‘You are not going to Caraapó?’ asks a man, who parked his car next to me now I have stopped to ask someone directions to buy food.
No, I am not going there, I reply.
‘Oh, that’s good! Caraapó is not good.’
Why not? I ask.
‘Indians’. Indians? For a moment I don’t understand what he means. Of course I understand that he doesn’t mean that there is a large Indian municipality, perhaps even a Portuguese speaking Goan community. Then I understand that he meant native people, just like the native people in USA are called Indians.
‘You mean native people?’ The two man in the car enforce their words with gestures; one taps his hand in front of his mouth and the other portrays a headdress. ‘Yes, Indians. They are dangerous’.
‘Because they are angry.’ Without further explanation I might fully understand native’s feeling.
‘They are angry because they have not much land.’
‘So they attack us, and they will attack you too.’
I doubt it. And when I tell the two men I met a native yesterday their faces turn in big surprise mixed with an overdoses fear.
‘They have slingshots and axes,’ the two men in the big car with a veterinary sticker on the side explains further. That’s right, I admired his slingshot since I practiced with a slingshot myself while in Africa. Good, this warning is overrated and I cycle on. With the hope to meet some more natives…
When I cycled the red earthen tracks I finally felt away from normality. Although the small towns and minor roads leading from one settlement to another are atmospheric, there are still cars and trucks. Once in the even broader vastness of the countryside where no asphalt is, does one feel the grandness of Brazil.
And the craziness. For how much sugarcane, corn and beef does a country need? Does the native actually have any rights to continue their way of living as how they want to? It is certainly not possible in this part of Brazil.
Please allow me: comparisons with West Africa, India and Iran
Cycling on the rough, sandy red earthen tracks of Brazil is being slung back to Liberia and Ivory Coast. There is one major difference though, cycling in West Africa is evidently noticing very little agriculture. Besides being seen as the White Saint coming to spread financial strength, there are hardly fields with crops. There are plenty of people asking for gifts, something which is absolutely absent here. Being in Brazil, in those tiny villages, is sinking in with the locals. I don’t get extra attention nor stares, I am just a woman on a bicycle. A total unknown happening in India, where I was the most unbelievable spectacle since the Big Bang! Iran had its pleasantries in the people their inviting and welcoming nature, something I am a bit timid about in Brazil. I don’t know how the people will react when I show up at their doorstep, and I didn’t give it a try since I was extremely fond of the solitude I experienced in every camp, almost each night of my ride through Brazilian countryside. Another unimaginable thing possible in the lowlands of India. It pretty much feels like Oman, a country I loved being in, and so do I like it here.
‘No problem, my boss congratulate me to take time to help you,’ says Wilson, a guy I spend some hours with, a day after I met his previous girlfriend a few towns further down the route. I stay in a hotel in Santo Inacio where I can’t find a restaurant open at Sunday; because there isn’t one. Next day Wilson arrange to help me send a parcel of a kilogram back home. I meet him at his work where he is able to take off some hours. Isn’t that a relaxed way of living? This would no way be a possibility at my former work, it is just very uneconomical and not productive.
Productive is the sugarcane issue. They make ethanol, sugar and liquor from it, explains Wilson. When one harvest is done, another batch will start growing. One after another. Like pharmacies, seed stores are a big productive business here. Bayer does well in medicines and poison, practically the same thing.
Sugar, soya and buffet
Buffet style is something I crave for. Mainly because I can load my plate enthusiastically with salad, tomatoes and lettuce, and overeat a bit. Quite some people overeat more than just a bit. I believe buffet style and all you can eat have made obesity big in USA, and so it will be big in Brazil. Soya seems to be the new healthy alternative and how do you know it is not when you don’t check the opposite side (like I used to ignore), not that it really matters because much more forest can’t be cut in South Brazil. Farmers either choose for cows, corn, sugarcane or the new hip crop soya, I suppose.
Food which is produced in abundance tend to be economical, or differently said: unhealthy food is cheap.
Although I try to ignore beef, especially since the cows run with me for kilometers on end when I pass them, the waiter sometimes want to spoil me a bit and surprise me with a plate full of, admittedly, delicious fire grilled beef. Each bite is like a knife smacked through their twinkling round eyeballs, so I try not to have it.
Mato Grosso do Sul
I kind of forgotten where I am. With a supersonic machine called aero-plane I have been catapulted very far from the Netherlands. Other people think so too, they ask me ‘All the way from Holland with bike?’
Back home I’d made natural mosquito oil but the dengue variant laughs with it. The bumps they brighten my days with swell and pulsate through the night, like giant anthills slowly growing bigger.
I sort of cycle as a happy carefree child does. Then when a truck has an approaching truck passing I bump off the road and against roadkill. Rather big roadkill. Not the minimum trice daily fox or irregular capybara but something else. I need to examine this hump of long sturdy hairball a bit better. And how much I try to determine what it is, I can’t. It’s a huge animal and I seem not to be able to make out head or heels. I do see a meter of hair, big teeth and a nail of about 10 centimeter… Looks more like a claw to me.
I need to bend over closer. Only now I am able to make out snout from feet. It turns out an anteater. Ostrich along the road are fine. Toucans flying over my tent are absolutely fantastic, and an armadillo around my tent adds a cute shuffling sound of dry winter leaves. But an anteater could kill me.
Furthermore, a sign above the road attends us there is a new species around: the tapir.
The variety of people
It is curious to see how there is no such thing as ‘the Brazilian’. In one of my naïve thoughts I envisioned a world where there are no pure descendants anymore, but only intermixed humans. Of course, this would still feed racism and the beauty of human race is exactly the difference in each of us. The Brazilian however is not to point out. It seems there are Hispanic people, Europeans like Icelanders and Germans, Japanese and Chinese, afro Americans, Africans, Indians, both East Asian and native. The natives however look in no way similar to the natives of the Andes or the average Brazilian, which would be very hard to describe anyway. And the one Syrian I met was undoubtedly Arabic in his ways, ‘come back and drink coffee with me,’ while pointing me to a shop glittering with lamps, when I ask where I can find solar panels.
The farmers seem to be rather affluent, driving in shiny off-the-road cars, tinted glasses prohibit me to see who’s in it. Their lands are unimaginable stretched while it’s a constant coming and going of other cars, vans, trucks and motorbikes. Most of the farm work seems to be outsourced while apparently the farmer hires his land out to huge companies. Their houses are bathing in the shady parts of the perhaps original bush foliage, often a few kilometers from the road or tracks. The whole property is fenced off and a sturdy entrance portal shows the name of the owner, almost always solely a man’s name.
The native people however live not in such abundance. The one settlement I passed was right along the sandy red track, built from hay and waste material in a more natural style, that is, poor but environment friendly. Round shaped huts with a conical roof and no cars parked up front. They ride a bicycle, the poor man’s vehicle.
I am intrigued by the cowboys and would have liked to stay a few days on a farm. Only once I tried to get to a fazenda. Those farms are often way out and once being unsuccessful in finding a camp spot I ventured off to a farm. I was unsuccessful in that too, as the sand was too loose.
Cowboys with their interweaved reed hats, boots, horses all decked out and a shiny buckle on their belt are appealing. Not as tempting as nomadic tribes, yet they speak to my imagination. Unlike other cultures, I am not beckoned over when I start watching them very enthusiastic.
Another messed up part of Earth
I have come to like the fences by now as they consist of 5 thin metal threads which keeps the boars and their companions out. Not that there is much forest around but when there is, it is teeming with wildlife. Thus I need to locate my camp spot well. Once I set up camp in a fully enclosed cow gathering space, it felt heavenly safe. Especially right after a protected area surrounding the Paraná river, a river with the looks of an ocean. Crossing such a river, over a huge dam and looking down on the natural environment below is knowing I wouldn’t cycle here if not this land was messed up as it is. I imagine the whole of Brazil would be like this if not greedy corporations thought it necessary to cut most of it and plant genetic crops for overfeeding it’s humans. I may complain about it, I am part of it as well, happily cycling on, and although not eating beef, I do like my morning and evening milky chai.
And so, cycling through Brazil is seeing how it is beyond the touristic point of views. Would I visit the Amazon and fly further to the next big Brazilian highlight, I would not really know what Brazil is like. Yet, having missed out on any sizeable city is also a miss. My desire to be in Mato Grosso do Sul was higher than the previous two sates as here are way less roads. Traffic is lower, but not the sugar cane loads, they continue to roll day and night. Yet, there are slightly more patches of jungle, more palm trees and impenetrable bushes. Only once I cycle through a national park, the road cutting it in two.
Gas stations and villages become less. Hills and dips too. I am happy with that as finally I can make some more kilometers a day, although my daily average is a mere 45 kilometer. I carry more water and start to bake my own bread as the expensive, empty grain is too ‘sugarcany’ to my taste. I cycle often only 3.5 hours a day, the rest is spend in camp after having done laundry at a gas station or finding food.
‘Are you going to visit schools again?’ ask my former friend in the supermarket just before I leave for Brazil.
‘No,’ is my answer. She’s puzzled. And ask me what I am going to do instead?
‘Well, just living life,’ I answer…
One of the most beautiful feelings of life is to feel the desire for it. To wake up each morning and feel a strong yearning of wanting to explore. To cycle over this part of Earth, even though there is not a whole lot to be seen and I am not yet overwhelmed by nature. The longing to be out and live a simple life is a beautiful and very different experience each day. To long for the evenings to fall asleep tired is undeniable fulfilling. To be that being who does something which is not very progressive nor productive, and neither her line of inherence: it’s not that I am a direct descendant of a nomadic tribe. And I don’t serve anyone other than myself, neither am I part of a community anymore, and this however is slightly a disturbing side effect of what I have chosen.
Yet for now, it feels right. And now is all we have. And when everything falls together -the perfect camp, the right setting, a safe feeling, enough water, milk powder, tea bags and solar energy to read a book- I offer mom another ‘thank you’ and leave some of her ashes.
The atmosphere of pé vermeio villages
I think there’s no reason to stay in a village to see something other than life being lived in the countryside. The plan of each village is the same symmetric lay out, a newly built church, wooden houses with pastel colored paint gone red from the sand, and a bar. But the palpable ease and tranquility is very pleasant. Places like Culturama and Vicentina are so small that the only excitement is drinking beer and knitting a bedspread along the road. Me showing up doesn’t raise anyone’s eyebrow. I on the other hand am quite uplifted by the casual yet beautiful views: a perfectly shaped, skimpy dressed young woman raking the fenced off garden, couples sitting on their porch on plastic chairs, men wearing cowboy hats drinking beer, selling of pine apples without seeing a salesman, fisherman with bamboo poles, sieving of beans or grains. There are hardly any trucks on these minor roads and the Earth becomes redder and redder, people here are sneeringly called pé vermeio, vermillion feet.
I wash mine in the river, and the dishes too. Obviously, often there is no water to wash myself…
I have learned to let go of fear a few years ago when I was afraid to be home alone. I would see a man coming up to the attic where I’d sit; pushed up in the corner, attack and rape me. I would even see him enter from a particular spot in our back garden. So I sat down in the dark evening one day, facing that spot and start meditating.
Funny enough I am not afraid in so called dangerous or hostile countries, men ruled societies, places with heavy armed security, any kind of seedy hotel, or groups of men. It is that single man, whether or not with two companions at night when I am sleeping alone in the tent. This fear can start when it has become dark and stops when first light comes up.
I see it all happening, the whole show plays in front of my mind. Being in Brazil, the anteater, boars and the tapir are also entering the world of fears. I lay in my tent and watch the show, even my own stomach rumbles sounds like a pack of boars. Until the moment of stepping back in my mind, and seeing the one who makes up all this nonsense. Of course, I can step back in my mind any moment but somehow the mind like to make up a show and watch it, and so fear keeps being fed.
Fear of snakes, even anaconda’s, crocodiles, wild cats such as the jaguar and cougar, wolves, foxes, capybaras and armadillos I’ve overcome, or simply don’t show up; neither in my mind nor real-life. And I know the possibility of a man showing up at night in a corn- or sugarcane field is rare, I choose my spots carefully.
The farmer who notice me on his field would react: ‘Did you camp here?’ and is just fine with that, not any sign reveals he’s surprised, like it’s normal a woman camps in his field, surrounded by fresh holes of armadillos.
The communication between a lazy learner and the Portuguese speaking
What really surprises me is how many people react to me, and let it be clear that I do feel comfortable with those reactions. There are the enthusiastic, interested people who do effort to come into contact with me, often they are mountain-bikers themselves. They’ll stop their car and come over to me or throw a question at me while passing them. I always stop and have a talk, although my knowledge of Portuguese is minimal, surprisingly I am able to have conversations. Then there are the people who don’t even blink when they see me, whether I camp on their harvested manioc field or are ploughing through freshly tilled earth to find a camp spot.
Women in the supermarket whom I ask for a certain product become shy and laughy the moment they find out I am a foreigner. They always go out of their way to help me, and together we come a long way with hand signals, pointing at other items and our both simple pronunciation. The braver come out to watch me tighten the bought products on the bicycle and ask me more, for example ‘did you already got a suntan?’
I wonder whether people see me as a local or just don’t bother to turn their heads to a funny looking human? I think it works in my benefit being white in a country with such an abundance of diverse people. With people from all walks of life, whether in a small town or in a huge city, which I deliberately avoid. I find it quite uncomfortable being seen as a white in deep Africa, because you stand out so much that many immediately sees you as different/affluent.
Being in Brazil makes me feel invisible. People stop on the expressway to ask me directions, those in towns too, assuming I am local.
I think people are interested in seeing a person on a loaded bicycle, many do turn their head, wave at me, smile beautifully (the young girls smiles are irresistible), come over and be immaculate behaved, interested and helpful. They draw me plans, they ask me where to and say ‘that’s too far’. Maybe it is in the Brazilian character not to watch and stare, which is improper behavior to us, Europeans. Sometimes people pay me no attention until we get into contact, and with Google Translate we keep on communicating, phone going from hand to hand. Telling they admire me and waving me goodbye with always a ‘vaya con Dios’.
Sometimes people do not really give me the correct information. Although I don’t speak Portuguese, it is amazing how well I interact with Portuguese speaking. Sometimes I hear myself talking French or Spanish and I do understand the people. Uh… I believe so. It’s another 13 kilometer to the next auto posto says an older man running a decrepit café cum billiard barn. He is intrigued by the Orlieb and Rohloff system -he might be a German descendant- and so I cycle on. While the saddle soreness burns and the, otherwise nonexistent, advertisements along the road for Paraguay megastores should give me a clue, I cycle on. I need food and gas and hope to find that at the posto 13 kilometer further. There is no auto posto, and I start the search for a camp spot. I pass a larger patch of jungle: not good. I pass fenced-off fields where hired farm people pick left over corncobs: not good. I pass a grazing pasture with an open fence: good. There is a big patch of jungle to the back so I make sure I keep a distance and make myself invisible from the road. Left is pasture, right is a young tree plantation and a factory. My choice isn’t the best one as I am right along Sanga Puita, a village 14 kilometer from Ponta Pora, the border crossing.
What I always do when I am not sure about a spot is standing there for a while and feel what it says. I just count fully on my inner compass. One such time I had to leave the spot; not only were there large, unknown claw tracks and a bigger than life dung dropping, the feeling told me to leave. But now I feel save. The animals from the bush a hundred meter away probably won’t head out to the direction of the road.
Then a security guard fully armed with 3 weapons arrives on the other side of the low fence. I always feel save when there is a guard around, so I am fine with him. He is not fine with me. ‘You have to leave,’ he tells me friendly. I try my best to look tired, helpless, pitiable and innocent. ‘No, you can’t stay here, it is dangerous. Police man with guns will come here in the night,’ all being told in Portuguese and sign language. I throw in a bit more pity and innocence but to no avail. ‘There are dangerous animals,’ and with two hands formed as tiger claws, I leave. At once.
And end up in a sex motel.
Finally able to have a shower, and view myself in a double bed sized mirror. A very beneficial thing in the place where I am, but dimly red light is something I don’t understand?
And realize I was within a kilometer from the border with Paraguay…
Next day I cycle on to Ponta Pora and have rest for 2 full days…
More information about Brazil is here: Quick info & Numbers