Sunday, December 4, 2011

Speaking Spanish Portuguese

By the time we were finally able to wrap up the customs process in Brasil, it was late in the afternoon and there was no chance of us making it to Boa Vista, our planned next stop. Luckily for us, the town on the border, Pacaraima, was nothing like many border towns we have seen that you want to get out of as quickly as possible. Pacaraima was in fact pleasant, somewhere we actually wouldn't mind spending a little bit of time. It even had information for tourists, souvenir shops, lots of dining options, etc. We found the only hotel in town that was not either full (not quite sure how they were full because there were no other tourists in sight, but there is a larger bus terminal in the town so maybe that brought in guests) or had no secure motorcycle parking.

We walked around the town looking for a place to eat and finally decided on a small restaurant with a very friendly woman owner. She served something like a 3 course meal, complete with salad, steak, rice, beans, coleslaw, etc., for cheap. We loved Brazil so far.

For the past 6 months, we had been getting by quite well with Mike's Spanish, but it was a different story in Brazil. Mike usually started his conversations in Brazil asking if the person understood Spanish, to which they usually replied no, or they could understand some but not speak it. So, we kept speaking Spanish, which got us by, but we could very rarely figure out what the response was. Perhaps surprisingly, despite the border of English-speaking Guyana being so close, no one spoke English.

The next morning we got on the road to head to Boa Vista, about a 2 hour drive. The drive was rather monotonous and the savanna continued throughout.

We arrived in Boa Vista pretty early in the day, so decided to check out several hostel options. The cheapest one we could find was still $35, which was a little outrageous in our opinion. We had a few things we wanted to buy, but we arrived on a Saturday and despite the fact that the town has over 230,000 people and is the only town of size in the area, hardly anything was open. We tried to exchange money, but that ended up being an impossible task as all the money exchanges and gold buyers were closed, so we ended up having to use an ATM. We were staying right downtown, but it seemed like a ghost town. We had planned on staying in Boa Vista through the weekend, but since we didn't want to pay for another night at the hotel and since nothing was going on anyway, we decided to move on to the border on Sunday and see if we could get to Guyana.

The drive to the Guyanese border took a couple more hours, also through relatively boring savanna. We were not sure if the border would be open, but it was no problem. Our only holdup at the border was that the woman at customs did not want to give us a copy of the paperwork showing that we checked the motorcycle out of the country. From our small amount of understanding of Portugese it seemed to us she was arguing against her co-workers, who were telling her to make a copy. Finally, we did get the copy, which we ended up needing in Guyana. Despite the hold up, it still only took a few minutes to get cleared out of Brazil.

(Mike at the customs building in Brazil, note the engine guard bags replaced by 1 gal of fuel each side)

From there we were able to drive across the newly constructed bridge from Brazil to Guyana (until this year you had to take a ferry). You can't miss the immigration building, as the road guides you right into the parking lot. Prior to that though, you have to switch over to the left side of the road, as Guyana operates under the British road system.

(don't forget to switch to the left side of the road!)

Immigration into Guyana was very simple, although they do ask several questions and want to know a specific address where you will be staying in the country, at least they are asking in English. Customs for the bike was not quite so easy, because we needed both insurance for Guyana and copies of documents, including the Brazil document, neither of which we had. The woman was also pretty unhappy that Mike interrupted her nap, so was reluctant to even tell him which copies he needed. She did allow us to take the bike into the nearest town, Lethem, to get things worked out. Not surprisingly, very few stores were open on a Sunday in this already sleepy town, so we needed to spend the night and get copies and insurance the next morning from the Savannah grocery store. One of two hotels in town, the Savannah Inn, was owned by the same person, so we stayed there (US$20 for a fan room) with the promise that the owner would be there by 8 am ready to help us.

(There is another hotel in Lethem that is a ripoff - the Takutu Inn. Our first meal in Guyana was there - country stew. Random bits of white, fatty bush meat and innerds in a bland broth for 850 guyanese dollars (over US$4) each. And internet access there was US$2.50/hour, 3x as much as most places. Go with Savannah Inn.)

(almost all offices, lobbies, hotels in the area had out hot water, tea, and coffee all the time. Even Brazilian customs office at the border.)

By 8:30am, we had our insurance in hand (US$15 for 1 month), along with plenty of copies, and went back to customs where we received 2 important documents this time:  temporary vehicle import and a driving permit.  Both were free.  And both needed a Guyana address, so have a hotel and address in mind if traveling through.

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