Archive for the ‘Brazil’ Category

Travel Summary – Brazil, Peru, Bolivia

Friday, November 24th, 2006

   Hello from Bolivia! Welcome to the 5th travel summary of Ride for Climate: The Americas.

   In the past two and a half months, I have crossed some of the most impressive terrain of this journey (see map of Peru). I traveled two weeks on a boat up the Amazon, crossed the Peruvian Andes (including a section where I had to put my bike on the back of the horse), and followed many dirt roads, camping next to houses where people live off only what they can grow on the mountainsides. I Visited 9 schools (sometimes talking to the entire school) and appeared in the national media of both Peru and Bolivia. I celebrated my one year anniversary of travel overlooking the ruins of Machu Pichu, and I am now in La Paz, Bolivia.

River boats at the dock in Manaus
Embrita is ready to go!
On the road

   Thank you again to all of the people who have helped me out and sent me positive messages from the road. As always, the people I meet along this journey continue to keep me going (even if I have to learn how to count to ten in the local indigenous language).

ENTRIES FROM PERU (and parts of Brazil and Bolivia)

  • 9/6, Two weeks traveling up the Amazon River
  • 9/14, Ride for Climate passes 100,000 page loads
  • 9/15, Biking the Peruvian Jungle
  • 9/27, Putting my bike on a horse and crossing the Andes
  • 9/28, What do I say to public schools?
  • 10/2, Climbing a mountain and melting glaciers
  • 10/15, Into Lima, Peru’s capital
  • 10/16, Water problems in Peru and Global Warming
  • 10/17, Transportation in Lima
  • 11/2, Dirt roads through the Andes to Cusco
  • 11/15, Machu Pichu, Cusco, and Lake Titicaca
  • 11/21, Announcing Ride for Climate USA
  • Huascaran, Peru's tallest mountain, is behind me on the left
    School Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Huaraz
    Just another campsite - 30 miles south of Huaraz


    Running around a boat to get exercise while floating up the Amazon
    My bike on the back of a horse
    Getting caught in a thunderstorm at 12000 ft
    learning to count to ten in Quechua, the native language of the Andes
    The view from 19,000 ft
    biking in Lima
    Camping next to llamas
    Students saying ‘take care of the environment’ in the native language of Quechua
    Biking by a political parade near Lake Titicaca

    Lima's Main Plaza and Cathedral
    Into the Andes


       In my last update, I wrote about the dangers that the Amazon rain forest might face under global warming.

    View from (near) the top of Vallunaraju 5690 meters (18,650 ft)

       I spent most of the past few months, though, in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The clearest problem in the Andes is that much of the water supply and hydroelectric power during the region’s dry seasons is based on glacial water. In the next 50 years, we will likely lose all of these glaciers, resulting in major costs to Peruvians and Bolivians. These countries are also very poor, and the costs to adapt to losing these glaciers is likely to be very high (a world bank study puts the number in the billions of dollars for Peru).
       I did not write about this in my entries, but the region is also vulnerable to El Niño, a phenomenon that causes floods in northern Peru and a collapse of fisheries all along the coast (I talked with
    some fishermen about this, and during El Niño years they said they had to find other work). It is unclear how El Niño will change under global warming, but there is some suggestion that El Niños may be stronger or more frequent, or even that the world would turn into a permanent el nino state. How El Niño may change, though, is still very scientifically uncertain.
       More likely is a loss of biodiversity. The Andes here are incredibly biologically diverse, and traveling up and down in the mountains, I have seen the vegetation change dramatically (just look through the photos from Peru). A rapid warming, as is predicted, may result in major extinctions.

       Yes, I know you all just received an email about this, but I am so excited about this project that I am telling you again: And don’t forget to tell people you know who are near our route! The trip starts April 21st, 2007, in Boston.

       From La Paz, I will be traveling south through Oruro, Bolivia, then down to Salta, Argentina. I will follow the east side of the Andes, and then likely cross into Chile at La Serena before arriving in Santiago just after the new year. If you know people on the route that would be interested in Ride for Climate, let me know!

       I now have a little over four months to make it to the tip of Argentina and Chile. Until next time, probably from southern Chile,


    (I am actually in northern Chile right now, and not La Paz – I wrote this almost two weeks ago, but found almost no internet in southern Bolivia to send it out!)

    I slept here, protected by this flock of llamas
    I found this lamb far from the flock, and biked it to the flock. The shepeard then told me 'I was going to go get him later'
    Roly, Randy, Mercedes, Yoni, Lusiano, Leonor, and me
    Machu Pichu
    Wouter leads the way
    Campsite atop Isla del Sol in lake Titicaca
    Yes, I am doing my laundry at the fire station with a fire hose.
    Bomberos de Chincha

    Flats in Peru: 2
    Miles of paved road in Peru: 1,130
    Miles of dirt road in Peru: 838
    Fire stations slept at in Peru: 9

    Two weeks up the Amazon River

    Wednesday, September 6th, 2006
    River boats at the dock in Manaus
    Everyone sleeps here

       From the city of Manaus, I biked to the river port, where I found a boat headed upriver towards Peru. A space to put a hammock and food for six days of travel cost $100. I purchased a ticket, a hammock, and then made friends with a Colombian-Spanish couple who had a cabin on the boat and would guard my valuables while I slept in my hammock.

    Up the Amazon/Solimoes river - it is a big river

       The river here is enormous – in Manaus, 1,000 miles upstream from the Amazon’s mouth, the river is already by far the world’s largest river (over 150,000 cubic meters of water per second), and over 300 feet deep. Manaus is a large city of 3 million people, yet the other side of the river is almost unpopulated.

       My boat followed the largest of the Amazon tributaries (sometimes called the Solimoes, sometimes called the Amazon), upstream towards Peru (see map). To maintain sanity while on the boat, I woke up every day at sunrise and ran laps on the deck (see video, center– I had company). This was followed by a shower, reading until lunch, lunch, more reading, a nap until dinner, dinner, and then talking with other people on the boat until bedtime. It was a demanding schedule.

    Fredrico, Kaise, and I did laps in the morning to keep our sanity
    Children on board

       The boat did make a few stops in small towns along the way, unloading goods and picking up passengers. Most of the riverside, however, was unpopulated.

    Our boat, the Manoel Monteiro II
    At a stop near the Peruvian border
    The last night on the boat, near Tabatinga and the Peruvian/Colombian/Brazilian border

       Arriving upstream, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil’s borders all meet, and in the course of a day, I visited all three before boarding another boat, this time a high speed cruiser (shown left below) to take a one day trip to Iquitos (map). Iquitos, with half a million inhabitants, is the world’s largest inland city with no roads to it – you can get there only by boat or plane. In the late 1800s, the town experienced a brief boom from rubber production, which produced a number of now-historic buildings in the town’s center.

    Note the bicycle on top of the boat - took this boat from the border to Iquitos
    Family I stayed with the first night in Iquitos
    I stayed at Loreta's house for the next two days

       I intended to go to the fire station to ask if I could stay there, but never made it, as two families offered me a place to stay first. Unable to choose between them, I resolved the problem by staying three days, giving me enough time to also visit two schools and appear in the local paper. I also received a tour of the town from three high school students, and also visited an AIDS clinic (perhaps one of the saddest parts of this trip) with a group working for the Catholic Church.

    Colegio Fernando Lores Fenazoa
    Colegio San Agustine, Iquitos
    Jose, Lander, and Fran are my guides around Iquitos

       From Iquitos, I took a two and a half day trip upriver to Yurimaguas. The trip–food included–cost less than 30 dollars, and only after paying did I realize that I had paid for first class hammock space – second class, in the floor below, cost 15 dollars.

    My boat to Yurimaguas - the Eduardo I

       I have now arrived in Yurimaguas, a small city in the jungle, thus ending my two weeks of boat travel on the world’s largest river system. From here there are a series of small dirt roads that I will be able to follow southwest and into the Peruvian Andes.

    Travel Update – Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil

    Thursday, August 24th, 2006

    Welcome to update 4 from Ride for Climate!

        Since last update, I have biked across Colombia, Venezuela, and northern Brazil, traversing the Andes, the Amazon, and crossing the equator. I crossed the ‘half-way’ point of this trip in Venezuela, and the trip odometer has passed 9,000 miles. Ride for Climate continues to reach a wide audience, and since last update, I have visited schools and appeared in newspapers and television in almost every major city I have visited. I write you now from the banks of the Amazon River (map).

    Campsite in la Gran Sabana
    Rain is good for some things
    Chicamochoca River Canyon and Cactus

       Below are entries from the past three months.


  • 5/28 Elections in Colombia
  • 6/5 To Medellin and into the Andes
  • 6/12 Medellin to Bogota – lots of rain
  • 6/19 Bicycles in Bogota
  • 6/19 Mountaintops and Climate Change
  • 6/26 Bogota to Bucaramanga
  • 7/5 Bucaramanga to Venezuela

  • 7/12 Is Oil Good for Venezuela?
  • 7/12 Cars and Politics in Caracas
  • 7/18 Floods and Climate Change
  • 7/26 Biking with Tom Hunt
  • 7/27 Coral reefs in Venezuela

  • 8/15 Into the Amazon and learning Portuguese
  • 8/22 The future of the Amazon?

    A bombero celebrates his birthday in Medellin, Colombia
    Bicycle commuters in Bogota, Colombia
    A bike is faster than an ambulance in Caracas, Venezuela
    Truck full of kids yelling ‘gringo! gringo!’
    Entering an indigenous reserve in the Amazon


    Cartagena sits barely above sea level

       Due to rising sea levels, many of the coastal areas I visited, and especially the historic city of Cartagena in Colombia, are at risk. The water source for Bogota, Colombia’s capital, is also at risk (see journal entry), as the ecosystem that supplies the water sits at the mountain tops and may not survive global warming. This would also undoubtedly cause extinctions. In my journals, I also wrote about floods in Caracas as well as potential droughts in the Amazon – there is a chance that global warming will cause the Amazon to dry out. I also wrote about the coral reefs that I visited off the coast of Venezuela – these too are at risk.

    The Paramo - a strange grassland at the mountaintops
    A healthy reef
    Nice forest - look at the diversity of trees!

       One topic I have not discussed in my journals, but hope to do so, is the possible spread of tropical diseases. In Colombia and Venezuela, the majority of the population lives in the mountains, where it is too cold for many tropical diseases such as malaria or dengue. As the climate warms, more of these centers may be exposed to such diseases.

       I am currently working with people in the U.S. to plan the next phase of Ride for Climate – a loop around the United States to promote solutions to global warming. I will be sending you all an email shortly about this project and asking for your help, so stay tuned!

        Over the next few months I will be stopping in the following cities: Iquitos, Yurimaguas, Huaraz, Lima, Cusco, and La Paz, as well as potentially other locations. If you know of people along the way that would be interested in hosting a ride for climate presentation (or simply help with a place to stay), let me know.

       I am currently taking a boat up the Amazon River from Manaus into Peru. From Peru, I will bike across the Andes, and then follow the mountain range south crossing Peru and Bolivia before crossing into Argentina and Chile, at which point I will send out another update.

       Thank you again to everyone who has helped with this journey, and feel free to send me an email! Best,


    Miles by country:
    Colombia: 1,123
    Venezuela: 1,188
    Brazil: 651

    The future of the Amazon? A week in Manaus

    Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006
    Universidade Nacional Amazones

       I spent a week in Manaus, staying in the apartment of two graduate students and visiting Instituto National de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA), a famous research center. Here, in addition to giving a presentation for INPA and also for students at a neighboring University, I talked with scientists modelling climate in the Amazon rainforest. From what I gather, the rainforest faces three major threats. 1) Direct deforestation, 2) Decreased rainfall caused by deforestation, and 3) the possibility that global warming will dry out the basin.

       Although the Amazon basin is enormous (similar in size to the contiguous U.S.), deforestation is a major threat. Everywhere roads are built, the forest is cut down, making way for fields of soy beans or beef cattle. From one of the researchers at INPA, I received the images below which show the forest in 1992, deforestation by 2002, and then projected deforestation in 2033 (deforestation shown in red).

    Amazon 1992 - forest shown in green
    Amazon 2002 - deforestation shown in red
    Amazon projected 2033 - deforestation shown in red, source: Soares-Filho et al., 2004
    Francis, Theo, and their supercomputer for climate modeling

       I talked with two climate modellers at INPA, Francis and Theotonio (shown on the right with their ‘supercomputer’), about how this deforestation would affect the rainforest, as cutting down a forest changes evaporation and thus rain patterns. If the entire forest were cut down, they estimate that rainfall would decrease on average 30%, with many areas becoming too dry for forest. Indeed, one study suggests that there are two stable states of the Amazon – one state like the rainforest we find today, and another state where much of the forest is dry savannah. If too much forest is cut down, there is a possibility that it would push much of the Amazon into the drier state, unable to easily return to forest. (More on this here.)

       These studies, however, do not consider the effects of global warming. To be sure, the effects of global warming are uncertain because large scale climate models are not good at modelling rainfall in the tropics. Nonetheless, a few models (not all) suggest that a warmer earth means a much drier Amazon, which would turn much of the basin into savannah. This may be wrong. It may also be correct.

       Decreasing rain and savannahization are real risks to the rainforest. Due to uncertainty in the science–we can’t be sure if deforestation or global warming will reduce rain–it is difficult to put percentages on these risks, and Theotonio and Francis, while claiming it a real possibility, balked at guessing its probability. Nonetheless, if it is true, the results are very bad. A loss of the Amazon would not only loose countless species, but also release incredible amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Do we really want to find out if it is true or not?

    Tower to measure carbon dioxide fluxes in the Amazon
    Alex downloading data
    Reminds me of an experiment I used to work on...
    Nice forest - look at the diversity of trees!

       My last full day in Manaus, I travelled with Alexender, one of my hosts, to a large forest preserve near the city. In the preserve, Alex maintains a large tower that measures CO2 concentrations, and is he trying to understand how CO2 fluxes into and out of the forest. Alex let me climb to the top of the tower, where I was able to look across the treetops of a forest that stretches for thousands of miles beyond the horizon. Listening to the birds, monkeys, and insects, it was hard not to be both awed by the Amazon and to wonder what its future will be.

    South into the Amazon

    Tuesday, August 15th, 2006
    Welcome to la Gran Sabana - a high grassland in southeast Venezuela

       Heading south from Puerto Ordaz/Ciudad Guyana (the city seems to have two names), I followed the only road that connects Venezuela and Brazil. Thinly populated, this road follows jungle before climbing into a region known as ‘La Gran Sabana,’ a high grassland with strange flat toped mountains and many rivers and waterfalls. (This is where Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, is found – it was too far off my route, though). I slowed down through this part, camping on the high mesas and swimming in the many pools, meeting vacationing Venezuelans at the same time.

    Venezuelan vacationers who helped me out
    Kama Falls
    Campsite in la Gran Sabana
    Campsite sunrise
    lots of waterfalls and places to swim in la Gran Sabana
    La Gran Sabana
    Swimming with teenagers near Boa Vista

       Entering Brazil, the road descended from the mountains into the Amazon basin, where, after two days of riding, I arrived in the city of Boa Vista. Before entering town, I went swimming with a few teenagers (photo right). I asked the kids if I should worry about piranhas or crocodiles, to which they said ‘don’t worry about it.’

       In Brazil, unlike almost every country I have visited, the language is Portuguese instead of Spanish. Fortunately, Spanish and Portuguese are very similar languages, and sometimes I almost understand what people say. Also, some important phrases, such as ‘where is the fire station’ are almost the same in both languages. In Boa Vista, where I stayed for two days, I gave a talk at a middle school. I was able to say a few words in Portuguese, and, whenever what I said was unintelligible, the teacher next to me would repeat what I said in Portuguese (many people here understand Spanish). The bombeiros (firefighters), who I stayed with two nights, also had time to help me congegate verbs, and, when I was interviewed by the local television, I mostly understood the questions and gave responses that might have been understood.

    Bombeiros da Boa Vista teaching me Portugues
    Escola Eulclides da Cunha in Boa Vista
    Note that I am trapped in the corner.
    Crossing the ecuator

       Continuing south, I followed the only major road through this section of the Amazon. While most of this region is pure jungle, and there are very few people and towns, about half the time the roadside is cleared for cattle grazing. The cleared land, however, did make it easier to see the many types of birds (The shot on the right shows me crossing the equator).

    Roadside cleared for cattle.
    Tree full of tropical birds

       Further south, however, a 75 mile stretch of road is indigenous land, reserved for the native peoples, and this is pure jungle. The natives do not like outsiders on their land, and you are only allowed to pass this section during the daytime, and you are not allowed to stop. In talking with people on the road (talking in Portuguese, where we had to say everything a few times), I was amazed at how afraid everyone was of the Indian reservation and the jungle. Most said I would not be able to pass through this section of road. I thought that this was just prejudice against the natives. Before I entered the reserve, one man told me I would be ‘killed and eaten’ by the natives, and then he added something that I didn’t understand and acted out some type of animal with large claws attacking me. I was ready to dismiss what he was saying, but then he said ‘and, this woman had her husband killed and eaten by the natives.’ The woman walked over and confirmed what the man had said. At this point I reconsidered traveling slowly on a bike through the reserve.

    Amazon Jungle creeping over the road
    Entering the Indiginous Reserve

       At the reserve´s entrance, though, a police officer changed my mind. He told me that such attacks were far in the past, and that they would never happen along the road in the daytime – the tribes would harm only people who enter their reserve where they are not supposed to. Ok, I thought, and continued to bike the 75 miles, stopping only to pee and get more food out of my pannier (I ate while biking). The jungle here was thick and alive – I saw numerous monkeys (scared a few crossing the road), a small deer like animal, and heard many sounds that I did not hear elsewhere along the road.

       On the exit to the reserve, I stopped at a building where some of the indigenous people were selling crarftwork. Both of us speaking Portuguese, which is neither of our first languages, I learned that yes, these people still hunt with bow and arrows and no, they do not drink any coca-cola (they did look very healthy). I asked about bicycles crossing the reserve, and the man said ‘it is allowed, but we do not like it.’

       After two more days of travel, mostly through rolling hills, I arrived in the large city of Manaus, which sits where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon River. I will be here for a few days before taking a boat up the Amazon river and into Peru.