Today was the first Drive Day on the road to Belem from Palmas … the distance was only around 1,300km but Mel and Franco wanted to spend some time getting there so they could show us all some ‘real’ Brazil – off the beaten track so to speak – so they broke the distance into four Drive Days. We left the farm at Taquaruçu around 9am’ish so that we could drop the “Upgrade Boys” at the Bus Station so they could ‘Overnight Bus’ to Belem, and then continued out of Palmas over the ‘Bridge of Friendship’ and drove for a few hours. We had lunch on the road somewhere, and made it to a sizable town with a big supermercado around late afternoon where cook group shopped and Franco chatted with some local truckies about where the best place to stop for the night might be … the response was a place just out of town and off the highway where trucks communed with the local goods train! It was a big, open space – not much grass, but not a lot of rocks either (small, sandy gravel really) – and 5 lines of train tracks, with a length of what looked like ‘Grain Cars’ sitting there with no engine … cosy!
The next day (Day 141) we set off around 8am’ish … we were not in any particular rush to head off, but after brekkie was done there was not much point in hanging around either so we rolled out and on our way. We stopped around mid-morning at a nice place that had two waterfalls to have a swim for a while, but it started to rain after a bit and when it didn’t look like stopping completely we decided to make it back to the truck and drive to a servo somewhere to get some cover while we had lunch. After lunch we drove on at a comfortable pace and around late afternoon we stopped in front of the Igreja Sâo Francisco de Assis (right on the highway) and when asked they graciously allowed us to set camp in their front yard. As it turned out, the people who actually lived in the house beside the church were a single mum and her two sons … only young boys who were quite excited to have a bunch of gringo strangers camp in their front garden. The boys ended up staying around us for most of the night, and after dinner the mum came and sat with us for a while and enjoyed a couple of drinks with some adult company – Mel and Franco speak fluent Portuguese, and the rest of us speak reasonably good ‘pigeon-portuguese’, so an enjoyable night was had by all … including the two puppy dogs that lived there as well.
The next day (Day 142) we set off around 9am’ish. We were still not in any rush to be on the road, and we all wanted photos with the family, so we packed down comfortably – took the pictures – and after all that we headed off and continued towards Belem. As today was effectively our 2nd last day on Frida (considering we are coming home early) I sat in the back drivers-side corner and had some fun communicating with Franco along the outside of the truck from my window to his, and at one point he took a photo of me hanging out of my window. We drove for a few hours this morning and around midday we stopped at a Roadside Stop & Service Station and Mel announced that – if we were all in agreeance – we would have lunch at the Churrascuria here and Oasis would subsidise each of us BR15.00 … the option was to get out the kitchen and sort out a lunch off the truck … NO BRAINER – we were all very happy with, and pleasantly surprised by, having lunch in the Churrascuria … job done – lunch eaten – ice cream enjoyed afterwards – then back on Frida for more driving. After a few more hours we ended up finding what was reputed as the ‘last good Truck Stop & Servo’ before Belem and the executive decision was made to camp here for the night. It provided good shelter from the nightly rain – so we could get all the tents out and set them up so they could dry thoroughly before staying locked up in the tent locker for about 2 weeks or so while we did Belem, the River Boat, and Manaus – it also gave us the opportunity to eat at a burger place rather than setting up the kitchen and conjuring a ‘Floor Boards Special’ for our last meal on the road … I was a little saddened that our last Bush Camp on this trip would be in a concrete forest, but the positive aspects outweighed the negative, and besides every camp is what you make it … it’s all about attitude and how you choose to make your experience.
The next day (Day 143) we were a little more focussed about hitting the road because we wanted to arrive in Belem between busy traffic periods, so we woke early and packed down all the tents, loaded Frida with all our stuff, then rolled out to get a couple of hours and kilometres under our belt before stopping for breakfast. It was at our breakfast stop this morning that I did something that I never thought I would ever do … We stopped at an ordinary service station and had cereal and fruit salad off the truck – as one of my last Official Truck Bitch Duties I emptied all the remaining water out of the jerry cans after breakfast so that they would not be sitting unopened and still for 2 weeks or so – then as we were packing up and some went to the toilet, Mel called me over to the shop … my sandals were on their very last legs (they have served me very well all the way since Northern Peru, and only cost me 11 Sole) and Mel had managed to talk me into getting some thongs – dah, dah, dahhhhhh … I have never been – and always vowed to never be – a thong wearer, but Mel convinced me that a pair of Havaianas here in Brazil would be cheaper than anywhere else in the world and she thought I should give them a go and just see … Well, this is supposed to be an adventure holiday so I conceded and bought a blue pair of Havaianas for BR9.00 (about AUD$4.50) – even though we are on Financial Conservation it didn’t break the bank and at least they will get me home without needing to wear my hiking boots every day. So – breakfast done and thongs bought we hit the road for the last push into Belem.
We arrived at our hostel around midday’ish and took everything we owned off the truck … well, everything we owned that we wanted to bring home and keep anyway, because Paul and I will not be on Frida again after today … very sad and misty face …
Our arrival in Belem also brings us internet access for the first time in about 6 days so we were keen to get settled in and then check email to see if we had responses from our girl Natalie and/or Oasis … short answer was Yes x 2 – bringing both good and not-so-good news. Our girl Natalie was able to secure the anticipated seats home for us from Manaus, so our International Flights were now booked and paid – but Oasis declined returning any of our Local Payment (LP) for the Manaus-Quito leg, even though we are getting off the truck at an Official Pickup-Drop off Point and we won’t be on the truck benefiting from any of that money. They said that they refunded Paul’s LP for the Quito-Lima section at the start of the trip as a gesture of Goodwill, but apparently LP is a ‘non-refundable item’ and while they are saddened that we have to stop early they will not be refunding anything … not real happy Jan, but what can you do? We will just have to suck-it-up at this point and hope things might turn in the convolutions of time. So after this news we set ourselves the task of sorting Domestic Flights from Sydney-Brisbane so we would have a definite arrival home, and this – among some other internet business – kept us in the hostel all afternoon … we ended up going for lunch around 5pm, so we turned that into an early dinner so we could relax in the hostel this evening.
The next day (Day 144) was our First Full Free Day in Belem, and we started our day by securing domestic flights to take us from Sydney-Brisbane … Paul tried to do this yesterday through Webjet, but that turned out to be more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack!... (sorry, I couldn't think of any funnier that was also socially acceptable for this forum) ... Webjet did take the booking on our preferred flights, but before they would confirm and allow payment to be made they wanted a copy of either Paul’s Driver’s Licence or Passport for proof of identity and a copy of a Domestic Utility for proof of address! WTF? I ended up getting flights through Expedia.com.au – flights Selected, Booked and Paid in about 10 minutes! After all that most everyone else had wandered off on their own adventures so we made tracks for the Opera House … Paul particularly wanted to see the Opera House but when we found it, it turned out not only to be the wrong Opera House but also it wasn’t actually an Opera House – it was the Theatre da Paz … impressive all the same, but Paul now knows that the Opera House he thought was here is actually the Opera House in Manaus. So we wandered around the square for a short while but then the afternoon rains came in and we ended up going for some lunch and then back to the hostel.
Around 7pm we joined a small group going out for dinner and a drink … we were originally headed for the Bar-on-Stilts, but that turned out to be closed on Monday’s so we had a drink next door at an expensive bar (just for the experience, and we were there anyway) and then walked down to the Sailor’s Bar on the other side of the waterfront. It was called the Sailor’s Bar not because sailors frequented it, but more because the table staff wore sailor outfits … and it was here that we partook of our Tower of Beer!
The next day (Day 145) was our Second Full Free Day and by this stage we had done about as much organising for our early return as we could and so it really was a Free Day for us! We decided to join May and go to see the Catholic Basilica - based on St Peter’s in the Vatican. It was only a few blocks away from the hostel so we were there pretty quickly, and although we are not overly religious people it was absolutely beautiful inside. (I know that you kind of expect anything catholic to be beautiful, but this basilica really was.) After that we returned to the Theatre da Paz and found ourselves there just in nice time for the 11am Guided Tour (BR4.00 each with an English speaking guide) … nice work! The tour took about 45 minutes or so and when it was over the afternoon rains had started, so it was our usual afternoon of lunch and then back to the hostel. Dinner tonight was down at the waterfront again to a restaurant that entertained ‘Happy Hour’ on Tuesdays from 6:30-9:00pm … what is Happy Hour I hear you ask? It turns out to be a session of time in which participants pay only BR35.00 each for as much buffet you can eat and as much draught beer/soft drink/water you can drink … good times are made of this! After Happy Hour finished we all had another drink before leaving (so we wouldn’t look too much like cheap gringos), and then we returned to the hostel.