World Travelers: Brazil's Amazon Jungle, Part II

Text: Simon Thomas • Photography: Simon and Lisa Thomas

The fall from the bridge was this morning. The day has been a blur of failed mechanics interspersed with lost consciousness. I can't choke back any more drugs, especially as we have so few and no soon opportunity to gain more. As the daylight disappears the thick Amazon foliage takes on a sinister demeanor — much like it had last night.

A Dark Day

“Sssshhhhh, listen,” I whisper loudly to Lisa. Sure enough in the distance and getting closer is the sound of a small engine. Raymundo, a slight man of five-feet, with swarthy skin and a gentle manner, dismounts his age-ravaged Honda. His face is a picture of caution and uncertainty. Sandra, his wife, remains with the bike unsure about us or the risk we might pose.

Luckily, Raymundo and Sandra live six miles farther on. But even so, with deep water-logged stretches ahead, both express fears we’ll not make it that far. Lisa throws the gear from my 1100 onto her F 650 GS, as I struggle to tighten the ratchet straps that I’m using to brace the sub-frame fractures. “They need to hold” I quietly whisper under my breath. One bad fall could easily have the frame damaged beyond repair. Lisa will have to tow me there — there’s no other way! I fumble clumsily to attach the blue rope from Lisa’s rear sub-frame to my front fork. Lisa shares her doubts about our likely success, unable to hold back her distress any longer. But she knows, like I do, we have no other choice.

A Tow in the Dark

Fearfully, Lisa eases her clutch lever and the slack of our rope disappears. Just a few feet ahead of me, I watch Lisa fight her bike as it slides ass first into another deep water-bogged trough. Her bike violently wrenches my own in the same direction as I try to stay upright. Defiantly she hits the throttle hard, blinding me in a powerful spray of water and mud. She’s struggling to find any purchase in this mire. It’s hard enough to ride on, let alone to pull half a ton of dead R 1100 GS in the dark.

Raymundo’s tiny rear light has been swallowed by the gloom, and the tangle of undergrowth on both sides, now seems closer. I yell to Lisa a warning as I pass out and fall from the bike. “Get up, move your ass, now. Get up, we’re almost there,” Lisa repeats hauling me to my feet. I’ve been hearing that for the last two hours.

Startled we both turn, straining to see into the murky shadows. “Minha casa,” Raymundo shouts excitedly again, pointing to our left; we’d not seen him walk back. Surrounded by forest, we can barely make out the small structure silhouetted by the moonlight; it’s been the longest six miles of our lives. Exhausted, we manhandle the bikes from the track towards the wood and bamboo shelter. Helplessly I’m forced to watch Lisa lug our belongings from the bikes — she’s been spectacular. She never gave in, no matter what.

Inside, Sandra lights two small candles, placing one on a fragile looking table and carrying the other to light her way. Its gentle glow illuminates her painfully gaunt face and dark skin as she leads us to a small and simple room. Inside only a bed, of sorts: four wooden fruit crates pushed together, covered in leaves and grass, covered in turn by a tired sheet. Tonight her three children will sleep with her, to make room for us. We are 180 miles from the city of Manaus, and yet, this is a totally disconnected world.

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