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Entries are listed in chronological order.
Wednesday, Oct. 13: Manaus, Brazil
After my disaterous attempt to reach Iquitos by boat, I opted for a speedboat to the Brazilian border instead of another lancha, the big, slow passenger/cargo ships. Got there in 10 hours.
I entered Brazil in the small city of Tabatinga, which lies at what they call the Tri-frontera, the triple border. Across the river, obviously, is Peru, and as you walk through Tabatinga you suddenly end up in the city of Leticia, Colombia. No border formalities, nothing. You´re walking down the street, look up and suddenly the signs are in Spanish instead of Portuguese. I liked the idea of strolling into Colombia for a cup of good coffee, but it was just too darn hot, so I had a coke instead...the soft drink, not the famous Colombian kind.
From Tabatinga, against my better judgement, I took another large boat down the Amazon River to Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian Amazon. Man, this boat was so much better than the Mily! My cabin was air conditioned, the bathroom was at least semi-clean and up top was a bar with a musician almost always playing live music on a keyboard, which lent the journey a bit of a fiesta air. Still, I had a scare on day two or three when I woke up to discover that we had run aground, in the middle of the Amazon (much more romantic sounding), but somehow we got moving again after only five hours.
After four days on the river we arrived in Manaus, a thriving city of 2 million people in the middle of the jungle. Nice place, but the heat is oppressive. I´ve resigned myself to the fact that for the rest of my trip I´m going to be covered in sweat every minute of the day. It´s embarrassing though trying to interact with the locals with sweat running down your nose and splashing on the sidewalk.
One of the major features in Manaus is the beautifuly ornate opera house, built during the height of the rubber boom at the turn of the 20th century. Although all the wood used in the construction is local, the majority of the rest of the building, ie the ornate steel staircase railings, crystal chandeliers, and all the marble, was imported from Europe. It´s a very impressive building.
The language is another thing I just can´t get used to. To read Portuguese, it seems very similar to Spanish, but the Brazilian pronunciation is just so wacky. I´ve learned a couple one liners, although as soon as I let one fly, I have to stand there bewildered as the recipient rambles on in freaky-deaky Portuguese, assuming I can understand. But I digress.
I hope to see all the things I want to in Manaus, and do the things I have to, tomorrow, and be on the road toward Venezuela by Friday. I´ve been really anxious to get home lately, really missing my friends, family and just the comforts of home. I know, however, that I have to finish my journey to the coast, and so the quest continues....
Friday, Oct. 22: Boa Vista, Brazil<\b>
I enjoyed my final day in Manaus visiting the Bosque da Cienca, a huge zoo-like park that houses a collection of animals native to the Amazon. Very neat, much more natura~-feeling than a zoo. No jaguars though. Guess I´ll have to find those out in the wild!
My fun city time over, it was time to continue my journey north. I left early, around 6:30 or so, in order to beat the sweltering heat, and the heightened late morning traffic of Manaus. Nonetheless, it was at times a hair-raising experience navigating the busy streets and complicated merges on the street out of town. It took about 25 km of riding before I was actually out of the city. I inteneded to take it fairly easy my first day back on the bike, and only do 50 km or so. However, I rarely listen to my own common sense when I´m feeling good, and I was, so I kept going. Then it got hot. Really hot. I´d thought my thermometer was broken because it had always been at 31 degrees in my hotel rooms, but now it hovered up around 37. All along the road was dense forest, and I really felt like I was riding through the jungle, which I guess I was. Just north of Manaus I saw a huge dead snake at the side of the road, maybe six feet long and four inches thick. After that, my fear of snakes transformed every branch, wire and shredded tire on the road into a viper waiting to punce on me. Although I saw several more dead snakes, none nearly as large, I thankfully saw no alive ones. I knew the grasses at the side of the road were crawling with small green lizards though, because I could hear them scampering for cover as I approached, and I could see their fallen brethren squashed on the pavement.
120 km or so later, I arrived exhausted in Presidente Figueiredo, a nice, larger-than-you´d-expect town on the BR-174, the highway stretching form Manuas to the Venezuelan border. After such a tough day I took a day off, during which I soaked in the cool river in the nearby Parque Urubuí, where a series of small waterfalls create many cool sinkholes and nice swimming spots.
The next day I once again began punishing my body. Although I´d leave as early as the sun was up, I´d only get a few hours of comfortable riding in before the temperatures soared, as high as 38 degrees in the afternoon. Nonetheless I stubbornly pushed on, burned by the sun and on the verge of heat stroke I´m sure. I´m just so darned eager to get to the Caribbean coast though! I did several 100-km plus days, as well as one "rest day" of only 40 km or so, staying in small roadside towns at times little more than a gas station, hotel and restaurant.
About 100 km north of Presidente Figueiredo is the huge Wairani-Itriri (spelling?!) Indian Reserve, through which it´s prohibited to travel by bike. Too dangerous they say, too many wild animals and restless natives with bows and poisoned arrows. Instead, I hitched a ride with a couple of truckers who at times I thought were going to rob me or worse. They´d stop for apparently no reason in the middle of the darkness of the reserve, and ask me to get out of the truck with them. One kept asking me to take photos, so I assumed he wanted my camera. However, all the oddities aside, they turned out to be nice enough guys, and dropped me off at a hotel north of the reserve without incident.
The countryside beyond the reserve showed more evidence of the deforesetaion that´s plaguing the Amazon, as the Brazilian government tries to encourage settlement in its remote jungle states. Lots of farms with scrawny cattle, lots of flooded flat land, and lots of palm trees, although nothing like the forests south of the reserve. The final 140 km to Boa Vista, a decent-sized city near the Venezuelan, and Guyanan, border, I meant to do in two days, but once again I ignored my better judgment and did it in one. Arrived absolutely knackered, sun-weary and dehydrated. But in civilization!
My mission in Boa Vista, besides recovering, was to somehow get money. Since arriving in Brazil I haven´t been able to take money out at ATMs with my bank card, and I´d used up all my emergency resources, ie my traveller´s cheques and most of my US dollars. Again I was denied access to the ATMs, but after a three-hour process at the Banco do Brazil I was able to take cash out on my Visa card.
Ahead of me lies some 230 km or so to the Venezuelan border, and I don´t know exactly what to expect as far as places to get food and/or water, and to spend the night. A highway cop assurred me that it´s a safe road though, that if I were assaulted I´d be the first, so I suppose I can camp along the way if need be. I´m feeling better after a day off the saddle, and I´m super excited to be in Venezuela in three days, or two if I ignore my better judgment, as I surely will do. That Caribbean coast is getting closer and closer!
Monday, Oct. 25: Santa Elena, Venezuela
Despite the heat, I was able to compact my three-day ride to Venezuela into two. This was done more out of not having adequate places to stay and/or eat along the way rather than it just being an exceptionally easy ride. In fact, however, the route was much flatter than I´d expected. For 150 km out of Boa Vista, in fact, I cycled through the same flat plain, flooded in a sort of marshland on either said of the road. I begin my days quite early to get as much riding done before the heat gets unbearable, and there´s some great light that reflects off this water in the early daylight hours, and lots of stunning white herons or storks standing stoically, eyeing me as I pass.
Although there was a hotel 100 km out of town, it was quite expensive, and by then I realized I was going to make the border in two days, so I figured I should cut down as many km as I could on day one. I continued to a roadside restaurant 35 km away, where I was harassed by a drunken Brazilian, who slurred on incomprehensibly, and seemed to get upset with me when I repeatedly told him that I didn´t understand. Nonetheless, he wouldn´t let me leave until he was done eating, which took quite a while since half of every forkfull was dropped back on his plate, his arm or the table. I spent the night covered in sweat as I camped in their back field, the first time I used my tent since, gee, since Bolivia I think. Nonetheless, the brilliant sunrise in the mornign was worth it.
On day two the hills began innocently enough, and I was beginning to think that this climb to the border wasn´t going to be such a big deal. However, the 13 km before the border just about killed me. It was right in the thick of the afternoon heat, and it seemed like the grade got steeper around every corner. Soaked in sweat, I arrived ecstatic though exhausted, had a quick late lunch, and continued into the final country of my trip.
Border was a bit confusing though. At first I rode right past the Brazilian Federal Police post, where I had to get my exit stamp, because no one came out to stop me. I had to come back and go in myself. At the Venezuelan side, a border guard was just sitting there not looking too concerned aobut me, so I asked if I had to stop there. "no," he said, "There´s another building further up." So I rode on, and on, and on, until finally I came to the small city of Santa Elena, 15 km away. Worried about being considered an illegal, I went directly to the police station and asked aobut where I have to get my passport stamped, and they directed me to an out-of-the-way office up a narrow street. There, a nonchalant sort of fellow stamped my passport and went back to watching TV. I just wonder how on earth they expect people to instinctively know to go to this divey little office. Anyways, I´m here, I´m feeling good, and I´ve only got 875 km or so to go until the coast!