Posted on May 24, 2013 by angela
It was another long haul to Belem. 600 km. You can really tell the impact now from all the rain this far north. We saw water buffalo!
Unfortunately, we pushed the bus a little too hard and arrived in Belém with a major oil leak from the front seal. We won’t be driving very far without fixing it.
We spent our first day researching boat options (info to come) and walking around. Belem is a market town. Besides the famous Ver-o-Peso market, every other street in a 4 block radius is filled with stalls selling ear buds, phone covers and other random junk. But, it seems like every stall sells the exact same things.
The Ver-o-Peso market’s name ‘see the weight’ refers to the Portuguese tax infringed on the weight (not value) of the items coming down the river. The market itself is a sprawling assault on all your senses, and has dedicated areas for clothing, fruit, souvenirs and baskets, fish, birds (alive) and special Amazonian natural cures for everything that might ail you.
We keep mentioning the heat, but it is real and intense. And, it is not so much the heat as the humidity. We had to keep finding stores with A/C to ‘browse’ just for a blast of cool air.
Amazon tourism revolves around the Amazon Basin, meaning it’s many smaller rivers and tributaries. We experienced this type of tourism back in Bolivia and it was interesting. We aren’t counting on seeing a heck of a lot of wildlife while on the Amazon barge, so we went to the tiny zoo in Belem. Even with the aquarium closed (no manatees or anacondas on display today!), we got to see a few of the Amazon favs. The best part was that it was one of those places were some of the animals are just walking around uncaged.
Unfortunately, the camera was out of batteries, so you’ll just have to trust us on this.
We were buying water when a zoo employee walked by me holding what I assumed was a child. But, I turned around and he was putting a sloth on a tree 10 meters from us. Then, walked off. We went right up next to it and he looked at us with that cute perma-smile they have and starting crawling down the tree. Apparently, he didn’t like that one. We continued to watch this sloth make it to the ground and crawl about 3 meters. It was amazing, but this small feat took him about 20 minutes, and it was hot so we were forced to move on. It took all the morals I had not to scoop him up and put him in my bag.
We were also able to get up close to a scarlet macaw, and a 20 foot long caiman (I am not exaggerating), a jaguar and saw an awesome giant river otter.
Posted on May 18, 2013 by angela
We were on our way to Barra Grande (Ceará), on a tip, and only ten minutes down the road we were stalled.
The bus was ‘missing’, sputtering and jumping and generally not running well. We pulled over on the side of the road and Jason went to work on the engine, while we tried to keep cool. Even at 8 AM, the heat and humidity was unrelenting.
It took a while to figure it out, but our electronic ignition died. Kaput. Jason swapped it out with and old set of points and we were back on our way.
Barre Grande is a kite surfing destination, but was a ghost town today. We took zero photos.
The next day, we knew it was going to be a long drive to Parque Nacional Lençois Maranhenses, so we got up early and hit the road.
Jason had a plan to knock off 250 km of pavement driving via shortcut that would take us directly there. Most of the roads were on the map as dirt, but there was a missing section in the middle. He checked out the satellite photos and was convinced there was a path where ‘the road should be’. This was our plan – we were going to try to follow the Rio Magú for while and then turn north where there is no road on the map.
After a few hours, Jason turned onto the dirt and announced, “Now the fun part begins!”
The bus was running like crap, so we pulled over to tweak a few things – not much help. Eventually, the road turned too sandy (and narrow) for us and we had to turn back. The power lines were our clue that the road would continue and actually went somewhere, but the sand was just too deep. But, we had a Plan B. We headed inland a bit and tried another route. This one turned from dirt, to mud then to deep sand and we repeated this for a few more hours.
The ‘towns’ we drove through were mostly just a collection of houses, with everyone sitting on their porch looking at us drive by like we’re idiots. The road usually turned to mud around civilization, and in one place we got stuck. About 10 guys from town helped push us out, walked with us another 500 meters where there was another muddy place, pushed us through that and insisted we would be able to make it the rest of the way. Then, it started raining.
Our original detour had cost us a couple hours. The roads we found were definitely 4×4 territory, but we pushed on. It most spots it was very narrow and and had brush along both sides, or was a gully – not even a place to turn out to camp. We had to break our rule and drive at night. This made things way more interesting.
For some reason, the roads in the little villages seemed to be worse than anywhere else on the route. As we bounced a scraped our way through town, the townsfolk just stared out their windows at what was obviously a normal form of entertainment. We lost our skid plate at some point, but hopped out and got it.
In one nameless town (none of them were on a map or had signs to indicate where we were), we followed the road downhill to find giant impassable crevices in front of us. There were also giant crevices along both side of the car, making backing up (uphill) a feat of terror. Again, kind folks in town showed up to help, but in true South American style, there 8 guys yelling different things to us.
The car didn’t have enough power to back up the hill, so I had to start pushing from the front, then everyone else started. But in the dark going backwards, it was impossible for Jason to see where to steer the car, and one wheel started sliding down into the crevice. The bus was dangling at a fortuitous angle, with Jason and Bode inside and me panicking outside. Everybody was yelling and more people started showing up. Some logs and palm fronds (these don’t ever really hold a car do they?) were placed under the wheels and a team of guys put themselves in great danger holding up the right side of the bus to prevent it from sliding further down the crevice.
We finally made it backwards up the hill and we were pointed to detour. It’s the rainy season and major washout can happen, but we were a little amazed that someone didn’t use one of those logs to block the road. Regardless, we made it out safe and sound, with at least another two hours ahead of us.
Except, we were running out of gas.
In the next village, we spotted a hand-painted “gasolina” sign on the side of somebody’s house. I don’t know how we saw it in the dark, but we were absolutely lucky. Nobody was home, so we asked next door and the girl had a key. We managed to negotiate soda-bottle gasoline for R$3.50 a liter, until granny showed up and bumped the price to R$4. The grannies are always the toughest businesspeople. Still, at only a 30% markup over posto prices, we couldn’t refuse.
When we got to our final destination of Barreirinhas after a 14 hour day we were shocked at the modern conveniences and upscale tourist amenities, (there’s a paved road from the north). Wwe checked into a hotel and immediately jumped into the pool.
Posted on May 14, 2013 by angela
From the lake, you can hop in the back of a 4WD truck that drives you through the sand to Jericoacoara (Jeri). It takes about 45 minutes of bumping, sliding and hitting your ass hard on a bench seat in the back of an old truck. It was fun.
This is another in-the-middle of nowhere, hard to get to, sandy tourist town that we love. But, this one has a lot of high-end stores and hotels. We got there late afternoon and found a place to crash for the night. After the daily dose of acai, we headed to the giant sand dune at the end of town.
The sunset here is the big event, and everyone in town climbs the dune and watches the show. Since the Atlantic Ocean is directly north of us now, the sun seems to both rise and set over the water.
Bode must have run down that dune 25 times. It’s a lot steeper than it appears in these photos. He talked Jason into running down twice, me only once. It was the climb up I didn’t want to do over again.
When the sun went down, there was a capoeira performance on the beach. Lots of energy, music and song. Bode’s been practicing his own version for weeks now. It’s definitely something we’d love to learn.
It was too dark for us to get a good video or photos, but here’s a sample of the awesomeness:
Posted on May 7, 2013 by angela
Why build a bridge? Seriously?
Some of these ferries are ridiculously sketchy, but that’s what makes it an adventure.
Today, we made it to Sao Miguel de Gostoso where the police said it would be fine to camp on the beach in front of the town square.
When the sun went down, the toads came out. Giant toads, all over the beach.
Posted on May 3, 2013 by angela
We asked Bode what he wanted for his birthday, and he said he wanted to play video games all day. Maybe some air conditioning, a pool and a big TV. And, a giant water gun.
You only turn eight once, so we obliged.
We got a good deal online at a nice modern hotel in Natal. It’s been a while since we’ve had these types of amenities, so we decided to live it up for a couple days. We were in the pool within 10 minutes and playing video games within the hour. By hour 2, we had trashed the place.
The toilet wasn’t flushing. It wasn’t clogged, so I decided to take the lid off and check out the problem. Crash- porcelain lid hits tiled bathroom floor and shatters into a million pieces. Oops!
I picked up what I could and told the front desk that there is a problem with the toilet, and in trying to fix it, the lid broke. A maintenance guy was dispatched, I showed him the problem (the float would get stuck and no water would fill the tank, meaning no flush). He pushed it down, and returned 5 minutes later with a new lid. That was easy.
When we returned to the hotel later there was a note informing me that the broken lid was my responsibility and they would be charging me. Oh, and it was an imported toilet and parts weren’t available, therefore they would be charging me for a whole new (imported) toilet. I stewed on this overnight, and the next day I sent the manager a very nice, complimentary email. I told her that perhaps there was a miscommunication but the toilet was broken BEFORE I broke the lid. In fact, it was still not functioning properly the next day and that I had told the front desk that morning. Had the toilet been working, I wouldn’t have had to remove the lid. I didn’t mind paying for the lid, but why should I have to replace the hotel’s non functioning toilet? A few hours later, I got a snippy email from her that said that I should have called the front desk when the toilet didn’t work, and she was still going to charge me for the whole shebang. 10 hours later, no one has come to repair it. I send her another note letting her know. Still, no one comes.
It is something we can fix ourselves, so when necessary we VERY CAREFULLY remove the lid and adjust the float or add water so it will flush. This isn’t a huge inconvenience to us, since we happy to have a toilet in the first place.
At check out the next day, I let them know that despite telling the front desk twice, and notifying the manager by email three times, our toilet still doesn’t work. I offered to pay 1/3 of the price of the toilet and they said no.
Let me set this scene: Big fancy lobby, Bode is sitting next to me reading a book. I explain that since the toilet was and is still broken, I didn’t think it was fair for them to charge me the entire price. The on duty manager told the front desk clerk to call the police and he picked up the phone and starts dialing. Jason meanwhile was off working on the bus…I had no idea where in the city he was, nor how to reach him. I panicked and could only picture me getting hauled off to jail while my son watched. In hindsight, I imagine the police would not have done that, but the police we’ve dealt with in the last 18 countries have not always been the most legit. In the end, I bought a toilet.
It had been a tough week to have constant wi-fi and cable news- the Boston bombings, explosions in Texas, ricin, Venezuelan politics (which we’re trying to follow). The world is a crazy place – I’m glad we’ve chosen our own version of it to live in.
We moved to a cheaper pousada on the beach with a great balcony to enjoy the beach scene. It is a fun laid back place with beautiful sand dunes in the distance. Bode’s favorite thing about Natal – sushi per kilo – we had it three nights in a row. It was his birthday week, after all.
Posted on April 29, 2013 by angela
Bode and I spent a week lounging around , running down sand dunes, climbing rocks. We set Jason to work out the problems with the engine.
The bad news is, the problem is bigger than a starter or battery issue, but the good news is, we were able to make contact with the VW club in Natal. In another instance of VW karmic love, they’re helping us find space to work and the parts.
Pipa definitely isn’t a bad place to stick around. The camping on Praia Amor is amazing, and we started our usual ‘what if…‘ daydream.
And, for the first time, we literally had someone drop in on us. This guy saw our bus while paragliding and decided to stop an say hello. He’s been traveling 6 years in a van. Birds of a feather…
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