We left for Manaus the next morning, 800km away. The road is good, except for a 50km section in the national park in the middle, which had some surprisingly large potholes. The landscape is fairly flat, with a mix of forest and farms the whole way. We arrived in the evening and parked at the dropzone at the airport. There we were hosted by Luciano. He said we could stay in his Skydiving team’s room.
I took the truck to a mechanic the next day for an oil change and general look. I had to make a big decision: Whether to take the barge to Porto Velho, which would take 8 days, or take the infamous BR319 road, (which was almost impassable a couple of years ago). I talked to a lot of guys and found someone who had done it recently. I was also added to a Whatsapp group of guys who are doing it all the time. I decided that we would take the risk.
We stayed in Manaus for a couple of days. Luciano took us out on his boat on the Rio Preto River. The shed where the boat is kept is interesting. Boats are stacked on shelves and when you want to use it, a forklift comes and takes it, puts it on a cart on rails, which then slides down into the water. All very impressive.
We explored some of the inlets of the river and visited the famous Bota, (fresh water dolphins).
It is amazing how many metres the river goes up and down in the wet and dry seasons, a number of metres.
We left for the barge from Manaus, across the Amazon to Careiro da Varzeia. We arrived at a good time in the evening and drove straight on. The barge was full by the time we left. It took one hour to get to the other side. The barge is actually an official part of the BR319 road, and was surprisingly cheap, around US$30 or so.
We found a service station on the other side and parked there for the night.
We left before 5am to try to get to Porto Velho by the end of the day, 800km away. The first 200kms is quite good, paved most of the way, then it turns to dirt and is quite bumpy in parts. One of the support struts on the sway bar broke, so Des removed it as we waited for a barge to cross a river, (it was about $50 to cross that one). The road got quite bad around the middle, but road crews are making fast work of repairing it, so it is only a relatively short section where its really bumpy and potholed.
One problem is that the road is largely clay, so when it dries, it’s really hard and bumpy, and very hard on the vehicle, (and for the people inside it). At around the 500km mark, a brake line broke, so for the remaining 300km, I had no brakes, so had to use the engine brake. It wasn’t the first time, I also had a problem with the brakes in Botswana, so I had had experience driving the truck with no brakes. Luckily the road was flat and not very populated. I couldn’t stop fast enough for some potholes though.
We drove through through a couple of thunderstorms, turning the road to mud. The truck did go sideways a couple of times, but a tap on the accelerator brought it back into line again.
Amazingly the whole road used to be asphalt in the late 1970’s, but from years of no maintenance and harsh wet seasons, the road fell apart.
At around the 550km mark, it is still the original asphalt road, and extremely potholed. I would rather drive on the dirt. The last 200km is perfect asphalt to Porto Velho luckily.
I was so happy to get to Porto Velho at around 9pm. We were met by Eric. He has a skydiving school and let us stay there. He took us back to his place for a good dinner with his Family.
We went to a mechanic the next morning, who fixed the brakes and support strut, as well as some other general maintenance issues. Amazingly, they only charged for the parts. It was extremely generous of them. I have been so lucky with generous and good-hearted mechanics around the world.
Eric showed us around Porto Velho in the afternoon and took us out on his boat down a river. He just had the engine re-conditioned, so wanted to try it out.
Later we watched the skydiving, before a big thunderstorm came through, and again had a very nice dinner at his place in the evening.
Eric offered us a flight in his Cessna the next morning. It was made for skydiving, so only the pilot had a seat. It was good fun. We dropped a skydiver out from 3000ft, before he flew us around the town and the dam. Just before landing, he did a high speed low pass over his house. It was fantastic.
BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais) were doing a training video at the aerodrome that afternoon, so Des was interested in their weapons and what they were doing. They do a lot of undercover drug operations. We got a photo together, before moving on in the afternoon to Rio Branco.
The road was pretty good, though a 20km stretch of road being completely re-built slowed us down a bit, then we had to wait about one hour for a barge to cross a river. A new bridge is being built, so soon the barges won’t be needed.
We got into Rio Branco in the evening and was met by Rogean and his Family, also part of the skydiving community.
He owns a large entertainment complex for kids, specialising in birthday parties. They have arcade games, pool tables, kids’ rides, ten pin bowling, and a large restaurant. Something for everyone. We had dinner there that night.
We walked around Rio Branco the following morning. Quite an interesting city, with some nice buildings and the Rio Branco river, which flows through the city centre.
Rogean took us for a flight on his paramotor in the evening. I hadn’t tried it before. It was a great way to fly. We flew over some ancient Inca Circles. They are dotted all over the area.
We went back and played ten pin bowling in the evening.