The Brazilian diversion: Pacaraima to Bonfim
After over eight months pedalling about in Spanish-speaking South America, we rode our bikes back into Brazil. As there is no road link between Venezuela and Guyana, we had little option but to head south to the city of Boa Vista before heading northeast toward the first of the continent’s trio of lesser-known nations, Guyana.
At the border, between getting our respective exit and entry stamps, there were dozens of Brazilian vehicles in long queues waiting for the delivery of Chavez’s ultra-cheap gasoline to the final Venezuelan gas station. It seems that the despite being over 230km to the nearest sizeable settlement, it is still worth people’s while to spend a day visiting Venezuela to fill up their tank for next to nothing.
At the border village of Pacaraima, we stocked up on some currency at the ATM then went into a café for a cold drink. “I think she might be speaking Russian” Laura said about the Portugese-speaking waitress. If we had just been dropped off in the middle of nowhere on some reality TV gameshow, then I would have been inclined to agree.
After a long time just about getting the hang of Spanish, we remembered how much we had struggled communicating in Portuguese last year. This time, however, our Spanish was able to help us have a one way conversation as the woman could understand us, but then would reply in her native language. By now, we have gotten used to the typical questions asked – where are you from? Where are you going? – so guessed and gave Spanish answer to one of those.
The pristine road we had enjoyed through the Gran Sabana disappeared as we descended through forest from the relative cool of the plateau to the hot savannah plains at just 100m above sea level. Apart from the odd sign and building telling us that we were passing through indigenous territory, there wasn’t much that stood out.
At a turning where our map said there would be a village there was nothing to be seen, so we stopped shortly after to get the stove out for our staple lunch of instant noodles.
We had heard that there was a village after 130km along and because we wouldn’t have enough water to wild camp that was where we aiming. The heat and lack of shade fortunately meant that staying on the bike pedalling an air flow over us, was the best way to keep cool.
The landscape was pretty featureless with the electricity pylons running into the horizon showing our direction. As we stopped by a roadside swamp, sheltering under the mid-afternoon shade of a bush, a car pulled up. Excited that the driver may have a cold drink to offer us, he instead launched into an incomprehensible monologue about how he was going to the border with his auxillary fuel tanks to sell the gas back in Boa Vista. Stinking of booze, we were glad he was driving on the other side of the road.
Having finally reached the village, we were enjoying a can of Guanabara (a Brazilian brand and our favourite soft drink of the trip) when we were informed that there was a petrol station five km further down the road.
Petrol stations have a good reputation for cyclists in Brazil. There is usually a safe place behind the station to camp as well as toilets and showers to use for free. This one was no different and also had a restaurant where we could enjoy a cold Brahma before cooking our pasta and retiring to our tent.
It was another 95km to get to Boa Vista with the scenery still being much of the same, so much so that any excuse to stop for a drink and snack was taken without hesitation. After a couple of hours riding, we snacked on pasteis – a deep-fried cheese-filled filo pastry – that allowed us to reminisce of being back on the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro where we tried them for the first time.
The wind picked up the closer we got to Boa Vista, slowing our progress as did a pit stop for delicious fresh coconuts – Coco Gelado. I had great, childish pleasure at being given the machete to open it up to get at the flesh.
On the industrial outskirts of Boa Vista, we passed through 15,000km on our odometers. Along with the Argentinean Andes (5,000km) and northern Peruvian desert (10,000km), it will be a marker that we won’t forget despite the slightly mundane surroundings.
After getting a bit lost in the surprisingly quiet but large state capital, we found the nice hotel that Laura had booked as a special treat in order to celebrate my 30th birthday the following day. We had a really enjoyable day drinking beers at the pool bar and feasting at a Brazilian all-you-can-eat BBQ.
The next day, we were back on the bikes, riding across the wide Rio Branco (flowing down to feed into the Amazon further south) then turning north eastward into the prevailing winds. Taking it in turns to ride as a windbreak for each other, we made slow progress through the vast savannah.
By lunchtime, we were looking for some shade to escape the midday sun, when a farm house came into view with a few large trees in the garden. Asking the farmer in our best Spanish accompanied with hand signals, we indicated we like to cook our noodles. Along with providing us with ice cold water to drink, they insisted we instead use their porch table while the rest of the family watched in amusement at our tiny gasoline powered stove cooking our simple lunch. They wanted us to stay to rest for the afternoon, but we were determined to keep going.
After 85km, we thought enough was enough against the wind, especially when a restaurant called Tulcano came into view and Laura spotted a few picnic tables on a sandy patch of land under some shade at the other end of the parking lot. It turned out to be another good camp spot with cold beers on tap, whilst locals entertained us by showing why Brazil tends to produce the best footballers by playing a barefoot match with goals only a foot wide.
Another sticky hot night’s sleep in the tent made us determined to pick up some hammocks when we got to Guyana. 125km after we had left Boa Vista, we had reached the end of our short stint in Brazil. Stamping out and heading across the border, we decided it hadn’t been the most exciting leg of the trip but a necessary detour nonetheless in order to visit the Guyanas. It also provided a good incentive to start learning Portugese so that we can communicate when we get back to Brazil in a month or so.
Pacaraima (Venezuela border) to Boa Vista 230km
130km village with some shops
135km petrol station & restaurant with camping option
170km small shack selling drinks and pasteis
195km 2 restaurants
210km small stalls selling coconut geleado
230km Boa Vista
Boa Vista to Bonfim (Guyana border)
85km restaurant Tucano/camping opportunity
105km café at Normandia road turnoff