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


  1. Great expedition!! Congratulations and thank you very much for the valuable information. I am planning to replicate your adventure in July 2013 or 2014. Thanks again. Luis. San Jose, Costa Rica.

    1. Fantastic that you are headed that direction! And glad that you found the post useful. Have fun even with the planning stages. Suerte, Mike & Jill