Planning & Route
BOX OF TRICKS TAKING SHAPE
3-Fri- Farewell Party Cafe Barcelona, Elarduspark
4-Sat- Depart Oliver Tambo, Sao Paulo, Manaus
5-Sun- Prep 1
6-Mon- Prep 2
7-Tues- Prep 3
8-Wed- Prep 4
9-Thur- Prep 5
10-Fri- Prep 6
11-Sat- Prep 7
12-Sun- Prep 8
13-Mon- Prep 9
14-Tues- Prep 10
15-Wed- Prep 11
16-Thur- Prep 12
17-Fri- Prep 13
18-Sat- Very latest to leave for Itacoutiara
26-Sun-Ocean and back to Macapa
27-Mon- Spare day
29-Wed-Depart for Belem, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg.
Bon Voyage Party 3 December , Cafe Barcelona, Elarduspark, Pretoria. We have invited all our friends, and that includes you, to this evening. My kids and friends will perform live on stage for our entertainment. Please come join us if you are in the area, me and John will recover on the plane the next day!
The going away party was a blast. Thanks for all who attended.
In particular thanks for the marvelous music – Pedro Barbosa is a talent of note – needs a bit of censorship on the lyrics at times though!! .. and, how cool and fitting was it that AB junior could bring his band to send his old man off down the river?!
Saturday 4 December 2010
Trip started off with some fumbling inefficiency at OR Tambo (made us feel proudly South African), but we eventually got into the air for the 10 hour transatlantic flight. Couple of hours wait at Sao Paulo then 4 hours to Manaus.
Thanks to Essie for those wonderful sleeping tabs – made the travels go past in a blur….
Checked into Manaus backpackers at some awful hour and then relied on some more of those sleeping pills to confuse our minds into thinking we were well rested the next day.
Sunday 5 December 2010
A bit of a slow day from an expedition progress point of view, but time was well used for orientation of downtown Manaus.
It’s hot, humid and full of masses of people . (Reminds me of Maputo on steroids, but only on a rather big river (Rio Negro – tributary of Amazon). Oh, and did I mention hot and humid?
Typical Portuguese type architecture, some restored and in good shape, but most not. Bit of a shambles in a way..
We could not get much done because our local contact – Mario Carijo - could not make it until the next day , so I am afraid we just had to try out the local beer, and just in case we de-hydrated , we had more than a couple more while sitting in the back yard of our hostel.
Oh, and did I mention it was hot ?
Monday 6 December 2010
Started the day with a blast ! Mario arrived and whisked us straight to localCaptinia dos Portos – Naval authority – to see what a couple of lost foreign gringos needed to legally pilot a small insignificant over-grown canoe down the river.
Turns out that as foreigners we probably would never be able to do it legally unless we changed nationality or married one of the endless stream of beautiful Brazilian girls walking around, so, with a bit of a handshake, a wink and a stretch of the official backroom knowledge, we decided that the risk was acceptable to do the trip illegally and answer to the wrath of the river police as, if and when we were confronted down the river..
Legalities over (ignored?) we went on with the business of the day – putting the expedition together.
So far we have actually found the same constraints on non-Brazilians wherever we went – from getting a local cel number to trying to get 3G comms – everything you do here needs that unattainable CBF number – that Brazilian ID. Foreigners ain’t got a chance here to try anything funny – Osama Bin Laden beware!!
Mario has been a fantastic help so far, and bottom line is, by mid afternoon on Monday we had bought a boat, emergency motor and some equipment, sourced most of where we need to get whatever we need – Brazil’s quite jacked after all!
So, after such progress, it seemed a pity not to test if the beer was cold and then there was no reason not to slide into a Capirinha or two thereafter…
Fell into bed fairly early in our very noisy hostel environment and, as we slept, made lists in our heads of what we still have to buy.
That’s the update so far – watch this space..
Tuesday 7 December 2010
As we draw nearer to the launch date – sea trials- of our newly acquired “MV Bukkit” we are feeling a bit daunted regarding the task ahead.
Having spent some days acquiring local knowledge , the conclusions that we reach so far are that all those stories about river pirates, piranhas, leaches, crocodiles, microbes that live in one’s urethra.. they are not just urban legends.
We met a guy here ‘ Amazon Antonio” – who runs commercial trips up the river – his simple message – “rather not go for a swim”
A New Zealander called Richard tells us that his operation has been hijacked 4 times in the last few years – he lost everything. Chilling stories…
So, what’s it about this challenge that stops us from turning around.? Guess by now you guys would have figured out the origins – and there is more than one - of our boat’s name “ MV Bukkit”
Having said that, the practicalities of the trip do give us something to focus on for now and the plan in the next day or two is take delivery of the boat and then get it rigged up with lockers, shade and some kind of a structure to swing some hammocks from.
Oh, and one more thing, AB’s search for a wife is proving more difficult than initially thought, he insists that she be fluent in Afrikaans.
We spent the day yesterday buying victuals, equipment, emergency motors, life jackets and bits and pieces.
In between this all we are managing to enjoy the odd beer or two and sample the local dishes..
Oh, and did I mention that it’s quite hot here?...............
Downtown Manaus architecture
Flag of Provincia Amazonia highlighted against a threatening sky
Palacio do Rio Negro
Ever-present poverty and filth
Derelict building – downtown Manaus
The old and the new
Home sweet Home
As luck would have it, today is a holiday, so needless to say our overall progress has trickled to a halt.
There is only so much planning one can do before part of that planning needs to be converted into action, but “action on a holiday” is not really an appropriate sequence of words in this part of the world, it would seem..
The carefully orchestrated plan to get the boat here from up-river just bombed out on us. (it’s currently 200km away and has to be trucked back here)
Problem was that, due to it being a holiday, the truck driver could not get a suitable load of produce to fill the truck on the way to fetch the boat – we heard the bad news early in the morning to say that we will only get the boat trucked in tomorrow and so can only start kitting it out after that.
So, instead of being able to get stuck into the boat modifications, we resolved to spend the day looking at the walls of the hostel, taking a few shots around town and screening the continuous stream of applicants who have applied for the honour of being AB’s local wife..
Oh, and we had the first taste of Amazon rain too – Mmmmm, it’s going to be a trick when we are out there on the river – it’s torrential!
Thursday 9 December 2010
Got off to an early start – today is the day we take delivery of our overgrown canoe. Mario came to collect us and we went through to our temporary workshop in some backstreet suburb somewhere.
The trruck was on time – well kind of – and we manhandled the boat and trailer out of the back of what seemed more like a small delivery van rather than a real truck ..
To finally see the boat and get it offloaded was a bit of a shock. Spontaneously the first words out of both of our mouths were “ Sh$%#t…. its tiny!”
Mandla making friends with his home for the next 2 1/2 weeks
Refurbishing the boat under the hot Amazon sun – we really should choose cooler weather!
(Did I mention its hot here?)
Cleaning the grime out of the main fuel tank
And.. a bit of news on the social scene ..
Taking up our standard evening position – drinking too much beer outside our very basic hostel room.
[In this particular case we have converted the boardroom table to our office so that we can use it for interviewing candidates for AB’s local wife – he is still looking and refusing to believe he has passed his ‘ sell by’ date]
Interviewing one of the candidates - she looked dark enough to be Brazillian and spoke with an Afrikaans sounding accent – in line with the selection criteria.
As it turned out she is not Brasillian but Dutch, so she was summarily dismissed and has been black-listed for fraud!
Thursday night 9 Dec
Here are some pics of the social scene.
Mandla is quite the life and soul of the party here and his social life seems to know no bounds.
But, as the saying goes , “ the bigger you go ………
… The harder you fall !!
Friday 10 Dec 2010 and Saturday 11 Dec 2010
Getting stuck into boat renovations.
This is one of the cooler months of the year, and temperatures go to about 34 degrees, but the humidity is almost constantly above 85%.
So, doing work on boats in the sun is not a great idea and is a project that needs to be scheduled for early morning until about 1 pm max.
After 1 pm on the average Amazonian day the average African simply should just not be doing anything other than sleeping or drinking beer… but, no one told us that , so we worked on anyway.
Some shade is going to be useful …
..what’s in a name ?..
And then there is that tired old motor ……………..!
Mmmmm.. and you want to go to WHERE??
Sunday 12 December 2010
Finally the preparation is done, the boat is checked and packed, navigational and electrical systems (yeah, sure .. !) tested - all ready to roll this side.
We launch at 05h00 tomorrow morning.
Exciting stuff - the moment of truth.
Our over-grown canoe is looking quite grown up and we should get a good shot or two of her in all her glory after she hits the Amazon river tomorrow morning !
AB has given up on finding his Brazilian wife in Manaus and is preparing his chat up lines for further downriver. (They say the pickings are better downriver after Santarem - but thats some days away. )
A bit of a footnote regarding foreigners owning assets here - its the case that without a social security number (which we would have had by now if AB had had any luck ..) , a Brasilian may not even legally SELL a boat (car / house/ registerable asset) to an unregistered foreigner...
So, I am afraid that at this stage that mv Bukkit is now not only overloaded, under powered and unlicensed - but on top of this we have bought a boat that does not (cannot) belong to us - such is the fallout from Big Brother mentality in this part of the world - but, thats a whole discussion on its own.
Note - at this point we were to include some pictures of ready-to-launch mv Bukkit, but due to ABs camera having been in his pocket when he slipped in the water, the camera is still in intensive care for another few days. My camera has some good pics but we have yet to figure out how to put them onto ABs laptop - either we hope to be able to update the site with some good pictures in a day or two (it just would not do to let the fans down)..
Sorrie for that / desculpa la, fui uma falia technico ..
Squeezing the most we can into a small boat ..
Generator, spare motor et al ..
Doing the best we can to look rugged for the fans downriver
AB trying out his new ‘Indigenous ‘ look
Saying goodbye to some friends from the hostel – Amazon Antonio and Roberto the taxi driver
13 Dec 2010 – Launch day and trip leg - Manaus to Itacoatiara (205 km)
I am writing this while we are speeding (?) down the river . Our average speed is about 22 kph.
It took a while to get the load balanced and we have to keep shifting it around as we use up the fuel and the boat gets lighter at the back.
The launch this morning went well and we had a really cool send off from Mario Carijo and 2 Amazing young Puerto Ricans that we met at the Hostel – Jara and Adbiel. They added to the list of really good people we met at the hostel this past week . Thanks so much – Hasta la vista guys !!
The moment of truth
AB, John and Bukkit after successful launch. With us is Mario Carijo – we bought the boat from him and he helped us throughout the renovations and with acquiring local knowledge. In a very short time he became not just the person that we bought the boat from but a good friend. Thanks Mario – we are forever in your debt. We hope to return your kindness one day.
Refueling – Amazon style
We launched about 20km to the west of Manaus, so that added a bit to our journey, but hey what’s a few extra km in the greater scheme of things?
Shortly after Manaus, at a place they call ‘ the meeting of the waters’ – the Rio Negro runs into the Amazon river and there is some turbulence and a distinct line for some kilometers. The cleaner, darker and colder Rio Negro runs into the muddy and warm Amazon. Different temperatures and densities are the cause of the line.
mv ‘Bukkit’ - it’s small…
‘Styling’ down the river!
Leaving Manaus – the real adventure begins
Despite initial nervousness while we got a feel for what we were in for, the first part of the day went rather well. We settled into a routine fairly quickly and initially were quite impressed with our self -steering mechanism, although quickly discovered that 2 of the 3 GPS systems we had were of little use, so we reverted to using one.
The distance we were to cover the first day was 205 km. At our average speed of around 22 kph that’s a good few hours on the water.
The last 4 hours of the day were rather bumpy to say the least. An easterly wind picked up and there was torrential rain, and we soon realised that mv Bukkit is definitely a fair-weather boat. For 4 long hours we pounded into the wind and the huge chop caused by the wind running against the current. To make matters worse, the auto-steering mechanism was doing its own thing and refusing to keep us going in a straight line, so we had to revert to ‘manual’ mode – taking it in turns to steer.
After 10 hours on the water, we finally arrived at Itacoatiara (ee-tah-coo-chi-ar-a) at around 18h00 and in the last light of the long day,stressed out, soaking wet and fatigued, we managed to secure all of our wet things in a soaking wet boat and find a secure place to leave it all for the night.
Tuesday 14 December 2010
Itacoatiara to Parintins – 240 km
Determined not to have a similar experience to what we had the day before and try to get some flat water, we set off at 03h30 am and after 1 ½ hours of navigation in TOTAL blackness, by the time the sun had come up we had already left Itacoatiara well behind.
We had ditched about 15kg of rations just before we left – and a lucky pump attendant could not believe his eyes – tins of fish, beans, bottled coke - anything we felt was excess – we dumped it on him – just needed to lighten that load and get the nose of the boat up - for speed, fuel efficiency and to try to keep the boat dry.
By 10hoo we were already ½ way to the next stop – Parintins (parin-chins) –and in better spirits. Weather was good, no rain yet and water flat as a pancake.
We have now ditched all navigational and steering gear except the GARMIN GPS. It takes away our backup – and navigation is critical down this river – there are 100’s of deadend channels and wrong routes to take. Anyway, we have no choice – the other GPS’s are not working.
There is one advantage to this . We save power from our big battery – with all the re-charging requirements that a larger power consumption would have meant.
Towards the end of the rainy season (Nov/Dec), the level of the river is around 8 metres lower than full. This means that the banks are constantly eroding and a massive amount of sometimes HUGE trees keep falling into the water and float down the river. Semi-submerged and in the muddy brown water, these become major navigational dangers to boats – especially smaller ones like ours.
If a small boat like ours hits a log that size we will at best destroy our motor and at worst have a long swim back to shore ..
So, we have quickly placed this on our growing list of dangers and things requiring our urgent attention.
Countless stops are required when we drive through some patches of trees or vegetation floating down the river. In some areas, where one of the inumerable tributaries of the river join the main stream, there are counter-currents set up. This causes a lot of turmoil on the water which creates big choppy sections and a kind of a whirl-pool of vegetation as all the debris goes round in circles.
Another hazard are the big barges that come up the river from the coast at Belem and Macapa.
In the midst of this all we have ..
left: Mandla taking up his position on the bow of the boat and.. right.. face down in the Amazon. (oops!)
Around about midday on this most perfect day, we took a wrong turn down a side-stream and ended up going though winding jungle streams, little Indian villages along the way. It was absolutely breathtaking and reminiscent of “ Apocalypse now“.
Small canoes and boats of indigenous Indian people popped up out of no-where. Incredible bird life and bright green jungle vegetation. Absolutely stunning !!
Only problem was , with today being the longest of our legs – 240km – it was a detour we could ill-afford to make.
Besides the lost time, there was also the issue of fuel. We carry 130 litres on board. With our average consumption of 13 litres per hour, that means we have fuel for 10 hours. We had already cut it fine by not taking much reserve. Now we were in the predicament of having wasted 1.5 hours of fuel because of the detour…Generally there is no fuel between the stops, so this was a big problem in the making.
Anyway, as luck would have it, the weather held and because of the flat water we managed to limp in to Parintins – 12 hours on the water and with 1.5 litres of fuel left on the boat.
Spirits high, we had a beer and collapsed..
Wednesday 15 December 2010 – Parintins to Obidos (170 km)
We left this morning by 06h00. Weather started off well enough, but by around midday that easterly wind picked up and we were pounding through the chop once again.
As we head more east, the river becomes wider and wider. In places its so wide that it becomes a horizon – you cannot see the other side – so that’s at least 20 km wide in places.
With our boat only managing 23 kmph maximum, and even less beating against the chop, we generally hug the bank as far as we can to seek shelter from the wind. However, there are times when we just have to cross and this is a bit harrowing to say the least.
An exposed little boat across such a vaste and choppy moving lake – gets a bit hairy !
A new problem has arisen too. The GPS seems to have outdated software, or otherwise there are shifting sandbanks/ river banks. Sometimes we are firmly in a channel and the GPS tells us that we are driving over land !
So far this has not been a problem, but as we get closer to the river delta we are going to rely heavily in that GPS once again!
Driving the boat over land ..??!
Arrival in Obidos
Fuel stop - Obidos
Thursday 16 December 2010 – Obidos to Santarém and on to Alter do Chão (100km plus 35km)
There was a severe buildup of cloud during the night and we were expecting bad weather for our departure from Obidos. True to form, when we finally got away at about 07h00 – a full hour later than planned, because we had skipped a time zone the day before and not realised it – the weather was already showing signs of what was to lie ahead of us.
Even though this was to be our shortest leg so far – a mere 6 hours planned – the day’s journey proved to be, by far, the most unpleasant by far !
Within an hour of departure we were headed into a 15 to 20 knot easterly wind and sheets of rain.
No matter what measures we tried to take by rigging up our small hammock tarpaulins, we were being properly pounded and properly drenched! It was thoroughly unpleasant.
As we went along we saw all most other boats taking shelter from the bad weather and then waving at us as the funny-looking mv Bukkit, with two crazy Grigos and SA flags flapping madly, battered it’s way to the east.
8 hours later we reached the seclusion of the harbour area at Santarém. Then, heading west down a tributary we finally arrived at the beautiful little village of Alter do Chão, where we decided to spoil ourselves and check into a local backpacker spot so that we could dry out. Which is not happening as it is still pouring down in “Bukkits”, (excuse the pun)
Absolutely everything that could get wet was drenched! We had to string bits of rope all around the room and unpack all the electronic bits onto the bed with a fan blowing on it – so that it could dry out. As we speak the satphone and GPS device is non functional due to it being wet, we hope to be able to rescue these as it will spoil our positioning updates. We managed to rescue the battery charger floating around in Bukkits water, and its doing its job charging our 165 ah battery at present.
Mandla Le Lion was kept from all this, (in John’s bag), as he was in no condition to face it after almost drowning the previous day.
We decided to stay a few days here , do some running repairs on the boat and recharge our batteries a bit – literally and figuratively.
Entrance to the river at Alter do Chao
Some pics of this quaint little village
Friday 17 December 2010 – Exploring the Amazon jungles around Alter do Chao
With all of our stuff still hanging up in the room on make-shift wash lines
(hopefully this will help, because it’s still raining and it’s all hanging indoors),
we took the boat down some tributaries to get a feel of the surrounding jungle.
Lunch break on one of the 1000’s of Amazon tributaries
The locals make palm wine from the sap that flows from a chopped open palm tree.
Cutting our way through the jungle bush so that we can get the boat upstream
Sometimes we have to pole our way along the shallow streams – luckily the Bukkit has a flat bottom !
Getting a bit clogged up in the shallower streams
Saturday 18 December 2010 – Alter do Chão
The day started normally enough with what was to be a few final running repairs and adjustments to mv Bukkit, collect all the semi-dry clothing still wet from our rough trip down, rationalize equipment and the load in the boat – all in preparation for the 2nd half of the journey.
Little did we know how the next 48 hours were to play themselves out…..
As luck would have it we overheard that since it was full moon, there was to be a ceremony of AYAHUASCA in the nearby jungle and that if we played it correctly, we might be able to ‘crash the party’ as it were.
We have not yet had opportunity to research ‘Ayahuasca’, but have been told that it is a ceremony originating with the Incas and passed on from the ancients of the Amazon Indians over the centuries. There are apparently also such similar ceremonies performed by the Aborigines and other ancient cultures.
Suffice to say – it was all intriguing enough for us to consider that we should go for it .
To cut a long story short, by the end of the morning we had made arrangements (through a local spiritual guide and mediator – Paulo Brasil ) to attend the ceremony / ritual that evening .
Our timing was extremely fortuitous and Paulo was able to make arrangements for us to partake - who are we to turn our backs on such synchronous events?
Unfortunately for our readers out there, the ceremony is not a commercial event and we were unable to take pictures, but what follows is my account of ‘ a trip within a trip’.
We arrived at the camp at about 19h00 and were briefed by Paulo Brasil on the procedures and some history about the ritual.
We were allowed to hang our hammocks under the shelter of a large communal hut and told that when the spirits took us we should stay in the hammocks or else just sit around in the open around a big fire that was lit in the centre of a big clearing in the jungle vegetation – adjacent to the communal hut.
There we would find ‘ peace in the stars’.
Fortunately once again, the Amazon delivered a beautiful clear evening – bright moon and stars – a real gem .
After standing in a circle listening to the words of Paulo, we held hands and started chanting. Later we were each given a cup of ‘tea’ derived from 2 plants found in the nearby jungle – one , a root, the other a tree. The technical composition of the plants we will I am sure , be able to research together with more information about the ceremony but at this stage let’s just stick to the experience itself.
The ‘tea’ that we drank was more like coffee flavoured dirty gearbox oil but we duly complied and then went off to our seats around the fire. Talking was not permitted for the next 7 hours and there was this constant and repetitive music playing in the background.
Within about an hour the tea had kicked in properly and the effects were to last a full 7 hours with only a small top-up cup of tea after about 2 hours.
Other than a brief period where my system rebelled against this gunk we had drank and I was trying to hurl my guts out, I spent the majority of those 7 hours curled up in one position in the bottom of my hammock in the ceremonial hut.
The journey was both terrifying and enlightening. During the dark parts I watched the structures and trees around me twisting and distorting and dark spirits jumped out at me from the surrounding jungle.
Sometimes waves of light and threads of what seemed like fairies wings on fire in different colours floated through the blur of my vision.
At times I wanted to escape these effects but simply could not move – I was trapped in the bottom of my hammock.
At the peak of my experience (which despite what I have written above was largely positive) I clearly and without a doubt locked into the ancient spirits of the Amazon river itself and the ancients who had lived and died along this vast waterway.
In waves of light and certainty and music (which was repeatedly playing in the background and which was to be my guide through the negative parts of my experience) I connected with the river and its spirits and was carried to our end destination – which is to be the river mouth.
I realized though it that this trip that we are on is not about myself and AB visiting the Amazon jungle, as had been in my mind up to that point, but is about us taking on this impossibly large river with an impossibly small boat. I knew than too that we are being swept along by the river and that whatever obstacle it threw at us along the way we were guided and protected by it’s spirits and that we would reach our end destination.
All sounds dramatic I know, but it was a dramatic experience.
When I came out of my dazed stupor at about 3 am the next morning I was still in that same position in the bottom of my hammock and clutching my daughter’s photograph in my hand.
Anyway, that’s my story about my own ‘trip within a trip’. I am sure AB has his own version to tell.
Glad we did it – the timing was right and a rare opportunity to experience the ritual that the Incas and Amazons have used for centuries to open their ‘doors of perception ‘ – but would not do it again. Too intense, too scary, too far out of control.
Sunday 19 December 2010 - Alter do Chão to Monte Alegre – 135 km
After our ‘spiritual adventures’ of the night before we were exhausted and only managed to get all our semi-dry stuff packed into the boat and were away by about 09h00. We ditched our auto-steering mechanism and the spotlight before we left. They had both been absolutely destroyed by the wet arrival those few days before and there was not much point in hanging onto them.
The day started badly – the small stream that we had entered at Alter do Chão to moor the boat was silted up at the entrance and it took us a full 2 hours of shoving, cursing, sweating and pushing to drag the boat out into clear water. Of course, those of you who have followed the story up to now will blame a lot of the pain on the hangovers we had from the night before and rightly so , but nevertheless, we battled on to get the boat into clear water.
We motored out the tributary and joined the main river at Santarém– which is a major port situated at the confluence of the RioTapajósand the Amazon.
After Santarém we hit the north shore to escape the wind and the chop. We had been warned that from this point on the river feels the effect of the tides – we are getting closer to the Atlantic ocean and even though we are still 600 km from the river mouth there are tidal effects in the river.
At around about 16h00 and about ½ and hour from Monte Alegre at our normal travelling speed the real problems began. The boat motors suddenly stopped and we started being washed towards the shore. Because of the bad wind, counter current and chop it was difficult to keep the front of the boat into the wind and water started pouring in over the gunnels.
While being repeatedly pushed into the shore and after ages of pull-starting we managed to get the motor running again and AB left me on the sand bank and took the boat out alone to try to move it forward, open the bungs and get the water out. Unfortunately the boat was too full of water and it started shipping more water and started sinking rapidly. AB was about 200m offshore and screamed at me to get onto the boat and assist him by getting some weight to the front .
In the ensuing chaos, and while I was swimming madly to get back onto the boat , the motor cut out again and now we were in serious trouble. The boat started sinking with absolutely everything on board!
In the rapidly fading light , I jumped aboard and together, with both of us on the front of the boat to stop the inflow of water over the gunnels, we managed to paddle the boat to shore.
So far it had made for some really tense moments and now of course it was dark. We were stuck on sandbank in the middle of the Amazon river with a boat full of water and no motor.
With leatherman, some basic tools and our head-torches (we had ditched the spotlight as I said before), AB tackled the outboard motor to see if he could get it going. I managed to find a whole lot of reasonably dry driftwood , poured petrol all over it and set it alight – to give us some light and a fire for later if we were destined to sleep on the sand bank for the night.
While AB was battling to get the outboard going again we also somehow emptied the boat – kind of – and inspected the extent of water damage.
We had bought a small emergency motor in Manaus, but had stupidly neglected to assemble and test it completely before we left.In any case, it had been in the boat which had virtually sunk – so all the electrics, carburettor, fuel tank and air filters were have been completely soaked.
Having given up on the main motor and after about 3 hours of working by the light of his headlamp AB managed to get the emergency motor going and it was cause for much cheering when the motor finally caught. But, our elation was premature and Murphy’s laws were playing their part well .
Once we tried to put the propellor shaft onto the motor (it’s a direct drive) we found that the cast iron moulding did not match the bolt holes on the motor, the bolts that the dealer had supplied us with in Manaus were too short, there were no bolts at all for the steering handle at all and the bolt that holds the actual propellor shaft to the motor had sheered right off – Chinese technology sucks when you need it !!
After dismantling part of our shade structure to get the 8mm bolts for the emergency motor and tying the other bits and pieces together with the binding wire we have on board, we finally managed to get the emergency motor going. Every 20 minutes or so the Heath-Robinson kind of arrangement we had made would come apart, and AB had to jump in and out of the water many times to keep the propshaft of the emergency motor connected while we battled to keep the boat moving.
Bear in mind this was a dark night (the full moon from our party the night before was hiding behind some very ominous looking clouds) and to spend half the night in the water and holding onto a tiny boat in the middle of the the dark Amazon river is something for which I will eternally take my hat off to AB…
Anyway, as this story goes – and yes folks, this is not a dramatised version at all – its fact! – we limped into the Monte Alegre port at 3 in the morning. We had to go into the rather tricky harbour with our rather ineffective emergency motor and with no GPS – since the GARMIN had fallen into the water a few hours before when we nearly sunk the boat. Exhausted and drained we tied up next to the fuel station , found a really scanky Pousada and slept!
Next morning tied up behind the fuel station
The next morning we gave our small generator away to the surprised petrol attendant – with the flooding of the boat the night before the electrics would have been soaked and there was just no point in keeping it. We wanted to get back to basics – after the previous experience we need to ditch weight – that’s what causes all the problems when the wind is up. AB also ditched 50% of his clothes – because they had become waterlogged again and just carry water and weight !
Monday 20 December 2010 – Monte Alegre
After the adventures of the night before we once again needed to do some running repairs on the motor.
This involved stripping the thing entirely and finding out what the cause of the previous day’s failure had been.
As it turned out there was a problem with the 2 stroke oil we had used on occasion up to that point. It had somehow combined with the fuel to form a glue. A gungy mess that clogged up all the filters and the jets and float chamber of the carb.
Nett result was we had to clean off all the gunge, get some fuel filters from the town and ditch the full 85 litres of mixed fuel that we had left to avoid further problems. An expensive exercise.
In addition to the loss of fuel, we had also now lost the Garmin GPS in the previous evening’s chaos.This means that we will have to try to navigate the most difficult part of the trip with a very basic and rather inaccurate Portuguese speaking GPS that by chance we had just happened to buy in Manaus.
We found Monte Alegre itself to be a Sh…t hole of a place and we felt a very unfriendly and almost evil vibe. No doubt this feeling was heightened by the bad experience from the day before.
Unfortunately though we had to spend the day there while we sorted out the problems with the dirty fuel and we scheduled to leave early the following morning.
One thing that the previous day’s experience had taught us was that from now on we must travel from first light in the morning. This is a safer option since it would reduce the amount of wind and chop encountered and would also give us more time to deal with any unforseen emergencies by the light of day.
The river had spoken and we were showing it some more respect !
Tuesday 21 December 2010 – Monte Alegre to Prainha ( 100 km)
We left Monte Alegre at about 5 am and made our way down the dark channel to the open river.
The weather was calm and the water flat the whole way. Apart from a broken shear pin on the propeller, which we quickly managed to replace, we got to Prainha at around 11h00.
In line with our new rule to spend less time on the choppy water, we decided to stay the night and secured the boat by tying it to the main jetty for the town’s boat traffic.
Already we were beginning to notice the effects of the tide as we got nearer to the open sea.
Feeling in better spirits because of the morning’s easy trip, we tucked into a bit of admin, updated emails and wrote up the daily log.
Unfortunately neither of us could get signal on the local cell phone network but we did manage to make contact via the ‘cyber café’ that seems to function in most of these little towns along the river.
Because we were to leave early in the morning, we scheduled to check on the boat at 01h00 (high tide) to move it to a position where it would still be afloat on the morning low tide.
Wednesday 22 December 2010 – Prainha
At around 01h00 we went to check on the boat to see that it was clear for the mornings’ departure.
We were in for a cruel surprise..
As we got to the dockside we looked down to see that mv Bukkit was lying on it’s side in the deep channel with only the edge of the shade structure sticking out of the water ! We were dumbfounded to say the least ! This seemed like the last straw.
It seems that what transpired was that the mooring line was too short for the extent of the tidal shift. It got stuck on the pole and as the tide came in the nose went down and the boat filled up with water and went down. Our overgrown canoe had sunk completely on its moorings!
I think that seeing Bukkit fully submerged on its mooring has certainly been the lowest emotional point of our journey so far. We could both almost taste the exhilaration of reaching Macapa in only 2 days andnow we had the next problem to deal with.
We now needed to wait until first light and low tide to try to remove the motors and the rest of our equipment from the boat and try to get the show on the road again…
At around 07h00 we got down to the little harbor and with a lot of help from the locals and a lot of shouting we got the motors off, removed anything that could weigh the boat down , baled frantically and got the hull floating once more.
With the aid of a local mechanic we drained the motor, cleaned out the carburator, changed gearbox oil and got the Yamaha purring again. The emergency motor also needed an extensive overhaul and of course, absolutely all the fuel tanks and fuel containers needed to be drained and cleaned – another whole day lost and another loss of over 120 litres of fuel.
For the full day we had ½ the town’s population watching us while we slaved away getting the motors running and drying out all our stuff – yes, once again ! – at the town jetty
By 16h00 we had got all the bits together again and had secured the boat for the next morning’s early departure.
Thursday 23 December 2010 – Prainha to Almeirim ( 112 km )
We left Prainha at first light. The boat had managed to make it through the night without sinking on us again which was a relief.
Had an excellent run to Almeirim, although the wind had picked up again during the last hour and it was getting really choppy.
After refueling at Almeirim we decided to push on a bit. An hour out we were hammering into the strong afternoon winds again and we were concerned that we might just fall apart. We spotted a tributary and headed up it to get out of the wind and find a camping spot. Of the times we camped in the forest throughout the trip it turned out to be the best one.
The boat had really taken quite a hammering and was now leaking quite badly. This was unfortunate but there was not much we could do about it. For the rest of the trip we would just have to avoid stopping too long while aboard, for fear of leaking beyond the point of no return.
Also, our 12V car battery which was critical for power to the GPS and our small bilge pump, was showing signs of going flat. This too was a problem, because our GPS would be critical as we got closer to Macapá. Towards the mouth the river widens into a huge delta and there is a maze of islands through which to navigate.
Mandla enjoying his chilled white wine in the jungle – no excuse to be uncomfortable at all!
While we were camping we were visited by a curious local fisherman who was most intrigued by these 2 gringos arriving to camp in his part of the world. In general we found all the Brazilians we metalong the whole trip to be very friendly and helpful. Despite the poverty and the conditions that some of them live under, we never felt unwelcome or threatened in any way.
Leaving our spot down the stream
Friday 24 December 2010 - Almeirim to Gurupá (111 km )
Leaving our campsite at first light was cause for some difficulty because the little tributary was tidal and it was low tide.
Our first few hours were uneventful but once again by mid morning that inevitable chop was up again and we were still some hours away from Gurupá.
By around 11h00 the wind was blowing so hard that there was concern for doing some of the bigger river crossings that were required to get to our destination.
The Amazon is not just a river, it’s a moving lake with more and more islands as you get closer to the mouth. Inevitably there are quite a few crossings to be done throughout the day’s travels and when you are in the middle of a large expanse of water in a small boat and you are moving against large chop and strong wind there is an ever present danger to be considered.
At this point the wind was extremely bad and we were shipping a lot of water because of the leaky hull and the spray. After ducking in behind a large island for shelter – Ilha Grand Gurupá – we decided that for safety (and speed) reasons we needed to ditch the canopy / shade structure. Although it was our shade for day travel in the Amazon sun and some measure of protection when it rained, it had become a safety hazard during the crossings and was making the boat unstable.
Anyway, that’s the story of how mv Bukkit became a new topless model !
We got in to Gurupá at around 14h00. There was a Christmas festival on (every year from 24 Dec to 28 Dec) and the town was pumping ! We had been without comms for a few days so it was a great opportunity to put our families’ minds at rest.
Typical Amazon traffic
Saturday 25 December 2010 – 25 Dec – Gurupáto Macapá (200 km)
Once again at first light we were on the water.
It was to be the most beautiful day and a fitting end to our travels on the river. God and the spirits of the Amazon had given us a gap – mirror- like water for the entire day.
We had expected to be on the water for a good 10 hours, but with the perfect conditions and Bukkit’s new sleek and topless look we managed around 30 km/hr and took only 7 ½ hours for the trip. This included for a number of unplanned detours through spectacular scenery because on a few occasions we lost our way through the islands ( no more GPS – battery now flat!)
Jungle vegetation – Ilha Gurupá
We arrived at Macapá at around 13h30. It’s a major port and capital of the province (Amapá). It’s also totally tidal and we could not get the boat tied up for another few hours. We are still trying to figure out why a port that takes huge container ships and fuel tankers is in an area which can only be used for about 8 hours a day due to the tides….
Threatening skies over Macapá Tanker refuel terminal First views of our destination
As we arrived and switched off the little 25HP motor for the last time – the heavens opened and the rain came down in bukkits !
Needless to say our arrival was an emotional moment. All that remains now to wrap it up is to sell our boat and emergency motor to try to recoup some of our costs.
[Throughout our journey we lost 2 x GPS’s, an automated steering arm and our satellite phone – that’s besides the other stuff that we gave away or threw out along the way – all due to water damage or in an attempt to get more speed or better fuel consumption]
Happy Christmas and have a fantastic 2011 !
From AB, John and Mandla.
Some closing chirps
Well now that we have reached our destination and winding down we figured that we should give everyone a final update of how things went and where we are at.
For the first time I, AB, will have a few words: Firstly thanks Johno my mate for sharing this adventure with me, also being the official scribe and “ministerio do finance”. This was hardcore sh!t and demanded mental strength which you displayed superbly on various occasions. If I had to do this sort of thing again you would be the first one on my list.
Secondly, to all our buddies out there that kept us going with their chirps and encouragement a huge thanks. To our loved ones, of which there are sooo many, luv ya all!
Then I would like all of you out there to start thinking of what we could do next, I am HOOKED!
Now I hand back to my mate Johnno.
After the adrenaline rush of the past weeks it took us a couple of days in Macapá to get used to a more normal routine.
As I write this we have just finalised our deal to sell mv Bukkit and have received the cash. After quite a few hours of running around the town here and putting the word out trying to find a buyer in a hurry, whilst not appearing to be in a hurry (we fly out here on the 29th), we had a number of takers and sold to the highest bidder. This will surely help us to recover some of the costs along the way.. I hope that the new owner will be kind to the courageous little boat that tackled the Amazon together with the 2 gringosfrom Africa.
You might recall from a previous entry that, being foreigners here, we actually were not the legal owners of the boat. This fact presented us with the last curved ball of our trip. Anyway, it was a bit of a story but eventually we got round that one too with some tricks learned thanks to our time spent facing the same inefficient Portuguese bureaucracy in Mozambique.
Somehow we managed to get round the system and sell our illegal boat legally …
Sludgy stinking mooring at Macapá
It is only now that we have studied the local maps and asked around that we realize that , with a bit of assumed license, we can claim to have done the entire Amazon, not just a part of it – because the Amazon river itself actually only starts in Manaus where we launched. Before Manaus it’s actually two other rivers.
At Manaus 2 main rivers come together to form the Amazon river – the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões. What’s generally known as ‘the Amazon’ is actually a vast drainage basin for hundreds of rivers and smaller tributaries .
We have described the river as ‘ a large moving lake’, and that’s probably the most accurate description. The sheer enormity of it is staggering.
The mouth of the river is a huge delta that is over 200 km wide and the impact of the water draining out into the Atlantic is seen for hundreds of kilometers out to sea.
All the way along our trip we found the Brazilians in the towns to be friendly, helpful and interested in our voyage. It’s a credit to the Brazilian people that whenever we had problems along the route or needed a place to camp in the bush yet another friendly Brazilian would pop up and give us a hand.
We would like to thank the following people who assisted us in getting us to our final destination :
* Cellsecure for assisting us with website and specifically Werner … for keeping track of us on the satellite phone (while it was still working) and updating our daily log.
* Mario Carijo – who sold us the boat , assisted us with local knowledge and lugged us around in the early days in Manaus. Service beyond the call of duty – Você e uma pessoa muito simpático. Obrigado!
* Roberto the taxi driver from the Hostel in Manaus
*Amazon Antonio from Manaus for jungle tips
*Alex and the guys at Hostel Manaus Backpackers
*Mandla le Lion for keeping us company and for being such an able mascot
*All the new friends we met along the way – in particular Jara and Adbiel our new friends from Puerto Rico. We hope to see you in South Africa one day.
*To our families and all the friends who kept track of our story on the website and who were with us in spirit all the way.
*To all the wonderful people of Brazil who helped us along the way
to the spirit of the river – RESPECT !
Don’t put your rubbish in the river – it’s the source of life.
Bye guys .. until the next adventure!
AB, John and Mandla Le Lion.