Crossing the border into Brazil was a painless and fairly quick experience, so I was able to ride on to Boa Vista and then to the Guyanese border for a same day crossing. Once again, the crossing was painless and Lethem, the town on the Guyana side of the border where I spent the night was pleasabt in an unassuming sort of way. What was going on? Where had all the dodgy border towns I was used to gone? There was no trouble with touts, security, officials, money changers… Nothing! Even the usual collection of human detritus that I was used to see clogging the roads to and from the borders was missing. Something strange was certainly going on, but discovering the cause would take a while.
Lethem is on the edge of La Gran Sabana of Venezuela and has a distinctly cowboy feel to it. It’s a dusty, rough and ready kind of a place where the people tend to have ready smiles, but also give the impression of having a short way with any kind of silliness- If you can’t pull yourself by your own bootstraps, it doesn’t really seem the place for you. It’s also where I really started to shed some of my caution when dealing with women.
Now, don’t go and get yourself all in a twist- it’s just most of my interactions (apart from friends in Europe) with women lately had been in conservative Muslim countries or countries where anything beyond ‘hello’ stretched my language skills. I had just lost the habit of talking with women who were friendly, forward, and English speaking. In Lethem, the expected surly old customs agent was replaced by a friendly young woman who was fascinated by my trip and wanted me to stay an extra day in town so we could meet up and talk about it. In town itself, the checkout ladies at the local grocery store all came out and had their friends take their pictures with me and the bike… I have no idea if any of these encounters could have been turned into something else, but simply being approached like that was enough guaranty a warm place in my heart for the town.
Another was the riding. I was back in ‘The Good Stuff’ off the tar and off the beaten track!
As I rode deeper into Guyana, the Savanna ended like walking into a greenhouse. The warm, dry air was almost suddenly replaced by the earthy, moist air of the jungle. Unfortunately, this meant that the dry track was replaced by a road that went from damp…
To downright sloppy in just a few minutes.
Needless to say, my decision to go with longer wearing street tyres instead of off-road ones also went from sensible to foolish in those same few minutes! But then, what did I expect riding through the Iwokrama Jungle during the rainy season?
Oddly enough though, it wasn’t the progressively more challenging riding on the wrong tyres that proved the most frustrating, it was a simple ferry crossing. I arrived just as the ferry was leaving- damn!
But, if there was traffic, it was supposed to run once an hour- no big deal. After discovering that the trapped air in the shady jungle was worse then the broiling air in the sun, I used my riding gear to make a little space of shade and snoozed the hour away.
And another hour.
And another hour.
And another hour.
At this point, the picture of my bike on one side of the river and the ferry on the other had completely lost any hint of humor.
A local taxi-boat (too small for the bike) then came by and the driver gave me the sad news. Bikes crossed for free, so the ferry wouldn’t come around just for me. There had been no other traffic in the previous four hours, so the ferry operators just stayed in their hut. Just as I was arranging to have the taxi guy go across the river and tell them that I’d pay the car fee, a truck rumbled down the road on the other side and things finally started moving again.
The little guesthouse on the other side of the river was a welcome surprise because not only was it getting quite late, but I just wasn’t in the mood for riding anymore. They only had coolish stout for beer, but it hit the spot as I sat in front of my tent and watched the macaws fly through the cheerful fireflies in the gathering darkness.