great shot by a fellow biker
I wish I had this technology when I did this ride
This is quoted by Anthony Bourdain in his No Reservations Peru episode. As far as I can tell it is only attributed to a unnamed prophet. However, I do know that Eric Burdon and the Animals sang “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and that is how and am feeling as I am approaching one year back home.
The trip was now over for all practical purposes. I was just finalizing some things before flying home. I couldn’t make it home in time for Mother’s Day but I was adopted by a nice Venezuelan family.
My last night, brother Ruben threw a great party where one of his friend’s showed off his many talents including playing multiple instruments and telling endless jokes. He was from Margarita Island where they talk so fast I stopped trying to understand anything he said. Still, just watching him perform was a blast.
Finally, the day came when I had to say goodbye, or rather, hasta la luego, because this would not be the end our friendship. Ruben and his wife treated me like family and made the end of my trip perfect. It ended with the best thing that impressed me most during my two year trip. The generosity of strangers and how quickly people can love each other when they are open to the possibilities.
I will soon write a post summarizing the trip with links to certain stories that people only now visiting this site may not find easily. If you are one of these people, for now, I urge you to look at my Peru, Bolivia*, Argentina, and Chile stories.
Back at Cuidad Bolivar a few other overlanders had arrived. We had some great stories over dinner.
The next day I headed for Puerto La Cruz on the coast where my friend Ruben generously offered me a spare room in his house. He also gave me a nice route for a side trip before heading back home. So after a rest day I headed east along the coast and then up into the mountains.
The cave that is over 10 kilometers long and the home for thousands of Guacharos or Oil Birds. As you walk through the cave you are overwhelmed by the noise of the birds. Then about midway through, you pass through a small passageway and come out the other side where there a no birds and enter complete silence. It was an interesting tour. Early in the morning and in the evening you can also watch the birds leaving and entering the cave.
Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world. It was discovered Jimmy Angel who used this plane to explore the region searching for his fortune. He crash landed this plane on top of one of the table-top mountains and had to hike back to civilization.
Airplanes are the only way to get to the village used as a base to go up river to see the falls. Our 9:00 flight was late, very late. In fact the little four seat Cessina was no where to be seen for hours. It didn’t make me feel better to hear that the plane was having mechanical problems. To make matters worse it was a holiday weekend and the mechanics were not on duty. So I sat in the airport for 3 hours thinking about how a hung-over mechanic was fixing an old four seat Cessina and whether this trip was worth the risk.
Our first sight of Angel Falls.
Our late start meant we arrived at the falls very late and were rushed back down to the river because it was getting dark. Still, we reached the river in the dark and only by chance did my group find our guide and one of us even had a flashlight. However, the canoe was downriver on the other side where they were setting up camp and cooking. Oh, it started to rain also. So there we were in the dark screaming for help.
Eventually, our guide actually crossed the river himself to get the canoe. It was total incompetence and truly dangerous.
Sleeping in hammocks wasn’t that bad. The key is to position yourself diagonally in the hammock.
Unfortunately, the final overland border crossing of my two year trip turned sour. The Brazilian border official had a nasty case of anti-American fever. I had asked what the delay was after 20 minutes and several unusual questions. The reply was that since he had waited a long time at U.S. immigration I had to wait and I shouldn’t complain. I had several armed soldiers surround me and the motorcycle while he inspected my bags and the motorcycle. I was happy to leave Brasil. The country was a disappointment. It really does not live up to its reputation, although the people were generally very friendly.
Upon leaving Brasil my luck started changing immediately, however. Finished with Brazil I headed to the Venezuelan border. At first I had to wait for everyone to get back from lunch, but immigration quickly stamped my passport and someone from customs eventually appeared. Only problem was that customs needed copies but there was not one copy machine around. I was told to go back to Brazil. No way was I going back to Brazil so I lied and said I could no longer enter Brazil because my visa expired. Okay, I was told to ride to the next town, Santa Elena, and come back with the copies. I was a little worried that if I didn’t get back in time, and they were closed the next day because it was Sunday (they did close) I couldn’t submitted the copies until Monday. This concern became greater while riding to Santa Elena when I realized I forgot to change money at the border. However, the copy place let me pay with Brazilian Reales and I was back at customs two hours later. Upon seeing a mistake in my VIN number the customs agent happily said, “everything has a solution”.
Later, back in Santa Elena, I was eating some street food, and was asking about the true going exchange rate on the street, because Venezuela has a big black market for U.S. dollars. Another customer happily gave me all kinds of advice and sure soon one of the street money changers came by for food and gave me the current rate, rather than the rate everyone had been quoting me earlier. Immigration, money, and food done I was off to find a place to sleep. I first went to check out Cabanas Friedenau based on a recommendation of my guidebook. I was on the bike checking the place out thinking it looked more expensive than described when I saw someone in a truck pulling in and asked about prices. It turned out to be the owner who rides a BMW 1150GS and he offered me a spare room in his house for free.
I wanted to see a lot of things in the Grand Sabana but two factors made it difficult. One was I wanted to get home during May and the other was that all the tours were very expensive because it was the off season and there were no other people with whom I could split the costs. I did manage to take a day tour.
A few days later, I headed north for Ciudad Bolivar. It is a really nice ride on an excellent road. You climb up some twisties before driving straight again for a long time and then climb down through the jungle using.
I didn’t do much in Manaus. It was hot and humid and there wasn’t much to see. It is amazing that such a rapidly growing city is in the middle of the Amazon. Then again I am not really surprised anymore. I did want to get my visa for Venezuela but the Venezuelan consulate told me I didn’t need a visa. So I was soon driving due north for Venezuela.
The ride north takes you through the autonomous region of the Waimiri-Atroari where you are not allowed to stop or take photos. The Waimiri-Atroari are strongly resisting government efforts to develop the region’s nature resources.
It later started raining once again. This time it was so hard I had to pull off the road.
This was the heaviest rain I have ever seen in my life. It actually hurt and I could hardly see the road. So I once again was forced off the road by the rain.
Here is a short video clip of the rain.
It cleared again and I was still aiming for Boa Vista for the day. However, the road deteriorated badly and, in the middle of nowhere, my chain jumped off the chain and became jammed around the front sprocket.
However, the chain, a BMW original chain, did not have a master link and I did not have a chain breaker. I feared that this would be a big problem. It took a long time to undue the chain from the front sprocket and I still needed to break the chain. My new friends thought a hacksaw would cut the chain but it hardly made a scratch. Fortunately, someone else came along and used a metal wedge and a hammer to pry the side plates off a link and then hammer out the pins with a screw. It took a long time but it worked. Fortunately, I actually had a spare chain, with a master link, because I heard the stock BMW chain is very weak.
The rain eventually subsided and I headed out. At the gas station I met these two Franciscan monks who I previously met on the boat up the Amazon River. They were traveling without any money or belongings. They looked as bad as I felt but cheered up after I bought them some breakfast.