Today would be a long day. In order to make time and miles I’d have to leave earlier than the 9 or 10am departures which, no matter my efforts, seem to be consistent on this trip.
The 6:30am alarm was slammed to snooze until 7am when I jumped out of bed to perhaps the coldest morning in recent memory. I hurriedly prepped the shower and stepped in when i felt it warm enough. I take long morning showers. It’s how I wake up. Water conservationists could have a hey day with me. I’ve been known to fall a sleep with my face pressed into the corner ot the shower as the hot water pelts my back. So relaxing.
As I huddled in the shower in some state between awake and dream it seemed the water temperature increased dramatically. I stepped out of the stream and slapped my back and began to rub where I felt I got burned. I felt the water again. It seemed okay. But my back didn’t. It still hurt. Then down at my feet I spotted a wasp seemingly struggling for its life. In the mirror I inspected my back. Sure enough. I’d been stung. The pain increased and a red halo had already circled the tiny cavity in my skin. I tried to feel for the stinger and gouged my finger nail in the wound to liberate it.
I’m not allergic, but a brief set of panic and disappointment set in. I hurriedly pulled my gear together. Before leaving I inspected the room for anything left behind. When I pulled the curtain back a dozen wasps started flurrying about. Another twenty or so hung onto the backside of the curtain. Good god. I’d slept with these pesky bastards all night. It’s a wonder I didn’t get stung or wake up with an unwelcome bedfellow.
Gas stations are thinly populated in this part of Uruguay. Reserve light had been on for a while yesterday. I hopped to find gas soon. The ride was chilling. Perhaps I’d underdressed. I had better luck for in just a few miles a girl bundled up in a winter jacket, hat, wool gloves and a scarf wrapped around her face revealing only her eyes pumped Doc full of gas.
At the Uruguayan border station I rolled into the turn lane. It seemed quiet. Then a uniformed man waved me on. I rode for another 3 or 4 miles and came to another border station, this time more active and with Brazillian personnel present. This was odd. I hadn’t been stamped out of Uruguay, yet here I was at the Brazilian border with no Uruguayan officials anywhere. I stepped inside and for the first time was hit by a wall of Portuguese. I pulled my memory for some words, any words, from my trip to Portugal a few years ago, or from my half-ass studying the night before. Obrigado. It’s all I could muster. I went back to my bike to pull my Lonely Planet Brazillian Portuguese Phrasebook. It wasn’t where it should be. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere. I had briefly looked at it last night. Where was it? I was going crazy. It had to be there. But nothing.
I tried my hand at Spanish with the Brazilian immigration and customs people. It didn’t take many words to understand that without an Uruguayan exit stamp I see the Brazilian side of the border. So I had to go back. That’s when I decided I’d really go back. Back to the Hosteria del Pescador. The whereabouts of my Portuguese phrasebook was driving me mad. After the episode of lost cables I wasn’t going for two nights in a row. So I blew past the Uruguayan border station, cruised on by the bundled up gas station attendant and once again found myself rapping on the door of my last night’s home. I scanned the room. Yes. The wasps took a second night it seems. But the phrasebook? No sign of it. I thought for sure it would be found among the ruffled sheets. But no. Then my last chance. Under the bed? Yep! It must’ve fallen behind my pillow and down the headboard. I was fired up. Yeah. The whole episode was not only frustrating but I’d leave there knowning I could be riding in the dark in order to get to Porto Alegre as originally planned.
Sitting behind a large pane of glass, my Uruguayan immigration officer sat at a while formica topped table stained in blue patterns left by years of carbon paper. A circular tree of rubber stamps and stacks of papers and folders added to the confusion. He stamped my passport then asked for the temporary import permit for my motorcycle. I lied and told him I didn’t have one. He cocked his eyes to the right then left without moving his head then looked over the top of the reading glasses that neatly slid down his nose as he talked to me. He gestured for me to come behind the glass while putting his index finger up to his lips. Shhhhhh. He asked where I was going and when. I told him that the border people at Boquebus in Montevideo didn’t provide me with anything.
As you might remember, I had to practically bed to get the form in question when I landed in Uruguay just over a week ago. And the form that I was given was not copied — carbon or otherwise. I had the original. That meant there was no record of Doc actually entering Uruguay. I was playing with fire at this point. But I reasoned that since Doc wasn’t “cancelled” out of Argentina in Buenos Aires, I would need proof of the date Doc actually left Argentina. I planned on properly “checking out” of Argentina when I cross the border to see Iguazzu Falls from the Argentinean side. True, a shakey strategy, but the paperwork would provide that Doc was out of Argentina prior to the expiration of the Argentinean import permit.
The Uruguayan official told me to stop talking. He explained I could be subject to a large “multa” (penalty) without this paperwork. He handed me back my passport and told me to go straight to the Brazil border and not to mention this to anyone — including the Brazilian officials — the friendly guy with a huge star badge reminsicent of a sherrif’s from the wild wild west in the USA and the cute, curly-haired blond with the shapely ass that has earned Brazilian women a well-deserved reputation.
The ride along the southern coast of Brazil passed through a nature preserve. Barren wetlands home to tens of thousands of birds. Huge flocks sitting on the pavement would rise in a dense black cloud as I rode closer. Along the highway I spotted carcasses of at least twenty large mammals. Signs warned of wildlife on the highway, but my Portuguese was insufficient to accuratley understand the detail of these warnings. I couldn’t figure out what these creatures were. They were the size of seals. They seemed to be amphibious. They didn’t die on land like a stranded seal of whale. They had been hit by motor vehicles. It was sad. This 100 mile or more stretch of pavement cut through this barren yet teeming with wildlife land mass.
Soon enough I was in a gas crises. My reseve warning light had been lit for more than 50 miles. I’d rolled the throttle back to 3,000 rpms and crawling at about 40mph. According to my GPS Rio Grande wasn’t far away. But there was no evident of population save large farms, which as a last resort would be paid a visit by Doc and I. Yet surely riding fumes I rounded a corner and encountered evidence of commerce. A couple miles later I spotted Doc’s oasis — a posto – service station.
The first odd thing I noticed was the young guy pumping my gas. He had dark ebony hair, dark skin, a handsome angular face and piercing blue eyes — the hair and skin color didn’t match his eyes. Weird. The second thing was the smell. Could he have been drinking. The guy reeked of alcohol. In fact, when it occured to me that not all gas station attendents in Brazil could be alcoholics. No they mix alcohol with the gas and sell straight alcohol/ethanol at many stations, too. The wafting aromas were reminiscent of many of my inebriated encounters throughout Central and South America.
According to the odd bunch at teh staation, I was still nearly four hours from Porto Alegre. With not much inbetween, I’d be pushing it to make it before sunrise. I motored on. Making good time I woulda arrived before dark hadn’t I been slammed with pelting rain just an hour later. I had to slow my pace and that combined with the notorious traffic outside Porto Alegre, I broken one of the basic tenets of world motorcycle travel: don’t travel at night. And in Brazil it’s not just motorcycles that are warned against the dangers of such driving habits. Signs along the highway warn and strongly suggest that driving during the day is much safer — for your life.
The only message I’ve found to date in Brazil that is in both Portuguese and Spanish. On the left is Portuguese and says “Traveling in the day is prettier and safer”. On the right in Spanish it says “Traveling during the day is more satisfying and safer.”
Lost in a loop somewhere outside city central in Porto Alegre a black man riding a 125cc bike splits a traffic of cars to meet me at the front of the line at a traffic light. Every few seconds I have to wipe my faceshield clean of rain. He tries to catch my attention. It’s dark. It’s a big city. And it’s my first night in Brazil. I ignore him. At the next light he starts waiving a card that’s attached to a lanyard not unlike a backstage or press pass around his neck. I flip my lid and we chat. Speaking Spanish he explains he works for the city tourism office. Yeah right. I’m a bit jaded as its a common hoax and trick to rip tourists off by posing as police or other officials. He offers to escort me to a hotel. Now I’m thinking his simply a roper for some dump trying to increase business. I had a card from a hotel recommended by the tourist information people I chatted with hours before at the border. He shook his head and said the place was 10 miles outside of town. Great. Was he lying? Was this a scam. I told him I wanted a hotel in the city center. I took my chances and followed him. I was lost anyway. And other than that hotel I knew nothing about this city.
A chain smoker and not really suited up for the rain, Lazaro, my escort, was legitimate and guided me to the City Hotel just a few blocks from the main plaza. They offered parking at a nearby secure garage. I was soaked, tired and hungry. I was thankful and I was in Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul — in Brazil.