One block over the border into Peru I get called over to a table at a bar. I spent the next 7 hours with these guys in the town of Iñarapi. On the left is Marco, then Bullet Face (he told me he was shot in the face recently), then Stallone (Antonio), a bag of coca leaves, and finally yours truly, for the day known as Michael Douglas.
The three borders of Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil come together at the towns of Assis Brazil and Iñarapi. I wanted to get into Peru this day to square away money and start early the next morning for my leg down to Puerto Maldonado.
While riding from Brasileia to Assis Brazil I ran into a road block. I coasted up to the gate and looked for the man in charge of this mess. There were people sitting in the road, a food stand set up, wooden gates blocking the way, and a police truck parked perpendicular in the middle of the street. I man with chest hair billowing out of his shirt walks over and puts his hands on my handle bars.
Me: “Hi, can I go through?”
Chest Hair: “Nope. Would you like something to eat?”
Me: “Not now. Why can´t I go through?”
Chest Hair: (something about the rights of his small side community and the new Estrado Do Pacifico roadway that I was on.)
Me: “How long until I can go?”
Chest Hair: “Six, seven, eight, maybe ten days.”
Me: “Ha Ha. Wow.”
Chest Hair: “Have something to eat or drink.”
My lord, are these guys serious? The conversation went on and I told them I had biked from Belem via the TransAm and was on my way to Lima Peru. They talked amongst themselves, went back to talk to someone in the crowd of people eating, and within 5-10 minutes let me through and wished me luck!
The border between Brazil and Peru had a customs station but I didn´t see anyone around so rolled down the hill, over the bridge, and one block to the bar with my new friends. I asked them where the customs station was and they told me to sit down and have a beer “you´re in Peru.” They quickly had a large bag of coca leaves, the plant used to make cocaine (not to be confused with cocoa or cacau for chocolate), and ordered a few more beers. The younger guy had a black eye, swollen face, and a bandage just below his eye. He told me he was shot recently, just on the other side of the plaza. Really? By who I thought. He pointed to a swaying drunk on the sidewalk. Obviously he was pulling my leg… I think.
The other guy insisted on calling me Michael Douglas, he mildly resembled Sly Stallone so that´s what he was called, and for the rest of the day he wore my hat. We spoke in Spanish, Portuguese, and even some English. I realized I never got my passport stamped by the Brazilians and needed to go back. At this point I was mildly drunk as well. They called over Marco, someones cousin, who drove me the 2 km back to the Brazilian customs. It takes some faith to leave everything you have with perfect strangers and head back into a country you left to get your passport stamped, while buzzed. I was thinking I am in it now, everything I own is with god knows who, what are the customs agents gonna say, and why do I still have this damn spandex shorts on?
Needless to say the Brazilian customs agents were less than happy with how I left the country. “So you left Brazil, all your baggage is in Peru, and you didn´t stop here to get approved, now you are re-entering Brazil and want your exit stamp?” Ummm, yeah.
Back down the hill, over the river, to return with the bags and bike. I stopped in “No Man´s Land” to make sure the chuckle heads back at the bar didn´t slip something into my panniers that the customs agents might find. They went through everything I had, stamped my passport, and back to the bar I was no worse for the wear! My motto for much of the scenarios that seem questionable on this trip has been, “Let´s see how this plays out.” And so it went.
Everything was going great but eventually when you mix enough beer, brawn, and coca something is bound to happen. The more or less inevitable eventually did indeed happen … ARM WRESTLING! It was me verses Bullet Face (can´t remember his real name). Peru VS United States, North America VS South America, Boston VS Iñarapi. Stallone was the referee and the wager was two beers to the loser. My upper body strength has suffered somewhat with the lack of calories and long hours pedaling and so I got my clock cleaned pretty handily. Double or nothin´on the left. Maybe he let me win because he felt bad, maybe I am a stone cold stud, but I won the left and in the end it was a draw overall. Of course we bought and drank the beers anyway.
By the way, the coca leave is stuffed in the lip or cheek and is a mild stimulant. It is perfectly legal in Peru, sold everywhere, and chewed by locals and gringos alike. I never have felt more than a numbness in my mouth but it is supposed to help with the low oxygen levels of the highlands. As I type this I have a wad stuck in my lip in true gringo fashion. I´ll be putting it to the test for sure in the next week.
The next two days I cycled from the border down to Puerto Maldonado. This stretch has recently been paved as part of the Trans-Oceanic roadway that now connects the ports of southern Brazil to Peru and the west coast. I saw almost no trucks pass through this way however. The project is still going on and is slated to be finished in 2010. It has been in the works for decades more or less. I passed some dirt and mud sections reminding me of my more than 1500 miles off road so far.
The villages along this road are very small and very poor. I have seen amazing amounts of insects through this section as well. At night blankets of flying ants lose their wings and die on the ground. In the morning they cover everything. I´m not sure how often this happens but it must be a pain to clean up. I also have seen giant beetles dead in the streets and buildings.
I´ve crossed yet another time zone (and although I am so far west in South America I am currently on East Coast time back in the US). I am adjusting to the food and water in Peru as I did in Brazil. Needless to say my Southern Hemisphere has seen better days. I know as I go forward that inevitably I will have to eat food and drink water the normal travel would probably avoid. Overall I have had very little problems with this during the trip and feel I have somewhat of an “iron constitution” at this point.
Puerto Maldonado is surrounded by some of the most pristine rainforest left on the planet. With that comes something I haven´t seen once on the entire ride…tourists! Of course, I am a tourist as well. I am foreign and here to see the sites more or less. But, these other tourists look so clean. They also are decked out with gear and clothing like they were going on safari with Dr. Livingstone himself. I´ve yet to talk to one, I´m not all that interested, although it might be nice to relate my experiences first hand in my native language.
I have bought a sleeping pad and even a sleeping bag made in Colombia in the marketplace here. I will get some more clothing for the mountains over the next few hundred miles as I climb in elevation. The ascent is daunting and has potential to give me problems with lack of food and water…and at this point even time.
In the words of Che´ “We shall see.”