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Friday, October 24, 2014

The BR230 and "The Ghost Road", the BR319

So. A funny thing happened on the way to Santarem. JP (our Production Assistant) travelled in the Ambulance with Guy. Now the road was a bit special. Pretty fcuked, actually. Ambulance drivers in the Amazonia drive a little more exuberantly than those in Australia. Poor young JP thought he was going to die. That was enough for JP. The straw that broke the camel's back. He asked Beth if he could fly home to the comfort of his own bed and computer in Sao Paulo. He had decided he wasn't cut out for an “adventurous” life. I liked JP. A nice guy.

Guy is back in Sao Paulo, en route to London. His leg X-ray looks impressive. Guy was grouse to travel with.

On the road from Sao Paulo to Belem, people were impressed when I told them I was from Australia. Up here, they don't know about Australia, they are suitably impressed with my bikes Sao Paulo numberplate though.

The road from Ruropolis to Itaituba was shitty. Many, many trucks use this road. Mainly B Doubles. More than 200 per day. All European trucks. No American trucks at all. It is the same all over South America. You only see US built trucks where the roads are good.

Most of the BR230 is built on clay. When it rains it turns to slush. A little rain equals a lot of slush. Lindsay and Dale will understand what I mean.Then the trucks stuff it right up. The damage has to be seen to be believed. Road maintenance is not high on anyone’s agenda in this neck of the woods. There had been enough rain to settle the dust. And give us a few slippery patches to keep us on our toes. It was only 150kms for the day, the last 30 on asphalt. We were drinking beer in the hotel pool by lunch time. An excellent mornings ride.

Sunday is election day for Brazil's President. Brazilians are very enthusiastic in every thing they do, except road maintenance. Electioneering is no different. Many flag waving, cheering, loud music playing, people marching, car horn sounding parades. All in a good temperament. We saw two groups of marchers approach an intersection from different directions. Trouble? No way. Just chaos. All in good humour.

Itaituba to Jacareacanga was 380kms. We were up at 0500, left just after daylight. Talk about a fantastic 10 hour ride. Dirt all the way. The track had every type of surface, some crap, some brilliant. It wound through rainforests, jungle and unfortunately, areas that until recently had been rainforest, now were only dead tree stumps and no vegetation. My F800GS averaged 45kph and 24kms/litre. Bloody good, considering the fuel in Brazil is 25% ethanol. It was still hot. Bloody hot. We were completely stuffed, and once more, soaked from head to toe in fcuking sweat. By lunch time we can wring our gloves out!

Jacareacanga is a gold rush town. A bit of a dump, apparently crime is rife. We went to bed early, slept for 10 hours and left at daylight next morning. We wash our socks, jocks and T shirts every night. Our riding gear stinks. JC, Julio and I room together. The film crew tell us our gear makes our room stink.

Adam and I rode in Kazakhstan and Russia for days and days in temperatures of 43-45 degrees. It was hot. But dry hot. Here it hasn't hit 40 yet, with almost 100% humidity the heat is a proper bastard. I cannot believe how much I sweat. The roads were much, much harder in the Ghobi and Kazakhstan Deserts, though the riding was no where near as tiring.

Beth and Mariana tell us we stink and won't come close when we have our gear on. The smell emanating from some of the vagrants around CQ comes to mind. We all look forward to Manaus and the chance to wash our gear, including helmets. They stink as much as the rest of it.

Yesterdays ride from Jacareacanga to Apui was another stunner. Try a 63kph average and 25kms/litre. What would she achieve with good Aussie 98 Octane petrol, without ethanol?. The track was made for bikes. Tight twisty stuff, plenty of fast open areas with sweeping turns. We sat on 80kph a lot of the way. My speedo showed 130 a couple of times. The amount of de-forestation was upsetting. We had a late start, it was only a 280km ride so we were in Apui at 1230.

Had arranged to meet our Camera crew in Apui. They were driving Marcelo's lovely black Toyota Hilux turbo diesel wagon. Marcelo was a little concerned when they had not arrived on time. I rode back the way we had come to look for them. A young bloke on a bike pulled me over and in Portuguese, told me there had been an accident. Now I can't understand Portuguese, although facial expressions and hand movements tell a lot.

I hurtled out a few more kms to find a small gathering of people and vehicles on a corner in the track. Beth, Mariana and Miguel were standing, looking more than a little shaken, stressed and flustered. Marcelo, JC and Julio arrived a couple of minutes later. Mariana forgot about the stench and gave me a hug!

Mariana had rolled their car down an embankment and ended on its wheels with the back in an Anaconda infested swamp, slowly filling with water. It was stuffed. Thankfully, our crew were OK. With the help of locals, a truckie and his Mercedes bogie drive tipper, she was back up on the road in under an hour. Some guy offered to take all their gear into town in his ute. We left Marcelo's poor old Toyota on the side of the road and followed them into town. She was totally rooted. After a shower we did what any Aussie bikers and their mates would have done. Drank beer and ate food.

Luckily Apui is a reasonable town, with good restaurants and at least one good hotel, as we are here for two nights. JC is as sick as a dog. Has a fever and is to crook to ride. Beth took him to the Hospital where one of their 5 Cuban doctors thinks he might have Malaria. At 3pm today they will have the results of his blood test. In the meantime, there is a lot of organising to do.

It seems Brazil has a lot of Cuban doctors. They are supposed to be well trained. Brazil hires them from the Cuban Government who pays them $400/month and gives them a bigger pension when they retire. Every town in this neck of the woods has Cuban doctors.

Good news. JC doesn't have Malaria. Just a really savage urinary tract infection. He has good drugs now. Today is rest and let JC get some strength back day. It is 0930 and we are already as bored as batshit. Had breakfast. Washed our helmets and gloves in the shower. Both smell like Palm Olive now. Tried to do some laundry. There was a demarcation issue with the laundry staff, so they are doing it. WTF will we do for the rest of the day?

Beth just popped into our room to talk. Held her nose between her fingers. Can't understand why.

Rode out to look at the local waterfall. Interesting without being brilliant.

As this is my first time as a “sponsored rider”, I don't know how often I am expected to mention the guys who are paying our bills. Now seems as good a time as any.

My BMW F800GS is a beautiful bike. She does everything well, is very economical and comfortable. BMW's ergonomics are always good, the F800 is no exception. She handles the rough stuff, the smooth stuff, the tight stuff and the fast stuff exceptionally well. She has more than adequate power. I would love to take this one home!

Our Metzeler Karoo 3's are a lovely tire. Both on and off road. The front tire is confidence inspiring and predictable. It has incredible grip off road. They is the best tire I have ever ridden on over roads that have been freshly re-profiled.

My Mormaii helmet is comfortable and quite, the peak is a great thing off road.

Smiles” are great. I love them. They pay most of our bills.

Tomorrow we ride to Humaita.

JC still felt like shit, He is a tough little French Truckie though. Up at 0400 and on the road as daylight broke. (0530) Humaita was 380kms and two ferry trips away. No one could tell us exactly how far. Estimates ranged from 370 to 480kms. Hence the extra early start. The film crews taxi driver had the closest guess. And was the best looking Taxi driver in the world. By far.

The road was brilliant. Mostly. Not to hot. About 33 degrees. Not to humid. About 99.9%. We mostly cruised on 80kph. A great surface, little traffic and fantastic scenery. Crossed many, many bridges over crystal clear rivers. We realised we were running late for the 1330 ferry. Next one was at 1500, so we gunned it. I sat on 130-135 for a while. Touched 145kph. The F800 loved it. She glided over the rough stuff. I didn't have to stand up once. Thought I had better slow down and be sensible, so sat on 100 until the ferry. JC said he felt much better. He thinks a ride like that is better than any medication!

Humaita's hotel was our best by far. Definitely “Karen” standard. (the standard by which hotels world wide are judged) Our evening meal was magnificent. The beer chilled. The ambience just right. We slept like the dead. Breakfast was more than up to standard.

Today, “The Ghost Road”. The infamous BR319.

This road was built in the fifties to connect Manaus to the rest of Brazil. And the world. In an attempt to stop illegal logging and wild life poaching, the Government hasn't maintained it for many, many years. Manaus only has one road out. That leads 2,000kms to Venezuela. Passage out to the rest of Brazil is by boat to Belem. (5 days and 6 nights) or by plane. The BR319 is only used by crews maintaining the communication towers and back up electricity wires for the tower's power. And some silly motorcyclists.The towers are about 35 to 40 metres high and are around 35kms from each other. (line of sight)They provide data communication for Manaus' 2,200,000 inhabitants and the many industries in the city. BMW has a factory there. Our F800's were built there. Honda has one of it's biggest factories in the world there. Amazingly, Harley Davidson build bikes there as well.

The towers have a building were we can shelter for the night. They also have a well with drinking water. More importantly they are surrounded by a 3 or 4 metre high fence and with a gate we can close at night. Great for keeping Jaguars, Caymen, Anacondas etc from eating us. We planned to sleep in one tonight.

We were gung ho. Left our hotel at 0715, promptly got lost riding to a service station. Manaus was 664kms. The first 80kms was pretty reasonable asphalt. It gradually deteriorated as we rode further from Humaita. Eventually it was pretty shitty. It was bloody hot. And humid. We made good time and were killing it. We would do this in 2 days. We were the men they “couldn't root, shoot or electrocute”.

Stopped for lunch at a farm house. One small, stale bread roll and cheese, we had stolen at breakfast, and about 2 litres of water. The farmers wife was lovely. A family of German heritage who had moved up north from southern Brazil to farm cattle. She said we could stay and offered us food, a shower and a bed.

We mixed our ambitions up with our capabilities and rode off to find a tower about 70kms further on to sleep the night.

Then it fcuking well rained. Not buckets, but enough to fill the puddles and make the track as slippery as shit. You only have to spit on this stuff and it is like ice to ride on. It is the nearest to pottery clay I have ridden on.

100 metres after it started raining and JC went to drink from his Camelback. Threw his bike down the track. Another 100 metres and I had an almighty off track, out of control excursion through the jungle and back onto the track. Kept her upright though. Must have been all the swearing. Our pace slowed considerably.

The “Ghost Road” has 110 bridges. Some are shitty and dangerous. They are the good ones. The bad ones are incredibly, unbelievably, terrible. The surface is like polished hardwood. Like glass when wet. The bad ones need to be scouted and sometimes have running repairs made before we can cross. A couple are to dangerous to ride when wet. The four of us push our bikes across. One at a time.

Marcelo had woken in the morning with the flu. By late afternoon he was totally stuffed. He could hardly walk, let alone ride. Progress was painfully slow. Marcelo has a “never say die attitude” and battled on.

As dusk approached Julio suggested we find one of the few remaining patches of asphalt to sleep the night. We don't carry tents or sleeping bags, so made a four sided corral with the bikes. Cut branches with our Leatherman knives and laid them across the bikes. We covered these with some leaves that looked like banana leaves. Julio and I were the builders, while JC lit a fire. Marcelo filmed.

Then it rained. But, we were relatively dry.

We ate dinner. Two tins of tuna and one of cat food between 4. No plates or cutlery. Eaten directly out of the tins with fingers and the tin lids. Water was rationed. Not much of that to go around either.

We slept in our wet riding gear, boots and all. Directly on the bitumen. There was a small lake about 20 metres from the road. Nice clear water. The sort favoured by Anacondas. Locals tell us all these lakes have Anacondas. And Caymen. (freshwater crocodiles) At night the lights from our head torches reflected several pairs of beady little eyes watching us. Fcuking Caymen.

Now, Caymen aren't supposed to eat people. They aren't as big as Aussie Crocs. Only grow to 3 metres. I hoped these Caymen weren't hungry and someone had told them they don't like to eat people. JC and I saw one swim past. I slept with my Leatherman at the ready.

We were asleep by 8pm. Me thinking of bloody Anacondas and Caymen. The road was hard, we all had to roll over every hour or so. In unison, as space was limited. I was awake at 5 and we were on the road at 6. It was actually a pretty good sleep. Dry and warm. No one was eaten. Not even by a Malaria carrying mossy.

Next day was harder. After 13 hours riding we had only covered 114kms. But, we had broken the BR319's back. Marcelo felt a little better, though still far from his best. JC fell off another 4 times and I dumped my bike once. JC is a rather exuberant rider! Marcelo had a big one. He almost totally submerged his bike and himself in a puddle the size of the dry dock at BSY. Bloody mud was so deep it came over the top of my previously bone dry Forma Adventure boots and filled them. The next mud hole was nearly large, as big as your average backyard swimming pool. Marcelo was really tired, so I rode his bike through it. Or attempted to. Dumped it as well.

The bastards all laughed!

Julio is smooth. Didn't drop it once. Fcuking Ecuadorians!

The only car we came across was a young family in a 2 wheel drive ute. Hopelessly bogged. We tried to get them out but it was a lost cause. Gave them water and Bushmans Repellent. Marcelo rang for help on his Sat phone. They and their 6 month old baby would be there until sometime the next day.

Arrived at some little dive of a place in the middle of no where sometime after dark. It was a small joint run by a really poor, but lovely family. They had about 6 other guests (hunters) so JC and I had to sleep in hammocks. Good practise for next week. Their girls were incredulous when told JC and I had never slept all night in a hammock. We bathed by dipping buckets in another infested waterhole. I don't know what it was infested with. Bloody grubby though. The cook asked if we wanted chicken, eggs, rice or pasta. Marcelo said all of them please. We hadn't had a proper meal for over 36 hours. Slept like the dead.

Another breakfast of dried biscuits and we shot through. Manaus was 350kms and we wanted a decent meal, a shower and several cold beers. I would kill for a Coopers or an Old Peculiar. After about 50kms the track improved. Hit a decent road at 0900, then a small shit dump of a town. Bought petrol. Had a beer while we waited for a ferry and kept going.

The Ferry Master and his crew were possibly the most ignorant pricks I have ever met. His vessel, a disgrace. Its water tight integrity a long distant memory. The other 200 million Brazilians are beautiful people.

As we got closer to Manaus the road improved, the towns bigger. There was more and more de-forestation. Perhaps the Governments theory is correct. Nearly everyone we saw gave us the thumbs up. We looked so filthy we could only have come from the BR319. “The Ghost Road”.

The last last three days have been an exceptional ride. I loved it. My BMW F800GS loved it. We all loved it. Our Metzeler Karoo 3's were superb. After a shower and a cold beer, we would have liked to turn around and do it again.

Photographers, a lot better than me, have posted great pictures of the BR230 and the BR319 on Google Images. Maybe worth a look.

Manaus is big. Beth excelled with her choice of hotel. A pool, and with a revolving restaurant on the top floor. Reasonable internet as well. Definitely Karen standard. Our film crew had been there a couple of days, so things were organised. We pulled up out the front, passers-by stopped and took photos. I felt important for about 5 minutes.

The city is famous for its opera house, the Teatro Amazonas, built between 1894 and 1896. Almost all building materials imported from France. The steel columns cast in Liverpool. An amazing building in a plaza surrounded by beautiful old buildings, only about 3 minutes walk from our hotel. The plaza has a couple of great restaurants and bars. We ate like kings and drank like troopers. A world away from the BR319!!!

First morning, the cleaner didn't like entering our room. She held her nose. We washed ourselves, our boots, helmets and bikes. Someone else washed our clothes and riding gear. Now Beth, Mariana or the cleaners don't mind entering our room. We almost smell civilised.

Julio and I had to go to the Police to extend our visas. Easier said than done. Luckily, Beth came along to translate. JC and Mariana went to find a good Brazilian doctor to sort out JC's waterworks.

Back to December 2013. Lindsay, Dale and I thought we were pretty smart. Didn't go through immigration or customs when we entered Brazil from Uruguay. The Brazilians showed us who was boss and wouldn't let us leave to go to Bolivia until we paid an exorbitant fine. And filled in reams of paperwork. Which we did.

Now, yesterday, in October 2014, the Police in Manaus don't have a record of me paying the fine in December 2013. Of course, I have a receipt. In Sydney. No bloody good there. Apparently, in Brazil all fines are paid straight into the Governments bank account. We must have paid ours straight into some corrupt Immigration Official's wallet. Our receipts aren't worth the paper they are written on. Bastards!

So, we walked up the road to the office of a little man, who charged us to fill in a multitude of forms on his computer and transferred the fine, hopefully, to the Government's bank. Then more forms filled in, eventually, several hours later, I had my visa extension. Manaus Immigration Police are good people.

We picked up new rear Metzeler Karoo's, visited Manaus BMW and washed iur bikes. Fajundas, the Metzeler agent, has ridden the BR319 seven times. He must ride like Gaston Reiher! Pirelli fitted our new tires. Their equipment was the grouse. Their tire fitter extremely competent.

Manaus is on the Rio Negro. A couple of kilometres down stream is the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes. This is the start of the Amazon. For the first 7-10kms the two rivers run side by side. The lightly coloured Solimoes and the dark tannin coloured Negro. Eventually they mix and the Amazon River runs nearly 1,600kms to the sea. We crossed the coloured line in a Ferry and photographed it from a lookout. Amazing. Tomorrow we, and our bikes board a ferry to travel 40 hours up the Solimoes to Tefe. We get to sleep on deck with 3-400 others. In hammocks. Bring it on!!


Guy's bike. 

And I told Guy it was only a sprain!

Don't piss off the locals. When they say they want a new bridge. They mean it.

They got their new bridge, in a little over 24 hours.


 My first Brazil nut tree.


The start of the BR319. The "Ghost Road".


Our film crew's Hilux.

Our mate Genghis.

Mariana. One of life's beautiful people.

JC at our camp on the road.

Marcelo and Julio are in bed early.

Julio's "stop the rain" dance.

Disembarking at Manaus

The confluence of the Rio Negro and the Solimoes Rivers. This is the start of the Amazon, 1,600kms from the sea.  

Teatro Amazonas.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is happening in my world?

Well. I had heard Rurópolis, Para, Brazil is nice this time of year. Not much happens. It is hot. Fcuking hot. Nearly 40 degrees I am told.

Why am I here? My mates, Marcelo and Beth live near Sao Paulo in Brazil. They persuaded a small group of us to ride from Sao Paulo through Brasilia (their Capital) to Caruca and on to Nevado Mismi. WTF?? Caruca is the village closest to the most eastern mouth of the Amazon and Nevado Mismi is where Geographers agree, the Amazon starts, from a small trickle at the foot of a cliff, 5,170 metres above sea level. We first talked about this in the comfort of the Collaroy Beach Club in 2012, while dining, on spare ribs, with Ian and Caroline. I was keen. Very keen. Apparently no one has attempted this on a bike before. Or even in a car or 4X4.

Later on, Marcelo mentioned he had arranged for some incredibly foresighted Companies to sponsor this trip. And a small, elite film crew would accompany, us where possible, to film a documentary. I was extra, super, incredibly keen.

Fast forward a couple of years. Our major sponsor, “Smiles” has flown us all to Sao Paulo, as well as paying most other expenses. Fuel, hotels, meals etc. I love “Smiles”! They are Brazil’s leading loyalty/frequent flyer program and are partnered with most of the worlds leading airlines. I flew with Etihad, one of “Smiles” parters. A great Airline.

BMW Motorrad Brazil have given us 5 new F800GS bikes. When Marcelo told me he was talking to 2 Japanese manufactures and BMW, I said I hoped we would use BMW's and my bike of choice for type of trip is an F800GS. Maybe there is a god!

Pirelli Metzeler offered tires. For most of my riding life my connection to the road has been Metzler. We would use “Metzeler Karoo 3”. I run Metzeler Tourance EXP's on my 1200GS. I was happy.

Brazilian motorcycle and surf wear Company, Mormaii, has given us excellent jackets and helmets. Numerous other sponsors have helped or given equipment.

Beth couldn't get me a direct flight from Sydney to South America. Every one was full on the dates I needed. Etihad delivered me via Abi Dhabi, 40 hours door to door. Fortunately Etihad is great, they made what could have been torture, bearable.

Finally met the rest of our team. Apart from Marcelo and Beth we have Guy from the UK, JC from France, Theirry from South Africa and Julio from Ecuador. Theirry will leave part way through due to work commitments and Julio will take over his bike. Our camera man is Miguel, our sound technician is Mariana and our producers assistant is JP. We all stayed at Marcelo and Beth's, doing last minute jobs on our bikes. I fitted my Garmin Zumo. Our bikes looked the ducks guts.

Marcelo cooked our first Brazilian BBQ. It was the best.

Sao Paulo has Caltablano BMW. The dealer who, for the last 3 years, has sold more BMW Motorcycles than anyone else in the world. (1,070 last year) Coincidently, Sao Paulo also has the BMW dealer who sells the second most in the year. (1,000)

Riding in Sao Paulo is a challenge. We were warned to be wary of white Taxis. They are having some kind of war with motorcyclists and been shooting at each other. It is not unknown for a white Taxi to deliberately run bikes off the road. We kept away from white Taxis. We also had to ride

close together, as BMW F800's are the most commonly hi-jacked bikes in Brazil. Particularly in Sao Paulo. It seems they don't muck around either. We had a date with the our sponsors and the media at Caltablano BMW, so hurtled into the city in peak hour. I have seldom lane split at 70kph. Brazilians are fast, but good drivers. Lucky for us.

It was a bit unusual us five, riding up a ramp right into the upstairs BMW showroom. Every man and his dog were there. Sponsors, media, friends, family and hangers on. As seems to be the Brazilian style, the catering was excellent.

Finally left just before midday. Marcelo took off like a cat shot in the arse, rode through the traffic like a man possessed. I thought, “I have never lane split at 90kph”. We had a 3,000km highway ride to Caruca to meet our film crew again. After a while I thought “I have never lane split at 100kph”. As the traffic thinned I thought “I have never lane split at 120kph either”.

Guy pulled alongside as we approached a toll plaza and pointed to my rear tire. As I slowed I realised it was as flat as a tack. We ripped my wheel off to find the tube and rim strip had completely disintegrated. My tire was stuffed. A pubic hair away from blowing, and I had been cruising at130!

Put the bike on a truck and left her at a garage. Marcello doubled me 70 km back to his place. The boys carried my gear, wheel and tire. Fitted a new tire swam in his pool and drank some fine Portuguese red.

Went back the next day and started all over again. It was good riding. Little traffic, sweeping curves and a good road surface. Lane splitting at 130 wasn't a problem. Then, one of the boys had a flat. We changed it in pretty quick time as it was getting dark, so would not be safe to be on the highway. Even with 5 bikes together. We discussed the problem and thought our non Metzeler tubes or rim strips might be faulty. No problems, we were booked in for a service at BMW Munique in Brasilia, we could get Metzeler gear there.

It was Saturday morning and Munique Motorrad had laid on brunch and put everything aside to give our machines their 1,000 km service. Their workshop is in the showroom and is immaculate. A novel approach. I like it. To much food, a service and new tubes and we were away.

Late in the day, a fantastic road riding road, riding our bikes like we had stolen them, my bike got up to 183 and held it around a curve before I caught up to traffic and couldn't pass. She had plenty more left. Then Marcello had a flat. Three in 3 days. Something was wrong.

A quick change of tube, a steady ride into town, a shower and a pizza washed down with beers. We discussed our situation and decided we were riding to fast in the 38 degree heat. Maybe we should stay under 100. I rang my mate Dave Law in Dalby. Dave knows all and has about 15 or 20 GS BMW's, one of every model. Dave agreed, said we should stick to under 100 kph on the highway, in the heat with tubed big block off road tires. A pity as the Metzeler's handled beautifully at speed and around corners.

No more flats and a pleasant ride to Caruca. Marcelo had arranged for us to stay in the local Mayor's country home. Doesn't everyone have a home in the country, one in town and another in the city. This joint was massive, complete with cooks, cleaners and a gate-man. A pool, a tropical Amazon style swimming waterhole and our film crew had filled the fridge with beer. I could get used to this. The Mayor and entourage came out to welcome us. I thought this Mayor has style, all his people are attractive girls. Then I realised one of the attractive girls was the Mayor! Her cooks fed us and her cleaners did our washing. I like this town.

Our Mayor is also head of the Police. She said we could ride around her town without helmets. How good is that!!!

They have a commercial fishing school for young people. We visited and were taken on an ecological tour of the local Mangrove swamps. Locals cut Turu worms from mangrove roots and eat them as a cure for Osteoporosis and several other things, I or my support staff cannot remember. These things are the biggest and most foul tasting worms ever invented. I could taste mine for days. Perhaps Osteoporosis would be more pleasant. JC, Julio and Mariana proved they were nearly as silly as me and ate one each as well.

We all got stuck in the mud up to our waists.

Our Mayor supplied a boat to take us to the site of a Lighthouse that marked the eastern most channel of the Amazon's exit to the sea. She also gave us a guide and caterers to cook a BBQ fish lunch.

Unfortunately, all we could see is the foundations of 2 lighthouses. Both washed away by the sea. This must be evidence of Climate Change. I feel privileged to have visited this place. Gringos almost never go there. Then we had to walk 7 kms along the beach to meet our boat. A bit like the tidal restrictions up the Parramatta River, but without the bus.

I would vote for this Mayor.

Belem is a city of 2.05 million about 80 kms from the river mouth. We had a grouse hotel right on the river. In fact, the open air restaurant was over the river. The pool was gigantic. Visited Belem BMW, drooled over their bikes while they inspected ours.

Our job for the day was complex. Visit the local markets and buy a hammock and mosquito net each, followed by lunch at a nearby riverside fish restaurant. Followed by dinner in another restaurant overlooking the river. Then a bottle of Cachaca (Brazilian firewater) by the pool. Next day involved a little bike maintenance and an early meal, in another restaurant overlooking the Amazon, this time in an old Navy hospital built in 1610.

Morning was a 300 metre ride to a ferry terminal, followed by an hour long trip on a 78 metre vehicle ferry. The Amazon is shallow here, most of the time there was less than 2 metres under her keel. Once I saw 1.7 metres on the sounder. Another great road ride, another ferry ride, this time because some vessel had belted a support on one of the longest concrete bridges I have seen, bringing down 2 spans.

Finally we rode some gravel. The road was good. We loved it. The bikes loved it. My first time on Metzeler's off road. The Karoo 3 is a great tire. Does everything well, is very, very predictable on gravel and extremely pleasant on asphalt. Traffic and road conditions (read dust) mean we stay well under 80 kph. Below 60 there is bugger all air flow and the ambient temp is above 35 degrees. We are bloody hot. Crossed the wall of the biggest dam and hydro scheme I have seen and stayed at Tucurui for the night. We ate some sort of Amazon river fish, cooked in a bag with some exceptional sauce. Special.

Tucurui to Altmira. Mainly gravel and bloody hot. But we loved it. Guy had a flat tire. This one genuine, not operator error! Fortunately he was right outside an excellent roadside restaurant. Changed the tube in the shade. It had a bloody great nail through it.

Altmira to Santarem was 551 kms. About 400 kms on gravel. It was hot. Fcuking hot. Bloody fcuking hot. The road was fucked. Rough as guts. And dusty. It was shit. Sweat poured down our arms and pooled under our elbows. When we stood on the pegs our elbow sweat pool poured down into our gloves and our backside sweat pool ran down our legs into our boots. Julio squeezed sweat out of his gloves. Sweat ran down our heads and soaked our jackets. The dust turned to sweat caked mud. We had trouble drinking enough water. It was a bastard. But, we all loved it.

Fuel and water at Rurópolis and we headed towards Santarem. The best, or worst was to come. Roadworks, 50 kilometres of them. More dust and as fine as Aussie bull dust. Road building machines working in the twilight. And trucks. Santarem is the main river port for this area. Trucks have their exhaust discharging towards the ground. Big sections of bull dust, although not as deep as Aussie stuff, still a pain in the arse. We couldn't see to overtake. A “B Double” does about 5 kph up steep hills. Our bikes idle at 10. I stalled in front of one truck. Lucky for me he was observant and stopped. Then Guy and Julio stalled in front of the same bloke. He must hate bikers now. Trucks hurtle down the hills fast. It was exciting, bus as dangerous as all hell.

Then 140 kms of pleasant highway riding. Good surface. Nice scenery, lovely corners. A hard day, over 13 hours. One of my hardest ever. But fantastic. We all loved it. Our socks, jocks and T shirts are soaked at the end of the day.

And the bikes and tires. Wouldn't swap them.

Our hotel in Santarem is almost Karen standard. Right across from the river port. Room 209 had a large balcony, perfect for a Cachaca party. Theirry flew home. I didn't lose any sleep over this. Julio now rides Theirry's old bike.

A short row boat ride from Santarem is a magnificent tropical oasis island. A bit like an Amazonian version of a Caribbean Tropical Hideaway. The river water was incredibly clean. The sand almost as white as the sand at Jervis Bay. We swam for hours and stood neck deep in the water drinking beer. I am more sunburnt than I have been for 40 years.

A not to early start and a beautiful ride back to Rurópolis. Almost no trucks and the road works had been watered. Bloody hot, but fantastic. A quick fuel stop and off towards Itiuba. The road was crap. The temperature closer to 40 than 30. The dust unbelievable. I was last, following Guy. Out of a massive dust cloud I could half see an image of a bike on its side in the bush. I thought “what a bastard, someone's bike has broken and they have had to leave it”. The screams of agony were a give away the rider was still there.

Guy had dropped his machine and looked in not very good shape. Incredibly, the first vehicle to arrive was our film crew. We don't see them often. More incredibly, the next vehicle along was a fcuking ambulance. We never see them at all. Marcello later said Guy's Queen Elizabeth was looking after him.

I told Guy not to worry as it was probably only a sprain and he could continue riding. He said he thought his leg was broken as he heard it snap. Our friendly ambulance man to took him back to the hospital in Rurópolis. It was 22 kms and Guy must have been in agony.

By the time we had left Guy's bike at a farmhouse and ridden into town he had been x rayed and bandaged. Both bones broken in his lower left leg. They put him in another ambulance and drove him over another rough as guts road to Santarem. They have a big private hospital with real doctors and everything. They operated that night, put in 2 plates and 10 screws.

We all stayed in Rurópolis and drank beer and I wrote my Blog while we waited for Beth to come back after arranging flights and things for Guy. I was sorry to see Guy go. He is a top bloke. A great riding companion.

But. Things got more interesting. Bridges in this area do not seem to be high on the Governments list of priorities. One out toward were Guy dumped it was particularly bad. Had a 1 metre hole in the middle. Several people had been killed there. The authorities wouldn't fix it. So the locals set fire to it! We couldn't get out to pick up Guy's bike.

Next morning Marcelo heard about a little known farm track we could use. Over a mountain and through a rainforest. It had rained through the night so it was as slippery as shit. But was by far the best ride of the trip so far. Picked up the bike, inspected the bridge, rode our secret little track back in time for lunch.

Several years ago a new bridge was built beside the old one. Stupidly, no one thought to connect the road to it. Funny thing, it is happening as we speak. We will ride out for a recon when the temperate drops.

Hopefully we can leave tomorrow morning.

That's how I ended up in Rurópolis on Brazil's Highway BR230. The BR319 is next. That is supposed to be really hard.

Strange as it may seem, things probably don't get any better than this!


At Marcelo and Beths home.

Sooo clean!

Catabiano Motorrad BMW

This "lighthouse" marks the end of the eastern most channel of the Amazon.
Climate change?


My bike.