Monday, February 7, 2011

A lack of sleep and too much trucking brings us to Belem

The truck stop that we found ourselves on in Anapolis was not in a perfect spot: it was before the highway turned off toward Belem and a lot of trucks going to Brasilia stopped there and almost no Belem-bound driver thought it comfortable enough to spend the night on the dusty parking lot of Posto Presidente. An intoxicated trucker invited us to camp inside his empty soya trailer that night.
Next morning we went to town, the day being Sunday. On Sunday trucks travel much less than on other days in Brazil, you know. Most truckers we spoke to on the morning of that day were `taking a day off`, sipping on their morning coffee and relaxing in their folding chairs in front of their trucks. We made a tour of the city (on a public bus) and came to a conclusion that it is very similiar to the towns of the same size in Peru. Street vendors, noise and smog.
We came back to our truck stop in the evening and found shelter in the familiar trailer. The next morning was pretty bleak. Same idle waiting, nothing to do. After about two hours of sitting, we decided to explore other truck stops in town.
`Posto Brasil is where you need to go,` informed us the trucker in whose trailer we crushed. `It is on the route 153, but on the other side of town. It is just as big as this one here. You´ll have much better luck there than here.`
`OK,`we thought,`let´s go there then.` Two hours later we hopped out of a municipal bus in front of a God-forgotten Posto Brasil. It was dead. There was one truck parked near the pumps, not looking like it is going to move any time soon. The parking lot was empty except for a couple of local pick-ups. Their drivers were sipping beers in the half-open restaurant on premises.
`@#$%!` we thought, `what was the guy thinking!?` We walked back to the bus stop and took another tour, this time of the countryside around Anapolis, before coming back to the central bus station, again. There, we asked a sympathetic-looking elderly bus driver about what bus we should take to reach such and such a truck stop. `Are you guys hitch-hiking to Belem? You need to go to a different truck-stop!!! The one you need is called Posto San Jose. All trucks stop there!` He then lead us to the bus we needed to take and instructed the driver to let us off at the right place. We felt at ease: finally, a sensible man. We thought these relaxing thoughts for about half an hour, just as long as it took the bus to reach Posto San Jose. `It´s just over there, one block away!` said the driver when he let us off. We walked in the direction indicated. `@#$%!!!!!!!!` The gas station was under damn construction!!! The brick layers stopped their labours for a few minutes to watch two back-packers cross the road, survey the half build lot and walk off. We were so depressed. The bus left, and we had no desire of waiting for the next one in the sketchy suburbian neighbourhood. We were on the edge of breaking down and crying. What we had in front of us was a 15 km walk back to Posto Fucking Presidente, in the scorching sun, against the desirable traffic direction.
We walked for a few kilometers, up the hill, when we came to a speed bump, in the middle of an abandoned highway-improving construction project. We decided to try our good old way of hitching there, with the outstreched arm, smiles and waves... Ten minutes passed and a miracle happened!!! Hitch-hiking in Brasil actually WORKS!!! A trucker made a welcoming gesture and pulled over. We picked up our bags with an almost-forgotten swing of the hand and were underway all the way to the turn-off to Palmas. The driver was super cool. He was from Santa Catarina, he was a surfer and listened to reggae music. He was genuinely interested in our story and we chatted almost all the time. Like most other truckers in Brazil, Giovanni Coelho Pacifico, such was his name, travelled in pair with another trucker, an old road-dog Cuco. When it came time for them to stop for the night, they pulled out a bottle of cashasa (a vodka-like sugar cane liquor) and tought us the traditional way of drinking it. After a few rounds, we were like a family gathered around a kitchen fire.We parted as good friends at the turn-off to Palmas. There, we walked to yet another speed-bump (the further north we go, the more of them seem to appear and we welcome this fact) and hitched yet another 500 km ride in under 15 minutes. Ho-ho, the curse of Foz do Iguacu has lost its power, ha!
This driver did not look over 18, although he claimed to be 25. He consulted our road atlas several times, inspite of him reassuring us that he has been doing this run for three years now. Whatever, man, as long as we are heading the same direction, it´s all good...
The kid dropped us off in a small town the next day. There, kids stopped their games in the mud and watched us go by. Their grandmothers, who were selling cocos and corn, watched us silently as we walked. No smile, no handwave of ours could invite a response. After the fifth non-responsive grandma we changed the game a little. We opened our mounths just a bit and looked back at them, raising one eye-brow. No change of face, no response, we could just as well be making grimases at the brick walls behind them.
An expected speed-bump at the end of this village, complimented by an improvized labirinth of orange cones that the nearby police stastion has mastefully aranged to make traffic go even more slower. On top of that, a bushy tree gave plenty of shade where we installed ourselves. That was an ideal hitching spot, and we were not going to leave it for anything less then Belem, 1200 kms away.30 minutes of waiting yielded just the ride we were waiting for - straight to Belem. A truck pulled over and when we ran up to it, the driver poked out of his window and asked us in pure English: `Do you speak any English?`
`Eh, yes, we do. Sir.`
`Ok, let´s go`
Luciano spent some years as an illegal worker in England before he was found out and deported by the Immigration Police. He learnt English while he was working there, and he had a dream of going back one day. In the meanwhile, he was trucking. When he picked us up, he already spent 60 hours driving, no sleep. His eyes had dark circles around them. He had trouble concentrating on the conversation, he was so tired. `I´m a damn good driver` he told us, `you´ll see`. And he was good. In the next 16 hours that we spent with him, he drove with supreme accuracy. He avoided ALL the pot-holes on the Transbrasiliana, and some of them were mean. He drove through the night rain, remembering every speed-bump, sharp turn and the pot-hole to come. We were impressed. He kept saying:`I am so so tired.` Like many drivers, he took pills. Normally, one Amphetamine pill staves off sleep for about 8 hours. For Luciano, it only lasted 3. `That´s because I eat them all the time, hahaha!` He said. He chain-smoked, stopped to drink strong coffee on almost every gas station and just kept driving. We had trouble staying awake, but he would storm hill after hill, looking straight. About 4 am, a battery belt broke. We had to pull over and replace it. The operation took more than an hour. `Now I am really really really tired` said Luciano when he pluncked back into his seat and released the parking brake. Two hours later we parted with him outside of Belem Cargo Terminal. He was going to unload, sleep for 2 hours and then head straight back to Sao Paulo!!! Crazy.
On our part, we had yet another cup of coffeeeeee and went to town. Out of our 5 CS requests none were unswered. Hm, in the atmosphere that we felt in Belem, we had no desire to camp somewhere in the bushes. We caught lots of `interested` looks on our bags when we walked on the streets. So, we found a hostel ($7 a head), for the first time since... Bolivia, actually! An early night tonight, kids!


  1. wow that is an impressive long line you just put on the map. i wonder if the experience changes when you hitch along the coast.

  2. are you guys planning on taking a boat? to where?

  3. The line is long indeed... something like 3500 km in 10 days, 5 of them waiting...
    We suspect that the waiting times on the coast would be the same as ours... And there arte many big cities along the way - hard to get out of, every time...
    We are planning on taking a boat! To Manaus, 1000 kms upstream.