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The time has come for us to exit Europe. We passed this graffiti on our way out of French Guiana. Please be reassured that we did not paint this, it was already here. But of course we stopped for a photo! Entering Brazil from French Guiana was long accomplished by the use of an expensive, irregular ferry boat and small water taxis. Then a bridge was built, but Brazil didn’t pay their portion of the cost, so the fancy bridge sat unused for a few years. Recently they reached an agreement and opened the bridge for travelers and commuters between the two countries. Now Brazil is linked to Europe by bridge (in a sense). The Americans spell it- Brazil, the French spell it-Bresil and the Brazilians spell it- Brasil. But however it is spelled, once we got the papers in order, we entered again and were issued another 90 days to explore this huge country. Near the border we spotted this rig, painted up in the colors of the flag. It looked rather permanent and housed at least one human, one large furry dog and two cats, perhaps more.
The little villages we passed through were sleepy places with poor infrastructure and rough lifestyles. This was a very interesting glimpse in to a part of Brazil that many travelers never see.
This far-north portion of Brazil is crossed by the equator. In the city of Macapa, we found a geocache on the equatorial monument. There was a concrete line signifying the equator and a large obelisk which is supposed to be threaded by the sun during the solstice. This was our second country to provide an equator crossing. (Click here for link to Ecuador, will open in new window)
Shortly after entering Northern Brazil we needed a ferry ride to get across the Amazon River estuary or the mouth of where the gigantic river meets the sea. There are no bridges across the Amazon River. Securing a ferry is chaotic and the port is crowded, loud and dirty.
We worked with some other travelers and secured a ferry that would fit for our size and weight. Then there was a lot of standing around. We watched the business of the Port of Santana. We watched the Amazon River water taxis move people around. We chatted with the other travelers on our boat. It was hours of waiting in the steamy sunshine.
Then suddenly it was time to load. The well-dressed boat crew came out and adjusted the ramps for our wheel width. (Check out those spiffy, white suits!) Then we drove onto the ferry and settled into our crowded little corner for a 28 hour journey.
The next two decks were for passengers in hammocks. These hammock decks were very crowded. People were assigned a “hook number” for where to place their hammock. Then their luggage was stacked beneath them. This would be their space for the next 28 hours. People brought on meals, snacks, pets and entire families for the journey between Macapa and Belem.
The upper deck featured a bar, lunch counter and dance floor area. A whole bunch of life rafts were securely lashed to the ship. Also on the upper deck is the control room for the crew that will operate this big ship.
The boat took off and began traveling quickly. We were moving “with” the flow of the mighty Amazon River. The scenery quickly began to change.
We watched with horror as passengers tossed bags into the water from each deck. We thought these were bags of trash! But then when we asked around, we learned that the villagers along the shoreline paddle out to the daily ferry boats and wait in their small boats. The passengers on the ferry toss out bags of old clothes, food, medicines, toys and such. The villagers paddle over and grab the floating bags before they sink. We quickly grabbed a few things we were getting rid of and joined in the apparent custom.
During the passage across the Amazon we passed through some smaller tributaries and narrow areas. Occasionally a local water taxi would zip out from the shoreline and transfer goods and passengers. Here is a little video of one such exchange.
About 28 hours later, as promised, the ferry ride was finished. It was time to drive off the boat. But this time the transition between the boat and the port was much more extreme than before. Water levels were high, so our boat was sitting about 5 feet above the shore! The crew rigged some pallets, sawhorses, old timbers and ropes. Then placed the steel reinforced ramps over the top of the whole mess. We were to drive our entire house down this precarious set-up.
If you have not seen this little video yet, be prepared to gasp. Most viewers hold their breath for it! I am still not sure how Mike had the nerves of steel to trust the guys signaling. But I do know that his heart nearly stopped when he hit that bump between the two sets of ramps.
Rest assured that we safely exited the ferry. And the two large trucks behind us did also. These folks do this all day, every day. It all works out!
One of our first destinations was the Brazilian Space Station. This ill-fated attempt at space launch is located near the historic village of Alcantera. We drove to the gates of the space station and were met by several curious, young military men. They were quite confused by our request to tour. No one had ever asked them and they had no idea what to do. After a few calls we were told “NO” and informed that the military base is closed to civilians and there are no space operations currently in place. So here is our photo of the Brazilian Space Station. Instead we spent a day checking out the nearby town of Alcantera and their historic ruins. This was an important city in the heyday of rubber production. The old wealth is apparent in the elaborate, antique tile faces on the buildings.
That was just about enough big city time for all four of us. We were ready to check out our first Brazilian beach. We headed towards the shore and found a few nice areas to camp and explore.
And with this beautiful setting sun, we will head off for the inland mountains of Brazil. Are you ready to explore Brazil with us?