Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Family Time in Belem

Since we were in northern Brazil anyway, we definitely wanted to make it over to Belem.  Jill’s great uncle was a missionary there for a long time and when Jill was young he brought several Brazilians to America with him.  One, Mada, ended up marrying Jill's uncle John and has been a big part of our family ever since.  They have two kids and Mada has lived in Missouri for the past 25 years or so.  All of Mada’s family, including her mother and 5 siblings, still live in the Belem area.  Jill visited Mada’s family in 2006.  She remembers having a really good time there, going site seeing every day, drinking lots of beers on the beach, and eating lots of good food. 

While Jill’s strongest memories from her first trip were going on fun excursions with her cousin and a neighbor that spoke good English, the family’s strongest memories of her were that she didn’t understand anything.  Which is true.  She did not understand any Portuguese or Spanish when she was there, which is kind of important when communicating in Brazil.  Fortunately this time Jill’s Spanish was a little better and Mike was able to communicate pretty well with the family.

We ended up staying in Belem for about three days.  Most of our time was spent hanging out with the family.  On one of the days, Katrina’s father in law took us for a tour of the city.  We checked out a large piece of downtown, including the renovated docks, Estacao dos Docas

(at the docks)

(downtown Belem seen from the docks)

(these docks are still used)

(there are a ton of churches in Belem. This happens to be a nice big one)

(street view in Belem)

And we spent some time walking at the mangrove of the egrets (Mangal das Garcas)

(we think these may be egrets)

(we are pretty sure these are not egrets)

(this one is showing off its legs)

(a rare blue macaw)

And Katrina’s new house on the beach in Outeiro would be an ideal place to spend weekends. That's why they spend most of their weekends there.

(mostly open air)

(and an incredible view)

The local feira provided us a chance to do some shopping - replacement jeans for Jill and replacement sandals for Mike.

(apparently this is a necessary sign in these fitting rooms)

(back in our neighborhood in Belem)

We really had a good time in Belem and are very thankful to Mada’s mom, sister Katrina, and brother David and his family for taking such good care of us.  They welcomed us into their houses, fed us extremely well, and were incredibly kind to us.

(Us, Juliana, Leila, and David in Belem)

We also enjoyed hanging out with David’s neighbors, who showed up at just the right moment for a bus ride, welcomed us into their house, showed us lots of good pictures, and offered us an impromptu flute concert

(Rocha, Gabriel, Ezequiel, Christina and us)

Strangely, it took us longer to leave the gas station down the street than it did for us to say goodbye to our hosts. Things just kept popping up. First we asked for some old oil containers to be able to carry extra gas. The attendant gave us 2 out of the 3 that he keeps in the trunk of his car. Then people kept coming up to talk to us. Some locals. One guy who moved from Rio, driving to Belem on his 125. And a couple who were gassing up their BMW caught up with us right as we were leaving. It turns out he edits a Moto Adventure magazine in Sao Paolo. They were nice and offered us any help if we were to need it while in Brazil. This Brazilian hospitality is incredible, even from strangers!

(Us with the moto adventurers from Sao Paolo)

Across the mouth of the Amazon

We arrived in Santana a few hours before our scheduled 4pm departure, we even got there before the boat did.

(waiting to be loaded onto the Almirante del Mar)

The tickets we bought from Marcio a couple of days ago needed to be traded in to the actual boat company for our boarding documents. When the guy at the counter saw the bike, he balked at the 200Rs we had paid, stating that a bike like ours should be 600Rs. I started arguing against that real quick, but the helper from Marcio's company and 2 of the young women taking tickets told me not to worry. the helper then went down to talk to the captain. He got it worked out so the bike was considered 1 m of freight, costing 200Rs, as agreed. Then we just kept waiting for our chance to load.


(after 1-2 hours of pulling cargo out from every nook and cranny on that boat, we finally rolled the TA right onto the deck, squeezing her past the water fountain, and lashed her to a poll on the aft deck. 3 other Honda 125/250's made the journey too. Thankfully, we didn't have to try to get the bike down into the cargo hold. That would not be fun, but some others have had to do it. We'll see what happens on future boats...)

In the meantime, we had already loaded all of our luggage and tied up our hammock to claim space. Since this boat was a "short" one - it only takes about 28 hours to go directly across the mouth of the Amazon - we decided to just get hammock space instead of a private cabin to store all of our stuff. And surprisingly, when it's not on the bike (and we're not wearing the bulky riding gear) we have a ton of stuff.

(Jill getting comfy in our hammock. While we do have a double hammock, it does not provide for the best night's sleep when there are actually 2 people in it)

(leaving Santana)

(sunset over Santana/Macapa)

(sunrise over the Amazon from our hammock)

(there were a lot of small houses along the banks, all with dugout canoes paddling towards our boat...)

(...some passengers throw care packages of food and clothes to the families along the way...)

(...going for the pick up)

We arrived in Belem in the evening, around 8 or 9pm. Our boat docked beside another river boat, meaning that we had to pass through it to get onto land. That was fine for us with the luggage, but a nightmare for the bike. The closer boat sat really low in the water, so the ramp up to the dock was fairly steep. Worse yet, it came too close to the ceiling of the lower deck for the TA to pass through. So we rearranged the huge plank a bit and gave it a shot. It was unsettling. I was on a separate walkway to the left, pushing on the handlebars while trying not to push the walkway sideways. We had to dip the motorcycle low to each side to get the mirrors through. And the guy in the back was not pushing up that incline like he should have been so it came down to whatever I could do on the bars (which was not enough from that angle) and a boat hand pulling the forks from the front. That guy most certainly saved the day.

(what you can't see here is how much fun Mike and 3 other Brazilians are having while unloading the TA)

We tried to get out of the dock neighborhood but meandered our way through some seedy streets until we found a major avenue.  Then we were on our way to Jill's family's place.  Us, and a few thousand of our closest friends apparently.  Traffic was intense.  Buses were all over the place, swerving quicker and more violently than most we've seen.  Tons of small motos, taxis with no headlights, you name it.  And it was dark and rainy.  Even though we try to avoid it, we still get stuck traveling at some inopportune times.  At least we didn't have far to go.  Even so, the 14 km took us almost 2 hours.  Part of that was getting lost, but not much.   And once we did arrive at where we thought we were supposed to go, there was some confusion because we were staying with Jill's uncle at a different address.  But the confusion settled out after a bit of time and we were happy to be in Belem with family.

the Southern Hemisphere

We have crossed into the Southern Hemisphere!!

We have also seen the Amazon River!!!!

(some big river)

Here's the story:

Macapá turned out to be a pleasant city and was the gateway for those 2 major milestones. The hotel that we had read about in someone else’s report, Hotel America Novo Mondo, served us well at 45 Rs a night (no rooms left at 40 Rs, their cheapest rate for a double, single rate is 20) with secure parking, free chilled drinking water, A/C, and a hearty breakfast of coffee, juice, bread, ham and cheese. The best part is that breakfast is served on a huge lazy susan on a big round table seating 12 (strangers, usually). The lazy susan battles that break out can be hysterically entertaining and make you want to linger around the breakfast table a little longer than usual.

(room at the Hotel America Novo Mondo)

Beyond that, the hotel is located very well for exploring Macapa.

(Jill keeping her balance at the middle of the world)

(Mike as NorthandSouth Man!)

(pretty darn close - Monumento do Marco Zero, Macapá)

We used the trip to the Equator monument as an excuse to go to the port in Santana and confirm a boat to Belem. We had already stopped in at the Secretary of Tourism office in Macapá to ask questions about the boats and the receptionist was kind enough to call a trusted travel agent to discuss options in the upcoming 2 days. We were then supposed to call to confirm our reservation, but a Spanish-Portuguese conversation on the phone did not sound like a challenge that Mike was up to, so off to Santana we went, with a little slip of paper in hand showing the tourist agency, contact name, and address. That apparently wasn’t enough.

(view of the Oliveira, at left, from the dock in Santana)

Those ferry salesmen at the docks in Santana are ferocious. I asked to speak with Marcio, who had been very helpful on the mutliple phone calls from the Tourism office. Everyone claimed that they didn’t know of him or his agency; one claimed that Marcio was his brother and that he could help me. I kept insisting on finding the agency, but finally went down to the dock with one of the salesmen to talk with the boat captain that was leaving the next day. While we had thought that the Oliveira was an option, that captain wanted nothing to do with transporting a motorcycle. He didn’t want anything to do with it the first time a salesman went with me to ask. And he definitely wasn’t interested the second time that I showed up with a different salesman (who promised me it would be fine). This salesman led me back to his office where we started talking prices for the Almirante del Mar, leaving Wednesday at 4pm.

That’s when Marcio found me. He came into the office, showed me his identification, and I was much happier to work with him than any of those other salesmen. He got us all set up on the Almirante del Mar at what seems to be pretty reasonable prices for the 24-40 hour ferry to Belem. If you are traveling through, get in touch with Marcio!  He seemed to have the best rates - 100 Rs per person for hammock space (130 Rs through boat company day of departure) and 200 Rs for the bike.
Marcio's contact info:
Agencia de viagens Pará Turismo
9137-5633 / 8803-9894 / 8141-8982
office located next to the dock entrance, 1 building south on the same side as dock

Back in Macapá we had a full day to explore.

(Jill looking forward to her Brazilian complete)

(public library - home of free internet around the world. And books. I guess some libraries still have books too.)

(weird flying/crawling things are everywhere)

(some animals seem a little friendlier)

(the trapiche, or pier, at the renovated waterfront)

(a section of the waterfront restaurants. There were also many stands set up selling fresh coconut water for 5 Rs. Vodka or rum was available for another 2.50 Rs. A lot of vodka or rum.)


(Casa do Artesao had some really nice craft souvenirs. I hate to say it, but the quality far surpasses what's available in Suriname and the prices were still great)

(while most of the city was pleasant for walking, this street following the wastewater canal was not so much)

(Fortaleza de São José de Macapá)

(lots of stands in a row all selling batatas fritas (fries) and macaxeira frita (cassava))

When there´s no rain

Another early start took us from Oiapoque to Calcoene. This stretch of road is notorious for being mean, muddy, slow-going, nearing impassable. We got lucky that it has been rather dry lately (in June we are at the end of rainy season and it has already slowed).

(Mike is not yet back in the habit of putting in ear plugs every time we start off. But we get to take more breaks because of it)

(around 30 miles of paved road out of Oiapoque before hitting dirt)

(the road was in good shape at the start)

(the sky got a bit darker and brought some rain to make things more interesting)

(there were a few sections of deep mud and standing water, but luckily for us, there were only a few and each section was short. With a lot of rain, it's easy to see how those sections would be show stoppers.)

(lots of old wooden bridges in various stages of disrepair. Most did not have this much signage. Most did not have this much wood either - there were some gaping holes down to the creeks below on most. Some of the bridges are in the process of being replaced by concrete versions, but it looks like it will be a long process)

(some stretches of road had almost unavoidable potholes, the worst of it not pictured here (because Jill was hanging on tight))

(the sun came back out and we had some beautiful views)

Not knowing if we would pass much along the road, we were pleasantly surprised to see this restaurant about 60 km before Calcoene. They served us up a Brazilian feast!

(they also provided some shade to take care of some chain maintenance. Mud, slider gunk, oil, and a rock had gathered behind the front sprocket cover, causing a nasty racket now, and excessive abuse if left alone. So a good under the cover cleaning, chain check and lube and we were on our way.)

The road was paved for a stretch after the restaurant, but it was only paved in segments. The dirt segments were graded really well, so they were fast. Except for the last 15-20 km coming into Calcoene. Those were some nasty potholes.

(the road work was more obvious closer to Calcoene. Lots of partial bridges and road grading.)

We arrived at Calcoene in the early afternoon, but decided to stay put. The small, rural town has a nice feel to it. Lots of kids were out flying kites, some gave us funny looks, others wanted to talk. Outside of the pousada where we stayed a young guy on a bicycle was interested in us and our moto. He showed us where to find the pousada owner, and while we were talking to her he found a coke can to jam against his rear wheel so he could make motorcycle noises while he rode.

Attached to our pousada was a panaficadora who supplied us with all sorts of good bread based snacks – coconut bread, hot dogs wrapped in donut-like dough and served with mayonnaise (which may disgust some of you, but is really quite tasty. You are welcome to just take my word for it), and even normal bread, too. We had a relaxing evening walking around town a bit, planning an early departure to Macapá.

(the road to Macapá cut through savannah and was a good high-speed ride)

(we lucked out again and found a phenomenal lunch stop by the side of the road. You pay by weight. We each ate 3/4 kg of all sorts of good salads, meats, and beans for 10Rs each (that’s about 1.5 lbs of food for around US$5). The fresh salads with spices and seasonings that we haven’t seen in so long were a hit. And of course, the meat was great, too - we are in Brazil after all.)

(mostly, the road was in near perfect shape. Until this ugly set of potholes. It’s hard to make out in the picture, but the only building for miles around happens to be a tire repair shop (borracheria) and bar located directly in front of the worst pot holes. Prime location

(there were some tree farms along the way, not sure what they’re for. They do not serve very well as windbreaks.)