Skip to content

Archive for

Meeting Mamacita and Saturday Night in Jericoacoara

Today’s drive was from Parnaiba to Jericoacaora. It was actually the first day since the beginning of the trip on Jan 9 that we were travelling in our lovely overland truck called “Mamacita”. Every Dragoman truck has a name which gives it a kind of personality when speaking about it. “Mamacita” is quite an old lady but our co-driver / mechanic girl Anki brought her into a pretty good shape during the last days.

Before starting to drive at 10am, Ross and Anki gave us a short introduction into the truck, e.g. explained where everything lives, gave us the code for the combination lock at the door and we also received a special demonstration by Ross on how to enter and exit the truck without jumping and breaking your angles. As soon as the truck started to move we also had the possibility to put our valuables into the “pub” which is the nickname of the build in safe of the truck. We actually always call it “pub” so that strangers do not get alerted when they hear us speaking about it. For the same reason we do only go into the “pub” while the truck is moving so that nobody watches what we are doing.

Ross also gave us our truck jobs. Every traveler has to take on certain responsibilities which are related to the operation of the truck such as cleaning, loading / unloading luggage and tents, checking the accounts of the kitty money etc. This time I’m up for cleaning together with my roommate Molly.

After driving for three hours we had to park “Mamacita” and use 4×4 drives for the last 15km which is an off-piste drive across the sand dunes. We were picked-up around 2pm and arrived in Jeri, the nickname for Jericoacaora, half an hour later. In Jeri we stayed in the lovely Pousada Pareiso which is situated only a five minutes’ walk away from the beach.

After everybody had a walk around in town and watched the sun setting behind the big dune, people started partying. First there was a room party in one of the boy’s rooms out of which half of the people came out pretty tipsy. I joined a bit later at the beach bar which had very good and relatively cheap Caipiroska. One could select the fruit of choice and watch the drink freshly made. I tried strawberry, passion fruit and kiwi out of which strawberry was my favorite. What’s also funny is that our seventy year old fellow traveler Bob joined the partying and ended up pretty drunk and vomiting during night time… He’s really the coolest guy I know in his age group. Bob has the shell of a seventy year old but behaves like a thirty year old which makes him really special.

Boot Trip in the Parnaiba Delta

Lencois Maranhenses National Park and Cabure

Lencois Maranhenses National Park and Barreirinhas

São Luís City Tour and planned Travel to Iran

For today we had a city tour of São Luís planned and our local guide Bruno was supposed to pick us up at 9am. Actually he showed up at 10am because our leader Ross tried to re-schedule the tour to 10am. Since Ross didn’t receive any feedback on his email, we assumed that Bruno didn’t receive it in time and were ready at 9am.

The city tour started at a plaza where we saw a strange statue of a guy with a chopped off hand. When I understood the story behind correctly, his hand was chopped off because he didn’t agree to the closure of the school located at the plaza.

We continued our walking tour to a church, the sea front and a number of colonial buildings. The city very much reminds me of Lisbon. Especially the buildings with their colorful flagging are very similar but less well preserved. Therefore, the city center of São Luís was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site and owners of colonial buildings are taken into responsibility to restore the buildings. Actually this is a difficult task since the hot and humid weather is continuously washing off the paint.

São Luís is also said to be the center of Reggae music in Brazil and one of the major locations for Capoeira but I didn’t recognize it too much by walking along the streets. Bruno also took us into a local bar where we tried different kinds of home-made schnapps including flavours like passion fruit and ginger. The owner of the bar had hung up big posters asking guests to not spit on the floor and to not take pictures. So I only took a few sneaky pictures to capture the atmosphere. And of course I didn’t spit on the floor :-)

We ended the tour on the local market right next to the area where the locals hang out at night. I returned there in the evening and tasted some street food which was very good and with only three Real surprisingly cheap.

I also received an email from Dragoman today informing me about the travel situation in Iran where I’m planning to go in 3-4 months from now. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) does currently not advice British nationals to travel to Iran but Dragoman still assesses the places we travel to as save and will run the trip through Iran as planned. However, travelers have the option to fly over Iran but if the political situation stays stable in Iran I will trust the assessment of Dragoman and travel over land through Iran. I know that the company is very experienced in overland travel and that they wouldn’t hesitate to cancel a piece of a trip if there is serious danger in the country. As an example they have currently cancelled all trips through Syria.

Here is the letter:

Istanbul to Ashgabat / Ashgabat to Istanbul 2012 departures

It is important that you do keep updated with Government travel advice. Just in case you are unaware, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising against all but essential travel to Iran.

Your Istanbul to Ashgabat (and vice versa) trip is due to spend 16 days visiting Iran.

Is it important that we make you are aware of the current British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice, we have therefore reproduced the text below.

‘We advise against all but essential travel to Iran. All British nationals in Iran should keep a low profile. There has been a dramatic increase in anti-British rhetoric from parliamentarians and demonstrators. The Iranian parliament and Guardian Council voted on 25 and 28 November respectively to expel the British Ambassador to Iran. During a demonstration on 29 November the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked, entered and set on fire. British nationals have been arbitrarily detained in Iran in 2010 and 2011.’

Visit for the full advice on Iran.

‘The British Embassy in Tehran has closed and all UK-based staff have been evacuated. British nationals requiring urgent consular assistance can visit the Embassy of any EU Member state in Tehran, or in an emergency call the FCO in London on (+44) 20 7008 1500.’

Other governments differ in their advice. Below are links to some of the websites
New Zealand:
United States:

Dragoman has comprehensive passenger liability protection and tour operator insurance valid for travel in Iran. These policies have total indemnities of £5,000,000 and £10,000,000 respectively. This is in addition to local vehicle insurance and your personal travel insurance.

We are also in regular contact with our ground operator in Iran. Their in depth knowledge and understanding of the situation on the ground is vital and helps us make an informed decision. From all the advice given to us, Dragoman believes Iran remains safe to travel through and would like to continue running the Itinerary through Iran. However, because the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice is advising against all but essential travel it is important that you fully understand your options.

There are a couple of ways to proceed with the trip without totally disrupting your plans
a) Continue with the trip as planned crossing the border from Turkey to Iran and continue with the original itinerary.
b) Continue to travel with us but “sign off” the trip in Turkey and fly over Iran (at your own expense as per the booking conditions) meeting back up with the group in Ashgabat on the same date the group crosses into Turkmenistan.

If you are unhappy with either of these options please let us know.

If you are happy with option A, we ask you to sign the disclaimer below and send it back to us. If you would like to fax it to us please use +44 1728 861127.

If you would like more information about option ‘B’, please contact your sales agent who will be happy to discuss this option in more detail.

Dragoman, in the meantime will be looking at all the latest British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice and will remain in close contact with our ground operators in Iran. If there are any changes to the current situation, Dragoman will act accordingly.

Travel Insurance

If you have a travel insurance policy arranged by Campbell Irvine it is important to note that their underwriters have agreed to provide cover subject to each client being fully advised of the FCO warning advising against all but essential travel, acknowledging such warning and signing this letter (disclaimer). Cover will then be operative but excluding any claims arising out of or in connection with the reasons for which the FCO are advising against travel.

If you have a policy other than Campbell Irvine’s you should check whether or not the cover will be affected as some Insurance providers may not be able to offer cover due to the current FCO advise. If you wish to purchase a Campbell Irvine policy to cover the duration of your stay in Iran please see the details below:

Campbell Irvine
48, Earls Court Road
W8 6EJ
Telephone: 020 7937 6981

If you have any questions please call and speak to one of our sales team.

Charlie Hopkinson.  Director


I, …, on behalf of myself and … acknowledge receipt of details of the advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office against all but essential travel to Iran. I confirm that I/We are happy to continue with the trip to Iran and confirm that I/We are aware of the alternative options open to us.

signed …

dated …

Public Bus Trip from Belém to São Luís

Since our co-driver / mechanic girl Anki is still doing maintenance work on the Dragoman overland truck we had to continue travelling by public transport. Our leader Ross had purchased us tickets for the bus from Belém to São Luís. It’s quite a long journey and my roommate Molly and I got up at 4:45am to be ready for departure from the reception of our hotel at 5:30am. I really hate early mornings but sometimes you have no other choice. We took two cabs that brought us to the bus terminal. The bus to São Luís was leaving at 6:30am and we had a few minutes time to get something for breakfast.

What is interesting to know about the breakfast in Brazil is that they eat lots of cake. Usually you can find different types of cake at every Brazilian breakfast buffet. Even when there is no bread available there is always tons of cake you can eat. This somehow reminds me of my childhood since my mother used to bake lots of cake which we often had for breakfast. Nowadays people in Germany don’t eat cake for breakfast since our nutrition is already very fat and sweet. I’m wondering if one day the breakfast cakes will also disappear from Brazilian breakfast tables…?

The bus journey lasted 12.5 hours. We only stopped once for lunch at a buffet type of restaurant where your selection of food got weighted to determine the price you pay. Pee stops were not necessary since the bus had a toilet on board and there was even a screen in the front of the bus showing you helpful information such as the current time and if the toilet was occupied or not. In general the bus was very comfortable and also had curtains for sun protection. Only the air-conditioning was a bit cold so I was wearing my fleece during the whole journey.

Next to me in the bus was Bob my fellow traveler from Australia. Bob is already seventy years old but mentally and physically completely fit. Some people become very strange when they become old and their biggest worries are how the cars are parked on the street or if the people clean their shoes before entering the house. But Bob is very much different! He’s a really cool guy and has a behavior and attitude which can easily hold up with a thirty to forty year old guy. I wish I will be like him when I’m in my seventies. Bob is also an experienced overland traveler and has spent several months of his live travelling great distances in an overland truck.

Since I didn’t manage to continue sleeping in the bus I killed some time by chatting with Bob and playing all sorts of games with him on my Nintendo DS including “Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?” and “42 All-Time Classics” including games like Hearths and Chinese Checkers. Although Bob has never played computer games before (with the exception of Tetris) he was picking up the handling of the DS very quickly and enjoyed playing most of the games. We played until the battery of the device died.

Afterwards I was showing Bob the pictures from my journey from Cairo to Nairobi. Bob had also done this journey a long time ago but surprisingly he remembered a lot and recognized many places of this journey just by looking at the pictures. I also found it interesting that Bobs trip chose a different route through Sudan. Approximately 15 years ago they went by boat from Egypt to Port Sudan and continued to travel overland from there.

After arrival in São Luís we took again two cabs which brought us to our hostel in the city center. The hostel was quite nice and we had two dorm rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. I plugged in my Nintendo DS and my iPod to be charged. The power plug was located right underneath the hangers which my fellow traveler Charlotte used later on to hang up her washing. This resulted in her wet clothes dripping on my iPod but luckily I noticed it after a while and nothing got destroyed.

For dinner we went out to a small restaurant which was recommended to us by the guy at the reception of the hostel. It was just around the corner and the food was quite tasteful although it took ages to come. Our leader Ross did also warn us that São Luís is a bit of a dodgy place and we should be carefully on the streets and not carrying any valuables with us. He also recommended taking off our watches but I found this a bit too much especially because my watch is not shiny and shouldn’t attract any special attention. I’m carefully though and when walking in a group of people the likelihood that something bad happens is in my eyes significantly smaller.

Amazon River Boat – Day 5 and Arrival in Belém

Finally, this is our last day on the Amazon River boat. As much as I like watersports the less I like spending multiple days on a boat without the possibility to get off and walk around. Therefore, I was really looking forward to our arrival in Belém and to put my feet on solid ground. I spent the hours close to our expected arrival at the bow trying to spot the city. Then suddenly the skyline of Belém appeared. I was surprised because I had expected more of a sleepy fishing village. Instead I spotted a busy city with a skyline reminding me of Manhattan. Honestly, it doesn’t really look like Manhattan but after spending the last five days staring at nothing else but water, jungle and tiny houses each block of proper houses appears enormous and somewhat modern.

After spotting the skyline of Belém around 1pm and the actual arrival at the harbor was nearly another hour. Everybody got very busy trying to find their stuff and packing it altogether. We also emptied our cabin and carried our stuff from the boat. Ross organized a minibus for us which was supposed to bring us to the hotel. We loaded all our big bags on the roof of the minibus and squeezed the small ones and ourselves into the bus. Since there were only four seats, the boys demonstrated great gentlemen skills and let us girls sit down while they were taking a seat on the ground between the bags.

On the way to our hotel it started to rain heavily and my backpack and sleeping bag on the roof got a bit wet. Luckily the driver managed to park the minibus under the large roof of a petrol station waiting for the rain to stop. While waiting the driver spotted the guitar of Ross, took it and played some Brazilian songs for us. It was very much entertaining that we didn’t really noticed when it actually stopped raining.

After we arrived at the hotel, my roommate Molly and I had the shower we were waiting for five days. It felt so wonderful to wash off all the dirt and sweat and to be nice and clean again. Afterwards we went for a walk around in town. Our self-guided “city tour” included a supermarket nearby and a docks area called “Estação das Docas Complex”. According to the guy at reception of our hotel the docks are the cities major attraction which we shouldn’t miss. Here one could find a number of restaurants, coffee bars and shops. The docks area also seems to be a very popular meeting place for couples since there were a recognizable number of them around, holding hands and kissing each other. Since there was no guy to hold on to for me, I had an ice-cream instead.

In the evening all of us went out for a group dinner to an Italian restaurant in the docks area. I had a pizza with shrimp from the Amazon River which was very delicious despite for the fact that pizzas in Brazil are covered with a huge amount of cheese which we in Germany usually use for five pizzas or so.

During the dinner we also met Anki who is together with Ross our Dragoman crew on this trip. While Ross was on the river boat with us, Anki did spent the last days working on the truck because when she took it over from the last crew she spotted that the break system requires maintenance. There was also a guy from the last crew joining us for dinner who is currently working with Anki on the truck.

Since Anki would like to continue working on the truck for a couple of more days, she and Ross decided that we will not use the truck to continue travelling tomorrow but use a public bus instead. Anki will than met us back on Friday, Dec 20 in Parnaiba and from there we will continue travelling with the truck. However, we have the opportunity to leave some luggage and valuables behind with her which we don’t want to carry with us in public transport. I used this opportunity and left my camping equipment, heavy items and some valuables behind.

Anki herself is quite a fascinating woman. She is originally from Korea but grew up in Sweden. Funnily she doesn’t have light blond hair as most Swedes do but looks very much Asian and doesn’t speak a word of Korean which confuses many people meeting her for the first time. She holds a PhD in chemical engineering but instead of dedicating her life to a standard career track in the Western world she decided to do something she is really passionate about and became a member of the Dragoman crew travelling around the world. During the upcoming part of the trip, Anki will be in the role of the co-driver / mechanic but from Rio de Janeiro on she will swap with Ross and lead the trip.

I always find it very fascinating when woman do things people don’t expect from them and be surprisingly good at it. Working on an overland truck is certainly a tough job for a women and I admire Anki for her ability to do so.

Amazon River Boat – Day 4 and Brazilian Family Life

This morning the rumor was spread that we might be arriving already today but later during the day this rumor disappeared. For whatever reason I somehow don’t enjoy being on a boat for multiple days. Therefore, I was hoping that our arrival in Belém will be sooner than later.

We killed time by playing Ludo against each other and with the kids on our deck. The kids were quite well-behaved and when we gave them some food or sweets they were seeking their family members to share with them. I wish we would have more cohesion in our families in the Western civilization. Many people (and I wouldn’t exclude myself) have become more self-centered as they have been a few years ago. When thinking about my social network, many of my friends don’t even want to have kids since they fear that kids constrain their own life and they are not willing to compromise on that. I also wish that many of us will return to the classic family model and have larger families or a family at all, emotionally sticking very close together and helping each other. I guess I need to start by myself…

While travelling on the river boat it was also interesting to see how business is done around the boat. Whenever we stopped in a small town there were always people from the town trying to do some business with the people on the boat such as selling them hot meals, fruit and other snacks. Even when we didn’t stop there were people in small boats appearing from the middle of nowhere, paddling like crazy until they reached the river boat, holding on to it and selling their items. Once it also happened that several boats with women and kids appeared. They didn’t say anything but waited until people started to throw things over board. I usually don’t give to begging people but this time I decided to do so. I had some fluffy bread left and before throwing it away in Belém I gave two of the packages to the kids.

Some people also saw a couple of Amazon River dolphins jumping over the water but when I got aware of it they were already gone. What a pity!

Amazon River Boat – Day 3 and Reading about Love

The river boat had stopped during nighttime and it didn’t depart until lunch. As I found out later on this stop was actually scheduled. Since the Trans-Amazonian Highway becomes especially in the wet season impassable, the river boat is a major mean of transportation in the area. Therefore, the boat is stopping at a number of towns along the river; people are leaving the boat and new people are joining. The stops may also occur in the middle of the night such as the last one. The Brazilian family, which was sleeping next to me, was gone and with them my hammock, meaning that except from the ground I had nothing really to sit on. Luckily my fellow traveler Tony offered me the usage of his hammock during the day.

Although the boat was stopping for multiple hours none of us went off to have a wander around. The problem was that there was no written schedule when the boat will be departing and nobody wanted to stay behind in the middle of the jungle. The locals seemed to have the same feeling because with the exception of the people arriving at their destination everybody stayed on board. I really would have liked to leave the boat for a few minutes and have a look around because these small towns seem to be quite remote and I was wondering how life will be there.

After the boat started moving again around lunch time it became calmer and I thought that it’s now the right time for some heavy literature. I have some classical books and philosophy books on my Kindle which require some intellectual involvement while reading. I chose to read “Liebe” (in English “Love”) from Richard David Precht who is a popular German author. Precht wrote books on philosophical issues such as ‘who am I?’, ‘the art of not being an egoist’ and ‘love, a messy emotion’ which is the topic I started to read about. Unfortunately only his first book “Who Am I and If So How Many?” was published in English, so if you are up for some mind opening German literature you might want to give it a try.

In the evening we stopped again at some place and there were local people in front of the boat selling hot food. Since I don’t speak Portuguese I couldn’t ask what is actually inside the dinner package and so I just purchased one and was surprised by some chicken with rice.

Amazon River Boat – Day 2 and Motion Sickness

Believe it or not, I had a very good sleep on the hard and dirty ground of the river boat. Probably I was really tired and exhausted because I slept for twelve hours. I was just lying there in my skirt and fleece and the world around me drifted away. I also used my earplugs so that the noise of the engine and the surrounding people wasn’t disturbing me. Therefore, I woke up from the sun and the humid heath.

While I was sleeping that long and deep I had missed the drinking event last night ending up with Kim getting sick and vomiting only 2-3 meters away from where I was sleeping. She was still not recovered in the morning and needed some time to be back again.

I started the day with a breakfast in my hammock consisting of cornflakes and long life milk which I had purchased in the supermarket in Manaus. Along with it came a motion sickness tablet or better to say what I believed a motion sickness tablet was. Since I don’t speak Portuguese I used my hands and feet to explain to a bunch of guys in a pharmacy that I want to purchase motion sickness tablets. My pantomime was supposed to show a wavering ground and me getting sick from it and needing to vomit. I also made a drawing of the same situation and after a while the guys seemed to understand. They sold me a package of tables and signaling back to me that I should take one every eight hours. I took the first one when entering the boat yesterday and continued from there. Since I cannot read the text on the package, I’m actually not sure if I’m taking motion sickness tablets or something different. I spotted a word meaning antibiotic on the package which made me kind of unsure but as long as I’m not getting sick from the tablets I just take them as long as I’m on the boat. There were actually no big waves and probably I wouldn’t have needed the tablets at all but I took them just in case.

The day on the boat was very calm. I spent most of the day in my hammock reading, playing games on my Nintendo DS, chatting with other travelers or simply watching the world passing by. The Amazon River is really fascinating mainly because of the huge amount of water it is carrying and its dimensions. In the wet season the river can have a width of 48 kilometers or more. Sometimes it was hard to spot the shore and so I felt more like being on a lake than on a river. Compared to the Nile, which I was following during the past months, the Amazon River is much larger which I wouldn’t have expected. When the boat was driving closer to the shore you could also see the lush rainforest and little colorful huts in the middle of it.

The locals on the deck were also quite relaxed. While the kids were enjoying the open air showers, fed with the water of the river, the parents were chilling out in their hammocks and watching us strangers. The hammocks or the ground of the deck were the main spaces to sit since there were only five plastic chairs on the upper deck for maybe 50 people sleeping up there. When you were lucky to get hold of one of the chairs it was gone as soon as you needed to stand up for three seconds.

Dinner was served on the middle deck and you needed to go there with your plastic container to get some food which was mainly rice, pasta and chicken. I didn’t go to the cafeteria but self-serviced myself from the bread and crème cheese I bought in the supermarket in Manaus.