Sunday, December 4, 2011

Red Road

We knew that the road from Lethem to Georgetown could be hairy, as it is unpaved all the way to Linden, over 300 miles away. So we set out with some food, extra gas, and the expectation to take a couple of days. It did take a couple of days. A couple of long days. But it was suh-weeet!

(last bit of pavement for awhile)

Initially the road is packed fairly well, although there are stretches of bone rattling washboards that you can smooth out with speed, but somehow the stretches change frequency randomly, and the top surface can be a layer of loose red gravel and dust, which just adds to the excitement.

("Caution Bridge Broken Ahead")

Those washboard sections let up after a few tens of kilometers, transitioning into massively large potholes that had a sneaky way of hiding until the last minute, given the shades of the road bed. Some of those potholes were gi-normous! Big enough to swallow us whole.

Along the way, we did get to see some amazing natural beauty, including the scenery as it slowly changed from savanna to jungle, as well as a few glimpses of wildlife.

(Termite City was not labeled on our map)

(termite house within termite city)

(Pacaraima mountain range in the distance)

At 70 miles (on the odometer) from Lethem, there is a small community of a few houses. A large property on the left side of the road sells gas for 380 guyanese dollars per liter (US$1.90 per L). We went ahead and topped up while we had the chance. (It turned out to be 215 miles from the gas station in Lethem to the next gas station with a pump.)

(octane rating not provided)

(the bridges were in decent shape, but definitely without guardrails)

We eventually made it to the entrance to the Iwokrama national park, where a police checkpoint just takes down your info, but no fee.

By this point the road had smoothed out a good bit, and the potholes were fewer, as the jungle got denser closer to the river.

We arrived at the Kurupukari ferry crossing just a few km after the turn off for the Iwokrama eco-lodge and after another police checkpoint (again, just taking information, but you have to go inside each time).

(this van, or wagi, is the most common small vehicle on the road. Even more common are the DAF transport trucks)

The hours of operation showed the ferry running until 6pm. It was 5:15 and not much activity was visible, especially with the ferry on the other side of the river. A DAF truck pulled up around 5:30 or so, and eventually called us over to talk. Dino and Kevin were on the 12-14 hour run up to Georgetown and shared some tangerines with us. They make that run 3-4 times per week, pocketing about 10,000 Guyanese dollars per run (US$50). As we were considering returning to camp at the eco lodge, they informed us that the ferry had to run, since his truck got there before 6. Perfect!

(manual ramp on this barge)

We stopped just on the other side to eat dinner at Dorothy's place, along with Dino and Kevin, and to set up camp. Dorothy was so nice that she charged us a few bucks for dinner, but nothing to set up a tent.

(Dorothy, an Amerindian, has been at this spot serving food for decades. Another guest house/restaurant opened up next door to her, but we hope she pulls through)

The next morning we got an early start on a gorgeous day.

(traditional AmerIndian village on the way to Linden)

Once again we had the chance to see some incredible wildlife. The highlight was the tapir, pictured below. We stopped and watched it for a minute as it lumbered slowly into the jungle. We also had a chance to catch a brief glimpse of some kind of cat like creature (sizewise similar to a golden retriever dog), a couple of jungle beavers (I wish I could tell you what they were really), and one dead monkey on the road.

(tapir up ahead. This jungle cow wasn't too bothered by us passing. It's hind quarters were still visible to the side of the road as we passed, but our limited zoom didn't let us get any National Geographic photos.)

The ride towards Linden provided much different road conditions than what we had seen the day before. At the start, the road was packed, surrounded by dense jungle and easy riding.

(the jungle crept in on the sides of the road for most of our ride up to Linden)

There were a number of sections that were super slippery mud, along with some decent puddles and ruts.

(Mike coming through a muddy section)

(Jill was the mud scout when the going looked slippery)

As we got closer to Linden, there was less mud, but a lot more loose bauxite dust on top of the road. There were some short sections where the bottom absolutely dropped out to soft sand. Even though the TA was a bit sideways at a couple of those transitions, we managed to keep the rubber side down this time. Mike is not convinced he's getting better at dual sport riding, but was just evening out his Venezuelan motorcycle karma.

(passing trucks provided a dust bath)

(major logging operations along the way, most of their work is out of sight, this evidence was clearly visible. What about that "no logging" sign earlier in the park?)

There was one last official police checkpoint and one huge Chinese lunch when we left the national park. And then, the sky just opened up on us. We were about 20 km outside of Linden when the downpour began. We kept making slow progress, even though we could hardly tell what the road conditions were going to be - if soft sand was next, or a hard packed rut.

We finally turned towards town, nearing the pavement of Linden, when we encountered our scariest and most unofficial checkpoint yet. In the downpour, a youngman wearing blue fatigues, purple diamond studded sunglasses, combat boots, and carrying an assault rifle waved us to a stop and pointed to the side of the road. Acting confused in our rain soaked state, we pointed ahead to Linden and asked if we could go there. He didn't like that idea, pointing his rifle at us and insisting that we pull over beside the white van. Inside the van there were about 8 officials wearing uniforms and name tags and were not nearly as trigger-happy as the guy with the rifle, which gave us some relief. They asked to see our passports, copies were handed over. They offered a seat in the van, but we told them we were already wet, no big deal, preferring not to get in with any of them, let alone sit next to the rifle toting crazy. After reviewing our copies, they wished us a safe journey and we were on our way. No trouble at all. But definitely a lot of adrenaline.

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