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Brazil - Pará - Belém to Macapá

From Brasília it was a long drive north to Belém. We had previously decided to miss the Guyanas and Suriname but, somewhere in route planning, minds changed and the goal became Manaus (a fair way up the Amazon) via the Guyanas. More on that plan later.

We slept a number of nights in fuel station truck stops. Almost all freight goes by road or river, so there are plenty of road stops to overnight and grab a shower.

There has been a lot of news recently about the increase of deforestation by fire in the Amazon region (States of Amazonia and Pará). Without making a political point or pointing a finger over this sad situation, we were pretty shocked by the number of fires we witnessed on the road north. These were mostly clearing brush but we saw large and small, with a few too close for comfort - 'Honey, pass me the marshmallows'...close.., with one that had sadly gotten out of control and run into a sugar cane field - you have to feel for the poor farmer and the homes close by.

We finally arrived in Belém, a sprawling city on the Rio Pará. It has a number of ports and is a gateway to the Amazon region. There are plenty of colonial buildings to be seen amongst modern high rises and shanty town barrios. We headed toward the port area to seek out a ferry to Macapá and find a suitable spot to sleep.

On the waterfront promenade, we stopped by a small police office/station. Four police arrived in a car, all very friendly and one officer came to chat. Her advice - sleep close to the police station unless we wanted to be robbed. We'd pretty much worked that one out. But our problem wasn't robbers, it was our melting point - it was seriously hot and we have a small van and no air-con. We looked up a recommended hotel and headed there. We still intended to sleep in the van, but were after secure parking where we could leave the windows or doors open. Well the road (more like minefield) to the hotel was basically through a shanty town and traffic signals were sort of ignored (by all) so as not to come to a halt. The hotel owner was more than happy for us to park and shower for free, but the heat got the better of us, so we took a room.

At the hotel, we met Vivian and Hanlie from South Africa. They had arranged a place on a barge to Macapá for themselves and their Land Rover. They gave us the address of their departure point and we set off to make a booking. To cut a long story short, the company they were using told us it wasn't possible to travel on the barge with our van because the Port Captain forbade such due to a death last year. Hoping we hadn't spoilt anything for our Land Rover friends, we eventually left.

After several hours we had shifted to what may be another Port Authority area and found a ferry for two days later. So, pleased with actually having found a crossing, we relaxed at a waterside restaurant and watched rain clouds gather. Just as we were leaving the heavens opened and day turned to night. Somewhere Noah had preloaded The Ark, but we were taken by surprise. An amazing amount of rain fell and with it came immediate flash flooding. The drive to the hotel was edgy, never quite knowing how deep the water would be, trying to wait for other vehicles to venture our first through long, flooded streets and once against the one way flow. Luckily the van made it.

The following evening, we went to Port Lider to meet our ferry and loaded the van. We slept overnight on the boat in the port and in the morning took a taxi to the passenger terminal to rejoin the ferry when it loaded passengers. Lots of people looking for a hammock space.

The journey to Macapá took about 30 hours, through various channels (some narrow) of the Amazon delta. Along the way we passed many outlying settlements and lone homes. As we went by children would row out to greet the boat in the hope of being thrown goodies - some were lucky. It seems to me that they are probably given their first boat at age 5 or 6. There were also some traders pulling alongside to sell food.

When we finally arrived at Porto Santana, on the north bank of the Amazon and west of Macapá, we were able to get the van off the ferry onto the floating dock but couldn't drive off the dock until the tide dropped some three hours later - our van ground clearance is low. At about 10pm, we arrived at Quintal Amazon campsite to find Vivian and Hanlie already there.

The owners of Quintal Amazon were very sociable and on our second night invited us to eat with them. They were aware that we were heading to French Guyana the next day, and over a few beers, made it sound like it would be the roller-coaster road from hell, disputes with the indigenous population and added that we should only sleep by the Federal Police road stops. It may have been a wind-up by one of the guests - a Federal Police Officer.

The next day we set off. The only Federal Police road stop turned out to be about 5 miles into a long journey. We stopped overnight at a scrappy looking bus terminal outside Calçoene in anticipation of a rough drive the following day.

The road west didn't disappoint. It was a 125km roller-coaster of dust, dirt and potholes. Thankfully it was dry - that road wet would have been a nightmare. It took 4 hours to do the 125km. It had taken another 4 hours to do the 400km leading up to this point!

After an amazing journey, through beautiful, remote countryside, we were eventually back on a semi-decent road and ready to hit the French Guyana border.

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