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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.

1 comment:

  1. And a small, elite film crew would accompany, us where possible, to film a documentary. I was extra, super, incredibly keen. tours on maui