Monday, July 30, 2012


Once we got into Manaus, we found a hostel, Natureba, a couple blocks away from the Opera House that was as cheap as we were going to find in the city at 57 R a night.  It wasn't necessarily our favorite place, but it was a good location.  In Manaus we were trying to book a boat to Peru and replace the chain/sprockets on the bike.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon and the town kind of shuts down on the weekend, preventing any errand running, so we explored the city for a couple of days.

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(the plaza in front of the Opera House was very nice)

(every Sunday there is a street fair with food, clothes, and lots of other random stuff)

(we went to the port to get information about boats leaving for Peru.  But, it was Sunday, so we didn't find out much.)

The next day we met with a tourist agent to get prices.  We were quoted 400 R each for a hammock and 1200 R for the motorcycle.  We thought those prices were ridiculous (especially given that we knew hammock space was available at 180 Rs).  Then we started thinking about what a hassle (and how expensive) it will be to transport the bike on not only this leg of the boat, but on the additional 2 boats we would have to take to get to a road in Peru (well...actually...3 additional boats, counting the required canoe from Tabatinga to Santa Rosa).  We figured we could find a better price somewhere in Manaus, but decided against looking all over town and talking to all the boat captains we could find for something better.  Instead we decided to change our plans and drive north, go back through Venezuela, then over to Colombia to head south.  That way we will get to see Colombia, which we really wanted to do anyway, and we will not be dependent on a boat for our transportation.

Since we would be driving more now, we really wanted to get the final drive replaced in Manaus.  We figured it was a big enough city to have the parts we needed.  First we got the bike washed, which it badly needed.  The owner of the carwash had a friend who owned a motorcycle shop, who met us on his Shadow and took us to a mechanic who dealt with big bikes.  He didn't think we needed a new chain at all, even though we had stretched the chain past its adjustment limit and there were some kinks that didn't like to pivot no matter how much grease they got (Brazilians seem to have the attitude of don't fix it if it is still running, something we don't have the liberty to do as we travel through a lot of areas that do not have any access to parts, we try to take advantage where we can).  He did call a few shops for us and sent us across town to get them.  Our new friend, Beto, who had picked us up at the car wash, came with us to show us where to go.  After several stops, we finally found a shop that claimed to have the sprockets and chain we needed.

While the shop and parts store seemed to have a good selection, even confirming the appropriate parts were in stock over the phone, it was surprisingly difficult for the young parts guys to find a chain and sprockets that would work.  The shop let me use their tools and even helped get the 2 sprockets pulled to take into the parts store for comparison.  After rejecting countless attempts that the kids brought to the counter, we finally found a set that could work.  However, instead of 15 teeth up front and 47 at the wheel, the closest options were 16T and 48T sprockets.  Not only that, but some custom machining was requied to get them to fit (the threads of the thru bolts on the rear sprocket caught, so the holes were opened up a touch.  The front was a real treat as it took 2 custom shims to space the sprocket the correct distance out from the transmission cover, matching the position of OEM part).  After a couple of hours of this finnagling, the biggest hassle was then finding a 525 chain of appropriate length.  Those wonderful parts guys had set us up with a 530 chain with only 100 links, not quite a 525 with 118 links.  After them doing more of whatever they were doing in the parts aisles, they could not turn up a chain.  So they had one delivered, Domino's style.  But sadly, not within the half hour.  Eventually we got out of there with a new chain and sprockets, all for the price of parts alone (270 Rs).  We owe Beto big time for all his help in tracking down those parts, leading us around Manaus, and convincing those parts guys to keep looking.

The next day Mike went back out to get an oil filter for an oil change (not wanting to deal with the parts guys at the previous day's shop any more than necessay).  This one should be easy, right?  For the most part it was.  For the price of the oil filter and 4 new plugs (40 Rs) the oil change was done for free in the shop (imagine that in the states) which is much easier than coming up with a catch container and a way to dispose of the oil.  The obstacle today was a random checkpoint set up in downtown Manaus.  Soldiers were pointing cars and motos over to the side.  As I rolled past, there was another bike next to me, so when the soldiers pointed me over, I just assumed they meant the other guy and kept rolling.  That plan (comically?) backfired since we were in downtown traffic and the next light left me idling about 2.5 car lengths in front of the soldiers.  One came walking up and told me to go to the side.  He asked for documents.  I had none.  I told him I just left the hostel to get an oil filter and that was all.  After a couple of back and forths, he told me that I'd be able to find a filter up ahead no problem and sent me on my way.  It may have worked out in my favor that I wasn't stopped in the big group of soldiers.  Whatever did it, it worked out the best way possible.

On Sunday when we went back to our hostel after walking around town, we found another motorcycle traveler trying to get into our hostel.  The hostel owner was nowhere to be found, so Mike took Werner looking for another place to stay in the area while Jill met up with his wife, Claudia.  They were on two BMW GS bikes (from the same year as our trusty TA) and had also just rode the BR-319, although they got rained on a lot more than we did.  They are originally from Germany, and rode Africa and Australia about 5 years ago and are on the road again after living in Australia since then.  Their ride report is on the HUBB.  While looking for another hostel, the guys ran into two other riders, Helmut from Germany on a KTM 990 and Guillome from Canada on a KLR.  Their blogs are here for Helmut and here for Guillome.  The hostel hunt was unsuccessful, so Werner and Claudia ended up camping at our hostel for the night.  That evening we all met up for some beers and meat.

(Jill, Helmut, Werner, Claudia, Guillome, and Mike)

After spending 5 days in Manaus, we were ready to hit the road.  We were in very rural areas for most of our time in Brazil and we felt a little out of place in such a large and modern city.

The 1000 kms to the Venezuelan border were rather uneventful and boring, except for the fact that it was rainy and cold the entire second day that we traveled.  We did drive through an indigenous area where stops and photography are not permitted (photo not included).

(outside our pousada/restaurant/moto repair shop/taxi in Novo Paraiso)

(we shared breakfast with their cat, who enjoys bread and butter best)

(we also crossed back over into the Northern Hemisphere)

(this was our view for the majority of our second day)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rodavia Fantasma - BR-319

Variable.  That word alone describes the conditions we found on BR-319 connecting Humaitá (and Porto Velho) to Manaus.  It's a road that was once paved, back in the early seventies when the military government was promoting occupation of the Amazon rainforest, but now exists in various stages of deterioration.  And it truly covers the full span of detoriaration, from still pristine asphalt to barely passable bridges, mud, and potholes.

(leaving Humaitá, this sign still barely shows 640 km to Manaus)

(jungle has taken over some of the pavement)

(evidence of what kind of mud can be expected during rainy season, some tracks we passsed were 1 meter deep)

(dirt to pavement)

(there were some fazendas and homes for the first 100 km, with a small town at exactly 100 km outside of Humaitá)

(we met a group of 4 riders from Manaus, members of Almas Livres MC, who showed classic Brazilian hospitality by offering us a place to stay outside of Manaus)

(lots of views like this)

(and lots of bridges...120 of 'em, in fact.  Well, there were 2 more that we chose to skirt around so they don't count.  This one has some good arrows to point you over it in case there was any question)

(beautiful weather.  But hot.  Really hot.)

(we camped in the Embratel repeater tower enclosures, which occur every 35-40 kms.  Some were locked, most had the fence torn open beside the gate, but this first gate was unlocked so we even had covered parking.  Every one we talked to told us to camp on the towers to avoid "once" attacks.  It is some kind of jungle cat, but we have no idea what exactly that translates to.  'Jungle cat' is close enough.  Aside from that reason, the road itself is about the only clear spot to pitch a tent other than these enclosures)

Day 2

The second day was a greater challenge than the first.  The road conditions got worse, but we were still lucky enough to be on this stretch after something like 20 days without rain.  Even so, there were some muddy sections.

(there was always some path through.  Whether Mike chose correctly or not was less certain)

(another bridge, still in decent shape, as long as you don't want to put a foot down where there's a hole...)


( didn't last long)

(Jill was nice to get off and scout many of these sections, which helped Mike pick the best line, and also helped keep the bike a little bit lighter.  But we still had a 400+ pound machine plus luggage, 23 extra liters of fuel, 8 liters of water, and a few days worth of food.  It was a good test of Mike's novice dual sporting abilities.  Especially since we really didn't want to dump any of that extra fuel.)

(this stretch was an eroded upslope with a big step at the top, so the TA got fully unloaded to give Mike all the advantages he could get.  It helped.)

(mud holes)

(a nice bridge over a flowing river.  A good stop for some more water.  Surprisingly, a lot of the other creeks we crossed did not look very tasty, if they even looked deep enough to dip a jug into)

(the butterflies liked this spot, too.  And the bees.  There were a ton of bees)

(there's a tree in the road)

(this bridge was one of the scarier ones.  A big truck had just passed us going south before we got to it, so it had to have made it across ok.  Especially since it didn't look like the wood had slid on the roadbed recently, i.e., I don't think that truck was what caused this bridge to dip like this.  So... we went for it...)

(...but Jill was wise enough to walk it)

(our second night in an Embratel tower enclosure.  We arrived about 4, which gave us plenty of time to set up and cook before it got dark.  Once it got dark, we were already in the tent when a couple of motos and a truck pulled up to the gate.  Turns out they had the key.  They worked there.  While it was a little awkward meeting them from inside their locked fence, they seemed fine with us camping there.  The 5 workers went inside for about 30 min, then took off again, to return at about 4 in the morning for another half hour.  Working through the night in the middle of the jungle is one thing, it's a whole other thing driving this road as fast as they do in the pitch black.  That puts it all in perspective for me - while this was a challenge for my riding, this is a normal, everyday occurence for some)

Day 3

While the second day was much more challenging than the first, Day 3 still provided some obstacles to contend with.  However, it didn't feel quite as remote as the middle stretch (basically our Day 2), as you start seeing more houses, fazendas and other signs of life as you get closer to Careiro.

(small segments still had amazingly good asphalt.  Completely unexpected, but appreciated breaks)

(variability continues...)

(...and continues...)

(this bridge is customizable - you get to construct it to your liking to cross it.  Here one of the few vehicles we encountered is a bus from Humaitá)

(this option seemed easier)

(Fresh transalp tracks.  Even some of the dry looking spots hid that slippery mud underneath)

(another unexpected stretch of asphalt.  This time as wide as a runway)

(it was nice to have a lunch of rice and salchicha (=hot dog) prepared once we hit a villa and ferry at 428 km from Humaitá)

(the ferry used a fixed rope guide to stay on track)

(the road was in decent shape for awhile)

(Romina and Emerson are riding south from Guyana to Patagonia, Romina's home.  They were super nice and so very casual about the trip.  We hope they have enough food and water.  EDIT:  we heard later that they got a lift from the Embratel workers for some 100 km, which should have helped out)

(ever changing)

(and now to fast packed gravel)

(still lots of water even without much rain)

(mostly completed bridge at km 509)

(ferry crossing instead)

(On the way into Careiro, there are lots of houses with barely any space above the water level.  And this is without much rain in the past few weeks.)

(about 100 km after Careiro is the last ferry into Manaus)

(pulling into Manaus)

We were both glad that we took this road, and very glad that we didn't have any trouble to contend with (which would have changed the ride into an entirely different adventure), we were glad to have arrived in Manaus.


Km 0 - Humaitá
Km 100 - small town with food, pousada, gas for sale (privately)
km 428 - pousada and restaurant at ferry crossing (6 Rs)
Km 495 - gas for sale (privately)
Km 509 - ferry (6 Rs) right next to big bridge
Km 573 - gas, lodging, food all available in Careiro
Km ~650 - gas
Km 674 - 45 min ferry (10 Rs) to Manaus
Km 684 - set personal Transalp record for distance on one fill

More history - and future - of BR-319