Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spanish Lessons, Cuidad Boliviar, Venezuela

A look of bewilderment cloaked my expression of excitement when I found out that we weren't coming back to town that night. I definately need to brush up on my comprehension of spanish.
Jorge, Javier, Raphael & I drove in this jacked up Toyota Hilux out to a village some 200km east of Cuidad Boliviar. That being said, the drive there was done with no seat belts, 160km/hr and a truck full of guns. Where we were going, I had no idea, when we'd be back, I did not know, however, the cooler was full of ice, food, and water so I knew that it would be a while. Funny thing was, all I thought about was if my gear back at the Hotel would be safe all night without me.

Land yachts sail and dock in the hilly historical centre.

Sunset on the Rio Orinoco that flows past Cuidad Boliviar

The bike finally rolled the clock at 100,000km, hopefully it'll make the next 3000km to Columbia.

I pulled into Cuidad Boliviar just before dark as usual and pulled into a parking lot to check out my guide book's suggestions for accomidations. I happened to pull into the parking lot of a 4X4 parts and accessories dealer who's owners Javier & Antonio greeted me with open arms. They were asking me all sorts of questions and offering to guide me to where ever I wanted to go. I pulled out the guide book and showed Antionio the name of the Tourist hotel "Dan Carlos". Antionio called the number and ensured me that they had a room available. Meanwhile Javier returned from the store with a premium brand Castorol 10w40 oil for my motorcycle free of charge.
I agreed to return to the shop the next day and carry on the conversation. The guys closed up shop and lead the way to Don Carlos Hotel, a refurbished 500 year old mansion filled with antique german furniture and heavey dark wooden carved animals used as foot rests and heavey chairs.
The next day I spent the better part of the morning looking for a map of Venezuela with no success. I spoke to a military policeman and asked where I could find a map. He told me a whole bunch of jibberish which I couldn't understand. At the end of the conversation the man left me in need of more so I asked if he could cut off the Venezuelan badge sewn onto his shoulder and give it to me. He looked at the badge contemplated the thought for a second, and replied that he had no knife at which point I gave him my pocket knife. He dissappeared into his police hut and returned to the street with the patch. I gave him the equivalent of 3 dollars and he seemed pretty happy about this and simply walked away from his post to the store across the street and bought a coffee and a snack. As I was leaving his partner came out and wanted to sell me his patch, I replied that one was enough and he seemed pretty disappointed about that answer.
Saturday the 24th of April rolled around and I decided that I'd head back to my buddies 4x4 store and shoot the breeze. Apparently all the breeze shooting got the guys considering to bring me out to test their guns. I agreed that I'd go with them to shoot a gun and envisioned that we were going to some sort of shooting club, meanwhile I was having visions of uzzui's and other high power guns that I'd get to try.
The guys said that they'd pick me up at 3pm and that we'd head out to shoot shortly after that. I didn't understand anything what they were telling me apparently, as I noticed the city disappear on the horizon. I tried asking what time we'd be returning but that was a waste of time because Jorge kept replying, "tomorrow.....tomorrow"....."...tomorrow"? I kept thinking that he couldn't understand what I was saying until I realised that the back of the truck was loaded up with food and a large cooler full of ice and a 40 litre jug full of water.
In between Raphael and I were a couple of rifles, boxes of ammunition, two huge rambo knifes, and a couple of giant highpower spotlights. There were 4 military check points along the way and we had to cover up the gear and pretend everything was cool. I had no idea where we were going and didn't bring my passport or any ID so I was pretty sure that if we got checked out I'd be Venezuela's newest resident in a local prison.
We bombed down the highway at an average speed of 160km/hr with no seatbelts. I kept prying my hand between the seat cushons trying to find the female buckle but to no avail. Two hours later we arrived in a small community where all the local people gathered around the monster truck, mostly little kids, teenagers, and a few adults. Here is where we picked up 4 more men that all hopped into the box of the truck to help with the killing and to guide the truck through the multiple forestry roads here in this part of Venezuela.
The fellows left me in the village for about 30 minutes by myself and the villagers while they went off to get gas or something. I didn't bother asking why I couldn't go too. A young fellow named Richard pulled up on a little 125cc motorcycle and introduced himself and began speaking english quite well. Richard invited me on a tour of his community which consisted of 3 separated little villages and two schools. He explained that there was a primary school and a highschool and that all the students attended school for 12 years. It was an interesting experience and Richard was a good guide. During the 30 minutes Richard doubled me on the back of his motorbike I met several of the towns people including Richards family, and we got to see a monkey that was best friends with a small white cat. It was a very welcoming village and every woman I met told me that she was willing to marry me if I wanted to! One woman even offerd me a BMX bicycle as a dowery (that one was hard to resist).
Richard returned me to the house where the truck dropped me off. There we 10 or 12 people all standing around me smiling and just waiting for me to say anything and laughing at everything I was communicating. Every few minutes someones mother would get her child to run over to me with a little snack to eat. Sometimes it was a small fruit from a nearby tree and other times it was nuts. I asked to see where the food was growing and the people were besides themselves showing me their way of life. This was definately one of the major highlights of my trip thus far. It is so difficult to gather up the courage to pull into a community like this by yourself, however, apparently it is totally safe and the people are so happy that you as a foreign visitor from another world stopped in just to visit them.
Once all the business was taken care of at the village the cry was made to get into the truck. Jorge motioned me to get into the back of the truck with him and the other 3 fellows from the village. We rolled only about 5 km from the settlement and at once we were in a managed forest. The forest was a mixture of natural dry savana forest and Red or Black Pine Plantation. The truck suddenly stopped and and the guns were pulled from their storage cases. Bullets jingled in their boxes and the "snap and clack" of bolt action and ammunition loading filled the silent night.
The truck essentially became an assault vehicle looking for unsuspecting wildlife blinded by high power night lamps being waived from either side of the truck while guns lay ready in the carpet lined trough of the box liner. I didn't bother mentioning how illegal this type of activity would be in Canada or the fact that we'd all be thrown in jail for months for this type of activity, not to mention huge fines and confiscation of guns and vehicle. Here, what we were doing was the best way to go hunting. Who in the right mind would go out in the middle of the day when the animal could detect you and run away?
The trip up the Amazon and the last couple of days sleeping in a tent and a hammock at the hotel have exhausted me. It seemed like hours had past and finally I decided to check the time. It was only 8:20 pm I calculated that we had 8 hours to go unless we killed something. At this point I knew that it was ethically irresponsible, but, I was too tired to worry. I tapped the light man on the shoulder and took over as animal spotter. I figured that if I could help in any way to get things over and done with and me back to town earlier I'd do anything.
We rounded a corner and the forest type changed and thus the man from the back took over my post. It was good thing as I was getting really tired and beginning to falling asleep standing up. Suddenly the truck stopped and Jorge swung a rifle to his shoulder. The spotlight illuminated the "Candelas" ( the glowing eyes of a deer). I plugged my ears waiting for the shot......BOOM..and the Candeleas were gone. Jorge missed his target and the little deer lived for another day. We pulled over for a midnight lunch before heading to a new quadrant of the forest. While cruising around I witnessed a shooting star that lasted for more than 30 seconds and also happened to notice that Venezuela's clear cuts were among the biggest that I've ever seen, stretching from horizon to horizon under the midnight moon.
Alas, the night wained on, and at about 2am the hunting party began to get discouraged. We called off the hunt and dropped off the guides and proceeded back to Cuidad Boliviar for the next two hours. I couldn't fight the urge to nodd-off and awoke with a stiff neck as we rolled into the city centre at 4 am. Arriving at my hotel it took 5 minutes of knocking and door bell ringing to get the night watchman out of bed to let me in. In the process I awoke the whole hotel and discretely crept into bed in the dorm room situated in a "lean-to like shelter in the open air.
I thanked the fellows for a great adventure and for treating me to a bit of their culture which was similar to my own. They we happy feeling confident that I expressed my feelings and gratitude and especially that I had a good time on their hunting trip which I was invited on specially. I fell asleep immediately among all the antique furniture and indeginous carvings contained within the walls of the 500 year old building for a short sleep until the early morning arrived a few hours later.

A Glimpse at the Gran Sabana, Venezuela

A shot of a waterfall from the highway that was about 1km away and roughly 100 meters wide.
Looking out over an expanse from atop a high ridge. The road was fast and smooth, however, I took it easy so I could look around and take in the scenery.

A Tepuis in the distance. The largest and highest of the Tepuis was shrounded in mist and fog as I passed. I considered staying the night at a small town in order view it in better conditions the next day....but what were the chances it would clear?

Palm trees dot the southern portion of the Gran Sabana. I thought it was kinda strange to see palm trees growing in a grassland as I'm familiar only with grasslands in Canada which are generally habitat to species like Manitobia maple, willow, alder and other such species.

The secret waterfall that my friend Marcio brought me to. It had a nice little swimming pool at the bottom and had an easy access trail leading into the river.

I pulled out of the camping ground at the Waruri River and headed at a medium pace through the curvy and rolling highlands of the Gran Sabana. People from all the world come to the Gran Sabana to hike the hundreds of Tepuis that dot the unique grassland region. The Tepuis are essentially table top mountains that jut upward and are distinct in a green landscape that has been compared to Scotlands highlands.
I had the road pretty much to myself and I read that the highway finished construction back in 1993 and was one of the best highways in the country (no Pot holes or broken asphalt). I was considering stopping in at various waterfalls along the way and perhaps hiking. The thought of hiking seemed like a good idea but for some reason when the turn-off came I simply by passed the road on route to Cuidad Boliviar.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Country 15, Venezuela

Leaving Brasil was an easy task but getting into Venezuela was an all day endevor as I had to drive 18km into the country, buy insurance, and then drive back to the border to obtain my import papers.
At 3 cents a litre gas seems almost free. This gift from the president Hugo Chavez Rivas has fueld the continuation of muscle cars and gas guzzlers that flood the roads. I filled up 5 times since I've arrived and have paid nothing more than pocket change, my average fill-up being 20-25 cents USD. (1.70 Boliviars) A plate of food and 3 beers generally costs me 58 Boliviars (8 Dollars USD)

An interesting bridge that I maybe mistaking for the bridge that was designed by the same archetecht who designed the Ifle Tower. (cant spell foreign words)

Marcio, the fellow at the camping ground at the Warui river just 10-15km out side of Sant Elena. In the morning he showed me to a water fall that no body knows about and then fed me breakfast all free of charge. Upon leaving I noticed that his gear shifter was falling off and he explained that it was a trouble that had plauged him for several weeks. I pulled out my supply of metric bolts and fixed his problem, he was so happy he just took off with a smile and left me alone before I took off in my direction into the Gran Sabana.

The Military here shows their presence and their love for pets. Apparently they love cats.

I departed Boa Vista at 900am and realized as I rolled out of town that I'd be arriveing at the border just in time for lunch......DOH! Departing Brasil was pretty easy, however, the woman entering my customs data was slower than a snail. Next, I crossed over nomansland to the border office on the Venezulean side. Here I got my stamp right away and then proceeded to Customs. The woman at the customs desk explained to me that it was necessary for me to ride 18km into town and buy insurance for my motorcycle. What she was really saying, was that I needed to speak with the Polizia seguranca. I understood that I needed to speak with the police to have a security clearance rather than speak to a person about a security policy (insurance policy). Anyhow I rode to the police station who had no clue why on Earth I was there and simply directed me to the transportation police next door. The guys next door informed me that their boss would return to his desk in 3 hours and that I'd have to wait. Finally I showed the fellows at the transportation Police what the woman at the customs office wrote down. They inormed me of the address where I could find the Poliza Matre, beside the police station. At this point I realized that I really didn't know how to speak any spanish.
I arrived in front of the insurance office and saw that the person had already gone for lunch. It was 1145am so I figured that they would probably return at 100pm.....yeah dream on. In the mean time I decided that I'd look for a person to exchange Reals for Boliviars (Venezuela currency) I traded my remaining Reals for Boliviars with a person waiving a fist of bills among a few other men at the side of the road, from here I headed toward the gas station. I decided to cut the line of more than 100 cars waiting in a uniform line for gas. Fuel in Venezuela is less than 3 cents per litre so hundreds of people from Brasil cross the border everday to buy gas for for less than a dollar a tank. Those that get caught smuggling extra gas back into Brasil get their cars confiscated.
I figured that my endevor to buy gas would take all day but my trick of cutting the line actually worked and I had my gas topped up for 24.9 cents...ha ha ha ha...!!! It was now only 1230pm and I decided to grab a bite to eat and then look for a bank machine as the money I exchanged was not enough to get me through Venezuela for more than a couple of days. To my dissapointment no bank machine would work for me. I realized that I was in big trouble, however, as my back up I had a reserve of US dollars.
I waited outside the office for my insurance person until 3 pm when finally the woman returned from her extended lunch break. The insurance process from here was little more than 20 minutes and 223 Boliviars (30 USD). At this point I had to return to the border to prove insurance and then obtain my import papers. The thought of no money plauged me so I stopped at the money changers for the second time and traded a crisp 100 dollar US bill for Boliviars. The guy argued with me about the exchange rate and finally met me somewhere in between. Off I went to the border. I got my papers and decided to ride back into Brasil to a bank machine on the Brasillian side. (As there are so many cars passing through just to buy gas there are only cameras recording who enters and who leaves, its up to you to check in and speak to an official if you are importing or entering the country). Alas, the Banco Brasil would not dispense any cash because it would not recognise my international card. I was stuck with the decision to return a third time to the money changers to exchange yet another 170 USD. The Exchange went pretty easy and I rode back into Santa Elena. I asked a guy on the side of the road for directions to the hotel listed in my guide book. He pointed in the opposite direction down a one way street, thus, I had to navigate the cob web of streets just to get one block back to where the hotel was. I took off and moments later a friendly looking dude waived me to follow him on his motorcycle. I thought "wow the guy who I just spoke to is showing me the way". You see, every one does this formotorcycle travelers here. Next thing I knew the street dead ended..I thought to myself for a second that the guy got lost or something. That is until he placed his motorcycle in front of mine so I had to stop. The guy turned out to be one of the money changers and he strarted going off about the money that I had given him. Apparently I had only given him 150 instead of the 170 he exchanged for me. When I realised that this guy had lead me down a dead end street and was now attempting to rob me I flipped out and pointeddirectly in his face with my finger. My point was clear, I wasn't an easy catch and he backed off for a second. Next thing I knew he was coming in for a second attempt and again I made it clear that he was in as much danger as I was. I considered popping the clutch and driving right over him, or putting the bike on the kick stand and stabbing him with my switch blade that I had convieniently placed in my tank bag within easy reach. Fortunately for him, and me, a taxi pulled down the alley and this gave me the 2 seconds to decide on fight or flight. I decided on flight and gunned it down 3 one way streets in the wrong direction until I found the police. I was shaking like a leaf but in survival mode so I wasn't scared was the weirdest feeling. I told the police that I wanted to find the road north because I exchanged too much money with the money exchangers and now they were looking for me because they thought I was full of money. The police lead me to the exit of town and I blasted up route 10 into the Gran Sabana.
At about 10 km into the Gran Sabana I was flying over a hill into a sharp dip when I saw lone man standing in the middle of the road with his hand up. I whizzed right by slowing only to about 50km per hour as my mind was focused on escape from town, because in my mind the money exchangers were following me. Fortunately for me, I looked over my shoulder and saw the man adopt a shooting stance. I immediately nailed the brakes and pulled a u-turn recognising the man as military. I was directed to a parked unmarked truck where an official military man checked my documents. I asked the gunman how many more meters before he would have shot me. He replied that I had until the second cone before he shot me right in the head. To prove the point further came came over and poked my helmet and made a poof sound with his lips. I knew he wasn't joking but I laughed anyway and thanked him for not shooting. My sense of humor kinda got me off the hook and after I was asked where I was going before they set me free.
Not 3 km down the road I saw a camping ground and decided to pull in. It was only 30 minutes until dark and I needed to set up camp. The guy working at the camping area charged me 3 USD 20 Boliviars for the night. The black flies were horrendous and referred to as the Plauge directly translated from spanish. There were two lovely big german short haired pointers that roamed the campground all night barking. I was happy to be tenting in the Gran Sabana with my guard dogs looking after me, shortly after almost being robbed and nearly shot in the head by a military gun man.

Bob & Weave to Boa Vista, Brasil

Highway 174 from Manaus to Boa Vista was a nightmare. The jungle was so dense on either side of the road that it cast shadows which cloaked the malicious pothe holes. Some of the pothe holes were the size of bathtubs and just as deep. I nailed a couple of them dead on and bottomed out my suspension with the deathly thud. I was keeping my speed under 50km per hr most of the time however a safer speed would have been about 20km per hr.
After about 400 km the jungle began to dissapate and the forest transitioned to Savana. It was here along the roadway that I saw a hockey stick. Luckily the perculiar shape caught my eye and I realized that I had arrived at the Equator. I stopped for a photo and the urge to pee suddenly overcame me. I walked a few meters to the side and urinated on the line dividing north from south. I figured that here was a perfect place to mark my spot and back on the bike I wondered which way my pee would flow.

The majority of the trucks here on the highways are European, consisting of Mercedes, Scandia, and Volkwagon semi`s. As the road was so terribly bombed out with holes, everyone was navigating their rig all over the road in no particular order. Oncoming trucks were in my lane and I was in theirs. Everyone was simply making their way in their respective direction and navigating through the holes in the roadway . Navigating was more important than keeping to your side of the road! Alas, I had double duty to perform while trying to miss holes that would debilitate any motorcycle and at the same time avoid becoming hamburger on the grill of an oncoming truck. Biggest has the right of way down here!

Several pretty ponds and lakes dotted the highway to Boa Vista (God only knows what lives in that black water). The total trip from Manaus to Boa Vista was about 785 km from the dock in Manaus. Along the highway one had to pass through the Waruri Indegenous reserve. The highway along this stretch of road was only open to traffic between 6am-6pm. I was on my bike in a hotel parking lot at 630am and made my way to Boa Vista arriving at 5 pm that evening. Along the way I was treated to several maccaws flying overhead and several Toucans flying by like bullets through the forest.

A good stretch of the highway that shows the shadows which occluded the tretcherous potholes looming in the darkness awaiting a tasty motorcycle to devour.
I had the bike completely loaded at 0555am and walked to the front desk to ask if it was ok for me to start eating 5 minutes early as all the food was prepared and resting on a table in the middle of the dining room buffet style. The guy informed me that it wasn`t ok and that I`d have to wait 5 minutes. I was already sweating buckets and I simply laughed at the guy in an arrogant sort of way that only I could detect. I simply waited until one minute after 6 am and miraculously the door opened to the dining room and the lights were flicked on. I sat down for a gormet breakfast of scrambled eggs that had been cooked hours ago (maybe the night before and a bunch of bread products like pizza pockets and other stuffed paistry`s. I sipped a cup of super sweetened coffee and then decided that enough was enough.
I straddled the bike and off we went towards Boa vista. The highway quickly narrowed after about 100km and I definately realised that I had entered the deep Jungle. The road was terrible and the pothe hole threatened to devour my motorcycle. A few times in the 400km stretch I nailed deep holes which completely bottomed out my suspension and dislodged my speedometer from its mount.
Overhead along the way I happened to see several pairs of blue and beautiful yellow Maccaws flying over head. It was a very pretty and rewarding sight to behold. Several other species of birds were continually cross crossing the road as I made my way through the jungle and Warui indeginous reserve which included my favorite birds: ``Toucans``.
After about 500 km the Jungle began to dissapate and the further I headed from the Amazon the drier it got. At about 200km from Boa Vista the forest cover was replaced by Dry Forest and Savana. Boa Vista was on the Horizon and I arrived at roughly 5 pm. I was looking for accomidations when I decided that I`d pull out my guide book. I rode over to a Yamaha dealer and asked for directions to the hostal I was looking for. The guy simply hopped in his motorcycle and brought me right to the place I was looking for.
The hotel that I checked into (Hotel Monte Libano) was less than half what I paid the night before but smelled like mold and served no breakfast. There were cigarette buts gathered in the drain of the stand up shower and several cigarette butts resting on the window sills. I was in no shape to look for another hotel after 800km of riding so I simply walked around town looking for ice cream, and a good supper. I hunkered down in my rat hole and awoke the next morning for another early start to Santa Elena De Uairen, 18km inside the Venezuela border.

Arrival Manaus, Brasil

Port of Manaus, a city of 2 million people. I departed the boat in search of a hotel but it was difficult to navigate the city as there was a building on fire near the port and the streets were traffic jammed. The temperature was 38 degrees and 100% humidity I was suffering on my motorcycle while continually stopping at brothels which I was mistaking for hotels.
1/4 side of beef being off loaded from a 5 tonne truck and onto the boat. Everything here is done by man power (people power in North America, but still done by men)

Farinia, a type of flour that the locals love sprinkling over their beans and rice. I grew to enjoy it however it was an aquired taste.

The hold of the Amazon Star was loaded with edible goods and hard goods that ranged from onions, eggs, meat, shrimp, flour, tiles, broom sticks and other supplies needed in Manaus some 1400km inland shipped in via the Rio Amazonia.

The River Amazonia for the locals was the life blood of the community providing food, transportation and a means of trade. I caught only a glimpse of these peoples lifes and thier culture will remain a mystery to me for ever.
We arrived in Manaus at 1600hrs only 2 hours before dark. I asked the Captin and the main woman in charge of cooking and cleaning if it was ok for me to spend the night onboard the boat rather than head out looking for a hotel. Both agreed that it was ok for me to stay and that I didn`t have anything to worry about, although the woman was less happy about the decision.
Arriving in Manaus there was a black smokey cloud from a burning building blowing directly in the direction of the boat and into my room. I decided that I`d off load the bike while the tide was still high. Yeah..the tide affects the river 1400km inland!!!!! as the river is that huge!!! I decided to head into town and go to a hostel that was recommened by my guide book. Upon arrival I found that the hostal had no secure parking for my motorcycle and I was left searching for another hotel in the area. I stopped into several hotels and found all of them to be hoar houses. The one place that looked fine turned out to be the worst of all. When the owner opened the door to the room the T.V was on, volume full blast, with a graphic porn video playing. At this point I bartered with the guy for a better price but he would not budge. I was getting annoyed and tired as the 38 degree`s and 100% humidity was testing my patience. I returned back to the boat passing through security without stopping because «i figured that it would be better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission to re-enter the port. The port police were in hot pursuit (on Foot) and found me on the boat. The captain explained to the port police that it was ok for me to spend another night on board. The police left and then the happy nice people who were employed on board who seemed to be my friends while sailing changed their attitudes. I was no longer allowed in my room and I`d have to pay for a night. I was told that I`d have to sleep in my hammock in the open with all my gear unsecured at port and also buy some fat dude a couple of beer. At this point I reloaded the bike kind of weary and also disappointed. I eventually found a hotel for twice the price of the hoar houses which provided peace of mind.
The traffic in Manaus, the heat, humidity and overpopulation of the city was too much for me to handle so at 530am the next morning I decided to head north and simply skip Manaus all together. I don`t care how cool it is that every brick laid in this city was transported here 1400km via the Amazon River, I was tired of cities and the open road was calling.

Amazon Star Sails to Manaus

The ``Amazon Star``. She had a capacity for 700 passengers, however I think that only about 400-500 people we on board when we sailed. Despite the number of passengers the boat felt deserted most of the time as the locals mostly hung out in their hammocks all day below deck out of the sun.
1400km from Belem, the Port of Manaus. The infastructure here in this city of 2 million people was literally sailed up river by boats beginning in the 18th century during the rubber boom. Manaus is in the middle of the Amazonas with only river transport as a means of supples.

Below deck locals escape the burning sun and wait out the 6 day & 6 night sail from Belem to Manaus. I opted for a shared cabin so as to ensure security for my motorcycle gear. I`m sure that everything would have been fine but for 75 extra dollars it was merely peace of mind.

A Sailing deck hand aboard the Amazon Star who over looked loading and off loading of goods at various ports along the way up river. Several stops along the river were made and I always took the opportunity to buy whatever the local people were selling for food and snacks. 50% of the time the food was tasty, the other 50% portion I gave away to someone local on deck who seemed happy to accept the half eaten portion which I simply could not stomach.

I was suprized that children who looked no more than 5 years of age were allowed to paddle out to the Amazon Star, then toss a grapple on deck in order to board. The kids would then climb aboard the boat which was sailing up river at 8 knots per hour which seemed totally risky and scarey as their boats were literally waterskiing along side the massive ship. They would then walk around deck asking for money or other hand outs; sometimes they had merchandise to sell. Eventually when they were done the little kids were several Km up river and had to paddle home. In Canada, I remember my next door neighbor not being allowed past the big stone in our cul-de-sac at the age of 10. Here kids at the age of 5 were working for their family and contributing their part.
I Rode the motorcycle down to the port at 10 am as directed and passed through security which seemed really strict and really disorganized all at the same time. Initally I wasn`t allowed to pass security at all. Then I was directed to show my boarding pass and then forwarded on to a bunch of men standing on a corner across from the security fence protecting the port entrance. I showed 5 different people my boarding pass and then just waited in silence for about 5 minutes while the guys chatted about something. I then realised that these guys weren`t even paying attention to me anymore so I started the bike up and roade back to the security fence and guard at the port entrance. I really don`t know what went down or why I had to go over to those guys but now for some unknown reason I was allowed to pass security with no problem and no security search. (All other locals had to pass a metal detector and have their baggage searched).
The men on the Amazon Star laid out a plank for me to ride across bridging the gap between the dock and the boat. It was pretty easy despite what I read from other people`s accounts stating that loading was difficult.
I was showed to my room on board and handed a key. The next mission I was about to embark on was to gather up some snacks, water, and cash. I had read that the boat was a miserable trip and that additional snacks, water, etc was essential to confort. I apparently seem to be a ``hard ass individual``as the added junk food that I brought for snacks was unwarrented, and I found the food on board to be delicious & nutricious. The boat ride was advertized as a ``no luxury cruise`` boat, however, I enjoyed every minute of the sail. I constantly made laps around the upper deck taking in the sights along the river, while at the same time chatting to the locals and improving my portugese.
I was lucky to meet a couple of english speaking people onboard from all over the world. There were two girls from England (Charlie & Lindsay) one dude from the U.S (Clint) A woman from Austrailia (Ingrid) and another dude that shared several travelling stories from around the world from Belgium (Nico). It was nice to paly some cards and share and hear other peoples travel stories while passing the day away in my mother tongue.
After 6 days the boat arrived in Manaus. I was partially happy and partially sad that the sail was over and that I`d be leaving my new friends behind for the solitude of the bike and the road. Maybe someday I will see them again in another land.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shelling Out the Last Minute Details. Belem, Brasil

Today I spent the better part of the day touring around the city tieing up a few loose ends. I needed to pick up some bed sheets for the boat, a Hammock, Sunscreen, rope to tie up my hammock on board the boat, Toilet paper, etc. I also paid a visit to the Venezuelan consulate today to enquire about a "Tourist Entry Card" and also investigate a rumor that I might need a visa. Neither were required and they ensured me that I'd have no problem with the border crossing. Tomorrow I will pick up water and snacks before the boat leaves and load the bike midmorning. The "Amazon Star" is scheduled to sail at 1800pm so I have a whole day to kill again.
A bunch of grain & different types of flour found down in the markets by the docks. The market was divided into sections selling fruit of all sorts, dried & salted fish, grains and flours, and prepared food. There were hundreds of vendors and the place was bustling. Apparently the site as been an early moring market for more than 360 some odd years beginning back in the late 1600's.

Old buildings dot the entire city and narrow streets lead you through all sorts of adventures around every corner, music is loud, people are everwhere and the air is filled with smells both good & BAD!

I popped into a historical fish market where everymorning at the crack of dawn fishermen return to dock side to off load their nights catch. There were several types of species of fish both large and small at each vendors counter, some looked like catfish and others like carp.

A happy young fellow who sold me some delicious Brazil nuts for 50 cents, hand shelled using a small machetee. In Canada, I don't think kids are allowed to have knives at his age! However, he was fast and skilled at shelling and had me a bag ready in minutes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Soaking up Belem, Brasil

Alex, his wife Fabiani (as I call her) little Jolli and myself posed by my bike while out visiting Alex's friends place by a small river good for swimming. Alex owns Moto Mania here in Belem a motorcycle repair shop and parts dealer. He greets all motorcyclists traveling overland and is a tremendous help for us southern riders. Alex is also a huge supporter of his community with his biker group the "Expedicionarios Do Para" who bring medical aid, tools, health education and food to communities in the amazon.
A beach outside of Belem up the Amazon river. Notice that the tide affects the river by many feet each day as displayed by the seaweed like deposit at the high tide line. The river is so wide that you can't see the other side and I was very suprized to see giant freighters sailing up and down the river the same size as the ones docked in the Saint John Harbor.

Old colonial buildings dot the city of Belem making for great city touring. I am going to regret not staying longer here I know it.

Down at the historical port a man cleans fish and tosses the guts down into the water where black vultures await a slimy meal.

Low tide down at the port, its really quite scenic and I would have liked to take more pictures but, I was scared to continually pull out my camera while touring the narrow alley ways solo down at the docks as I was unfamiliar with the area.
I have been in Belem for 5 days now and I have managed to get virtually nothing done on my to do list besides tour around with Alex and his friends. Brazillians in general have been great people as far as friendship and hospitality. I emailed Alex to let him know that I arrived in Belem Thursday afternoon and the next thing I knew he showed up in the pouring rain in his Honda Civic with his wife Flaviani and puppy Jolli at my hotel to take me out for dinner. Alex said that each year roughly 100 motorcyclists pass through Belem and he greets everyone of them with open arms and hospitality.
The next morning, Friday, I decided that I'd hit the city streets and try and book my own boat and passage up the Amazon River to Manaus. I grabbed a city map and with my minds eye focused on the direction to the waters edge I took off without orienting myself as to the proper direction for me to walk in. Alas, I walked in the opposite direction that I needed to head in. Belem being a semi-sort of penninsula jutting out into the river like a finger, I ended up walking to the northern side of the docks and had to make my way out to the east and then continue walking around the shoreline to the south. To me I was walking in a stright line but no, I was walking in a huge semi-circle that took me 3.5 hours to walk.
Not all was a loss however, I managed to walk through some pretty tough looking slums and see first hand some direstraights living conditions with people calling derelict beached boats their home. People were swinging in hammocks for beds as the boat was resting on its side in the sand. The locals really didn't take anynotice of the sunburnt dude wearing oakleys staring in at them. At one point I had to ask directions and chose my victim carefully. On the corner was a kid, maybe 17 with braces and a draftsmen square in his bag. I asked how far the "Terminal Hidrovaria" was from there. He replied in broken engilish that it was very far and that I needed to get on a bus or take a Taxi because I was in alot of danger. I looked around and arrogantly laughed and asked him exactly what was going to happen to me. He simply shrugged. I continued walking now worrying about my camera which was stuffed into my pocket. I had my fake wallet and expired cards on me so that part was taken care of but my camera was a bigger concern.
At about 3 hours I managed to walk right past where I was trying to find and ended up talking to a port security official who directed me back towards a dodgy looking corrigated sheet metal building. I walked inside and was immediately greeted by a dude claiming to be a representative of the ships that take passengers up river. Eventually after about 45minutes I handed over the cash and purchased my ticket. I was totally exhausted and needed to find a cab because there wasn't any way I was going to make it back in my flipflops. I barganed with the cabbie and got what I thought was an incredible deal. Within two minutes I was at the hotel, puzzled I was. I clued in that I walked the wrong way and I was virtually only a 15 minute walk from the dock side....Doh.
The next day, Saturday, Alex arranged for his friend and fellow motorcycle club member, Ivan, to take me on a little tour to the outskirts of Belem to a river beach town called Mosqueiro. It was a scenic place with beautiful soft sandy beaches which were all public and very clean. All along the beaches were little restaurants with plastic chairs and tables where people could wander up to, have a snack, drink, and relax under the shady trees which secured the shoreline. I jumped in for a swim and I was suprised at how warm the water was. The water looked very muddy from far but while in the water it was somewhat clear for about 1 meter before going opague. Ivan brought me to a place for fish that served a very tasty dish with token beans and rice. I have been loving the Brazillian food since I have arived. After eating, Ivan and I arrived back at Moto-Mania and I hung out until Alex closed up shop. Together we motorcycled over to Alex's friends place which was located in the heart of the city. His friend ran a tattoo shop and the two of them tried talking me into a tattoo to signify my trip. Unfortunately, I had my motorcycle and thus I had to limit my alcohol consumption or else I may have awoke the next morning freshly inked.
Sunday rolled around and I was informed that I'd be accompanying Alex, his wife and Jolli (the Pug puppy) out to one of Alex's friends and club members house to hang out and go swimming. For the better part of the day we swam and just chilled out by a small river in the heat of the day. It was necessary to keep dunking yourself into the river to cool off even while in the shade of the banana, and other fruit trees growing in the area. Just as it was time to head out the thunder began rumbling and the rain began to pour down in buckets. I got completely soaked on the ride back into Belem. I headed back to my hotel and Alex yelled over to me that he would come and pick me up in about an hour. I hopped in the shower and watched the white tile floor flood with red silt that had dried to my skin from the river water, now slowly make its way to the drain.
Alex showed up and away we took off in his car to see a reggae band. It was only 7pm and when we arrived it was dark and cars filled the streets. We found parking and headed into the nightclub which was essentially a giant warf built out into the river with a roof over top and surrounded by barbed wire to keep people from swimming out and climbing in to avoid paying cover. To enter one had to obtain a ticket (free) walk over to a hole on the wall, shove money in, out came tickets and change, from there you went to a person who accepted the tickets and forwarded you to a person that patted you down and did a through frisk to ensure no-one got in with weapons. Then off to get drinks, it was nearly the same procedure. The bathrooms were essentially a giant wall that you just let loose on with a drainage basin to collect all the urine.
The band was very interactive with the crowd and there were all kinds of group dances where all strangers simply held hands danced in lines, circles, people formed human arm archways that eveyone huddled under and shuffled through etc. It was actually a heck of alot of fun. Everyone was dancing and having a really great time. I sort of bobbed to the music as the 3rd wheel to Alex and Flaviani which did not go unnoticed and I was continually whisked into dancing, twirrling and stepping on Brazillian women's feet. I was a pretty good dancer at the end of it all but very tired.

Moday, Alex asked me what boat I managed to book on my own and when I showed him the reciept for "Cliva" he looked at me with concern and told me that this was a terrible boat. I laughed at his comment because I totally thought that he was joking, but he was not. He opened his cellular and a friend of his came to meet me and to bring me to the docks in order change boats. While with Alex's friend it was very confusing because he had no idea how to talk slow and rifled off all kinds of jargon which I began to get frustrated with. We were just kind of standing around and talking to people who showed me all sorts of numbers, prices and dates. All I needed to know was how much, what time? This was very difficult to have answered because they were trying to explain fees and all kinds of other crap and I was getting tired. Finally I got what I needed and figured out that 14 meant April 14, 13 meant 1pm, 18 meant 6pm, 300 meant my passenger fee, 300 was my old bike fee, 500 was my new bike fee and 800 was my new total and 500 was my old total. All these numbers were scribbled all over my hands and the other guys hands and the sales persons hands and with everyone waiving their hands while talking I was near to having a epileptic seisure.
Alas all was worked out in the end and I figured that I would make the most out of my extra day and get down to some bike maintenence. I washed the bike, changed the oil, fixed my mudflap and put my 7th new rear tire on. Tomorrow I must find a hammock, bed sheets, sunscreen, camera memory card and a few other odds and ends including a tourist entry card from the Venezulean Consulate in preparation for the 6 day and 6 night sail aboard The "Amazon Star" for 1400km up river to Manaus.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heading to Belem, Brasil

I was crowned an honorary Moto-taxi member after chatting to this group of Moto-taxi employees who take passengers around town for half the price of a cab. To hire a cab here is almost impossible as the moto-taxis are cheaper and faster and dominate the market.

I didn't get to save this guy, I think it was poisonous as it had a triangular shaped head typical of venomous snakes. I dragged it off the road nonetheless by its tail keeping well away from its mouth.

Who says dumb as an Ox? These fellows were well trained and obedient, towing loads and never complaining a bit.

Cresent dunes that migrate with the prevailing winds.

Green in the dunes, In a couple of more weeks the dune valleys will fill with water withthe arrival of the wet season here in Brasil. The reflection from the blue sky and the contrast of the white sand will give the landscape a surreal blue and white pattern that is candy for the eye.
Nothing too exciting to report today other than the the rainy season has begun. I was riding through some intense winds and trying to outrun a passing cloud that was black as octupus ink. The cloud was thundering, and lightening was coming down. I really didn't take much notice as I was more concerned about keeping dry and out running the storm.
Alas the road had a bend in it which directed me into the storm path. I decided to don the rain gear in the 35 degree heat and the minute that I zipped up my coat the rain began pouring down cats and dogs. It was so intense that it reduced visability to only a 100 meters. I've noticed that as long as I keep my speed up around 100km/hr the windshield directs the majority of the water over my head.
I was concentrating on the road when I felt a lifting feeling. All of a sudden I felt my skin crawling, a jolt of electricity and a bright flash filled the front of the bike by my right hand. Apparently the charge grounded out of my right index finger through the front brake lever. Suddenly there was a huge CRACK, and I looked up cringing on my bike milli-seconds after beging electricuted and saw the black cloud above me still light up. It took a few seconds to register that I just got struck by lightening!
I was on the leading edge of the storm and apparently I made for a good ground for the storm cloud to discharge. I think, however, that the lightening strike went upwards from me to the cloud though, but that may just be because the sound was slower than the flash off my right hand.
For a while afterward I was wondering if I'd have some sort of super power like Powder did in that movie about the albino guy.....but no, I had no super powers to speak of. To add insult to injury I wasn't even able to talk the hotel owner down in his asking price tonight.


I think the intense color is a signal not to touch!
Boats docked outside of my beach house.

This fellow was friendly only when I had a banana for him.

The dunes

Toyota land cruiser that took us into the dune land.