It was a dark and stormy night…
No, wait, that’s the introduction for Halloween stories. Let’s try that again.
It was hot as hell with humidity well into the nineties. After riding through most of Central America in flip-flops, shorts, and sunglasses. I'd finally given into the fact that I should at least wear my padded Gore text motorcycle pants while on the bike "just in case." So here were are riding down the BR319 road in Brazil on the way to the city of Manaus in the Amazon.
If you don’t know, the BR319 is an infamous and controversial stretch of roadway on the TransAmazon route through the Amazon rainforest. The controversial part comes from the fact that putting a road through the rainforest will naturally open it up to more exploitation. Something that most of the world would like to avoid, as the rainforest is considered the lungs of the earth. Well, if you've ever seen an anti-smoking ad, you'll know what happens when you fuck with your lungs. No picture that on a global scale.
There is, however, groups of people that would like to see this current dirt/gravel/disintegrated pavement road fully paved. This would make it much easier to travel, and of course, if you were running a business out of the rainforest like logging (insert gagging sound here), it would make it much easier. As well, if you lived in the area, you could actually travel that road more than six months a year.
As for infamous. Well, the rainforest sees about six-months of dry like conditions and six-months of heavy rains. If you try to drive the road during the rainy season, you best have a team, food and water, a flexible time schedule, and the ability to get yourself out of deep mud trouble once you get into it. Picture extreme 4x4ing. This season of rain and impassable mud was meant to start a couple weeks before I had planned to give the road a go.
I consulted with various people who had tried the road over recent years and the times of year they attempted it. Then I started asking around on various online forums to find a partner who might also be running the road around the same time. I found one guy to travel with, then he backed out. I looked deeper into the topic and could find no real-time information. Instead, I had my tyres changed from road tyres to aggressive off-road knobby tyres. Then, I loaded the bike up with a full tank of fuel, plus an extra 13-liters between pop bottles and a jerry can. Filled up with 9 liters of water. Then stuffed the bike with enough food for four days, in case I took longer than the 11-hours of driving time I was told was required in the dry season.
Damn, if I didn’t get lucky. I heard back from a family the day I was set to leave who’d just driven the road in a 4x4. They said the rains hadn’t begun and the worst part of the road right now was “where there was pavement." With that news myself, Stanley and KLaiR headed for the 685km drive overloaded and under-concerned.
The downside to being so well prepared was that the knobby tyres were way to aggressive for dry hard-packed roads and made the bike extremely difficult to handle with all the extra weight. After three hours I'd stopped to take a much-needed break from the heat and trying to control the bike. Here I noticed that two of my three water bottles had rubbed against the bike and had started to leak. Fuck, I was already down to half my water supply, and I'd just started! While I was adjusting the water bottle placement, I then noticed the steel frame that holds the luggage to the bike had begun to crack. Seems we had gone over the weight limit, again. By the next stop, it was broken, double fuck! We were only 100 of the 685-kms into this adventure.
That night I’d found one of a handful of places that a person could actually pull off the road and in behind some of the thick jungle to be hidden from the road, and decided to set up camp for the night. I don’t know much about jungle camping, but I’m sure it’s a lot like a night at the Holiday Inn! The sun was setting as I pulled in and began to pull out my tent. Within about 2-minutes a guy on a beat-up Honda 125cc comes puttering in behind me with a shotgun on his back. He then slides into the bushes about 50-feet from me.
Naturally, I start to freak out a little mentally. I hadn’t seen any signs of humans for the last couple of hours, so where did this guy come from? Knowing I am at a disadvantage here, I immediately stop what I'm doing and walk over to the guy loudly stating “Hola Amigo." This would be Spanish for “Hi friend!”. It was my default phrase in Brazil, so people knew I was friendly, but that I couldn't speak the local language of Portuguese.
The guy on the bike stands about 6-feet tall, built like a tree-trunk, a milk-chocolate shade of Bazillion, that had clearly spent a lot of time in the sun. He had on shorts, a faded, light-pink shirt, flip-flops, and naturally an old-model shotgun on his back. In short, he could have easily kicked my ass without the gun, and with it, well, I knew my little pocket knife wasn’t going to do much.
Good thing in fine Bazillion fashion, he opened up a big white smile and came over to shake my hand. Now I don’t speak much Portuguese, but for the sake of the situation I tried every similar Spanish word I could think of, hand signals, and drawing pictures in the sand, just so I could think of to have a chat with this guy. He seemed incredibly surprised I was sleeping in my tent back here. I didn’t think much about it as people think everything I do is strange to them. He explained he lived not too far away and he comes to this area a few times a week to go hunting. Then he drew me a sand-map of his typical route and explained what he was hunting for. Aside from birds, I couldn't really make out what the other animals were he was after. He kept saying "Onça, Onça, Onça," to me it sounded like "oros or orso, or asos” or something, but I couldn't figure out the animal. Either way after about 10-minutes, it appeared we were friends, and he disappeared with a flashlight back into the jungle.
I was starving and exhausted, so I finished setting up camp in the dark while the classic biker pasta dinner cooked in a pot behind me. Then, I ate the bowl of carbohydrates and tomatoe sauce from a bag and was ready to pass out. I couldn't though, I really wanted to talk to the guy again, so bad I couldn't go to bed. Really I should have asked to tag along for this experience, but I didn't.
Thirty-minutes later I saw his flashlight come out of the bush, but he never made a sound. Not even a leaf was crunching. Then cross the little opening where I was, and headed into another part of the forest. Then thirty minutes after that I finally heard his gun go bang, then another bang just after. Then a 20-second delay and another round of quick bangs. It made no sense to me as he was using a single-barrel shotgun. There’s no way he could have put in another bullet that fast.
I proceeded to sit on my motorbike for another hour holding my eyes open waiting for the guy to come back. Finally, he did, but with another hunter. This would explain the fast gunshot sounds. The other guys he’s with is much quieter, and I’m glad it wasn’t him I’d initially met. They both had guns, and blood on there legs and hands. I asked what they shot and where it was. Seems the friend parks his motorbike at the end of the hunting route and then they meet in the middle and double back on his bike after. The original guy drew in the sand along example about 6-7 feet in length of the animal. Ok, I'm thinking crocodile. Then he brings the height up to his knee. Ok, maybe a long pig? I have no idea. He said they took it over to a friends place, wherever that is, then came back here for the bike.
He wants me to hold the gun and take some photos on my camera. They think it's funny that I have their weapon. I think it's funny too. I got a couple of night shots on my camera we shake blood stained hands, and they disappear into the night.
In the end, the drive takes me three days and two nights. Everyone I pass, say 30-people total. All wave, and the truckers who pass all honk and wave. One guy even flagged me down from a little property, and I turned back to talk to him. He was on a bike similar to mine and was Bazillion. He made me a coffee, a snack. Then he introduced me to some locals that lived on the property and road with me for a couple of hours until he grew tired of how slow I go, and we parted ways.
A few days later another Bazillion online translates my onça word and the sand description. He says onça means Jaguar, so I ask a local guy in Manaus about it. The guys says, yes if that’s where you were that's probably what they were hunting. If they shot it, you probably got lucky as the Jaguar is extremely territorial and would drag you out into the jungle for dinner!
Really though, I have no idea if that's what it was. Maybe they shot a giant river-fish! I do know that most everyone I meet anywhere in the world has either been incredibly helpful or just magically saved my ass in one way or another. Keep up the excellent work world!
Amazon BR319 checked off the list!