This post documents our ride down this dead end road in the middle of the Pantanal tropical wetlands. We cross more than 200 bridges, see thousands of jacare (alligator-type creatures) and don’t get eaten by a jaguar.
I’ve had good internet lately, so I decided to make a video of this experience. It actually didn’t take too long, so I may do some more updates this way in the future. Below the video is the more standard blog post, with more details. Enjoy!…or don’t…I’m not your boss.
Tuesday, August 21
Trans Pantanal day!
I took on a few too many projects that morning and got a little bit behind. I swapped my brake pads, inspected and relubricated my rear bearings and tested each of the 114 links of my drive chain. I’ve been looking for an excuse to swap out my chain, but it thus far hasn’t given me one. I did find that it had thrown off the clip for the master link sometime within the last couple days, but I had a spare.
The Trans Pantanal highway is known for being a really rough road. I decided I would fare better with a little less weight on board, so I removed my trunk. This, along with deciding exactly what things to bring, took even more time. It was after noon before I finally hit the road.
The Trans Pantanal begins a little bit south of Pocone. There is no gas available in Porto Jofre, so I made sure I was filled to the brim in Pocone. The round trip would be about 300 kilometers. I knew as long as I didn’t have a really bad tank, I should make it.
I bid adieu to the asphalt and immediately pulled over to let some air out of my tires. I wanted to roll as smoothly as possible. The opening stretch of dirt road was punishing washboard, but before long I was at the official entrance to the highway.
Almost immediately, the wildlife began. Well…at least one kind of wildlife: jacares. These are members of the alligator family. More specifically, the caiman family. I absolutely couldn’t believe the number of them. In some spots, there were more jacare than there was land.
The dirt road was really good for awhile. Cruising at 50mph was pretty safe. One of the most fascinating things about this road is the number of bridges. There are 122 of them along the 147 km (91 mile) path. Towards the entrance, they are well made concrete structures. In fact, I learned that we could catch some air if we hit them at about 60mph.
Most of the time, I used them to slow way down and use the high vantage point to look for wildlife. Soon, I saw my first capybara that I had ever seen in the wild.
This is the world’s largest rodent. They grow to be 100-150 lbs. They are a really interesting creature.
Further into the park, the bridges became more….how do I say this tactfully….creative?
Of the 122 bridges on this route, I’d say at least 3/4 are these rickety wooden structures.
At nearly every bridge, there were birds in the branches and jacare along the banks. This was the end of the dry season, so all the wildlife was crowded around the shrinking pools. I cannot imagine a better time to ride this route.
At one of my stops, a family of capybara were walking very close to a pack of jacare. I thought I might get to see a real battle of nature, but the jacare just plunged hastily into the water, as if they were the herbivores.
I was having such a nice time that the sunset really caught me off guard. I had to push it to make it to Porto Jofre by nightfall.
This town is a funny little settlement. There is a five star hotel and the rest of the buildings are just little shacks.
Marco had given me the name of one of his friends, Juca, who had a little camping spot there. I tried navigating towards where I thought it was, but the road appeared closed. I rolled a little further and saw a little notch in the berm where motorcycles had passed through. Picture from the next morning:
It appeared easy enough to climb, but I ended up using too little speed. Annie’s oil pan dug into the dirt, leaving me helplessly high-centered.
I examined my situation carefully and could only think of one way to get unstuck. I tipped Annie onto her side, then grabbed the rear wheel and rotated her back end as far forward as possible. Then I picked her up and tipped her over on the other side and repeated the process.
As I labored away, I found myself rather amused. Here I was, in the pitch dark, in the middle of jaguar country, with my exposed skin covered in a triumvirate of dust, sweat and mosquitos; yet, I felt no sense of panic. I guess that learning to deal with these situations calmly has been one of the fortunate byproducts of this adventure. 14 months ago, I might have panicked.
I could feel my strength waning as I executed the last couple tip-tug-lift maneuvers. After about 20 minutes, we were rolling again. I hunted around for about 15 minutes and eventually found Juca’s campsite. Pics from next morning:
Given the rustic locale, it was a really nice place. I loved seeing how he had creatively used what he had to make the place more functional.
He has built little huts with mosquito netting that are big enough to set a tent up inside. Annie might have fit too. He had a little trickle of internet, just enough to get some messages out, but it was only available when he ran his generator.
I had to reflect on what a strange time in history we live. Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, able to access the greatest database of human knowledge in history, but to do so I had to rely on explosions of a liquid made from dead dinosaurs. If I ever have grandkids, they’re not going to believe any of this. 🙂
Wednesday, August 22
The birds woke me up early, but I wasn’t annoyed in the least. They sang so many songs that I had never heard before. It really was a great way to greet the day.
I didn’t have much food, but I’d brought my stove and french press along for coffee. As I stated earlier, I tried to just pack the essentials. 🙂
I had some time to chat with Juca about the area. He was born here, moved away, but has now returned. His passion for the Pantanal was evident. Even as we chatted, his ears would perk up, and he’d point to the sky to show me parrots and other birds. A couple of parrots:
Though I only had about a half hour of interaction with him, I feel like we became good friends. I hope I get to visit him again.
I decided against taking a boat tour down the river, as the price was a bit steep. This is probably the best way to ensure that you get to see a jaguar. Next trip.
I decided to remove Sonic for the ride home. He’s been shedding some of the qwik-steel housing that keep his bearings in place. Despite his protests, I felt it was in his best interest to ride back in the frunk.
Early morning is the best time to drive the Trans Pantanal highway. The odds of seeing some of the more scarce creatures, such as jaguars and anacondas, are increased. I was a little more delayed than I would have liked, not leaving town until around 8am.
Minutes after departure, one of the bars of my fuel gauge disappeared. This let me know that I was getting poor economy on this tank of gas. I thought about returning to Porto Jofre to try to buy a liter or two somewhere, but just decided to be more conservative with my throttle.
Knowing that I had all day, I stopped even more often for pictures.
I didn’t pay to take the boat ride, but one experience for which I would gladly dole out my dollars would be to join the bridge maintenance crew for one of their days. I imagine their morning pep-talk goes something like this:
“OK. Good morning, everybody. Today we’re going to focus on bridges 104 and 93. Our budget for the day is 12 planks and 42 nails. It’s now been four days since a tourist was eaten by a jacare, so let’s see if we can make that five! Vamos!”
During the rainy season, this road can be nearly impassible. There were some deep ruts that helped me imagine what that must be like.
I’d seen so many jacares, but was yet to get really close to one. I decided to try to sneak up behind a pack of them that were close to the road. All but one of them jumped into the water when they first sensed my presence. But one stayed frozen like a statue.
This jacare was either very brave, very hard of hearing, or very curious about what gringo tasted like. I probably got closer than I should have before finally conceding defeat in the game of chicken.
Though I don’t think a jacare would ever consider a human a source of food, one may become sufficiently annoyed to take a snap at one. Additionally, these animals are very quick. They can pivot around in an instant. A day may come when I wrestle an alligator, but that day was not today.
I rolled away feeling like I was quite a brave mammal, having ventured so close to a dangerous reptile. But a couple of bridges later, I saw a furry friend whose valor put mine to shame.
Yes, this is a capybara just chilling on an island with a bunch of jacare. This sight elicited a deep belly laugh from me. There was just something about the look on the capybara’s face.
Operation Undercover Rodent, Day 12 of mission:
Having sufficiently demonstrated my ability to swim and to sit motionless in the sun for hours on end, the jacare now accept me as one of their own. They haven given me the name “short tail” and have begun to speak more freely about their plans for the rainy season. I should be able to devise a method for full infiltration within a fortnight. I have overheard some chatter, expressing doubts about my vegetarian diet. Some in the pack are becoming suspicious….
It was so interesting how still all of the jacare would sit. Though there would sometimes be dozens of them around one pond. It was a rare sight to see any of them moving. They could be replaced with props and no one would know the difference.
I had a fortunate find at one of my picture stops. A license plate from the state of Goias. Finally, I can stop looking like such a foreigner. Many Americans can’t place Nebraska on a map. Brazilians have no chance.
Dang kids playing in the street:
I made it back to Pocone with plenty of fuel to spare and had an easy ride back to Cuiaba.
This was such an interesting experience, one of my highlights of Central Brazil. Though I didn’t get to see a jaguar, the amount of wildlife was well worth the ride. Thanks for coming along!
Stay undercover, everybody
Realtime update: September 11th is always a day that connects vividly with memories. One year ago this evening, I was sleeping in a school bus in Schefferville, Quebec (Post here). It’s crazy to think of everything that’s happened since then.
I’m still in Cusco, still feeling a little frustrated by my lack of good shipping options. At this point, I’m ready to give up on Lima, having not heard back from any of the companies there. It appears that flying the bike from Bogota, Columbia to Miami, Florida is the most likely way for us to return. The best quote I’ve gotten is $1,700 though. Ouch. Either way, I need to get moving, so I will be back on the road tomorrow.