It is the story of the unforgettable, a wooden boat accompanied by these 4 sailors for a trip on the Napo river.
The horizon seems endless. A haven of peace which lets the spirit wander to the sources of life. The waters are a poetry where every day is a surprise. Mornings begin with the song of the parrots. Then the paddles start to run on the flatness of the river where, from time to time, the fins of the pink dolphin appear. Burning sunshine and humid atmosphere make our sweat shirts heavier. Take it away would offer ours bodies to the goddamn mosquitos. As small as a needle head, they tear off bits of skin to feed themselves with the precious liquid. The passage of the unforgettable brings smiles and greetings. The money here is not coveted. We barter with communities, trading rice and onions for bananas. The clouds dance together. Suddenly, the gray horizon announces a rainstorm. Like a wave hitting a ship’s hull, it tempers our bodies, struggling to hold the boat. Soaking wet, the unforgettable floats towards the light spectrum. The rainbow cuts off the voice of anyone who observes it. The end of the day is a show that brings serenity to your soul. The sun goes out by painting the sky with its trail of light to leave the darkness appear. Laid on this pristine beach, the song of the nightlife under its star carpet announces a new day in the heart of paradise called Amazonia.
A quarter of your surface is already gone up in smoke. The earth’s green lung has cancer. Monoculture, cattle breeding, oil and gold gnaw you like woodworm on a dead tree. Will the humanity succeed to destroy you? If one day you disappear, in our souls you will stay forever. Amazonia – 700 km paddling – Rocafuerte – Mazan – 14 days…
It is after this wonderful journey that we decide to separate. Our desires diverge, that’s why we decide to take different routes. Laurent and Bertrand go to Colombia while Julien starts a new challenge on the transamazonian road. A dream but also a physical challenge through the tougher and wilder road of South America. 3200 kilometers from Manaus to Belém, where stories and encounters were numerous.
On the 16 of July, I am on the Amazon river banks in the city of Manaus. I board the ferry with Fanaia, a Colombian friend I met on the boat from Iquitos to Manaus. She is accompanied by another Brazilian friend. A nice group trip to start this legendary Trans-Amazonian road. The first part is quite simple, the sun is hot but it’s flat and asphalted. After 72 kilometers I decide to stop and set my hammock in a small bus station. In the morning, I wake up by the bites of tiny red ants that came in through a small hole in my mosquito net. In the Amazon, ants are absolutely everywhere and seem to have a radar to detect the slightest gram of food.
On the 3rd day, I see this famous yellow sign in the distance announcing the end of the asphalt. I meet a man called Paraná. He has a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. he lives here with his native wife and four children. After showing me his numerous hunting trophies (jaguar teeth and others) the man generously offers me a meal and a whole chicken to take on my bike. That’s how I get back on the saddle, carrying a frozen chicken on my backpacks. Why not…
The next day, I go into the deep forest, isolated for more than 300 kilometers. I am crossing the Matupiri and Lago Jari nature reserves. There are electrical stations every 40 kilometers, but most of the time, there is absolutely no one inside. This first part is not complicated, the only difficulty is to bear the heat sometimes similar to a real desert. It obliges me to drink more than 10 liters of water a day. At nightfall, I see a breach in this green wall of jungle, I push my bike inside and clean the surroundings with a machete to set up my camp. Despite the local warnings about the jaguars, I decide to sleep in the middle of this jungle. I appreciate the soft music emitted by thousands of insects, the sound of dead leaves falling on the ground, the sound of rodents sneaking under the branches… All these sounds rock my night under this green roof where the light of a few stars pierces the foliage of the canopy. Around 3:00 in the morning, I wake up frozen, what I didn’t expect. The humidity of the forest ices my body. I get out of my hammock to take my sleeping bag and I have the “pleasant” surprise to see that my bags are covered with termites. Half asleep, I decide to deal with it tomorrow. I slip into my sleeping bag and fall asleep peacefully.
Another night under one of the several bridges in theAmazon. Many toads sing while some trucks fly over me.
I have spent few days without seeing any house. Then, at the side of the road, I see some plans of cassava. A little further on, people are sitting under a roof, away from the sun. They offer me a banana and we start talking. Suddenly, the man takes out the Bible and starts to read it. I quickly understand that they are evangelists. The couple stand up and close their eyes and pray for my trip. Quite unusual situation. Before I leave, they give me a handful of cashew apples. It’s so good and dehydrating , I love it.
After the first 700 kilometers on this Trans-Amazon highway, I reach the small village of Humaita. I am now cycling in the direction of Jacareacanga. Traffic is more intense in this section. Which means shower of dust. Every day, I finish my days with a layer of natural make up. It Looks like you can be elegant even in the middle of the jungle…
The Trans-Amazonian is divided into two parts: the indigenous territories, which are often protected reserves, where nature is luxuriant. Then, we have the territories of pastures, lands of fazenderos. The forest is converted into fields where there are just a few trees to remind us that we are still in the Amazon.
In one of these indigenous villages, after taking pictures of the community center, one of the deans asked my machete as compensation. As the community invited me to eat and offered me parrot feathers, I give it to him even if it is quite strange.
This day, which starts madly, is going to continue in the same way. The road is converted into gigantic potholes and sections under road construction. After a while, it starts to annoy me, I really want to reach the small village called KM 180. To motivate myself, I put my MP3 and launch hardrock musics (system of a down). I’m driving at full speed on a dirt road in very bad condition, when suddenly I take a huge hole and burst my tire. After repairing my tire, I realize that one of my bag fall down during my crazy race. I have no idea where I lost it and I decide not to go back. It’s in the middle of the night that I reach the village KM180. I put my bike in a gas station where I hang my hammock. There, I meet a Jamaican-Brazilian guy. This guy keeps talking all the time… I’m super tired and he makes me even more tired… A little later, a 60-year-old man, who also travels, joins the conversation. His name is Paulo Roberto Da Silva. His story is incredible: This man got 9 children with several women. He fell in love with his last wife, but she left him. One of his daughters stole all his money. Then, he started to get mentally sick. He went to see a doctor because he had memory problems. The doctor told him it was a severe depression. As Paulo had always lived for others, he thought that it was time to live for himself. Thus, he went on the road with his two suitcases. What impressed me is that, at his age, he refuses to sleep in hotels. He sleeps on the floor with his mattress just next to me.
As I always have a lucky star following me. On early morning , a man calls me and brings me my lost bag, he found it the day before on the road.
What I love in the jungle is to wake up with the song of the macaws twirling in the air, to walk towards the river and immerse myself in these icy waters, to fish and start the day with fresh fish.
After two resting days in Jacareacanga, I am going now into the most complicated part of the Amazonian road. Many people recommended me to hitchhike. They hadn’t lied about the difficulty. From the first day, the uphills soak my body. The slopes are too steep, I have to push my bike many times to reach the summit. No more flatness. In addition to the toughness of the road and a strong heat (the region is heavily deforested) I meet many cars and trucks running frenetically on these dusty roads. Each vehicle slaps my body with a cloud of dust. They wouldn’t even slow down a bit when they see me. I feel like they don’t care about me and my bike. Many times, I have to throw myself to the side to avoid an accident. I often explode by insulting them with all the names and then go back on my bike. For me, this was the most annoying factor of this adventure.
This area is also known for gold mining. On the way, I share many evenings with the gold miners. During a night Antonio, pilot of an airplane for the gold mining sites tells me about the “Amazon gold fever”: “There, it’s like a city in the middle of the jungle. Every day I bring goods overthere. A flight of half an hour costs about 1500 reals. The bosses hire workers who get 15 percent of the gold harvested. It’s not so bad, because the boss has to pay all the expenses of transport, food, fuel, machines etc… There, everything is paid with gold, there is no Real. Quite often, men go there for a while to make money and then they go back to home. There are also guys who spend it all there and live with their families. Prostitutes also have their huts to give pleasure to the workers. It’s profitable for them to go into the jungle, they get much more money than in the cities. Men sometimes buy women for gold. I’ve brought some guys back to drive them to the jail. To much Cachaça (sugar cane alcohol) can be dangerous. A simple disappointment can quickly turn into a shooting. It’s the life into the jungle.”
Comes the moment when I enter into another nature reserve. It is just amazing, there are hundreds of macaws. I see wild pigs, different species of monkeys, turtles and a multitude of other birds. One of the best moments was when I set up my hammock near a small river. After setting up my basecamp, I go down to the river to have a shower. I am on the bank and I jump on a small island 2 meters from it. I start to wash myself when suddenly I see a huge electric eel passing in front of me. I gaze at it without moving, then it disappears under the dead leaves.
My nights are getting awful. My body is scratching me and it takes me hours to fall asleep. I don’t know if it’s due to mosquito bites or allergies.
Once in Itaituba, there are more villages than before. The Pará region is called the Acai land. This palm fruit is just excellent. Personally, I love it and sometimes I drink two liters a day. Rich in vitamin A, B, C, iron, calcium and protein, Acai is just the perfect fruit for my long cycling days in this Amazonian heat. Apart from acai, we find a multitude of succulent fruits such as graviola, acerola, abacaba, bacuri, tapereba and many others…
açai, ready to be harvested.
açai na tigela : ready to be consumed.
Once in Medicilândia, the road becomes very monotonous. The region is still very hilly but there is no more forest. Just trucks of soya and cattle “to embellish” this desert landscape. Fortunately, during these monotonous moments, as there are many of them in this kind of long journey, the encounters are always there to enjoy the journey. I am particularly grateful to Vandrine who welcomed me like a king in several of his companies in Brazil and Luiz, a bike traveler , with whom I spent great evenings in the city of Altamira.
When I arrive in Belo Monte, I see the huge hydropower plant that caused so much debate in the country. Brazil, with a view to economic growth, has the ambition to sell energy abroad. Lasts years, numerous power stations have been built on several tributaries of the Amazon rivers, generating numerous conflicts with indigenous populations. The construction of a hydropower plant requires flooding the upstream lands, forcing people to relocate. Belo Monte was once known for gold fever. In the 1980s, following the discovery of gold on the ground, thousands of people migrated to the Serra Pelada, not so far from Belo Monte. In just a few days, thousands of men dug the earth to reach its veins and find the gold so coveted. An incredible moment in the history of Brazil, which was photographed by the famous photographer Sebastião Salgado. Today, Belo Monte is an example of ecological and social disaster. Luckily, I meet a group of Germans working in the station. One of them tells me:” It’s totally crazy what they allow here. The plant destroyed everything, environment and people. If at least it would bring a benefit to Brazilian people, but that is not the case. The Chinese have control of the business. They recently purchase land to build another plant. Guess who they hire? Chinese people, because the workforce is cheaper.”
After 45 days, 3200 kilometers, I reach the city of Belém.
This city is interesting for its market of Ver o peso. Early in the morning, baskets filled with acai invade the quays of the harbour.
Further on, the fishermen sell the catch of the previous day. The shouts and negotiations resound under the light of the streetlights. Dozens of trucks crow the quay to load exotic goods which will be exported all around the world. It’s crazy to see this activity so early in the morning. The day rises, negotiations continue while herons and vultures fight together to catch a piece of fish. It is now time to taste the famous peixe (fish) com açai. An emblematic dish of the paraense culture (Department of Pará, Brazil).
The body tickling never disappeared, so I decide to meet a dermatologist. In rural hospitals, Doctors told me it was just an allergy to the heat. I was using an anti-allergic cream on the body, which only reduce the itching. The specialist tells me that in fact it’s not an allergy but the gall. I am forced to take 5 baths a day and to rub my body with a special cream to make disappear the parasite.