Monday, November 26, 2012


An old tiled building in Sao Luis

The lovely old church - nearly in ruins at Alacantra - note the whipping post in front. Here the slaves were whipped!

The very rare ibis - pity about the photo

Shower time on the barge - truckie style

Watching the river views

A barge load of timber

One of the many tiny native villages on the river

Children out in their canoes - the river is their playground

Another barge full of trucks

The locals come out to meet us

More village scenery! As you can image I took lots of photos!!

We have visitors

Not sure what they are collecting - maybe the bamboo shoot thingys we bought

A lovely wooden boat being built in one of the villages

We have finally arrived - not too far from Macapa

Us at Monumento Marka Zero - second time we have driven across the equator

A great camp spot - swim included

Fantastic - a tarsealed road

Oh no!! Roadworks

Life on the riverways

We met this little fellow crossing the road. Such a funny little uncoordinated thing

Who can resist such an adorable little face like this - our first sloth

We crossed 32 of these bridges. There is an old one on the other side, and an even older one this side - in the water

The red dirt road - no rain! We are told that in the wet it gets closed quite frequently

At the end of the road a bridge to French Guyana - it has been finished for a year but is still not open! Crazy crazy place!!


Our next port of call is Sao Luis, a huge city of over 1 million people sitting a massive bay. We arrive bright and early on Sunday morning. The old town is deserted and looks like it is crumbling away. Probably better to see it busy, but at the moment it looks like a dump with some pretty Portuguese tiles on some of the buildings. The only busy place is the lovely Cathedral which is filling up with people for the morning service.  We don’t stay long. There is a ferry across the bay to another old tiled town – Alcantara. It is much prettier, but goodness knows where all the people are hiding on Sundays. We overnight beside a pousada down near the mangroves, even using their Wi-Fi. The next morning we are up bright & early walking on the beach and mudflats, when we catch a glimpse of the extremely rare Scarlet Ibis/Gurana. By the time we get the tripod set up they have flown away. Again we use Wi-Fi until it drops out completely. No more internet & no more Ibis…The other reason we have stopped here is to see if we can look at Brazil’s Space Station. We drive to the entrance, but the guys with the big guns say no way so we move on back to the main road north on our long haul to Belem a  city of about 2 million sitting near the mouth of the Amazon River.

We decide to head right into the city to the info centre to find out about barges to Macapa on the other side of the Amazon Delta. Our GPS isn’t a lot of use as the map cuts out in the middle of Belem!! So we are following signs. Nearly into town we see a port area. I go to investigate. The very helpful guard googles info about barges/balsas and rings an agent, who comes to the port. Before you know it we are booked onto a balsa departing the next day (Wednesday) at 6pm and arriving in Macapa nearly 500 kms away on Friday at 10am. Enough time to get an oil change done and tyres regrooved. We even camp for the night inside the Silnave shipping compound. A nice secure spot with 2 guards, 6 dogs & a high fence. Even a waterfront view and Wi-Fi when the office opens.

We have been promised a spot at the front of the balsa, but at loading time they want us practically right in the middle of all the trucks. John has a verbal encounter with the guard (my hero) and we get back off the balsa until the rest are loaded, leaving us at the front. The balsa is very full- with 7 trucks across – a total of 28. We leave on sunset & sit on our deck chairs watching the water and trying to chat to the truckies, except we are the only ones who speak English. Our biggest worry is the trucks beside us running their generators full bore. Fortunately they turn them off at 10pm and back on at 6am.

By the morning we have reached the islands where we weave through a maze of rivers. It is great to just sit and watch the very basic villages & river traffic glide by. We are surprised at the number of children who paddle out to our barge in their tiny canoes.  Others even tie up to the moving barge & come aboard to sell their prawns or produce. The truckies throw them packets of crackers. We even get fed surprisingly good meals of beans/meat/rice/noodles/fresh fruit. When we wake the next morning we are in the Rio Amazona proper. It looks like a massive brown lake. As we cross we can see Macapa & think we are arriving early. But no we continue up another river, and then have to wait for the tide to come in more before we can disembark. What an adventure!

A quick explore of Macapa’s fort & Monumento Do Marco Zero on the equator (GPS reading N 0000000) and we start heading to the border of French Guiana. We have heard a lot of scary stuff about this road & John is very concerned that if it rains it will turn into a quagmire and become impassable. There is a long stretch of nearly new tarseal, then roadworks. No signs, no directions, we have to navigate through the actual roadworks. There is very little other traffic. Then onto the red dirt road. (Fortunately dry) through some gorgeous Amazonian forest, passing heaps of Indigenous villages.

Our highlight for the day was seeing a sloth crossing the road. What a very cute, clumsy little animal. We were very tempted to pick him up, but he had some very long claws. His fur was incredibly soft. What a privilege.

After 100km of red dirt road & 32 rickety wooden bridges we reach tarseal again. At this point it chooses to rain – heavy rain. What great timing. Only 50km to Oipaque – a very scruffy border town. There are signs pointing to Francesca – we follow these to a huge bridge. They are working on the access road & it looks usable. In fact a guy in Belem told us it had just opened. But there are no border controls here and we need to check out of Brazil. So we proceed back to town to find the police. Eventually our passports are stamped, but we have to go to the other police to hand in GR2’s paperwork. We are told that the bridge is definitely NOT open. On our way we see a petrol station & decide to fill up (who can resist getting cheaper fuel), so by the time we find the police they are closed. Bummer. Perhaps we should wing it. So we go to find the balsa. We find the balsa….but it is now about 5pm on Saturday & he doesn’t want to do it so late. Then of course on Sunday they are closed. Who thought it would be so hard to get out of a country! We now have 2 nights in this God forsaken hole! We remember a swimming pool place on the river out of town. So we spend 2 nights there……it really is hard filling in time. Do housework, this blog (but there is no Wi-Fi – better in the next country). The local family adopt us & take us to town and out to dinner at a Pizza restaurant (most appreciated).

We have made a tongue in cheek list of things we will remember about our time in Brazil in descending order:

4/ The Love Motels outside every town that charge by 1 or 2 hours.

3/ The snooker tables in every little bar in every town.

2/ The hundreds of massive boom boxes in restaurants, on cars, even on motorbikes & push bikes. All going full bore of course.

1/ Top of the list. The many millions of speed bumps that bring all the traffic through towns to nearly a standstill and cause numerous nose to tails.

Tomorrow: French Guyana. We hope!!



Loggerhead turtle at Praia do Forte

Squatter accommodation beside the cane fields

Inside the lovely church at Penedon

The locals are out in force on the holiday

More local suburbs - steps all the way - no cars

The pretty town of Olinda - Recife in the distance

The red cliffs at Canoa Quebrada

John helping to launch a boat

The lovely beach  we camped at

Being led in by a tour guide

Boom boxes going full bore

Which way do we go

On the dunes


Help is at hand!!! YAY!!


There is even lovelier coastline north of Salvador. We pull in for the night at Praia do Forte. I wanted to see the turtle sanctuary, but it has become a “turtle theme park” with not too much emphasis on saving turtles. The whole beach area has become an upmarket resort area. We overnight in this the carpark, but it’s not really the best spot as it is a 4 day holiday & very noisy. As we continue north we turn off the main road again to ferry across the Rio Sao Francisco to Penelo. A surprisingly lovely old town on the riverfront. The church is particularly exquisite. Here escaping slaves could hide behind panels in the church walls.

Another Overlander has given us directions to some great beaches & recommended camp spots. The first place we try is packed with locals – they come by the busload with their food & boom boxes! It’s a pity about all the rubbish they leave behind. Finally we find a spot at Lagoa do Pac – perfect. No people, just miles of beach.

Continuing our drive we are now passing lots of sugar cane, right up & down hillsides. I am wondering how it can be harvested, when we see lots of workers cottages & cane being harvested by hand.

Our next port of call is the old town of Olinda that is located practically inside the more modern city of Recife. It takes a while to navigate as Recife is made up of lots of waterways & islands, but it is worth it. Olinda is a pretty colonial town – whicn we spend a few hours checking out. The  best thing is the free elevator at the top of the hill giving magic views. Although perhaps the very best thing was lunch at a Creperia. Anyway time to move on, finding our favorite kind of petrol station – quiet & with Wi-Fi.

Lots of driving today passing Joao Pessoa, Natal & Mossoro (a wealthy mining town with lots of oil wells). Finally we reach Canoa Quebrada where we plan to camp. It’s a pretty place with red canyons dropping into the surf. There are lots of kite boarding places & heaps of local boats called jangadas .Flat bottom boats sailed by  1 to 4 guys. In the morning we watch a few heading out through the surf. We continue hugging the coast, exploring lots of beaches & villages. There are some great spots with big dunes & lots of buggy’s. No time for a ride – we are heading to the city of Fortaleza to find internet as we have a propery settling in a couple of days. (Moral of this story – don’t drive into a city for internet) The place we set on the GPS was no longer there so we went into a hotel. They don’t have Wi-Fi so we use their computer – useless as there is no writing left on most of the keyboard. Very frustrating! So we head out of town to my chosen destination of Praia Lagoinha – gorgeous spot. We camp right between the hotel & the beach, and guess what – we use their Wi-Fi and eat in their restaurant. The wifi was good but the food disappointing to say the least. The next morning we wile away a few hours watching boats head out to sea & swimming. As the beach fills up (remember it is still holidays) we head to our next destination – Jericoacoara (one of the top pic’s in the Lonely Planet) As we get closer we are waved down by locals saying we must have a guide to get into the “dunas”. We figure there must be another road so we ask the police – no we need a guide to go in the vehicle. We negotiate one to lead us on his motorbike. The first section is very corrugated, the next on beach & amongst the dunes. All very easy, but there are lots of tracks. We camp between the sunset dune & the beach. It’s a very popular place with kite boarders & windsurfers. In the morning there are no guides waiting to take us out, so we head off. Surely it can’t be too hard. End up on a different track past more dunes. See lots of oncoming local 4x4’s full of locals, so continue. The track eventually narrows down & oh my there are lots of low overhanging trees. No choice but to ease GR2 through with lots of scraping noises! Not good at all!!

Back onto the main road & continue north on to Luis Correia with its very modern subdivisions right on the beach, and then the city of Parnaiba. Here there is a National Park of wetlands & mangroves. We don’t go on the usual tourist boat trip – but drive through the inland roads finding yet another disgusting road with lots of sandholes. It takes us so much extra time we arrive at Tutoia at dusk, so head straight to the Praia/beach to find a spot. As the town ends right on the beach it doesn’t look too great, but a local Pousada owner lets us camp in her back yard. We eat at her restaurant.

Head off bright & early to our next destination (another Lonely Planet top pic) – Parque Nacional Dos Lencois Maranhenses. There are no roads into it – only escorted tours, but apparently there are similar dunes after Paulino Neves. Then there is a gap in the road of 30km to the next town of Barreirinhas. Apparently a 4x4 can drive it. The supposedly dirt road to Paulino Neves was new seal. Looking good. So we feel confident tackling the 30km of sand. We head off on a maze of sandy track with no other traffic in sight. A bit unnerving. It gets softer & sandier- the track looks as if it goes right into the dunes. Phew! At last we see an oncoming 4x4 tourist vehicle, and we follow their tracks. The dunes are absolutely gorgeous & the lovely pools of water have sadly dried up – but it is still magical) At this point we should have turned around & gone back, but we didn’t know how soft the sand was going to get. The track continued another 15km through thatched villages. The road got softer & softer, especially as the day got hotter and hotter. If it wasn’t for overhanging branches we could have kept up enough speed. I had to walk ahead to check out tracks, & when John stopped to pick me up GR2 dug herself in. For the next very hot hour we dug her out. Our mactracs proved useless. The sand is very fine, hot & slippery. A local guy helps us use coconut fronds. Finally out, but up the hill we are stuck again. This time it is a tractor to the rescue. YAY! We follow him out the final 8kms, quite a few of these tied to him. We are very, very relieved to see the tarsealed streets of Barreirinhas. John & GR2 have had 10 years taken off their lives! And I have promised to never ever choose back roads again!

As we are leaving town both of us covered in sand & sweat. John comments that he would love a fresh water swim. Before you know it we are crossing a gorgeous river, so we turn back and have a much needed soak.

Coming next: Rio Amazonas.                                                      

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The start of the flooding - very unusual for this time of the year!

Overlooking the city of Victoria in the rain

Fortunately we could just drive through - the little cars were not so lucky

Coffee plantation

Local housing

Miles and miles of white sandy beaches - the Coconut Coast

Local housing running down the hill to Itacare

The lovely beach at Itacare

The narrow wooden boats on all the rivers here

One of the towns we passed through

Boarding the ferry boat

Leaving on our ferry boat

The crumbling city of Salvador

The lift up from the lower town to the upper town - Salvadore

Capriocea dancers and band - very athletic

Salvadores main plaza

Gorgeous old streets in Salvadore

The very enthusiastic drummers - Salvadore

The suburbs at Salvadore