BR319 Day 3: PERSEVERANCE – Amazonas, Brazil

The Point of No Return has come and gone and we’re in it to win it! Day 3 of the BR319 trans-amazonian adventure starts, after a refreshing sleep under the mozzie net, with the gourmet instant noodle soup combination of vegetable on vegetable. This has to be a winning combination!


I complete the morning maintenance routine as always – visual check, tyre pressure check, fuel top-up, chain lube, engine warm-up, oil check and top-up. The oil level needs topping up every morning which I find worrying, but maybe it’s just the tough going out here. Anyway we cannot do anything about it now but keep adding. Will get it looked at in Manaus.

Though sometimes we can almost identify a feint of blue, the sky overcast with white and grey, so we pocket our hopes of better weather and dry roads for use on another day.


The first few kilometres are reasonably dry and solid, but the road gets progressively worse as we head closer to Manaus, even though for some time it’s actually quite sunny. Too much water in the soil already. I find myself thinking that this is logical, as we’re getting closer to the ground water level of the majestic Rio Amazonas. But that’s probably nonsense as well.


Not much time to think out here though. Ebru and I are fully in gear and are working together every step of the way, me manoeuvring the bike and keeping it upright, Ebru scanning the road ahead for obstacles and feeding directions back to me as I concentrate on the close-up stuff. At bridges, Ebru gets off and surveys them first, then advises me on the best path and guides me as I slowly move our heavy craft across.



When we encounter deep mud ruts and puddles, Ebru gets off and wades through, checking how deep they are and whether they’re passable. I try to help out with this myself but mostly there’s no solid ground to prop the bike up on its side stand and I’m left holding the bike up.


Sometimes, below the surface water, there’s actually solid stone beneath, meaning I can zip across without problems. At other times you step into the puddle and your boot disappears into a foot of soft mud, leaving you struggling to pull it out. In these cases another way has to be found.


Sometimes there’s pieces of asphalt or rock or wood, probably from old bridges, lying around, with which we can build a way across. mostly this isn’t possible but we use them to place foot-holds along the way so that as I ride across I can at least lean on something solid and keep the bike from slipping out sideways.



Every few kilometres – where we can find ground solid enough to out the bike on its stand, we’re on our knees, scraping the thick clay out from under the mud-guards and the rear suspension area and the chain drive sprocket enclosure. This stuff is so sticky it forms a thick layer around the tyres – not to mention your boots – and when the wheels turn, bit by bit it sprays off and gets stuck in all the cavities. Though it looks like soft mud, it’s clay just like you’d use for making pottery, and when you have a build-up between the tyres and other surfaces it creates such friction, you think you’re stuck on a rock or something, but the tyre’s gripped in a vice and slowly you’re burning your clutch out!


Did I mention there were nice bits too?….

Hard going, but we get on pretty well – if you can call 5 to 10 km/h “well”. Near midday the sun burns down so hot, you start to get aggravated. Amidst all the concentration it’s important to try and realize that and keep up your water intake and take a break in a shady spot – if you can find one.


The ride goes on. Slowly, painfully, carefully. The walls are green and the floor is brown for all the few kilometres until the horizon. I squint in concentration, trying to identify any wet-brown-ness or perhaps even a shimmer of grey, but that seldom happens, and the grey shimmers are no more than a few metres across. I set the horizon as my target, focus myself and slowly we plug along the road, getting off here and there to walk through mud, build foot-holds or work out a way round something nasty or across a bridge.



Just before we reach the horizon there’s always a silent pulse of hope, a desperate kind of optimism that, following that next turn or ridge, the floor will be grey for a good long distance.



But around that bend and over that ridge, the walls are green and the floor is brown. Again my heart sinks and I have to steel myself for the beating I am – yet again – about to receive. The brown line of the road ahead stands dead still and stares back at me – as if it hasn’t even noticed me, but it knows I’m there, and it knows I know. Silent. Emotionless. Merciless.


About 11:00, on a nasty bit of slush, I drop the bike and lose my temper in a bout of intense frustration. I curse the mud and the rain and whatever else I remember to curse. The sun is getting to me again and now, in the midst of the heat, we’ll have to unpack, pick up the bike and re-pack before we can move on.


Sensibly, with the benefit of past experience, we huddle into a spot of shade off in the shrubbery and drink lots of water and eat some panela bar before we complete this exhausting task. This allows us to recuperate, gather our wits and also assess that our water levels need topping up pretty urgently.

The water level is another topic of frustration and leads to additional fear, argument and grief. Our decision is as follows: we will have to get water from one of the lagoons or streams we pass on the way ahead.

Random!! This in the middle of nowhere. Possibly a military camp nearby…

Further up the road we come by a lagoon accessible from the road side. It looks murky and green but it’s water nonetheless and we don’t recall passing any clean looking water at all so far. I grab a bottle and head down the ravine to the edge of the water, giving it a good, long stare. I have a good idea what a crocodile lurking just beneath the water may look like, but an Anaconda? My original visions of tying a string to the bottleneck and lowering it into the water have gone to pot – just not practical. So here I go.I crouch down and start filling up, keeping a keen eye on the water for any movement. I notice Ebru’s at the top of the slope taking photographs with her camera. “Well dear,” I think to myself, “if an Anaconda grabs me now you’ll have an award winning photo for sure!”


We putter along with our new murky water for some time. Crossing over yet another bridge, I notice how the black water from the big lagoon turns crystal clear as it passes through the sallow sandy channel under the bridge. That water is clean! Though all the water we’ve come by looks still and black, it’s actually crystal clear, it’s only because there is so much tannin in the water from all the plant life around, it becomes completely opaque as soon as it’s any deeper than about a half metre.

I pour our our new murky water and head down the ravine with all of our empty bottles to go and re-fill with clear and clean water. I’m at a wide, shallow, sandy stretch just below the bridge, almost like a beach, and the water flowing by me looks pure as can be. It’s also a lot more comforting being able to see to the bottom of the water around you (for reasons discussed above).


Our water reserves are completely replenished now! Of course we will chuck in a chlorine tablet just in case, but it looks like we’ll be fine, and no doubt now we know what to look for, there’ll be plenty of water ahead for the taking if we need it.

Ebru comes down the ravine to check out the water. I’m surprised. She stares at it for a while, then grabs one of the large water bottles out of my hand, opens it and drains the entire thing out over her head. GENIUS! A shower! Before you know it we’ve got our shirts of and we’re drenching ourselves with this cool, revitalizing amazonian water like elephants at the water hole. What an incredible feeling! All that dirt and sweat and stink and pain and heat, all washed away by this magical liquid flowing right here in the middle of nowhere. Well this certainly put some stride in our step!



We soon reach the next telecomm’s tower. The gate is open and there’s a 4×4 parked there so we go to investigate. It turns out to be some of the Embratel workers and they invite us for coffee. Again, though we’d love some, we decline, seeing that it’s already 3PM and we have another 35 or so kilometres to go before dark. The road report from them isn’t very encouraging. But we’re getting used to not expecting any improvement.


Somewhere around then we must have hit a high score and got a bonus round or something, because all of a sudden we’re riding on a stretch of tarmac about a kilometre long! It’s cracked and half reclaimed by the jungle, but it’s good hard asphalt. I’m so pleased I instinctively want to open up the throttle, but knowing that this may be the last of it for a long way, I’m content to glide along at 50km/h and let my body enjoy the relaxation it.


Late afternoon we pass some lost soul on some kind of a street bike. How the hell did he end up out here with that??? It turns out he’s part of a 4-car 4×4 convoy headed to Porto Velho and he’s been sent ahead to scout out the road. Well good luck with those tyres!


It takes us until about 6PM to get to the next tower where we set up camp.

The final tally for the day: We’re two telecomm’s towers further ahead – about 80km. Total distance from starting point Manaus is 362Km. We crossed 37 bridges. Our water reserves are FULL and Food levels are as expected. What a recovery!

Another wonderful set of surprises await us here: firstly, there is a water well here which has been left unlocked, so we have all the drinking and cooking water we need and we can shower and wash our clothes.

Secondly, we have company! A lonely dog is also camped out here, probably belonging to one of the Embratel workers. She’s a beautiful little dog and she’s been so lonely out here you can see the sadness in her eyes. She’s absolutely ecstatic to have company. It’s funny how this works, but we’re totally chuffed to meet this dog out here too.


So we give her a bit of love and feed her some biscuits while we have our incredible roast-chicken-on-chicken meal of instant noodles. Ebru promptly givers her a name: Şeker-Kız-Candy (translated that means something like Sweet-Girl-Candy). At night, when we go to sleep under our mosquito net under the comm’s tower, she huddles up next to us for the night. I feel like I’m in Jock of the Bushveld.

Some time around midnight we hear some noise. A 4×4 has pulled up at the gate and they’re hooting, trying to get the attention of anyone who might be living here. Eventually I walk down to see what’s up. It’s two men transporting some heavy equipment towards Manaus. They’ve driven all the way from Porto Velho today, a long drive indeed, and they both look utterly shagged. The one guy crashes in the car, but the other was looking for a place to hang his hammock. I show him the hole in the fence and he soon finds himself a spot around the building and crashes.

It’s a bit scary having these two strangers in our vicinity, out here in the middle of nowhere. What if they have bad intentions? But then again I think that, if you have made the arduous journey all the way out here, you’re probably have a more serious mission and if you’ve stopped out here at this hour like these guys have, you’re probably too exhausted to do anything but sleep. In any case, I have my machete to hand and Şeker-Kız-Candy is here to protect us. The guys are back on their way by about 4AM – Maniacs!