Published: June 1st 2009
April 4th 2009
¿Te gusta coca? No thanks, I don't like fizzy drinks.
Nacho looked at me like I had just said the stupidest thing in the world and given the circumstances I just may have. I wasn't being offered America's top export (after weapons but that's another matter). As a sign that he understood, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little plastic bag to offer me Bolivia's (sole?) export - the coca leaf.
It had been a strange and eventful week that had brought me half-way back down the continent. Bidding farewell to Santa Elena, I caught a taxi to the boarder with Brazil. Walking two kilometres across no-man's land in the midday heat with thirty kilograms of luggage strapped to my back, I was happy to lose every once of sweat. Reaching Brazilian immigration, I found the door locked. The comfy bastards were off to have a churrasco lunch and I was going to miss my bus to Boa Vista. Lucky for me, I had met a Japanese duo, Emi and Yasu while partying the previous night and together with a French girl that sauntered up, we hired a taxi to get there.
two ice-creams and a few Skol later the whole happy troupe got on the overnight bus to Manaus. Again, I would be missing Amazonian views from the road but truth be told, wherever there is a road through the jungle in Brazil, there are no more trees. Illegal loggers and miners move in with a pace unheralded in these parts of the world, thereby turning the area into a dead land. A stark contrast to the Guyanas where driving along the main roads is like passing through a scene from Tarzan.
Arriving in Manaus a day before the departure of the twice-weekly boat to Porto Velho, I had shopping to be done. Five months of travels, numerous treks and the razor sharp rocks of Roraima had taken their tole. My beloved boots were no more. So full of holes that mice could mistake them for cheese, they offered exceptional air-conditioning. Alas, they needed to go. But where would I find shoes my size? I had been debating this for the last few weeks and had checked every shoe shop in every town and village along the way but with no success. As in previous trips to this continent, whenever
I told the shop attendants my shoe size, they would burst out laughing. Manaus, a city of over a million, was my last chance before reaching midget foot Bolivia. Hours of searching, dozens of Oh my god, it's Bigfoot!
gasps, one shop only and two models two chose from was the result. Sixty Euros lighter, I was sporting a pair of West Coast leather boots so shiny they would make an army sergeant proud.
On the boat and meeting up with Emi and Yasu again, I spot the only other gringo aboard. Steve and I end up sharing travel tips the duration of the trip and I learn new card games while I finish off one x-burger after another and dutifully wash them down with Skol. The part of the trip I had been fearing the most, turned out to be a relatively relaxed affair. Unlike the overcrowded, filthy pile of junk I had used to cross the Amazon from Belem to Porto Santana, this boat was fairly decent. There was hammock space of sorts, food of recognizable origin was included and I even dared to use the shower.
On our second night, all the passengers gathered on
the roof-top to watch the live transmission as Brazil beat Peru. The football was of poor quality and every time the boat rounded a bend in the river, we would lose the signal, but somehow I managed to sit through the first half before turning in. My most memorable experience occurred while I was ordering my umpteenth hamburger. Staring blankly at the TV, I recognized a catchy tune from my childhood days. It was Modern Talking and perhaps it would have been better if I had never discovered the title and words to the song Geronimo's Cadillac: Geronimo's Cadillac
Is making all girls too mad
Geronimo has a heart - Oh it's a drag
oh making all girls too sad
Geronimo has a heart - Oh it's a drag
Geronimo's Cadillac It's tossing oh in your head
It's tossing and turning
It's burning - It makes you mad
Oh baby I'll hold you back
It's tossing and turning
It's burning - It makes you sad
WTF?!? I warned you. It's tossing oh in your head; It's tossing and turning; It's burning - It makes you mad;
After three days
we'd had enough. Steve and I jumped ship in Humaita, bargained for a taxi and reached Porto Velho a full day before our fellow boat passengers would. Catching a couple of hours rest, we did our best to help get rid of the city's resident cockroach population and then split up. Steve headed west to Rio Branco to cross into Bolivia and I headed south to Guajara-Mirim to do the same. One last comida a kilo, a rain torrent to end all rain torrents and I was on my seventeenth boarder crossing of this trip.
Trying to find the immigration office was quite a feat, but no less than trying to find the lady who worked there. Eventually, two Colombian, one Argentinian and one Spanish backpacker I had bumped into, realized she wasn't merely out for lunch but had obviously gone home for the day. It wasn't even noon yet. It took us an hour to find out where she lived and another hour to get her to come back to the office and stamp me into the country. The Latino backpackers had just come from the direction I was heading and were covered head to toe in mud.
Apparently, despite it being dry season, whenever it rained, the dirt road turned into porridge and a seventeen hour trip could take as long as six days. My friends had needed three days to cross the measly six hundred kilometres of pampas between Rurrenabaque and Riberalta. Their skin was covered in insect bites from sleeping outside at night.
Stocking up on food and water and with my tent handy, I boarded a Volvo truck that had been outfitted to look like a bus. Chugging away, it didn't take long to reach our first obstacle. The whole process of de-boarding while the bus crew would go to work, digging us out, continued throughout the night and the following day but to my amazement, we made the trip in only twenty-eight hours. A spanking average rate of over twenty kilometres per hour. Light speed compared to Steve who took the same road a few days later and spent seventy-two hours offloading stuck trucks and pushing them out of the way so the bus could pass. What fun! I guess it had rained some more ;)