Journey Along The Ghost Road BR319, Amazonia, Brazil. Day 1
I’ve heard a lot and often about this road. It is considered the most difficult and dangerous road in Brazil and one of the most difficult ones in the world. It has different names – ghost road, because you can hardly meet anyone there, mutant road because only a little rain is enough to change the road condition beyond recognition. But the official name and number of the road is BR319, and it stretches from the city of Manaus, the largest city and capital of the state of Amazonas, to the city of Porto Velho in Rondônia, in total of about 870 km.
Every conscious Brazilian motorcyclist, and anyone who travels in Brazil, dreams of riding this road at least once in the lifetime. And of course, I had such a dream too, but it was very distant and vague, and I could not even think that I would come to realize it.
Of course, I saw a lot of photos and videos taken on this road, and every time they terrified me. Riding there alone seemed like a suicide – because of the road itself and weather conditions, and because of danger of bumping into some bad guys I also heard of.
But I’ll be honest, the Amazonian jungle and roads kept beckoning me, and when I came to Brazil for the second time and was already heading north, I started to listen more attentively to the talks about them.
One day I asked I can’t remember now whom what was the best season to ride through Amazonia. “Right now,” I got the answer. It was enough to sow the seeds of doubt in my heart. The thing is, my initial plans as to my further route were coming apart at the seams due to various unlucky circumstances, and I already started thinking about alternatives. And this information that now is the best time to ride in Amazonia, before the rainy season starts, seemed to be a good sign and food for more serious contemplation.
First cautiously and as if testing the waters, then with more confidence, I started asking around what my local friends would think if I wanted to ride the ghost road by myself. Some of them were protesting immediately, some were looking for useful contacts, others supported and encouraged me.
Eventually, the more I was listening and thinking, the more this idea of going to Amazonia turned me on. The main conclusion I made after listening to and digesting all the information I had received was that to conquer that road would not be easy but manageable provided one takes certain precautions and has some common sense.
After making the final and irrevocable decision, I went to Manaus, where this road actually starts. In Manaus, I met the man whom I knew already by correspondence, and whom I could not wait to meet in person – Genghis Souza.
Genghis is an experienced traveler, and being originated from Manaus, he rode the BR319 back and forth many times. I was sure he would be a wealth of information for me, so I planned to spend a few days in Manaus. Both in order to hear and write down everything I needed and to tune in right. I wasn’t wrong about my expectations. Not only did Genghis share all the information, experience, and contacts he had, but he also supported and encouraged me so that by the time I left, I had much less fear and doubts.
Moreover, Genghis helped me as well with something very important. As I already mentioned, duration of the road is about 870 km, partially it is paved, and partially soil, which turns into mud during the rain, being the biggest challenge of the road.
So, when the pavement ends, most of civilization and infrastructure, including gas stations, ends as well. For the next 500 km you will not encounter any, which means that you have to carry fuel with you. The fuel consumption of my motorcycle is quite high and I can travel no more than 300 km per tank, so I had to stock up about 20 liters of fuel. Honestly, it was a dilemma for me, I couldn’t even imagine how to carry so much fuel on my bike. Luckily, Genghis came up with a brilliant idea of emptying one of my panniers from the things I wouldn’t need in the next few days, sending them to the friends in Porto Velho, where I would pick them up later, load this empty pannier with extra tanks for fuel, and fill them up at the last gas station. I happily supported that idea.
So, the day that I dreamed of and feared of has come. I’m finally starting my journey on the Ghost Road BR319.
Early wake-up, last instructions from Genghis, saying goodbye to the family, and off on the road.
I heard some people cover this road in two or even one day. I didn’t set that goal for myself. First, I ride slowly and to my own pleasure, always; second, I do not know when I will find myself here again, perhaps not so soon, therefore I wanted to see, hear, and experience everything that this road could offer me to the maximum, and not to miss a thing. And third, I did not know what was waiting for me there, or how difficult the road itself and the weather conditions would be. I was riding in September, the rainy season didn’t start yet. But it doesn’t mean anything, the jungle isn’t predictable. It can rain any time, it’s just there is a chance that it won’t be as heavy as during the rainy season. So I didn’t set any time limits for myself. I ended up riding up the famous BR319 ghost road in four days.
The first day promised to be the most simple one, but turned out to be quite intense. Only 270 km, of which about 200 km of asphalt, two ferries on the way, an obligatory stop at the last petrol station in the town of Careiro Castanha, and the night stop at the community of Igapo Acu.
I woke up early hoping to skip some city traffic in Manaus. Well, I didn’t succeed much, probably many drivers were thinking the same way as me.
But finally I got to the port, which is in the city itself, where I would take the first ferry. In general, I don’t like ferries very much, because the ramps are often inconvenient, or slippery or narrow, so the prospect of taking two ferries in one day gave me a little concern. But when I saw the first ferry at the pier, I sighed with relief and parked my motorcycle in front. The ferry was spacious, meant for a lot of vehicles, with a wide and comfortable ramp.
There was still half an hour left before the departure, so I had time to take a break after riding around in the city, to talk to the port personnel who immediately surrounded me with attention, to buy a ticket and to drink my Pepsi. So far everything was going well, I enjoyed friendly curiosity of people around, and I took it as a good sign.
Getting on the ferry went smoothly, and we started the journey. The first ferry would take about an hour to cross the rivers Rio Negro and Amazon. It is a very pleasant and relaxing trip, during which you can observe an interesting phenomenon. The thing is here there is the confluence of the waters of two rivers – dark water of Rio Negro and sandy-colored water of the Amazon. For 6 km the two rivers’ waters run side by side without mixing. This phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers.
About an hour later the ferry arrived at the opposite side, and now the next step was to get to the town of Careiro Castanha, fill up the fuel tank and extra cans. This was already the beginning of BR319. The road was still paved, so I could relax a bit and gaze around. So far this road didn’t look like a ghost road, there was quite a lot of traffic and many villages along the road, one after another, with houses on stilts. But being too relaxed could have consequences, the pavement was often intermingled with potholes, and some were very deep. I remembered straight away the warnings of my friends that even on this seemingly simple stretch one should be careful, because for some, the journey on BR319 ends at this stage.
The town of Careiro Castanha showed up ahead, and I started to get more and more nervous. Soon after this town the asphalt ends, and no one knows what is waiting ahead.
I stopped at the gas station, filled up my fuel tank and all available containers, and had a chat with the fuel operator. He confirmed that the next gas station would be in the town of Realidad, about 500 km away. He also said that you could find fuel before from some local people in the villages along the road. But it’s better not to rely on that.
So, I had enough gas, I bought some food and water at a store nearby and was ready to continue. There was only about 50 km left to my destination at Igapo Acu, but now the pavement was finishing and off road about to start.
At the beginning, I had a pleasant surprise waiting for me. When the asphalt ended, I didn’t see much difference from the ordinary country roads, which were familiar to me. There was just some discomfort from the passing trucks picking up dust, sometimes you had to stop at the side of the road to let them pass and wait for the dust to go down.
I was already about to sigh with relief and to thank heaven that the day was so easy, and there were only 20 km left till my destination . But suddenly something changed and I could barely slow down not to fall.
Though dusty, but rather flat and simple surface was replaced by a mosaic of pits and potholes, and some of them could not be avoided. I was fidgeting with my eyes the road ahead, trying to find some road shreds where the bike wouldn’t jump desperately from pit into pit. Ten kilometers of that road gave me a hard time and I was probably more tired after that stretch than after the whole day. When I noticed a little clearance in a series of pits, I stopped to take a break.
There were still 10 km left, but now I didn’t feel like I was almost there. The sun was already going down, and I still had to get to the village as soon as possible until it gets dark.
I collected the rest of my strength and energy and went on. Not just every kilometer, every meter was hard to manage, and I was nervously checking my odometer, waiting impatiently for the end of this nightmare.
Finally the community and the second ferry appeared at the distance. I cannot describe all my happiness and relief. This ferry looked too big for the river it was carrying passengers and vehicles through. Unlike the first ferry, this one took only a couple of minutes to cross. I was the only passenger, the sun was almost set.
The tiny village of Igapo Acu is located on both sides of this river. If it wasn’t for the river, I think the village could be crossed from one end to another in five minutes. But for a tired traveller like I felt, it was a real paradise with everything I needed. There were a couple of restaurants, shops and overnight homestays. I wouldn’t call them hotels, they were more like posadas, or houses with rooms for rent. I stopped at the very first one I saw, and I was glad to know that I could have dinner there too.
The rented rooms were very simple, with only a bed and a fan, shower and toilet were outside. But I was okay with that. The first thing I did was to turn on the fan and fell on the bed next to it. Even though the sun had already set, it was still hot, plus I was terribly tired and needed a few minutes without moving. At that moment, this room and bed seemed to me the best and most comfortable in the world. The anticipation of dinner only reinforced that feeling.
When my ability to move returned, I went to take a shower and ordered a dinner. It was also a nice surprise that there was an open wi-fi in this village. Of course, the signal was very weak and the connection was constantly breaking down, but at least I was able to write a few messages to my friends that I was fine.
Dinner seemed luxurious to me, too. Fresh fish, rice, beans, salad. Alas, before I finished my meal, the power was cut in the whole village. And it would have been fine to finish my meal with the candles, which my hostess kindly put on the table. But the lack of power meant also that the fan would not work either. The sun has just set recently and the air hasn’t cooled down yet.
Nevertheless, I tried my best to fall asleep. I think I was turning around in the bed for hours, until somehow I managed to fall asleep. When I woke up at night, the fan was working already, and this time it took me only a few seconds to fall asleep again.
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