A couple of days before I was due to depart, a friend of mine was playing around with firecrackers next to my truck. One of them ricocheted and landed on my windscreen, almost blowing it up. It was night time and I was in the camper at the time and I didn’t see it until the next morning, (much to my shock).
Realising it would almost be impossible to get the same windscreen in Brazil, (Mitsubishi Fuso doesn’t exist there) I sent emails to the other Fuso dealers close to Brazil. I found one in Paraguay. After many phone calls and using friends of friends, we had a new windscreen from Paraguay within two days and it was installed the following day. It was an expensive firecracker for my friend!
Running only one day late, I started the long journey north, 3300kms all up. I had a balloon pilot friend of mine from Brazil, Lais, also join me.
We stopped off in Ribeirao Preto the first night at a truck stop, then continued north to Goiania, where we spent 2 nights at a friend’s place. It was a good chance to have a look around what is practically the heart of Brazil. The region is an agricultural powerhouse, growing grain, sugar cane, maize, amongst other staple crops. There are hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of cropped fields.
After an enjoyable stay in Goiania, it was on to Paraiso do Tocantins and Paragominas for the following nights, before reaching our destination of Belem.
The road was largely good the whole way up, the last 800kms or so was very good, though there were some rough asphalted road after Goiania.
Pedagios, (road toll stations) are a common site until Goiania, but the roads are generally good.
Scenery doesn’t change much along the route, with farms dominating the landscape. Most tourists who head north take the scenic route along the coast, which is very beautiful, but much longer.
The route we took felt like a truck racing track at times. Most of Brazil’s goods are transported by road, meaning there are trucks everywhere. It was good to have Lais along, as my truck is right hand drive and its not so easy to see when overtaking, (which there was a lot of).
We arrived into Belem mid afternoon, and through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, we found a person who had a carpark right in the middle of the city. Through the same group of friends, another contact, Roberto, came to meet us and offered for us to stay in his apartment. I was so impressed by the generosity of strangers.
We went with Roberto and his wife, Carla, for dinner at the old port that night. It was a buzzing place and a great job had been done from changing it to a port terminal to an entertainment area.
We took the boat to Ilha do Combu the next day, just across from Belem. It’s a relaxing, forested island, which you can only access by boat. While there, we met a family who were from the region and knew all about the flora and fauna. We ate fresh cocoa from the tree, (I didn’t know cocoa had a very nice juice when opened) and went to a restaurant later to have Acai juice. A very relaxing day.
I re-united with Des the following day. He had been moving up along the coast and we had agreed to meet in Belem. It was good to catch up again.
Roberto took us to the local market, then we walked around the central city in the afternoon and prepared to depart the following day.
Lot of things needed to be done before our barge trip to Macapa in the evening: supermarket shopping, confirming shipping details, buying various bits and pieces, re-fuelling, etc.
Lais flew to Curitiba that afternoon, and Des and I went to the port. The shipping company, Reicon, were excellent and looked after us well. We were loaded onto the pontoon at 6pm with a departure time of 10pm, (we had to wait for the tide to come in).
Just after 10pm, the tug boat came over and we were hooked up. We were pulled about 30m, then we stopped and was tied up to another pontoon. As it turned out, some of the documentation from some of the freight was missing, therefore we had a new departure time of 8am. We weren’t too concerned, we had lots of supplies after initially being told it would take 4 days, instead of 2.
We left at around 9.30am. We were right at the front of the pontoon, with a second pontoon behind us, then the tug boat. It was very nice as we glided along at 10km/h, not even hearing the sound of the engine. It felt like we were on a private boat as the tug and its 8 crew were so far behind. Usually no passengers are allowed, but the company kindly let us aboard. A rare opportunity for sure.
We continued out of the Bay of Guajara and into the Bays of Marajo and Marapata. The waterways got narrower and narrower as time went on. It was really interesting to see how the local indians lived along the edge of the waterway, and how the various water traffic operated. To get to Macapa, we needed to go around the largest fluvial island in the world, Ilha de Marajo.
The crew looked after us very well, and we could go wherever we wanted on the boat. The shipping company told us to bring our own food as there would be none on the boat, but we were cooked a big meal twice a day, as well as allowed to use the bathroom facilities too.
There were 6 crew and 2 security guards. Each shift is 6 hours. The crew have been doing it a long time, one of the captains has been driving boats for 37 years. It can be a dangerous jobs. Pirate attacks occasionally happen. One of the captains had one three months ago. The security were onto it though and fired shots at the pirates. They fled before making it on board.
We weren’t too worried though. It’s amazing to stand at the front of the barge at night, glide through the water under a starry sky and listen to the millions of creatures in the forest.
We arrived into Macapa at 6am. It then took another two hours to dock and split the barge ready for unloading.
We then headed north. The road was surprisingly smooth and good. I had heard it was terrible in the north and sometimes impassable when it rains. I had been watching the weather carefully for weeks as we waited in Brazil for the wet season to end. The rain eventually becomes less frequent and comes to a stop for a few months. It was dry the day we took the road, though there were a few scattered showers in the general area.
The bad, unsealed part of the road was shorter than I thought, around 110km. The first half of that was not too bad, the second half was bumpy. You could easily see how after a bit of rain, parts of it would turn into a swamp.
We made better time than expected, so decided to cross into French Guiana.
Leaving Brazil was very easy, before crossing the friendship bridge and into French Guiana. The border guards were very friendly.
Then came the compulsory 3rd party vehicle insurance, which I was expecting to buy it at the border…. They said I would have to pay 175Euro, as a month’s cover was the minimum that they had. Then they saw the weight of my vehicle and said, no, you have to pay for truck cover – 725Euro! That’s a very expensive 10 days.
We decided to go back to Brazil to try and see if there was another way. The border was about to close, but we made it over and actually crossed into Brazil after it had closed. A hotel owner let us stay on his property for free that night.
I got up at 4am to try to see whether I could get insurance cove through my broker in Europe. French Guiana is part of the EU and they said they would accept cover for France. After many emails and help of friends, it turned out that they will only inure for mainland France.
I then tried another company in Suriname. After initially saying they would, at the last minute they said they couldn’t.
At 2pm, I decided to go back to French Guiana and see if there were other possibilities. The Chief of Customs was adamant that we couldn’t pass. I had heard that some other overlanders had been allowed through and they could buy it in the Capital, Cayenne. A couple of the young Customs officers were very helpful and offered to call a few insurance companies in Cayenne. They were on the phone for an hour, with no luck.
The insurance companies were closing for the day, so they offered to take us into the nearby village of St George. We decided to stay there for the night and leave the truck at the border. The Customs officers showed us around town, took us to an ATM, helped to sort out a hotel room and recommended some places to eat. We were very impressed.
They said they would be back the next morning to take us to the border post.
It was an enjoyable evening in the village. The food was good, (though everything was at least twice the price as Brazil) and the accommodation was basic but clean.
We were picked up the next morning at 7.30am. Our friendly Customs Officers called again. The one which was the most likely to be able to arrange it was closed on Saturday mornings.
After coming to a dead end, we were told we wouldn’t be able to leave the truck in French Guiana and would have to return to Brazil, so that’s what we did.
We found a truck stop to stay at and waiting out the weekend in the border town of Oiapoque. Everyone is very friendly here, there’s wifi and we found a local lady to do our laundry.
After an easy weekend, it was back to asking around insurance companies. After asking in 6 countries, and having lots of friends around the world asking about insurance on behalf of me, it came to a dead end. I will have to pay the 725Euro when we cross tomorrow morning…. Completely unjustifiable and not a nice way to be welcomed into French Guiana.