Monday, December 31, 2012
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The good news, a new laptop will meet me in Buenos Aires. Another Toshiba , but this time its an ultrabook. It will take some time to rebuild the computer, made harder by doing it on the road with minimal Internet connections to download software. But rebuild I must. Keep watching this blog, I will start posting new stories and pictures.
I arrived in Montevideo last night, after leaving my new favorite country, Brazil. I will miss that country and even more, the people that I met. The only thing I can do is look forward to returning there and having my new friends visit the US.
I will take a quick look at Montevideo this morning, then head to Colonia, a beautiful town to the west and port for the Buenos Aires ferry boat. I am within stricking distance of Argentina! Wahooo!
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Luis is riding a motorcycle with a cheerleader’s megaphone and a flag. He was returning from a performance when he met me. Now we are racing through town and back streets to his apartment. The last bit is negotiating an incline and turn through a gate into a compound of low rise buildings, a tricky maneuver, but one that I would grow. Luis is something of the mayor of the half a dozen apartment blocks. The motorcycles were parked under an open air combination of outdoor kitchen and workshop.
Once my luggage is unloaded I try to start my computer only to find that it won’t come out of “sleep” mode. After going to an Internet café to research the problem, the situation with my laptop does not look good. After a call to Toshiba technical support and trying several possible remedies the news was grim. All fingers pointed to a burned out motherboard. When leaving Andy’s place in Itacaré I set the computer to “hibernate”, but failed to wait for the process to complete before closing the lid. The laptop was configured to go into “sleep” mode when the lid closed. The two processes were in conflict all day while I rode south. Eventually a micro thin piece of metal in the motherboard gave out and the computer like Sleeping Beauty, would not wake up. A suggestion was made to kiss the computer, it worked for Prince Charming. By from the end of the next day I was resolved that the laptop was now replaced with a brick. I investigated and contacted repair centers in Uruguay and Argentina. As with many services in South America, they have the talent, but the parts have to be ordered. I would not have time to wait and decided to ask my wife to bring a new laptop to Buenos Aires, where we were meeting in a few weeks.
Luis “Drop Pants” set up a large slab of foam for me to sleep on, then proceeded to arrange a collection of objects by the side of my bed: a bottle of liquor, several crystals, a small Buddha and other things to make me comfortable while I slept. With my mosquito net in place, I drifted off to sleep quickly.
In the morning Luis’s took me to his mother’s house. She does the tailoring for his clown costumes.
Next we went to visit Luis’s father. Next to his house there is a tree with the most exquisite flowers.
Afterward we went to a site where a four day motorcycle rally would take place, start that evening. Luis introduced me to Mario, an expat living with his Brazilian wife and children in this quiet beach town. Mario provides wide area wifi to the hotels and bars. He generously set me up with a free account, so I could access the Internet from anywhere within the town.
As luck would have it a BMW dealer would be attending the rally. I needed a new low beam bulb and work on my clutch cable. Before leaving on the trip I had “risers” added to my handle bars. Risers made the handle bars higher, so it is easier to stand straight up while standing on the foot pegs. Unfortunately the clutch cable was not long enough to accommodate the extra distance between the handle bars and the engine. After dropping the bike a few times the cable attachment point separated, preventing the clutch from disengaging properly and causing general havoc. The representative for the dealer said mechanics would be arriving the following day. Great! The day was spent learning that my laptop was a brick and going to the beach.
Mario told me about a bar on the south end of the beach. It took two tries but I found it. On the first attempt I stopped at a cool tourist bar and asked what they had to offer. They claimed to make the best mojito in the world. If is isn’t the best, then it’s right near the top.
The following day I found the bar Mario recommended. The owner rides a motorcycle and after hearing my story gave me the first beer.
Night one at the rally produced a few interesting characters and the music was provided by a DJ. On the second night, there were two live bands. The singer below has a much more famous brother. Marion described him as one of the brothers of a Brazilian Michael Jackson. His was the warm-up band, which I will never understand because the second band wasn’t as good. I was told that many of the bands that play events in Brazil are either famous and play their own music or they are not as famous and play covers. It must be hard to make a name for yourself in Brazil.
The BMW mechanics arrived in the late afternoon, but weren’t advised to bring a spare bulb for me. At the end of the night they pulled a bulb from a demo bike and reattached the clutch cable anchor point and re-routed it behind the handle bars giving it more play and reducing the stress on the cable completely.
Night two at the event was better attended. More vendors and a bigger cast of characters.
I met these cool ladies on the first night and hung out with them after the rally closed in two locations. It turns out they were local police and the one was a captain. You never know who you end up drinking with. Late the second night we ended up at an open air bar that was playing “falso” music. It sounded some what like Louisiana cajun music.
There were two more nights of the rally, but it was time to hit the road and make my way toward Rio de Janeiro.
My laptop has gone south. Looks like a new motherboard will be required. Updates to the blog have been spotty at best and will only get worst. Rest assured, I have been taking lots of pictures and will catch up at some point. Right now it looks like the first authorized repair station is 2 weeks away, in Buenos Aires, AR.
I have been staying at my friend Andy´s place in Itcare, Brazil for the last three nights. As I was leaving town I stopped to see Andy´s friend Alex to get suggestion of places to visit as I head south. Alex said that I would do well to stop in Trancoso, a cool, tranquil town. As I crossed the river from Porto Seguro to Trancoso by ferry, a guy approached me and soon I was adopted by a professional clown. I spent the night in his humble apartment, and in the morning I met his mother and later his father. Tonight there is the start of a four day rock festival. I am sure to stay for the first night and see how it goes from there.
The adventure continues...
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
On the night that I arrived I followed friends up a dirt road to Andy's house. The road is hard, said Dorthe. I had no idea and soon made the mistake of stopping part way up the ever so steep hill. My front tire couldn't provide any traction and the back tire, try as it might, couldn't find purchase on the dirt and gravel. The motorcycle started sliding backwards with increasing speed, until I finally dropped it on its side. The luggage was taken off and transferred to the car that had returned to investigate my absence. How embarrassing, to have ridden thousands of miles, only to drop the bike on a strong incline...
Shortly I was installed in Andy's amazing hillside house. With beer and moonlight, the only thing to do was to take a swim.
The next day, the first order of business was to go to town the long way and return via the beast of a hill up back up to Andy’s house. I couldn’t let dropping the bike the night before stand without a rematch. The next time, without luggage and plenty of throttle, I bested the incline.
Over the next few days I found an Irish bar/restaurant that poured my first gin & tonic in a long time. I eat an amazing veggie burger with mango chutney, went to the beach, found an Internet café that would let me use my own laptop. The first service I found had a policy barring customers from using their own…go figure.
Down the coast I watched guys tightrope walk.
My last full day in Itacaré I found one of Andy’s friends, Silvia. She owns a hotel and dates another friend, Alex, who owns a bar. He was in New York the first few days I was in Itacaré. That night Silvia threw a dinner party and I was invited. Dorthe and Barbara joined us for dinner and a few more locals. One of the guests I had met years ago in Jersey City, at his loft party. Now he runs a restaurant and restores buildings to their original state. The restoration is complete and different from a renovation, which might ignore the original character. His name escapes me now…
Packed up and ready to head south, I stopped to get advice from Alex on what town to stop on my way to Rio de Janeiro. He told me about a little beach town south of Porto Seguro, called Arraial D'Ajuda. Take the ferry and I’ll find a tranquilo town. Traveling further south he said I would run into more mangrove swamps than beaches. Thanks for the advice! I headed out to ride ~236 miles. It would take about eight hours to arrive in Porto Seguro, where I was taken in by professional clown.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Before leaving on the trip, Andy and I talked about riding various parts of South America together; Venezuela deep into the Amazon and meeting at the Dakar Rally were two ideas. It wasn’t possible for him to schedule a motorcycle adventure with me during my trip. He would be going to Brazil a few months after I was gone, so I would stay in this tropical paradise alone…well I did have the company of Andy’s cat.
Andy instructed me to contact Dorothe, the lady who manages Andy’s property for him. Her friend Barbara was back for another visit. I arrived at 10:30 PM, later than expected, after traveling a winding and bumpy road for four hours from Salvador. The ladies met me and encouraged me pick up incidental provisions before going to the house. I was confused. Couldn’t I just go back out later and pick up a few things? I have gotten to the point in my life and I push back a little, then listen to the local advice and go with it. There some some communications gaps with these two lovely German speaking ladies.
I picked up beers, milk and the like and we headed off to Andy’s place.
Dorothe mentioned that the road was rough going up the hill to the house. How bad could it be? She was driving a simple car that didn’t have a lot of clearance. I brushed the warning off as a piece of over concern. We coursed through the beach town street, turn down more and more obscure roads, then up a narrow single track behind a house that looked like the lane would end at any moment. If I was following an absolute stranger, I would be nervous that this was a back woods road, just right to rob a hapless traveler. Dorothe hit the gas and I lost sight of her around as she went around an uphill turn. I should have gunned it as well. And I definitely shouldn’t have stopped midway up the steep hill. Ok, in my defense the ruts in the road were daunting and I didn’t feel like I was in control, so I slowed down…and that turned into stopping.
Coming to a stop was not a good idea. I soon discovered the front wheel had zero traction due to the angle and the weight of the luggage on the rear of the motorcycle. The back wheel simply slid on the packed dirt and gravel. I went backward for 10 - 15 feet before losing control, and the bike toppled over. No damage, other than a slight bruise to my ego.
Shortly Dorothe came back down the hill with her car to find me off loading the panniers and spare tires that are lashed to the back seat. At one point the spare front tire went rolling down the hill and I had to chase after it into the jungle. Soon enough I had the bike upright and gunned it up the hill.
Dorothe and Barbara presented a nearly endless chorus of apologies and condolences, that my assurances could not reduce. The dropped bike story only adds to my adventure. I will try the hill in the morning, without the weight of the panniers and using more gas! Apparently many visitors drop their bike the first time going up this beast of a hill.
I met Ademi, the house keeper, then settled in. Dorothe provisioned the house with bananas, drinking and coconut water, sheets, t.p., towels and fresh cut flowers. I won’t have to leave the house for days if I choose. I had beer, a can of black beans, some chorizo sausage, powered milk, bran cereal and a few pink mangos from Veronica’s yard in Salvador.
Before turning in for the night I took a moonlit swim in the pool, the first of many. Later I would write Andy that I planned to never leaving his house. On second thought, I had better depart in a day or two or I will turn into a smiling bowl of tranquil goo… Yeah, it was that good.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
With navigation tips from a group of Brazilian Sunday riders that I met at a rest stop I was closing in on the southern tip of Salvador. The mission was to met a friend of my sister for lunch. Frederica only had time for lunch, then she would have to leave for a birthday party, so I was on a schedule. I managed to find her neighborhood and with some back tracking found her waiting for me. Parking the motorcycle along a cliff road, security positioned across from the parking attendants station, we went immediately to the beach. In short order her boyfriend Joao and his best friend Bruno joined us. We bought more beer…and switched beaches. Brazilians are particular about their beaches.
The boys went for a swim out to a raft anchored not far from the beach. Back on shore I broke out one of my coveted mangos for everyone to enjoy. Time was short, so we didn’t hang out too long in any one place. We walked down to the light house and had coconut water.
Frederica had pushed back when she would leave for a birthday party, so we all went back to their apartment for a bite to eat. Bruno lives in Florianópolis and was visiting for the weekend. Joao gave him a ride to airport and Frederica and I hung around long enough to take a photo together.
Frederica left for a birthday party and I went in search of the ferry to the mainland. Signage just isn’t what it could be, so there where several loops around the area until I located the ticket plaza and secured passage. One of the big advantages to riding a motorcycle in South America is that you are expected to go the the front of the line, or at least one car from the front of the line. There is always room for one more motorcycle, so there is no problem jumping the line of cars. Salvador lays on a bit of a peninsula. Taking the ferry to Vera Cruz saves hours of travel around the bay, Baía de Todos Os Santos. As the sunset the ferry crossed the bay to the mainland.
Next stop, Andy’s beach house in Itacaré!
Friday, November 30, 2012
My new goal was to get to Salvador in time for lunch the next day with Frederica, a friend of my sister Judy. They knew each other when my sister lived in Italy. Frederica was a teenager when I last saw her, ten years ago. The distance from Recife to Salvador is just over 500 miles, which always take longer than expected. The roads aren’t like ride on an interstate highway in the US, where you can count on traveling 60 miles each hour. In the best conditions it would be over 8 hours. With rest breaks and refueling it takes longer. My route planning software said it would take twelve and a half hours. And then there are the surprises that appear out of no where. Floods, accidents, construction detours are a few examples. In my travels I never had to wait for a land slide to be cleared, knock on wood.
An hour south of Recife, while getting gas a guy on the street was telling me that the road ahead could not be passed. Language barrier strikes again. I smiled and nodded, knowing that there clearly was a road going south. I missed his point. He was trying to tell me there was a trucker strike and they had blocked the road. Not long afterward I encountered a teenager trying to wave me down. I’m not stopping for nothing, especially not a teenager in the middle of nowhere. A mile later I had to slow down because there were trucks parked at rakish angles…blocking the road.
There was a cluster of unhappy men standing around, one was holding a very large stick, like a tribal king. I figured out instantly what they were doing. No need to ask. What to do? I didn’t want to take a detour through the countryside. Pulling up to the cluster of strikers, I lifted the face shield of my helmet. Its a “modular helmet”, so the whole front of the helmet lifts, showing my face. After pausing long enough for the crowd to get a feel what I look like, then I tried to communicate. I might have given a small smile, tilted my head or put my hands together in prayer, more of a “please” gesture than anything else. After a brief moment, branches that were blocking the road were pulled back and I was allowed to thread my way through the jumble of trucks. There were make shift kitchens tucked here and there, evidence that these truckers had been there for some time and were prepared to stay a while longer.
This encounter with strikers would be repeated four more times. Each time a teenager tried to waive down a side road, then I approached the actual road block, paused briefly, then was allowed to pass through. Some times is was challenging to find a large enough space between trucks to get the motorcycle through. Other times the strikers were letting passenger cars through in the other direction, so I had to wait for a chance to squeeze past them. I must have lost an hour or two getting through the five road blocks. Each road block was a stressful, but I was confident their fight was with someone else and they would let me pass.
I pressed on into the night, now beyond the last road block. At some point I would need to get some rest. Near midnight I found a love hotel and checked in for five hours. That would give me enough time to sleep and still make it to Salvador in time for lunch. Frederica had plans to attend a birthday party and only had a short time to meet, so I had to press on. All too quickly the alarm went off and I dragged myself onto the bike and left. Regardless of estimates, I still had four or five hours, and six hours to cover the distance.
As I got closer to Salvador I stopped for gas, coffee and something to eat. A group of Brazilian motorcyclists out for a Sunday ride stopped chatted with me. One helped me straighten out a problem with my food order, then agreed to call Frederica to tell her I would be a few minutes late. Great guys. I can’t remember their names, but hope they see this post sometime.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
On the second day, I spotted a telephone pole factory by the highway. The visual design of telephones poles fascinated me. Why make telephone poles out of cement? My only guess, its cheaper to manufacture telephone poles from cement, then to source wooden poles. It could be that no one will steal a cement pole for firewood. I really don’t know.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Leaving Barreirinhas in the late afternoon I had to head west for three and a half hours before slowly turning south, then east. In total I would clocking 550 miles over the next ten hours, riding into the early morning hours before stopping east of Teresina. In the late evening a country fair appeared on the side of the road. Most of the festivities were over, the band had packed up and many of the booths were closed. The rodeo continued, featuring a cow roping contests.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Failing to secure the required liability insurance, due to poor commercial support, yet clear government regulations. left me uneasy as I traveled to the frontier with Brazil and the inevitable visit with border control officials. Some days I would rather have a root canal than cross from one country to another. Yannick warned me that there would be a police check point, and indeed there was one halfway between Cayenne and the border town of St. George. This was my second police check point in French Guiana. In some countries the police will ask for your proof of insurance at their check points, i.e. Belize, Nicaraguan, Costa Rica. French Guiana police are more laid back in this regard, inspecting only my passport. As far as they were concerned all of my paperwork was in order. It seems the National Police didn't care if I had insurance or not.
I reached St. George just after dark and went a little further south to a point that looked like a bridge. I had been told that I needed to take a ferry or launch to cross the river and arrive in Brazil, but sure enough a shining new bridge appeared before my eyes. Or so it seemed. Yes, there is a beautiful bridge and a newly painted border control center on the French Guiana side of the river, Rio Oyapock.
Unfortunately, the negotiations with the Brazilian government was not complete and the bridge not open for use. I will have to take a boat after getting excited about the bridge. The good news, the night border control officer said it would be Ok to pitch my camp for the night!
In the morning I learned that the officer in charge the night before did not advise the day officer that there was a guest camping on the loading dock, within the secure area. The day officer made a fuss as I was trying to leave. When asked who gave me permission to camp, the day officer would not acknowledge that there was a night officer by that name. When I next saw this joker at the National Police Headquarters, I would learn later that I was not pronouncing the night officer's name with the correct French accent. He was simply giving me a hard time in a classic French form. Ultimately
I made it clear that I was given permission to camp "for one night" and that at this point I was leaving. Asking if you can "camp" is not the phase to use. Ask if you can put up your tent "for one night." Camping can be a long term affair. One month later you might still be camping. With a huff the day officer gave the word, the gate was raise, and I was gone.
A last moment of tension before getting out of French Guiana. I had to be officially stamped out of the country. If you skip this step, it raises flags in the next country as you request an entrance stamp. Ok, now I had to find the National Police HQ and have an exit stamp applied to my passport. While waiting for the passport to be reviewed and exit stamp added, a car rolls up and the day officer from the bridge walks into the building. My lucky day. The officer was actually on good behavior and I took the opportunity to ask his colleagues if there was a night officer by the name I provided earlier in the day. At this point the exit stamp was in my passport, so busted the chops of the day officer for giving me a hard time earlier. I said good day to the helpful officials and left. I was officially out of the country. Of course I didn't bring up the lack of liability insurance.
Now I had to get across the river. I had spoken with a boat captain the night before and arranged passage for me and the motorcycle. At one point I pitted one captain against another to get the best price. I tipped a few guys how helped load the motorcycle a few dollars and I was soon motoring across water and back to Brazil.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
A short ride from Cayenne I found the space center and a completely empty parking lot by the museum. Huh? It only took a little moment to understand that the museum was closed, but much longer to get over the disbelief that a museum would be closed on Saturday.
Shortly after visiting Kourou I left Cayenne to head for the frontier with Brazil. Stopping to photograph cemeteries around the city.The cemeteries in French Guiana were well maintained and show that their graves were visited regularly.