Deserted post-apocalyptic street in Guijara-Mirim
The trip from Rurrenabaque to Manaus
started off nicely enough with the bus showing up three and half hours late and then everyone promptly getting off the bus to take a 30 minute lunch break. By the time the bus started leaving Rurrenabaque it was already 11:30am and the bus was so full that I had to stand for the first three and a half hours to Santa Rosa where some people finally got off and I got to sit in the non-reclining row of seats at the very back of the bus. There were many other people standing in the aisle as well as luggage stored there since all available storage space was completely filled with cargo, even the roof was packed with stuff four feet high and running the entire length and width of the bus.
The port area in Porto Velho
The road was slow and boring but easily passable since there hadn´t been any rain for a few days. The scenery was the same spacious jungle type vegetation and not much else in terms of civilization. After the Santa Rosa stop we stopped for dinner at some isolated little village with a few restaurants on either side of the road and a one room dilapidated church that was grimly illuminated. It was difficult to sleep on the bus as there was a giant semi-crippled Bolivian dwarf that was sprawled out in the seat next to me taking up more than his share of space since he had to keep his legs straightened. Despite our morning delays in leaving we still managed to arrive even later than we should have in Riberalta, the first town of any note that we had passed. Here again there was another delay of an hour and half while they unloaded all the massive amounts of cargo from the roof of the bus, huge sacks of some type of leaf, about 3 feet by 2 feet by 5 feet each.
Railway roundhouse in Porto Velho
After this interminable delay the bus proceeded northwards towards Guayaramerín, the end of the road and on the border with Brazil. The red clay road wound its way unceasingly through the flat jungle vegetation with almost no signs of life until we were right upon Guayaramerín. Finally the bus arrived at about 12:30pm and it started to rain.
I was already rather filthy looking, with my white shorts covered in a dust residue from the red clay roadway and my face no doubt in a similar state. In the light rain that was falling I had to take a motorcycle taxi to the immigration office over the muddying road. A few minutes later I got to the migration office to find it closed with no signs posted or anything. After asking a few people they told me that the office is closed all day on Sunday.
Jesus under the neon and flat screen TV coverage in the Porto Velho church
How you could close an immigration office for an entire day is beyond me but then again this was Bolivia. Not knowing what to do I wandered over to the boat terminal where the boats cross the river to get to Brazil and a tricitaxi driver asked me if I needed to go to immigration. I told him that I did and he said that we could go find the immigration officer at his house and that he would come down and open up the office to give me a stamp, all for a price of course, 20 Bolivianos ($3). So off we went in the rain to look for this guy and we eventually found him eating lunch in a local restaurant off east of the center. He agreed to open up the office for me and so I waited for him out in front of the office while he finished lunch. He came promptly and stamped my passport while I waited awkwardly since he obviously didn´t want to come all the way down there in the rain to stamp one passport.
Hammocks strung up on the boat to Manaus
But it was over soon enough and I was on my way to the boats. I changed some money at the ticket office and got on a boat filled with Brazilians that had crossed over to buy the cheap Bolivian crap that they were selling in all the stores there.
After 5 minutes on the motor boat I was in Brazil walking to the Policia Federal to get my entry stamp, hoping that this office would be open. The streets of the city were completely deserted as if a nuclear holocaust had just happened. It was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop amidst the run down and faded buildings with chipped off paint. Luckily the Policia Federal office was open and I got my stamp and got a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver told me that I could take a bus or a shared taxi to Porto Velho
Sunset along the Rio Madeira
The bus would take 5 hours and cost 35 reals and left in two hours or a shared taxi about two and half hours and 50 reals and would take you where you wanted to go in the city, hence saving another cab ride on arrival. I opted for the shared cab and the other Brazilians that were waiting saw my level of dirtyness and looked at me suspiciously as I was now in Brazil this standard of cleanliness was obviously frowned upon. The driver flew down the road to Porto Velho which follows the now abandoned railroad line and still uses some of the old railroad bridges that are real narrow and rickety with wooden boards laid lenght wise across the railroad ties. But we arrived without incident as he pushed the car to its limits.
Porto Velho didn´t have much to offer, at least touristically.
Town along the Rio Madeira downstream from Porto Velho
There were nice views of the Rio Madeira from the hilltop bluff overlooking the port area and old railroad yard. There was supposed to be a musuem for the old railway but that didn´t seem to exist anymore, but there was an old railway roundhouse with two train engines in it and some other abandoned buildings filled with scrap metal and falling down. There was a row of restaurant bars on that part of the river front that had good views as well. The port area, where the passenger boats leave for Manaus was not at all what I expected from a city of 500,000 people. It was completely unpaved and totally chaotic during the day with boats being loaded and unloaded manually by dozens of kids ferrying sacks and crates of every imaginable item from trucks to the boats on makeshift wooden planks.
Floating island of a house on the Rio Amazonas
I managed to get a ticket for Manaus for the following day as there was nothing to keep in Porto Velho. I bought a decent hammock from the woman who ran the hotel where I stayed and stocked up on some food and water for the 3 day boat trip. In the center of town there was a church from the early 1900s that had ridiculous neon lighting behind the central Jesus statue and multiple flat screen TVs for no apparent reason as the church wasn´t that big.
The boat was supposed to leave at 2pm so I ended up getting there at about 10:30am to get a good hammock spot and because I had absolutely nothing else to do. Naturally the boat didn´t leave on time and the hammock deck, on the second level of the boat was slow to fill up. Finally after hours and hours of loading of the boat with watermelons, onions, oranges, and everything else we finally left at 8pm, six hours late.
Another island house on the Rio Amazonas
The food the first night left a lot to be desired but despite being completely tasteless was edible. Sleeping the hammock wasn´t so bad but the next day started very early around 6am when everyone started to wake up and a stellar breakfast of a tub of crackers and a container of margarine was served. The previous night I had heard running on the top deck above and had assumed that it was just kids playing around as they had been all afternoon. But in the morning this older Polish sailor who was on the boat told me that last night the boat had been robbed. Two people had gotten on the boat as passengers and waited until nighttime and then had taken a crew member hostage, robbed the boat at gunpoint, and then disappeared into the night in a motorboat, hardly even waking anyone up.
Herding a difficult cow through the wetlands
At least they decided not to rob the passengers.
The scenery was pretty monotonous and we passed only one or two small villages, stopping to pick up or let off passengers. There was one meeting of the waters where the two different colored rivers flowed side by side for some distance before actually mingling. The main problem was that there was nothing whatsoever to do on the boat except sit around in your hammock or sit around on the top deck. I had finished my book and didn´t have anything else to read or do. There were only two people on the boat who spoke spanish and the Polish sailor didn´t want to talk to me after he asked me for money and I told him I couldn´t help him out. The third morning the river had changed character drastically, at this point we had made our turn from the Rio Madeira onto the Rio Amazonas and the river was much wider and the recent rains had flooded the river with any semblance of the river bank disappearing.
The meeting of the waters between the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes; the beginning of the Rio Amazonas
There were many houses on the riverfront that had become floating islands. It was interesting to see how people lived out there on their own with some cattle and not much more. There were even a few schools here and there. As we neared Manaus there was the famous meeting of the waters between the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes, the juncture and the beginning of the Rio Amazonas. This was very impressive from the width of both rivers, the contrast of their colors, and the distance which they flowed side by side. After 3 days on the boat, a day and half in Porto Velho, and 35 hours on the bus from Rurrenabaque to Porto Velho I was finally in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon.