THE DAY HAD come. Monday, the virtual line I had marked in the imaginary sand. Time to leave. Seventy days might be a record stay for Pousada Do Peralta. My shiny new bank card paid the bill plus booked the Rio Sucuri tour, which I thought was close to Jardim but no, the map put it closer to Bonito, a lot closer. I’d already packed up and loaded the bike needing another night in Bonito and was loath to unpack again for camping another night so, while I still had WiFi, I combed the booking sites for a hostel. Bingo! Papaya Hostel downtown. And thus, I pulled up outside Papaya Hostel barely warming up the bike enough to put the choke back in. One thing for sure, after riding a bare bike around the town, the tent on the bars disturbs the handling greatly.
“Compact and Bijou” the real estate agents would call Papaya Hostel. Small, in other words. To be fair, I’d seen smaller hostels but this one had so many more facilities compacted into its footprint. The main thing for me was It had my top requirements: secure parking to save me unpacking, power, wifi and free breakfast all for 35R, ten less than Peralta.
The Senhora on reception wore a stoic face with a disposition of busy-ness and my attempting to pay for the dorm felt like I was being a minor inconvenience. I only had 50R notes and she needed 35 but had no change so told me to pay tomorrow. the receptionist led to the small courtyard, paused, looked up at the balcony and shouted “Horsey,” making me jump A a stocky woman with a cheerful face emerged from an upstairs doorway and beckoned me up to the rooms. ‘Horsey’ helped me choose a bed and locker in the dorm she was currently cleaning.
I secured the gear that wasn’t already bound to the bike and relaxed in the cafe area connected to the internet while the afternoon rainstorm passed. I wasn’t really doing anything, virtually treading water in cyberspace. When the rain stopped, I wandered into town looking for a bar to toast farewell to Bonito and welcome the next leg of my journey after being so long stranded by circumstance. Bonito is surprisingly short of good bars open on a Monday so I found myself back at the Sao Jorge. It looked half closed. The bar shares the long wide entrance to the Hostel and nestled quietly in the shadows at the back of the building. At the entrance, a young guy sat at the desk behind a laptop and a girl was standing next to him. Their faces a reflection of work instead of pleasure.
“Cerveja?” a line I cast out baited only with scant hope. “Nao,” said the Senhora. “Sim,” said the Senhor and returned from the bar with a cold bottle of Stella Artois for a nice round 11R. A young couple with small backpacks had just arrived at the desk and were trying to make themselves understood in English. I squeezed by to the improvised patio on the pavement and brushed the raindrops off the wooden chair around one of the tables to sit down outside in the fresh post-storm air away from the stuffy, dark interior.
The couple struggled to communicate with the concierge before the young man disappeared down the road. I asked “Having trouble?” the young girl said, “Oh my god, it’s so good to hear an English accent, you’re the first we have come across here.” I told her I knew the feeling well. The tour they were on didn’t accept card payments and told them to pay at the hostel afterwards. The hostel couldn’t charge their card either so her partner had just gone to fetch cash from the ATM at Banco do Brazil a block or two away.
James and Holly were Aussies only just engaged a week or so back on an earlier leg of their trip and, as it happened, had completed the Rio Sucuri tour that day. When James returned we shared a drink and experiences on the road. The air was cooler after the storm and the couple were still wearing their wet gear from the tour. They were the same age as my sons but felt more like my own peers. Apparently, I shared James’ father’s adventurous spirit.
When they heard I was booked on the same tour, James tentatively brought up an invitation for me to smoke a joint just before floating down the river tomorrow. This felt like a scene from a video game where every odd thing has meaning. For what purpose was that invitation? I didn’t know but I accepted anyway and slipped the nicely rolled joint into my wallet.
After a solid night’s sleep in a soft bed for the first time in months followed by a filling breakfast, I was riding the rough rust-red dirt track to Sucuri. Hot Brazilian air ruffled my t-shirt and should have felt cooling to my bare arms. It’s a slow dusty 20km that makes the journey over stony potholes and loose corrugations feel longer than it should.
The Rio Sucuri Farm is beautifully well kept. Vinicio welcomed me warmly in English and directed me to a safe parking spot in the shade for the loaded bike. I was two hours early so I could relax, perhaps take an early lunch, reflect and then smoke James’ joint.
I was about to settle in the hammock under the tree when I was invited to join the tour that was about to leave directly. I suppose I could have declined but I quickly retrieved my lighter, which had only ever seen a candle and a campfire, packed up the loose ends on the bike and lit the joint before walking and puffing across the lawn to join the group. The joint was small in size and mild in its flavour and was finished just before joining the group gathered at the reception. The challenge was fulfilled and I was already feeling lightheaded.
The tour itself was well organised a dozen of us led through the woods wearing wetsuits and crocs. The musical Portuguese words didn’t educate me at all on the flora and fauna around us, although Paulo and Thais occasionally translated. Rather the language blended with the cannabis to lull me into sleepiness.
When we reached the river, there seemed to be no rush to get in. Instead, people were standing around chatting. I’d wait in the shade rather than the water. I wasn’t too hot and I’d start to feel impatient if I was ready to go waiting for the rest of the group.
Drifting down the river, the water felt cold as it seeped between skin and neoprene and the sun did its best between the dappled shade of the overhanging trees to warm my back through the floatation jacket and wetsuit. the chill was getting to me when we reached the end of the drift
Paulo and Thia were unofficial translators on the tour for me and a young scot named Robbie. They told us later that they had just got married and were on their honeymoon. This was a happy revelation and reason to celebrate in good company. We enjoyed lunch together and agreed to meet at Gruta Azul since my GPS route took me back to Bonito before Jardim.
Some of us swam in the swimming pool although Vinicio apologised for the smell because a Tapir had bathed in it the night before. “It’s not dirty, it just smells a bit…”
After the bus took away my new friends, I packed up the bike and started back to Bonito as far as a fork in the road sporting large blue signs: left Bonito, Right Jardim! Jardim won the toss and I turned south down the dusty red track. Although it was late in the afternoon, I could feel the radiant sun on my skin, my t-shirt billowing in the breeze as I carved a dusty trail between open fields and farmland. After so long being static, I enjoyed the mixture of sensations between freedom and adventure and the feelings of doubt and anticipation that uncertainty brings. It seems they go hand in hand. If there is no uncertainty, there is no adventure.
The track became steadily more rough and sometimes I was launched into deep sandpits where the bike slew sideways unable to steer. I managed to stay upright as my feet shot of the pegs to scoot myself upright. My training taught me you should put the weight on the pegs to keep your balance but it just didn’t work on deep sand. Planting myself in the saddle and paddling with my feet was proving successful if inelegant. I couldn’t tell from the surface what was solid ground or not but the clue was discovered at the track edge where sand had piled up in long ridges. I could use them as an accurate indicator between which warned of a potential spill.
I joined the main road south of Bonito about half way to Jardim. I’d probably only been forty-five minutes on loose gravel and sand but I already felt weary. Perhaps it was the after effects of the joint too and not being used to riding of late.
The sun was kissing the Western Horizon and I could feel the evening mosquitos hitting my arms and legs in the warm air as I pulled into Jardim, a busy town that showed little evidence of tourism. There were a few hostels online as I recalled but I quickly needed a comfortable bed out of this muggy heat rather than wearily wrestling with tent and mosquitos in imminent darkness.
Baby Lanches restaurant. The proprietor was deploying the patio furniture ready for evening trade. He spoke no English but was suitably impressed by the laden Yamaha from Peru and served me as if I was King of the Incas. The fresh juices were cold, thick and succulent. I downed two pint-sized glasses of watermelon juice, so thirsty I’d become.
Latching onto the WiFi, Booking.com revealed Zamora only 2km away. 80R was above my budget but it had become a beggers, choosers situation. Red text flashed up. Last available, someone currently booking and I quickly entered my details and clicked confirm. I sat back to enjoy the fading twilight and chicken sandwich.
Zamora, tucked away in the nearby suburbs, was an anonymous-looking residence, save from the vinyl advertising on their patio doors. A Senhora cheerfully welcomed me in, as if I was the first ever guest and gave me an over-sweet cup of coffee from a container labelled ‘Cafe sem açucar’ (coffee without sugar.)
Her name’s Marisa and she showed me all the rooms and, after I pointed to the motorcycle, put me in the triple so I could access my baggage through the window. I was the only guest tonight and thought “Nice trick with the ‘last available’ artificial scarcity tactic, Booking.com.”
The room was hot and humid but the air conditioner soon brought both down in short order. The three single beds reminded me of Goldilocks and the three bears. I chose the bed that was neither too hard or too soft but just right and slept without covers switching off the air conditioner sometime in the early hours when the cold woke me up.
I slept through until 8am. That’s two hours longer than normal. The shutters kept out the silver light of morning but not the sound of the rain and the thunder. Checking the weather at breakfast, four days of thunderstorms. Not what I wanted in an 80R guest house. I decided to stay one more night. Frankly, I still felt wiped out from the tour and the ride to Jardim. I locked myself in the room promising to do some kind of blogging or video work and, instead, felt tired and depressed and surfed aimlessly on the internet.
I rested, read and slept on and off and gave myself permission to kick back and allow the wave of misery to pass with the storm if that’s what my body wanted. I’ve learned that going with the flow is the best way. Fighting feelings only increases resistance, and magnifies and prolongs the struggle. Tomorrow I would be “Right as rain!” and smiled at the irony of the phrase as I listened to the weather overflowing the guttering outside…