Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Dirt road through the Amazon to Manaus BR 319

After I got my visa, we first traveled from the border of Bolivia to the city of Rio Branco in west Brazil through to Porto Vehlo.  Our intentions here are to prepare ourselves for riding north on the BR 319.  An unmaintained road technically no longer in use through the Amazon to Manaus.  When I think Amazon, I immediately visualize lots of green jungle, water, big bugs, jaguars, and colorful birds.

I can't think of a better way to experience the Amazon properly than by riding a motorcycle through it!

The BR 319 is a road built by the military in the 1970's.  It needed to be built quickly, therefore, they did not do the standard lower base road preparations needed for longevity.  And since the military use has ceased, nobody is or has maintained it since. 

We read some horror stories from other riders who have done this road of broken bridges and super deep mud.  I'm quite worried on one hand, but looking forward to it on the other.  We are on the tail end of the dry season, so I am hoping that mud is currently dry.

In general, I've learned the world is mostly paved.  When you want something difficult, you go looking for it.  This is it.  The road is going to be 700 km from our last fuel stop until we reach Manaus. Our motorcycles have a fuel range closer to 500 km.  How will we carry the extra fuel?  How will we carry the many litres of water we need? I carried this big heavy water purifier for about 1/2 of the world.  Seldom needing it and wanting to reduce weight on the bike, I sent it home about a year ago.  We set off to Humaita, the last town we'll see for a while and to get final supplies.

It took a fair bit of research just to confirm if there was fuel in Humaita!  Some said they don't have it.. some said they do.  We need to know for sure.. or at least I do.  We decided to believe those who said the gas was there, and it was a relief to find it. A brand new gas station.


Now! We figure that we should both carry approximately 12 litres of extra fuel (keeping in mind what is needed, and then some extra "just in case").  We decided to collect used 1.5 litre drink bottles.. ensuring like 4 times that they are completely clean and dry without a lick of water inside.


The attendant is trying to keep track of our fuel on his hand.. I'm so confused!!! ;-)


We didn't purchase any fuel containers but James did buy some rope. The concern from reading other posts is of those old broken wooden bridges.  If we fall through and survive, maybe we can pull each other out.. ??  We both distributed bottles of fuel and water around the bikes.

So.. take a deep breathe.. I hope we've got this right.. let's go!

About 30 km outside of Humaita, we take a right turn on the official road to Manaus.

The old road sign says "Manaus 640 km".



Heck.. this road looks good.. really good!  What's there to worry about.


I had this argument with James many times over the last few days.  It's the dry season now, but the rainy season is due to start any day.  James thinks we can get this road done in 2 days, 3 days tops. "It's only 700 km!" (from our last fuel stop) he'd say.  I always say "I hope so", however from what I've seen and know, this road is continuous hazards. Hazards = SLOW.  I'm positive we won't be riding at any decent speed and if there is anything I don't like, is old broken wooden bridges. Memories of north Siberian bridges very alive in my memory bank. So I think 3-4 days is the best case scenario, hopefully no more. And that's what I've got the water budgeted for.  However, I do like James positive thinking.  I will be more than happy to ride into Manaus with plenty of fuel and water to spare.

Aha, a sign.... the road is being taken over by the bush.  Maybe not a good sign..


Not long on the pavement and James pulls over.  I wonder why he is stopping. His bike died already!! Bugger!  Is it an omen?  He did find an electrical problem by disconnecting "things" from his battery.  There must be a short somewhere, but the bike started after that and we carried on.  Whew!



And then, the nice pavement disappears completely.. on to the dirt!  Woo hoo!


If it looks hot.. it is. Bloody hot!!!



And then this little group of houses shows up. I think, "Hey, a town! So there ARE people out here!"  I had imagined there would be ZERO people on this road. I remember thinking again that maybe this won't be as hard as I anticipated...


Some pavement again.. that is good.  I imagined that every bit of this road is going to be dirt/mud, but it's not the case either.


"As of December 2005, this highway is under reconstruction within a 420 kilometer stretch between Caiero and Humaitá. The complete re-paving work is expected to be finished by 2007, reestablishing the land connection between Manaus and the rest of the country."  This is the information on Wikepedia about the BR319.  If I can give a small update here in my humble blog, the highway is not under reconstruction and it is well past 2007.  It may be fixed up someday, but the people are still arguing about it.  The problem is that there is a lot of illegal logging in the Amazon and a reconstructed road gives them more freedom to do exactly what they are trying to stop... however the few people who do live out here want it fixed just so they can get in and out of their own properties.

I came to learn there would be these little patches of pavement from time to time the entire trip.


The only real complaint we had was the heat.  It's over 40 degrees C (104 F)  And the humidity is set on HIGH.  So even if you can get enough speed to create a breeze, it still feels like we're breathing in air from a hot steam bath.  Add to that my riding hear, leather boots and a helmet.. and I'm overheating in a big way.


The bridges begin.. I've heard there are somewhere between 170 and 190 bridges on this road.. I started off counting them, but lost track at around.. twelve. ;-/


Not sure what the story is with underwear on a stick, but couldn't help to catch a snap as I passed by. The fabric is a cat design of all things. So I decided it's a warning of the jaguars that we could supposedly run into along the way?



We don't stop and check every bridge.  Only if they give us reason to.  This one wasn't horrible, but due to some missing cross boards, it might be worth a check before falling into whatever the Amazon has waiting below.


Always on our toes, decisions to be made. This was the best choice between the two wood planks.  I should probably just ride through the middle.  They look sturdy, but since nothing is ever maintained or checked, I think I have a better chance on the long ones?  A big problem with all the wooden planks, center or not, and more often than not, are the nails sticking right out. Always mindful of tire punctures out here. It's worth stopping and checking for that alone.




Sometimes the road just turns into a freakin' mess.  Every time we are in these patches of bad stuff, I can't help but to be grateful I'm here during the dry season.  It looks like PURE torture to have to ride a motorcycle in the deep mud.. no thanks!


Here's a bridge we can buzz right over.. just beware of the mud pit which is hard to see until right before you get off.


The bridges get worse and worse and worse.  They make me scream. Poor James. Hopefully his ears will recover.  I swear I'm loosing balance or falling over. Such a mental thing. I still to this day of traveling the world on dodgey bridges, have not completely overcome this fear.  And unfortunately for James, and for whatever reason, he chose to show me photos of a rider who did fall through or off a bridge with their motorcycle here a couple years ago.  That probably was not the smartest decision he ever made.. because that's all I can think about now.. falling through!


When I look at these photos now, the bridges look so much easier than when we had to cross them in person. I did not like this bridge.. but I took the photo happy that it's one more successfully out of the way meaning I'm getting closer to the goal.  We are going SO SLOW, and it's beyond hot.  I've never been this overheated anywhere in the world.  So dehydrated trying to keep on track with my water budgets.  Already I screwed that up.  I budgeted for 3 litres per day.  We need 6-8 litres per day minimum. 

I chose this route.  I thought it would be a great experience before I took it, and I know I will be proud if it's successfully finished.  But during the tough bits, I often question why I'm here. Will continue this post in Part 2..

Ciao for now! ;-)

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