SOUTH AMERICA OVERLAND #9

02-July-2010: Porto Velho (Brazil)

After 7 months back home in Australia, it was time to return to Argentina to begin the third stage of our overland journey through the Americas. Our beloved Troopy has been parked at Camping La Florida in Villa General Belgrano, 800 kilometres north-west of Buenos Aires. We had just over two weeks to drive Troopy out of Argentina before its temporary import permit expired. The maximum time allowed for temporarily importing a vehicle into Argentina is 8 months.

We flew into Buenos Aires on a windy and cold winter’s day. The customs x-ray machine at Ezeiza Airport picked up a set of new brake pads in our luggage. Fortunately, we were let off the hook from paying a hefty import duty on spare parts when we explained that it was for Troopy and that we were driving out of Argentina within two weeks.  From within the terminal, we engaged a “remise” private hire car to take us to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires. This saved a lot of hassles haggling with the cut-throat taxi drivers jostling for business just outside the Ezeiza airport terminal.

We spent our first day back in Argentina “roughing” it at the Sheraton using frequent flyer points. We also purchased tickets for an overnight sleeper coach service to Villa General Belgrano for the following night. The Terminal de Omnibus is just a short walk from the Sheraton Hotel.

Argentina has a fantastic, efficient and extensive bus service which services destinations within Argentina and all neighbouring countries, namely Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. The terminal runs like clockwork with overhead monitors displaying arrival and departure times and from which loading bay each particular service departs from. This bus terminal has 200 loading bays and over 150 ticketing windows!

We left Buenos Aires at 10pm and arrived in Villa General Belgrano right on schedule at 8.30 am. From the bus terminal, it was a very short taxi ride to Camping La Florida. It was very exciting to see Troopy once again parked amongst fifteen other overland vehicles that are being stored for the winter. Troopy was very dusty and tainted with bird droppings and a few cobwebs. Our first task was to clean Troopy. It was cold work but by the time we had finished the sun was up and we felt quite comfortable. When we left Troopy last year, we knew that the starter battery was flat and a new one would be required. We jump started Troopy from another vehicle and drove directly to Belgranos Neumaticos where we purchased a new battery, complete with two years of Argentine warranty.  Troopy was now ready for another adventure!

After a very cold night in Belgrano, we were glad to be mobile again. We headed North through the provinces of Cordoba, Tucuman and Salta. Much of the countryside was a vast expanse of scrubby salt bushes and salt lakes. We had no trouble finding places to bush camp well hidden by clumps of tall trees just off to the side of the Highway. The far north of Argentina was more productive with huge sugar cane plantations, cotton fields, fruit orchards and sunflowers in full bloom. The further north we headed the warmer the weather became.  One day we encountered three picket lines in the middle of the highway. We presumed these were the local indigenous people hoping to muster public support for their cause. We were glad we did not have to wait too long, the longest being half an hour.

We eventually arrived at the Parque Nacional Calilegua, well known for being an accessible park with lush green rainforest from lowland up to 3600 metres. The park had many walking trails ranging from one hour to seven hours. We took a three hour hike to a small lagoon and continued on to the Aguas Negras stream. One was supposed to be able to see footprints of pumas, tapirs and monkeys but we saw none that day as we crossed paths with a horde of excitable and exhausted primary school children. We spent the night camped in the campground near the Ranger Station and had a very nice camp fire all to ourselves which kept us nice and warm.

We continued northwards passing more sugar cane plantations and orchard trees and crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. We were stopped at two police check-points both of which were very friendly and trouble-free. Exiting Argentina and entering Bolivia at Yacuiba was a bit confusing as this was a very busy border crossing that was right in the middle of town. We asked a policeman who very kindly pointed us in the right direction.

Firstly, we had to get our passports and vehicle import permit stamped out at the first Migracion window on the Argentine side. Then we had to go to the third window “Aduana” to hand in the stamped permit and get yet another stamped receipt. We then shuffled across to the next window to the Bolivian “Aduana” to draw up a vehicle import permit for Troopy to enter Bolivia and get another stamp on the receipt. Then we had to turn in the stamped receipt back to the Argentine “Aduana” and we were allowed to drive through the barriers into Bolivia. The strange thing was that the Bolivian and Argentine Aduana officers were seated side by side in the same office, just working separate windows. They could have easily handed the slips to each other!

We drove 100 metres through a crowded Saturday morning street market. The whole street was lined with stalls of colourful handicrafts, food and football t-shirts. Some vendors had to move their stalls to let Troopy through. It was a carnival like atmosphere with Andean music and lots of happy and jovial shoppers. We had to stop in the midst of all the festivities to get our passports stamped into Bolivia. The immigration officers were very polite and friendly. We did not have to pay this time to enter Bolivia. However, we did have to pay the police next door BOB$5 for their trouble to record and stamp our vehicle import permit. Finally we were free to travel through Bolivia!

On our last trip through South America we spent quite some time travelling at altitude. On this trip our goal was to avoid the Andean mountains and travel within the Amazonian lowlands.

There is an old officially closed BR-319 road through the Amazon from Porto Velho to Manaus in Brazil which we had hoped that we would be able to take to get us through the Amazon from Southern Brazil to Northern Brazil. Unfortunately we received information that this road was still too wet after the rainy season and was therefore impassable. We had two options. The first option was to cross the Andes and then driving along the Pacific coast going through Peru and Ecuador to Columbia. We had seen some of this area on our previous trip. This would also mean travelling an additional 2000 kilometres.  The second preferred option was to go to Porto Velho in Brazil and try to get on a barge to take us by river through the Amazon to Manaus in Northern Brazil from where we could drive to Venezuela and Columbia.

So, with the above information in mind, we decided we needed to get to Porto Velho to assess our options. We started early the next morning only to be stopped at our first Bolivian check-point. The young policeman was very friendly and he asked to see our hazard triangles. Then he asked if we had a First Aid Kit, followed by whether we had any “conos.” We eventually realised that he was asking if we had hazard cones in addition to the hazard triangles. The young man very politely informed us that it was an infraction not to have these and we had to pay $200 BOB. We asked if he would show us the receipt and he could not. By this time we realized that we were being asked to pay a bribe and so we firmly said we would not pay. The poor man kept pleading with us, he was cold and shivering but we were warm in our fleeces and kept him talking. He eventually gave up and allowed us to pass through the boom gate.

The rest of the drive to Santa Cruz was uneventful.  At police checkpoints, they mostly asked to see our vehicle import permit and licences, ask a few questions and then stamp the back of the vehicle permit. The road was bitumen, in reasonable condition and took us through winding and hilly areas down to the lowlands where the countryside flattened out to natural overgrown vegetation, dead trees, grasses and cacti. The nights were cool and the days were a comfortable 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. Closer to Santa Cruz we passed through areas of broad acre farming and granaries. We continued past Santa Cruz to Trinidad along Ruta 9.

The road was bitumen but there were long sections where we had to weave from side to side to dodge the numerous potholes. We saw quite a number of logging trucks with tree trunks up to a metre in girth! The lowlands of Bolivia are well-cultivated with different crops. In other places, we passed through areas thick with impenetrable thickets of thorny trees and low growing palms under the canopy of tall trees. We also saw clumps of tall bamboo and cactus. During the day we saw bulldozers clearing the Amazonian lowlands for agriculture.

We found a really beautiful and tranquil campsite beside a lagoon covered with lily pads and succulent vegetation. There was a local couple from a nearby village doing their washing in the lagoon. We asked if we could camp for the night and they said it was a community lagoon and this would not be a problem but would have to share the lagoon with the mosquitoes.

The bitumen ended not far west of Trinidad on Ruta 9, where we had to cross the very wide Rio Mamore by pontoon. This rickety wooden pontoon was operated by a small outboard motor in a canoe tied on by rope. We first had to drive Troopy up to the very front of the pontoon in order to be able to push off from the riverbank. Once we were under way the canoe was unhitched and tied to the back side of the pontoon. Geoff had to then reverse Troopy to the rear to give the front of the pontoon enough clearance to reach the earthen ramp on the other side of the river.

We saw an amazing array of flora and fauna in in the Amazonian wetlands basin. Despite the dusty road, we managed to see a diverse range of wildlife. We spotted caymans, capybaras, birds of prey, egrets, ibis, many other colourful birds and butterflies. Much of the country reminded us of the Katherine area in the Northern Territory of Australia. This was also prime Brahmin cattle country with so much green grass on offer with an abundance of billabongs. After having seen alligators and snakes Kienny was quite concerned when we spent the night camping right next to a billabong. The weather was certainly warmer. The days now were quite warm with the nights cooling down to a comfortable sleeping temperature of about 16 degrees Celsius.

The road from Trinidad to Yacumo, still on Ruta 9, was a good, fast dirt road. Yacumo to the very touristy town of Rurrenabaque was a very slow, rough, stony, pot-holed road. From Rurrenabaque we headed north to the border town of Guayararemin on Ruta 8. The road for the first 130km to just north of Santa Rosa was slow with very long stretches of bull-dust.  The 400km stretch of road from just north of Santa Rosa to Guayararemin was a very fast, smooth, red gravel highway. From the border town of Guayararemin, it was a short pontoon ride across the Rio Madero to Brazil. There did not appear to be regular scheduled vehicle ferry service across the Rio Madero. We made enquiries and were directed to an office where we were able to negotiate with the owner of a pontoon. We were the only vehicle on this 4 vehicle pontoon. Exiting Bolivia was a breeze with everyone in Guayararemin being very laid-back and friendly. We also had to have someone come to spray insecticide under Troopy and give us a receipt to certify that Troopy had been fumigated.

When we drove off the pontoon onto Brazilian territory at Guajara-Mirim, we had to park Troopy and go to the Aduana building to have the certificate of fumigation recertified on a more official piece of document and have our yellow fever vaccination booklets sighted. Then we had to walk four blocks into town to the Immigration office at the Federal Police building to have our passports stamped. After walking back to the port, we were then directed to another building to draw up the vehicle import permit for Troopy. These proceedings took close to an hour to complete. With the necessary bits of papers in our possession we once again made our way back to the port. We were very pleased when the customs officer told us that the paperwork was complete and that we were free to explore Brazil. Once again, nobody ever inspected Troopy or its contents. The proceedings at this border crossing took longer than we had become accustomed to, partly due to our lack of Portuguese.  The weather now was very hot and humid. By now it was getting very late in the afternoon and we needed to find a camping spot before it got dark. We found a secluded camp-site about 25 kilometres north of Guajara-Mirim just as it was getting dark. Kienny cooked a very nice Chinese stir fry for dinner. After a very long hot day we were glad to crawl into bed.

From Guajara-Mirim, it was a further 300 kilometres to Porto Velho. We first drove to the port Cai n’Aguas. Within no time we had booked our passage on a cargo barge, departing for Manaus in two days’ time. With two nights in Porto Velho before our journey began, we took the opportunity to give Troopy a good and proper wash. We found a car-wash just out of town and bargained him down. Two guys worked very hard washing and polishing Troopy for well over an hour while we watched Brazil play Holland in the World Cup quarter-finals. They did such a fantastic job that we paid them the full price that they were originally asking for. Troopy had never looked so clean and shiny, both underneath and all over! Due to the high humidity we decided to stay in a hotel.  The mornings were quite pleasant and were the best time of day to be out and about. By afternoon it was time to hibernate in the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel room.

In the last 9 days, we have driven a total of 3708 kilometres from Villa General Belgrano in Argentina to Porto Velho in Brazil. To give you an idea of how far we have driven in Australasian terms...Villa General Belgrano is the same latitude as Forster on the NSW coast, Broken Hill in Western NSW or Perth. Porto Velho is at the same latitude as Bali in Indonesia. As such, you can see that we have covered a lot of territory in our quest to reach North America.

The pictures for this section of our trip can be found by clicking here and here or by selecting the Next arrow button at the bottom of this page.
 

A map of our trip can be seen by going to http://dreamers1.com/americas/GoogleMaps/SouthAmerica.html or by selecting the Map button at the bottom of this page.

The WEB site containing our travels in Africa, Russia and South America is http://overland.dreamers1.com or by selecting the Contents button at the bottom of this page.

Best Wishes,
Geoff and Kienny Kingsmill
Email: gkingsmill@yahoo.com
WEB: http://overland.dreamers1.com

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