Brazil 4 -Cuiaba to Porto Velho, Rio Branco and the border with Peru.

30th May – In Cuiaba, our hotel price of 159 real (approx. £53) includes another amazing breakfast.  We leave on deserted roads and guess it must be a holiday.  We are right, but fortunately the well-stocked supermarket is open and we find a car wash for Moby, covered in 2 weeks of red dust from the Pantanal.

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Ahead of us are the brooding mountains of the Serra das Araras, topped with cloud on this overcast day.  At Caceres we find a garage to park for the night in a secluded area behind the car wash.  The garage, shop/cafe and toilets, all close at 11pm so we are on our own for the night.

31st May – Woken at 4am by the lorry next to us being driven away and again at 6am when everyone arrives to open up the garage.  It’s not long before we have a line of cars in front of us waiting for a car wash.

Porto Velho is just over 1200km northwest from Caceres, so it will be a long drive and we don’t imagine the scenery will change much from Fazendas (ranches) on either side of the straight, tarmac road which is stretching way ahead into the distance.  The weather is sunny but cooler, which is making for a more comfortable journey.  At Nova La Cerde, we pull in at a gas station and meet Nezziany who comes out from the restaurant to discover where we were from and to talk about our journey.  We wish her luck in her entrance exam for University next week.  With such a confident and lovely personality, plus her excellent English, we are sure she will do well.

A line of blue/grey hills to our left marks the boundary with Bolivia and at this present time, we must be driving parallel to the remote Noel Kempff Nacional Parque.  We both would  loved to have visited this park in Bolivia, but had recently read on the internet, that everything in it has been closed down due to lack of visitors.

When we reach Comodoro, we decide to stay for the night but the garage there is not suitable for parking and putting up our tent.  However, there is a little hotel with a gated, parking area for only 70 real.  We take a downstairs room with a fan and Moby is parked right outside our door.

1st June – Another new month…..time is going so fast!  Arriving at Pimenta Bueno, sections of the road begin to be in a very bad state with huge pot holes, causing lorries to swerve all over the road in an effort to avoid them and making overtaking very difficult.  It has been a very long, hot and sticky journey and as we pull in at another garage for the night, lightning is once again lighting up a very stormy looking sky.  We squeeze in between 2 lorries that don’t look as if they are going anywhere and discover hot showers, good ablution blocks and the usual hot, buffet eating places for the truckers which always serve up excellent food.  Tonight however, I have vegetables and some chicken that need to be used.  I discover that the chicken has unfortunately gone off, so it is a vegetable stew without the meat!

2nd June – Although it is Sunday, lorries begin revving up around 5am.  We move into the shade and don’t hurry. By 9am there is an open-air church service taking place on the opposite side of the road from us.  This has to compete however, with huge lorries rumbling up the hill, whistles being blown and fire crackers going off.  We can’t decide whether the latter are all part of the service, or just somebody showing lack of respect.  Neither the priest or the crowd however, appeared phased by all the noise!  This morning Bill says we must look like gypsies, with some of our belongings out on the yard, the kelly kettle going for tea and washing drying over the bull bar, but I think the word ‘travellers’ is more appropriate and the Brazilians certainly don’t seem to care….they only seem to be amazed at our travelling, perhaps because distances are so huge here and more difficult. Perhaps on the east coast it is different, we know they love their beautiful beaches and certainly know how to party!

It’s 30 in the shade when we set off, still approx. 300km to Porto Velho and another daunting 850km to Rio Branco.  We are driving through an attractive area now, incredibly green with plenty of papaya, banana and palm trees, lush grazing for the cattle and tall trees covered in pink blossom.  Still a very busy road however, with only 1 lane in each direction and plenty of massive lorries.  35 in the shade when we stop for lunch at a gas station and try to find shelter under some trees, along with all the other lorries… is impossible to stand out in the sun.  These huge gas stations which cater for just about everything as well as fuel, are real life-savers and speaking to other travellers, we are all in unison.

Enormous ares of water at Itapua do Oeste, as smooth as glass and reflecting like a mirror, the blue sky and clouds. Dead and very straight trunks of palm trees stand submerged in the water, casting shadows…all very spectacular but no place to stop for photos and there is a line of traffic behind us.

Arriving finally at Porto Velho, finding a gas station that has room for us to park for the night, is proving very difficult.  There are so many lorries that they are spread before and beyond the stations.  We finally find one where we can squeeze in amongst the rows and rows of parked vehicles.

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There is 1 hot shower in the ‘ladies’, it’s surprising how many women accompany the truckers, although their habits  leave a lot to be desired in the loos.  Surely it doesn’t take much effort to flush a toilet!  After dark there are girls hanging around chatting to the truckers.  We presume they are prostitutes as prostitution is legal in Brasil and we have passed a number of small hotels for this purpose, with names such as ‘Love Hotel’, ‘Kiss Hotel’, ‘Sex Time Motel’ and ‘Good Time Hotel’!  The two trucks either side of us are only cabs without their loads. However at about 11.30pm, the one on our left decides to run his engine.  The  massive exhaust barely 2m from our vehicle, is belching out hot, poisonous fumes into our tent, the air brakes exploding into hissing!  I wait about 10 unbearable minutes and finally get out of bed and bang on his door.  A head appears at the window of his sleeping compartment but I doubt whether he can hear me shouting, as the engine and air brakes drown out everything.  After a few seconds, he winds down the window whilst I hold my nose, wave my arms and shout that he’s poisoning us.  He gets the message and turns off the engine, but the smell in our tent is horrible and we decide to move as he will be doing the same again in the morning.  Bill walks round the lorries with a torch trying to find another space for us and is successful and we have a peaceful night.

3rd June – Going for a shower in the morning, a girl is groaning and throwing up in one of the two toilets, so I just don’t fancy one.  Who said these garages are life-savers?  Well I did of course and they are, but this has been the first unpleasant one!  We leave early and drive into Porto Velho where we locate the river and passenger boats that go to Manaus.

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A guy rushes over to see if we want to buy tickets from him.  His price begins at 1200reals but gradually comes right down to 800 for the balsa (barge) which is what we need, as it takes both cargo and vehicles, probably very similar to the barge journey that we had across Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt.  The journey would take 3/4 days, meals would be eaten in the boat pulling the barge and we could probably sleep inside our roof tent.  We are taken to see the barge which is leaving in 2 days time and presently having cargo unloaded.  Wanoel gives us his card but looks disappointed that he hasn’t got a booking from us.  However we are only investigating at present but have now got an idea of the price and seen the barges.  We find the road that would take us in the direction of Manaus and which first requires a ferry across the Rio Madeira.  We are sure however, that it is still too early to attempt this journey as there are many rivers to be crossed and there has been a lot of unseasonal, heavy rain just lately.

And so our next destination is to the west on Ruta 364 to Rio Branco which will eventually take us to the border with Peru.  Everywhere continues to be very green, dense trees and many different but very beautiful types of palm give a tropical feel, but then we are running parallel now to the Amazonian region.

At Abuna it is necessary to take a ferry across the Rio Madeira (the largest of the 2 rivers) and the Rio Abuna.

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Shortly after Abuna we find the perfect gas station to stop at with a huge, red-dirt area for parking with only two trucks and a really clean shower and toilet block.  Moby gets an oil change whilst I do the washing.  The separate restaurant serves food from 7pm and when we arrive, the whole family seem to be working including a young girl and boy who are delightful and so polite and helpful.  The girl is enjoying practising her English which she learns at school.  As we sit waiting for our meal however, the weather rapidly begins to change for the worst with thunder and lightning and a vicious wind.  Just as the little boy brings us our food, the rain begins and I have to run into the kitchen and ask the mother (in English), if she could keep our food hot whilst we get my washing in. She looks totally amazed.  I think  she must have thought that I was complaining about the food and running off, but when we return, the little boy has removed both our dishes and put covers on them.  The rain comes down in buckets and because the restaurant is open to the elements at the sides, the family have to move our table 3 times before we are out of the wind and rain!  We then have a power cut but not for too long fortunately, as this popular little restaurant is filling with more customers.  When we ask if there is coffee, the answer is no but then the girl comes to tell us that they will make some for us and a glass jug full of coffee is soon on our table.  I must say, that although not normally being a coffee person, I am finding the coffee in Brasil really good, and this plus a dolce de leche fudge bar, is a delicious way to end a meal!  We have to pick our way through the red mud and puddles to revel in a cold shower….never thought I would hear myself saying that!  Another power cut in the middle of it – (thank goodness for head torches) but we have a peaceful night with parrots roosting in the surrounding trees…..very different to last night!

4th June – Much cooler after the rain as we continue our long drive to Rio Branco.

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We’re hoping to find another good gas station on the outskirts of this town to stay tonight but are disappointed to find that all of them seem to be located closer to the town centre and therefore have little in the way of parking space.  So now we are caught up in the hectic traffic and a hotel is not easy to find without signs on the tops of their buildings.  It will be just luck if we happen to turn down a road that has a decent hotel in it.  A guy pulls up alongside us at traffic lights and asks where we are from.  We just have time to ask him about a hotel before the lights turn green and he waves us to turn left.  The hotel is OK but more importantly, they have a large garage across the road with big metal, sliding doors that lock.

5th June – Another long, hot and sticky day driving to Brasileia.

6th June – Approx. 110km to the border with Peru at Inapari in the Madre de Dios region.  On the Brazilian side it is easy.  Such a nice guy from Forteleza  in the Aduana’s office is enjoying practising his English with us and explains, that as from May 27th, to make things easier for tourists, no exit or entry papers for the vehicle are required for Brasil.  When I ask him if we would be asked for these papers at a police check, should we return to Brasil, he assures us that all the police and military, know of this new regulation.  This is all good news, as anything to make going through a border quicker, is always welcome.  We continue to the border with Peru in another unseasonal downpour.

We are sorry to be leaving Brasil but if we are unable to go to Manaus yet, then our destination lies toward Peru.  We would love to return at a later date but will have to see where our journey takes us.  Brasil has been such an easy country to travel through, with such friendly, helpful and welcoming people and no hassle from the police.  We have found it very similar in many ways to travelling through Africa and we have not found any other overland traveller yet who speaks with anything but great enthusiasm for this huge country and its people.

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