Cycling in the jungle : in the heart of the Amazon rainforest
Since Solidream is a cycling around the world, we keep setting ourselves major challenges throughout our progress, like reaching Antarctica, or crossing South Lipez in Bolivia in June. This time, challenge is hard : to cross Amazon by bike, on a road crossable only during dry season, through the wildest places and under tropical heat. As an unanimous opinion, it’s the most difficult part of our adventure so far.
Progressing with heavy weight on the shoulders
After our way through amazon Bolivia, the Brazilian stage of this challenge had begun pretty badly with several problems with Siphay’s bike. From the very first kilometers, Siphay’s bike abandons us and we know it will be as hard as hopping on one foot for the next 1400 kilometers: it doesn’t have all his gear and we will spend hundreds of hills pushing his bike or biking on harder gear ratios.
To face this issue, 2 solutions: either we go uphill by foot, or Brian and Morgan push Siphay in the back. In any case, those are additional efforts in an already awkward environment.
Switching from “travel” to “adventure”
In Amazon, it’s hot, very hot. The temperatures we’re facing easily exceed 40°C in the shade, and above all, the 90% humidity makes the task very hard. We calculated that the 3 of us drank almost a ton of water in a month, which makes 10 liters a day per person, half of it coming directly from earth. Indeed, with such a thirst, we have no choice: we collect water in the river (not always clear) or in the wells of farms along the road, when they exists …
At night, before going to bed, eating a hot meal gets you wet as after a shower. The environment is hostile: many insects are always there to annoy you, snakes are not visible but still there. We don’t forget the warnings from local people about the “onça” (jaguar) that hunts at night and can break your skull within seconds if you are confused with one of its preys.
Morgan remembers a difficult night: “As we were sleeping in tents, Brian wakes me up and tells me there are some ants in the tent. I immediately fall asleep, with no worry. I wake up a few minutes later, and have the feeling I’m getting bitten. I have a look at the top of the tent and see an unusual and dark shape, plunging the tent into darkness, and I discover plenty of holes in our mosquito net. I wake up the others, our tent is now being eaten by pretty aggressive ants, and we will fight a long time against them…”
Besides, the road doesn’t help: a 1400km track, with hundreds of kilometers of 12 to 18% hills, requires a huge effort in our particularly disadvantaged situation. Sometimes the slopes are so steep that we need to find some footholds, as in climbing, to wedge our feet and push our bikes. On the last part, we did 6500m of positive height gain, in less than 5 days ! When it rains it’s extremely hard to progress in the sticky mud and, if you try the experience, you get 2 kilos of mud stuck everywhere, to carry around along a road where your tires cling on the climbs, but skid dangerously downhill… plus a bike to wash !
Morgan describes the 26th of August : “We leave the village of Jacaréacanga, 400km south of Itaituba, and begin the most difficult part of our Amazon trip. This Friday we run on a terrible road. Hills after hills, heat weakens us dangerously, and sweat burns the eyes. Around 4 PM, after 80km, Siphay stops on a top of a hill, puts his bike against a bank, sits down and leans against his saddlebag, without saying a word. I drop my bike next to his, throw my hat, and lay on the ground, as Brian stops and sits down, in the middle of the track, without bothering to store his bike on the wayside… We’re exhausted. I had never pushed my body in such a corner, I felt like my blood was boiling, my heart was beating stronger than ever, I found myself having chills in that green furnace. The effort was so hard. And after each pass, I hoped I’d see a long straight and flat road…But this day, we run 98 km without this dream come true.”
Discovering a little known region
To cross such a hostile region keeps you, as often, good surprises. Along the road, every 400km or so, a village offers us some fresh air and sodas to relax. Rest of time, farms or, more often, only jungle. Sometimes, sadly, jungle goes up in smoke, due to intentional fires. In any case, people display extraordinary hospitality. Ever in Europe, for example, we would have been helped so much. We’re not ready to forget multiple roofs to sleep, meals, and helping hands for our repairs!
Brian remembers one of those nice surprises: “we were just getting out of the jungle of the Amazon National Parc, completely exhausted, and we cross a truck that quickly stops beside us. The driver, Jayudo, starts chatting with us. After a while, he says he admires us, hands us a bill and says :”here you are, you deserve a good meal in the next village”. We hit the road, stunned, with a little smile, and pedal with little more enthusiasm to this good meal, which falls exactly on the anniversary of our trip!”
In Solidream, there’s Solidarity, and here we met solidarity everywhere. Our adventure fascinate people in Amazon, and they don’t hesitate to call it “locura” (crazy in Portuguese) and we remind them that it’s through them that we are progressing every day. On our way, we had the chance to meet an indigenous tribe who offered us a house on stilts and their marvelous cooking, while Siphay had to go back for a day, to change his broken rim. Meeting people who speak a language of the forest is a unique experience.
Siphay remembers one of our meetings: “ ‘Kilometer 180’, a strange name for a town ! We were so impatient to get there, in the middle of the day, probably because of the cracks coming from my back wheel. The style here is pleasant, it’s like a farwest atmosphere. Suddenly, I’m surprised by the pickup crossing the road just in front of Brian, a few meters ahead Morgan and me. Not sure I understood what he said, but the man called Israel asks us if we have already lunched and he invites to follow him. Does he want to advice us a good restaurant ?He finally offers us a great feast in a restaurant, and 2 liters of fresh soda, a pure pleasure we appreciate in such conditions… As I’m writing those lines, Brian and Morgan have left to get some local fresh fruit juices, offered by a Brazilian guy we crossed a few hours before! I will always feel a little discomfort but also a great gratitude to these generous strangers.”
We saw a lot of animals, even if we missed the mythic jaguar. All the better, considering the risks, but it’s a shame for the experience, for the sensational eye contact of this beautiful predator. On the other hand, magnificent birds are all along the road, lizards wriggle as we pass, and monkeys show some acrobatics in trees. But more than the sight, this is the sound experience of the jungle that is unique and indescribable with pictures: silence does not exist, we here plenty of cricket-like insects, birds seem to exchange insults from one tree to another, and at night, unidentified animals remind you that you’re in their world.
Brian tells one of the nights in the jungle : “I had some difficulties to sleep, because of the drops falling on my hammock, and I hear an animal hangind around me. With the tarp, I could’nt see what was happening. Morgan heard me scream in my sleep. Then I woke up and stopped moving. Finally, it was silent. Then nothing. I don’t know what this animal was, but I was very scared !”
Challenge met !
We accomplished the Amazon mission, not without difficulties, and today we feel tired but extremely satisfied after more than a month in the jungle. We’ll give a rest to our bikes in Santarém, and then in Manaus, and enjoy (another way, by foot!) the jungle, wildlife and streams of the region. We’ll study the next steps of the trip, toward Central America. We keep on thinking to the next challenges, and already have some ideas… to be continued…