Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 67 - Rio Branco, Brazil, to Riberalta, Bolivia

RobC:  Okay, folks, get ready for an avalanche of  blog entries. We finally have a good Internet connection here in northern Argentina, after a week of incredible adventures in Bolivia. Bear with us, we will get you caught up and you will enjoy the amazing travels through areas that few other around-the-world motorcyclists have dared to traverse.

RobT:  We knew we were in for a long day today, as we wanted to get well into Bolivia from Rio Branco, Brazil.  We were very concerned about the 700 km (450 mile) stretch of road from Riberalta to San Borja after getting in northern Bolivia, so we asked everyone we met to see if we could get some useful info about the road conditions and accommodations along the way.  We had heard many stories, but the concern was that any rain would make the road impassable.  First we had to get out of Brazil and hopefully avoid the torrential rains that plagued us the past few days.

The first 400 km (250 miles) through the Brazilian rain forest area was uneventful.  It is a well-known fact that the jungle has been cleared to the horizon on both sides of the road to make room for huge Brahma cattle farms.  We cruised along at 130 kph (80+ mph) to make time, as we also had a border crossing in the afternoon, which is never a quick task.

We ran into a ferry crossing that was unexpected.  The last truck was loading when we arrived.  Normally you pay the fee on the ferry, but not this time.  We had to turn around and find the kiosk to pay our 3.5 Brazilian Reales and rush back before the ferry took off.  We made it just in time.  On board we met a Colonel from the Brazilian Army Corps of Engineers and passed the time with him and his driver. He chatted with RobC about his daughter having studied in the Netherlands and how much she liked it, plus the fact that she had learned Dutch in a year, which is quite remarkable.

Motos: 3.50 Reales ... Animals: 3.50 Reales ... not sure what is meant by animals.I suppose you pay for your horse or donkey if you travel that way.


Catching the ferry just in time.

Colonel from the Brazilian Army admiring the bikes.

"Dock" on the other side of the river.

We arrived at Guajara-Mirim, Brazil, and followed the signs to the port official's office ... right at the river side.  We checked our bikes out of Brazil and then had to find the immigration office (next to the police station) which was 2 blocks up and 4 over through a very run down part of town.  We parked in front of the police station and an officer came out who did not like where we parked.  We got our exit stamp from immigration in about 5 seconds and headed back to find a ferry across the wide Madeira river to get to the Bolivian side.  This was not going to be easy, even though there is lots of commercial cargo going back and forth across the river.  The problem ... we were told, there was no organized public ferry.  We would have to contract a ferry that carries the petrol trucks across, either that or get a powered canoe or boat of some type.

We arrived at the “dock” (steeply sloping dirt bank) just as a large ferry was leaving with two large petrol trucks.  Its was 4 pm (and very hot and muggy) and we weren’t sure if the ferry was coming back.  We talked to some people and found out it was indeed returning for 2 more petrol trucks.  Whew!   In the meantime we were trying to get more info on the condition of the road past Riberalta, Bolivia, and whether it was passable.  It was no surprise that there were several answers.  To our relief, the ferry returned and RobC approached the Captain and negotiated a price for passage of our bikes ... 40 USD for both of them.  As we were beginning to load, a Brazilian customs agent stopped us and said we needed to get our bikes checked against the paperwork we had handed in.  This officer/guard had been jabbering in non-understandable Portuguese the whole time we were waiting for the ferry to return, so we thought he was looking for bribe money.  (Good thing we didn’t offer a bribe, as it would have further complicated things.  We were told Brazilian officials pride themselves in their honesty.) Another agent came out as RobC was getting on the ferry.  At this point we were getting frantic, since the ferry was loaded and ready to go.  RobC parked his bike on the ferry ramp so it wouldn’t go anywhere.  The second agent wanted to check serial numbers and plates.  RobC checked out fine, but the customs agent on entering Brazil mistyped my plate number so they were holding me up.  (I know, I should have triple-checked all info).  The ferry was still waiting with RobC’s bike on the ramp.  RobC left his bike there and came up the embankment to deal with this new Brazilian customs agent.  Upon hearing the issue he explained the problem that the agent at the Peru/Brazil border was a young lady in training and she had made a minor mistake. Rob applied his best PR moves at this point and jovially told the young Brazilian officer that his pretty, blond colleague at the entry border in Iñapari had made a mistake, but that we were obviously talking about the same bike and that we were not into any illegal activities. The agent smiled and said that he knew the girl and my bike was released.  What a relief!

Two fuel tankers were waiting on board the ferry and once again one had to race forward, hit the brakes, repeat, for the forward momentum to dislodge the ferry from the shore.

RobC putting on his best "dog and pony" show to secure passage on the commercial ferry.

Brazilian side of the border.  Sliding bags of goods down wooden chutes to the waiting boats heading for Bolivia.

Bolivian side of the river.  The dock is the dirt pile on the right.

As the first tanker drove off the ferry, the ferry listed to one side and as the second left, the ferry regained its equilibrium which was forceful enough that the bikes almost fell over.  We were not quite ready for that!!

Bolivian immigration office in Guayaramirin

Bolivian customs office

The road to Riberalta, packed red clay with a little gravel in it. Good thing it was not raining.

We finished the entry requirements into Bolivia, which went quite smoothly. The people were very nice and it was a relief to be in familiar Spanish-speaking territory again. It was now getting quite late.  We had 90 km (55 miles) to go on red clay, dusty  jungle road and it would be dark soon, which was okay as we learned that the road was in good condition.  No one mentioned anything about road construction, which was the case.  We finally arrived in Riberalta surrounded by a cloud of hazy dust as the sun was nearly down.  We stopped at a shack that was selling moto fuel out of 1-liter Coke bottles to ask about lodging in town.  We found a place for 20 USD with air!  Excellent.  What a remote jungle town!  The place was a dusty frontier town with 90% of all vehicles being small scooters.  That night we went to the main plaza for supper and watched a continuous parade of people on scooters circling the plaza numerous times all the while talking (and even texting) to friends and other people on other scooters.  Some scooters carried as many as 5 people - mom and pop and 3 children) Seemed like quite the huge social event ... riding around the plaza with friends and meet up with other friends.  Very cool!

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