girls with sticks are all dressed in very short dresses and white knee high kinky boots. The parades are followed by a loud midnight street party for the youth with stages competing for the biggest stacks of speakers.

    Before the festivities we rode out of town to the ruined temples of Tiahuanaco reputed to be up to 2500 years old. They lie on a wide plain near lake Titicaca and have some really impressive stonework. It was a beautiful day and the peace of the plain was soothing after the bustle of La Paz. On the way home, however, the peace was shattered along with the windows of a bus in front of us by protesters hurling rocks! This has become a regular occurance on Bolivia's main roads over the last few months as the "campensinos" (country folk) protest about government policy particularly regarding coca. A few kms past the unfortunate bus we encountered a big queue of traffic and lots of people telling us we couldn't proceed. A blockade, the other weapon of the campensinos.

    Everybody was telling us to stop and turn around as there was stone throwing ahead but, with our usual scepticism we had to go and see for ourselves. We have never been stopped by a blockade yet. We passed dozens of vehicles, hundreds of passengers including stranded day tours from La Paz but when we got to the front there was just an empty road. Trucks were turning around and everyone was still telling us to retreat but we wanted to hear it from the blockaders themselves. We continued up the road slowly and as non-threateningly as we could. After a km or so we crested a rise and just saw more empty road. We rode on for another km or so to the next crest where we finally found the blockade.

    The road was covered for 200m with stones and rocks which would be impossible for a 4 wheeled vehicle but which we could weave carefully through on the bikes. There were bits of old car wrecks and a single burning tyre but no people. Looking up to our left we found them, a couple of hundred campensinos on top of the hill watching their creation, and us. They were too far off to get aggressive or to talk to so we just started slowly threading our way between the obstacles watching them for any reaction. It was tense but there was no shouting, no signal, no movement from them at all and we thanked again their attitude to bikes as not real vehicles. After these obstructions the road was clear and deserted again for a km or so until over the next crest we found the waiting traffic from the other direction. As we approached a crowd gathered to ask us about the situation and congratulate. We were the only vehicles to get through. Heros to some. Even the lone token police car waved us over to hear our report. The single burning tyre seemed to be what impressed them most, the description of which brought on much tutting and sucking through teeth.

    That was Friday 13th and, as far as we can work out, the blockade still stands and features on the T.V. daily. It was certainly an unlucky date for those day-trippers out from La Paz. We are still in La Paz stalled, not by blockades, but by U.P.S.'s failure to deliver our new shocky. Tomorrow, they reckon, "Manana". Once we get it we're off to the beach. All that stands in the way is the entire Amazon Basin...

    Crash Stats: Jane=10.5, Dave=10.5 (even at last)

    Best Moment: Getting through the blockade

    Worst Moment: Seeing an unattended 4 year old run across a big main road right into the side of Gerhard's bike.
  2. dave

    dave New Member

    ....I guess the saga starts back before Santa Cruz when we were wondering where to go next (Venezuela-Colombia-Ecuador, Peru-Equador or up to the beaches in Brazil?). We decided to head to the beaches for R & R, all we had to do was cross the entire Amazon Basin. No sooner had we decided than Janes shocky broke (as you know) but we arranged to get one sent out from Germany and headed for La Paz where it would be waiting for us. But of course it wasnt. The courier, UPS, kept assuring us it would arrive tomorrow until finally they admitted it was bizarrely stuck in the middle of Amazonia in Brazil where customs had impounded the plane it was on after finding drugs. We commiserated this disappointment, in the favored escape of many travelers far from home, with Pizza and a movie. Unfortunately at the pizza place Janes hand bag was nicked from under our noses. A neat trick but we werent impressed. There was no chance of getting it back but La Paz, where this is a common problem, provides a special service for tourists in our position. The Tourist Police are not there to prevent the stealing of hotel towels. They are there to investigate unscrupulous tour operators and price rip-offs. Their primary function, however, seems to be to fill out and endorse theft reports for tourists to send to their insurance companies. They are busy.

    We had had enough of La Paz by now. We were still waiting for UPS to deliver but decided to leave town and go to Coroico in the hills to the North (~100km). There we could relax in spectacular scenery and still nip back to La Paz when the shocky arrived. The road to Coroico is reputed to be the most dangerous in the world. It is a single lane of dirt which winds down the face of a precipice from the mountains around La Paz to the jungle hills on the edge of the Amazon Basin. It is stony and the many trucks and busses grind the stone into dust inches deep on the treacherous corners. The incredibly steep valley sides plunge down hundreds of meters from the unprotected side of the road and are covered in denser and lusher vegetation as you descend. This presumably hides the tangled remains of hundreds of unfortunate vehicles. In a perverse addition to all these hazards, the law decrees that vehicles on this stretch of road drive on the opposite side to every other road in Bolivia (and the whole continent). There are reports that a one-way system operates at different times but there seems to be no evidence to support that. Luckily, on bikes, we were able to sneak past trucks and busses avoiding the dust clouds to admire the views.

    Coroico turned out to be a small charming village perched high on the side of a deep wide valley engulfed by the rich vegetation that reaches up from the jungle beyond. It is a popular tourist stop and has several hotels. We decided to go a bit up market (US$5 each) and stayed in a great place with three different terraces and a big clear swimming pool all looking out over a huge vista of valleys and mountains right up to the snow. We spent a glorious three days here drinking around the pool and partying with a good crowd of travelers before we finally gave up on UPS. The shocky showed no signs of arriving and we had precious little time as it was if we were going to get to the beach so we switched to plan B.

    Thats B for bouncy. Janes undamped rear suspension was hopping around all over the place but apart from a marked reduction in traction and some interesting pogo-ing over ruts it seemed to cope OK. We decided we could carry on if we took it easy and lightened the load a bit. We had our sights set on Brazilian beaches and headed North towards the boarder.

    When it came down to it, the 330km to Rurrenabaque wasnt exactly taking it easy but it was one of the most beautiful routes we had ever traveled. The route was beautiful, the road itself was pretty bad. Heading down into the edge of Amazonia we followed a shimmering river along its steep green valley. The road was high on the valley side and every corner revealed another stunning view of mist shrouded slopes and glittering water lit by the rising sun. Every now and then a small hut would appear clinging to the other side of the valley surrounded by a small clearing with the distinctive terracing of coca farming. The hills that had towered above us were getting lower but having dropped to cross the river we now had to climb the valley side again to cross into the next valley and the ridge was in the clouds. As we climbed the thick air around us became cooler and started condensing on everything. It condensed on our visors, it dripped from the trees, it soaked our clothes and it settled the dust on the road. The higher we got the wetter it became and the clay and dust on the road became as slippery as ice in places. We had nearly new knobby tires on which coped well but Gerhard got a bit over-enthusiastic at one point and slid out of control on a corner heading for the precipitous edge. He fell and just kept sliding until his back wheel was just hanging over the edge! Luckily he wasnt hurt.

    Descending the other side we dropped out of the cloud and it dried up again. Janes bike also seemed to have dropped a bit and on closer inspection we found the bottom mounting bolt of the shock absorber had come loose again over the pot holes and the mounting was badly bent! We limped to the nearby town and stopped for lunch and a think. We still had a long way to go but we didnt want to go back over what we had just done with badly damaged suspension. We thought about putting the bike on a truck and abandoning our beach quest. Would we never get out of Bolivia? I decided to have a look at the damage and I removed the shock (now a practiced task). Next I got out our hammer, a tool which has been worth its considerable weight in gold on this trip. I didnt fancy my chances but had a go at straightening out the mounting lugs and was amazed to find it was possible and the bolt holes actually lined up! The bolt was a bit the worse for wear but I managed to get the battered threads to bite and re-fitted the shock. Good as new (except for the damping). (By this time I had also figured out that if I turn the shock around so the mounting screw goes in from the other side it wont tend to unscrew itself as the suspension moves. Groan). We were back on the road North until Jane got a puncture. This was not going well but at least the afternoon heat made the tyre supple and easy to remove.

    We swapped bikes after this. Jane rode my bike with all the bags and I rode hers which made the rough road feel a lot worse than it was. Then it really got worse. Trucks use this road and when they get stuck after rain they have to dig themselves out. Once moving again they dont stop to fill in the hole which just becomes another in the network of pot holes nearly a meter deep and several meters across. Sections are smoother and encourage you to speed up but you invariably encounter another irregular arrangement of pot holes and bumps that are impossible to dodge, hammering the suspension. With about 50km to go daylight faded to dusk. I was riding standing up on Janes bike to get out of the bucking saddle. The road ahead looked clear in the half light until I suddenly realized a low crest ahead hid a massively cratered dip down to a small stream. I hit the first bump doing about 40km/h and bounced unable to do anything as the undamped back end flew into the air pointing me at the ground. A few meters further on I hit the next ridge at an awkward angle still on the bike but bottoming out everything and totally out of control. The third time the ground hit me from the side and I let go of the bike. I imagine I looked quite funny as I staggered to my feet and wobbled around in a couple of small circles before stumbling back up to the crest cursing and trying to get my helmet off. I was a bit dazed but wanted to warn Jane who was behind me. She nearly ran me over but managed to stop in time and she smugly noted the score as we picked up the bike from the bottom of the dip. 10.5:11.5

    The headlight on her bike now pointed up to the trees and the steering only worked in one direction but it was rideable. We limped the last 40km into Rurrenabaque slowly in the dark sharing one headlight between the three of us as Gerhard had electrical problems and could have usefully supplemented his headlight with a candle.

    We should have been continuing North the next day but dawn found us examining the damage. Smashed fairing, bent brackets, buckled wheel, broken instruments and a couple of grazes on me and my helmet. We were going nowhere. Well, it was raining anyway, that whould make it interesting. Would we ever get out of Bolivia?

    A crash like that at home would have been cause for much anguish, vast expense and a wait of weeks for spare parts and repairs. It is different on the road, its amazing what you can cope with if you have to. I spent the day stripping the front of Janes bike while Gerhard attended to his wiring. Jane brought us food. I levered and hammered the bracket straightish, stitched the plastic fairings back together with wire, glued up the instruments and reassembled it all. It actually fitted better than before but the wire stitching makes it look like a Frankenbike and the front wheel wobbles comically.

    Next day we were up at dawn keen to keep heading North, possibly as far as Riberalta less than 100km from the Brazilian boarder. We had heard rumors of blockades but they had never stopped us before. We found some trees that had been chopped across the road but none so big that we couldnt ride over the branches. The rain had also created some obstacles in the form of long deep mud baths churned into half meter deep ruts by trucks. Then we got to a small ford that had been eroded into a wide muddy pool. Across the middle of the pool was a line of huge logs and rocks totally blocking the way. On the other side was a gang of thirty men and women with a fire in the middle of the road. This was the blockade and we had finally met our match. We walked over and talked to them but they stood firm. We even waited for the local transport representative to come and give a pep talk and witnessed a very polite and civil confrontation between the truckers and the blockaders but all to no avail. In the end we retreated back to Riberalta through the mud still wondering if we would ever get out of this country. The blockade was a real set back but it was actually a protest about the appalling condition of the road. When you see how desperately it needs repair you have to admit these people have a point.

    Back in Riberalta waiting for the blockades, which had totally cut of the town, to be lifted the petrol supply ran out. We spent our time trying to find alternative ways to get to the boarder and eating apple strudel at the Social Club which is run by a Brazilian and his Viennese wife. It looks out over the wide river which is our only other transport option out of town but there is no regular boat service to the boarder at this time of year so it would be very expensive.

    Two days later we woke up to the news that the blockade had been temporarily lifted for the weekend. This could be our only escape window for who knows how long. I went to wake up Gerhard and tell him the news but I was greeted by a very sick German. He had been up all night with stomach problems and was in no condition to travel. What power is it that wants to keep us in Bolivia? Jane and I wandered around town and ran into some of the crew from Coroico including Tim and Deb an Irish couple who had had a formidable two day bus ride to get here getting caught in the blockades. They did however get the best room in Rurre in the only hotel that actually looks out over the beautiful river. The locals seem to view the river in much the same way we would view a motorway. They turn their backs on it and every building stares the other way across the street at another building. They presumably think us a bit odd as we stare out at the sunset over the river with Jungle like Vietnam on the right and cliffs like Thailand on the left.

    Next day Gerhard was well. He had to be. We headed back up the road North and found it had dried a little and there was no sign of the blockades at all. There was still a lot of mud around and trucks had weaved to and fro looking for grip and cutting deep ruts. The country opened out to flat grassy Pampa with less and less trees but we encountered the worse road yet. If a Pot Hole is defined as a depression eroded by the passage of trucks, then we found one that was about 1.5m deep! I have a photo of Gerhard riding through it and only his head and shoulders are visible above road level. After over 100km the road finally improves to a smooth cinder surface though there are still occasional pot holes. I am on Janes bike again and after a while I notice bumps starting to feel harsher and harsher. I stopped to examine the suspension and the bolt was still in place but the bike is a very low. On closer inspection, to my horror, I saw that the spring had snapped clean in two! There was no way we could travel with a broken spring and I was now convinced we would never leave Bolivia. Some force beyond our comprehension was at play and would thwart our every effort.

    We stopped for the night camped at a service station and limped slowly into Riberalta the next day where we were greeted by a T.V. crew. We were hot and had problems to address but apparently we are newsworthy and they escorted us to a guest house where they cornered me (the Spanish speaker) into an interview. It cant have been that bad because we actually saw it on T.V. that night.

    Once again we set out to fix something that would need special parts, time and lots of money at home. Motorcycles are the primary form of transport in these small remote towns. There are hundreds of them but they are all small bikes with more primitive suspension than ours. I went to the local Honda dealer as a place to start and met the mechanic who dragged me from shop to shop looking for a replacement spring that I knew he wouldnt find. We exhausted every bike and car spares shop in town with no luck. As a last resort we rode out to a backyard workshop outside town where three guys worked on the oil soaked earth, rusting tools scattered everywhere. Im not sure if they were dismantling bikes or resurrecting wrecks but nothing there looked as if it had run for several years. My heart sank as they pulled out a couple of totally unsuitable springs and then seemingly from nowhere (but apparently from some Honda 250cc trail bike), they produced a glossy red spring that looked fairly similar to the original! It was a bit shorter and a couple of mm wider but I wasnt fussy. It would fit and fit it did. We made up for the length with a few spacers made from bits lying around on the floor and a bit of welding fixed the cracks appearing in the mounting lugs. It all cost about US$16 and the bike was back on the road that same afternoon.

    The boarder was less than 100km away. Nothing could stop us now. We were going to make it out of Bolivia after all. Nothing else mattered. Next morning we left early but after less than 1km Gerhards bike just stopped. That cold fist gripped my heart again. This was spooky. It turned out to be a fouled spark plug caused by a blocked air filter so we were going again before long and we finally made it to the Bolivian border with Brazil at Guayaramerin. With my heart in my mouth we completed the formalities on the Bolivian side. We were now free to leave Bolivia! All we had to do was cross the river to Brazil but the Gods hadnt finished their game yet. Having checked us out of the country, the customs official then informed us that the vehicle ferry across to Brazil was not running! Nobody knew when it would run next least of all the staff at the terminal so we were advised to check into a hotel and try again tomorrow. A bit dazed by this bitter last blow we retreated again to a hotel. That evening we observed the bizarre local ritual of riding round and round the town square on mopeds chatting to mates on other mopeds. For hours.

    Next day we had recovered our resolve. We would not be beaten. After drawing another total blank from the ferry operators we turned on the scores of smaller boats that crowded the shore line. The oversized open canoes didnt really look big enough to transport three bikes but the owner of one said he could and we held him to his word. He eventually roped in another boat owner to help and, two bikes in one boat, one in the other we finally left Bolivia, bobbing over the river to Brazil.

    Worse moment: You name it!

    Best moment: Landing in Brazil to find courteous welcoming customs officers, great music and girls every bit as gorgeous as everyone says. But thats a whole different story.

    Crash Stats: Dave 11.5, Jane 10.5
  3. dave

    dave New Member

    Brazil, the land of beaches, sunshine and G-String clad bottoms!

    I now know how Alice felt after being in Wonderland. We were all tired and a little biwilderd after the crazy turn of events during our escape from Bolivia however, she still had one last trick up her sleave. Due to the bizzare bank opening hours in Brazil (8am to 2pm), we could not actually find anyone who would change dollars at 3pm. As a last resort Gerhard went back into Bolivia on the passanger ferry and returned with vital supplies of Brazilian Rials, cake and beer. The short 300km ride to Puerto Velho (Well short for Brazil which is several thousand kms in length), was supposedly on a very bad road. To us it was bliss, a sealed road with only a few potholes not more then a copule of inches deep, well sign posted and decent bridges. Our first meal in Brazil was a feast with spagetti, beans and salad supplimenting the rice and chicken stew. A welcoming relief from cold Yuka (a fiberous dry potato like vegetable), rice and the savagly tenderised slither of cow hide known as Millenesa de carne we had been living on in Bolivia.

    Wondering around the streets of Porto Velho, past the air conditioned department stores, sipping coco gelado, cold coconut milk, not a Llama featus in sight, we easily found the few things we needed, cash, a good map of Brazilian roads and some cool clothes for the hot Amamzonian climate. By the afternoon we had negotiated a respectable price for the 3 day cruise up the Rio Madeira to Manaus right in the heart of the Amazon jungle. The Almte. Moreira IV, a charming but sturdy wooden vessle, was scheduled to depart at 6pm the following day. We loaded the bikes, which involved lugging them 30m down a steep muddy bank and settled into our cabin for the night. Gerhard had chosen the cheaper hammock sleeping option, which seemed lovely in the cool evening breeze.

    The following day, there was a continuous stream of both passengers and cargo loaded onto the boat. The whole passenger deck became a woven mesh of hammocks, luggage, mattresses and lots of bodies all packed togther like sardines. By mid afternoon there was no trace of our motorcycles on the cargo decks, as they were burried under mountains of bananas, oranges, tomaotes and other jungle products. As we neared our departure time we watched the Plimsole Line of the boat dissapear under the water. It was increadilble to belive the Almte. Moreira IV could move at all, let alone make the 800km jouney to Manaus without sinking. Apparently the local river police were of the same opinion and forced the captain to unload 30 passengers and relocate some cargo before departing. The captain complied but the unloaded passengers miraculously reappeared next morning. They had been taxied a few kms downstream and were picked up by launch as we steamed past!

    In hindsight, the extra US$40 we paid for the cabin turned out to be a very sound investment. Not only could we secure our belongings, but we also got our meals delivered to us and we had privicy and a fan. Gerhards second night was not quite so comfortable. He abandond any hope of sleeping in the hammock since he could not physically get through the surrounding bodies, and decided to spend the night on the floor outside our cabin. After all the passangers had gone to bed and stopped tripping over him, he was rudly awakened at 2am by water sloshing down from the upper deck as the crew cleaned out the bar. He moved to top deck and got a couple of hours sleep before dawn broke and started to roast him. We discovered him at about 10am, slouched over a chair looking very sleepy. He jumped (sleapily) at our suggestion he could crash out in our cabin. We made space on the top bunk and there he stayed comatose for the whole day. Gerhard packed up his hammock and moved in, Dave and I sharing the bottom bunk which we extened with a couple of camping mats on top of all our luggage.

    The cruse was a great way to unwind. With nothing to worry about we occupied our time playing card games, teasing the kids and drinking beer with the locals whilst watching stunning sunsets over the Amazon jungle. The cool breeze generated by the moving boat kept the bugs away, so we could dance the nights away on the open top deck to the sounds of the fast paced Brazilian acordian music known as Forro. Our captain was a stocky shrewed chap, but he made everyone feel welcome by providing free fresh fish BBQs on the bar deck and he had a very personable young girl friend who really got the party going. Being the only gringos on board we were the center of much attention even though it was quite hard work understanding the portugese language.

    On the third day we arrived in Manaus. The only duty free area in the whole of Brazil, Manaus is a big fast moving city spread along the banks of the Amazon. Keen to keep moving we immediately found another boat to take us to the Atlantic ocean port of Belem, another 4 day cruise down the Amazon river itself. Our second boat was similar to the first but bigger and made of steel. It did not have quite the same charm and personal touch of the Almte. Moreira IV but it was less crowded. The transfer of bikes between the boats turned out to be a bit of a drama. We stupidly accepted the help of a few of the stevedores before securing a price. When the crunch came they wanted nearly as much for loading the bikes as it cost us to pay for their passage on the boat! We had a standoff for about two hours, with the stevedores refusing to accept our 30 Reais ($12). In the end Janes superior negotiating stamina wore them down and they begrudgingly accepted the fair price and sulked of. We were not being unreasonable, the subsequent unloading of the bikes in Belem cost us about the same.

    On the new boat the food was not as good and the crew were not as jolly but we still had fun with the other passangers and the bar on the top deck still pumped out loud Forro through a small mountain of speakers. We had an unexpected delay for a day in the port of Santarem. Intially we were told there was another boat further upstram which had broken down, and we were waiting for the passangers of this boat to join us before we continued. This later turned out to be a total fabrication for when the other boat turned up, we were transfered to it. It was obviously also half full and, at our expense, the company decided to consolidate the 2 cargos. The delay was not in vain however, for it gave us time to ride to a small town about 30km away and spend the afternoon on a beautiful river beach, swimming in the cool freshwater and suning ourselves with the jungle all around.

    The Amazon River is vast, a lot broader then the Rio Madeira we had been on. This gave us less of a view of the jungle and of the indians that live on its shores but towards Belem we entered narrow channels which fanned out at the estury. This was a very primitive area where indians lived in small adobe huts along the river using the slash and burn method of land clearing small patches to grow crops. We were a little confused about all the dug out canoes that would paddle out to us as we cruised by. Was it a reception or a game or, more likely, a form of begging? Some passangers would throw fruit down to them which was usually picked up but surely there is an abundance of fruit here? We were even further amazed when a dug out canoe filled with 5, 12 year old children actuallany managed to board our relatively fast moving boat. They paddled frantically towards the boat, almost on a collision course then, as we swept past their bow, they hooked one of our trucktyre fenders with a 2m length of reenforcing steel. Desperately hanging on to the hook they were dragged along beside the boat all but swamped by our wash while one kid clambered onto the fender and hauled the bow of the canoe up so it cleared the wave. The kids then came on board selling jars of palm hearts and accepting what ever people would give them, food, magazines, clothes. After half an hour they disappeared again, presumably to hitch onto another boat to get back to their now distant huts.

    We eventually reached the large city of Belem just south of the Equator which appeared out of the jungle like Manhattan with all its tower blocks. Keen to get moving and find that beach we had travelled so far to reach, we unloaded the bikes and rode for the rest of the day. We said goodbye to Gerhard, who had a little more time than us and wanted to visit the Belem zoo. The following day we stayed a couple of nights in an old slaving city called Sao Luis. It has some lovely examples of colonial buildings some in better shape than others. One building even had a tree growing out of the first floor balcony. Time was still ticking, so we headed off to a hip beachside resort called Jericoacoara (Jeri). It was a long 750km ride on variable roads to the nearest town called Camocin. From here you can take a small raft across a river and ride 40kms along the beach to Jeri. By the time we boarded the ferry it was dark, so we decided not to attempt the beach ride until the light of the following day. Too tired to pitch our tent, we lay on the sand watching shooting stars before we fell asleep. Later we discovered the name of the beach, Isla de Amor, The Island of Love, quite fitting for a honeymoon.

    Dawn woke us early, and we packed the bikes and headed off. Fortunatly the tide was low so we could ride on the firmer wet sand below the hightide line. Where this wasnt possible we had to cross very soft sandy sections, made even more difficult by the ruts of beach buggies. The crash stats increased significantly for the both of us. Luckily we still had good knobby tyres but these bikes, fully loaded, are too heavy for soft sand. If you can get some speed up the narrow tyres sink into the sand less which makes life easier but makes crashes harder. If there was any incline at all the bike would grind to a halt and we had to resort to running alongside pushing with the engine engaged and the rear wheel spinning up clouds of sand. There were some dramatic water crossings too where we just had to trust that the deep clear water didnt hide soft sinking sand. Apart from these perils the ride was fabulous with golden dunes on our right, clear blue ocean on our right and firm sand stretching ahead of us along kilometers of arcing beach.

    We reached Jeri at about 8.30am to find palm trees sheltering beachfront bars and streets of soft sand where beach buggies were haphazardly parked infront of cool cafes and restaurants. I know it was early but we just had to have a beer at a beachside cafe to celebrate. We found a fabulous Pousada (guesthouse) which also allowed camping under spreading shady Cashew trees and looked out over another quieter beach. It took us a while to realise these trees produce your familiar cashew nut. The nut is in a little green pod that hangs onto the end of the capsicum shaped yellow fruit which tasts a bit, well, odd. We pitched the tent, hung our hammock on the boughs of the old trees and settled back to finally relax at the beach. It was perfect, wonderful, sunny warm days and cool nights. It was no quaint fishing village, it exists for tourists, but sometimes its nice to have a good supply of restaurants, bars and night clubs to pass the time. Our Pousada was run by an Israeli chap called Biano, and consequently or not, there were quite a few Israelis staying there as well as another Aussie couple which always makes for a good party! We took to leisurely late breakfasts, afternoons at the beach, seafood dinners and late nights.

    Everyting was just perfect untill one morning, during an early dip in the sea, Dave suddenly felt a twinge in his neck. We went back to the Pousada to arrange a buggy tour for the day, when he said he had to lie down. Half an hour later he could not move without triggering spasms of pain in his neck.. Unfortunatly he lay in a hammock, which was not a good position to be in, but he could not move an inch. He could not turn his head let alone get himself out of the hammock. After several hours we had managed to lower him onto some camping mats and lay him out on his back. The local masseuese came but was unable to provide much assitance, since he screemed with pain from the slightest touch to his neck. She did provide us with a muscle relaxtant drug which helped. It was getting dark, and there was still not much improvement. We decided we had better stay in a cabin, and planned how we were to get Dave into it. We managed to gently drag him onto a bed board then, in an impressive display of the benefits of military training, 6 Isrealies lifted him and the board up and passed him through the window and onto the bed. He said it was like being on a magic carpet. The sister of the owner, Leora, was a trained reflexologist and worked her own kind of magic on Daves feet, which seemed to totally relax him and actually put a smile on his face for the first time that day. I went to try and get the doctor who couldnt come to see him but did lend me a neck brace.

    The next day there was a little improvement, and we managed to get Dave a little more comfortable. As he lay on the bed with the neck brace on one of his visitors was a local chap dressed in motocross gear called Daniel. It turned out he did not only own a large motorcycle shop about 40kms away but was a local motocross champion and was due to race a support truck in the Paris-Dakar race next year! He had heard about our bikes from a friend and ridden up the beach that morning in the hope of buying them! This was an interesting thought, especially since Dave was not in any position to ride for a while. We chatted to Daniel and showed him some photos of our tripwhereupon he pointed to a picture of Gerhard and said he had just spoken to him! We had no idea he was in town but half an hour later there he was. He had come in by the conventional route along a 30km sandy track that, for a heavy bike, was far worse than our beach option.

    We figured we could sell the bikes then continue our trip back to Chile via public transport, getting time to check out Rio and some of the southern coastline of Brazil too. With the help of Biano, we made a few enquires about the legalities of this and were assured we could proceed with the sale. Daniel was delighted and vistited us the next day when, after a bit of haggling we made a deal and he gave us a deposit. However, he was just about to go off on a bike tour, so we could not complete the transaction untill a week later. This again suited us fine, with Dave on the mend, it would give us more time to enjoy the beach and relax.

    After the third day, Dave was walking with the help of the neck brace. A few more reflexology sessions and a couple of massages, he was doing well. We continued our hectic pace in Jeri, doing absolutely nothing except relaxing. We managed a day trip to some beautiful lagoons where we met a charming Italian man named Freddy. He has lived here for many years and built himself a very special restaurant on the shores of one of the lagoons where he cooked us the most delicious pizza and focacia in his wood fired oven. Gerhard however was not having such a good time. He started getting pains in his knee joints and found it quite difficult to walk. After about 5 days he was bed bound and we helped where we could by fetching him food and stuff to pass the time of day.

    After a week, Daniel sent his son in a jeep to pick us and the bikes up. Daniel junior was quite happy about taking Gerhard as well since he was too unwell to walk let alone ride the sandy tracks out of town. The local doctors could not provide any solution for his problem and we all decided it was best if he got to a hospital to get checked out properly so we rode further down the beach in convoy, me & Gerhard in the truck with 2 bikes on and David & Daniel Jr. on bikes.

    At the bike shop, Daniel made a few more enquireis about the logistics of the bike sale to discover that infact it was not possible to import used bikes into Brazil! This was awful for the both of us. We tried many different angles and called a number of people but to no avail. Dave and I had to change our plans and we faced the prospect of having to ride the 6000kms back to Iquique in Chile as quickly as possible. We said goodbye to Gerhard for a second time. This time he was in a pick up truck, bike on the back, bound for Fortaleza and its many hospitals. We have not heard from him since, so we can only hope his knees got better and his is still in Brazil.

    The race was on, we had 6000kms to go and just over a week to do it in! Our days were spent getting up at dawn, riding all day with a quick stop for lunch, stopping at dusk, fixing the daily succession of bike problems, eating then sleeping. The bikes have had a pretty hard life really and they were starting to show their age. There was nothing major but we just didnt have time to give them the attention they deserve. The problems included five punctures, a colapsed rear wheal bearing, oil and filter changes, worn stearing head bearings, a chain jumping off due to a worn link, a front axle retaining stud shearing off. Amazingly we had every spare we needed, and alarmingly we needed every spare we had! We also had a number of tyre changes as we swapped around the ones we had to make them last as long as possible. We eventually realised that the tyres wouldnt get us to Iquique so we popped into Paraguy at the Iguacu Falls to buy a new set at the duty free zone on the Paraguy, Brazil and Argatinian boarder.

    We rode straight through the heart of Brazil, stealing a couple of hours to ride arround the 1970s built capital city of Brazilia. Its a vast place with very distinctive architecture of the era, however, the place was on such a grand scale that it felt inhuman. With the six lane roads, cars everywhere and numbers instead of street names people just did not feature in this place. It was a remarkable achievement and is a showcase of 70s buildings (good and bad) but its not a place to live.

    Near the Brazil, Argentian boarder we stayed with a friend we met at Daniels bike shop, Omar. A bit of a bike nut, he is a lovely guy and an excellent host who entertained us, fed us great food and fine red wine. We couldnt resist taking a day off to accept his hospitality and an invitation from one of his friends to a BBQ in the country. He lives in the state of Parana which is a paradise of rolling green hills, forest and farms not unlike parts of Europe. We were priviledged to meet wonderful people there and really enjoyed not having to sit on a bike seat at all. We also managed to squeeze in another dental visit (thanks to one of Omars friends) as Janes bridge had fallen out again and she found it very hard to speak let alone eat!

    We couldnt pass the famous Iguacu Falls without stopping for the afternoon. They are a set of massive waterfalls in a beautiful national park of dense deciduous forest where birds and an amazing amount of butterflies add splashes of colour every where you look. There is a walkway on the Brazilian side that winds for just a couple of kilometers but takes hours to traverse because of the sheer spectacle unfolding before you. Each new view of the falls reveals a more impressive sight than the last. It is stunning even at this time of the year when the water is not especially high.

    Driving back to Chile we once again visted places we had been before, Salta, San Pedro de Atacama, and eventually Iquique. At San Pedro we met Brian, an American motorcyclist who was on a Super Tenere. We rode together to Iquique where we hoped to sell our bikes wary of problems like we had encountered in Brazil. When we got there it only took us two hours to sell the bikes and we did not even have to wash them! Iquique was our best bet for selling the bikes. Its a duty free port and we new other poeple who had managed the same thing but it was a relief to find how easy it was and now it was time to celebrate. We had made it, and, more surpisingly, so had the bikes! The three of us hit the streets of Iquique returning at dawn a little enibriated with vauge memories of dancing and large girls trying to kiss Brian. This is where we are now, and we have a bus ticket to Santiago, our final destination for tomorow. With less then a week to go before we fly back to Sydney, and the the worries of bikes and travelling behind us, we can enjoy the Chilian independence day festivities, relax and reflect upon eight months of crazy, exciting adventures in South America.

    Best Moment: That early morning beer when we finnally made it to the beach.

    Worst Moment: Daves pain in the neck.

    Crash Stats: Dave (16.5), Jane (14.5) Girl power!!!! (Oh no, not again!)
  4. jayjacinto

    jayjacinto Member

    Ahh.. this is life... :)

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