Swimming with the Jiahoy Tapyýnha Rapepukua Rekwiawa e Tenharim Indians


Ten bucks to anyone who can pronounce that. I left the riverside campsite and dogs behind for another day heading towards Humaita´. With such flatness on the road the previous afternoon I had ideas of another 100 mile day and was hammering the pedals before 6am. This wasn´t one of my wisest decisions. Also, I still don´t quite understand the Indians of northern Brazil.

Like Robert Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay” and with that my beautiful flat road disappeared and I was back into the hills. This time however, instead of the roller coaster ups and downs, I had long drawn out 1-2 mile gradual inclines. When you ask a motorist if the road is flat and they say yes, take it with a grain of salt. Those long gradual inclines grind away at your morale.

I reached a town called KM 180 or Vila Santo Antonio do Matupi,  located 180 kilometers from Humaita´. I fill my water bottles at a gas station and try to answer the questions of a screaming kid in his early 20´s who’s clearly had a few too many beers for 11:30 am. He has no patience for my portuguese and I have no patience for his lack of volume control. I decided to push on for the day.

By 2pm I had made 70 miles but was feeling the wear and tear. I plan to stop every ten miles to rest and eat in the shade. Ten miles sounds pretty wimpy but it was an hour and a half worth of effort on this day.

After nearly 1400 miles of road I actually had to pay a toll! The Jiahoy Tapyýnha Rapepukua Rekwiawa Indian reservation charged 7 Reals per vehicle for use of the road on their land. Fair enough I thought as I paid the lady and proceed through the gate. I didn´t have any indication on my map there would be a reservation here.

I rarely rely on my map at this point since it has failed me so many times thus far. More or less it is good for visualizing the sequence of rivers and towns to some small degree. The distances printed are completely off, sometimes by as much as 70 miles. I´m not sure who the cartographers are but the inaccuracy of the map has been astounding.

I use distances emailed to me by my father to plan my rides and I also ask locals how far away certain points are. It’s wise to ask a good cross section of the population. A tough guy will say the road is easy, well maintained, and that distances are shorter. A younger person might never have left their town and give you their best guess. The most reliable people to ask are the truckers and bus drivers since they know the routes by heart. However, a smooth road for a truck and for a bike are two very different things.

So back to the reservation. For 20 miles there is pure untouched jungle on either side of the road. Rio Marmelos is ahead of me and I have been fantasizing all day that it will be a perfect place to stay with either a nice campsite or even a small hotel or dormatorio. I could have a cold coke or at least some cold water, bath in the river, and be within a day’s ride to Humaita´. I push on hoping this will be the case.

When I do reach Rio Marmelos it´s almost dusk and I have ridden 90 miles in about 9 hours of actual pedaling. I am still inside the Indian reservation and there are grass and bamboo huts in bunches on either side of the river. I am committed to staying by this river!

The exit for the reservation is just on the far side of the river. I pedal over and ask the attendant if there is a place to stay in the area. She is in her late teens or early twenties and is surrounded by adolescents. They mumble to each other and just laugh. I try to tell her what I am doing and that I would just like a place to hang my hammock for the night. More laughing and no answer.

I pedal back towards the river and ask an older man the same question. He tells me he doesn´t know if there is a place to stay, but there´s a hotel (restuarant/bar) about 2 hours back from where I came.

I ride to the edge of the river and wade into the water. There are Indian boys, girls, babies, men, and women floating in the water and washing clothes. I take some time to scrub the dust from my legs, scalp, ears, eye sockets, neck, and rinse the festering abrasion on the back of my leg.

I strike up a conversation with one of the male Indians about my trip. We seem to be understanding each other well. I tell him where I´ve been, that I live in Boston, and I´m going to Peru etc. Then I ask if there is a place to stay for the night in this community. He tells me to ask the person at the gate. I told him that she didn´t know.

He asks some people around him but doesn´t reply to me. After a few minutes I tell him I´ve pedaled 9 hours and I´m very tired. Is there someplace I can sleep in this village? Again, he turns to the people around him and they kind of laugh with each other.

I have to admit, I had little patience at this point and after two laughing responses I am getting fed up. I asked one more time, realizing that they hold all the power as to whether I can stay or not. I make my best polite inquiry and again laughs all around.


What the flip? That’s it. I stand up, leave the river, and get on my bike. I open the gate and let myself out of the reservation and pedal a few miles down the road out of sight of the village. I have 20 minutes to sun down (it sets quick this close to the equator). The road is still surrounded by pure jungle but I find a small clearing to set up camp where not too much hacking of foliage is required to get my hammock up. I am exhausted and want minimal effort.

I light a palm stump on fire and throw some dead leaves on it and have dinner boiling in less than 6-7 minutes. I am pretty pumped about this at least. From cold stump to hot dinner in less that 7 minutes. Unfortunately I am completely swarmed by bees. None of them sting me but they are most definitely some sort of bee. My sweaty cycling clothes and food add to their excitement.

I’m in the hammock sweating for the night by 6 pm. I lay there listening to monkeys, bees, birds, and the loudness of the jungle at dusk and wonder about the response from the Indians. I don’t really get riled up at this point however, just wonder.

There are more things between heaven and earth… especially out here in the jungle, which no westernized person could ever understand.

40 Responses to “Swimming with the Jiahoy Tapyýnha Rapepukua Rekwiawa e Tenharim Indians”
  1. Wow! Got to admit I don’t think I could take that much punishment and continue on the next day. A good meal, clean sheets and a little snow might look pretty good. Stay safe Amazon Pilgrim. Love ya

    by Mom
    on 28. Oct, 2009

  2. An odd response from the Indians, as you would think most people would be intrigued or appreciate the opportunity to learn more about someone outside their culture. On the other hand, it seems as though many along your trek exist in their own sphere, and since you are passing through it, regard that transience as not contributing or taking away from their normal routine. A phrase that I have used in the past that seems appropriate here is that “Not everyone you meet during your journey through life will have the desire or capacity to keep up with you.” Thanks again for providing the means for us to do so, as I would be hard pressed to be biking at the pace you are keeping, Doug!

    As an expeditionary thought, do you have a way of recording any of the jungle sounds that you are hearing at night? Have found that the sound in videos I have taken to be an evokative element in recalling the moment when the footage was taken.

    by Ken
    on 28. Oct, 2009

  3. Very strange behavior…sounds like some peer pressure going on. Just remember you are amazing!

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