Big Brazil. Big Ride. Big Decisions
From Macapa on the northern banks of the Amazon it’s a 26hr ferry-ride through the labyrinth of islands in the delta archipelago to get to Belem, the mainland, the start of what I know will be an endurance test of thousands and thousands of highway miles.
The crossing itself is remarkable, as we steam past small villages on the banks of some Amazon delta tributary. At one point I'm leaning on the rail watching the jungle go by and there's what looks like a father & son paddling their dugout canoe off the shore of their thatched hut, and then as we near, it looks like they're paddling right in front of us, and then I'm pretty alarmed it looks like we're going to plow straight over them! And with a few swift strokes they accelerate forward and toss a grappling hook onto the side of the boat and whoosh! They're trailing along surfing beside us as the son scrambles aboard with fresh shrimp and acai berry juice for sale as he scuttles up and down decks selling these fruits of the wild.
Unloading the bike from the ferry in Belem proves dramatic with me and four guys hauling Aroha off the boat and up a flight of dock steps using ropes and muscle and stress as she threatens to fall back down the stairs any second and into the river. Saddling up afterwards I swear I’m absolutely all-done with ferries and loading the bike in and out of boats on this trip and ride the short distance to my first hostel since Parbo and it’s so good to be around other travellers again.
I emailed the biker-community in Belem ahead of time to say I was inbound and could use a little help with maintenance stuff and that’s how I meet Marcio, family-man, English-translator by trade and hell-of-a-nice-guy. He helps me get a new rear tyre fitted last thing late at night before I depart and some other bits and pieces which sets me up nicely for the commencement of an early departure for the start of the long-haul. Or so I think.
I bail for the highway out of Belem and make 570kms for my first stop on the map. Next morning I’m doing my daily maintenance before repeating the process and hold up, what the FUCK?! Rear wheel. Missing a spacer which goes on the axle to provide correct spacing of the wheel where it sits in the swing-arm of the bike. A common-problem I’m told after some internet research when tyre-changers doesn’t reassemble things correctly when they’re done and inadvertently leave this important bit lying on the shop floor somewhere. Which obviously happened in the dark last night. So I’m here. The spacer is probably back there. Good morning and welcome to your nightmare.
I call Marcio. Morning mate and I’m really sorry, but….
This guy, a saint of a man, goes round to the tyre-place, where the mechanic-fella is like ‘I bet I know what you’re here for’ and hands him over the lost spacer like he's done it a thousand times before *face palm*. Marcio then goes to the bus-station and arranges to ship the part to me arriving middle of the night ready for an early-morning collection, correct-installation and departure, meaning I lose only one day. Incredible. Marcio. Incredible. People like this actually exist and you meet them when you are strung-out and desperate and vulnerable on the road. Ironic that you have to be down this far to be pulled up by miracles like him.
Right, where was I? Ah yes, highway endurance riding. I’m bouncing between whatever small towns look cool about 600kms apart which is about all my ass can handle in the saddle in one day. Less than 600kms and the line on the map doesn’t even really appear, you don’t actually seem to go anywhere. This place is that big. Really.
And it’s around this point in here, around this latest bike-issue though resolved, in these kilometres though achievable, that I first hear it whisper to me; Mate I think you’ve had enough. ‘Wait a minute no I haven’t I still have ages to go!’ the ego yells back at me and I ride on.
2650kms later I’m as Far East as I’ll go on the trip and I pull into Olinda/Recife, Miami-type modern beach city with arty boho little sister Olinda just down the road where I stay in amongst the galleries and the cafes. Through another contact in the biker-community here I find the Kawasaki-dealership where I hope to get Aroha a good service and ready for the bolt South. This is how I meet the co-owner Armando, another saint. And when I say dealership, though technically correct, it’s more like a motorcycle-showroom-clubhouse where guys drop round after work to chat and socialise with all the staff and talk bikes and talk shit and it turns out I’m a bit of a spectacle for all the fellas. I get taken out for lunch by the guys to some business-lads-club and I’m force-fed beers and the local sugar-cane liquor and with a little help from my Portuguese phrasebook and Armando’s English we’re hollering and carrying-on to the stares of all the suits and other diners. I get Aroha serviced and then it’s a long afternoon into evening socialise with all the crew that comes round to the shop to shake hands and slap my back and then we’re all off out to dinner. Eventually I have to call it good and head back home while they carry-on and somehow I have become a part of this amazingly supportive group of genuine, caring, good dudes.
So when Aroha dies on me next day when I'm out in the middle of some suburb I have no hesitation in sending up the SOS balloon to Armando who collects me with his truck and a trailer attached inside of an hour. I couldn’t think of a better place in all of Brazil to break down. And with that little carburettor problem resolved its back to the showroom, more man-hugs from the guys and me bowing-out graciously back to the hostel to pack and prepare to bail the final leg to Rio.
So, at this point of my travels, I’m tired. I’m so tired. I look back over this trip and I marvel at the distances I’ve covered and honestly I marvel at the distances still ahead. And I think about Rio, all day long, with my head bent into the highway wind and running down the miles and wearing myself out to get to the next stop. Thousands and thousands of miles still to go. And I think about Rio. And eventually I just cannot deny it any longer, that I am done. I am so done.
It becomes easy to make the decision to sell Aroha, if I can, in Rio and to call it good. Know thyself is what they had written on the wall of the Greek temple at Delphi. Sounds like good advice. I consider what I set out to learn, where I am, and what lies ahead on a different road. Riding down these highways I experience some depths I never knew were there in me, one minute I’m distraught then I’m laughing at myself then I’m hysterical. It’s an amazing state to experience. Over another highway lunch I sit in melancholy for a while when I’m struck by the undeniable Truth. That I still love this trip, I still love this bike, and I still love this Life. I do, but it doesn’t change things. And maybe the final letting go that I came all this way to learn, will be learning to let go of the Trip itself.