Part 24. Manaus
Monday, 23 March, 2009
I got up early to pee, and I could hear Fabio snoring outside. When I went back to bed, I played a while with an electric bug swatter. It looked like a small tennis racket. Several people had used them on the boat, but I couldn't image that it would be worth the effort on the river. In my room, however, it might rid me of the last few mosquitoes. I managed to zap one of them, but the others proved harder to find. I wanted to sleep without the sheet over me, but I ended up covering with it again as a defense against the buggers.
My cell phone rang, but I didn't get to it in time. When I tried to call Laurie back, I got her voice mail. I was unable to get a text message sent, so I left it alone. She called again later and we chatted a while. My AT&T service was working in Brazil just fine--even occasionally on the river--but I had to be at a city with cellular service, of course.
I heard Joelmir and Rayane get up and leave for work. I didn't know what her job was, but they left together in his car. I then heard Fabio ride off and return. When I got up at 08:30, Fabio was cooking breakfast. He had probably gone out earlier for fresh bread. The small loaves were crusty and chewy and very good. Hot dogs were on the boil, and he scrambled some eggs. When he opened a can of tuna (packed in a lot of oil), that seemed odd, but a little of it on the bread proved to be okay. Two hot dogs and the eggs made breakfast complete. There was some coffee left over from earlier, too.
I set up my laptop on the dining room table, where Joelmir's laptop was, and got to writing. I had a few days of the ride report to catch up on. Fabio got his own laptop and sat across from me, looking like he was doing email. They had no Internet cable or Wi-Fi, so they had to use a cellular modem card, which they switched between computers. Fabio offered it to me, but I declined. I had seen how slow it was last night, so it wouldn't be much help to me for getting this ride report uploaded. It must not be expensive to use, though, seeing how long Joelmir and Fabio left it connected.
Soon after noon, a heavy rain came through and cooled things off for a little while. Very typical.
I sent in a SPoT signal, and saved Joelmir's house on my Zumo so that I might find it again if needed. I also swapped out one of the Chatterbox cables in the hope that it might be the problem with the intermittent sound problems. The cable that I have woven through the tankbag has been there quite a while, so it might be the problem, not the headset after all. We'll see. In any event, these headsets and cables should be more durable.
I also got out my Permethrin-treated mosquito net and hung it in the bedroom, hoping to kill the pests that were already in there.
After the rain, Fabio opened some windows to help cool the house off, but the humidity outside almost canceled out the benefit.
At 14:00, Joelmir and Rayane returned and greeted us. Joelmir looked different in a business suit. They putzed around the house a bit, but soon went to their bedroom. It was maybe siesta time.
Fabio had put a rack of pork ribs in the oven earlier, and when they were done in the middle of the afternoon, dinner was served. Rice and more of the bean stew went with it, but the ribs were the treat. Very simple, and very good. I felt well enough to try some of the tiny red peppers that I was offered, and they proved to be extremely tasty without being too hot.
At 18:30, we loaded into Joelmir's car to take me camera shopping. I knew that the Free Zone was supposed to be the place to go for cheap electronics, but a guidebook had suggested that this was mostly for TVs and stereo equipment. They took me to a large mall, which was probably the only option at that hour. I looked in several stores, but none carried the camera I wanted. The closest I could get was another Canon, this time a PowerShot S3IS. A bit too big, a smaller LCD screen, a flash that you had to manually pop up to use, some controls where they were hard to use one-handed. The worst thing about it was the lens cap. I preferred a camera with a built-in lens cover so that I didn't have to manage the lens cap with one hand while on the bike. I'm doomed to be forever disappointed with every camera I ever have. The PowerShot A650 was the closest I'd come to the perfect camera for me while riding. Of course, none of the PowerShot cameras (maybe none of the Canons at all) had an automatic panorama capability. That was something that even my cheaper pocket camera had done well. Get with it, Canon!
I would also have to modify the way I carry the camera on the motorcycle, since this new camera was too big for the RamMount cup. It's always something.
When we were done camera shopping, I treated everyone to some gourmet ice cream. It was pretty good, which was appropriate since it was also pretty expensive.
After leaving the mall, we drove around Manaus a bit while they pointed out some sights to me. The took me to see the famous Teatro Amazonas, and Joelmir said that he would take me on a tour there tomorrow after he got off work. This theater was built in the late 1800's, in the early days of Manaus when the deliberately-planned city was expanding rapidly in the midst of one of its several boom periods. Some of those booms were from lumber and agriculture, then it later had two periods of enormous growth due to rubber production, ending after WWII.
We drove around the downtown area a bit more, stopping in a renovated area that was very nice. Small kids were riding electric cars and trikes around a plaza. Kids too small to drive themselves were in vehicles that were being operated by their parents via remote control.
The bridge seen above (and below) is a 150-year old steel bridge that was recently renovated along with this whole area. Maybe that used to be a river, but now it's just a long lake of ugly, stagnant water that was absolutely swarming with mosquitoes. Rayane told me it was bad for Dengue fever here, so be careful not to get bitten. That took a lot away from the beauty of the place. The city would be better off to drain the water and pave it. Maybe a very long skateboard park?
A bad patch job to get the panorama of the bridge.
In a plaza behind the Teatro, we stopped to rest a while and listen to a rock-n-roll band that was playing. My new camera doesn't have the low-light sensitivity setting that the A650 had, but it has enough to get by. Here's an old church and a monument in the plaza. The monument was to recognize those regions where Manaus exported latex back in the rubber-boom days. The four sides were labeled, "America," "Africa," "Europe," and "Asia." Pretty generic, but it's the thought that counts.
In the above photo, take note of the pattern of stones on the plaza surface. That wavy pattern symbolized waves on the water and the mixing of the dark Rio Negro and the lighter Rio Solimoes that then become the Rio Amazonas. The pattern originated here, and has been reproduced in a more well-known place. Don and I had seen the same pattern on the sidewalks and plazas along the beaches in Rio de Janiero, especially in the Copacabana area.
The front and the side of the Teatro.
All the buildings around this plaza were old, and were maintained in very good condition. The city obviously cared about how it looked.
We listened to the band for a while, then Joelmir introduced me to the singer, Nicolas Junior. Turns out they are friends.
I introduced myself to two passing policemen, mainly because I wanted to see their long side-handle batons. They shook my hand when I told them that I was a police officer from the U.S., and they let me handle their police batons. They were very lightweight plastic or rubber, a little too flexible to be good for jabbing. About a meter long. I saw lots of the police in these public areas carrying them, always in hand, never in a belt ring. I asked Joelmir if there was often trouble in these plazas, and he said there was not. About 25% of the police in Manaus are women.
I saw a woman walk by wearing a t-shirt that had "I Love Hoes and Joes" printed on it. I wonder if she knows what it means?
Since I was feeling better, Fabio and I had a few beers, and I think he now has a better opinion of me.
After a while in the plaza, we drove around the downtown area some more. They showed me the old cast-iron central market building (imported from England over 100 years ago), but the central marketplace was undergoing renovation and was now closed. We ended up in a long courtyard plaza area on a divided roadway. There were several large TV screens showing a soccer match. All the restaurants and bars along the street had seating areas in the courtyard, divided by the color of the plastic furniture. We had a snack of fried fish that was good (pirarucu, supposedly the largest fish in the river), and some more beer. Amazingly, it didn't rain.
There were a lot of motorcycles around the courtyard, and it was obviously a gathering place for many riders. Big bikes were a lot more common here, since most were made here under a variety of brand names. Joelmir told me that at the last Industrial Fair (this past October), he saw four models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles on display that were supposed to have been made here. That shocked me, but he said that Buell motorcycles have been made here for a while. I think a lot of hard-core HD riders would have heart attacks to learn that. Shhhhhh... don't tell them.
We saw a Triumph Rocket 3, and Joelmir knew this bike. He said it was the only one registered in Brazil, and it had been imported recently. At the time of its introduction, this bike had the largest motor of any commercially produced bike. It might still hold the record. 2300cc is hard to beat.
Wandering vendors came around continuously, and Joelmir and Rayane bought some music CDs. Fabio and I kidded each other when the jewelry sellers came by. I thought he would look good with big heart-shaped earrings, and he thought the sparkly hoops suited me better.
I called Laurie and talked with her a bit. On a lark, I handed the cell phone around the table and each person got to talk with her. Of course, only Joelmir could get her to understand anything more than "hello." It was funny, but you had to be there.
When we headed home, we stopped at a gas station so Fabio could pee. He used that as another opportunity for beer, so that was one more. I approached a team of motorcycle police in the parking lot and got them to pose for a photo. Their bikes are made here in Manaus. Fuel injected Yamaha 250's.
On the final drive home, we talked about how motorcycles have to drive differently in the States. No one down here likes the idea that a motorcycle in the U.S. has to obey the same rules as other traffic.
We got home at midnight, and everyone bedded down right away.
Thursday, 26 March, 2009
I snoozed as long as I could, since I had nothing that I needed to do until early afternoon when Joelmir would take me sightseeing. I managed to get up around 10:00, and I did some writing and photo management. Joelmir got home sooner than I expected, and we were ready to go at noon.
I followed him downtown, making a few stops in the inner city to look at old buildings and streets.
There is a changing of the local Navy (or Marine) Commandant today or tomorrow, so the military people are getting ready for a large ceremony.
There are several small plazas around the city, many surrounded by vendor stands where you can get anything from t-shirts to fruit juice, from backrubs to tattoos, from popcorn to native soups.
The Customs building at the docks, which I had seen when I had first arrived in Manaus.
In a previous regime, this was the Police Palace, but now it is a government building that houses official offices and museums.
We returned to the plaza behind the Teatro Amazonas, where we had listened to music last night. The well-kept old buildings were easier to see in the daytime.
We were a little early for the next English tour of the theater, so we wandered around and had ice cream. I later learned that the dome of the Teatro Amazonas was covered with 26,000 enameled ceramic tiles.
Behind the Teatro in this photo, you can see the main Palace of Justice.
When it came time for the tour, Joelmir waited outside for me. He said that he has seen the short tour many times. The tour was R$/10, and my group consisted of me, a Portuguese man in a suit who didn't want to wait for a different tour guide, and seven women who had arrived here together yesterday. They had come on a boat from Belem together, but it was interesting that they were all from different countries in Europe, Asia, and one from Australia. The woman from Hong Kong maybe spoke a little English, but the rest of them spoke it well.
The theater is fairly small, seating only 700 people. It is largely covered with marble inside, but there is a lot of cast iron (all from England) that has been painted to look like marble.
The outer hall. My new camera does not have a decent wide-angle lens. This was a problem throughout the tour.
Flash was prohibited, so I had to go back to a grainy, low-light setting. Also, I didn't take notes, so I might get some facts wrong.
Around the room were masks and shields bearing the names of famous composers and choreographers.
When we went to the small ballroom upstairs, we had to wear floppy felt slippers to protect the original hardwood floors. The slippers were very hard to walk in. More like ice-skating. The light and dark woods represented the white and black waters of the rivers that converge here to officially become the Amazon.
Many different types of local and imported woods.
The pillars below are Portuguese iron, painted.
There were two separate lounges, one for the men and one for the women. The women got the larger room, but the men got the spittoons.
From a window, I saw some women police officers outside.
The Teatro had been very popular early in the 20th Century, but then had gone essentially unused for a long time. It has now been renovated, and looks very nice. One room had some costumes and props from old shows, ballets, and concerts. More recently, they had done a rather modern-looking version of Wagner's "Das Ring Der Neibelungen." Better known as the Ring Trilogy, it's the source of the phrase, "It's not over until the fat lady sings." This opera is only staged once or twice in the world each year, partly due to the fact that not many women can sing some of the roles well enough. (By Odin's Runestaff! This is stuff that I had already known, probably because I'm the only person I know who has watched the whole, boring nine-hour-long thing. On DVD, though, since any production worth seeing is very expensive and rare.)v
The inner stairways in the Teatro were all imported cast iron from England. Some weren't safe to use anymore, though.
With tens of thousands of Legos, you, too, can make yourself a Teatro Amazonas. Instructions not included.
The tour was okay, easily worth the four bucks. It wasn't spectacular, but I might never have had the chance to do it again.
We rode to a nightclub that Joelmir was (very) familiar with, and he took me inside while they were cleaning the place. He wanted to show me their big fish tank. I couldn't get a photo, but in the tank were two big piracuru fish, each about 6-8 feet long. From last night, I knew they were tasty, but today I learned that they were also odd-looking. Do your own Google search.
Next up was the zoo. It was located inside a military compound and was operated by soldiers in camouflage uniforms. It wasn't a big zoo, but it was another cheap entertainment.
Somebody had eaten recently. This guy was about 12 feet long. A small one.
There was so much chain-link that it was hard to get any decent photos at many of the cages. The camera was not focusing well. A few shots came out okay.
Some of the monkeys were in cages, others were on an island.
The big cats were in deep concrete pits. Most just paced back and forth in front of the doors where they probably got fed.
This one, looking like a black panther-jaguar hybrid, paced in the water looking up at the walkway overhead. (edit: I've been informed that there is a species of black jaguars.)
"'S'up? Whacha doin'?"
"Nuttin'. Juss hangin' out."
We went back to the Ponta Negra area where we had waited in the rain for all of my admirers to show up. (You already know that no one came.) This was a concert arena that gets used for lots of different events.
When we started back home, we stopped on the side of the road for cold coconut milk. Very nice.
Joelmir took a nap once we were back at his house. He was used to a daily siesta, so he was looking a little tired. I wrote until Rayane got home. I found that she works at a Showa factory that is owned by a subsidiary of Honda. They manufacture fork tubes for all the motorcycles made in Brazil. I also learned that Fabio worked 40 hours, then had 80 hours off (or something like that). An odd schedule, and I still didn't yet know what his job was.
I had noticed that my shift lever was loose again. I had tightened it as much as I dared in Belem, but now it was flopping around a bit on the shaft. The splines inside the lever were wearing out, and it wasn't gripping the shaft as it once had. When it finally rounded out, that would be the end of that. There were a few possible fixes, but I asked Joelmir if he knew a shop that might have a replacement lever. He made one phone call and told me that we would go take care of it tomorrow afternoon. He will be working at a local advocacy office, so it'll be a short day for him.
When we were ready to go, we took Joelmir's car back into the city, where he navigated a very odd course through dark, narrow streets to get a restaurant that he wanted to show me. It was a large popular place, so many people must know how to find it. It was in a dark residential area, with only a small sign attached to a tree outside the adobe walls. Casa do Sopa. House Of Soup.
There was no Soup Nazi here, and there certainly was soup for you! Sixteen kettles of various size were on a heated table. You paid less than five bucks per person and ate all the soup you wanted, taking a clean bowl each time. Many were creamy soups, some recognizable, some looking more alien. Other soups were broth-based, but again I didn't always know what the broth was made from. Or what the other ingredients were, often.
Included in the soup buffet was a condiment table. You could add all you wanted. Chunks of cheese, sausage, boiled eggs, pasta, various herbs and spices, peppers, onions, chives, oils and other additives that I dared not experiment with. I think that the pepper-marinated oil might make the chicken in your soup come back to life. In the middle of the table, below, there is a bowl of boiled greens that Rayane (seen in the photo) said were bamboo greens. They were a bit chewy, but didn't have a distinctive flavor.
I had five bowls of soup, each different. I regretted not having taken smaller portions of each, because I got full too soon. My favorite was the chicken curry, but the creamy palm heart soup was good. Two other creamy soups were very good, but I didn't write down their names. One had shrimp bits in it. The fifth soup was a basic meat and veggie stew. It had some small bones in it, but it was very tasty.
With a liter of juice, the meal was just over US$15 for the three of us. Not bad at all. I paid the tab and asked if I should leave a propina (tip). This confused Joelmir and Rayane, and I learned that the word "propina" is only used here to refer to a bribe that you pay to the police. Anyway, no tip was needed at the House of Soup.
On the drive back home, I learned that tomorrow was Joelmir's and Rayane's first wedding anniversary! It told them that tomorrow was also my birthday, and we suddenly had a small party in the car. I suspect that we'll do something tomorrow to celebrate. Well, they might have other plans already, and that's fair.
I also learned that this coming weekend was going to be a four-day break for them, and they were taking a long motorcycle ride into the Amazon jungle. 300 kilometers to the east was a city they were going to visit, and 30km or more was a dirt road. They invited me to join them, and it was very (very, very) tempting, but I needed to get moving north soon.
Friday, 27 March, 2009
Happy birthday to me, happy anniversary to Joelmir and Rayane.
I snoozed and lazed until about 09:00. The Permethrin treatment in my mosquito net must be dead, since there were mosquitoes all night that didn't seem affected by the net. I had slept partly under the net, and I hadn't gotten bitten the last two nights, so that was good.
I had a few things to attend to on the bike, so I got to it. I pulled off and cut away a lot of the duct tape on my broken windshield and replaced it with new tape. My instrument panel was starting to flop around a bit since it was only held in place by one screw on the bottom. The other screw had pulled out of the plastic on the bottom of the instrument panel when I had fixed the ignition problem in Belem. If I ignored the panel flopping around, it would get worse and I couldn't afford to have the remaining screw fail.
All I really needed to do was keep the instrument panel from raising up on the left side, so zip-ties to the rescue. If I need to, I'll use some cord to wrap all around the panel and tie it down.
My new camera was too big for the RamMount cup, so I removed the cup. I used both RamMount arms (the other was for my MP3 player, which I hadn't used in a while) to bracket the small camera bag I had bought when I got the camera. It would do, but nothing is perfect. The top flap for the camera bag might be a pain in the wind, but I decided to leave it and hope that it might provide some rain protection when needed. (It's folded back in this photo.)
I reattached one fork boot that had come loose at the bottom, and I was done. Joelmir had come home during these chores and we had chatted about my ride north from Manaus. He warned me again not to stop or take photos on the indigenous reserve between here and Boa Vista. He also repeated his caution about the highway closing between 6 PM and 6 AM. The ride straight to Boa Vista could be done in a day, but it was over 500 miles, and the road was often bad. If I stopped riding at a hotel before 6 PM, it would be an easy 2-day ride. Joelmir also told me that once I was in Venezuela, I had to stop at every police checkpoint and have my tourist card stamped before proceeding. This was the first I had heard of this.
When we were both ready to ride, we headed back into the city. I had my GPS mounted this time, to try recording some of the routes in case I had to navigate on my own at some point. The Garmin and Smelly Biker GPS maps were completely lacking road detail in Manaus.
We took some roads I hadn't seen before, ending up near a ferry station for crossing the river. This was where the two big rivers came together, and where the waters were dramatically different colors. The waters remain separate (due to density, temperature, speed, etc.) for 24 kilometers, but they eventually merge.
Joelmir took me to his friend's motorcycle shop, but his friend was out.
We walked around and got something to drink, but we still had to wait a while after that. I was kept busy by many of the local kids who soon came and tried to talk to me. They were confused when I didn't understand them. Joelmir took a certain amount of amusement for himself by translating some things and letting me struggle on my own at times.
Some men from the neighborhood gathered at the bicycle repair shop next to the motorcycle shop. This shop is why there were so many young boys here, too. One of the men left and came back with a tattered schoolbook. It was a text on world history, and everyone gathered around and flipped through it. I was surprised at how many of the men and boys were familiar with the material, especially the photos of people and places from all over the world. How many kids (or old men) from the States would recognize the Acropolis, or know that ancient Mesopotamia is now Iraq? History apparently ended soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, because that's where the book ended.
When Joelmir's friend arrived and opened the shop, I got to meet Gargamel. Joelmir told me that it wasn't the man's real name, but it was what he used for everything. Supposedly, the name Gargamel comes from the old Smurfs TV show, but I didn't know anything about that. I'm probably not even spelling it right. That's him standing in the now-open shop doorway below.
A few of the boys were hanging around my bike, touching it and trying to ask me questions. I had the kid who seemed the most interested sit on the bike and took his photo.
Gargamel had me remove the shifter, and he immediately put it in a vise and started to cut a thicker kerf through the gap in the lever where it clamps onto the shaft. This will allow the lever to be clamped down on the shaft more. It was exactly the first thing that I would have done, so that was reassuring. What surprised me was how much metal he cut away, because now there were fewer threads for the screw to grip. He had a simple solution for this as well.
I reattached the shift lever and tightened the longer bolt that he had given me as much as I dared. Gargamel then handed me a nylock nut to add onto the end of the bolt, but neither of us could get our big bear paws into the small space to get the nut started. I grabbed the kid I had photographed on my bike and enlisted him. He had been bent over my shoulder anyway. His small hands did the trick, and soon all was good.
The shop dog was a Chow that had been mercifully sheared down to help with the heat. It still panted all the time, its black tongue drooping.
I also took this opportunity to do an oil change. I had intended to do this in Belem, but I had totally forgotten. I was overdue for the change, but not enough to worry about. Gargamel didn't have oil for me in his shop, so he buzzed away on his bike and soon returned with three liters of oil. He did the oil change for me, but I think he was just puttering around while he and Joelmir talked. Joelmir was also doing some maintenance work on his Shadow before his big trip tomorrow.
I passed out some mints to the kids, then gave the almost-full box to the kid who helped me with the shift lever. You would have thought that I had given him a puppy or a big raise in his allowance. He went all ga-ga and goofy for a while, following me around with the box of mints for everyone to see. He passed out many of the mints, so that was good. I later gave him a card with my email on it. It was only then that I found out that he was Yago, Gargamel's son! I didn't even know who I had been schmoozing with. Butter up the boss's kid, eh?
Gargamel charged me what he had paid for the oil, and that was only R$/39 (US$18). Plus, he gave me a very large decal for one of his rider's clubs, and a small flag. I left the remaining half liter of oil with him and he thanked me for that. I still had an extra liter stashed on the bike.
After the kids got done playing with my GPS, Joelmir and I headed back to his place. We were stopped by police officers who were standing on the road near the house. They wanted to see the bikes' paperwork and our licenses. It seemed a routine check. They had no idea what to make of the papers I handed them, and Joelmir had to explain everything. The finally let us ride on.
At the house, we hung out and relaxed. He asked if I wanted to go to a local Hell's Angels bar for beer tonight, and I said that it sounded like fun. He said there would be no trouble, but there would be drugs. He asked me not to arrest anyone, and I assured him that I would resist the urge.
I was awakened from my nap by Joelmir's loud bike. He had gone to get Rayane from work, and we were soon ready to go out for a Friday night on the town.
We went back to Ponta Negra for some food at one of the sidewalk stands. I had a combo meal, but the crab meat was mixed with shells, as if they just shredded the crab, shell and all. Joelmir bought me a Teatro Amazonas t-shirt as a birthday gift. I asked if they had plans for their wedding anniversary, but they shrugged it off. Maybe that isn't something they celebrate much down here.
We only rode a short distance, stopping at another roadside bar for beer. I think we were killing time, too. Joelmir and Rayane pressed me to join them for the ride through the jungle to Itapiranga. I was still hesitant, and Joelmir teased me about not being man enough to go where I wanted. I still had all night to decide.
When we left the sidewalk bar, we switched bikes. Joelmir had ridden another traveler's KLR650 before, but it hadn't been as tall as mine. Or as heavy. For myself, I had to readjust my feet to the Shadow's forward peg positions, which took some doing. The low bike really seemed odd after so long on the KLR. Rayane stayed on the Shadow with me. We rode to the Hell's Angels clubhouse, where we were stopped at the big, sliding gate by two tattooed Prospects. Joelmir talked to them and they let us in. He later told me that Friday nights were a kind of "open house" night for the public, but you only get to bring certain bikes onto the property. Harleys (of course), any other bike that has been custom built or customized, or other bikes that are interesting enough. I guess my KLR rated highly enough, because they let us in.
There were lots of bikes in the courtyard, but only three were Harleys. Pretty much everything else was Honda. Here, you see a Harley, a Honda Shadow, a Honda Magna, Shadow, Magna. In the distance, Harley, Honda, Honda.
I had to get permission before I could photograph anything, but the Angles were all pretty easy going. I wasn't allowed to photograph any of them without specific permission, and not allowed to photograph any of the HA or Deadhead symbols directly. I didn't use my flash at all, so these shots are grainy. That's the main clubhouse below, and there is a large outdoor bar area to the left. Also a small swimming pool. There is a grill where the people are gathered on the right. (Whoops, one of the Deadhead symbols snuck into this next photo.)
There are only six full members of the Angels here in the Manaus Chapter, plus lots of Prospects who are still being observed. One of the Angels spoke a little English, so we talked a while. Another Angel, one of the older guys, showed me around the place, then he went back to cooking on the grill.
Joelmir and I had a beer at the bar. When I paid, the young bartender gave me tokens for more beer instead of my change. In good English, he told me that if I didn't use them for beer, he would exchange them for money when I left. That seemed efficient.
The bartender was Hugo, and he was a Prospect. He told me that he learned English by listening to Rock-and-Roll and Blues songs. He wanted to know what the singers were saying, so he studied the lyrics. I'd talk with him more later.
The president of the Chapter arrived, and Joelmir took me over to him. I had to wait until he was ready to meet me, but we got introduced and I found that he also spoke very good English. His name was Jean, and he was happy to receive a rider from the States to his chapter house. When I asked I would be allowed to see the inside of the clubhouse, he took me on a personal tour. He smoked a smoothly-rolled marijuana cigarette the whole time. It looked as if it had been made in a commercial rolling machine.
I was amazed at the photographs in the main room of the clubhouse. At least a hundred large photos, some of Jean with lots of old, well-known Angels from the States. He also pointed himself out in the many big group photos that were taken in various countries during rallies over many years. Jean and a few others had started this Chapter of the Angels sixteen years ago, and he was proud of the awards and many congratulatory gifts they had received on their 15th Anniversary.
Jean talked fast and with passion. He had to keep re-lighting his doobie because it kept going out when he ignore it too long. Jean knew everything about every major member in the history of the Hell's Angels. Some of that is required, I would think, but he had a lot of personal knowledge, too. I got to hear some stories about... Well, I'll keep those stories to myself. Don't want to scare anyone. (He did not know I had been a police officer, and I certainly wasn't going to tell him.)
I told him a little about my journey, but he was a better talker than a listener. When other people needed his attention, they just stood near him until he acknowledged them and then they spoke.
I told him that I thought he had a very nice place here, and that got him all enthused again. He took me into the back part of the building (through a door that had "Angels Only" written on it) and the tour continued. In a central hallway, there were portraits of Angels who had died. These were apparently Angels that Jean had known personally. Most had died of cancer, I noticed. Jean had bedrooms available for any traveling Angels that might come through here, and he told me that a few had done so.
When Jean took me into their meeting room, I was starting to actually feel special. The room was just a sloppy conference room, but there were some interesting things in there. He explained that the mural on one wall had been removed from a Hell's Angels Chapter house in New York City, and it had been brought here. It was a nice bit of air-brush painting. Very big. Some Deadhead symbols were fashioned from odd bits of wood, steel, and other materials. He didn't explain the artwork, but it looked as if they had been made from salvaged material. Salvaged from what, I couldn't guess.
A Prospect finally got his attention, and Jean had to go do other things. He had spent an hour with me, much to my surprise. I wasn't allowed to be left alone in the building, so someone escorted me out. Time for another beer.
I was talking with Joelmir a while later, and the bartender, Hugo, came over to me. He said that Jean had granted me the honor of being able to buy a Chapter t-shirt, if I wanted to do so. Yes, please, if only for the novelty of it. Hugo showed me the available shirts in white, red, and black. They only had one remaining shirt in black, and fortunately it was a Large, so I paid my R$/25 for it. It had Big Red Machine on it. A local thing, I suppose.
Back outside, I talked a bit with Hugo, who was completely smitten by the whole Hell's Angels mythos. He hadn't been a Prospect long, so he was going to have to wait a while. I asked if I could buy more shirts for Joelmir and Rayane, and he went to ask Jean if that was permitted. It was, so we went back inside. The only shirt they had in Joelmir's size was in white, so that's what he got. Rayane preferred the red. Happy Anniversary.
Outside again, Joelmir enlisted the aid of the Angel who spoke some English to try to convince me to go with them into the Amazon jungle on their 3-day trip. The Angel described the road and enjoyed playing the game of pressuring me to go on the ride.
I reminded myself of something that I had written after my ride to Alaska last year:
If you skip the opportunity to take photos or stop and see something interesting, you will regret it later.
Okay, I give up. I'll go with them on their ride. I was warmed by how happy there were when I told them that I would go with them.
We made the ceremony of going around the courtyard and saying goodbye to each of the people we had talked to while there, ending with Jean. He was behind the bar at the time, and he shook my hand for a long time and wished me good luck in my travels.
We rode back toward home, stopping at a convenience store for snacks and a few beers to take home. On a shelf were cans of meats and other foods. One of them was labeled "Elefante" and had a cartoon elephant on it. I had to be sure, so I asked. Rayane thought it was funny, but no, she assured me that it was only tomato sauce. The elephant is part of their logo.
These gals saw me about to take their photo, so that's why the one is posed like that.
Another half-hour later, we stopped again for a final beer in their neighborhood. Rayane was falling asleep, but Joelmir told me all about moving from Sao Paulo to Manaus. He had been unhappy with work as a lawyer in Sao Paulo, and he still has friends there who haven't done as well as he has done. He was very proud of the fact that after only three years here, he owns a house, a car, and a motorcycle.
When we got home, Rayane went to bed, but Joelmir and I talked a while longer. He told me that he was very happy to be able to receive and assist fellow riders, and he told me that I should pass his email address along to others who might pass this way.
If you happen to pass through Manaus, send him an email. He is worth knowing.
I fell asleep as soon as I sat on my bed. At about 04:30, I woke up to pee, and then called Laurie before realizing what time it was. She still answered right away, so I don't think I woke her up. I told her that I had decided to ride for a few days more with Joelmir and Rayane before continuing homeward, and she didn't seem to mind. I'll get there when I get there.
I conked out again right away.
Saturday, 28 March, 2009
(I later got copies of Rayane's photos, so they are now mixed in here, too. Her camera doesn't focus very well or quickly sometimes, but it's nice to have her ride photos.)
We got up and ready to ride at 08:30. To my surprise, Fabio had returned and was joining us for the weekend. (I learned that he works on a riverboat, doing something with navigation.) Joelmir's friend, Franco, will be the fourth bike. I didn't know what my plans would be after the ride to Itapiranga, so I packed everything with me rather than leave anything here. Everyone else was traveling light.
We stopped to top off the gas tanks (and Franco and Fabio started with the beer, too). Joelmir's Shadow was the bike with the shortest mileage per tank, so he would have to refuel two more times. I was good for the whole 200 miles or less.
When we got rolling again, we got waved into a police checkpoint, and Fabio got busted for not having one of the correct documents for his bike. I think he got a ticket, but at least we got to continue after a long wait.
After clearing the police stop, we went an entire 200 yards before pulling over into a convenience store so Fabio and Franco could get more beer. It was just as well, because I needed a breakfast snack and some juice.
In another year, Joelmir gets to have his back jacket patch completed. For now, he's missing the BR116 banner. He does have his AC/DC patch, though.
I asked Joelmir if this is the way the whole ride was going to go (the many stops), and he rolled his eyes. He didn't like how often the other guys stopped for beer. Not that Joelmir had anything against drinking beer while riding--it was just that he wouldn't stop as often. Because it was uncomfortably hot for me whenever we stopped, I would have preferred to keep moving once we were out of the city. That's not what happened.
Half an hour out of Manaus, we stopped for beer. Then again a short while later. At least some towns were pretty. Many had waterparks on small rivers.
Some of the dozen-or-so stops were at tiny roadside huts or small restaurants. At one of the stops, Joelmir and I just rode on without the other guys. We were all going to the same place, so we would meet somewhere later.
The road was mostly good, but had long stretches of bad potholes. Traffic was very light, so you had the whole road to yourself.
Hey! A photo of me riding for a change!
At another stop, we managed to get some cold drinks just before a big busload of Brazilian tourists arrived. The two blond women in the next photo sounded Swedish and looked like they had been nearly eaten alive by biting insects. Rayane was wearing her new Hell's Angels t-shirt.
Lots of fruit vendors along the road.
It rained very heavily a few times, so everyone was soaked. It felt pretty good, though, so the only problem for me was visibility.
Joelmir knows a guy who runs a fish farm, and we stopped there to make plans for us eating here when we return this way on Monday. You catch a fish here, gut it, throw it directly on the grill and eat it.
The rain didn't keep the kids at the fish farm from enjoying their soccer game.
When I think of a fish farm, I think of a huge operation, but this was pretty small. It's not for selling fish to restaurants or anyone else; it's only for catching fish and eating them here.
That's the owner on the right, who probably spends a lot of time in his Speedo.
This is a tocumã (or tocumãn... I never could really hear how it was pronounced since a lot of words in Portuguese end with a nasal sound that is hard to understand). Under the thin, hard rind is a layer of stringy pulp that tastes a lot like avocado.
After maybe 140 miles or so, we turned off the pavement and started a long stretch of dirt road. There was a large logging operation here.
This road was the only way to the city of Itapiranga, other than via the river. The jungle was dense.
The road was good at times, bad at times, but even heavily loaded I was better off than Joelmir and Rayane on the Shadow. I zoomed ahead and waited for them a few times to get their photo.
There were several wetland areas, but mostly it was just jungle.
I was zipping along at about 70 MPH on a nice, hard section of the road when suddenly ~~~~WHOOSH!
It was Fabio going past me with his pants down around his thighs. It was a full moon, so to speak. He had probably passed Joelmir and Rayane like that some time ago and just kept going until he caught me. I only managed a photo as he finished pulling his pants back up.
Franco wasn't far behind, and we all stopped to wait for the Shadow to catch up. Once the bikes were quiet, we heard monkeys hooting nearby. Didn't see any, though. Fabio acted out the behavior of sloths, so I suppose they are also here. That, or he was more drunk than he appeared.
Whenever we stopped, streams of sweat started running down my face, back and chest. My legs were always damp, since I was wearing the Darien pants over light nylon pants. I would have just worn shorts under the Darien, but I don't like the way the Velcro from the kneepads scrape my legs.
Me in my Manaus Hell's Angels shirt.
We all rode together for a while, stopping on a bridge to watch kids jump into the river below. I had a package of caramel candies that I have carried since Salvador (I think), but they were too sweet for me. I gave most of them away to these kids, leaving only two.
We stopped one final time at a small house that had a beer sign on it. The beer was cold, so I succumbed and had one. It tasted really good right about then.
This girl didn't know what to make of me. I freaked her out when I first tried to take her photo, and she ran to her father for protection (photo above). When she finally warmed to me, she followed me around like I was a circus clown or an alien from space. I gave her and her father the last two caramels, and she ran off to show her mother.
Last stretch of road, and the pavement returned.
We got into Itapiranga in late afternoon, and rode around seeing the layout of the city.
I don't know what the heck this thing did besides move really slowly. It looks like it hauls cargo, but what's with the front wheel drive?
We started looking for a gas station and became separated. This city has more motorcycles than cars, so I lost the others in the congestion. I took my own tour of the river area.
I finally found the others at a gas station. I had a little more than 200 miles on this tank of gas, but still hadn't hit reserve.
Another beer at a bar across from the gas station. Me, too, since the ride was over. These fish had just come out of the water.
Fabio and Franco stayed at the bar (duh), but the rest of us went looking for food and a hotel. We found both in the same place.
The left side of the building is a hardware store, where I was able to buy another cheap machete to replace that one that had been stolen off my bike on the boat. We stashed the bikes in the back yard, which is the best we could do. There were so many curious kids and young men that I took all the soft bags and removable items off the bike before bed time.
The shower in my room didn't work, and when I asked the woman who ran the hotel to look at it, she fiddled with all the plumbing in the bathroom for a while and then left. The shower still didn't work. The woman returned with a big bucket and a small bucket. She got me to understand that could run water into the big bucket from the flexible line that she disconnected from the toilet, and could then use the small bucket to pour the water over myself. So that's what I did.
Fabio and Franco had found us and they also checked into the hotel. When everyone was ready to go out, we rode around the small city a while, but the only action was at the high school. There were a hundred scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles parked there, and lots of people hanging out. I looked like some kind of indoor soccer tournament was taking place inside. Five-man teams were having short games, then other teams competed. Some of the men were past middle age, but they still had some moves.
Fabio and I had some beer at a small booth next to the school. He kept introducing me to complete strangers, but he had a way about him. He flirted with several young women, and they seemed to like it.
Joelmir and Rayane had ridden off somewhere to go sightseeing (or something...), and Franco kept popping up whenever there was more beer.
It started looking like a late night, and I wanted to do some writing, so I waved off Fabio's offer for another beer and went back to the hotel. I wrote until midnight, but I never heard anyone else return to their rooms.
Sunday, 29 March, 2009
I was up and packing when others knocked on my door for breakfast. The coffee was included with the room, and the egg and cheese sandwich didn't cost much. I also had a tapioca crepe rolled around sharp cheddar cheese that was very nice.
Fabio lifted his t-shirt and showed me all the mosquito bites he had on his torso. Good grief! How did that happen, I asked. He told me (and, as usual, demonstrated through gestures and pantomime) that he had gotten laid last night in some field near the school. Joelmir and Rayane laughed and nodded. Yup, that was Fabio. Was that also a human bite mark on his side? Sure looked like it.
The hotel room was R$/20, and the total only came to R$/30 each, including our meal yesterday and breakfast. About US$13.
All I knew about the plan for today is that we were going somewhere back the way we had come and stay the night there.
Before leaving Itapiranga, we went to a Sanctuario that Rayane wanted to see, but it was closed.
We headed back...
... but we didn't go very far. We had passed this waterpark yesterday, but I hadn't know that it was our first destination for today.
The park is open to the public, and it is actually part of a river so there is a current flow to the water. The jungle comes right up to here.
We settled in, and only then did I realize we were going to spend most of the day here.
It rained several times, but nobody seemed to notice except me. I stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts, but I didn't feel like swimming, so I just hung out and watched everyone else play.
Fabio tried to tell me the names of the trees and birds, but he kept getting it wrong and Franco would correct him. These birds are urubu, and they are scavengers. A type a vulture, maybe. They were all over the park.
I had seen these birds on the road, and one had almost hit Rayane's helmet. Birds on the ground will take off in the direction they are facing, so keep that in mind as you near them. At the last moment, they will get startled by your approach and will take flight. If they are facing across your path, that's where they are going.
There was a dog in the park that would chase the urubus around to steal whatever they had found.
Fabio told me that these were Açai, but they didn't look like that to me. Franco patiently corrected him again, and although I don't remember what they are called, they are only good for fermenting and making wine.
The beverage of choice was beer, but I started with a few Cokes and had one of their odd hamburgers when I got hungry. In the afternoon, it was beer for me, too. I gave out a lot of mints and candies to other people in the park, and I found that Wintergreen was everyone's favorite flavor.
We took lots of photos of each other. I'm not using many here. This one is because Rayane wanted everyone to see her Hell's Angels shirt. Fabio is in the shot because... well, because he's Fabio and he finds a way into most photos.
Fabio also found a pretty indigenous girl at the park that he totally zeroed-in on. She didn't mind his attention, and before long, he was kissing her.
Her name was Bea (short for Beatrice, of all things!). That's her on the left, then Franco, Fabio, Bea's younger friend whose name I never learned, and Rayane in front.
While watching Fabio make out with Bea, Joelmir told me that before he was married, he had ridden his bike around most of Brazil and had made love to many women while traveling. He said that this is normal in Brazil. His favorite women were the indigenous women in the Amazon region. He said they were built for sex, and they had a mentality for companionship that no other women could match. They were raised in their culture to take care of their man. He kind of shook as he remembered a few such women.
Wherever they are from, give a teenage girl a camera phone and they are all the same. This girl spent at least an hour sending photos of herself to someone.
When another rain storm started, I went to put my camera away on the bike. I just barely managed to catch a shot of Fabio attacking... er, I mean kissing Bea. Joelmir (looking younger with a clean shave) and Rayane never seemed to think Fabio's behavior was even worth a second look.
I was surprised how openly they all talked about sex. Joelmir's stories about having sex while traveling were told in front of Rayane, and she never seemed to mind. Fabio's stories were always in Portuguese and sign language, but I (and everyone around at the nearer tables) understood them well enough.
Franco told me about the indigenous hunters in the Amazon who would shoot an arrow almost straight up, arcing it down onto turtles on the other side of a small river. That was the only way to penetrate their shells. Joelmir added that he had seen this done once, and it is amazing how accurate the archers were.
None of my new friends had ever been to the States, but they would like to go someday. When I told Franco that he would be welcome to stay at my house, he gave me a warm embrace. The very gesture of opening one's house to another is a big deal here. Franco told me that he has family in Boa Vista, and they will receive me when I pass through there. Okay, we'll see how that goes. I really need a hotel and several hours on a high speed Internet connection sometime soon.
Franco got a phone call from his daughter in Manaus, and he had to leave to go handle something. I hope to see him again before I head north.
Joelmir told me that Franco has relatives with a lot of money. I don't know if these are the ones in Boa Vista or not. He said that maybe someday they would all come to the U.S. to visit.
At 15:30, we got ready to leave the park. It took a while, though, due to rain and all they goodbyes that needed to be said. Also, for some reason, Fabio and Rayane decided to dance in the rain after they got fully dressed. Then they ran and jumped into the water again. Just being goofy, I suppose.
I had to help push-start Joelmir's bike, which wasn't so easy in the wet sand. All the rain had made the Shadow hard to start, and the battery didn't seem to have much staying power. Usually, it fired right up.
It was daytime, but again there was a full moon.
Not long after riding back the way we had come, we turned south and took a new road down to the Urubu River (named after the birds). The Amazon River was nearby, and the Urubu was a parallel contributory.
At the river, we had just missed the ferry. Not to be deterred, Joelmir and Fabio honked and hollered as they kept riding down to the boat ramp. The ferry pilot saw them and backed up to get us.
Rayane got off the Shadow while Joelmir rode it onto the ferry, and she stood on the ramp taking photos. When the ferry started backing out, she realized that it wasn't going to wait for her, so she had to run and hop onto the ferry's ramp as it moved away. That short sprint after a long day at the waterpark wore her out.
Fabio has that weird Keith Richards t-shirt on again. I don't like the way it keeps looking at me.
They thought that my having the machete on the bike was odd. (By the way, it was Rayane who put the machete to her throat for the photo.)
The ferry took us to the town of Silves (on an island, I think, but maybe a peninsula). The crossing cost less than a dollar. We explored a bit, then found a hotel on a steep street. Lots of steep streets here.
I think that guy is passed out on the bench.
Negotiations for the cost of the rooms took a while. In the end, Fabio and I (theoretically) shared a room for R$/25.
I had a very hard time parking my bike. The angles were all bad, and at one point I was sliding backwards off the small, sloping parking lot and down the street because the front brake alone wasn't enough to hold the bike still. I had to use both feet to keep the bike upright, so I couldn't get to the rear brake right away. It was touchy there for a little while.
After getting settled into the hotel, it was time to go riding around some more.
We landed at a bar for beer, pool, and to watch the end of a soccer match between Brazil and Ecuador. The beer was good, I didn't win any of the pool games, and the soccer matched ended in a 1-1 tie.
If you can believe it, I think Fabio is the chapter president of the BR116 rider's club in Manaus. The club is named after a highway in south-central Brazil. Don and I had ridden a section of it.
We had some snacks with our beer. These small pizza-things were very good. Chicken, ham.
All the pool tables I've seen in Brazil are like this one. The balls are smaller than I was used to, and the cue ball was relatively much larger than the others. The cushions around the table were very hard, and the pockets were very narrow. Slop shots didn't get you much. The cue sticks didn't have felt tips and chalk; they had slightly rounded hard plastic tips. That meant that it was easy to mis-cue and impossible to put any spin on the cue ball. We played some variation of 8 ball. All the balls are solid colors, by the way.
When we were ready to find a restaurant, Fabio somehow also managed to find a date. Some gal walking by, I guess. He schmoozed her into coming along. She directed us to a small place to eat. Once again, I didn't hear her name, and I don't think Fabio did either.
Final photo for the night. Fabio's new date on the left. We had typical meat and lots of starch (very tender beef for a change).
At 21:00, I went back to the hotel, and I think that Joelmir and Rayane would be following soon. They were pretty tired. Fabio had other plans.
After I showered, Fabio popped into the room briefly. He did his usual sex dance display and got some condoms from his backpack. I wasn't sure if he asked me to lock the door behind him, or to not lock the door so he could get into the room without waking me up later. Anyway, after he was gone, I started writing on my laptop. I also sent a SPoT signal.
I got totally caught up on the writing, although it would still be a while before I could upload it. I finished working at 00:30 and went to bed.
Fabio still hadn't returned. Might not see him until morning.
Monday, 30 March, 2009
Yup, didn't see him at all until we started rousing early and getting the bikes packed. He had gotten another room, so I had a room to myself after all. Never saw the gal again.
We rode down to the ferry crossing and got some breakfast. Coffee, cheese sandwich, and juice for me. My camera was a bit fogged up from the air-conditioned room and it being a drizzly day.
Back across the river.
It stayed damp most of the day. Here, where the pavement ends at the bridge (and where the kids had been jumping into the river), is where Rayane got onto Fabio's bike, since Joelmir wasn't feeling well and didn't want to risk the muddy ride ahead with her onboard.
We had blasted down this road at high speeds on Saturday, but this was slow going now. The hard-packed clay was slimy on top.
Joelmir putted along and still had trouble at times. The ruts were bad, and the crowned road surfaces (as shown below) were also hard to manage because the tires kept wanting to slip off to the right or left.
I mis-read the road surface a few times. I finally stopped to see what I was missing. It looked likes rocks in places, so I had tried to take advantage of the traction they would afford.
It wasn't rocks; it was just more clay. Devious stuff.
I was tooling along slowly behind Joelmir, going up a slight incline on slick, hard-packed clay when my rear tire lost traction and started doing its own thing. I went down sideways in the road. Traction underfoot was bad, but I managed to get the bike up before Fabio came back to help. The tires kept sliding away from me as I lifted the bike.
However, the sidestand went right into the road and over the bike went in the other direction. This time, I did need his help. The sidestand was like a spike in the clay.
My tires were just too worn to be going this slow on this road surface. It might sound strange to non-riders, but slow is harder at times. With very little forward momentum, the bike had to work over every bump and dip and I didn't have a lot of tread to provide that much traction. What I needed to do was go a little faster. There's a balance to this, of course, but going a little faster wouldn't make things worse. I rode ahead of the others for a while and that worked out fine.
After another hour, I waited for the others to catch up. Joelmir took that opportunity to swap bikes with Fabio. His fever was worse, and now he had a sore back and neck. Managing the big Shadow was getting to be too much. Joelmir and Rayane went ahead on the Tornado, and I stayed with Fabio for the remainder of the ride.
When we hit pavement again, Joelmir had to dig the packed clay our from his front fender with my screwdriver.
The drizzle let up some, and it was a relief to ride faster. The day never got hot, but it was still humid.
We returned to the fish farm and parked the bikes under one of the shelters, just in case.
Cupuaçu fruit, still on the tree.
Fabio and Rayane got right to the fishing, and she had a catch within a minute.
Me, I'm no fisherman and the fish know that. Took about twenty throws of the meat-baited hook.
But mighty is the hunter who prevails.
These must have been pet ducks, since each was dragging a long section of rope from one leg.
The two fish we caught went onto the grill. Two other fish (that they had caught from another pond for us) went into a stew. We also had rice, beans, and a salad/relish mix of greens.
This is the tambaqui fish in a tasty broth, heavy on the onions (just the way I like it).
The matrinxã(n) were a bit fatty and the flesh was very soft. Comes from not exercising in their tiny pond, I think. Lots of small bones.
The lunch, complete with the "thrill" of catching it yourself, was R$/20 each. Less than nine dollars.
Joelmir had to lay down a couple times since he was getting worse. We relaxed after lunch until he was ready to ride again. I think the wind in his face helped.
Gasoline in his tank would have helped, too. When he ran out, Fabio came up behind him and stuck a foot out. Like this, they went the last few miles to the next town.
When we had gotten ready to ride after lunch, my bike's electric starter had done nothing. By habit, I had reached under the instrument panel and pressed up on the bottom of the ignition switch. That did it, and the bike had started up. I hope I don't have to take it all apart again.
After gassing up, we made the final ride back into Manaus. We got back to their house at about 16:30.
After showers, we swapped photos. Rayane had taken a lot of shots, and several were useable, so I thank her for the copies. Fabio liked the copies of my photos that I gave him on a USB memory stick. When I got him to understand that the USB stick was also a gift, he gushed with gratitude. I had already given Joelmir one, since his was wearing out.
Joelmir had gotten an email from Alex, and we were alerted to the possible arrival tomorrow of a rider from Chile who was now coming up the Amazon river on a boat. Would I like to wait for this rider and go north with him? Honestly, no. I'm in the mood for some independence. Not so much independence, though, that I ignored contact information from Alex on a couple people he knew in Boa Vista. I probably won't get to see Franco again, so I will miss seeing his family in Boa Vista as well.
Joelmir and Rayane had missed their siesta again, so they took a nap. Fabio spent time online, and I got photos selected, cropped, edited, and sorted out. It was 20:00 by the time I was done writing this very sentence. I tried using their USB cell phone modem, but it wouldn't install on my laptop computer. The updates and emails will still have to wait.
Fabio and I ate some beans and sausage that he had cooked, and he fried some eggs for us. We could not communicate with words, but grunting and pointing worked well enough. After eating, he went to bed as well, so it was just me and the mosquitoes after that.
The skeeters won, and I sacked out.
Tuesday, 31 March, 2009
Sometimes a few minutes or an instant can change everything. For me, it took a couple hours.
The morning had started early. When I heard activity, I got up and saw that it was 06:00. I found Fabio getting ready to go back to work. We said our goodbyes and he went off on his bike. I puttered around and started packing, but no one else was stirring yet. I napped a bit, but got up again when I heard Joelmir in the kitchen.
He told me that he had gotten a text message from Winston, a friend of Alex's in Boa Vista. Winston was expecting me to call him when I arrived there.
I finished packing and said goodbye to the dogs first, since they demanded attention. I exchanged hugs and best wishes with Joelmir and Rayane and got on the bike. I had to press on the bottom of the ignition switch again to get the bike started. Fark.
Getting out of Manaus was easy, and it was a cool and pleasant morning ride north on BR174.
But as I wrote above, a couple hours can change everything.
I was 130 miles north of Manaus, about to enter the indigenous reserve area where stopping and photography are prohibited. At the last gas station before the two-hour crossing of the native reservation, I pulled in to top off my gas tank. My bike's motor was making an odd clicking noise, and I could feel it through my foot pegs. The gas pump attendant pointed to my motor and made a bad face. Yes, he had heard the problem, too.
After getting gas, I started off again, but I didn't like the way the motor felt.
The clutch slipped a bit as I accelerated onto the roadway, but otherwise seemed okay. The next twenty miles got worse and worse. The clutch started slipping at first, then started making crunching noises. When the clutch went *POP!* and started tearing itself up, I pulled over. As soon as I pulled in the clutch, I felt slack in the clutch lever--which was not normal--and the motor died.
I was now on the indigenous reservation land, where I was forbidden to stop. I had been warned that it could be dangerous. The native people here apparently don't like this highway through their land and don't tolerate people stopping or taking photos. I saw no one else on the road, and there were no other vehicles in sight, so for the moment I was safe.
I worked the clutch lever while looking at the linkage at the clutch housing. The cable connects to a post that drops into the clutch assembly, and when I pulled the clutch lever, the post rotated and lifted up partly out of the clutch cover. Rotating was normal, but lifting up was not.
I also saw some oil dripping from the airbox drain tube. The motor's oil level was still okay, so that was good.
I decided that there was nothing else to do but head back to the gas station.
Could I make the twenty miles? Heck, I hard a hard time getting the motor started. First, I again had to press on the bottom of the ignition switch, which took both hands. Second, I was unable to get the bike into neutral. Pulling the clutch lever did nothing, so the bike was in first gear. Fortunately, I have a starter circuit bypass installed, so I can start the bike in gear without the clutch lever pulled in. After fiddling with the ignition switch wires a while, I was able to get the ignition working consistently (for now). By starting the bike in first gear and letting the bike jump and lurch forward, I finally got it started.
After carefully turning around, I began limping back to the gas station. Twenty miles to go. When I left off the gas a bit, the bike started to stall, so I revved the motor and the clutch first slipped and then caught with a clang. The result was the first wheelie I have ever done on a motorcycle. I wish it had been on purpose. When the front wheel came back down, I just kept going. There was no alternative.
I took a photo of one of the signs for the indigenous reserve as I left the area. Each of the signs were different.
I found that once I had some speed, I could shift carefully. I was very happy to get it up into fifth gear. I tried to maintain a steady speed, since the clutch was making a hell of a racket and was slipping a lot. Eighteen miles later, the clutch made a whirring sound, then more crunching, some gnashing, some grinding, and a few distinct bangs that signaled the end. It was all I could do to keep the bike moving. I couldn't shift, so too little throttle meant an engine stall, and too much throttle started the clutch slipping again.
For the final quarter mile, I just let the bike coast to the Posto Abonari Petrobras station. I didn't need to pull in the clutch anymore since it wasn't doing anything anyway. The motor felt like it was kicking back at me.
I rolled to a stop between the two diesel pumps and parked the bike there in the shade. It was about 10:00.
This gas station was pretty much by itself, with only a few small houses evident in the area. It was far away from any town or city. Like a big dummy, I had failed to get Joelmir's phone number, but I could have called Laurie to have her email him to come help. If I had a working phone, that is. I checked, but there was no cell phone service.
The gas pump attendant wasn't surprised to see me again, and he came over to stand next to me. We looked at the outside of the clutch cover (where there was nothing interesting to see), and nodded in sync. Yup, yup, yup. That sounds bad.
Another customer left his tiny scooter at a gas pump came over to look as well. He told me that there was no one to repair the clutch here, and I would have to take the bike back to Manaus. It took me a second to realize that he had spoken in heavily-accented English. He had lived in New York City for five years, then in Miami for a couple years before returning home. He told me that I might be able to get a ride back to Manaus on one of the trucks that came through here. He wished me luck and went off on his scooter. I should have offered him some money to stay and help me.
There was a small cafe along with the gas station, so I stood in the shade of their large patio for a while. They were washing down all the plastic furniture and there was nowhere to sit right then. So, I watched a gal wash the furniture and a guy hose-down the patio and scrub it with a broom. I watched another guy in a wide-brimmed hat cut the grass around the station with a loud gas-powered trimmer. I watched a wasp carry a not-dead-yet beetle across the patio and up onto a refrigerator (where big chunks of cheese were for sale). I think the beetle was to bury along with the wasp's eggs. The paralyzed beetle would be food for the wasp hatchlings. When it reached the top, the wasp took a short flight with its too-heavy load and just made it into the grass before hitting the ground.
An hour later, and not one single car or truck had stopped at the gas station. Only a few big trucks had passed by on the road, along with several small cars. Not much in the way of possible help.
Plus, it was starting to get hot.
Two guys dressed in rain gear rode up on a scooter and bought some gas. They asked if I was okay, and I explained my problem. They understood, and one of them acted out the behavior of driving a big truck and then he pointed to Manaus. Si! Si! I needed a truck to Manaus. He got it, and he asked me if I could pay for a truck. I told him I could. He went to the cafe and talked for a while with the guy behind the counter, then he waved at me and rode away with his passenger. They looked like a messenger service, and they probably had to be somewhere soon.
Noting happened for a while, and even the gas pump attendant got on his scooter and left for about an hour. (No customers arrived during that time.)
I tried to ask the guy at the counter if there was a truck coming for me, but he could only agree that (something something) truck (something something) Manaus. Was I to wait for a truck that was coming for me? Did the guy on the scooter go to get me a truck? Should I try to flag down a truck on the roadway? Did they think that I already had a truck coming? I had no idea.
I sent a SPoT signal and saved my location on the Zumo. That killed a few minutes.
I decided to kill time by doing something, so I cleaned and oiled the air filter. On a whim, I pulled the oil filter to look at it. What I saw was shocking. As I had seen in Buenos Aires, the oil filter was covered with bits of ground-up metal. I suspected that one or more clutch disks had been eaten by the motor. And the whole clutch basket seemed to be moving too much inside the motor, so that might mean even more damage inside. A bearing might have gone bad. That meant that the motor would have to be taken apart again, in addition to the actual clutch repairs.
I wasn't going to Boa Vista (or anywhere else) anytime soon.
When the pump attendant returned, he also seemed to understand that I needed a truck to take me to Manaus. What to do about that, though? If a truck were to finally stop for gas, I could at least offer some money for a ride. Nothing to do but wait.
A few customers came and went, but none were in a truck. A few people merely used this place as a rest stop, and they often had their own food or bought a few things here to eat. In the early afternoon, a large yellow truck/bus pulled in. It looked like the type we had seen tourists traveling in when we were in Ushuaia.
It turned out to be exactly that. There were twenty-some people onboard, including the women I had met on the tour of the Teatro Amazonas. They saw me and we chatted a while. Most of those on the bus were English-speaking, but some were not. They had stopped for a picnic lunch in the shade of a small shelter next to the gas station. Most of them had boarded the bus in Quito, Ecuador, where the bus would complete its loop of South America. Some passengers had boarded in other cities, and not everyone would go all the way to Quito. The German gal I had talked to on the tour of the Teatro told me that it was an "okay" way to travel, and they used hotels 65% of the time (hey, I said she was German). They camped the other times. I wondered if they each had their own tents or if the tour bus provided tents? After a quick meal, they loaded back onto their bus and went on north toward Venezuela.
I had some food and a couple beers at the cafe. I wasn't riding anymore today and the beers were partly for my mental health.
I unpacked the laptop computer and set it up on the patio. I was really wishing it would rain and cool things off. I had doffed the Darien pants long before, but I still had sweat rolling down my body and legs. Mosquitoes would come out later, but for now it was big black flies all over everything.
When I went to plug my computer into the outlet behind the refrigerator, I had second thoughts. The plug from the fridge was so loose in the 220-volt outlet that when I touched it, it wiggled and sparked violently. Yikes! It was the only electricity available, so I braved it and jammed my plug in there. No sparks and no electrocution, so that was good. The plug from the cheese cooler sparked a bit more, though.
At 15:30, I talked with the guy at the counter again, but there was still a fundamental failure to communicate. Nothing was achieved. I think that he is the owner or the manager, because he bosses everyone else around. He also leaves frequently on a small motorcycle, gone each time for about half an hour.
Some tanker trucks came though, but they were of no use to me and were usually going the wrong direction. A convoy of camouflaged military trucks came south-bound into the station, but all they did was make a quick pit stop and keep going. They looked like a work crew.
A long-haul commuter bus pulled in, so the station was briefly swarmed by passengers who were in need of drinks and toilets. That was worth about ten minutes of chaos.
All this excitement...
Although I was miffed at the crippled bike, I had very little stress. I wasn't going to starve or die of thirst, there were other people there in case an actual emergency happened, and I didn't need to be anywhere anytime soon.
I moved the bike a couple times trying to keep it in the shade, but the shade moved a lot in the hours and hours that I spent waiting.
It barely cooled off as the sun started to set. I put the computer away after writing a while, and just sat on the patio and did nothing.
One of my major concerns was that the road through the indigenous reservation lands would close at 18:00 and no traffic would be allowed to pass through at night. It was nearly that time now. My only hope today was that a truck was already crossing the reservation land and headed this way. It was a slim hope. I wasn't optimistic.
In the eight hours that I waited, only five or six vehicles stopped for fuel. The attendant had kept busy by sweeping the concrete area around the pumps, but that only took an hour or so. Mostly, he just sat out there by himself.
When it got dark, they started closing things down. I asked if they had a hammock I could use, and to my surprise they handed me one! Hammocks, like flip-flops, are a way of life here. I had already seen all the hooks under the shelter where the bus tourists had lunched, so I knew that hammocks were probably used by the truckers there. I hung the hammock, rigged my mosquito net over it, and moved the bike nearer.
Actually, the night passed pretty well. There was an eerie red glow from a trash fire burning in a pit behind the convenience store, and some occasional lightning in the distance, but otherwise all was calm and dark. I hung my boots from more hooks to keep animals out of them, and slept in my clothes. It took me a while to fall asleep, even though I was very relaxed. The slight breeze felt good, and the gentle animal sounds in the jungle was quite pleasing. There was one mighty roar that lasted far too long for it to be a single animal, so I think it had been a chorus of big frogs.
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Part 24 - Manaus
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