South America Blog Posts

Week 20 – Bolivia to Peru via Brazil

After being ill for most of the previous week, I was glad to get a rest day in the small town of Puerto Rico. But It was time to head off and get closer to the border. As I left town, the road surface suddenly stopped and I was riding on a compacted dirt road again. It was pretty rough going, but at least it was a dry firm surface. This wouldn’t last for long though

A hard day’s ride

This area of Bolivia is so strange. You can be riding on terrible dirt roads in the middle of nowhere and then suddenly there’s a really great road surface. You follow it for a kilometer or so and then there will be a beautiful ranch, which is obviously owned by someone rich and powerful. Then around a kilometer past their ranch, the road stops again and you are back on the dirt. I’d been making good progress when I got to an area that had been hit by rain the night before. The ground looked ok, but when I rode on it or stood on it, it stuck to my wheels or boots. It was like it was mixed with glue or something. The back wheel jammed up and I tried to push the bike, but I couldn’t even do that properly. I had to keep stopping to clear the mud from the wheels until I got out of that patch. The rest of the route was covered in these muddy areas and deep puddles. The worst thing about these muddy puddles is that you can’t see how deep they are. You think they are just a shallow puddle, but when you are in it, it can drop deep. It was a really hard day.

Rest stop turns to a camp spot

I was planning to get to a village called Villa Amazonica. But it was getting late and I couldn’t be bothered going much further. So I stopped at a shop to get a snack before I thought about heading further. The owner of the shop was really nice. He gave me a free bottle of coca cola and a bag of bread rolls. I asked if I could camp outside his shop and he said it wouldn’t be a problem. He even let me go around the back and take a shower. It was really nice to get freshened up after such a hard day. Maybe I looked rough and that’s why he was so kind. The next morning I saw how dirty the bike was. It was completely jammed up with mud, I poked as much of the mud out of the frame as I could. Then poured buckets of water over the bike to help clean it before I hit the road again. But when I started riding, the bike was making a horrible noise. Scraping and squealing as I was riding along. Luckily I found some discarded bottles of oil on the side of the road, so I was able to lube up the pedals and chain.

An amazing camp spot

The road wasn’t quite as bad as the day before. There were some sections of the road that had been surfaced. I actually found out that this road had been under construction, just like the long road north in week 18. The only difference is that this road was started twelve years ago and was an abandoned project. The government had run out of money and just left it. The worst part is that the local people have been told that there isn’t any chance of more budget for at least another 6 years. It was midafternoon and I was getting a bit peckish when I saw a small shed with a sign advertising food and drinks. I pulled in and they offered to make a special cheap meal for me that wasn’t on the menu. After I had finished, they asked if I’d like to take a shower. Of course I took them up on the offer. But I was shocked to see where it was. Around the back of this shed there was a swimming pool with tables and chairs as well as a terrace. I couldn’t believe it. I asked if they would let me stay the night and they agreed. It wasn’t as far as I wanted to get that day. But it was still half way to Cobija, so it worked out perfectly.

A strange border crossing

The next day I headed to Cobija and spent a night there before I crossed the border. This border was one of the strangest borders I have experienced. Firstly the Bolivian side is just an office that you could easily drive past if you missed it. Then the Brazilian customs is done in the police office. So you have to ride all the way into town to find the office in order to get stamped into the country. Its not at all what I am used to. But the border with Peru in IƱapari isn’t much different. I was only planning on spending a couple of days in Brazil. Just getting to Peru. But in the end I actually only spent a little over a day. This was lucky, because neither of my cards were accepted in the ATM, so I didn’t have any cash for the journey.

Friendly, helpful Brazilians

The first Brazilians I met pulled over in front of me when I was cycling and started talking to me. I was really suspicious of them. They asked me to come to their community place which was further down the road. I said ok, but I wasn’t sure that I would actually go. I just couldn’t believe that someone would pull over a complete stranger like that, just to help them. But when I got to their place they waved me in. They welcomed me with iced water and brought me a plate of food. I really couldn’t believe it. They were so nice. After I left their place I was thinking about it and I felt so guilty for not trusting them. But then I would think that it is probably best not to blindly trust strangers. I’m really not sure where to find the balance. The next people I met were at a restaurant. I had stopped there to eat and drink. They had a card machine, so luckily, I could buy things. But when I was there, a couple of guys in a truck also stopped for snacks. They said hello and asked where I was headed. Then they said they would drive me close to the border. About 20 km from the border. So I took them up on the offer and we headed out. The actually drove me all the way to the border and dropped me right at the Brazilian border. I didn’t know where I could sleep or where to go. But they drove off into the night and I had to deal with it.

A night in the border town

This border is another strange one. After you pass through immigration, there is a town before the border. Then on the other side of the border is another town, then the immigration is at the other side of that. So there are basically two towns between the immigration offices. I ended up spending a night in the Brazilian town called Assis Brazil. The hotel wasn’t great, but I negotiated it down to half price. I could deal with the border crossing the next morning and cross over into Peru to start a new chapter of my journey through South America.

South America Blog Posts

Week 19 – Getting sick in the Bolivian Amazon

In my last vlog I had just finished a long journey north through the Beni region to Pando. I arrived at a very basic hostel and was finally getting some rest. Although, there wasn’t a shower and only a long drop toilet. I took a rest day and I wasn’t feeling so good. I thought it was just because I had been cycling so far all week. So I relaxed and made sure I was eating and drinking enough. In the evening I cooked myself some fish pasta. My usual energy boost meal on the road.

A rude awakening

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling weird. I thought that I needed to throw up. So I got some clothes on and ran outside. After a few seconds of standing bent forward in the grass it became apparent that I didn’t need to throw up. I needed to get to the toilet. As there’s no running water in that village, there’s just a long drop toilet. I walked to the end of the field to a wooden hut. Opened the door to see a wooden box raised from the ground with a hole cut in the top. As my headtorch flashed over the ‘toilet’ I saw maybe a hundred cockroaches scatter into the darkness. I have to say that I didn’t sit on this wooden box. I opted to use it like a squat toilet. At least this way I only had the risk of a cockroach running on my foot instead of across my bum cheeks or up my back. So yeah, it turned out I had somehow picked up a case of food poisoning.

A difficult decision

The next morning I felt pretty rough. I just wanted to relax in bed, drink something nice and eat some easy to digest foods. The only problem was my location. I was in the middle of nowhere, no running water and a room with no door. I checked the map and saw that the next town was 75km further down the road. I didn’t feel like I was comfortable enough to recover in the place I was staying. So I decided to go for it. Cycling 75km without eating anything. I told myself that I could take it steady and when I got to town I would have access to all the things I might need.

A hard days ride

It turned out to be a long, hard day. The road surface wasn’t so bad and the scenery was really nice. But I was struggling to appreciate it in the condition I was in. I kept zoning out, just slipping into my own mind and cycling. I would catch myself doing it and try to force myself to take in my surroundings. I stopped in each village that I passed through and drank an energy drink to keep me going. Eventually I got to the town of El Sena. I managed to negotiate a really good price for a decent hotel room. Probably just because the owner felt sorry for me. But I was finally in a comfortable place. I took a shower and bought drinks and bread. Then I just settled in for a couple of days of recouperation.

Spending time in the village

For a day or so, I felt really weak and pretty low emotionally. But once I was eating properly again, my strength came back and with it came my positive energy. The day before I was planning to leave, I got a message from Yuri. He mentioned that he had a friend in a village a days ride from El Sena and that I could go stay with him. So that was how I was introduced to Rozen. The next day I cycled out to meet him and stayed with his family. They were all so friendly and welcoming. They live in a beautiful little village called Mandarino. All the neighbours came over to say hello and the kids were amazed to see my drone flying around. It was really nice to experience a small taste of village life. So peaceful and laid back. Rozen explained how much he preferred this lifestyle rather than working in town. As he put it, when you work in town you got to work and come home to sleep. But now his life is spent with his family. His son is like a close friend and he can give his daughter a lot of attention as she grows up. They make some money selling things from a small shop on the front of their house and they are happy.

Pit stop in Puerto Rico

As the week was coming to an end, I headed to the next town along my route. A small town called Puerto Rico. I took a rest day before heading out again. The next leg of my journey would take me through the rest of the Pando region, through the South of Brazil and over the border into Peru. But we can talk about that next week.