Thursday's ride was great and I arrived back in Riviera, Texas at 4:00 P.M.. A small group of friends were at the gate to greet me. I suspect this was arranged by my friend, Eileen Patten. It was great to see everyone. But it seems strange to not be on the road, to be looking for a hotel each afternoon, to be worrying about whether the Goose was going to spring an oil leak. Speaking of oil leaks, I have two, but not in any aarea where Ken and Javier made repairs. I know my right head gasket is leaking and there seems to be a second leak. Tuesday the bike goes in the shop and high on my list of needs is to get all of the oil leaks fixed.
The trip lasted four months, three weeks and I covered 19,850 miles on the Goose, another 2500 miles by boat and approximately 1000 miles by air. The trip was all I had expected and more, but there were a number of things that I expected that never occurred.
- Neither the police nor the military harrassed me in any way. No request, even a hint of a request, for a bribe.
- I never got ill nor suffered what some call "Montezuma's revenge". I was careful of what I ate and only drank bottled water and it paid off.
- I only had a couple of pair of gloves pilfered. Nothing else. Of course I guarded the Goose like a hawk.
- I never saw a snake, crocodile or an alligator, even while I was in the Amazon.
- I never had even one bad experience with the hundreds, no thousands, of people with whom I came in contact. That is if I ignore their driving behaviors.
Up early this Monday morning, I found that my trusted BMW R100GSPD had indeed arrived at Centurian Air in Miami. The office at Centurian opened at 9:00 A.M. and I was there soon thereafter.
Meeting with the office person, I was informed of a couple of unexpected fees that brought the total charges to $955. No problem, except Centurian does not accept credit cards. For the first time I was informed that payment must be either in cash or by certified check. Luckily, I had some well hidden cash that I was able to locate.
But before I could retrieve the Goose, I had to visit the U.S. Customs Office at the Miami Airport and get a release for the Goose. A brisk and fast walk soon brought me to the Customs Office where I met with a most competent and pleasant Customs Officer. Within thirty minutes, I had the completed release forms and was on my way back to Centurian. After an hour of so at Centurian, the Goose and I were reunited. The bike was in the same condition as it was when I left it at the Centurian depot in Bogota. Dirty, well worn, in need of work but clearly ready to tackle the next 1500 miles. By 11:00 A.M. we were departing Miami International Airport and were on our way north.
The excellent roads were a pleasure, but wait.......what happened to the 95 to 107 degree temperatures in which we have been riding the past several months? Today was cool, no... cold! Two hours later and I was outside of Naples calling my close friends, John and Teresa Gribbin. Several hours later and we are still at the Gribbin's lovely home. Tomorrow will also be cool, but I think I will be better dressed to tackle the long ride up through Florida and then west through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and finally back to Texas.
Then, we must visit Mexico since I still have to clear my visa in Mexico and let the officials certify that the bike has definitely returned to the U.S. If I do not do that I will be subject to import duties of considerable size.
Departing Barbosa early, I was bound for Bogota. This large capital city of Colombia has a population of approximately eight million people and my destination was the airport and to find the offices of Veronica Mosquero Oviedo (311) 223-7841, the shipping broker for Lyncargo S.A. Numerous bike riders had posted messages on Horizons Unlimited attesting to Veronica's knowledge and skill in shipping bikes to destinations throughout the world at reasonable prices. As I departed Barbosa I was still undecided about whether I was going to ship the Goose to Miami or to Panama City.
Pointing the bike south, we were off. Traffic was heavy. The hotel in which I spent Wednesday night was right on the road and throughout the night I had listened to the steady groan of large diesel trucks on their way to Bogota.. As I made my way south, I was surrounded by large trucks and busses. The road continued to be curvy, up, down and through mountain passes. Tight curves with trucks filling both lanes. Once we were totally run off the road by an oncoming truck passing a bus. Someway the Goose managed to stay upright.
Forty miles north of Bogota, the road suddenly was blocked with construction. Heavy machinery filled the road and all that was moving was foot traffic crossing a temporary swinging bridge that had been built over the river and ravine that lay before me. A worker pointed to the narrow swinging bridge and I decided to go for it. Crossing over the mud and rock, I was able to ease my way up on the foot bridge and slowly crossed over the river, reaching the south side, while holding my breath and resisting the urge to close my eyes.
The ride from that point on into Bogota was fast and I arrived on the outskirts of the city at 10:00 A.M. I did not know how to find the airport but knew that it lay 15KMs northwest of the city. Taking an exit to the west, in a few miles I suddenly saw a sign indicating "aeropuerto" and within minutes I could see El Dorado International Airport. Finding Veronica's office was simply a matter of hiring a taxi to go to her address while I followed.
Arriving at Lyncargo's offices, I met Veronica who assured me that shipping the bike to either Panama City or to Miami would be no problem and that the costs were similar. I decided that Miami was the wiser choice. Both the Goose and I were tired and needed repairs. We had completed the first portion of the adventure and had ridden all of the countries in Cental America and most South America that weather and the roads allowed. While I really do want to return to Costa Rica and spend time with Art Smiley and Gary Pitts, I do not not want to battle the traffic and border crossings of Central America. I can return to Costa Rica later to visit Art and Gary.
Veronica calculated to the costs to ship the Goose to Miami to be $911 and quckly filled out the necessary forms. Sending me with a member of her staff to Centurian, the international cargo carrier with whom she works, I spent the next four hours dealing with the bureaucracy of exiting Colombia and getting the necessary military and police inspections. No one asked me to disconnect the battery nor to drain the fuel tank. The Goose was going to be tied down on a pallet and placed on a flight without being crated. It all seems too simple.
I was driven to the passenger terminal and purchased a ticket to Miami on Avianca, Colombia's national airline. Morning finds me in Miami. I do not know when the Goose will arrive so I am anxious, wondering if I may have to return to Colombia to retrieve my mount. The earliest I can hope to receive the bike is Monday and then I have to clear U.S. customs here in Miami. Then a 1500 mile ride back to Texas.
It seems odd to be back in the States. I can actually speak with anyone I see and they seem to understand me. Traffic flows at a normal and orderly pace. Large and beautiful hotels are on every corner. And prices are high! Two nights ago, I paid less than ten dollars for a hotel and parking in Barbosa, Colombia and tonight at the airport in Miami, there are advertisements for hotels near the airport at a cost of $150 or more.
Now I will simply await the arrival of the Goose and then will be off on the 1500 mile ride back to Texas. The bike is in dire need of mechanical attention. The last oil chage was completed by Ken Duval in Buenos Aires. My tires have over 18000 KMs on them and they are normally good for 12,000 KMs. Ken had left me with a long list of repairs that were needed before the BMW would be back in top form so the next few weeks will find the Goose back in the shop being rejuvenated.
I will continue to update this blog until I arrive back in Texas and complete this first segment of the adventure. Over the next few days, the scores of photographs that I took on the Amazon will be posted.
And we still have to ride to Alaska and the Artic Circle. New Year's 2009 was spent at Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city of the world and it seems approapriate that I reach the Artic Circle sometime in during this same year. Who knows which of my frends I will run into on that leg of this adventure?
Mondaŭ night´s dinner with Ana Cecilia and Philippe was delightful. Great company and superb food. Such great hosts and ambassadors for Venezuela!
Tuesday morning I crossed the border from Venezuela into Colombia, entering at Cucuta, Colombia. It was my most difficult border crossing of this adventure. First, it took me two hours to clear Venezuela, that and having to walk about two miles to purchase stamps for my exit fee.
Then, I found it very complicated to complete the temporary importation of the Goose into Colombia. I was sent into the border town of Cucuta, some twenty KMs from the actual border crossing to the Adian (Customs) but no one there spoke English, and I speak about thirty words of Spanish. Suddenly a young man stepped forward to help. In very good English he took charge and two hours later I had successfully entered Colombia. The entire crossing took almost five hours.
Off to Bogota, I decided to at least try to travel 200 KMs into the country. Not to be. I had not factored in the Andes mountains, curves, the tightest I have ever ridden. A road that was narrow, full of pot holes, sometime asphalt and sometimes rock, then dirt and after it started raining, mud! Trucks with no etiquette, no conscience and all out to run me over a clift. In three hours I managed to travel 107 KMs and stopped at the high mountain college town of Pamplona, a delightful city full of very nice people. A city of 70,000 people at 2500 meters altitude. It was cold and bleak but it turned out to be a nice evening.
The English professor at the University of Pamplona saw me, introduced himself and spent a couple of hours showing me around last night. He encouraged me to stay for a couple of weeks and study with him and his students. I should have met him when I started this adventure.
Up early this morning, I found the mountains cloaked in clouds and fog. Trucks filled the road. Diesel smoke belching in every direction. But I was off, passing when I could, dodging the scores of trucks that simply were in the wrong lane. One actually forced me off the road and I had to duck my head to keep from getting struck by the truck´s mirror. The first three hours I found I had traveled only 100 KMs. However as the day progressed, the roads improved and the fog lifted. I finally covered about 350 KMs today before rain forced me to stop in the small town of Barbosa, Colombia.
This is one beautiful country. High, steep and green mountains. Crops growing up the mountain sides. Animals everywhere. Goats and horses grazing on the sides of the road, without restraints. Today I passed through Bucaramanga a city of some 600,000 people and saw several herds of goats grazing in the parks and beside the streets. How does anyone know to whom they belong.
Two hundred KMs from Bogota but it could take me all day tomorrow to get there. I would like to visit the airport in Bogota tomorrow afternoon to firm up my plans but right now I have no idea how I will find the airport.
The decision is made. I am on my way to Bogota and am now in San Christobal, Venezuela. I should cross the border into Colombia tomorrow. Last night found me in San Carlos, a nice city but I had no internet access.
Today, on the way to San Christobal I met Philippe and Ana Cecilia Latil and their nephew, Jesus Henrique I had stopped for lunch when they pulled up in a new Renault. Within miinutes, Philippe and his family had introduced themselves and inquired about my ride. Philippe is the owner of Latil Auto, S.A. in San Christobal and studied and lived in the U.S. for eleven years. Both he and Ana Cecilia speak perfect English, which is good given my lack of Spanish proficiency.
Philippe has spent the afternoon with me helping me get some needed tire repairs on the Goose and also bringing me to his office so I could access his internet. Delightful folks who have gone out of their way to help me, a total stranger. Tonight I have the opportunity to have dinner with Philippe and Ana Cecilia which I am sure will be a delight.
Tomorrow I am off to the border. I am told it is a two day ride from the border to Bogota. I have not decided to where I will fly the bike when I reach Bogota.. My options seem to be Panama City or Miami. I had planned to ride back to the U.S. through Central America but I first want to research the costs when I reach Bogota. And to tell the truth, I am exhausted. The heat, the latin drivers and my lack of language skills have all taken a toll. That and nding ten hours every day in this heat.
Tomorrow will probably bring new thoughts! But first, dinner with my new friends tonight.
Six O´clock this morning found me in the back lot of my hotel helping a Venezuelean man push a large truck in an attempt to start it. Quickly realizing that I could not push it alone, I went out on the road stopping people on their way to...to seek help. I must have seemed strange to the folks in this lonely outpost on the edge of the Amazon. Eventually we got the truck started and I chalked that up to my exercise for the morning.
Santa Elena de Uairen, bounded on one side by the Amazon and on the other by the Gran Sabana. Ah the Gran Sabana, beautiful, stark, green at times and rocky at times. Immense with few people inhabiting this unique territory. Literally thousands of square miles of beautiful undulating grasslands, scores of unique flat topped mountains called tepuis and some 300 small thatched villages housing the 15,000 indengenous people who make their home here. And today, they allowed the Goose and me to join them for much of the day.
Five hours of riding rapidly through the Gran Sabana and I was finally in the low but challenging mountains that surround the Sabana. Curvy and fast roads, beautiful forests, water falls....remember this is the home of Angel Falls, the highest and steepest dropping water fall in the world.
And then out of this natural beauty and suddenly into small towns, throbbing with noise, smoke, grease on the streets and trucks and cars belching smoke and fumes. Military checkpoints were frequent today. I must have passed a dozen but was only actually stopped three times. And the young soldiers were entirely professional and friendly, quickly checking my documents, wishing me well and sending me on my way.
Venezuela is a major oil producer and the Venezuelean people have benefited from that. Gasoline is almost free. It cost me less than 50 cents to fill up my tank. In Brazil it had cost in the area of thirty dollars. However the filling stations are very basic, even crude and are far apart. I suspect it will be difficult to find gas for the next three days as the people celebrate Carnaval.
Riding 432 miles today, I have stopped for the evening. And with the night comes a need to make a decision. Do I proceed onward to Caracas where I am now led to believe shipping the motorcycle will be challenging and expensive or do I simply turn west and head for Bogota, Colombia, where they have much experience in shipping motorcycles both to Panama and to Miami. By morning, I have to decide.
Leaving Boa Vista at 8:30 A.M., I arrived at the border at 10:30 A.M. The road was good most of the way, however, the last thirty miles was a bit challenging. Once again, the road was filled with pot holes. the first 100 miles was a beautiful road, through dry and beautiful plains, filled with herds of cattle and horses. Then suddenly I was in a low mountain range with curvy and very hilly roads. However, the ride was pleasant and somewhat lonely.
Last night was a night filled with concern. Everything I had read or heard indicated that the border crossing leaving Brazil would be difficult and I was led to believe that I may not be able to gain entry into Venezuela. The night passed slowly with little or no sleep. If I could not cross the border into Venezuela then I would have no choice but to turn back to Manaus, take the boat again down the Amazon and ride another ten days or so back to Buenos Aires. Sleep was impossible.
I had no cause for worry. Arriving at the Brazilean border, I cleared the Brazil border in less than five minutes and was on my way to attempt to cross into Venezuela. Arriving at the border with Venezuela, I was cleared to enter Venezuela in 45 minutes. Everyone was very helpful and soon I was on my way.
I am now in Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela, where I have already found a hotel for the night and plan to get some rest. I expect to depart tomorrow morning for Cuidad Bolivar. I could be in Caracas by Sunday night, however Monday and Tuesday are Carnaval, official holidays, so I am not in a hurry to arrive in the large city. I am certain that I will not be able to find a company shipping motorcycles to Panama or even to Miami until after Carnaval.
The two days I stayed in Manaus were nice. Ramayana Menezes and Lucio Ferreira, the two members of Brazil Riders, spent more time with me than I could expect and introduced me to members of their club. In fact, Tuesday night we went out for pizza with their wives and several members of their club. Then last night, they hosted a barbeque in my honor. Attending were members of Brazil Riders and also members of Legion Phoenix Motorcycle Club. The president of the the club presented me with their club shirt, so I am now an honorary member.
This morning Lucio met me at my hotel at 6:00 A.M. to guide me out of Manaus and on my way to Boa Vista. By 6:30 we were on the edge of Manaus and I departed these delightful riders, striking out through the tropical rainforest to Boa Vista. 785 KMs, mostly good road, however there were times when the road was terrible. Potholes, gravel, broken pavement and then several times when the road simply turned to mud. About two hours traveling through the Indengia Reserve, an area where you are not allowed to stop and there are many warnings posted about the animals. I have no idea what the warnings said.
The day was nice, no rain and not too terribly hot. Highway 174 is the only road out of Manaus and it runs north to Boa Vista and eventually to the border. About half way, I crossed the Equator. Just about three months ago, I crossed it in Ecuador as I was heading south. Now, I crossed it heading north. I am back in the northern hemisphere.
Today's ride was beautiful. First the rainforest, then several low hills and finally a savannah type terrain filled with beautiful farms and ranches, all with large and beautiful herds of cattle and horses.
Arriving in Boa Vista, I am checked into the Hotel Uiramutam Palace. Tomorrow, north to the border. I expect this to be one of my more difficult border crossings but hope I am in Venezuela by mid morning.
The Riverboat Rondonia finally departed Belem February 11 at 9:00 P.M. and we arrived in Manaus last night at midnight. Hot, humid, the occasional rain with slightly less than 500 passengers all crowded on the Rondonia. At least 400 sleeping on the semi open decks in hammocks, shoulder to shoulder. Hot, humid and somewhat boring, but I did not hear one complaint nor one cross word spoken the entire voyage. Of course, I don´t understand five words of Portuguese, but I still was surprised at the graciousness of the passengers, all looking out for each other.
Six days and six nights, traveling at 10 to twelve knots per hour up the Amazon some 1400 KMs. Passing many riverboats, literally hundreds of small canoes or Amazon boats and the occasional ocean going vessel. Manaus is a major seaport despite being over 1500 KMs from the Atlantic.
The shoreline was not what I expected. Many small farms and several nice herds of cattle, horses and sheep broke up the tropical forest. Houses on stilts, without glass windows, but all housing families, provided the occasional change of scenery from the tropical forest.
The boat, to my surprise, stopped some ten times to load and unload cargo and to take on passengers. Watching the men unload the heavy cargo by hand was our entertainment. That and the constant loud Brazilean music that blasted day and night from speakers placed throughout the boat.
The towns on the Amazon are surprisingly large, considering there are no roads connecting them. Only the Amazon. It is amazing to watch the natives ply the waters of the Amazon in their small boats. Fast and so graceful. Often small children, some as young as four or five, all making their way up or down the river.
Food was served right on time each day. Breakfast at 6:00 A.M., lunch at 11:00 A.M. and dinner at 5:00 P.M. Rice, noodles, beans and chicken or beef for lunch and dinner. Cafe and bread for breakfast! Not gourmet meals but nutritious.
Hot, humid and very noisy for the full six days and nights. I was one of very few in a cabin, but I still could not sleep because of the noise.
Luis Paulo Augusto, a member fo the Brazilean Navy, became my friend during this voyage. He was the only passenger who spoke English. A most remarkable man, Luis had self taught himself to speak English, studying from books and watching English language television shows. Luis was 43 years of age and had been in the Navy 25 years. A man of African descent, he has a wife and daughter who are joining him at his duty station some 1000 KMs further up the river. I would have been miserable without Luis´ company..
Arriving in Manaus last night late, I suddenly heard someone calling my name. Ramayana Menezes, a friend of Alex Reis de Menezes had come to the port to meet me. I had decided to spend the night on the Rondonia, so Ramayana agreed to return back this morning to help me get the Goose off the boat and to find a hotel here in Manaus..
This morning Ramayana and Lucioo Ferreira, also a friend of Alex, were both there to help me find lodging in Manaus. Tonight they have invited me to meet with several of their friends for dinner and refreshments. They all are members of Brazil Riders, the same motocycle club as is Alex. Motorcycle clubs continents apart, taking care of fellow motorcycle riders! All with a common interest!
I had planned to depart Wednesday morning for Boa Vista and ultimately Venezuela but my new friends have urged me ot stay here in Manaus for a few days. Tonight I will decide, but I am anxous to get across the border before everything shuts down for Carnival.
Éager to get to Venezuela so I can make plans for my return to Texas. Remember, I still have to cross the Darien Gap and I am hoping I can fly my bike directly from Caracas to Panama City. I really do not know how to determine that except ot go directly to the Caracas International Airport and visit with cargo carriers and shipping brokers.
Tomorrow I will explore Manaus. I particularly want to see the Teatro Amazonas, the beautiful theater built during the rubber boom days when Manaus was known as the "Paris of the Tropics".
Unable to sleep, I was up early preparing to depart Belem. I was partcularly concerned about being able to find the right dock and wondering how I could possibly ever get through all of the officials and guards to get the BMW on board the Rondonia.
However, at 8:00 A.M., into the hotel walked Alex Reis de Menezes (firstname.lastname@example.org
), my fellow Horizons Unlimited colleague and the owner of a motorcycle repair shop here in Belem. Alex has made it his mission to come to the assistance of motorcycle travelers who are in Belem. With his aid, everything went smoothly and the Goose is now in the cargo hold of the Rondonia.
I also was able to visit my cabin briefly and found it to be adequate. Small, with no window but it did have a nice bed, a shower and a small refrigerator. Now if the air conditioner truly works, I should get some rest during this river trip.
Alex is really a great guy. He has already contacted fellow bike riders in Maunus and asked them to help me upon my arrival in that city. Later this afternoon, I will board the Rondonia with my baggage and we will sail shortly after dark. Yesterday, I bought the supplies that fellow riders have indicated I needed. Bottled water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, hammock, extra batteries for my camera and flashlight, medications in case of.........and of course toilet paper.
Alex and his wife are coming to the Rondonia at 4:00 P.M. so we can visit a great restaurant on the dock. It surely will be my last good meal for a week. Now the big challenge will be to convince Alex to let this be my treat.
The gracious Portuguese owner of Hotel Unidos, here in Belem, just came down to wish me safe voyage and her daughter, Chrstina, presented me with gift of a local candy. For those of you traveling through Belem, you must stay at Hotel Unidos. Christina is fluent in English and both she and her mother are fabulous people.
Now this truly is my last posting for a few days. Bon voyage!
Today I booked passage on the riverboat N/M Rondonia, one of the larger riverboats that ply the waters of the Amazon between Belem and Manaus. Some 1400 KMs through the jungle, hot and very humid. However the Rondonia is one of the more modern boats on the river. I am unsure of the size but it is quite large, three decks constructed of steel. There are three classes of accomodations available., sleeping on deck in a hammock, a shared small cabin and private cabins. For security reasons, I booked a private cabin.
I must have the BMW at the docks for loading tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. The Amazon, this close to the Atlantic. actually rises and falls several feet each day. At 10:00 the river will be at the right level to load the bike. Passengers are allowed to board at 4:00 P.M. and the boat sails at 6:00 P.M. The trip is six days (more or less).
There are numerouos quick stops along the river, to off load cargo and to unload and load passengers. The only stop of any length of time is in Santarem, a riverfront city of some 200,000 deep in the jungle. The stop in Santarem is several hours.
The Rondonia was not my first choice of boats but it is the one here now that can transport the Goose. That is the main reason I chose this boat.
Upon arrival in Manaus, I will travel northwest some 800 KMs to Boa Vista, Brazil and then cross the border into Venzuela. I am uncertain of the distance from Boa Vista to Caracas but that is my destination. My goal, my hope, my prayer is that I can ship the bike from Caracas to Panama City, Panama. If not, then I have to develop a new plan. I still expect to return to the U.S. no later than early April. However, the big unknown is my ability to tansport the Goose from Caracas to Panama City.
Today, I met a delightful group of men in the hotel. They spoke English and helped me sort our the issues involving the riverboat. The three actually worked for an organization headquartered in China, Unlimited Resources International. Mineral mining, gold and other types is very strong here in Brazil.
One of the three, David Lucas, trained as an architect, lived for some years n Missouri and easily could have passed for an American but now he is back in Brazil serving as International Marketing Director for |sUnlimited Resources. Of nterest, his son lives in Los Angeles and just returned from a one year Army tour in Iraq. That war seems to effect people far and wide.
Alex Reis de Menezes (email@example.com), an active participant on Horizons Unlimited lives here in Belem and last night I was able to contact him. Alex owns a motorcycle shop here in Belem and had posted on Horizons Unlimited that anyone needing help in Belem should contact him. I sent him an e-mail and by 9:30 P.M., he and his lovely wife were here at the hotel offering their help. We decided that Alex would accompany me to book a riverboat this morning.
At 9:00 A.M., this morning, Alex was here at the hotel and had already contacted a boat office and arranged for us to meet with the captain. With me riding on the back of Alex' Yamaha Tenere 600, we were off to Belem's Terminal Hidraviaria. The captain seemed sure he would have a cabin available, although we are still discussing price. The motorcycle will go in with the other cargo, including some cars. The captain is supposed to come here to the hotel tomorrow to finish our discussion and he expects me to pay him then, with us departing on Wednesday. I am uncomfortable with that!
Later today, I met Edilson Aquiar de Assuncao, a local tourist guide and interpreter and hired him to assist me today in an effort to be ready to depart Wednesday. There were several things I need to do and I needed someone to interpret.
First, we met with the Venezulean Consulate. I had been advised by two riders that I had to get a Venezulean Tourist Card before I showed up at the border crossing expecting to enter Venezuela. Today the Consul assured us that was not the case. He said that a U.S. citizen needed no visa and that the border officials would quickly issue me a tourist card. I hope he is right. After all, I am taking a 1400 KM boat trip and riding through the Amazon another 800 KMs to get to the border. I would hate to be denied entry after all that.
Then we were off to purchase a hammock for the riverboat and rope to help hang the hammock. Yes, I am going to have a cabin, but I want a hammock to sit in during the day. I cannot sit in the cabin all day for six days. Tomorrow, I will purchase other essentials, such as bottled water, sunshield, toilet paper....and I cannot remember what else.
Later this afternoon, Edilson took me for lunch at Estacas Das Docas, a renovated and beautiful area of shops, restaurants and gift shops along the river. Lunch at a great restaurant capped off a good day.
Edilson is a knowledgable and fun guy and if you are going to be in Belem, I recommend his services. He can be reached by phone at (005591) 9111-5956 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another nice thing occurred today. I am stayiing at Hotel Unidos, a nice mid priced hotel here in the commercial area of Belem. The owners daughter, Christina, speaks fluent English and has been a help to me. Today I asked her if I could purchase a sheet and towel from their supply here since I am expected to have my own top sheet and towel on the riverboat. Her mother immediately said they would give them to me as a gift. Such great people. If you are spending time in Belem, I recommend Hotel Unidos (0xx91) 3224-0660.
And remember, Alex Reis de Menezes (email@example.com) is a member of the Horizons Unlimited family and can supply your motorcycle needs, including tyres.
Tomorrow, I hope the boat captain shows up here as he promised.
Arriving in Belem late on Friday afternoon, the Goose and I covered 367 miles of mostly good road and only intermittent and light rain. I am safely checked into the Hotel Unidos, a nice middle priced hotel here in Belem.
Belem is a port city here on the Amazon and it certainly lives up to the reputation of a port city. Certain parts of the city look unsafe and a local person just told me to not walk outside the hotel at night since it was unsafe to do so. He suggested taking a taxi when I go out, but I have no idea where to go so I will be staying in tonight, which is what I did last night.
The ride Friday covered 367 miles of mostly good road. The weather cooperated, hot, humid and the occasional rain shower. I covered the distance in about seven hours. The countryside was mostly tropical forests until I got within about fifty miles of Belem. At that point it was obvious that the landside had been cleared and suddenly there were a number of beautiful large ranches, with orchards and large herds of cattle.
However, the city of Belem is a busy city, with all sorts of industry as you enter the city. The center of the city is commercial but the docks tend to dominate the city.
The riverboats depart Belem for Manaus on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The docks were closed today due to it being Sunday, but tomorrow I will visit the dock to attempt to book passage. The riverboats carry local passengers, cargo and make numerous stops. Manaus is up river and the trip takes six day and nights. Hot and humid, on a very crowded riverboat. Most passengers sleep in hammocks (which you have to supply) on the decks, but there are cabins available for those willing to incur the expense. I am!
The Amazon is very wide and I read the boats tend to run in the center of the river. It may be impossible to see much wildlife from the boat. Food is available. Simple and the same thing for lunch and dinner each day. Rice, beans and unidentified meat. Toilets are communal and are described as ¨unpleasant¨. Hot, very humid and with many mosquitos. This is hardly a pleasure cruise.
The trip upstream is about 1400 KMs to Manaus. From there I ride through the Amazon for about 800 KMs to Boa Vista where I cross the border into Venezuela. Then another long ride, perhaps 1100 KMs to Caracas. I would like to fly the Goose from Caracas to Panama City but I do not know if that is possible. I have asked a couple of friends to check for me so hopefully I will know something before I leave Belem. At this time, I am hoping for a Wednesday departure.
Three hundred thirty miles today and I was in Imperatriz, Brazil. The banner over the road as I entered the city said (in Portuguese) "Welcome to Imperatriz the Portal of Amazona". Imperatriz is a middle sized city, wiith a nice hotel. Expensive, at US$49, but nice.
Belem, my immediate destination, is 410 miles away and I hope to be there by 5:00 P.M. tomorrow. Darkness is coming much sooner and tonight it was dark by 6:30 P.M. I do not like to ride at night but would be in fear to get caught on the road at night in the Amazon.
The roads were strange today. Good for fifty miles and then terrible for another thirty to fifty miles. One time it was dirt for about five miles. Potholes, not the size of a modest bathtub but more the size of a Jacuzzi tub. The trucks were all over the road trying to miss the biggest potholes. There was no order.
Gasoline remains plentiful. The postos (filling stations) are forty or fifty miles apart. I tend to fill up every 100 miles or so. I am determined to not run out of gas here in the Amazon. The Goose continues to perform flawlessly.
The weather is the same everyday. Nice in the morning, rain at noon or slightly later, then hot and humid in the afternoon. It usually comes a torrential rain during the night.
Every time I stop for gasoline the bike, a BMW R100GSPD is surrounded by men, young and old. They all ask questions, but I can rarely understand. Speaking of the people, in the south of Brazil the people obviously were of European descent. However, now I am noticing many of Indigenious descent.
And the cars continue to interest me. The old Volkswagen bus was a favorite of mine and you see them everywhere here. In fact, I am certain that Brazil still manufactures them. Today I saw a truck hauling several new VW busses. And the old VW Camper. They are here in great shape.
Tomorrow, Belem and the challenges that will present. For some reason, the city fills me with apprehension (that is my euphenism for fear).
I enjoyed my stay in Cerres, Brazil and really liked the Hotel Don Antonio. Up early this morning to partake of the breakfast and I was on the road by 8:00 A.M. Today´s ride was actually somewhat boring. Hot, with a couple of brief rain showers. Trucks everywhere, belching thick black diesel smoke. The road has deteriorated but still is O.K. The Beemer is running superbly.
I quickly noticed that the towns were getting fewer and fewer and then it seemed that all I would see was an occasional small village. No more nice truckstops, just small greasy petro stations, but at least I can buy gas. The price is getting higher as I get further from the large cities.
The countryside is becoming more dense, what I suppose could be described as tropical forests. It is obvious that Amazona is getting closer. Late this evening I suddenly realized that I had no idea if there was another town ahead of me. Apprehension set in. I simply did not want to have to stop for the night in this dense foliage. About 100 KMs and I came upon the small village of Miranorte and suddenly saw Martin´s Hotel.
Stopping and entering, I discovered a nice, small simple hotel. Very clean with delightful folks!. I am in for the night. The owner actually invited me to go with him later for comida, but I cannot even think about eating anymore beef tonight. I am staying in and hoping for a good nights sleep.
I think I am within 1200 KMs (730 miles) of Belem, but I am not sure. Probably two days ride, maybe three if the weather does not cooperate. Then I must navigate the large port city of Belem with upwards of two million people and find a boat willing to transport me and the Goose to Manaus.
Clear skies, two torrential rains with fierce winds, cool morning, blistering afternoon and then another ferocious rain. And the Goose still travelled 455 miles. Running strong with no leaks. Thank you Ken and Javier!
I am now traveling north on BZ153, which essentially runs directly north and just west of Brazilia and Belem. At times the road is in excellent condition and sometimes it is in poor condition. Potholes the size of a modest bathtub. An extremely busy road, filled with semi trucks, all belching thick black diesel smoke. Bumper to bumper trucks, but they are really courteous drivers and pull to the right so that I can pass when they can. Speaking of trucks, I rarely see a U.S. manufactured truck. They are all European, mostly Mercedes, Scania, Volvos and VWs. Yes, VW makes semi tractors and concrete mixer trucks and police cars and taxis. It is amazing what I did not know before this trip. The automobiles are mostly very nice, but once again, all European and Asian. I seldom see a Ford or Chevy and never a Buick or Chrysler.
Gasoline is readily available, but expensive. I am paying about US$1.30 per liter. If I calculate correctly, that is over four bucks a gallon. And the Goose does likes to drink gasoline. I spent the equivalent of $55 today on gasoline alone.
Brazil´s economy must be in very good shape, if one can tell by the number of trucks on the road hauling product. And new construction, manufacturing plants being built, schools and high rise housing. New construction in every town, regardless of the size.
The countryside is beautiful, Rolling hills, beautiful crops, large herds of animals and green foliage everywhere you look. The countryside today reminded me of Interstate 40 between Cookeville and Monterey, TN.
I have now traveled almost 2000 miles since I left Buenos Aires Friday and a few minutes ago I saw a sign indicating Belem was 1990 KMs distant. This is one big country! I am finding my way surprisingly well, thanks to any number of great truck drivers and truck stop attendents. I keep a list of all of the cities I will be passing and just go up to someone, point to the city on the list and give my stupid look. After some confusion, they generally point in one direction or the other.
Someone asked me today if I was eating right. That is debatable. Breakfast is always included in the price of the hotel, but it is more a continental breakfast than I would like. Usually bread, sweet rolls, sliced ham and cheese, coffee con leche and sometimes a juice. For lunch I have begun stopping at large truck stops and taking advantage of Brazil´s version of a buffet. It is available from 11:00 AM until early afternoon and has every salad imaginable, many vegetables, always including pinto beans and rice, and always includes grilled chicken and some type of stewed meat. In addition today, the restaurant had a dozen or so men walking around with large skewers of meat slicing off freshly cooked unidentified meat. In fact, they were bothersome, they came so often, one after the other, and did not want to take no for an answer. My friend, Larry Hall, would love these Brazilean buffets. Cost--US$8!
I rode later tonight than normal, stopping in the small town of Cerres at about 7:00 PM. I did not know the town, and had to ride a couple of miles off of the highway to get to the village. Cerres, as nice a town as I have ever seen. Beautiful lawns, trees, flowers and very nice houses. I am in the Hotel Don Antonio, a lovely hotel at a cost of RS68 (about US$35).
Today was a good day, despite the rain!
Up early, only to find it was raining. In fact it rained off and on today until about 3:00 P.M., when suddenly the skies cleared and the sun burst through. Hot! And my face is sunburned even though I wear a full face helmet.
I stopped for the night in San Jose do Rio Preto and checked into Brazil's version of an economy hotel. Today, I rode 355 miles, but it was tough, rain and at times very bad roads. And today I received an e-mail from someone telling me that the roads were going to get dramatically worse soon. At this rate, I will not get to Belem for several more days. Of course, I am not sure what I am going to do when I do arrive. I must find a river boat that will transport my BMW and me up the river to Manus but since I speak no Portuguese, I am not sure how I will accomplish that.
Tomorrow will fiind me once again heading north, hopefully as far as Porangatu, Brazil. That will find me north of Brazilia, a city that I am purposefully avoiding. A large city, without being able to ask directions--no thanks.
No direct roads! Just a road from one city to the next, seldom in the same direction. I have a couple of maps but they are of little help. For navigation purposes, I am using my compass.
Of all the errors I made in preperation for this trip, the biggest was not learning Spanish. But that would not help me here in Brazil. However, my second biggest mistake was not buying a Garmin Zumo GPS and making certain it was loaded with Smelly Biker´s map of Brazil. However, I did have the good judgement to buy a Wayfarer Electronic Compass and that is what I am using to navigate. It works, although I am only averaging 300 miles per day the past three days.
Last night I stopped for the evening early, checking into a nice hotel in Passo Fundo, Brazil. A quite Sunday evening with a long walk through the pleasant city. Today, I rode through beautiful low mountains and curvy roads, filled with large full rivers and several lakes. The countryside for much of the day was absolutely beautiful. At about 4:00 P.M. it clouded and suddently the Goose and I were in a torrential rain. However, within thirty minutes we were out of the rain and soon stopped for the night in the city of Punta Grossa, Brazil.
I am in a decent hotel, but expensive for what it offers. While I love Brazil, I am not thrilled with this city. it is "gritty", with it´s share of mangy dogs roaming the atreets. In fact, I took a short walk and did not fill at all safe. Unless the weather is terrible tomorrow, I will depart early moving north. I will be riding up the middle of Brazil, about 100 miles west of Brazilia. My goal is to get to Belem within ten days and find the best river boat for my trip up the Amazon.
The Goose? Running strong and no leaks. I think Javier and Ken worked the right magic.
The ride from Salto to Rivera, Uruguay was beautiful. Through pampas and large estancias, large herds of cattle, horses and sheep. all being herded by the colorful gauchos of Uruguay. It is thrilling to come over a hill to see a large herd of cattle in front of you being carefully driven by three guauchos and several dogs. The gauchos are really professional cowboys, in colorful vests and hats, all the time snapping long whips. A lonely life, perhaps, but colorful.
The road across the pampas was 130 miles without a single store or town. Some small villages every fifty miles or so but no stores. The road, asphalt most of the way but ten miles or so of packed dirt. I am glad it was not raining. Packed red clay gets very slick when it rains.
I reached the border with Brazil at about 2:30 P.M. But, there is no border crossing, no guards or gate...Nothing! I stopped and asked where the crossing with Brazil was only to learn I was in Brazil. Someone directed me to the National Police and I went there to find a long line. However, an official came out and took me inside, where they quickly stamped my passport and told me to go on. I am concerned that we filled out no papers temporarily importing my bike, but the officials knew I was riding the Goose so I hope we did all that was needed.
I am lost! I cannot speak a word of Portuguese and have only met one person that even speaks a little English. There are no direct roads in Brazil, only small roads connecting one town to the next, with no order to the system. I have to travel close to 4000 miles to reach Belem and right now I wonder if it will take me all of February.
Today, I stopped at the small town of Rosario Du Sul, Brazil, so I would be sure to have a hotel for the night. I am in a nice, but simple hotel, with air and warm water all for the equivalent of US$25. It is a good thing it was not more, I have only a small amount of Reals, the currency of Brazil. I went to an ATM at the local bank but it will not honor my ATM card. I will hopefully find a bank Monday that will honor my card.
The Goose ran strong today, no leaks at all. I checked several times. While riding up the main road this afternoon, in Brazil, the truck in front of me stopped and I saw trucks in the oncoming traffic stopped. A huge bull was in the road, the largest I have ever seen. Full horns, head lowered and snorting viciously at the truck. For a second I thought about getting off the Goose to take a picture, but then he turned and looked at me and I reconsidered. When the animal went back to challenging the truck, I gunned the Goose and safely passed the bull and trucks and ran for safety.
It is very hot here, but it did not rain at all on me today. Tomorrow..........we will see tomorrow.
The Goose is loose! And we made it all the way to Salto, Uruguay today, some 300 miles from Dakar Motos. Uruguay is beautiful, but it is raining and from what I have heard, it is raining all over Uruguay and Brazil. My friend from Germany, Michel Bader is on the coast and it is raining there.
I had hoped to go to Monteviedo today to meet Michel later in the week, but when I checked with the ferry, they were so fully booked they were not allowing Motos aboard. The Mar Del Plata, actually a large river, is so wide between Buenos Aires and Monteveido that the ferry ride is almost three hours. Since they would not take the Goose, I had to ride north up the Rio Uruguay some 180 miles and take a bridge across to Paysundo, Uruguay.
Traffic at the border crossing was fierce, backed up some three to four miles on each side and bearly moving. I suspect it would have taken four of five hours if I had to sit in the line of cars and trucks. But, in Central and South America motobikes are allowed, encouraged, to move to the head of the line and as a result, I was able to clear customs in Argentina in about ten minutes and complete the customs and immigrations paperwork in Uruguay in another twenty minutes. Highly efficient and friendly. Not at all like the chaos and corruption I experienced in Central America.
Leaving Dakar Motos was bittersweet. I was eager to be on the road, but Ken, Javier, Mathias, Theo, Sandra, Carol and Ludovit had become family. They are interesting, bright and great people. Such an adventure, primarily because of the people I meet. I was thinking as I rode, I spent a total of 39 days in Argentina.
Uruguay, largely an unknown gem. Beautiful large estancias, with beautiful herds of cattle and horses. Nice homes and wonderous countryside. In fact the countryside reminds me of central Kentucky in the late spring, except there are some palm trees along the way here.
I have only been in Salto for an hour or so, but the people are very friendly. Later tonight (it is 7:00 P.M. as I write this) I will sample the food. I am in a modest, but clean hotel for tonight. They have secure parking for the Goose which is a requirement. For the past twenty or so miles, I passed numerous thermal spas and resorts. I actually think this area is replete with hot salt springs. The spas and resorts are very nice, in fact luxurious. I was tempted to treat myself, but I prefer to stay in the small cities where I can meet the people and get to know how they live.
The Goose ran great today. No oil leaks and I am optimistic. Javier and Ken spent significant time checking every part on the bike. I told Javier that if it leaks in the next two thousand miles, I am simply turning around and heading back to Dakar Motos. He agreed! He stands behind his work.
I am not sure where I will head tomorrow, but I do have about 3600 to 4000 miles to cover before I reach Amozona. So I will be moving north, I just have not decided by which route. Tomorrow will be a new adventure!