Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Maceio. February 3rd – 8th, 2011)

Time to regroup and work on that list. Thursday, we decide to stay at the posto and since we have all the components to fix the camper that is what we will do. We spent most of the day on that task and as Tom did the work, I fetched and carried, made sure his power drill stayed charged and helped with the bracing and nailing. We have also decided to get rid of an extra spare tire that is taking up space. We have been carrying two spares, one with a rim mounted on the back of the RV and the other in a storage compartment but without a rim. We have had new tires since Acapulco and now think one spare will be sufficient. Plus we want the extra space that getting rid of it will give us. By day’s end we felt good about our progress and rewarded ourselves with a lobster dinner cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce. Yum! Friday we drive to the city of Maceio and ask directions to a dealership. As we drive on the main road into town we see two propane plants, Ultragaz and Brasilgas. Since, in Natal Brasilgas would not fill us, we thought we’d try Ultragaz first. No, said a nice gentleman, we can’t but Brasilgas has the connection. We shrug, we have nothing to lose. Tom goes up to the guards at the gate and gets the same reply. They can’t help. We had discussed this prior to him asking, so he immediately asked for the manager (jefe). No, Tom is told. He insisted, we want to talk to the person in charge. Finally they relent and go to the plant manager. He checks out our connections and talks to us. Like most people, he is impressed we have come so far. Do we like Brazil? How are the people? We reply we love Brazil but getting propane is difficult. “I will call for a truck to come here and we will fill you”, he said. Another lesson learned. We will not be turned away again until we speak to the person in charge first. We are told the truck will be here at about 2:30, so I stay with the RV and Tom walks to a huge Home Depot type store to replenish some of his fix-it supplies, tape, caulking, sealants etc. By 3pm, we have propane and on our way to Ford. Once there, they check out the oil gauge. They can find nothing wrong and think it is just a sensor malfunction but they don’t have a new sensor. They basically tell us not to worry and Tom agrees. If it is just a sensor then we should be ok. They chat about the generator and offer to take us to another dealership, Hyundai and they think there is a mechanic there who knows generators. He also could not help but he did think that Honda would. It is too late to go to Honda so we make that a Saturday task and instead ask for places to shop, internet and spend the night. The beach is the place to camp and on the way they tell us about two supermarkets and an internet café. We follow their directions and find the markets. We go to Extra. This is the best stocked market that we have seen since Costa Rica, lots of high quality produce, meats and a good wine selection. We even find a favourite cheese of ours, aged Rembrandt Gouda that we have not seen since the US, we get two chunks and some parma ham, which is also hard to find. We also find the beach. It is Friday night and crowded but driving all the way to the end, the paved road ended and we found a secluded spot under the palm trees. After too many days tethered, Winston finally gets to run again. He and Tom go to the water, whilst I prepare the RV for the night. Pork chops are on the menu and Tom is cooking. We see flashing lights outside, it is a visit by the local police. They indicate we must move. Where we are parked there are no street lights and there are roaming bandits who wear masks and are armed. They tell us to move about 50 yards back under a light and they will keep a watch on us for tonight. No problem. We move, we are satisfied with our progress and we sleep well. On Saturday, we headed back into town to find the Honda repair shop. On the way, I see a laundry. Stop! We park and I talk to the lady. Laundry has not been done since Ciudad Bolivar and we have lots. She can have everything ready by 5pm on Monday. That’s fine. One more thing accomplished. At the Honda shop, we met Guilherme, he is the owner/manager and speaks English. They set to work, dropping the generator, taking it apart and cleaning the carburetor and other things! (I am very mechanically challenged). They work for several hours but still can’t get the darned thing to run with any regularity. They are stumped, Tom is stumped and as I grapple to understand the mechanics of a generator, I am stumped. We have done what we can. Guilherme feels bad that he can’t help us further and we assure him it’s ok. Our next step will be an internet and try to contact Onan generators. Computers and the internet, I understand and do not stump me. Guilherme also tells us of a beach going south about 20 kms called Praia do Frances and that is where we plan to spend Sunday. On our way we stop at an internet café and contact friends and family, post blogs and download more library books onto our ereaders, then we find the beach. It is beautiful. White sand and a reef just offshore so at low tide the water is calm. We see people with snorkel, spear guns and scuba gear. We smile, this is perfect. As we park, we see a house right on the beach which is also a scuba school, ran by a Brazilian couple who it turns out have travelled extensively and speak English. They invite us to park by their home and run a cord for electricity and to use their internet. We offer to pay them but they refuse. We cook the fresh fish we had purchased for dinner and reflect on the past few days. We have had some problems but are working through them. We have found a great place to spend Sunday and we just might get to do some snorkeling. Sunday, the beach is packed with people and the scuba school, Ecoscuba is busy. We chat with the owners and Tom books a scuba session for Monday, when it will be quieter and not as many people at the reef. An extra day here. We need it and deserve it. Sunday and Monday we completely chill out. We play in the water, snorkel and take in the sun. We catch up on internet work and fully charge all our batteries – ours included. I even download Turbotax and start on our taxes, what better place to do them than whilst looking out over a blue ocean as it breaks over a reef, the dog at my feet and my husband happily snorkeling. Sunday we marinated the second half of a filet mignon we had bought previously and invited Flavia and Tom, Wagner and her visiting sister to join us for dinner. On Monday Tom went scuba diving on the other side of the reef with Tom from Ecoscuba. He had a wonderful time, saw plenty of fish, sea snakes and corals. Even snofkelling, the water is clear and we see tropical reef fish and corals. We feel good about things again. Tuesday, we set off for Maceio again. We will pick up our laundry, have a tire shop check our tires , the front ones are showing uneven wear and mail our postcards back to the States. It took us all day to do those tasks, so we spent the night again in front of Ecoscuba at Praia do Frances, our door facing the ocean and the sea breezes coming through the screen door and windows, which we leave open. Our list of woes is no longer and we can now stay on the coastal litoral and avoid the main towns all the way to the next city we want to visit, Salvador. Also attached is the link to view the photos we took from Angel Falls. Just copy and paste.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Natal to Maceio. 335 miles. February 1st & 2nd, 2011.

These were probably the most frustrating two days of our trip. We set off Tuesday morning to find the Liquigas plant. Going back into Natal, we stop at the police checkpoint and ask for directions. They drew us a detailed map through the city to the north industrial zone. There is major construction work and it took us more than 2 hours to get to the plant, only to be told they don’t have the correct connections and can’t help us. Next to them is a Brasilgas plant. We drive to their gate and after about an hour, they tell us they could fill us but they don’t sell to individuals. Tom pleads with them but they are unmoved. We don’t have an account and they can’t help. Fuming, with his blood pressure elevated, Tom gets back into the truck and we decide to find the beach and stay overnight. It took another 2 and half hours to get through town and back to where we had started. We find the turnoff for the Pipa and see it is about 15 miles from the main road. When we get there we quickly realize that Pipa, like Canoa Quebrada is a tourist resort with the same narrow cobbled streets and nowhere to maneuver the RV. We try a second town close by but again the RV was too large to find anyplace to safely park. We are tired and frustrated. Our only option is to go back to the main highway and find a posto for the night. It was dark before we arrived in Mamanguape and found a place. Wednesday, our list of woes just kept growing. We need to try to find someone to fix the generator. We need to try to find propane. And the part of the camper that comes over the front cab which is a bed but is what we use for storage, is coming apart and Tom needs to do some carpentry repair work. We sigh. We drive. As we approach the large port city of Recife, we devise a plan. We will find a home store where Tom can buy some 2 x 4 wood, bolts and hardware for the repairs. We will try to find a generator mechanic and if it is convenient we will get propane. We find a store for the wood and they send us to another for the hardware. One thing down. A gas station attendant who spoke some English told us where to go to find a mechanic. Ave. Norte. It was a narrow street with repair shops on both sides. Even if we could find the correct mechanic, we would never be able to park the RV on such a street. We drive and find ourselves on the outskirts of town. What to do? One road leads to the litoral which follows the coast, the other goes back to the main highway. I look at Tom. We can’t go the scenic route and follow the coast; we need towns where we can fix our problems. We drive towards the next port city of Maceio and talk about a course of action. To repair the camper, Tom needs electricity for his power tools but we don’t have a generator. We need a posto with electricity to do the work. We have now driven more than 200 miles again and we are tired. There are plenty of postos just before the city and pull into one. It was ok but we decide to try the Texaco a little further down the road. We drive in and see they have a TV room that has plugs we can use. As Tom parks and prepares the RV for the night, I walk Winston and take a deep breath. Dinner will be easy, just vegetable soup that we had made and still have a package frozen and tuna salad sandwiches. As we eat, I try to come up with a plan. We still need a mechanic and we still need propane. Tom looks at me. There is something else. As we drove today, he had noticed that the oil gauge was running hot. The list just keeps getting bigger. In addition we need an internet to check on things at home and a laundry to wash our clothes. Also, another trip to a supermarket is needed and we have some postcards to mail. I feel overwhelmed. One thing at a time, so after dinner I head to the TV room to charge both computers and Tom reads. There is nothing more we can do tonight. To paraphrase Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, tomorrow is another day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guamare to Natal. 123 miles. Monday, January 31st, 2011

Unfortunately, leaving Guamare the shrimp farms we had seen when entering where closed so we were unable to purchase any. Hopefully as we drive on the coast we will see more. Our plan in Natal was to find a Ford dealership to fix the headlamp and try to get propane. We again stayed on the secondary road to Natal and this brought us right through the center of town. We asked directions at a gas station to the Ford dealership and repair center. At first, we were sent to the car dealership but they quickly gave us easy directions to their truck service facility. Again, they were very helpful and got the lamp changed and gave us some spare bulbs for some of the other fixtures. As I walked Winston, a lady came out of the office. She spoke English and proceeded to tell me that she has 2 beagles. A fellow beagle owner. We both agreed they are great dogs to own even if a little trying at times. They also thought of our propane problem and after a few phone calls came up with a name, Liquigas, which should be able to help us. Unfortunately it is on the north side of town, close to where we entered. That is about 30 miles away and we will not be able to get there today. They tell us a pretty beach is Pipa but again we won’t get there tonight so it is another night to spend at a posto. At least this one had really nice showers!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fortaleza to Guamare. 260 miles

Our original plan was to visit the beach town of Canoa Quebrada, which we had read good things about. But when we arrived two things stood out immediately. One, it is very popular and touristy and two, the cobblestone streets are very narrow, winding and steep through the small village. There is also no really good place to park the RV close to the beach. It is not our kind of place. We look at the map and decide to try Guamare, another coastal town a little further south. As we drove on a secondary but well paved road, we passed lots of working oil wells and a refinery. There are also many clusters of huge windmills generating electricity. Brazil being self sufficient in the energy department. Approaching Guamare we see ponds cultivated for shrimp and plan to stop on the way out to purchase some. It was getting dark as we came into town and we saw three policemen on motorcycles by the sea wall. We stop to see if they can direct us to a good place for the RV. After much chatting and conferring between themselves, they tell us to park at the end of the Praia (playa) and they will show us the way. As they pulled in front of us, all three turned on their lights and so it was, we were being escorted through the town and down the praia, about 2 miles, behind flashing blue and white lights. As we passed groups of people were turning to watch our parade. It was little embarrassing but highly amusing to think we had our very own police motorcycle brigade guiding us through the streets. They got us settled at the end of the praia right in front of the beach and for the next two days, drove by frequently to check on us. Guamare is definitely not touristy and on Sunday the only people at the beach were local towns’ people and us. Our kind of place! Sunday is our first full day with no driving since the Amazon and we needed a well deserved break. Winston is in heaven. Finally he can go off lead and run and play on the beach to his heart’s content. He plunges into the ocean until it is washing over his back and then comes tearing out to just race up and down the sand, stretching his legs. The only downside was late Sunday our generator starting acting up again. It seems no-one can figure it out and one of our headlights has gone out and needs replacing. Another trip to a Ford service center is in our near future. We barbeque dinner and watch as the stars come out over the Atlantic. Monday we will be on the road again but for now this is quite beautiful.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Belem to Fortaleza. 938 miles

When we were told that the RV would arrive in Belem on Sunday, we did not understand the implications of that. Sunday means no work. No-one working the dock, no-one to complete the exit paperwork, no-one to help us ashore. After arriving in Belem at about 2pm and being pushed against a pier, we were seemingly abandoned. Our crew, the captain, the cook and the guards all left. We chatted with our trucker friends. The consensus was 8am Monday morning would be when we would be unloaded from the barge. Tom jumped over the 3ft. gap from our pier to the dock and went in search of someone, anyone to see if we could get water for the RV. He came back with a guard in tow and conversed with our, by now, well versed hand signals that we needed water. The guard left, we shrugged. Our time on the road has taught us if nothing else, patience. We settled ourselves for another night on the barge, albeit against a dock within spitting distance of freedom. After about an hour or so, the guard came back pushing a cart with a 40 gallon barrel of fresh potable water for us. Tom got the hose and began siphoning the water into the RV, at the same time thanking the man for remembering us and going out of his way to help. After declining an offer to join the truckers at a local bar for drinks, we had an early dinner and watched the stars from the dock. Sure enough, 7:30 the next morning, the dock was a hive of activity. We are first off but wait for two of the truck drivers as they are going to show us the way out of town. Eventually by 10 o’clock, we have our paperwork and leave the port. We follow the trucks out of town to the first gas station and after hugs and handshakes, we separate company. The road is much better than BR174 to Manaus and we make good time, driving about 6 hours and covering 217 miles. Our first night is in a small hamlet, Governador Nunes Freire at a posto and it poured with rain the entire night, leaving us squelching around in the red mud trying to walk Winston. We have already realized that it is a long way to the port of Fortaleza and those amazing Brazilian beaches so Tuesday worked out being our longest driving day to date, 315 miles in 8 hours got us to the town of Caxais. On this stretch of road there are more date palm orchards than we have ever seen. For miles and miles, on both sides of the road. Are dates really that popular? We also have some mechanical problems. The second battery in the RV isn’t charging, the casing it sits on is broken, the steering column feels loose, the generator is acting up – again and Tom’s driver side door won’t close without a lot of slamming and maneuvering. We blame BR174, that road was horrendous. Wednesday is relegated to being a repair day. We are 40 mile from the large town of Teresina and once there, ask directions to the Ford dealership. They immediately find someone who speaks English and we tell him our list of woes. The door isn’t a problem and they have it fixed within an hour and in the meantime I got to use their internet hookup. For the other issues, they suggest another repair shop and the English speaking service manager offers to come with us and translate. Perfect. Except we arrive there at lunchtime. After speaking with the owner, we are told to return at 1:30 and the owner’s son who also speaks English will join us. They can do all the work and in addition they offer me an air conditioned office and the use of their computer and internet. The people we meet and their kindness never ceases to amaze me. Work went on until past closing but by 6 o’clock they were finished. All done and in good working order. They tell us that we can park in their lot overnight as they have security but we have already earmarked the BR posto across the street as they have showers. So, Wednesday night finds us again nestled in amongst huge truck trailers but with the repairs complete and ready for road test. Leaving Teresita we had planned on Thursday being an easy drive day to Park Nacional Sete de Cidades where we could overnight in a hotel parking lot. I even defrosted a large piece of filet mignon for us to barbeque later. When we arrived at the park the guard told us “no dogs”. We argue, “he stays in the home except for walks on a lead”, “we clean up after him”, even, “we have driven all the way from California to see this”, it was all to no avail. The man was unmoving and adamant. We turned away and shrugged. Oh well, might as well keep going to get closer to Fortaleza. Upon leaving we went to a gas station to fill up. Right there in the parking lot was a jewelry store selling opals. We are in the State of Piaui which mines among other things, opals. I looked through the window. They have a gallery in Sao Paulo but this is at source. The stones looked beautiful. Lucky for Tom – the store is closed. 175 miles from Teresita we were in the small town of Tiangua, spending the night at another posto. “Do you still want to cook?” I asked Tom. “Absolutely”, was the response. So there we were cooking filet over our small grill and watching the moon and stars slowly fill the sky. We don’t need a national park to fulfill our needs, just a small lot with a view of the surrounding area and sky. Winston was happy too, steak is on the menu. The last 190 miles to Fortaleza we passed through huge banana plantations and the National Park de Ubajare. Fortaleza is a port city and we had read we may be able to get propane here but we could not find the plant and no-one seemed to know where it was. We are still half full so we hope we can find some in one of the other ports as we drive south. We find another posto to stay at and plan to go to some beaches tomorrow.