I was feeling strong and sassy as I left Rio Branco with a three day jaunt down to the borders of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. I never expected to make it this far in this amount of time and I thought “Wow, I am killing the miles, maybe I can get home early.” Then, staring me in the face for the first time was a distance marker over the road showing the kilometers to Lima. It says 1,931…that´s about 1,200 miles to go, with the Andes in between.
There is a bike lane for commuters going in and out of Rio Branco and as I rode that morning I saw the result of a bike accident. An older man had collided head on with someone else and was laying on his side still tangle in his bike. There was a rather large puddle of blood on the pavement from a cut on his head shining bright red in the sun while people collected bandages from a local pharmacy and called an ambulance. The man didn´t look well and wasn´t moving. I could do nothing for him at that point and cleared out of the way.
After a quick sleep in Capixaba (the town was completely engrossed in their Saturday night local soccer game and everything was closed) I was on the road at 5:30 am and filled my water bottles at the town´s gas station. Something I have seen a few times in Brazil that leaves me a little wary are the late night booze fests that occur at the 24 hour gas stations, or postos. That morning I rode past the pumps and to the water fountain next to the office. There were about 30 people in the lot and crushed beer cans laying everywhere. Some of the car doors were open and calypso music was blasting full volume while couples swaggered together to the hypnotic beat (if you´re interested it´s a band called Banda De Ja Vu and it is played constantly in the Amazon, you can find it on YouTube). A few guys asked me about what I was doing and slurred “Boa Sorte.” Yep, you too guys!
Every car that passed me that morning made me cringe with the thought of a drunk behind the wheel. One hour later I passed a group of guys at a shack of a bar in a 3 house town. They wanted me to stop for a second but from the thousands of beer cans in the road, parking lot, and yards I decided to give them a thumbs up and keep rolling. I was quickly called a porra and filha da puta (you can imagine what they mean). I thought about the truck loads of beer it took to keep this tiny town stocked up. I considered stopping for a beer to see what would happen but had 92 miles to make that day so passed on the idea.
Brasileia is on the border of Brazil and Bolivia with a small river separating the two countries. When I came into town I took a quick picture on the other side of the border but turned around before the armed guards asked me any questions. Later, after some dinner I wanted to go back. Americans require a paid for and approved visa to enter Bolivia but it seemed Brazilians just freely walked in and out past the military base. I had left my passport in my room since it wouldn´t really help me anyway and jumped in a pack of guys walking over the border. I did my best to look Brazilian (act cool, relaxed, no big deal). I´m not sure what would happen if I was caught in the country with no passport or visa and it was discovered I was American. But screw it. Let´s see which way the wind blows in Bolivia.
Once in Cobija Bolivia I strolled around the streets for a few hours. The town is quite big and I was briefly lost trying to avoid the swarm of armed cadres on all the street corners. They are like the blue light call boxes on college campuses, one is always in sight. They were wearing full fatigues and had machine guns slung over their shoulders. As I walked I tried to look like I had somewhere to go but wasn´t in a hurry. Guys played craps in the street, reggaeton blasted from street stands selling pirated CDs and DVDs, and chickens roasted everywhere. It was very typical of any city in this part of the world from what I could tell.
I headed back towards the border bridge which is just beyond a military zone with gates close the street to traffic. This time I was alone, there was no one else in sight, except the 5 armed guards in the middle of the road. It´s not easy to look nonchalent when your heart rate is about 180 bpm and one question from a guard would give me away. I looked straight, gave a quick nod hello to the pack, and walked right by. It would have been a good idea to walk back over the bridge, across the river, and into the safety of Brazil. However, just up river on the Bolivian side was some loud music that seemed intriguing. So instead I banged a left to find the source and maybe grab a beer.