Manaus it expensive as it the city in Amazon jungle can be. First night I ended up pass at the hostel where I had to sleep in the morning hours because there were performances of rock bands in the hostel. Could be another kind of music sleeping ought to be possible but for this kind of music which I’m still try to comprehend, it keep me awake every 20 minutes or so.
Next day I spent the entire day cycling around the city hope to find decent and cheap accommodation. In the weekend in Brazil seem to be time for beer, barbecue and football. There is any activities, the street are deserted, in the residence areas every house seem to have same sort of part. Drunker shout to me ‘Haitiano’ ‘Jamaican’ and what not.
Manaus stands in 40m above sea leave. The city stretch alongside the river and sprawl it’s outskirts in the forest and in the small tributes valleys, its streets and neighborhood are connected by several bridges. The low areas and valleys are all flooded left some houses half covered by water. In one instance I climbed the hill which gives the panoramic view of the city and it rivers; the port is huge more than I expected, ships vary from small wooden ‘piroque’ to big oceanic ships.
I lunched in the restaurants where you can serve yourself from variety dishes but then you will pay according to the weight of plate. At least here I could get some fruits but rice, paster*, cassava, beans, meat it still an avoidable meal since Bolivia. At the end of the day I find the ‘pension’ which supposed to be cheap than hotel. Here after negotiating I got small narrow room which looks close to jail cell. There is single person bed I squeezed my bike in and there were no passing space. I have no window just merely space above the door which instead of helping air it just help mosquito into the room. I couldn’t manage to sleep for more than 3 hours, the mosquito doesn’t feel the repellent and the heart and humid make me sweet just as I’m biking.
I found out in Tabatinga there is Colombia consulate, by experience in the small towns and close to the country it very likely to get visa quick with less complication. The good option was to get out of busy and expensive Manaus get to next boat to up stream. The boat leaves on Wednesday, more days in the city! In the first boat I was welcomed to sleep in, waiting for departure day but this one is full of bureaucrats, racism, treats and what not. The lady in the selling office in the boat refused me to sleep in the boat even to sell me ticket, the gentleman seat next to her seem to be sort of cargo in charge come out to the pavement were I was seating try to figure out the next plan. Though it was more difficult to understand his Portuguese but I learn that he try to explain that he wasn’t a big guy but I can sneak in the boat and ignore the lady. I sneak in the boat and pitch my tent in the vast empty space which will be full of hanging hammocks soon or later. The breeze from the river, calm night make the night lovely and slept like a baby.
In the morning other gentleman come over as I was boiling my coffee, pee in my tent, asked me if I’m passenger, of cause I am. He said that no tent allowed in the boat. The hammock it cool but sleeping in the hammock for 6 nights that isn’t real comfortable. The next challenge was in the boarding day, couple of people who I could assume they work in this boat come to me in the different times telling me that my bike isn’t allowed to be where it was all with they are different reasons and threats. The old man who works as cleaner, he has seen these scenes. He told me not to worry, he secretly show me the big boss who I should talk with. Big boss wasn’t in any mood to talk instead he refer me to the same guys but this time with word from their boss they were bit gently, they showed me where my bike can go but since this boat is about 80% cargo bike will not real be safe. Cargo are still loaded and will be unloaded on the way, this job is done by poor guys who I have seen how they get tired and throw cargo out of supervises eyes. Put the bike there it will be most likely to break thing like changers, selectors or so. I try to explain to them with my poor Portuguese a woman between them cut me off said ‘impossible’ I ignore their concerns likewise.
Beer boat…upstream Amazon 1100km
This fleet is quite huge compare to the previous one I took from Porto Velho to Manaus, I’m told that it can carry up to 300 hundreds passengers. It built by metal not wooden like the other one. The services such as showers, toilets, food, etc are far better. About ¾ of people work on this boat are old folks; these folk have little sense that you are passenger. Time is something which doesn’t real exist here; the fleet pulls off in the village for loading and unloading for 2 to 7 hours. The duration of the trip is varying from 5 days to 10 days it depends on who you ask. The passengers deck is full every one with only a space of hammock some two in one no space for swing.
The days are becoming long day after day, the main activities is eating and sleeping so some add one to make the trip short ‘get hammered’.
This part of the river is more untouchable though there are large and small villages but the jungle stand still. The river is flooded, in the dry season the river is 15m and now it 29m the heights for the last 100 years. The flood swallowed the banks and houses, apparently in this half flooded houses you still see people add second floor and access the house by boat but most are abandoned. The native Indians are living by fishing and what the forest provide, I so surprised of variety of natural fruits from this jungle. Though the life here seem or it very natural and remote modern life doesn’t seem to live them behind as you pass by village with satellite dishes for television, electrical palls, cell phone tower, etc. Brazilian and Colombia governments give certain amount to each indigenous what seem to be good investment for future consume and workers but ironical most of indigenous people will use the money to buy home appliers and furniture and continue with their accentors life.
Finally we arrived in Tabatinga, it was 3 am when I alight the fleet which continue to next town, Benjamin Constantine. Because the small port was full passenger alighting had to go through other boats to reach the ground this was not ease in the dark and loaded bike. Within 15 minutes all the passenger I would arrive with they vanished, the security guy try to through me into what seem to be alien street guess because he wanted to sleep so he dint want anyone around. I had to pretend that I don’t understand anything he was saying so he get tired and went back to sleep. There were few lights but nothing could bit down darkness, it was still and calm night only interrupted by dogs backing and thousands of insects which at last dint make any different. There was no way I could get into deserted street; I need to stay awake till the day light break. I light my stove boil water for coffee the roar of stove awake the security guy, he come over and I offer him cup of coffee which he accept grateful then we exchange couple of stories, he seems to forget that recently I told him I don’t understand what he was saying. I lost in my book till the day light start to take over, I made oat porridge then cycle to the street direct to Colombian consul. I had to wait out of the gate till 8 am. In the consul I talk with assistance consul who asks for the same requirements which I have already know since the day I visited Colombia embassy in Argentina.
Colombia visa refuse…the bureaucracy dramas
It seems like these guys never miss anything to make you go and come back, after about 10 minutes of going through my paper he claim that the signature in the invitation later isn’t original. The later has ID number, Passport number, home address and phone number but he wanted it to have original signature and also the person who invite me should show how much he has in his bank account! I told my friend that I’m taking care of myself and I have my bank statement but he want real satisfied. At last he said I need a ticket to show my exit from Colombia to Panama. I try to explain the way I’m traveling but my friend he was like a deaf because he just repeat the same thing ‘ you need an exit ticket’. I cycle into the street to nearby internet café, the internet takes 10 minutes to open google search, when I ask the attending girl she said if I want fast internet I have to go to Colombia side.
Tabatinga and Leticia are connected with main street for both countries, Brazil and Colombia. Leticia being older than Tabatinga, it has more infrastructures though they depend to each other Leticia is more organized for tourism. Seem like it was one indigenous village it quite hard to separate them so the border it open border and you may confuse it with loose police check point but with different uniform from different side and actual different appearance! People live, work, shop and everything in vise vase, no one will ask you for travel document as you walk by. The fun thing is how language switch here, in Leticia you speak Portuguese and they will replay in Spanish and vise vase in Tabatinga, seem like in the future they might have their own language!
I cycle to Leticia and finally I could speak Spanish again, I did internet and back to the councilor. After waiting for a while the assistance come back to me and said now I need a ticket. I t wasn’t doing any better to explain him any more so I ask if I can see the councilor. He ask me to wait and he took my papers in the next room which is just separated by colored glass, I could hear them talking in the low voice, assistance read the letters. About a hour of waiting he come back and answer was the same.
It is too late now to do anything, I called my host Severn, he is living 15km out of Leticia. 15km for these small Amazon towns it can be deep into the jungle. Severn a German student of Amazon studies through National University of Colombia, Leticia campus he told me in the phone to wait him in the plaza.
I seat in front of the church overlooking the busy plaza as I was contemplate about the visa plans, it was clearly now the Colombia have become far complicated the chance of getting visa was running low. I was absorbed by what was happen in the plaza; There was a huge flock of bird arriving as sun set on horizon on top of green canopy. The flock swift/swallow, parrots like and weaver like is very huge and noise, they make couple of cycle in the sky before they break into small group and descend in the plaza trees which create small forest with light in side in the middle of town. The snacks, fruits/juice vendors moved into the edge of plaza as birds claim their sleeping territories. The birds create spectacular scene which is also a evening tourist activities. Meanwhile the church bell start to ring call for the follower in the house of God within few minutes I had switch my seating position to give was for fellow entering the church, 5 minutes later the church was full of deem lights and hymns. Birds noise seem like they were also part of singers. While people who enter the church are old and middle age folks, everyone else who pass pay make a sign of cross as the pass by the church. In the plaza it groups of young people playing with BMX bikes, scat boarding, etc; they seems to be in their own world as the speaks little and bust on giggling and laughing some when too far as they light marijuana to maintain their excitement. The polices who roaming around like bees bust them and squeeze into van it took few minutes before everything resume just like nothing happened. I was awakening from this wonder land by Sevi, after short introduction he invited me beer in the bar next to the church before we start the journey to the jungle. Sevi went in front of me with agreement that he will be waiting me in some point so I should take the direct road. I cycle in blind darkness thanks that I have light, the concrete road end and mad/wet sand road begging and there was no Sevi. The road become impossible for riding, 24km I didn’t had any hope to see my host and option was to find camping spot but the jungle is too dance. I start heading back. I find a farm house break in, threat the farm who wanted to call police; I’m in Colombia illegal if police find me I could be in the big mess. Instead I beg him to call my host, Sevi was 4km down the road try to follow me but in the mud road he crushed damage the motor bike wound himself. I meet him and we heard back home, what happened why I passed him only gods know and it remain to be a big jock between us.
The plan was to fly from Leticia to Bogota about 45 minutes then cycle to Catagena take a boat to Panama. The only boats in the internet are cruise ships $500 or so. The cheap option I could find from argents in Leticia is fly from Leticia connect in Bogota to Panama City. Though that could make my visa ease so I book the ticket drop the copy to the consul, I was given number to pay in the Bank of Bogota which also is in Leticia. Bank doesn’t accept dollar neither changing they refer me to the money changers. Money changers refused my bills which I got from the bank, they only want new bills! At last I find one to change under price. On Friday morning I show up in the consulate early but I was told that the consul hasn’t go through my paper yet so I should come back in the evening. As normal waiting is pain full, at 3pm I show up in the consulate; the assistance who I learn that he never likes me neither dislike me now he was avoiding my eyes as he tells me that my visa was neglected. I took a deep breath try to recite those words one by one, anger fill me cramp ever muscle in my body for a second, I open my month to speak but the words couldn’t come out. In the very calm voice like Buddhist monk I was able to ask him why? Not sure if it was right question but it seems like I was talking to myself as I feel my eyes become wet. The solo explanation this gentleman in front of big table full of papers, books, and two computer is ‘Only consul knows’. I told him that I have flight ticket which they ask and I just so I was going to transit through the country. There was nothing to convince this gentleman instead he make me sign papers claim that I was attended and no offence has taken against me but my visa was neglected and I can only reapply after 6 months.
My Brazilian visa was expiring in the same weekend so I went to the Federal Police to inquire about extension, the police on duties told me I can only expend my visa on the consulate in the Colombian side, I told him I don’t have Colombia visa but he said I will be served. I ask him what is pent for over staying Brazil, he thought for a while a replay ‘you will have to stay here’, I dint bother to ask him what he meant if is to be jailed or what because he seem to be uncertain and I may end up in another surprise. To check with consul in Colombia I had to wait till Monday. Saturday went by hassling to cancel the flight which becomes another mission. My student friends they tried to contact couple of people to find a help if I can get visa but all out effort went in vain. We follow one advice that I should go to the immigration office at the airport to see if they can let me fly. There the drams become chaos as offices try to explain to the student after calling consulate. The students challenge the immigration officers who threat that I’ll not allowed to enter Colombia for 3 yrs if my friends doesn’t behave at the end they make me sign paper with more or less same claim that I was attended and no offense but it illegal to be in Colombia territory without visa! The Sunday was only day I had to rest and figure out the next move, I spent time with my second host (the indigenous family). On Monday I show up Brazilian Consulate to be told that the consul can attend me if I have Colombia visa. Back to federal police it start with complication but thanks my case land into a person with different understand who confess that even themselves they don’t know everything so I should forgive them. My visa was extended by federal police upon my arrive in the country but apparently the police are not allowed to do that so now to get extension I have to exit the country and start application again but if I over stay it will cost me $5 per day.
The option is to go back down stream to Manaus and leave the country, Venezuela and French Guyana (still French territory) could be option but Venezuela visa it far complicated with a month so for visa process. I dint check with Guyana which is still a colon using euro as a currency guess it might be difficult as going to Europe but also it will be far out my intended route. It become difficult to know all the visa situation for the small central American countries also the project have delayed a lot and the goal of rising fund it further behind as I creator and coordinator I’m in the under pressure. I’m looking forward to fly to Mexico City take down 2000km+ to Arizona and put extra effort on fundraise before second leg of expedition.
The cocaine mysteries
The downstream boat was short as water current help the engine. Different from the upstream the downstream trip is full of police searching, twice police has to search every single individual (about 100 passengers), cargo and all crevices. Tabatinga, Leticia and Iquito (Peru) make a tri-border in the Amazon which is famous for Cocaine trafficking. Brazil makes a good market and exit to the rest of the world. Being black you’re more suspicious to be a trafficker, Police take more time on luggage, bike and squeeze my stomach. Later I’ll hear from Peruvian trafficker that there is about 500kg of cocaine in the boat. He told me a 1kg of cocaine in this region is about $2000, if you get it out successful to place like Europe you will have $40000. He’s cocaine tales went on and on but seem like the price to pay for this plundering trade is your life.
World Environment day…congratulation Carrie.
I arrived back in the evening of 4th, when my contacts knew I was coming back they put me into tight schedule of World Environment Day. It was an eventful day; we start the day by cycle the street of Manaus, about 100 cyclist and activists on bike to promote bike transportation and regional sustainable development. There was tree planting and I had chance to plant a tree which also will be a memory of what my Friend did in South Africa. My friend Carrie finished 90km comrade marathon with the goal to raise $1000 to support Chile to Kili project.