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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
and Kienny Kingsmill