It was early February and I was riding around Colombia. I was biding my time waiting for Peru to announce whether they would open their land borders or not. They were completely closed to land traffic because of the pandemic. Just as they were about to announce, Omicron hit. Son of a..! I guess I’m going with Plan B. Now all I need is a Plan B.
Since Guatemala I’ve been bumping into two other riders also heading to Ushuaia; Andy from Idaho and John from New Zealand. We were all in Bogota and after Peru’s announcement, we were trying to figure out how to keep going. They ultimately decided to fly bikes & bikers to Santiago. The cost for each bike was about $2600US. In the FB group Panamerican Travelers Association, I was following the posts of another rider who was about a month ahead of me. He decided to detour through Brazil since the cost was significantly cheaper.
I found an air cargo company that went from Bogota to Tabatinga, Brazil, a port on the Amazon river (beginning of the red line), and it would only cost $250US for the bike and $40US for me. A price much easier to swallow, so to the jungle I went.
I arrived in Tabatinga and with help from the hotel staff, I found a boat that would take bikes & bikers to Manaus (middle of the red line). However, before leaving I heard the road heading south out of Manaus was impassible because it was monsoon season. So once I arrived, I’d have to find another boat to Santarem, where there was a passable road.
My Spanish is embarrassingly poor, but because my Portuguese is nonexistent I was holding up the boat ticket line at the dock. Thankfully, Neurdice, a big guy from Angola, who’s been traveling the world for the past 12 years, was behind me and able to help. He spoke, among other languages, English & Portuguese, and we were able to make arrangements for the bike & buy a ticket for me. Neurdice & I in the picture below the airplane on the left.
For four days Neurdice, Alberto (a guy from Madrid), and I hung out as we sailed down the Amazon. Manaus was already a poor, crowded & seedy port city in the middle of the Amazon jungle. However, it felt especially seedy because of all the Venezuelans seeking refuge from runaway inflation. When we arrived in Manaus, Neurdice, with his worldly eye, took one look at the city, pulled me aside and said “With your motorcycle, don’t stop at any lights. Just go straight to the hostel and if you get pulled over by the police, just tell them you were afraid of getting robbed.” I kept a brisk pace the few miles to the hostel.
For the next few days, as I waited for the boat to Santarem, Neurdice, Alberto & I explored Manaus on foot. We were approached by many refugees who had practically nothing and were just trying to survive. Rather than giving them money, though, we bought food for them. They were all generally nice people & were very grateful when we helped.
At dinner on my last night in town, we were approached by two teenage refugee women (sisters, I believe), one with a daughter of 5 or 6. We bought them food and Alberto made arrangements to take them shopping the next day. After they left, I turned to Alberto and said “Buy them period supplies. They probably have no way to deal with it.”
Alberto gave me the most confused look and replied:
“That’s a great idea! How did you think of that???”
I know it’s not much, but in that moment, I think I slightly changed four peoples’ lives forever.