World Travelers: Brazil's Amazon Jungle, Part I

Text: Simon Thomas • Photography: Simon and Lisa Thomas

It's been said that what we do defines us. Yet perhaps it's as much about what we do, as it is what we endure and what we learn from? We find out who we really are only when we're pushed past what we thought were our limits, when, during those wretched times, we discover we have greater personal reserves than we'd ever imagined. In those pivotal moments the haze of life lifts, and we can see and feel who we are, what's truly important to each of us, and what we'll fight to hold on to. Such was the case for me and for Lisa, and the trip to Brazil's Amazon Jungle, which defined a very large part of who we are today. Make no mistake -- if you're hoping for a warm and fuzzy touring article, you probably want to flip the page right now.

In those pivotal moments the haze of life lifts, and we can see and feel who we are, what’s truly important to each of us, and what we’ll fight to hold on to. Such was the case for me and for Lisa, and the trip to Brazil’s Amazon Jungle, which defined a very large part of who we are today. Make no mistake -- if you’re hoping for a warm and fuzzy touring article, you probably want to flip the page right now.

A New Continent

After 40 countries and 30-months of ride-eat-sleep, repeat, Lisa and I swap Africa’s arid east coast for the lush steamy tropics of South America’s northeast coast. We ride the smooth fast tar north of Argentina’s metropolitan capital, Buenos Aires. I’m on my BMW R1100GS. Ahead of me, Lisa’s BMW F 650 GS exhaust barks healthily as she applies a handful of throttle, leaning deep in the fast corner, her bike seemingly none the worse for our two-week-sea-crossing from South Africa. We explore Uruguay for only a week, pit-stopping in Montevideo for just a night.

Brazil now demands our full attention; this vast country occupies almost half of South America and is bordered by none less than ten neighboring countries. North of Sao Paulo, we wind our way around the dizzying coastline of the world’s fifth largest country. Brazil’s curvaceous switchbacks have us leaning our bikes at outlandish angles, before we shift our weight in anticipation of the next. To our right, the tar stops at the cliff’s edge only to plummet hundreds of feet to the warm blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Our senses are buzzing. Wild coffee grows by the side, pruned only by the speeding traffic. The broad leaves of banana trees skim our helmets on the tighter turns, their branches heavy with the chandelier style fruit.

Redemption in Sin City

We stand at the feet of the Christ the Redeemer statue, almost touching the clouds, perched high over Rio de Janeiro. Our eyes strain to take in the incredible view, as the milky horizon blurs the line between sky and sea. The Redeemer’s iconic outstretched arms cast a protective shadow across what is one of the most outrageous, vibrant, and notorious cities in the world. A pulsating playground of carnival, football, and unashamed erotica. Below us, a patchwork favela of tin and brick clings impossibly to the steep mountainside, thousands of shanty homes each built precariously atop of the next. Downtown Rio teems with life and in the distance, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema glisten as thousands of oiled and bronzed bodies bask in the day’s building heat. The conical shape of Sugar Loaf Mountain looms like a Brazilian exclamation mark, emphasizing Rio, as if it needed it!

Weeks pass and we’re in Belem city, near the northern tip of Brazil. We wander between the ticket kiosks, negotiating the cost of a boat and the week-long journey, up the mighty Amazon, to the jungle city of Manaus.

Two days later we anxiously roll our bikes from the dock side and onto thin wooden planks that straddle the 40-foot drop between the safety of the dock and the rusting boat deck. Four crew members help with our bags and the bikes for a pre-arranged fee. As night descends, we lash the bikes down, our beloved machines barely visible among hundreds of bags of onions, the ships main cargo. Climbing the steep rusting metal steps, we head for the passenger deck above and wearily hang our hammocks among the others. We’re soaked in salty perspiration from both our efforts and the humidity, which hovers at 95%. As we pull away from the port, we’re treated to a spectacle of golden shafts of light penetrating the dark skies. Five miles offshore, a thunderstorm crackles to life, extinguishing the day.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2011 back issue.