That Roar in the Jungle Is 15,000 Motorbikes

by Dave

With more than 15,000 motorbikes and only 47,000 people, Tabatinga – Brazil resembles a small version of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, another chaotic place where cars take a distant back seat as the preferred mode of transportation.

“I have never seen a place with so many motorbikes,” said Sabrina D’Assumpção, a resident of Rio de Janeiro who was visiting her husband, a military officer, at the army base here recently. “It is practically a city run entirely by motorbikes.”

Tabatinga owes much of its moto-obsession to its location along Brazil’s extreme western frontier. Nestled alongside Colombia and just across a narrow river from Peru, the town has evolved in the last quarter-century from a military town into a hub of cross-border commerce.

The open border with Leticia, Colombia, allows Brazilians to buy Japanese-made motorbikes there for about $2,000, half of what they cost in Brazil. Chinese-made models, which are less popular, can be had for as little as $900 on the river island of Santa Rosa, in Peru, said Ulianov Mejía, the manager of the Yamaha motorbike store in Tabatinga.

“Here you can have breakfast in Brazil, lunch in Colombia and dinner in Peru because it’s a triple border,” said Mr. Mejía, a Colombian who is married to a Brazilian woman and has been living here since 2001.

In recent years the relative strength of the Brazilian economy and its currency, the real, has made it easier for Brazilians to afford motorbikes. Easy credit terms allow people to pay in up to 24 installments, and most people walk out of a store with a bike after putting down just 30 percent, Mr. Mejía said. For some, it can be even easier than that.

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