Lethem to Linden, Guyana

Lethem to Linden, Guyana

August 11, 2014

Narrated Audio Blog

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

This is the route report for the road from Lethem on the Guyanese side of the Guyana/Brazil border to Linden near Georgetown in Guyana (the road from Linden to Georgetown is sealed). Our travel occurred at the end of July, towards the end of the wet season and so includes some of the worse conditions you could face along this route. We were advised at the border that this route could be done in a day. we are sure this is possible for someone experienced and knowledgeable of the road, but we were neither and had plenty of time. 

The total distance is around 450km of unsealed road, a combination of dirt, mud and sand, through some very beautiful jungle. The terrain was mostly flat, with a few low gradient hills as you approached Linden but accompanied with better road surface due to the logging companies in that region.

In no rush, we rode a little over 100km a day. This worked out really well with camping locations. Adjacent to the road is thick jungle which makes camping 'just anywhere' a little tricky as the only clearing to pitch a tent, outside the little towns, is on the road itself. For those of you thinking of pitching a tent on the road, consider there are plenty of large offroad trucks, usually with intoxicated drivers, travelling along this road at all times of the day and night so this is a very bad idea. There are also jaguar along the route and although you'd be lucky to see one during the day, at night you need to keep a fire lit to keep them away. So with this knowledge, we decided to ride until there was a good opportunity to camp in the early afternoon as you just don't know when another site would pop up or if darkness comes around sooner than you expect. 

On the first day, we packed up the bikes in Lethem and returned to the immigration office at the border. We needed to finalise some paperwork for the bikes entering Guyana which we were unable to do on a Sunday. This didn't take long and we were soon on our way. Within 5km the road changed to gravel, at this point however it was mostly compacted with a few loose rocks on the surface, nothing too challenging. The countryside for this section was savannah, very similar to what we'd experienced in Venezuela and Northern Brazil but very flat. We passed a couple of hills but the road remained flat. The road was slightly elevated from the surrounding grassland which became marshy during the rain.

It took us about 4 hours to ride 130km, taking a few stops for photos and walking the odd bridge that we felt suspicious about, this had us arrive in the town of Annai around 5pm. About 2km out of Annai we hit some serious mud and on occasion we both nearly stacked it, this was the first time we'd faced anything challenging and so we stopped to assess.

Having been mostly on sealed roads since leaving Texas we had not experienced any offroad. However, we were experienced 4x4 drivers having travelled all over Australia in our Nissan Patrol including mountain mud in the south, desert sand in the interior and west and plenty of gravel everywhere in between, so we did know a thing or two about these conditions. First thing we considered was the advise we had been given to prolong the life of the tyres by having them run at 40 P.S.I.. This was fine on sealed highways but was causing us to slide all over the place in the mud, so we quickly reduced the pressure to a much more manageable 16 P.S.I.. What a difference this made, instead of sliding all over the road we were able to grip the rocks within the mud and maintain traction. We also needed to make a few changes to our riding technique, but this would come in the following days as we faced more challenges and learned to handle the bikes in harder conditions.

At Annai we found a nice hotel called Oasis. Oasis had good facilities for campers as well as cabins for rent. Their kitchen also served a good dinner so we slept sound with our bellies full and breakfast the next day had us leaving satisfied.

It turned out the mud we'd experienced as we approached Annai was just the beginning of the next phase of the journey. On the second day we entered the jungle, the road became wet, very wet. Mud was a common challenge but nothing we couldn't handle with our tyres still at 16 P.S.I.. We also found a few deep puddles which at times had the water nearing the top of our panniers. This had us very wet and a little worried but oddly enjoying the experience.

We each dropped our bike on occasion, but luckily not in any of the puddles. The worst damage was a broken indicator, something that is not well designed on this bike but would be easily replaced by a generic part. We crossed a lot of bridges on the second day, some of them needing repairs before we would venture across, usually just lining up planks of wood to fill in gaps. Although some bridges seemed to slope dangerously to one side, we were reassured in the knowledge that the large offroad trucks used the same bridges so they should take our weight no problem.

At Iwokrama river there is a police check point and all the bike and dog paperwork was checked. This took a long time as the police officer did not know what to do about Skyla and needed to check with Georgetown. We waited for about 2 hours for someone to call back before we were finally let pass. We used this time to fill up our tanks at the nearby Jungle research centre which also had cabins for rent. By this stage we had travelled around 100km and were just looking to get across the river to look for a hotel or camp site. The police officer assured us we wouldn't find much on the other side of the river and suggested we stay at the research facility. We took his advice and booked into a room.

First thing we needed to do in the morning was cross the Iwokrama river. A ferry service was available in the morning until 9am and then not again until 5pm. We didn't want to be waiting around all day so we planned to get there well before 9. We arrived at about 7:55 thinking we'd get the 8am ferry, but no, maybe they decided it wasn't worth their effort for 2 motorbikes. Come 8am the ferry simply stayed put on the other side of the river. Thankfully at 9am a fully loaded ferry left the bank on the other side of the river and we crossed, a little later then we hoped but still out pretty early. Breakfast in the town on the other side was limited and hotels more so, good thing we'd taken the police officers advice.

If mud had been the theme of the previous day, today it was sand. Of course there was plenty of mud too, but this day introduced us to long patches of dry sand which we hadn't experienced before. This was the most challenging part of the whole route, we both dropped our bikes time and time again.

Let us explain the problem with some physics, feel free to skip over this section if we are boring you. The bike centre of mass is somewhere between the front and rear wheels, it is irrelevant where exactly, the important thing is it lies between the wheels. Your centre of thrust comes from the rear wheel, so from behind the centre of mass. Finally your centre of drag is either at the front wheel, rear wheel or somewhere in between depending on whether you use the front brake, rear brake or a combination of both (neglecting the drag due to wind resistance which is negligible for our conditions).

Now, the stability of the bike is dependant on the position of these centres. Having the centre of thrust lie behind the centre of mass is an unstable state, under normal conditions this is fine as traction on the road keeps everything aligned, but on a low traction surface the slightest misalignment of your thrust and mass centres will send the rear of the bike sideways. Correction with steering is possible but as speed increases this becomes much harder. In mud this isn't such a problem as you will most likely (but not always) find a solid surface within the mud, such as a rock, to gain traction on and again retain stability.

There are 2 approaches we came up with to compensate this effect. First, ride painfully slowly, we call this the Janell approach. Second, ride as normal or slightly reduced in speed for the conditions, as soon as the rear wheel becomes unstable, apply the clutch and rear brake simultaneously, this replaces the centre of thrust at the rear wheel with a centre of drag and immediately makes the bike stable, this we call the Stu approach.

OK enough physics. Using these approaches meant we were falling over a lot less, although sometimes we were taken by surprise and hit patches a little faster than we would have liked. While crossing the river in the morning, we met a Guyanese man named Asif, he was on his way home to Georgetown after working a few months in the diamond mines. We ran in to Asif a few times throughout the day. He was travelling with his crew in a offroad truck which had no problems with the road.

Asif strongly suggested we stop at 58 Miles, a road stop with a restaurant, fuel and bathrooms (including shower). About 10km before reaching 58 we passed through a small logging village, Asif told us to ride straight through as it had nothing to offer and we were much better off at 58 Miles. He was certainly correct. At 58, Asif showed us some excellent hospitality, he paid for our dinner and bought us multiple drinks. He also made sure the showers were operating and introduced us to the owner in case we needed any assistance.

Asif and his crew left us at 58 to drive through the night to Georgetown. We would be meeting up with him again to be shown around Georgetown.

On the fourth day there was a fairly equal mix of all the challenges we had been introduced to the previous three days, as if it were a final test of our competency. The only addition was the slight gradients as the terrain became hilly. Between the challenges were compacted stretches of road which was also new. The road was somewhat maintained by the logging companies that operated in the area. The impact of the logging trucks on the road surface dramatically increased the number of pot holes; our suspension got a real workout.

We were able to travel a little faster due to experience and the slightly better road conditions and reached Linden before lunch. Linden is a small city with almost all the necessities; it does not have ATM's that accept international cards nor do the fuel stations except credit card. This would have been nice to know before we filled up at the fuel station!! Janell went running around to test the ATM's but we were assured she was wasting her time. We had Brazilian currency still and the fuel station manager really had no choice but to accept this at a rate of his choice. He was very reasonable and we got a rate very close to that at the border, he then gave us advice on hotels in Georgetown and things to see.

From here we rode the short distance to Georgetown arriving in time for lunch. This gave us all afternoon to search for dog friendly accommodation.

At the end of the trip we were extremely happy with our achievement, we had not expected the road to be such a challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. We highly recommend this route to anyone riding through South America.

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