This is a strange post. It details my continued adventure in the Brazilian state of Rondonia. There is also discussions of hooves and flags, I win a prize, Annie gets more famous and we have a legitimate challenger to our trunk size.
I’m going to start the post with an apology. As I sit here contemplating which keystrokes come next, I can feel a pent up torrent of words ready to break free. As always, feel free to skip ahead, but I feel like I need to write the following paragraphs; more so for me than for anyone else. When you see Barney, you know it is safe to return.
You know that song that musical artists always seem write? You know, the one about how hard it is to be rich and famous and play for throngs of adoring fans every night? It still surprises me that record companies allow these compositions to be published. The casual listener just rolls their eyes, presses the skip button and silently wishes for some of the same “problems” of which the artist sings. The appearance of this song usually marks a negative turning point in an artist’s career, signalling that the fire which propelled them to notoriety has mostly faded.
I wrote the preceding paragraph to keep myself from writing my own paragraph about why what I’m doing is such a difficult task. Doing so would surely signal a reduction in the caliber of this quality publication. 🙂 I know that very few people can empathize with the difficulty in both living and recording an adventure so thoroughly, so any complaints I might have would largely fall on deaf ears.
All that said, the days discussed in this post were difficult ones for me. Great things kept happening, but I was having a hard time enjoying myself. I was feeling helplessly behind in my writing which always causes me stress. If I don’t get things written down in a timely fashion, the memories, for which I’ve sacrificed so much to obtain, begin to fade away. I consider these valuable losses.
OK! What a great intro! Let’s move along to the next episode of “Everything is great but this guy complains!”
Friday, August 24th (cont.)
When we left off last time, Pescador, the Brazilian with whom I had been travelling for the previous two days, and I had just reached the city of Cacoal in the state of Rondonia.
I was still in “follow mode” as Pescador had arranged a place for us to stay for the night. We weren’t sure where it was, so Pescador used his Brazilian GPS:
Soon, we were met at a gas station by a guy named Gilberto. We followed him to his house.
Let me see if I can explain who this guy is… He is the administrator of a WhatsApp group that engages daily in a non-stop dialogue about motorcycles. There are hundreds of members from a number of countries. This group also functions as a source of hospitality, providing lodging to each other when they travel. Cool stuff.
Gilberto has a “pubzinho” (little pub) in his house which was quite impressive.
He even took requests:
His place is decorated with lots of little keepsakes from other travelers.
He took us on a ride around the town in his truck and we made a number of stops.
I’ve had lots of people in the last three countries I’ve visited (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil) claim with strong conviction that they have the best beef in the world. I usually just smile and nod. I’m not one to engage in needless arguments, nor do I have the budget to send Omaha Steaks to all of them.
We picked up one of Gilberto’s friends, Rafael. He spoke really good English and was excited to use it as he said he hadn’t practiced in a couple of years.
We went to a really nice park on the edge of town called the Cacoal Selva (Jungle) Park. It had just about everything.
We returned back to Gilberto’s place in the evening. Suddenly, the house was silent. I had already acquired the wifi password. “Oh my gosh…this is it…I can work!” As I victoriously drew my laptop from my backpack, like a sword from a sheath, Pescador came into the room and said, “Aren’t you going to shower? We’re going to be late for the party!”
I don’t think I’d ever felt so disappointed to go to a party. 🙂
Obviously our planned activity, the birthday party of a friend, had been discussed, but I often times just zone out when other Brazilians are talking to each other. With my low level of Portuguese, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to try to follow these conversations.
It was a really nice evening, with lots of good food and nice people.
I even got behind the mic for a few songs. I spent most of the evening wondering why my attitude was so poor.
Saturday, August 25th
I woke up not feeling very well, having more pain in my stomach.
Both Pescador and Gilberto had been working to convince me to come to a motorcycle rally in another town in Rondonia. I tried to explain to Pescador how I was feeling about being behind in my work and needing to devote some time to my writing. He reasoned, “Well if you come to the rally, that will give you more things to write about.” I obviously didn’t have enough Portuguese to explain how I felt. 🙂
I decided it would be borderline disrespectful to not attend, considering the wonderful hospitality that I was given. I packed everything up, including my bad attitude, and hit the road for Machadinho d’Oeste.
Gilberto liked to ride quite a bit faster than I prefer, so the ride there was frustrating. Additionally, I was starting to feel even weaker physically. When we reached the turn off to go to Machadinho, I actually thought about just riding straight ahead to Porto Velho instead. That was honestly what I wanted to do.
We reached the rally around noon. Annie and I became popular attractions right away.
There was every sort of bike imaginable in attendance.
Part of me wishes I could go back in time and relive this day. I should have had a great time, but my mix of mental and physical issues made it hard for me to truly enjoy myself. I guess I need to have at least a handful of regrets when this trip concludes.
At one point I found myself being led over to one of the tents to accept a sort of award.
I was awarded the prize for having the whitest ankles in attendance. I’ve worked really hard for this, so it was nice to be recognized. (Actually, these were given to the “Presidents” of all the moto clubs in attendance. I made it perfectly clear that I don’t have a club, but they really wanted to give me one.)
Annie was the only foreign bike in attendance. I usually tried to sit in a spot where I could see her. If I would have charged $5 for each photo, I might have enough to cover our homeward shipping expenses.
Perhaps the only thing that Brazilians love more than Samba is stickers. I’m running low on exterior space, so I’ve had to start using the trunk lid.
After about ten days on his trip, Pescador had already gone through 150 of his club stickers. 🙂
People were so friendly, so impressed with my trip and so complimentary of my Portuguese. I really want to write a whole post on Portuguese, as it is such a wild and incredible language; but I don’t know if I will have time. In lieu of that, let me share at least a couple of Portuguese anecdotes.
My first day in Brazil, I learned an expression that was vital for explaining how I am financially able to take this trip: “Mão de vaca.” This literally means “cow hand.” It is the Portuguese equivalent of “penny-pincher.” I didn’t understand the phrase at first, but then I realized how hard it would be to open up a cow’s “hand” to remove money from it. This phrase is absolutely genius.
In Brazil, I also got possibly the best nickname bestowed upon me during my whole trip. It came from Farelo and Guidini, the bikers from the state of Parana, as we were travelling together. The word for box in Portuguese is “caixa”, pronounced like “casha”. Because of my enormous boxes and due to the most famous singer of my theme song, I became “Johnny Caixa.”
We stayed into the evening before we went to our hotel. Gilberto and his wife Estella signed before we parted.
Sunday, August 26th
There were lots of bikes at our hotel.
Including a fellow NC700X. I’ve seen more NC’s in Brazil than the other 17 countries on my trip combined. Maybe Brazilians are some of the few people who actually “get” this bike.
My stomach was feeling a lot better than the previous day and I even ate some of the hotel breakfast. We began the route towards Porto Velho:
(We took the longer route through Jaru)
There were obviously tons of bikes on the road from those who had attended the rally. Pescador and I got passed like we were standing still a few times. The road was pretty rough, making it unpredictable especially in the corners. Unfortunately, there were actually two crashes this morning. 😦
BR-364 was fairly rough in spots, but they were working on it.
Half grated, half-paved:
Along our route, we met a pack of other riders and Pescador frantically waved them down. Apparently he knew one of them. We had our own little rally by the side of the road.
I’ve seen very few Kawasaki KLR650s in South America. This one was equipped with not one, but two shovels.
Lots of wetlands:
Dear US Politicians: All you need to secure my vote is a picture of you riding a bull:
Entering Porto Velho:
We were greeted at the edge of town by a guy named Amarildo, a member of the Adventist Motorcycle Ministry. This is a club that engages in all sorts of shady activities, such as going to church on Saturdays. Rebels!
Though we were low on daylight, he showed us around a little bit. The most important feature of Porto Velho (“Old Port”) is the Madeira River. Never heard of it? It’s actually the fifth largest river in the world in terms of volume of discharge. It has nearly twice the average volume of the Mississippi. It flows north, eventually meeting the Amazon close to Manaus. For centuries, this river has been a vital shipping lane from Brazil’s interior.
Some of the old shipping warehouses along the shore have been converted to house little shops.
Amarildo treated us to supper.
We retired to the apartment of another member of the Adventist club, Cristiano. Picture from later:
Cristiano had a bike that I was really happy to see. A Honda Shadow, or as it’s known in the US: “The bike people buy when they find out how much Harleys cost.” I don’t think I’d seen one since I left the US.
It was already late by the time we got in, so I didn’t get a chance to do any work. However, by this point I was kind of resigned to my fate that I was going to end up being really far behind and that I would just need to stop for awhile once I was through Brazil. Feeling a bit better physically helped my mood too.
Monday, August 27th
Pescador was eager to continue west, but I wanted to go north a bit into the state of Amazonas. It wasn’t hard to convince him to join me. We decided to take a little ride up to Humaita.
I can’t really explain why, but I really wanted to see the state of Amazonas. This state represents a truly massive area.
If this state was its own country, it would be the third largest in South America, only behind Brazil and Argentina. It is nearly the same size as Alaska. For you Europeans, it is more than four times the size of Germany. Have I mentioned that South America is huge recently?
We got an early start and crossed over the Madeira River right at sunrise.
A river barge, with semi-truck for scale:
It was a beautiful day for a ride. The weather was perfect, the surface was great and there were hardly any trucks on this route.
About halfway into our ride, we were into the state of Amazonas.
The scenery got progressively more jungle-y.
We reached Humaita and stopped for lunch. Despite it’s isolated location, it seemed to be a vibrant little town. It, too, is on the Madiera River.
A part of me really wanted to keep going north, to the capital of Amazonas, Manaus:
I first became interested in this city after the US had the misfortune of playing a World Cup game there in 2014. The road to get there is really tough, nearly impassible during most of the year. A fellow rider who posts on the website ADVrider made it there in June, albeit with a few issues.
HERE IS THE LINK to his story. It’s a really good read.
Locals had told me that the road was actually pretty good right now, as we were right at the end of dry season. Even with Annie’s weight, I think we could have made it. Alas, I just didn’t have time. Next trip.
We stopped by an açai berry farm:
Portuguese is hard:
Back over the river, into Porto Velho:
We met up with Cristiano for a bite to eat. There were some interesting bikes parked around.
I didn’t have a tape measure handy, but I think the guy below had me beat in trunk size. You can’t win them all.
There were cheap boat trips that went out on the river each evening so we went to inquire.
On the way there, Pescador noticed that Annie had shed a very important piece of equipment. The nuts/plate that keep the rear wheel in place. I have no idea how that shook loose, especially since we were on smooth roads all day.
It’s supposed to look like this.
Cristiano led us around to various shops to see if we could resolve the issue. The third one had a plate that was not exact, but that was big enough. I rolled Annie into the shop and instinctively grabbed my tool pouch and started working to pull off the nuts so that we would have something to compare. My friends alerted me to the fact that the mechanic was standing behind me, rather sheepishly, ready to get to work. I guess I’m just not used to leaving Annie in the hands of strangers. 🙂
They did a really good job, other than tightening the rear axle WAY too much. I almost broke my socket wrench during the next adjustment. Total damages were about $3.
We headed back to the river, only to find out that we had missed the boat by about 10 minutes. Instead, we had a calm evening back at Cristiano’s place.
He asked if I wanted a patch of the Rondonia flag. He cut the one off of his own jacket and gave it to me. It’s a real keepsake.
The flags of the states of Brazil are absolutely wonderful. Here is a sampling from Pescador’s riding vest:
I’m especially fond of the flag of Bahia, as it has great initials (“BA”) and is sort of similar to the American flag. Most of the flags for states in the US are either bland, overly-complex, or are a complete train-wreck (I’m looking at you, Maryland). Arizona and Colorado are definitely the best.
Let’s see…we begin with some depressing, existential drivel and end with some vexillology. That seems like a pretty standard post for me. 🙂 Maybe having an erratic, jumpy narrative is the most accurate way to describe these days. Though the road felt like it was getting harder for me, I had to still be cognizant of the beautiful sights and incredible people which were perpetually surrounding me.
Keep flowing, everybody
Realtime update: Wow. I guess I forgot how to travel and document at the same time. Even after my layover in Cusco, I find myself a long way behind once again. I’m currently in the coastal city of Trujillo, in northern Peru.
Attentive readers of this quality publication will note that my location means I have made an important decision: I will not be shipping home from Lima. I will be riding up to Colombia. This is going to be a better use of my time and money. I’ll detail this decision more thoroughly in the future. I’m a little concerned about the wear on my chain and rear tire, but we only have about 1,500 miles to Bogota. Who’s with me!