We arrived in Brazil from Peru, crossing in the Amazon. And as one might expect, this area is hot and humid. The border was uneventful and simple to navigate. The only hassle was the delay as we waited for the official to arrive after 1:00pm.
We drove for a day through some jungle and savannah area. The scenery was just miles and miles of the same thing. I will spare you the torturous photos. Here is the general look of the region. Yes, much of the Amazon has been clear cut for cattle grazing.
We also came upon a few rivers alongside the highway. These were always wide, calm and grassy. Most of them had homes along the shore. Much of the road was paved, but had huge potholes from heavy trucks running this route. Some sections of the road were unpaved. The hard packed, red dirt was fine if it was dry, but could become quite sticky when wet. During this section of highway through the Amazon, we crossed over the equator again. We passed through this landmark in Ecuador a few times. But hadn’t considered that we would see it again in Brazil. This will not be our last equator crossing, but all of them deserve a photo!
During the tour we learned how the rubber is harvested from the cuts in the tree. The little, white strings of rubber sap are heated and melted over a fire volcano. The heat allowed them to form the rubber into a large, ball of vulcanized rubber. These huge balls were shipped up the rivers to ports and sent to Europe and USA for processing.
After two or three days we arrived at Porto Velho. From this city we would complete a major resupply and then load the truck camper on a barge bound for Manaus. This would mean booking a barge or ferry and floating down the Rio Madiera to the Amazon and then on to Manaus. It was a four to five day trip, with no stops. We had a lot to take care of in this city. Now it was time to test our speaking and reading of Portuguese.Porto Velho has its own Lady Liberty. And mind you, this is not a small statue. This is a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty, located alongside a busy street in town.
Several times we visited the river and talked to people at the port. We considered our options and tried to get on the earliest possible departure. And while the scenery was lovely there, the temperatures were stifling and the situation was becoming more and more frustrating.
After about 7 hours of hanging out in the parking area, we were called to the boat and the captain showed us the space that was reserved for our camper. They had finished loading all the sacks of grain and sugar and we could finally be loaded on to the front of barge. The spot reserved for us was next to a partially restored, military gunboat painted steel gray and a box truck of photography cargo. It was a very narrow space. But being at the front of the boat meant we would have scenery and a breeze!
We barely fit between the building and the loads of gunboat parts and the small amount of space to adjust (forward and back) we squeezed over to the far left, and then the box truck drove on next to us. This would be our entire space for the next 4 or 5 days. Just us and the wooden desk. We became good friends.
Once we were loaded on to the barge, a tug boat attached to the back and began moving us. It should actually be called a “push boat”, because it attaches to the rear of the big, long, flat barge and pushes us it up or down the river. But alas, our little tug boat didn’t go very far. It seemed they were having engine troubles. So we traveled about 2km to the next dock, and pulled in at nightfall. The trip up the Rio Madiera to the mighty Amazon River was not yet to begin. We spent our first night tied up at a hot, noisy, smelly dock near Porto Velho. We didn’t get much rest, and we were not in the best of moods.
The next morning the captain came around and said that we would leave by noon. We were pretty hot and very fed up with waiting around! We took a few photos of the boats around us and learned to manage the heat. We introduced ourselves to our traveling companion, Chester Drawers and offered him some googly eyes. We strung a hammock between our truck and the box truck next to us and figured out how to catch a slight breeze. Then at 11:58, the little tug boat latched on to the back of our big barge and we began moving.
We began gliding down the river and a slight breeze cooled us down. We were moving at about 8 knots and watching the scenery pass us by. We figured out the best spots to sit and catch the breeze, and the dogs figured out where they would go to the bathroom. This would be our campsite for the next four to five days.
Our first night on the Rio Madiera offered us an amazing sunset, with a sliver of a moon peaking through the sky. The water was calm and the breeze was comfortable. We all got a good nights sleep finally.
During the day we watched the shoreline for birds and spotted many red macaws. We also watched the water for dolphins, and lost count of those! We passed floating miniature villages of house boats tied together. These groups are dredge miners who vacuum and filter the river bottom. This process nets small flakes of gold. But it is a dirty, loud and ecologically destructive system.
We also passed towns and villages along the shoreline. During most of our trip, there was no cell phone signal. But when we saw a village on the shore, we would turn on our phones and hope to be able to check in with friends and family. We generally had about 15 minutes of signal, before we passed too far and had to turn off our phones again.
The best breeze was always felt in the hammock between the two trucks. We would relax there, reading a book and listening to the waves lap at the barge. But Chester Drawers was always staring at us through the shadows under the truck. Once or twice a day we would attach the dogs to a leash and take them for a walk around the barge. This meant walking along the narrow gangway beside the bags of grain and sugar. There wasn’t much to see or to sniff, but it was good to stretch our legs. At night the dogs would sit outside with us, watching the stars and the twinkling lights of other barges boats that were navigating the Rio Madiera. Although the mosquitoes were rough at dusk and sunrise, but by nightfall there were no bugs to bother us. Days were long and somewhat boring. The scenery would be nothing but river for a few hours, then something interesting would float by. But mostly we just stared at the shore.
Things got a little exciting the next day as we encountered a storm on the Amazon River. We could see the storm brewing in the horizon sky. We could see the rain churning the surface of the river at a distance. And then suddenly we were in the midst of it. The barge is wide, heavy and very stable. But the waves were rocking us side to side and the captain decided it was safer to run us aground and wait out the storm.
The scenery wasn’t always exciting, and we all spent a lot of hours napping. Except Chester Drawers. He never slept during the journey.
And then, the river journey was over! We arrived in a bustling port in the huge city of Manaus. We drove off the barge and waved goodbye to the captain and crew and then set out to explore Manaus. Nica wasn’t feeling too good. So we started with a great veterinarian. He did a very complete exam and prescribed some miracle drug that we had never heard of. Look it up, leucogen/timomodulina is an immune system booster that is not sold in certain countries yet can help so many illnesses.
On display in one area are costumes and props from world-famous performers who have graced the stage of this icon. These are the ballet slippers worn and signed by Mikhail Baryshnikov The plaza surrounding the Opera House has been the scene of many political and public scenes. This area has a strong history of slavery, mistreatment of indigenous and other social injustices. The plaza became the stage to play out much of that Amazonian drama. It was quiet when we were there! But the pink beauty with her tiled dome represents money, excess and labor on the backs of others from generations past.
Manaus is a huge city with a variety of stores and malls. We enjoyed exploring these and trying to cool off inside the air conditioning. We also found a couple of geocaches while we were walking the city. Here are a few photos, finds and signs from around the city.
We hope that you had a wonderful holiday season. We will be leaving Brazil before Christmas gets here. So be sure to follow along as we show you the next country we visit. And you may want to consult a map, because you might be in for a surprise!