South through Brazil


Erik arrived, all apologies & helpfulness. Everything was quickly resolved, we paid the helicopter, & Erik took us to the border. Besides assisting us through the formalities, he assisted with Rik's (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts at cash withdrawal, & negotiated with a taxi to take us to Boa Vista.

At the crossing are long queues of Brazilian vehicles, waiting just to exit Brazil, fill up with petrol at Venezuelan prices, & return to Brazil. The Venezuelans have built a large petrol station for them, which charges an intermediate rate between Venezuelan & Brazilian street prices. On these, Venezuela is 10 times cheaper than Brazil.

There is no settlement or name on our maps to mark the border crossing: there is actually a small town located off the main highway, called simply La Linea (The Line). Shops of all kinds, I assume there is some tax-related incentive for them, as with petrol.


We set off for Boa Vista. The same slaloming around potholes as before. This taxi did not stop at the halfway point (it would have been only for Rik & me to swap seats).


We arrive at the same hotel (Uiramutam Palace), & get the same room as before. To Bob's for a burger, then bed.


Took a taxi to the airport (rather costly at BRL50 return), to use the cash machine. The hotel had confirmed this is the only international cash machine in Boa Vista: the others accept only local cards. Due to a misdirection, the taxi took us on return to an excellent restaurant (Trigo's) where the drivers eat: it's a self-serve buffet, & your meal is priced by it's weight! We later found this is a standard system in Brazil. Being self-serve, I can see exactly what I'm getting. In the afternoon, we walked 3km (& back) to the mainline bus terminal, to hunt out runs to Manaus. Very hot work! We find (as expected) that no buses run tomorrow, Jan. 1, but there is one at 8PM on Jan 2. An overnight run, so we won't see the jungle. We will get the hotel's English-speaking clerk to ring them & confirm our understanding.


We walked toward the river, to get out of the room. Lost our way: the road (Av. Jaime Brasil) is the only one which doesn't (quite) reach the central circle, so has no street name. Most of the street signs are missing anyway! Coming back at midday, Rik gets an email advising a personal family emergency. So reshaping plans. Late in the evening, we walked again to the river, & found it this time. It is very wide, & there is evidence of a considerable seasonal rise in level, ie stains on the tall concrete pier legs. This is probably the reason B.V. has only developed on one side of the river: the ground rises steeply, while on the other side it is flat, & possibly a flood plain.


We will go to Manaus as planned, & Rik will shape his plans from there. He may have to leave me to complete the trip alone. There are buses tomorrow (Sunday) around 0900 & 2000. We will take tomorrow's 0900, to have the journey in daylight, so we can see something of the country. Cost BRL100 each. Rik didn't want lunch, so I went alone to Trigo's, the restaurant mentioned on 31/12. Self service, & they price your meal by the weight!



We were told the buses went at 0900 & 0930. So we were up early & down to the bus terminal. When Rik went to buy tickets, he was told they went at 2100 & 2130, ie 9PM! So no sightseeing, the night bus. We bought tickets, & dropped our luggage in the left-luggage room. Then out, with 12 hours to kill. Wandering into a "paneteria", ie a bakery shop, which also serves coffee etc., we noticed a sign on the wall "tapioca & cheese"! A strange combination, indeed.

We followed the road, just for something to do. Past a jail, & down to the river, which it crosses by the large bridge we had seen before. Looking for shade, we went down to the river under the bridge, & noticed the rather unusual pier design.
There are several large dredges on the river: it′s unclear what they dredge, ie do they just keep the channel navigable, or are they extracting something?


We are now ensconced in a self-service cafe opposite the bus terminal. This followed an unsuccessful attempt in the bus station, where an order for "cheese" produced ham & cheese. When we complained, he simply pulled out the ham & re-toasted the sandwich. Of course, this wouldn't do.



In the International Hostel (ex YHA) in Manaus. We paid a little extra (BRL50/night) for a shared room, not a dorm. The bus trip took 12 hours, so the last 4 hours were in daylight, which gave us a look at the jungle, or forest. On opening my bag, I found the lid had come off the coffee - ghastly! Rik is trying to get a phone call to England, not finding it easy. In the afternoon, we found a nearly restaurant with a similar setup to Trigo's, so we had our first meal in 18hrs. Then went in search of a bank that would accept our cards. A local bank's machine wouldn't read it, but the next try at HSBC did. So we have funds again.



Enquiries showed we can only fly from here to Santa Cruz (Bolivia) via Sao Paulo, which doubles the distance & cost. So we enquired about river boats. They go twice a week, Tuesday (ie today) & Friday. Not wanting to wait that long, we booked on this evening's boat, which leaves at 1800. They will pick us up up from the hostel at 1600. We also saw the Manaus Opera House (a vast 1890's pile), but only from the outside, as you can only go on a guided tour, & we hadn't the time to wait (needing to get organised for the boat this evening.) Rik found an internet cafe where they speak English, & also do international phones. So he has now gone to call England, I will check us out of the hostel.

We were told last year was a 60-year record water high at Manaus, the Centro district was flooded.


Aboard M/V Almirante Alfredo Zanys, bound for Porto Velho; journey time 4.5 days. Cost BRL300 each, in 2-berth cabin. I can find no reference to a historical Admiral Zanys, so possibly the name is fictional.

We were advertised to leave Manaus at 1800, but it was 1915 when we left the dock. The next half-hour was occupied with some apparently pointless manoeuvring around the harbour. I was prepared to admit the Captain knew something I didn't, but this theory became less tenable each time we ran aground! Eventually we got set on course, heading initially south. As at Boa Vista, only one bank of the river is developed, here the east side, being the city of Manaus.

Around 2030 dinner was called, being an insipid meat stew. Of course I didn't eat it. Rik did, & likened it to prison food. Rik made representations to the cook, & I to the steward, & a fresh tossed salad ensued. We also learn that cheese sandwiches (optionally toasted) can be had at the bar on the top deck. So I don't expect to starve.

We watched the boat's searchlight playing on the water ahead, which featured light-brown & dark patches of water. Naively, we thought the captain was showing us the "meeting of the waters". But no, he was watching for floating logs, some of which are very large. This is apparently Rio Solimões.

The boat is wood-built, with what is probably an ex-truck diesel engine. She has definitely seen better days: where original woodwork remains, it is nicely finished. The later repairs are just rough lumber, left unpainted. At some point, a rather amateur job has been done of coating the timber in glassfibre.

GPS reports our cruising speed at 10kt, which would, if maintained for 100hrs, give 1000nm from Manaus to Porto Velho. Of course, this makes no allowance for stops.


We ran east from Manaus to 3.18S 58.45W, where we turned SW into Rio Madeira sometime in the night.


Vavilov, it ain't! The cabin walls are white-painted wood planking, with assorted graffiti, apparently of the “I've been everywhere” variety.

We are steadily passing jungle, near more jungle. At irregular intervals, there are houses, in small clearings cut out of the jungle. Communication is clearly by water, not roads.

The water is a dirty brown, with all the soil carried down, along with tree limbs, etc. In the US phrase "too thick to drink, too thin to plow!"

The cabins have all mod cons, except they usually don't work! As:

  1. Individual air conditioners, but no power at the socket.

  2. Individual showers, with a pipe (delivering dirty brown river water), but no nozzle.


Posn (GPS)= 3°41.13′S, 59°04.87′W

These rivers carry some huge rafts, of barges, moved by a pusher tug.


Posn (GPS)= 3°53.29′S, 59°05.66′W

Stopped at Nova Olinda do Norte for 15 mins.


Passing (to stbd) a river-bank evidently subject to heavy erosion, with sections collapsing.

GPS: 4°20.75′S, 59°34.08′W


Approaching Borba, a scheduled stop. The landing stage pontoons are rusted right through here: whether something else keeps it afloat, isn′t clear.


GPS= 4°20.5′S, 59°41.9′W. Running west.



Breakfast call at 0615

GPS=5°13.0′S, 60°30.78′W Stop at Aripuna.

Heavy rain falling: side curtains deployed on boat.

A day to stay in the cabin, & update the log photos!


Stop at Cachoeirinha.

GPS= 5°29.98′S, 60°49.66′W


Rik saw several pink freshwater dolphins, but they didn't show for me.

There is a roughly equal struggle between land & water: land puts out grasses in the water, these slow it so the suspended solids fall, making more land. A few metres away, the water undercuts & erodes the land.

The real key is sunlight: anything that can put down roots will have water & nutrients. Energy is the key: most trees don't put out any leaves until they reach a considerable height. There is a constant fight by each plant to get sunlight, at the expense of its neighbours.


Stop at Manicoré.

GPS= 5°48.80′S, 61°18.13′W

We joined a raft of boats currently tied up; one had a plank run out at the bow: did they think we were pirates? :-)



There was a ticket check: we don't actually have tickets: just the agent's receipt. We showed that, & they took it away, for photocopying at the next stop. So currently we have no papers to justify our presence on the boat. (We never saw that receipt again, but got no demand for payment either.)


I understand the booking agent cheated us, charging an excessive commission. The “real” fare is BRL400, & the agent can put BRL50 on top. 200 was excessive, & gives the ship owner a bad name. So they will likely be on to him – not that we will get anything back, as we'll be in Bolivia!

Currently, we are running hard against the starboard bank, sounding for depth. The sounding line has only one mark, presumably a safe depth. If the sinker drags the mark under water, there is depth enough.

Rik again caught sight of pink dolphins, but I didn't.

We saw several gold dredges here: they suck up the bottom mud through a hose, & run it into a settling tray or “sluice box”. Gold particles being heavy, will settle to the bottom, while lighter rock gets washed out.



We are advised the boat will reach Porto Velho about 1900.


Docked at Porto Velho - right down in the SW corner of Brazil, near the Bolivian border.
The Madeira river is still about 1km wide here, 3000km from the ocean. This place is that big! 4 days steady steaming (ok, dieseling) from Manaus. They run some seriously big boats on this river!
We would have been quite lost in P.V., but for Domingo, an English-speaking Brazilian we met on the boat. Since he was also looking for a hotel, we just told our taxi driver to follow his! It's probably as good a hotel as there is in P.V., but it is clean, so making a vast change from that boat!
As to our plans: Rik will have to leave soon, to go to England. I hope to keep most of the original plan, ie from here to the Bolivian border, then La Paz, & by train down into Chile, so to Santiago & home.



Today being Sunday, nowhere is open. So we did a walk around, & spotted some travel agents in the area, to visit tomorrow. As of then, I will have just 7 days until the Sydney flight, so I may fly with Rik to Sao Paolo, then (alone) to La Paz, & then to Santiago. Curiously, Porto Velho is about the same distance from Sao Paolo as is Manaus.

To get to La Paz by surface transport will probably be too slow, leaving no time to see anything. I still hope to ride that train down from the Andes.



Today we plan to visit one of the travel agents we scouted out yesterday. Of course, there is now solid rain! Rik needs to get to London asap, which probably means a change in Sao Paulo. I am hoping to fly from here to La Paz, & spend a few days there, to see some of the high country, before heading down to Santiago & so home.


One of those days we both should have stayed in bed! Belmont Viagens e Turismo (ie travel agent) is 1 block from the hotel. We spent 3 hours with Marcia, who was glad of the chance to improve her English. All our plans stalled on the uselessness of various kinds of plastic money. My card was rejected as a Debit, not Credit card, apparently their system won't process them. After an abortive attempt to book a ticket online, the card is now blocked, until Xum can unblock it tomorrow.

Rik's cards seem little better: his cashcards consistently fail because he used 6-digit PINs: almost no overseas ATMs appear to recognise these.


We went out to find something to eat. 7PM finds most places open. We watched a street barrow-pusher set up a kebab stand, making use of chairs & tables outside a closed shop. It wasn't clear if he had any connection to the shop, or just fancied his chances.

We ate at a self-service place (as in Manaus, you take what you want, & pay by weight.) We provided the evening's entertainment by getting everything wrong: using soup-dish plates for our selection, getting our own drinks from the fridge, etc. Neither of us having a word of the other's language, the amusement was fast-paced. However, we ended up fed, & they ended up paid (very reasonably), so honours were even.



To Belmont Turismo, where Marcia set things up. There were problems booking Rik, Marcia advised we go to the airport & book there. Then to the bank, where my card worked OK, so yesterday's block was off.

I also emailed Perth to confirm no more panics. Then to the airport, to book Rik's flights to Sao Paolo for tomorrow.

Brazilian phone booths look a bit like an upturned bathtub (to keep off rain) on a pole, with the phone inside. On the airport road, someone has made a "special", by adding a huge bulbous nose & staring eyes. You put your head in the monster's mouth to make calls! Of course, we hadn't brought the camera.

On arrival at the airport, I get out of the taxi; Rik asks me to get his bag. I step forward & lean in: the driver moves off, & runs on to my foot! I'm screaming "back off!", he just stops the car on my toe. I can't get away. Finally he understands & backs off. The foot is sore, but no worse.

Rik buys his ticket with no difficulty.

Out to another taxi, we head off. A moment later, Rik realises he has left his passport at the counter! The taxi loops back, at a frantic pace, Rik jumps out (to the driver's consternation), & dashes back with the passport. The driver went like fury back to town. He probably wanted to be rid of us!


Marcia was out to lunch, so we did the same. At the restaurant, we met another lady from the travel agency, who told us the airport had phoned about Rik's passport! Very good of them (but we had already recovered it.)


Marcia came back & issued the tickets, except for my LPB-SCL leg, which I must do myself, as it is outside Brazil.


Back to the hotel, & book LPB-SCL online. At the end, LAN advised of a problem, with an ambiguous message as to whether they would call me, or I call them. So I emailed them. They replied that the card was overdrawn. This was a foul-up by the card-issuing bank, quickly sorted out over the phone, then emailed LAN to clear it up. So to bed!



Farewell to Rik, who leaves for the UK.


Overnight, a further email from LAN saying the charge still didn't work. Finally got through to LAN's call centre, who don't want to talk to me: only to Rik. Not possible, as he is en route to the UK. So I arrange to pay cash in Sao Paulo tomorrow. Then to the bank to get another BRL1000 for that purpose. The seat will be held until 1800 tomorrow, which should be fine.

The rest of today I plan to work up the log pictures.



Aboard an Embraer 175 en route to São Paulo. The hotel's internet was down this morning, so I was unable to check on the La Paz hotel booking. Brazilian airports all seem hooked up to a system called Vex – it costs $30 a month, & I will proably never use it again.

The Embraer 175 is a small jet: 4 seats per row. The only fault I can call is that the tray tables don't slide back: this leaves you no room if the seat in front is reclined – as now.



Now in the Hotel Rosario in La Paz.

Yesterday featured an 8-hour wait in Sao Paolo, with the outward flight delayed 90 minutes. The bit that was being rebuilt last month is now done, & it's much easier to find one's way around. All the same, it's not my best choice of airport. They still work a strange system with departure gates: the one printed on your boarding pass is just an example. The real gate shows up on the screens shortly before boarding. Announcements are given in Portuguese, English & Spanish, but are so distorted it's hard to say which is which :-)

The delay resulted in my getting to the hotel around 0300, just enough for a quick sleep before breakfast.

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