Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Transamazónica - Part I

Day 1 - Marabá to Novo Repartamiento

The first day was dusty and heavily trafficked by vehicles at the extremes of size - big, heavy trucks and small, nimble bikes. we were caught in the dust in between.

(all of the small towns along the way felt safe. However, while the unloaded bike was parked out front of this hotel in Novo Repartamiento we came outside to find a mototaxista unscrewing the cap of our (empty) tool tube. I called him out on it in front of a few of his buddies, but of course he kept saying that he didn't understand a word I said. I know that me yelling in Spanish wasn't going to get each word across to him, but i'm pretty sure he got the point. Him and his buddies went back to sit down and we tried to figure out how to get the bike parked safely out back. Nothing else happened, so it was really no big deal, but it still left a bad taste in our mouth for this otherwise quiet little town.)

Day 2 - Novo Repartamiento to Altamira

This was another dusty day of driving, that to our surprise included random bursts of asphalt. Whether dirt or paved, the road was in decent shape.

The ferry took us across the Rio Xingu, which has been in the news a lot lately as it is going to be blocked by the Belo Monte dam, a huge hydroelectic project that began planning stages in 1975. It has come under fire lately because of the massive environmental damage that will be caused - some accounts place the environmental damage from equivalent energy production by fuel-burning generators as less - as well as the social implications. It is estimated that a few thousand indigenous people would be displaced by the reservoir. Many indigenous groups have been protesting the dam construction, particularly now in the week befoe the Rio+20 conference. It will be interesting to see how the government handles this.

The road was paved from the Rio Xingu to town, and even 35km west of town, too. That dam construction is bringing about changes. And having other impacts as well. Altamira turned out to be expensive. We asked in all the hotels we could find and the cheapest room was 100 Rs. Finally we found some crappy dormitorios near the bus terminal that were 30Rs per person, 50 Rs for shared bed. Parking was safe and we met some nice people there, one of which we had dinner with at Beto's burger stand across the street.

Also, this was the first time when someone admiring the Tansalp asked why we would take such a heavy bike on this trip. The usual conversation is the oppositie of that - "oh, with that big of a bike, you will be at (next town) in 2 hours." Then, 5 hours later we get there. (I can't imagine what kind of time estimates someone riding a 1200gs would get.)

Day 3 - Altamira to Placas

On this stretch there was basically small towns every 50-100 km. Most of the road was in good shape and traffic was definitely lighter on this side of Altamira.

We chose to stay in Placas, which was a nice little town that had everything we needed. It was full of some really nice people too.

(hotel in Placas. 40 Rs for a good room with air, private bath, and breakfast. The owners were really nice and sat around drinking mate most of the day, which is a plus in our book)

Day 4 - Placas to Santarem

Our plan was to keep driving to Manaus, but we took a detour to Santarem to get new tires. Santarem was also going to be a place to take a rest day or two after a few long days of riding.

(the 3 most common sights along this stretch - fazendas (cattle ranches), borracherias (tire repair shops), and pool tables. The smallest, most run down looking bars in the middle of nowhere all manage to have a pool table on their porch.)

Another common sight was bridges. This area of the world obviously has a lot of water in it, some in big rivers, others smaller creeks.

(all of the bridges were in decent shape, most having clearly been rebuilt sometime recently)

(some bridges may be even nicer in the future)

The road was paved going into Santarem, after about 45km of dirt. It seems like there may be more asphalt soon, as the dirt is being worked by man and machine in camoflauge.

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