Thursday, 10 May 2007

Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas

This was possibly the most amazing 'road' journey that I've ever had, mostly because it was so normal for the locals. We left Jeri at stupid o'clock in the morning with me thinking that we'd head along the beach, but no, we went inland. We didn't miss any scenery though, because as well as it being dark, it was pouring down, and the surprisingly cold rain down my back kept me from sleep. It only looked like 200km on the map, but a whole day of travelling and waiting got us through Camocim, Parnaiba and Tutóia, where we had to break the journey with only 30km or so to go. There were no late evening buses for some reason. No problem, we could set off early morning, get to Barreirinhas and get a trip out to Lençois Maranhenses before celebrating my impending birthday. Little did we know.

We caught another 4WD bus-truck combo down the sand roads, waving at the kids, reading the signs prohibiting motorcyclists to wear helmets (due to robberies in the area!) and dangling our legs over the back, enjoying the ride. Elevenish, we stopped in Paulino Neves and watched the big Rio Novo drifting slowly by as a woman washed her clothes in the river. It was such a tranquil scene, and she looked so relaxed as she scrubbed, sitting half-in half-out of the water while singing softly. We ate freshly picked starfruit as we waited for our next ride. That was when the fun really started. The 10km Paulino Neves to Barreirinhas (check it out on a map) journey is incredible. It is a complete cultural experience as to how other people live. Mainly because there is no road! Not even a sandy one! Straight out of town, we headed between two fences down an 'area' of grass, hillocks, ruts, puddles, sand, holes and streams. The open truck, full of 20 or so people, wobbled slowly and precariously down the non-road. The fence then disappeared and the whole place opened up. Where the hell do we go now? The driver and his assistant knew vaguely. Poor assistant had to walk ahead and check the depth of every ditch, every puddle, every river. It appeared that the road changed every day because they also had to exchange info with the few vehicles making the opposite journey across the sandy moor. The burrow owls stood and watched in bemusement as we shook our way through the bog. A man walking to the side overtook and left us way behind.

We drove down ruts so deep, making us travel at such an angle, with screams and slides from the passengers on the wooden benches that, sitting on the outside, if I had put my arm out straight from my shoulder, I would have touched the floor. Easily. So many times, I prepared to jump ship as we reached tipping point. So many times everybody had to jump out to push, to lighten the load for bridges, or to help dig us out of the bog. Or was it a flood plain? Passengers were going swimming in the water as we waited for the truck-bus to negotiate an inland sea! We made it to the dryer dunes without much more than wet feet. No tipping, no crashing, nada. A real feat of off-road driving and navigating. Those two should take up rally-driving. We rolled up and down and around the dunes until we reached more sand roads. The last hour of bouncing along while getting whipped by thorny branches became a little wearing, and I was glad to finally make it into Barreirinhas four hours after setting off. I loved the journey though. Like nothing else in India, Africa, Cambodia, Bolivia, anywhere. And some people probably do it every day! Twice! Maybe it's the school run! Perhaps mums drop their kids off at school, go home, then turn around immediately and go back to pick them up. Probably not though.


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