I started the day´s ride at 5:30am and left the pavement behind me for the first time. Even at this hour I was sweating like a madman as I negotiated the washboard dirt road with my 100+ lb rig. I was right to be nervous the night before.
The road leaving Cameta´was a hard packed waffle iron type grid of packed clay. By 8am I had made 25 miles and crossed a few clean looking rivers. I had high hopes I would have a decent ride and not need all the extra water I was carrying.
By 10:30am I made my goal for the day and decided it would be crazy to stop so early, so I pushed on after a quick rinse in a small creek. I had about 50 miles to the next town on the map but figured I would camp in late afternoon by some river along the way.
The road started to deteriorate (from bad to much worse) as I entered the fazendas. A fazenda is a huge cattle ranch run by either some sort of conglomerate or someone with some cash. Much of the Amazon forest is being cut down for these fazendas. Cattle ranching is an easy way to occupy land with minimal man power, but also one of the most devastating and least productive uses of that land.
When I say they are huge I mean the size of Rhode Island huge. After passing through Bailique (small village I was going to stay in) I didn’t see another village, house, river, stream, even shade for that matter!
The sand is more like deep dust (like 8 inches or more). It´s extremely difficult to ride in and even more so when your bike weighs almost 100lbs (extra water on board, thank god). I took a spill and banged my shin when my load shifted under me…it´s hard to correct a loaded bike when it slips in the sand.
The wind was starting to leave my sails at this point. It was now midday, my water was over 100F (not very refreshing), and the road continued to stretch to the horizon with nothing but ranch on either side. Every time a truck went by it was a complete dust storm that entered my eyes, nose, throat, everywhere. Also, most truckers tend to drink during their working day. Cachaca (a cheap brand named 51 mostly) is a firewater sugarcane rum. They drink it warm in little plastic cups all day along with Choppe (a type of beer) until they feel like getting in their truck loaded with logs or cattle and slamming down the dust road at top speed.
There was no place to camp since I had left Bialique at 10:30 am. Even where there were trees, I’ve heard camping on a fazenda can be unwise. There are signs and fences the entire length of the ranches and the owners aren’t sympathetic towards touring cyclists.
I pushed on, draining most of my water, until I started to feel a fuzzy tingly feeling on my neck and face. I knew I was maxed out, my body temp was probably through the roof, my skin was blotchy, and I wasn’t sweating anymore. From this point on I road about 3-4 miles at a time before ducking into a body sized piece of shade or using my umbrella (that´s what they are used for down here, not the rain!). My water was warmer than my body temp ad didn’t cool my core and I new I was teetering on heat exhaustion (or most likely already there).
I pulled over at one point and hunched over my handle bars. Two students in their early 20′s pulled over and looked at me in profound curiosity. I asked them where Joana Peres was (next small town on the map) and they told me it was 20km back! I just laughed. They took my picture, I took theirs and we parted ways.
I decided to continue forward, both my map and GPS said Joana Peres was 10-15 miles ahead. I figured they must be wrong, my information can´t be. The next few people I passed couldn’t tell me where Joana Peres was, they´d never heard of it, so I started to worry. Finally my GPS said I passed it by a few miles yet I saw no road. At this point I was totally out of gas. The sun was going to set within 30 minutes and the road started to get very hilly to make matters worse. I saw a radio tower about 3 miles ahead and decided there must be something worth riding to there.
When I rolled in (literally at 2mph in my second to lowest gear) I had rode 100 miles, was ready to cry, and couldn’t conjure up any Portuguese. The village looked completely run down, covered in dust, and everyone was droopy eyed drunk! It was a logging town, processing the wood cut from the fazendas. I went to the first road side stand and asked for something to drink (all they had was coke and rum, I opted for the coke). I choked on it and spilled it all over the counter and asked where Joana Peres was…the reply, 50km back! WTF!
I asked at a gas station if their was a dormitory in town (where truckers sleep) or someplace to pitch my hammock. The men just blankly stared, nothing, no words, no expressions, nothing. Finally after asking 2 more times a kid told me down the road on the right. I wheeled my bike about 200 meters and asked the next kid, drunk and about my age, where it was. He told me ask at the gas station I just came from.
I think he could tell I was at my ropes end and he walked me down to the local bar/general store where 5 or so men were drinking choppe and 51. I could tell from his demeanor towards them that they were in charge and he had to ask them first what to do with me. They seemed suspicious of a non-Brasileiro so I told my story in detail to them, answered their questions, and actually conveyed enough to impress them! They laughed and said I was part brazilian and approval was had. So down the road I went to the dormitory to get a hammock space.
As my drunk companion, Nonato, and I strolled I asked him the name of the community. It was called 50km (it isn’t that uncommon along these roads, tiny towns take the name of the kilometer marker they lay on).
We walked to the building (a shack with 5 doors and 5 locks, numbered 1-5) where Nonato explained my situation to the owner who was straddling his motorcycle. I new immediately by the way motorcycle man looked at me it was a no-go. I was ready to sleep in the dust on the side of the road by now. Nonato even looked stressed.
We went back to the general store and more conversation took place. It was decided that I would go with the doctor, who was drunk, and we threw my bike in the back of his pickup. Normally I would have protested but I had pretty much given up at this point.
However, after a few more minutes, I was saved by the shop owner and his wife. We rolled my bike through the yard gate and he took me to the back of the store, out to the side yard, and showed me a barrel of water to wash in (there was no white gringo skin even showing at this point). Next, his wife walked me to a room behind the store counter with clean sheets!
In 30 more minutes she had a 4 course meal of salad, chicken, rice, and beans made just for me, enough to feed 3 people. By this time I was in absolute heaven. The woman called her friends over so I could tell my plans and they could see the idiot American.
I socialized with the people out front while a man covered in dust and wearing only cutoff jeans drove his car onto the porch with his front bumper inside the store. He had a bum radiator and needed water or something. The mayor even stopped by and went on a 20 minute tirade about Lula (the president) and the state of Brazil, I understood maybe 60% of it, kinda. He wasn’t happy.
I went to bed relieved to be someplace besides the fazendas and didn’t even mind the cockroaches bigger than my thumb crawling on the walls (I noticed them when I heard the scratching noise they made scuttling around). I didn’t even mind waking up with fresh mice feces on the mattress next to me.
Of course breakfast was made when I left my room and it was time to head off. It was an oasis that had truly saved me from those god awful ranches. As I left the owner and his wife told me to look out for their children work at the fazenda I´d pass through as I left town. Oh well.