Monday, 16 August 2010

Mud Stories.

We won't talk about it now, but my time in Brazil was coming to an end. I needed an escape strategy. On paper it seemed tiring but manageable, in three distinct parts. Leaving Belém and crossing the river north was the easy start. From Macapá, the capital of the rarely visited state of Amapá, there would be a long bus journey further north till the border town of Oiapoque. And then, after crossing the river of the same name with a little boat, a few more hours driving to Cayenne, French Guyana.

Macapá is not as boring as people describe it. I suppose not having any clear touristic attractions is its nemesis, but I liked it. The food was amazing. And there is one of the biggest and best preserved forts of the continent. A couple of lazy days should have been enough to prepare this long journey out. I'm afraid there weren't.

During the dry season, the bus trip to Oiapoque should take 12-14 hours. In the wet season it's rumored to take days. The reason for this ominous travel-plan is that around a third of the road, 217 km according to the map, is not paved. That means red, soft soil in the middle of the rainforest! I thought we're already two months in the dry season now but apparently this is not dry enough. And after an incredibly bumpy, loud, dusty and ugly 11 hour overnight trip the bus just stopped. Nobody seemed upset and we disembarked. A truck was stuck in the mud and it looked bad. But not as bad as the next trap, 500 meters further down, just behind the hill. We fell in that around an hour later.

An apparently street smart truck driver planted his machine right in the middle of a meter deep pit. Almost a dozen buses and lorries were stranded on either side and he refused help. My fellow passengers said he would wait until the end, he gets paid hourly! It took a brave bus driver, a few hours of digging in mud, cables and loads of nail biting to get out of it. We were now within 10 km of tarmac road. And then we stopped again. This was the big one. Surely there wouldn't be a way out. There were mothers with babies, no water or food, even a seriously ill boy that had to be lifted through mud. This was this end.
PS: We eventually reached Oiapoque after almost 19 hours. 6 km after the last mud trap, the road was paved.
PS-2: The French government is building a bridge over the Oiapoque river to ease crossing the border. The Brazilian side has promised to pave the whole road in return.
PS-3: After our last near escape, in the panic of the moment my bus disappeared in the distance with all my luggage. I found them where I left them an hour later.