Fear.

Last week I was discussing an upcoming speaking engagement with a client when the topic transitioned to my presentation and how I could help my client with my speech to my real-life experiences on the road. The topic quickly folded into a subject that most people I speak with tend to share the same curiosity. They usually want to know if at any point during my travels if I felt that I was in danger or if I was afraid.

IMG_2380.JPG - Version 2.jpg IMG_2074.JPG.jpg

IMG_2208.JPG.jpg

iringa2daresalaam54.jpg

zanzibar11 - Version 2.jpg

People ask this question for many good reasons. But I think most feel that perhaps they would like to embark on some sort of adventure or travel, but they are afraid to take a chance; to risk their current state of being—their comfort zone. Understandably, their curiosity perhaps stems from wondering whether such fears are founded.

My usual response to these curious queries is, no I never felt in danger or fear for my life in my three years of solo travel on a motorcycle. But as my client probed further for insight into my travel adventures, he asked “What about dangerous roads or terrain, were you ever afraid in that way?”

I scratched my head, took a quick gander out the window and confided to him, that yes, I was afraid on a number of occasions.

To be sure, he knew that I crushed my leg on a muddy road in Bolivia during the trip. He knows that a bus roaring into my lane on a downhill turn on a dirt road in Ethiopia caused me to crash. And he certainly knows that a small taxi van pushed me off the road in Tanzania. But in each of these cases I wasn’t afraid. The crashes, for the most part, happened so fast that I had no time to think or react.

Then I started thinking. That’s when I recalled some scary episodes while riding at night, tense, white-knuckled and fearful that this night might be the last of my journey, that I might not make it to my destination before crashing—or worse. It’s never a good idea to ride at night anyway.

It’s funny, many of these episodes involved wet and rain conditions at night.

Like the time I was heading north toward Maceió in northern Brazil. I planned to arrive at this beautiful seaside city before sunset when the rain pelted me and slowed me down. Soaked and cold and with no visibility—no lines on the dark, wet and jet black tarmac. No street lights. And the headlight of my bike barely any use. The rain beaded on my visor and every 30 seconds I had to swipe the water off of it with my soppy wet glove.

As the minutes and hours clicked on, the rain made me wetter and wetter. My visibility so impaired that I had to strain, squint and slow to a crawl just to make sure I didn’t ride off the tarmac, because it was so dark and just blended into the landscape. Then I found myself winding through gentle rolling hills lined with sugar cane plantations.

On the road I had to be careful when rounding curves because trucks that carried harvested cane to ethanol processing plants would drop pieces of cane on the road. Like banana peels I’d often catch one— and my rear tire would slip and slide. My heart beat faster. I gripped the handlebars tighter.

These trucks would also appear out of nowhere. Sometimes a truck would seemingly magically appear out of the darkness of the tall sugar cane plants. Most of these trucks were carrying three trailers, each packed with cane. Most of the time only dim headlights shined on the road ahead. Barely visible I had to be careful because the could either hit me or because I couldn’t see them in the darkness, I might run into the back of them because the trucks were not fitted with reflectors or tail lights. That night was unforgettable and one of the most tiring rides of my entire three years. I was afraid and scared I might not make it.

Trying to make it to Iringa Tanzania from the border of Tanzania turned out to be another harrowing night. When tarmac becomes wet and the sun fades into night, the pavement fades again into the horizon and trying to see the difference between pavement and vast emptiness of desolate landscapes becomes the most important task of riding. The rain poured and even protected in the confines of my rain suit, I felt trapped and blind. The bright streams of lights from oncoming traffic would detract like a star filter through the drops of rain on my visor creating a massive blind-spot that would haunt me as I rode the twisty track. Drainage on African roads is nonexistent, so I would wade through two and three foot high flooded roads, once amazed at the thousands of frogs who sprayed off the wake of my front tire as I rode through. The sounds of the gurgling frogs actually drowned the noise of falling rain.

I was afraid then, too.

Because my memory was vivid from the time I crushed my leg in a slippery fall on muddy and slippery clay, the muddy dirt roads of South Africa, particularly near the Drakensburg scared me too. Like a slivering snake, to me there is nothing more frightening than lack of traction on wet clay. I can see no difference between it and ice—I think I would rather ride on ice. Mud? Please stay away.

At the beginning of my trip I was still haunted and spooked by the notion of bandits in Mexico. Caught in the dark and still 30 miles from the closest village. tense and stressed, and still unable to see through the dark forests of Michoacán, my heart beat fast every time a car came up from behind.

Even as fear tried to suffocate my spirit and crush my confidence in these incidences, I made it through. And with each incident I became a stronger foe to fear. And while fearlessness is unhealthy, balance and prudence is key; as is your attitude. The compromise you make with fear so that you don’t let it get the best of you and in turn, you don’t due anything stupid or intentional that could certainly upset your balance between strength and fear.

When it comes time for you to consider traveling, such as I did or to any of the places I traveled? There’s no reason to be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.

Belem – A Final Photo Essay

With my bike safely crated and cleared from Brazilian customs, I got to spend a few more days riding a light enduro Yamaha through the narrow streets lined with colorful colonial buildings of Belém. Alex and Marden provided the continuing entertainment and Belém experiences: wandering the maze of vendors that make up the kinetic and frenetic Ver o Peso market, restaurants, motorcycle club gathering, nightclub with live music and more.

I’ve also been frantically trying to find out how to get my Apple MacBook Pro serviced in either Brasil or Argentina. Ever since that night in Canoa Quebrada I’ve been unable to download photos, write blog or upload blog posts, or share some of the fantastic images I’ve captured on my journey wiht my new friends in Belém. So far e-mails from authorized service facilities in Brasil have been disappointing. The chances of finding an LCD display for my computer in South America just might be impossible. But I remain positive that I can get this computer fixed prior to heading to Africa.

As I labor to catch up with the posts and blog of my journey, I find it difficult to find the words and craft the paragraphs that could express the richness of my experience, the friendliness of the people and the hospitality of Alex and his family and friends. So I will take the lazy way out and provide you with a quick photo essay of some of my fun times in Belém with the best I can do at captioning.

As I said to Alex, André and Marden as we hugged our goodbyes outside the security gate at the airport: I will be back to my home in Brazil sometime real soon! Thanks guys!

Veropeso Above

The historic, colorful and always exciting Ver O Peso market along the Amazon in Belem, Pará.

Belem Amazona Fruitcart

The market is a vibrant kaleidoscope of people, colors and energy.

Belem Amazona Flourgirl

Veropeso Crabgirl

This woman of the Amazon with the beautiful smile will likely spend many years working the Ver O Peso market.



Veropeso Coke Lady

This woman has already spent most of her life here at the Ver O Peso market.

Belem Cocanut Stand

Fresh coconut juice from the source.

Veropeso Peppergirl

Would you buy peppers from this woman? Morena of the Amazon?

Natural Products Belemmarket

The full array of natural products using ingridients from the Amazon. Want an aprhodisiac? Viagra? Everything you need or want can be found at Ver O Peso!

Abutres

I joined the Belem branch of the worldwide Abutres Motorcycle Club for an asado (bbq) one night while in the Amazon.

Andre Drinking Soup

I wish I could remember what this unique soup with shrimp and a leafy spice found in the Amazon. It’s a traditional dish indulged by indigenous Amazon tribes. For me it was a bit tart, but certainly tasty and something everyone should try. Andre shows how you eat the soup.

Fish Head Amazon

Head of State.

Marden Alex

Marden and Alex. Two views. With moto and with wine.

Marden Alex Wine

Market Horns

Horns if you’re horny.

Allan Alex Loja

Outside Alex’s family’s motorcycle shop in Belem.

Goodbye Belem

The last goodbye at Belém International Airport. Me, Andre, Alex and Marden! I will return soon to visit my friends and my home in Brasil

The Beaurocracy of Shipping

Belém, Brasil to Buenos Aires, Argentina



Thanks to Alex, Andre and the folks at Variglog in Belém in Brazil, I’ve got a plan to get my motorcycle to Buenos Aires – perhaps my other home in South America.

The cost is modest to get my motorcycle to Buenos Aires, given the time, gas, wear and tear on the bike and tires it would take to ride the more than 10,000 km (6,000 miles). But even this international airport is small and the Aduana (customs) and shipping company (Variglog) aren’t entirely clear as to the process for properly clearing my motorcycle for shipment outside the country. If not handled properly the authorities would think the bike would still be in Brazil and the consequences are unknown. After three trips to the airport and speaking with Aduana, Variglog and a customs broker I was finally clear and comfortable of the process:

1) My bike, “Doc”, would need to be drained of gasoline, battery disconnected and crated.

Doc Pre Crating

We take care of the details and get Doc suited for traveling by air – the second time during this journey it would fly.

Friends of Alex who own a motorcycle repair facility near his home began work on building my crate, using the framework and cardboard wrapping from a Yamaha motorcycle. Modifications were made to secure the handle bars to the frame while wells were built out of thin sheet metal for the wheels.

Mirrors, Jesse Bags, top case and windscreen were removed to consolidate size. These items were repositioned elsewhere in the crate so they would be shipped together.

Doc Precrated2

Just a bit wide in the handlebars, but workable.

2) I would need to use a customs broker who would ensure all details for the customs and hazardous cargo regulations were followed.

Documents were copied and presented to Aduana for verification of ownership, country of origin and vehicle identification (chassis) number.

3) The bike would be transported in the crate from the motorcycle shop to the airport.

Loading Doc

Loading Doc onto the truck at the bike shop.

Unloading Doc

Unloading the beast at the airport.

At the airport there was some confusion as to storing international cargo in holding warehouse used for domestic cargo. Security at first refused the bike, but several phone calls, albeit at 9pm that night), straightened out this problem.

Doc Crated Early

Waiting for the okay for customs.

4) Customs would need to inspect the motorcycle



They need to verify that the VIN# is the same that is on the title and my temporary import permit that was issued to me at the Uruguay border in May and which was extended in Rio de Janeiro in August.

When customs opened the crate of the motorcycle they noticed the Jesse bags, top case and other items inside the crate. At this point the customs guy had a meltdown and made me remove everything off the motorcycle and open each of the Jesse bags, top case and tank panniers. I did this somewhat patiently in the sweltering heat and humidity of the equatorial Amazon climate.

Doc Uncrated

Well, customs wanted to see EVERYTHING!

5) Customs would stamp my temporary import permit and then authorize the bike to be shipped out of Belém.

Doc Crated Belem

Finally re-crated and authorized to go to Buenos Aires.

6) The bike would take a week to get to Buenos Aires. It would need to sit in transit in São Paulo and meet me in Buenos Aires later next week.

The whole process of coordinating the above took the better part of three full days. Fortunately, the Belém International Airport is a ten minute ride form the city center and Andre and Alex were able to accompany me to provide additional support and assistance.

Making Friends and Taking Time in Belem

Belem Moto Plate

Belem is a relatively easy city to get around, especially on a small motorcycle or scooter. While the heat and humidity can tire you quickly, it seems almost every day the sky opens up and cools the city with a quick yet refreshing rainfall. This is the tropics and we’re just south of the equator.

Belem Dancer

The color, beauty and rhythmic movement of the Amazon.

The camaraderie I experienced in Belem was typical of my Brazilian experiences. But here I spent more time as a local than as a tourist. As such, the feeling of being “home” was extremely strong. I thoroughly enjoyed whizzing around this manageable city on a feather light 125cc Yamaha enduro visiting new restaurants, stopping by local homes, and just living in these moments.

Belem Manuel

Manoél at a local pub after walking around the old city.

Belem Rocknroll

Rock n’ roll at a nightclub in Belem.

Belem School Girls

School girls hanging outside the House of Eleven Windows, one of the oldest buildings in the city.

Allan Exequiel Marden

Standing next to me is Exequiel from Buenos Aires and Marden.

One afternoon after walking and riding around the city with Marden, I learned that Exequiel, the Argentinean motorcyclists I had run into two weeks before outside Forteleza had arrived in Belem. It was a veritable adventure motorcyclist reunion as we chowed on seafood from the Amazon and swapped stories of our adventures.

One morning after a shave and haircut from a local barber, Alex connected me with Manoél, a friend and compadre from outside the city limits who wandered the old city with me as I focused the lens of my camera on the people, architecture and colors of Belem. I had my share of errands and tasks to complete too. I needed to secure airline tickets to Buenos Aires. Coincidentally, Alex planned to take a trip to visit a girl in Rio de Janeiro, so we called my friend Escorse in Rio and made a connection between new friends.

Let’s Have A Beer Among Friends.

Each evening in Belem brought new and exciting activities. From dining at a fine restaurant, to visiting clubs along the river and cruising to visit friends, perhaps the most interesting to me was a visit to a local Posto one evening I had a hand at word play with my Brazilian friends using my innocent yet somewhat sardonic humor the best I could in Portuguese.

“Where we going?” I asked innocently and inquisitively.

“We’re going to grab a cold beer and see some friends,” Andre replied while turning up the Roger Waters disk in his car.

“Where?” I begged for more information. Sucking on a cigarette that hung loosely from his mouth, Andre was proud of his car and it is a luxury for Brazilians privileged enough to own one. Not only are the costs of buying a car four or five-fold for a similar vehicle in the United States, registration and insurance costs after a couple years will exceed the purchase price of the vehicle. Currently happily unemployed the 30-something Andre would cart me around during the day so I could complete my errands, for which I happily filled his tank with gas. Not used to riding in a car and perhaps accustomed to larger vehicles with heavier doors, when closing the door of André’s Fiat I gave it a swift slam. After about the fifth time Andre lay into me and politely showed me how to delicately close the door.

“The posto, it’s very close,” Andre answered with both hands on the wheel and cocking his head to avoid cigarette smoke from getting in his eyes.

“The posto?” I exclaimed with a degree of wonder? “We already bought gas,” I explained. Our conversation was completely in Portuguese, and posto is the word for station or in this case he was referring to a gas station.

“No, we’re going to the Posto to meet Alex and my friends and have a beer!” Andre tried to explain seeming slightly frustrated. Now I was going to have fun.

“But Andre?” I said with a confused and yet curious inflection in the tone of my voice, “why are we going to the gas station to have a beer?” He looked at me while taking another drag on his cigarette. “Are you sure? Aren’t we going to a bar or a pub to have a beer?”

“No Allan, I’m sure we are going to the gas station!” He could tell I was playing with him now.

“So Andre,” I tried to reason, “then if we go to the gas station to get beer, I guess we’ll go to the bar to get gas?” He flashed a toothy smile and this discussion became the topic of the evening. We rolled into a Shell gas station where dozens of bikes and several restored classic cards including a mint-perfect old-style VW bug. This was obvious a weekly hangout for motor enthusiasts. I floated my curiosity by the group of new friends I just met, and when Alex showed up I had just purchased a few bottles of Bohemia beer and posed my curiosity of buying beer at a gas station and wondering if we could buy gas at a bar — all a bit of an oxymoron to me. When I handed him a Bohemia and explained in Portuguese “este cerveja com additivo” the whole group broke down in a roar of laughter. You see in Brazil you can buy regular gasoline and gasoline with some sort of additive (additivo) that increases octane — os so they purport.

Andre Alex Posto Stop

André and Alex with the gang in the background at the Posto/gas station where we shared a few beers among friends.

For the rest of my time in Belem the Posto/beer joke become a recurring theme. I guess my silly humor transgresses the boundaries of language. And this is perhaps the best part of traveling — that is truly getting to know a place and immersing myself into the local culture and making friends that will surely last a lifetime — regardless of distance, language, culture and economic differences.

Belem & The Amazon: My Home In Brazil.

The Portuguese landed in Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River yet still 120km from the Atlantic Ocean in 1616. Interestingly enough the voyage from Lisbon to Belem, due to prevailing winds and strong currents, took longer than the trip from Belem to Salvador. Today, with nearly 1.5 million people Belem is the economic center of the Amazon region and the capital of the Brazilian state of Pará. Money poured into Belem due to massive rubber business just before the turn of the century. Evidence of Belem’s rich past and history is evident along the waterfront and the various parks and plaza throughout the city. Rubber has since given way to timber, soy, fish and shrimp as most of the 800,000 tons of cargo that pass through Belem annually. Relishing in its historic past the riverside market Ver-o-Peso, is a kaleidascope of color, activity, hussle, bustle and vibrancy. Named by the Portuguese where merchants ver o peso (check the weight) of the product in order to impose taxes.

Belem Colonial Rustyboat

The fisherman’s port in Belem on the Amazon River.

Belem Clocktower

Canoe The Amazon

West along the Amazon the river culture abounds.



Belem Veropeso

Hundreds of years old, the Ver O Peso market is the staple of the local economy in Belem.

Belem Orange Yellow

Colorful Brazil is evident on every corner, street and the clothing of the locals.

The Amazon river, as it approaches the Atlantic Ocean, splinters and divides into hundreds of channels and branches. There are islands, bays and tributaries all around Belem. And thanks to my host Alex and his friends André, Marden and Manoel I enjoyed the city as a local for more than a week while I organized the shipping of my motorcycle from Belem to Buenos Aires in order to escape the prying eyes and hands of the Brazillian Federal Police as my temporary import permit was due to expire within a week of my arrival in this wonderful city.

Alex a thirty-something motorcyclist and evangelist of the Brazil Riders hospitality group who have welcomed me throughout Brazil, lives just outside the city center near the Parque Zoobotánico where I was able to stay while taking in the city and wading through the beuarocratic tape necesary to “export” my motorcycle to Argentina.

Alex New Yamaha

Alex and his spanking new Yamaha XTZ 250 fuel-injected super motard version of the enduro bike that I only saw in Brazil.

With two cellphones perennially glued to his ears, Alex peers through his wire-framed glasses and offers a huge grin when spontaneity grabs him and he whisks away to our next adventure. His English is about as good as my Portuguese which made communication fun and challenging at times. During my time in Belem, Alex took possession of a new Yamaha 250cc motorcycle. Sadly I don’t think we’ll ever see this fuel-injected enduro motorcycle marketed in the United States any time in the near future. I was offered the opportunity to ride this and another 125cc bike while biding time during my more than week-long stay in Belem.

Alex and his family operate a motorcycle parts & accessories and repair facility which sits in front of and under their home near the city center. Each morning Alex and I rode to the “loja” (store in Portuguese) where he or his father would serve me coffee and breakfast. One morning we stopped by a small shopkeeper who was blending fresh Acaí, a fruit only grown in the Amazon and infamous for its medicinal and health properties. The juice made from this fruit is thick and syrupy and leaves purple teeth and tongues perhaps better than a night of drinking red wine.

Belem Acai Belem Alex Acai

The dark purple acaí fruit is a staple in the Amazona diet. As a beverage it the fruit is extracted to a syrupy highly viscous juice that is rich and concentrated. It is also used as a condiment and ingredient in many Amazona dishes. I enjoyed it – in small doses. Here Alex shows off the effect it has on your tongue and teeth.

Moqueca Belem

Another version of the classic Brazilian moqueca. Served steaming and bubbling, this one included exotic fish and crabs found only in the Amazon.

Alexs Dad Allan

Alex’s “Pi” (dad) and I hung out during breakfast and lunch. The fresh fruit juices he made from exotic fruits I’d never seen nor tasted were fantastic.

Lunch was also a ritual with Alex and his family, afterwords which the shop would remain closed for a couple hours while Alex, his father and others napped. A couple afternoons I spent with one of Alex’s closest friends, Andre, who would cart me around to the airport, phone center and other places while I ticked off my checklist in order to prep my journey back to Argentina. One afternoon we took a ride to the tiny island of Mosqueiro which sits at the confluence of the Amazon where there is a bay (Baia de Guajara) and the river throws up these powerful ocean-like waves. So Andre & I jumped in and body-surfed the only fresh-water waves (surf-able) in the world.

During my time in Belem with Alex, his family and friends it soon became clear to me that Belem was like my home in Brazil. I was having my meals with the family, staying in a nice condominium and hanging and visiting with locals.

The Amazon

It has been a tenuous 3 weeks. But I am happy to report that I have made it to the Amazon. Battling some bad weather, mud and wind was a small price to pay for seeing some of the greatest beaches, riding some of my favorite tropical roads and delving into the colonial history of Brazil.
The good news is I am here and I truthfully have completed 95% of all past blog posts. They are ready to be uploaded here. The bad news is the backlight on my laptop has failed on me. My challenge will be to figure out how to get this fixed in South America. Save having to ship it to someone in the USA at perhaps great expense and having that person ship it to Apple who will cover it as a warranty, and then getting back to me here in South America, I will delve into the international Apple support and service network. The product is covered under international warranty. Once completed and with a good internet connection, I will upload the stories so you can meet the characters, see the historical sites and experience some of the riding I have done since last checking in a few weeks ago.
For those of you who have sent me email and have not received a reply, please note that someone has hijecked my email address and used it as an origination address for SPAM. As a result, I am getting 500 or more emails every day – usually bounced emails, or challenge/response spam filters or undeliverable email. It is a bear and I can hardly drag myself into an internet cafe because 40 minutes or more is used culling through the mess using webmail. So if you have not received a response, please resend your mail. I may have accidentally deleted it, or it is buried in the junk. So sorry. I am usually good about returning e-mails.
Ahhh. But life should present such awful problems, huh?
Other news is I have only a week left on my temporary import permit for Brazil. That means I must get to a border or risk that Doc could be confiscated by the police.
Stay tuned for more.

Two Long Days to Belem.

Since leaving Olinda on October 12th I’ve been riding hard to make it to Belem where I’ll connect with Alex, a Brazil Rider that I’ve been in contact with since crossing the border of Brazil in May. As I’ve been plagued by rain and the ride north is taken more time than my best plan, I’m evaluating options. I’ve got to have my motorcycle out of Brazil by the 21st of October. If I fail to clear the bike from customs I risk the possibility of Doc’s confiscation by the Federal Police.

Olinda8 Goodbye-1

Goodbye Pousada Olinda. On The Road Again.

Leaving Olinda I start continue north toward Natal, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte and then begin heading west. The lush tropics disappears in my rear view as I ride through the desert, complete with cacti while following a pipeline. Passing a massive Petrobras (the national gas company) refinery I realize that this is one of many such locations where sugar cane is converted into alcohol (ethanol) and used for powering many of the small cars and is testament to much of Brazil’s self-dependency for fuel. Streching for more than 100km across the arid and scrubby desert is a pipeline that I’m sure carries ethanol through these communities. Though these alcohol-powered vehicles have very short engine lives, I’m told. As I pass through several small communities northeast of Olinda I find an increasing amount of abandoned publics works projects. A highway interchange sits naked in the middle of nowhere. Sidewalks are framed but just patches of sand and rebar. And pedestrian walkways designed to alleviate traffic and accidents by carrying people over the road sit vacant and graffiti stained.



Cactus 2Canoa

The lush rain forested lands of northeast Brazil suddenly change to cactus filled and scrubby dry desert.

Road2Canoa1 Cactus

Bridge To Far

Unfinished public works projects like this walkway rot abandoned in the towns I passed through north of Olinda.

Pipeline Olinda North

Wild goats dot the roadside next to the long stretch pipeline.

I set my sights for Canoa Quebrada, a tiny beach town famous for its sweeping sand dunes and powerful winds that lend perfect conditions for kite-surfing. The road is straight, flat and boring. The vast desert invites blowing and gusting winds, but I find temporary solace at a gas station in Morroso. The usual crowd gathers around me and Doc and the service station attendant looks with pity at my mud stained motorcycle and offers to clean the windshield and headlight. I learn later that evening that while cleaning my Ventura Light Guard he pushed a little too hard when reattaching it to its velcro. This pushed the headlight mounting clip through the plastic housing behind the headlight. There are two of this clips and it’s the poorest design I’ve ever seen. Every F650GS rider I’ve met on the road has experienced the same problem. The right clip/housing broke in Patagonia and I had fixed with a zip tie while at Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires. Now the left side was broken and I’d have to perform the same repair. I also noticed that my PIAA driving lights were now not functional. Perhaps in pushing the headlamp the wiring harness was stressed and a connection compromised. I’d have to address these issues later when I get to Belem.



Canoa Quebrada Sand

The sand dunes of Canoa Quebrada famous for dune buggying and kite surfing.

Fruit Stand2Canoa

Closer to the coast again and the evidence of tropics is revealed along colorful roadside stands.

In Canoa Quebrada I have a fine night at a lovely pousada with a pool, hammock and view overlooking the beach. But something happens to my computer here. I return to my room after dinner and try to wake it from sleep. Nothing. The screen is all but dead. If I restart I get about 10 seconds of backlight. Sadly, I have to postpone posting the blogs until I can get this fixed. I can’t stay in Canoa, though it seems fun. I’ve lost too much time south so I can’t stay more than the night, embarking early the next morning for a long ride to Teresina, the capital of Brazil’s Piauy state. Riding through Forteleza I feel that I should experience this northern city of Brazil, but once again, I’m running out of time. In the city while navigating the maze of streets, a motorist is persistent in getting my attention. Riding a Jeep Cherokee he pulls over to the side and motions me over. He’s a motorcyclist and eager to learn where ‘m from, going and if I need help. He helps me find the scenic coastal route north of Forteleza after exchanging hugs and business cards.

The winds blow fiercely along the northern part of the city. High-end luxury cars starkly contrast against the horse carts that carry scrap metal, firewood and coconuts and bananas as I make my way north. Dozens of kite-surfers exhibit brilliant acrobatics while at yet another fuel stop I’m surrounded by curious onlookers. Often at these stops my temporary fans, eager to share the story of meeting this motorcyclist, ask to take my picture. Many times I grab a photo, too.

Fortezeza8 Beach-1

Forteleza. Big City. Big Beaches.

The windswept dunes northwest drifted onto the pavement in several areas, though not too deep the do give me the quick rush of wallowing wheels and mind-of-its-own steering briefly. I move on. An hour or two later I notice this oddly shaped two wheeler on the horizon ahead of me. Thinking this must be one of the wacky overloaded scooters or 125-cc motorcyclists that so often are dangerously stacked with anything from chickens to eggs and nearly anything else you can think of. But no. Hammering the throttle I catch up and notice it’s a 1993 Yamaha 750 Super Teneré ridden my Porteño (Buenos Aires, Argentina resident) Exequiel Arias Odriozola. Speaking in Spanish and Portuguese we share each others stories. He’s at the beginning of what will be a tour year journey through South America and into Central America. An accomplished guitar player and singer, when he’s short on cash he throws open his guitar case on the street or arranges a performance at meetings and barbecues of local motorcycle clubs along his travel route. He tells me that he is heading to Belem and has been in contact with Alex. Though he will spend some time in Jericoacoara, a remote beach accessible only by crossing sand in dune buggies or for the motorcyclist looking to test his sand skills and to learn how many times one must pick up a fallen motorcycle until fatigue turns into frustration and anger. An adventure nonetheless. I had wanted to get to this haven on the beach along warm waters and swooping dunes, but I must return one day as Belem and the Amazon is calling me.

Heading west through desert and brush until crossing a small mountain range that separates the states of Ceara and Piauy. I notice something I hadn’t seen since climbing through the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador: young kids on bicycles hitching a free ride on the bumpers or stray rope ties of diesel trucks making the slow climb up the steep ascents.



Fortezeza12 - Version 2

My anonymous friends north of Forteleza who were excited to snap a picture with me. I responded in kind.

Fortezeza Sndy Road

Windswept sand over the roads north of Forteleza. This was fairly mild but a few other spcycle trip of the Americas

Exequel Porteno

It was a pleasure to take a break from riding to meet Exequiel from Buenos Aires who is funding his motorcycle trip around the Americas by singing and playing his guitar. Though I asked him about his protective outwear and he said that he wasn’t riding fast that day!

Road2Terecina Freeride

Crossing the lowlands west of Forteleza I climbed a small mountain pass that dropped me into one of the hottest regions of Brazil toward Teresina. Escaping the heat and the vertical ascent many bicyclists hitch a ride on the heavily loaded diesel trucks slowly climbing the pass.

Road2Terecina Smoky

It’s a scene that triggers memories of parts of Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador: fires burning and the smell of smoke as I cruise through cane fields burning as the first step toward the next planting and harvest. The smell of smoke is such a sense trigger plus the wafts of fog make riding through these places a bit other worldly — and smoky.



4Upbrazilbike

I keep missing the good shot of 5 or 6 people on a scooter or motorcycle. Outside Teresina I took this mediocre snap of 4 on a small bike. But look at the little child. This is so typical and very dangerous. But anything seems to go in Brazil. Who needs a helmet?



40Kmiles

Along the ride toward Belem Doc and I hit an impressive milestone: 40,000 miles. The bike has given me very few problems other than the regular maintenance. Recommended for long trips like this.

I arrive in Terasina after a couple hours of night riding. Known as the hottest (in temperature) city in Brazil, I get a good nights sleep and rise before 6-am for what was likely the longest day of my trip since taking advantage of the everlasting daylight of Alaska back in August 2005. I arrive in the evening just as the sky opens and rains. Rather than intrude at the late hour, I find a hotel and relax my road warn bones and wind burned face.

The next day I’m happy to finally meet Alex, we park Doc at his house and wander through the rain to a local home cooking restaurant for lunch and a beer.

Ahhh. The Amazon.

Brazilian Roads and the Best Carnival In Brazil?

While I have been plagued by rain during my ride north toward the Amazon, I must admit that Brazilian roads are for the most part very good. Sure there are pockets of areas where pot holes, or deteriorating pavement can be frustrating. In these cases, I would much prefer dirt or gravel. But many areas the roads have recently been painted with center and shoulder lines and while I prefer to leave night riding as a bad memory, some roads have center-line reflectors.

Electronic Speed Control

These massive speed control signs are everywhere on the national and state roads of Brazil. Not sure exactly what they do, but traffic is consistently obedient when approaching one.

Recife Buildings

Boa Viagem on the beach in Recife

Recife Road

Color buildings in the Boa Viagem district of Recife point to the history’s colonial and colorful past.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Brazilian roads are these huge speed control contractions that pop up near city limits. A tall post with a billboard sized sign and a flashing light indicates that motorists are being watched. At least that what it appears. Sometimes while speeding along the road traffic immediately slows, it takes me a minute but then I realize it’s one of the speed control devices and usually a few bumps (lombadas) are in the road. Drivers are very cognizant of these devices and like lemmings always slow to the speed dictated by the sign and alerted by the flashing yellow light.

The other traffic related feature that I found to be very positive is the use of jug-handles for making left turns across busy highways. That is if you wish to make a left turn, you don’t just stop, put on your turn signal and sit stopped in the middle of the road. No you actually pull to the right into a turn lane and wait for traffic to pass. Then you cross the highway. And in areas where there are no “jug-handle” turn-offs, motorists will actually pull onto the right shoulder and wait for traffic to pass. This is certainly a safer way to make such turns and I’m sure avoids many accidental rear-end accidents caused by in attentive motorists zipping at Brazilian break-neck speeds down the highway.

I continued my journey northward toward Recife and to the 18th-century city of Olinda. A relatively small city, the more than 20 Baroque churches, convents, chapels and colorfully painted houses, I’m told that the best “Carnival” happens here, on a bluff above the hectic port city of Recife. I found a small pousada off one of the many plazas flanked by a nearly 300 year old church. Like Salvador, Olinda’s Cidade Alta and its colonial charm have earned it UNESCO World Heritage Status. Dozens of dance and art studios feature exhibits and products geared toward the annual party known throughout Brazil as “Carnival”.

Colonial Olinda Recife

Colonial & colorful Olinda sits high on a bluff above the port city of Recife.

Hilly Olinda

The cobblestoned streets of Olinda combined with the colorful painted houses and artisan studios makes walking around this old town relaxing and fun. On this corner an ad-hoc percussion group practices their beats while the town simply walks by. Here one of the towers of the 1537 Igreja da Sé sits high above the city.

Olinda Church

Olinda Onthesea

There are more than 60 baroque style churches on the bluff above the Atlantic Ocean in Olinda.

Olinda Streets Recife

Colorfully vibrant and energetic, Olinda is a city of contrasts as the busy and crazy city of Recife sits in the background.

Onward North. Betting On The Sky.

Salvador2Maceio Clouds

With his chubby fingers he adjusted the oil stained brim of the yellow and green hat. Soaking wet from the rain, his hat bore not only the colors of the gas company he worked, but the also the Brazil flag. Brazilians are very proud of their country and show it in color. He understood my words but was searching for his own. Looking through me rather than at me, I should have taken this as a clue.

I pulled into this out of the way posto (gas station) to get some shelter from the pelting rain that hammered me for the past hour. Too lazy to stop to put on the rain gear, I had hoped I’d simply ride through the storm and the precipitation would stop. But with the daylight all but gone, it was time for me to make a decision: stop for the night or continuing on to Maceio.

My early departure from the cobblestone streets of Salvador this morning was delayed by the attention attracted by my motorcycle in front of my hotel, the Solar do Carma. First, was Jorge, the taxi driver friend of Felipe, the owner of the pousada I stayed at while in Aratuba. I hadn’t met him, but he spotted my bike and asked if I stayed at Zimbo Tropical. Even in a city of millions, it’s hard for this gringo to fade into the background. Then I answered questions from guests of the hotel. Stefano, the Italian owner of the hotel offered advice for sites to see on my way north. This well spent time ate into my travel time and combined with slower (and safer) speeds for on and off rain showers, I was still 100km from Maceió.

An hour after leaving the gas station I started playing games in my head. Most of my thoughts were angry yet funny about my pudgy gas station attendant. Dodging potholes while climbing hills and winding around curves designated by fading road signs as dangerous, I imagined the guy never had been on the road. “Diretio. Directo.” Straitng and direct, he told me that road was to Maceió. “Bom estrada.” Good road. Well the road was filled with curves, the potholes were impossible to see as the rain beating on my faceshield made it impossible to see. Oncoming headlights created starlike refractions and glare adding to my frustration. Continued attemts to wipe it clean were fruitless.

The stench of burned and rotted sugarcane waterlogged by the rain was the only thing that pierced through this rain. I tried to borrow truck headlights, but riding to close meant that the chance of seeing and avoiding a pothole were dramatically reduced. Plus, the road was littered with wet and soggy fragmens of sugar cane: kind of like banana skins to motorcycel riders. Come around a corner and your front tire hits one of these and you’re down. You wouldn’t know what hit you.

Then I played the kilometer counting game. How many have I done? How much more? What time would I be out of this wet riding gear. Ahhh. Yes. I did zip in the gore tex rain liner into the jacket of my BMW riding suit. I opted against the pants. I changed to my all weather Held gloves, too. With a built in squegge on the index finger of the left hand, at least I could give a clean swipe in my attempts to see through the rain. Most of the time I would have to open the faceshield. Like pins and needles the rain bulleted my face. It was the only way I could see with oncoming headlights. And seeing was hardly the result.

The day had started out nice. Puffy white clouds hung low over Salvador as I made my way north along the coast – littoral norte. When I the river at the border of Bahia and Sergipe, I once again spotted a primitive palm and cane housing settlement on the side of the road. I had seen may of these farmworker “camps” in Northern Peru, and sometimes in Bolivia. I decided to stop to grab a quick self-commentary on the video and grab a few photos. But again, I attract attention and a slender man wearing a red shirt and red baseball cap stood smiling at me at the side of the road. I walked over and introduced myself. This stop turned out to be another contributing factor to my tense back-tightening, night-riding and rain-pelting ride into Maceió.

I was invited into one of these homes. There is no electricity. No plumbing. This is as bare bones, basic and poor as I’ve seen in South America. About ten by eight feet, there is room for two cots built out of palm and cane. Out the back is a small dirt hole with a home made fire pit which included a tin can and its cover perforated with holes as a “burner” where a simple pot could sit to boil water for rice or to cook beans. Hanging over the leg of one of the cots inside were three pairs of plastic 2 liter soft-drink bottles filled with water and tied together with rope which makes it easier to carry the bottles. Several plastic shopping bags tied hung throughout the hut, each containing suppies and stapls for life in this farmer worker community. Tacked to the cane that made the roof was plastic sheeting that would perhaps help make rainy nights for drier sleeping.

Farm Worker Shack

My family of friends and neighbors here at the border of Sergipe and Bahia in Northeastern Brazil.

Farm Worker Community

This is a typical roadside community.

Farm Worker Girl

Asked if I could snap her photo, this young girl gladly posed proudly displaying her t-shirt with the Brazillian flag.

Shack Family Shack Inside Afk Papaya Shack

I was invited into the simple shack and offered a ceremonial piece of papaya.

Farm Worker Powerlines

Later I spotted the other communities proudly flying the flag of their socialist worker party. But look at this photo closely and you’ll see power lines flying above the cane and palm huts. The electricity goes over these communities but never inside.

Noticing the sweat beading on my face, the lady of the house suggested I unzip my jacket, or simly take it off as she gestured to sit down on one of the cots. Next I was offered a papaya. It was presented to me with pride and offered with a glass of water. I declined the water, but because they told me it was customary to share the fruit, I obliged. The others crowded into the tiny bungalow were given small slices, which they at with their hands and teeth. But I was handed a complete half with a spoon. After eating about a third of this, I handed it back to the woman.

The man was proud to show me a cable that I recognized would be for an electric guitar or similar instrument. Turns out he plays guitar, sings and performs at these encampments throughout the state. He further explains to me that this camp is made up of 140 families. And he’s lived there all his life. The red cap and shirt display a simple logo that apparently has been provided by supporters of the social reform movement that has spread through Venezuela and Bolivia and even parts of Peru. I am presented with one of the red caps before I leave.

I’m touched and with a gesture that I have learned through my travels in Brazil, I form a fist in my right hand and with it hit my chest close to my heart two times and point back at the family. Hugs and heart touching. With seemingly nothing, these folks have everything they need. Or do they. The kids smiled, played and cried like any others. They were all smiling. And apparantly honored to have a guest in their home. As I left a small crowd had gathered. I felt a little funny, but I handed the man a business card and showed him the internet address. And asked if he’d seen the internet. He nodded. I told him that the pictures I took today would one day be visible for the world to see. He smiled. And told me to show my hat to any of the other communities I’d see. And that the next time I’m on the border of Bahia and Sergipe to be sure to stop. I could stay if I’d like. And as I continued it was easy to spot these farm worker communities; all proudly flying the socialist flag of the united farm workers.

But as I rode slowly and jerkily in the incessant rain, I could feel my Avon tires lose traction then grab as I rode over the muddy remnants of the endless trucks that pull out of dirt tracks every couple hundred meters along the sugar cane fields, leaving dirt that turns to slippery mud in the rain along this road. I was cold, tense and feeling stupid to put myself in this situation.

Road2Recife Satdishes

Yet other farm worker communities seem to have better conditions with actual tile roofs, concrete foundations and satellite dishes for television and possibly internet. Quite a contrast, no?

Road2Recife5 Canefields

After the sugar cane is harvested the land plowed and replanted. The sugar cane is not used for sweet sugary products. It is harvested and used to convert into ethanol to power the vehicles manufactured and sold in Brasil.

Sugar Cane Packmule

Moving sugar cane by pack mule. I had to look twice because I thought the fields were moving.

But as I continued riding the windy, potholed and slippery road through the sugar cane fields to Maceió, I only could think how I wanted to be in dry clothes after a hot shower and drinking a cold beer. As for my friends back at the border, I think and I wonder. And I worry.

More Images From Salvador

I couldn’t keep from snapping the scenic colonial architecture and colorful buildings. Here are a few more treats from my days in Salvador and a movie that I shot just before encountering the truck accident near Salvador where kids were looting a truck driver’s cargo while he was trapped in his flipped over cab:

Savador Colonial

Savador Colonial2

Savador Windows

Savador Church

Looking up at Igreja São Francisco from Praça Anchieta. The plaza is named after the cross in the foreground of this photo.

Igreça São Francisco

Inside the Igreja São Francisco. The Chandelier is 80kg of solid silver and gold leaf carvings abound.

Savador Artisan Sign

Savador Skies

Salvador Solar

Outside my hotel the Solar do Carmo.

Salvador2Maceio Afk

When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.