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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.


  1. What an adventure. You are a good story teller and have bigger balls than me!

    I was only thinking of you yesterday, as your old CBX was dropped off at my workshop for some TLC and I received an email link to your blog!

    Stay safe and have fun.


  2. Great read as usual Chris, following your adventure and wishing I was with you and the guys.
    Its a long time since we traveled so your blog will have to keep me going for now.

    Best regards and safe riding.

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