Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gruta Azul (Blue Cave) Lencois, Brasil

Great views were had from atop this mountain outside of Lencois
Just at the entrance of the Gruta Azul I saw this fellow who was actually the side of a volley ball, Thankfully I was bigger than him because I think he was sizing me up for dinner.

Gruta Azul, I donned my mask and flippers and entered the cave for a swim with the fish.

Looking out to the light from about 100 meters within the cave.

A pretty flower that was common along the river walk to the Devils Pool.

After yesterday afternoons disaster of adventure I decided to go into an official tour guide office and book a one day tour to see a couple of sights in the area. I managed to tag along with a couple from Germany named Erik and Barbara. The guide picked me up at the Pousasa on time at 830am and the 4 of us headed out of town in the smallest little car that Ive ever been in. It was a tiny Fiat and Erik and I were way too tall to be crammed into this thing. Nonetheless we still trundled off with visions of a great day.

The first order of the day was to visit a beautiful waterfall and river at a famous pool called the Devils pool. Apparently back in the 19th century slaves were used to construct aquaducts that channeled water to areas that diamond miners worked at and used the water to wash the rock in search of diamonds. Devils pool was given its name because of the amount of slaves that died in the process of trying to divert water from the river and from diving to great depths in the pool to locate diamond containing rock. The pool is a natural place for diamonds to accumulate due to the current and abrasion of swirriling rocks and sand. The Devils Pool nowadays is a great place for all people to come and visit and to swim in the beauty of the surrounding cliffs and river valley.

Off we went to check out a cave. I really had no clue where we were going as the agency simply showed me a few snap shots of where the tour lead. We headed along a huge cliff along a river escarpment and descended into a river valley 60 meters below. The cliff walls were redish brown in color and were composed of many striations as this area was once under the sea. Around the next bend we saw the mouth of the cave. This was a huge dry cavernous cave through the earth with an entrance and an exit at either end of the cave. Id say that the roof was a solid 40 feet high and 80 feet wide. The stone in the area was composed of Calcium carbonate limestone and once upon a time a river had flowed through the earth at this site and carved this huge beautiful cave.

Inside there were many interesting geological features including stalactites and stalagmites, and deep rimmed pools formed by precipitating calcium carbonate. The cave was an 840 meter long walk and was most impressive just based on its size. Continuing onward with caves we headed off to cave #2, the Gruta Azul (Blue Cave). Here the water was crystal clear and vibrant blue from the mineral deposits on the bottom as well as the minerals that were in solution. We donned swim fins and snorkle gear and were allowed to enter the cave. Again, as with Bonito, we were not allowed to let our feet touch the bottom so as to prevent stirring up sediment. Venturing into the watery depths of the cave was an experience in itself. The darkness quicky took over and the guide handed out waterproof flashlights from his rubber dingy. This allowed us to kinda see where we were going but I think the point of the swim in was to experience swimming into a dark cave. The swim back out was better as our eyes had adjusted to the darkness and alot of fish were visible that ranged from minnows to about 15 cm.

The trip was not yet over and we took off in the Fiat to a mountain range where we drove most of the way up a mountain and then hiked up a pretty easy trail to the summit from there. After yesterdays experience with Ameoba I wasnt complaining too much about the difficulty of the hike. The scenic vista from the top of the mountain was very beautiful and we gathered there for the better part of 45 minutes to watch the sunset. (Although it was overcast and we could only tell that the sun had set because it got a little bit darker).

The day was much more successful than yesterday and I felt pretty good about doing something in an adventure based town like Lencois. I figure that I could almost move here and enjoy the natural beauty of this 105 sq Km national park and surrounding natural protected areas with the thousands of caves and hundreds of hiking trails all of which were pretty much deserted.

Tomorrow I head my way to Salvador and then about a 145 km north from there to find a smaller beach town on the coast.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lencois, Diamondville, Brasil

My New Amigos in Aurora
Mountain that I hiked in Lencois

Colorful buildings in Lencois

Lencois Archeticture

I Rolled out of Aurora Do Tocantis and headed about 50 km up the road to a short cut. The short cut was a powdery, red & dusty dirt road that cut through farming fields. The scenery was pretty for the first bit, but, then kind of got boring for a while. I was definately passing through an agriculture based landtype. After about 60 km the asphalt began and I ramped the bike back up to my cruising speed of 95km/hr. I rode all day & when I decided that it was time to stop for the day I checked the clock, it was only 130pm. I stopped for a road side trucker buffet which is a very common way of eating here in Brasil. The woman asked me what I wanted but I couldnt make out what she was saying over the blasting T.V. up in the corner of the room. I regretted taking my earplugs out and considered putting them back in while I ate. I eventually just pointed over to the table beside me and said that I wanted a small plate of what ever that person was eating . Unknown to me she understood that I wanted everything on the table that the three people sitting at the other table were eating. Out came a dish of 3 steaks wih onions, a plate of squash, a plate of spagetti, a plate of rice, a plate of beans, a bowl of stewed roast beef chunks, a plate of sliced tomatoes and onios. I was sitting there feeling bewildered like I was being challenged to complete a complex chinese math problem.

I decided that Id begin with the veggies. As soon as I ate the last tomato the woman came back and asked if I wanted another PLATE OF TOMATOES! I politely said no and she looked kind of disappointed. Anyhow, I managd to eat as much of everything as I could but still try and avoid overeating.

Back on the bike, I saw a sign for Lencois and remembered that I had circled it on my map as a place that I wanted to stop and visit along the way. It is touted as an adventure base hotspot where people book tours and guides for outings into the Parque Nacional Da Chapada Diamantina.

Lencois is a 19th century diamond mining town and is one of the most quaint and picturesque towns that Ive stopped into. It is situated in the mountanous surroundings of the Park with wooded forests covering the hills. The last 20km before Lencois was pretty amazing and I saw many of the mountains that are famous here for hiking.

As usual I checked into a pousada just before dark opting for one that my guide book suggested. It was kind of hard to find as I had to navigate the cobble stone streets and pass many colorful buildings. I had to stop and ask for directions before finally finding the place. My Pousada is the nicest hotel that Ive stayed in this trip. It has a balcony in the trees where I watch monkeys swing from the branches ( no Joke) and a hammock which I lay in and read through my guide book while listening to the jungle birds.

This afternnoon I was feeling like doing something but the price of the tours and some of the duration of the tours is a deterrent. On my way back to my Pousada after touring the town for a bit I was called over to a little restaurant. The guy there asked if I was going up the trail along the river. Actually, after I dropped off my wallet etc. I was! He suggested that he guide me to a few waterfalls and interesting places. I agreed to pay him the 20 reals he requested.

Off we went with his girlfriend who accompanied us only to a great swimming hole along the river. From this point the guide (Ameoba), Yeah.... I should have known by the sounds of his name, took me up some very steep and rocky terrain. I asked before I left if the crappy sandles I was wearing were good enough for the walk and he replied .....yes of course!

The rock formation in the area was a conglomerate sandstone with baseball sized rocks inbedded in sandstone. The area had been mined by hand here for diamonds and that had provided the wealth to the area allowing the construction of all the beautiful archetecture. Now, however, I was getting weary about looking down on the beautiful archetecture from high above in terrain that warrented hiking boots.

Near the summit we came to a crevace that was about 6 feet across and about 60 feet deep. The Guide just jumped across in his bare feet. I was thinking that this was getting sketchy but jumped across easily as well. I was thinking that Ameoba had incredibly tough feet! We were now in a drier climate at a higer altitude mostly barren of vegetation with cacti growing in the cracks in the rock. Again, we encountered a place where the earth was split and required a long jumper to clear the gaping crevace. I was getting worried once I noticed the guide double back on the trail that he was scouting for me. The next place we encountered required slipping down a ridiculiously step rock wall and then making a 10 foot drop onto a ledge being careful not to fall onto the 20 foot deep adjacent crevace. I was nervous about his one, but, made it with out a problem as I lowered myself chin up style..... down to about 4 feet off the ground. The guide grabbed me around the waist to cushon the rest of the fall. At this point I knew there was to turning back. I had made a huge error and only realized it right at that moment as the next place we had to navigate was a huge drop, a steep rock face and also a huge gap to jump across. It might have been pretty easy in boots but I was in bare feet now because the rock face slope was too steep to wear sandles, and the jump too far to risk loosing the sandles down the crevace. The guide jumped first (crazy bastard) bare feet and all....I heard the thud of heel bones hitting the cobbles inbedded in the sandstone. I knew we were lost and now in potential trouble. I tossed my sandles down to Ameoba and he laid then on the rock below. I took a few seconds to focus, like I was about to launch a cliff or ride a huge ramp on my snowboard like Ive done so many times. I leapt and didnt take my eyes off the sandles. It all worked out, luckily for me, and I landed both feet right on the neoprene sandles.

At this point I demanded that we get to an easier trail and go somewhere safer! He said yes,that we were heading that way but he wanted to make sure that I got to see the panoramic views of the city....yeah yeah... Im a huge pussy. Im a pretty athletic guy and not much shakes my confidence but in a strange land with no-one knowing where we went that day we were in trouble....no food ...no water...huge potential for disaster...and my moto trip in jepordy....too much for me.

We now began our descent down a talus slope comprised of brick sized talus. It would have been difficult walking in boots, let alone, trying to keep your sandles on and feet free of crushing tumbling rocks. I could see the jungle below and asked again to get to a safer trail. The guide lead me to a wall of vegetation so thick, it was inpenetrable. I asked a dumb question ...how we gonna get through this huh..? He simply started pushing his way through it. It was ridiculious...or perhaps Im way to much of a wimp. The vegetation was kinda like ferns and vines and dusty leaves which made me sneeze. I kept loosing my sandles in the intertwined mess of vegetation. It was like trying to crawl through a bail of loosely compacted hay. I asked if there were any cobras. (name for snakes here) No response...... I was happy that there was no response because what did it matter if there was anyhow!

Finally after another 20 minutes I could see a river below which the guide book described as having a nice trail to walk on. Alas, we made it to the destination (I guess he knew where we were going the whole time afterall!!!!!!) Here there was a waterfall that you could stand on a rock and take a shower. The was water was cool but, not cold and I happily showered off all the dirt and dust that was clinging to me while I washed out cuts on my hands and feet.

I asked to return to town so we meandered our way back along a path. I was so happy that I forgot how much of a jerk this guy was for taking me on such a tretcherous hike that. When we got back to civilization I paid him his 20real.

I returned back to the hotel and opened the guide book and there in bold print it stated that only professionally accretited guides should be hired here. It stated that if you could name it .... it has happened here and when deciding on a guide you should keep in mind that you are potentially trusting your life and wellbeing in that persons hands. The guide book was smack dab on that one.

If anything I was caught off guard after being treated so well in Auroa. The guide meant well but he had no experience and just wanted to make sure I had a good hiking adventure...well it definately was an adventure but more of a game of risk as the hike itself sucked and it was more of a gamble with my safety.

Perhaps Ill stick with motorcycling as it seems to have less risk involved

Amigos Abroad

The Blue Maccaw, that was with a flock that flew in for breakfast, the others remained roosted in the trees above with the flock of toucan, it was amazing.
The buttes, crests and mesas that were very common for about 200km.

The house on the corner with my Amigo just before I headed out of town.

The Rio Azul where the spring gushed water from the underground at an astonishing rate forming a whole river.

I rolled out of Pousada Do Sol at 1000 am and rode through some of the most interesting scenery. The hills were comprised of what looked like pillars, similar to that of columnar jointing characteristic of volcanic basalt, like that of the Giants Causeway in Ireland. However, the rock type here was not basalt and more likely formed from erosion of the softer undersoil with the more erosion resistants crusty upper layer formimg a nice hat which protected the less erosion resistant underside from water. This has resulted in crests, butes, and mesas that are typical in desert environments.

At about 2pm with only about 275km covered I rolled into the town of Aurora do Toucantis. There I stopped at a small restaurant (the only one that looked open) that had a bunch of guys between the ages of 30-40 yrs sitting around a couple of tables. (footy bal players)

I parked the bike and asked for something to eat and was informed that they were'nt open for food, only drinks. They told me how to get to an open restaurant around the corner but first I'd have to sit down with them for a drink. I complied, and 6 dixi cups were filled from a 600ml bottle of beer. Everyone shares here compared to what I'm used to, usually where I'm from everyone gets their own bottle.

I was told that I wasn't leaving that day and that they were going to show me around their town and that I'd have to stay the night and leave in the morning. Another guy peeped up and said that I'd be sleeping at his house and I wasn't allowed to pay for any beer. It was all too good to be true. As it turned out the guys were genuine and I found myself following them to a river front establishment that was nestled in among the trees and then to another and then finally to a famous fresh water spring that gushed blue water at an astonishing rate. The water pouring from the spring was crystal clear and warm enough to go swimming. A set of concrete steps were built at the site and it was obviously very popular for swimming with all the locals. The Rio Azuis, which is formed at the spring is apparently listed in the Guiness Book of World Records but I have not determined why as of yet. (I'll do that afterwards).

It was well past dark now, getting on about 830pm. The guys began gathering themselves up at the Blue Spring and we rolled out back to Aurora Do Tocantis. On arrival we sat down at a table that was placed out beside an outdoor BBQ. I ordered up a few plates of food for the grand total of about 3 dollars and we sat and ate a variety of BBQ'd meats including sausages, poultry, red meat, rice and a bunch of weird vegetables.

It was now 930pm and I was exhausted from all the hiking and sweating from the day before, not to mention spending all day in the sun with my new buddies. I got up and informed the bunch that I was outta there. They all stood up and surrounded me and said that there was no way that I was getting a hotel. One of the fellows took the lead and showed me the way to a beautiful house on the corner with a room filled with 3 beds. I could'nt have asked for more. The place was completely tiled inside and very clean. I crashed out, although, I was sweating perfusely in the midnight heat. At about 3 am I was awoken by the sound of screeching metal and a motorbike engine whining outside my bedroom window. I instinctively jumped out of bed to see if it was my bike in my sleepy delerium. It was not. However, there was a guy laying on his side looking through the open bedroom window back at me. He slowly got up. The poor guy had to kick start his flooded bike, and rode off. It took me until 5 am to fall asleep again and this made me very tired for the next morning. I was up at 7am and had the bike completely packed by 730. I woke up my host and said good bye and thank you. He told me to call him someday from Canada, so I probably will to practice my Portugese.

My destination was 875km to the east, it was going to be a big day and I had no idea what lay ahead.

Parque Nacional Dos Veadeiros

Here they don't want you to run over the snakes.
And finally I found one of the snakes, this was a big Rattler about 8-10 years old according to the amount of rattles on its tail.

The Vale de Lua ( Valley of the moon, lunar landscape in the river valley)

One of the water falls in the park that made a nice rainbow when the sun came out , notice the moon in the background.

The most spectacular waterfall I've ever seen. (Rio Preto Falls II, 120meters.)

It was time to roll out of Goias and hit the road with quite a long distance to cover before reaching Alto Pariso and the Parque Nacional Dos Veadeiros. From what the guide book described, the park was host to scenic vistas, waterfalls and canyons comprised in a 66,000 square Km mountanous protected area. The terrain is situated in a high altitude cerrado with 30% of Brasils biodiversity living in such habitat as found in the unique dry forest.

The highway there was plain with intermittent views. At one point I was daydeaming and I zoomed right past a log on the road that seethed backwards as passed. I glanced back over my shouder and verified my imagination. There in the middle of the road was a huge rattle snake the size of two baseball bats layed end to end. I spun the bike around and parked it on the road so that the lovely reptile wouldnt get run over by the oncoming cars and trucks. My tactic worked and the the vehicles unhappily drove around me and the snake. I was doing my best to keep distance between me and the snake but still close enough to scare it off the road and into the tall grass on the shoulder. I almost forgot to take a picture because of my excitement and fear of the deadly serpent. I essentially didnt want to take my eyes off of it even for a second...but I did and got a meadiocre picture nonetheless.

I found a great little pousada (hotel) In Alto Pariso called Pousada do Sol (hotel of the SUN). It was a great place to relax with garden trails meandering all throughout the property. It was very noisy with buzzing and chirping and whining insects all evening. I went out to a restaurant as per the hotel owners recommendation and ate the most delicious chicken curry...ha ha.

The next morning at the crack of dawn (Im crossing time zones to the east and get up early everyday) I found myself loading the bike and heading to the Park for hiking and god knows whatelse. The first stop along the way was a river valley known as the Vale da Lua (moon valley). From my limited study of gelogy I determined that he valley was a sort of fine grained sand stone that through the processes of erosion has formed many crater like indentations on the valley and along the river bed from swirriling currents and sand abrasion. Indeed one could determine that it looked like the moon. At this particular hiking trail no guide was required but, there was a guy at the entrance of the trail who lived in the park house who charged a 5 Real enterace fee.

On ward along a dirt road for 18km I rode further to the town of Sao Jorge. Sao Jorge is a small town at the gate entrance to the park that is dependant on tourism and the prices of the hotels reflected this. I opted for riding to the gate and spoke with the guides and security who agreed to watch my bike all day while me and my hired guide entered the Chapada Dos Veadeiros.

I was given three options for a hike and as it was midday. I had to hurry with my decision and get going immediatly with the guide to make it in and out of the park in the daylight. I decided on the canyon tour becaude I thought that seeing more waterfalls would be more of the same. The park official and I decided that 60 Real was a fair price and the guide (DeDe) and I headed out into the dry forest of the cerrado. The soil was interesting as it was mostly one inch square blocky aggregate of quartz crystals. I had seen a few cartoons in town showing a space ship crashing into the mountains and aliens etc...but didnt understand the significance. Apparenly in the past (50 yrs ago) this was a rich quartz mining area that was mined by hand for the purposes of jewelery and the other for military. Apparently the crystalline clear glasslike quartz was used in Bombas...BOMBS. Yea, the military loads about 1Kg of crystal into a bomb as an antipersonal weapon which explodes and cuts the victims to pieces.

Onward we walked at a brisk pace, a little too fast for my liking as I wanted to soak up the surrounding but I understood that we needed to make time as I arrived later than the usual departure time. The trails were all quartz stones which made for white paths to follow. Along the way DeDe showed me plants, trees, termite mounds, and many birds and explained everything in portugese. I pretended that I understood because I could kinda understand it from knowing a little french, and a little spanish. I pretty much got the just of what he was saying for the most part.

The temperature was cooler than in the lowlands as were were at about 1100 meters (3300ft). However, I was still sweating buckets because cooler meant that it was only 33 degrees C. I noticed that we were decending and in the distance I could see a huge canyon. In my minds eye I thought that we were going into a small canyon...not a Grand Canyon. The descent kept getting steeper until we were walking down stone boulder steps and grabbing trees and branches for stability. At about midway down I could hear the rumble of tremendous amouts of water cascading over a ledge. We rounded a corner and to my astonishment I witnessed the most impressive waterfall I have ever seen. The river (Rio Preto Falls II) dumped over a 120 meter drop into an impressive pool in a wild display of bluewater and white mist. At this point I thought that the trip was over and this was the climax of the endevor. Onward we walked. We decended to the top of the waterfall just before the water dropped off the ledge and continued along the rocks and shoreline to yet another smaller but very impressive water fall called Rio Preto Falls I. The guide, DeDe, suggested that I go swimming here so I tossed the T-shirt and boots and walked up to my knees into the water. There were several 4 and 5 inch long red colored fish in the tea colored water that began nipping at my legs and toes. I hurried out of the water and told the guide that the water was too cold. He said that it was warm and motioned me to get back in. I walked out half way to my knees and a big fish grabbed my baby toe.....that was enough!, I told the guide the truth and he laughed his head off while I sheepishly put my boots and t-shirt back on.

We got going again and the guide sugessted that we see a couple of more falls and I agreed that I still had the enery to make it. He sugessted that we Jog to the next falls so off we went jogging together. The next place was equally impressive as the first although the water poured over a large escarpment like water flowing through the fingers of an open hand, palming a stream of water. Still further we pushed through more dense forest then before on trail that looked like it was only used by animals or a few select people. Along the way I asked how many other Canadians he had guided in his 20 years as a guide. He simply explained that I was the first person ever to arrive by motorcycle and that everyone else had arrived by plane and bussed it to the park. I felt great about that comment. The small trail opened onto a barren bed rock plateau. I could hear water and neared the edge of a very deep canyon that was only about 5 meters wide and about 40 meters deep.

The sights were increadible and I enjoyed every moment. It was going on 6 hours of walking and darkness was encroaching. I was worried that we were going to see another sight but luckily the guide informed me that we were heading back now. The terrain was flatter now and the trails were of white sand (tiny Quartz crystals). The guide stopped at a brook and filled his water bottle and suggested that I do the same as I was out of water as well. I tried to explain that I couldnt but he didnt understand. To humor him I took a gulp and the water, it was plesant, I love drinking from brooks although I try to keep it to a minimum.

We returned to the base and I pulled out my wallet to pay. It was then that I was informed that I owed him 120 Real. I tried explaining to him that we agreed that it was 60. He was playing the oldest trick in the book of ripping off tourists. Bring the client back after hours and demand a higher price because its just you and him and youve got no one to help you. I stuck to my guns and simply told him that I was going to tip him 20 real but now I was getting ticked off. He quickly backed down and shook may hand and smiled and apologised. I was still kind of angry and the joy of the experience was now cloaked in disgust at this man. I gave him 80 Real and busted back out of town back to the Pousada Do Sol in total darkness while looking at the stars.

I checked back into my room and in the morning I rolled out of bed at my usual time of 630 am. I could hear this cawing noise and all kinds of birds. I walked outside to see a flock of Toucans land in a tree that also had two Maccaws roosting among the branches and making alot of racket. I quickly ran to get my camera and when I returned the owner had put some banana and sun flower seeds out for one of the more brazen Maccaws. The colorful bird landed and began eating only a few meters from where I was standing. It was an awesome experience and a great photographic opportunity. Next I had to plan my day to Lencois (Means "bed sheets") some 1000km to the east.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On route to Goias, Brasil

Sunset shot of a typical building lining the streets near the historical center of Goias. This building had a 1755 plaque on the corner of the structure.
I couldn't resist but to pull a u-turn for this one...I don't know how I saw it.....but I did, Obviously this guy hates windows and doors.

Apparently the wet season here has alot of rain fall. Perhaps they can fashon the old bridge into a boat launch...which is what I thought it was from a distance.

I have been super lucky so far at splitting through the middle of cloud bursts....this time however the rain was imminent, so I suited up in rain gear at 36 degrees. As soon as I got dressed I was wishing that the rain would come sooner so I could cool off. Sweating perfusely defeats the purpose of the rain suit.

For the heck of it I asked the owner of the gas station just how many motorcyclists has fallen into the oil changing pits by accident when rolling into the station for a gas fill-up. He replied that he had seen more than 20 motorbikes ride right into the pits. Another great reason to slow down and not ride at night. I love South America, nobody blames anyone else for stupidity. If you mess yourself up, its your own fault...slow down dummy, You're accountable for your own actions.-
The past few days have been both scenic and tough as I have been riding straight roads on near perfect pavement with the occasional bombed out section that lasts for a km or two. The kitchen sink sized pothe hole's are important for keeping me sharp when I'm off thinking about weird stuff both past and present.
As I was coming into Campo Grande I was passed by a couple of dudes on bigger motorcycles who pulled over at the next stop and waived me to pull in. I figured what the heck and flipped my visor up. They were pretty excited to chat to me and help me trip plan for the next day while looking at my maps.
From Campo Grande I made it east to a town called Cassilandia, I pulled into a simple but nice hotel for the equivalent of 15 dollars which included a great breakfast. (Brasillians don't cheap out on breakfast!) For supper that night I walked over to a forno oven pizza joint on the side of the road and ordered the largest "small" pizza I've ever laid eyes on. I was able to eat only two pieces of the eight, so, off I walked in the street until I saw 3 young men hanging out in a yard. I yelled for one of them to come over. They were very reluctant and said they did'nt want the pizza or anything I was offering. (They were scared of me actually.) I began talking jibberish..... "Me Canada, too big of pizza, very full now, no refridgerator in hotel, Pizza will go garbage!" ........ "Pizza will go garbage" was the golden word and the locked gate now opened.
Once inside I was ordered to eat yet another piece of pizza from a plate that the host supplied. I knew that I'd pay for it with a stomach ache from gorging myself but, I understood that they needed to know that it was safe to eat. We began chatting and I ended up staying there in the simple home made out of brick for the better part of an hour. The 3 fellows were all cousins and with a limited vocabulary and schades we made ourselves understood. I crashed into bed to rest upfor the next day.
I was up at the crack of dawn and on the road at 830am. I'm now on Atlantic standard time and still about 1500 km west of the coast. The riding days are getting shorter as I climb back to the equator. Currently I'm at 16 degrees south in the Tropic of Cancer. The sun is very intense and I get the idea of how this latitude got its name.
I pulled into the colonial town of Goias (founded in the 18th century) just before dark and took a short stroll around the cobble streets and met a German fellow (Eric) who has lived here in Brasil for 25 years and owns a hotel and a farm here. Eric, and I poured over my maps and circled several important places for me to stop and ponder over on my way to the north.
I am taking a day off the bike tomorrow and getting some much needed laundry done so I'll surely have more pics tomorrow.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Pantanal (The Swamp) Brasil

An alligator that Max (our guide) pointed out, otherwise I would have just passed by it without noticing.
Black vultures, with giant rodents (which I currently forget the name of) on the side of the road

Never thought I'd do it...but yes I jumped into the river with the snakes, alligators & pirhanas...no big deal.

A king fisher, among the hundreds of birds that I saw while we went out by foot and by boat.

If you look closely you can see the "squiggle" marks left by the alligator.

From Bonito I definately stumbled upon a gem hidden in the Pantanal. The "Lontra Pantanal Hotel" (lodge) where I was staying included 3 square meals a day and all day excursions either by foot, boat or truck and our guide Max was increadible.
The first day that I arrived I found the bridge to the Park National Pantanal to be washed out, no matter though as there was a convenient ferry waiting to charge 10 reals to get you across. I love ferrys so it was a treat, however, there is only one way on and off the ferry so getting the bike turned around down here is always a pain because of the planks they use for the boat bottom.
I didn't really know where I was going once I off loaded so I looked around and decided that the most expensive looking lodge of the 3 close by the ferry dock was where I'd go. It happed to be the most expensive as well, and it turned out to be a great choice. The difference in price meant that there was one guide for 2 people and the chances of seeing wildlife was much greater. As for the accomidations, I had a shared room for 6 people, however they stuck me in with only one other fellow named Lauriano from southern Brasil.
I happend to get there just in the nick of time, as soon as my gear was off loaded from the bike we were off in a 20 foot aluminum boat heading up stream into the Pantanal. Almost immediately we began seeing birds. Some of the birds we saw (I'll never remember all their names) included the Cackarachi, 4 species of King Fishers, some type of hawk, night hawks, Toucans Etc. The trees were filled with animals and birds and we were delighted to see howler monkeys and some other species of monkey hidden way up in the towering trees of the Pantanal which grow in the drier areas.
We came back to the lodge in the darkness and had a buffet style dinner and headed to bed early in the 38 degree 100% humidity heat. I was sweating in the shower and went to bed without toweling off so that I could enjoy being cool for 10 more minutes. I was sweating so perfusely that my eye sockets were filling up like two small ponds, so I was forced to tilt my head for drainage.
Lauriano and I were up at the crack of dawn. You see, Brasil is different, people get up early here. I walked outside at 0530am and I think that I was the last one up. Breakfast was already on the table, buffet style and fruit filled the plates.
Our plan for the day included a "Safari", essentially we hopped into the back of a pick-up that had a shaded bench in the box and headed some 37 bridges up the road further into the Pantanal. There were some farms that dotted the land in this area and the road provided the only access into the park and dead-ended at 110km from the park entrance.
We were equipped with fishing poles and steak bits as bait because, first we were apparently going Pirhana fishing! I tossed the monofilament line which was tied to a 9 foot bamboo pole baited with raw meat into the water with wild visions of boiling water and fish jumping onto shore to drag my body into the depths. No so......after about an hour I was done. It was now about 1000am and again 38 degrees with not even a bite. The walk to the fishing spot was an adventure in itself however. I would never walk bare footed through dark water and ankle deep sludge anywhere in Canada. But, here, where there are worms, snakes and alligators...I had no choice, I had to follow the guide. Besides, I'm not used to the terrain and I was completely lost in the jungle. I tried to guess which way to go and asked the guide Max if I was correct. He simply said No...with a confused look on his face like he was thinking how utterly helpless I was.
We returned back to where the truck had dropped us off and stopped for lunch at a farm. The meal was simple but good and tasty,of beans, meat, tomatoes, salad. We took a break for about an hour...a seista. I shared a mate with Max and the other two people who were at the farm. It was a different kind of mate than what I was used to however. It is usually served hot, but, here in the 38 degree heat we sipped it ice cold.
Max rounded Lauriano and me up and into the back of the truck again. Our driver took the 3 of us to a jungle spot where we hopped out of the back of the truck and ducked under a fence and into the darkness of the palm tree canopy. The photo's did no justice, however, there were several animals, including, white tailed deer (tiny ones compared to Canada), Armadillos, Moncoons ( As Pete Wedge calls them), Alligators, & Some type of Stork etc...etc... There was one disturbing thing that made me wonder. While we were walking we came upon a dead horse that was still warm, it had struggled to the end, apparent by the arcs left in the dirt from its hoofs as if it was galloping while laying down on its side. Its eyes were still clear and wet. Max said that it most likely died from a snake bite because they tend to step on them while grazing and the snake bites them on the nose. After that I watched where I stepped more closely.
We toured around the jungle for more than two hours, I sweated off all my mosquito repellent and I was getting eaten alive mostly on my back and shoulders, bitten right through my T-shirt. I have thousands of tiny pin holes...looks like I layed down on a bed of fine nails.
Soaking wet with sweat and severly bitten, we loaded back into the truck and encounted the largest rodents in the world, they were huge, as big as pony's. Max informed Lauriano and I that after dark we'd go for a nigt boat tour. I was pretty tired and the thought of a night boat tour almost seemed too much. I wasn't going to miss the tour however so I took a nap for 1 hour before heading out. Max fired up the outboard and equipped with a million candle watt lantern we sailed up the river. It was easy spotting and we got very close to many alligators, birds and monkeys that had all settled in for the night. I had my little flashlight and was shining it into the eyes of a Night Hawk. He didn't like it and came right for the light. I ducked and forced myself not to scream, luckily he landed right back on a branch that I illuminated for him back on shore. At one point Max killed the motor and the lights and we just floated down the river listening to all the insects, birds and animals while looking up at the star filled sky which was reflected off the water. It was a complete surreal experience. It was time to head it back and time to eat again before heading to bed early.
This morning I was up at 0600 and sipping some coffee when Max came into the lodge and announced that we were going tubing. I was thinking that I'd just pass and get on the road early. Thank goodness that I didn't however. We took the boat up river again to a fast flowing section and tossed the tube into the drink. I leaped from the boat onto the tube in the silty red/brown river trying not to get too deep in the water where I imagined the nasty critters live. It tured out that the tubing was quite a highlight of the trip. Max kept off at a distance and I was left alone in the water to drift silently near the shore to view wildlife up close without them even noticing that I was there. I saw monkeys, Toucans, and a variety of other bird species that typically flew away when we came near with the boat. The tubing was a great experience, and the water was bathtub warm.
We returned for lunch and I packed my gear. I considered staying for one more night, but time was of the essence and I had to get going. I was sad to leave as it was the best place that I found this whole trip for experiencing animal viewing. Alas I left and paid my bill only to find myself 350km down the road in Campo Grande in a hotel that charged 2/3 the price for the 3 nights and 7 meals that I had at the lodge.....doh...can't have my cake and eat it too I guess.
Making my way to Belem to catch the boat to Manaus along the Rio Amazonia.

The Pantanal

Sunrise on the river at 0548 out front of the Lodge
Max & Lauriano in the yellow at a pit stop where Max said we could swim. I was like yeah right.....but when Max got in and did'nt get eaten I could'nt resist and got in as well. The water was luke warm and pleasant. I over came my fear and just got in and I didn't want to get out either.

The dining room of the Lodge where they served buffet style meals that were all very tasty.

The rustic ferry that got you across the river

Sunset on my first night in the Pantanal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bonito, Brasil

The good part road to the farm where I booked a river snorkling tour. I heard a squaking noise and thought something was caught up in the bike. It turned out to be some birds in the near by grass. They were quiet once I dismounted the bike and I did not get to identify them. Not much farther after this a large green paraquete the size of a pigeon flew into my chest. My jacket was zipped down so I thought it went inside. I looked for him afterward but he was tough enough to fly away, even after bending my mirror over. Good thing my mirror took the initial brunt and also good thing it didn't hit my face as my visor was open!
A sort of vegetarian fish that was very common in the pools

Large trout like fish called something like the word "durro" Apparently a great sport fish

A colorful butterfly that happened to land close by after the swim.
I was told that the farm was really easy to find and that it was close...only 52 km away. I decided that I'd give myself alot of extra time to get there and left a half hour early knowing that anything could happen.
I followed the directions, however, the directions did not indicate that 12km out from the town of Bonito the road turned to a rutted out and sandy dirt road that I could barely ride 60km/hr on. I did my best in panick mode thinking that I'd miss my trip weaving bobbing excessively now that my Progressive suspension monoshock is completely blown.
I ended up at the farm at 10:55 am and found a person right away who worked there and pointed to the map and asked if I was at the right place. Unknown to me I had my finger on the bird reserve 7 km down the road further. He started pointing back to the highway. I said in english.." You mean there are two river tour operators?" He had no idea what I said and smiled and said what everyone who doesn't understand says...."yes". I hopped back on the bike and rode to the bird reserve. I pulled into their santuary and immediately noticed that there weren't any snorkles or wetsuits hanging around. The woman who was working there was very helpful and phoned over to the farm to tell them that I'd be there in a few minutes.
I re-arrived feeling anxious, but I was aware that I was in for a good trip and didn't get to excited about the rigamoral. I was issued a wet suit, signed a waiver...(that's a first in a long time) and hopped into the back of a pick up truck toward the river.
To access the river we first had to navigate a path through the jungle for about 2km. From that point we entered the river and we were instructed not to let our feet touch the bottom so as to avoid stirring up silt in the crystal clear waters. (everyone got it except one dumb dude boomer age who kept standing up to unfog his goggles instead of rolling over onto his back like he was instructed..don't worry I told him).
The fish were very abundant and there were thousands of them ranging in size from minnows to monsters about a meter long. It was a pretty cool experience and the fact that it was a river environment I had a keen eye open taking notes as to where the big ones were hanging out for when I return to fly fishing again.
Tomorrrow I head into the wetlands to book a trip to the Pantanal.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brasil Baby

So far the landscape has been of farming and agriculture. Several times today I witnessed combines cutting the grain and filling trucks that were lined up both full and empty at granieries and fields respectively.

The palm trees might be somewhat of an indication as to the severity of the heat and humidity. I was fighting myself not to open my visor at cruising speed to ventilate my face and dry the beads of sweat off despite being smoked by some sort of large flying beetle or something every few km and usually after I just cleaned my visor.

Brasil should have been called Greenland.

I rolled out of Argentina after saying good bye to Claire and Dan and headed my way to the border of Brasil expecting trouble after jumping through hoops getting a visa. Despite my pessimistic approach the entire process was done and over within less than 10 minutes. The guy at the border spoke great english and after hanging out with Dan and Claire for the past few days as well as my time at Dakar Motors this seemed pretty normal. I rolled forward into Brasillian territory and ....BOOM...the thought occured to me that I did'nt know a single word of portugese. In the past 4 months I've become quite proficient at communicating my needs with a limited vocabulary of spanish words. Now, however, I did'nt even know how to say hello, thank you, or please!
All of a sudden my spidy senses were alerted again and I was getting lost at every cross road. Thank goodness that my "good for nothing GPS" is actually good enough to indicate when I'm going in the complete wrong direction all together. I pulled into a town about 167 km from the border for gas and to look for a bank machine to stock up on Brasillian cash called REAL. The exchange rate is .45 dollars to a Real but the merchandise and gasoline cost about what it would in Canada.
I have my eyes set on heading up the south west part of Brasil near the Paraguay border and into the north western part called the Pantanal. Here there is an expanse of wet lands that is home to exotic wildlife found nowhere else in South America. Currently it is the wet season so animals congregate on islands in great abundance and the watery land has all but discouraged development. Apparently the waters are teeming with fish, birds fly in flocks of thousands and despite poaching, alligators thrive in the 10's of thousands. The Pantanal is a 250,000 square Km wetland that is only accessable by boat or foot so I might try and check out when I head up through Cuiaba.

Today despite learning how to say thankyou and please, I had several fellows surrounding me at a gas station. Although I had no clue what the words coming out of their mouths were, I knew exactly what they were asking just by the body language and gestures the fellows were using. You see, every day I get asked the same thing, " where are you from, how long of a trip, how many Km to here, How many km total, What is the purpose of the trip, How many cyclinders, what engine displacement, travelling alone?" I was able to answer by pointing and knodding because I knew the firing sequence of questions from being asked them on a daily basis for 4 months. It was frustrating however because I was mute not knowing how to say anything more than please and thankyou.
While the guys were chatting to me I got distracted when I was adjusting the chain tension. Alas I took off out of the gas station with out tightening the adjuster bolts and while riding I heard a clunking noise as one adjustment plate was flung off the bike. I stopped to investigate but did'nt walk around the rear of the bike since every thing else seemed to be in order. At the next pit stop I just happened to notice the naked bolt hanging out the back of the bike. Thank goodness that I took welding at school, and I'm good at charades. I managed to get a guy to fabricate a new piece for me and installed it good as new...problem solved...... and now my bike has even more character.
On the road again tomorow

Monday, March 15, 2010

Onward and Upward, Iguazu Argentina

Dan, Claire and I standing with the bikes at the Park gates to the falls.

After 6 days hanging out at Dakar Motors, learning how to use subways, trains and city maps it was time to head out. While at Dakar motors I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few great people from all over the world who were travelling by motorcycle. A couple that I met at the Torres del Paine, Ben and Karla from New Zeland were already at Dakar Motors when I showed up and another guy that I met on a KLR 650, Mark from Washington showed up the day that I was leaving. Jan was a fellow travelling around on a 1943 Harley Davidson that he picked up in Holland which was originally a Canadian World War II bike that was left behind. Dan and Clair were a couple of Canadians on Yamaha XT 250´s that will be travelling around the world for the next 2 years. There were several more riders including Justin who arrived from Texas and was waiting for a bike that got lost in transit and Gus from Watson Lake BC. In all it was quite an amazing group of people who I loved hanging out with.

The morning that I rolled out of Buenos Aires was a relief from the late nights and early mornings as every person was on their own sleep schedule. I was inside sleeping on a set of bunk beds while there were several others who had pitched their tents in Javiar´s and Sandra´s back yard at the shop. I rolled out in tandem with Ben and Karla and we split ways when I headed north east and they, north west towards Bolivia. I had my sights on reaching Iguazu Falls within the next 1400km well prepared with fake driver´s license´s and a fake wallet to hand over with laser photocopied registration to the corrupt cops that have become infamous on several motorcycle travel sites. I however did not see a single cop despite being so well prepared not to pay any bribes.

I managed to cover 750km and pulled into a small town called Paso Del Libre just before dark. I stopped at the first hotel that I saw and pulled into the drive way and through a gate. The woman inside came to the back door and scoweled at me for not stopping out front. I figured that I wasn´t welcome there and other places would be better. Besides, this place was definately looking suspiciously like one of the ¨love Motels¨ that dot the highways where you bring your friends wife for a few hours. Every hotel after that one was more sketchy than the previous and to my suprize I ended up at the Brazillian & Argentine border. I could go no further and darkness was closing in fast. I noticed a low lying area with tall grass and a few palm trees just off the road. I rolled the bike through a field and down a small hill out of sight from the main drag and figured that it was as good of a place as any to hunker down for the night. I crawled into the tent and it was relaxing and I didn´t feel at all unsafe as I have met several Argentinians now and have become relaxed in their country.

It was a good sleep and now that I´ve covered 4000km since Ushuaia the palm trees are back and the days, not so long any more. Morning came and I loaded the bike and continued onward to Iguazu Falls National Park. The day was long and at about 200km before my destination the clouds rolled in and the skies turned black. Lightening streaked the sky and the rain down poured making my left foot very wet as there is a hole in my shifting boot now after 32,000 km. I pulled into a gas station after the first one that I stopped at informed me that they were out of gas. I just happened to meet up with the fellow Canadians, Dan & Claire. Together we rode the remaining 95km into Peurto Iguazu and found a Hostel for the night with 5 beds in one room.

That night we headed out for a grill and setteled in for the evening as we were all pretty fatigued from our stay at Dakar Motors. I really can´t believe how tough my friend Chuck Weaver is for staying there for 3.5 weeks (http://www.chuckweaverrides.com/).

In the morning we got up early to head to the falls. The Iguazu Falls have been deemed a World Heritage site and I was excited to see them first hand. At the site there is a little train that commutes you to a few of the trail heads and from there one can access the grated boardwalks and dirt trails to various views points along the falls.

The falls were immense in their width and the amount of water going over the falls was mind boggling. The water drop, I´m guessing was more than 200 feet and the water was slamming so hard into the plunge pool at the bottom that a coarse mist was floating all throughout the air which warrented a rain jacket at some sights.

We spent all day walking around the site in the 34 degree humid weather taking in the sights, wildlife and surrounding jungle. I was so happy to again be stopping and seeing things that I´ve previously only heard about or seen in National Geographic.

Tomorrow I head to Brazil.