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!!