Through the flames to Santa Inéz

I awoke this morning and drove into Gurupi at around 8:30 am. I immediately found a welder and within 1/2 hour he had sealed my broken exhaust pipe. My van is considerably quieter. The engine is still running a little rough. I suspect the low-octane gasoline. The problem mainly occurs when accelerating in low gears. I don’t think it’s something to worry about.

From Belém to Gurupi the roads have been excellent. We were able to maintain a constant speed of 110 kph (65 mph). We started out from Gurupi at that speed, and I soon found myself smashing through a series of huge potholes before bringing the van down to a reasonable speed. The next 150 kilometers consisted of slowly weaving around and crawling through some of the most amazing potholes I’d ever seen. The largest was almost the entire width of the road and almost two feet deep. Trucks were affected by these as well… like us, they would weave from one side of the road to the other, trying to pick the path of less damage.

The countryside along the road is for the most part on fire. We’re constantly passing through clouds of smoke or alongside burning grass. Most of these fires don’t appear to have been set by people, nor do the locals seem to care that part of their neighborhood is burning. I’ve passed a single burning bush in the middle of a field of grass, and no one was around to listen. I’ve seen fence posts and power poles being consumed while people walking on the road paid no attention.

The only time people do seem to pay mind is when the fire approaches within danger distance of their homes. North of Manaus, I saw a woman and children splashing water on a grass fire that had come within a few feet of their wood-and-thatch shack.

We stopped for lunch at a churrascara in Zé Doca. (See the dispatch of 15 oct for a description of a churrascara.) Tyler and I had our first solid meal since falling ill, and so far it appears to be sticking. The meal for the four of us cost R$30, or US$15. Gasoline is expensive in Brasil, but food is cheap.

Just south of Zé Doca, we passed a crew patching the road. The crew consisted of a half-dozen men, trowels and shovels. Asphalt was being heated in a halved oil drum over a wood fire. The only machine in sight was a pickup truck. I can’t imagine these guys ever finishing the job of patching the road all of the way to Gurupi. I also can’t imagine a worse job.

Nevertheless, the road was smooth and clear from that point onwards and we were able to get up some speed again. We reached Santa Inêz at 3pm and checked into the Pers Pálace Hotel. The Pers Pálace is a grand hotel in the 1960’s tradition. There is kitchy art (such as Venus on a half shell) in the hallways. There are weird architectural touches, such as a soap dish in the shower that pivots out of sight.

On the plus side, it’s clean and has good toilets. (You would be amazed how many hotels down here have really bad toilets.) It has secure parking, a pool, and it’s comfortable. It’s costing us about R$45 a night, or US$23.


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