Monday, May 16, 2011

Off to Mineiros --

Today we wake up bright and early to head to Luiz's home town of Mineiros (Men aye toes) (( sorry, I can't correctly punctuate the pronunciation of the city so did the best I could) a small community (population around 55,000) in an agricultural region producing crops of corn, soybeans, sorghum and cotton as well as herds of cattle and poultry. It is situated in the far westernmost part of the state of Goias. Mineiros was founded in 1905 on the banks of the stream of Mineiros and is currently seeing a substantial increase in population within its urban boundaries.

OK- back to my blog... 6:00 A.M. came early and we are on the road by 6:47 (picking up his aunt for the trip) the 5+ hour drive begins... It is winter in Brazil which means still hot during the day but the evenings get cool and it is a very dry time of year. The road we are traveling (BR060) is currently under construction soon to become a 4 lane divided highway. Something the state has been promising since Luiz was much younger as he had explained to me on my last visit here in December. If that is how long it has take to get this far, I would say they have made quite a bit of progrees in
 the past 6 months. The existing road is bumpy and in need of repairs itself (a never ending situation). Through the little towns of Setor Bela Vista, Guape, and Cezarina we travel. I sit back and compare them to my home town of Rembrandt, Iowa as they are quite small and if you blink extra long you would miss them. ( I actually doze off a bit and missed one or two). Each little town has its speed bump to slow traffic down and it provides travelers time to look at what the vendors have to sell in their little make shift kiosks along the roadside. Selling everything form home grown fruits and vegetables to home made pots n pans and other items, it is small business at its finest.

There is plenty of dust in the air from the construction and trucks along the way as we continue through Indiara, Acreuna, Santo Antonio da Barra, Rio Verde, and Jatai. We travel along and I watch the terrain go by and begin to think about life. All the different people I have met and the wonderful places I have been. How they compare to this current experience. We finally stop in Acreuna at a truck stop. The usual coffee stop for Luiz's family on the journey. The truck stop attracts travelers with a small collection of caged birds including pheasants, macaws, and my favorite toucans. At one time the stop had alligators and the empty cage is evidence of this, but there is nothing the see of the sorts now.  However, the pao de
quei (cheese bread), refreshing drinks, and a chance to stretch one's legs are always worth the stop. The only other stop on our trip will be to fill the tank with gas a little further down the road. Like in the United States, fuel prices seem to just continue upward, but that is an observation for later or maybe even another day. It is a nice ride and I continue to doze off from time to time. The second half of the trip down the two lane highway is a little bit more treacherous as the road is filled with potholes and overall condition of the road gets worse. There are a lot of trucks who have a hard time traversing the somewhat hilly terrain. It also seems to me that in the middle of corn, beans, and sugar cane fields, the law of the road disappears. Vehicles pass us on the right shoulder and the no passing zone as mere suggestions and don't mean much as drivers continue to pass, taking their chances that there is nothing coming over the hill crest ahead.

Since I am sharing my observations of the travel patters on the road today, I will share this side thought as well... Motor cycles are a popular means of transportation in the city and the countryside of Brazil. There seems to be a lack of respect for traffic laws by these cyclists and in return lack of respect for them as a vehicle on the road. In the city, you will see them at stop lights weaving in between cars to get to the front or if they cannot get through the vehicles they ofter take to the sidewalks to get where they want. Once they are in front, often they do not wait for the light to turn green.. off they go. 
So, why did I share this experience at this time you may ask? Well, as we are traveling, at a couple of moments when we are passing there is a motor cycle coming and they are forced to move to the shoulder of the road on the opposite side. Often they are treated as 2nd class vehicles, condemned to the shoulder of the road. I think this is a an example of the lack of respect being transferred back to them. But the truth of the matter is -- motor cycles are everywhere and you really have to be on the look out for them when driving in Brazil.

The second half of our trip we pass by some shacks along the side of the road. I had learned that these residents are waiting for the government to give them land through agrarian reform. This land struggle redistribution has been a political consideration for over 500 years here. When Brazil was settled, unlike other countries, it did not see the benefit to capitalism in small individual farms. Large farms (latifundium) were the norm and they build strong alliances with the political leaders to make it difficult to bring about change. The current movement is a group of peasants who have set up make shift shacks along the roadside on government owned land. This group continues to protest the current system asking the government to give them farmland. I wonder how this is supposed to work? Take someones personal land and split is up or is this all government land? I also think of land ownership in the Midwest United States where the current trend is that the farms are getting larger and larger. The distribution of farms and landownership is definitely changing there. It seems pretty Marxist ideology to me and I wonder if they actually gave these people land... Would they be happy? Would they want more? It is hard to say.

Now, back to our travels. I am reminded of growing up and the fields of Iowa as we travel. Corn followed by beans, followed by corn. This is the areas second harvest of the year as their growing season is much longer then in Iowa. There are also sugar cane fields which are currently being harvested, which adds trucks and dust to our route. We arrive in Mineiros and are greeted by his family. His parent's home is a welcoming place, with a well landscaped front yard behind the wall with an electric fence along the top. The extra large kitchen and dining area are always full of family and friends, often having coffee or lunch. As many homes in Brazil, there is an open floor plan with lots of windows and lots of outdoor living space. It is nice to be done traveling for the day and enjoying his families company. (I keep my ears open for Portuguese words I know and continue to focus on learning the language -- every once and a while I will have an epiphany about the language and add it to the process) Lunch is served consisting of the staples of Brazilian food: rice, beans, meat loaf, and chicken stroganoff. Today we are treated to a local fruit call pequi (pee key) in the rice. (a local wild fruit that people from this area say you either are from here and like it or are not from here and do not like it) His mom apologizes that she has put it in the rice and forgot about me but I actually give it another try and it is OK in rice. (FYI - I had tried it in Atlanta once before)

We spend the afternoon around the table and soon his cousin Renato stops by. Luiz and I decided to take a ride around the community and head out the door. Mineiros is a typical Brazilian community with its Catholic
churches and streets lined with walls hiding the front yards and homes behind them. When driving around the narrow streets there is a lot of concrete and little greenery until you arrive at the numerous squares in town. We head towards the mall that is currently under construction and scheduled to open later this year. Rumors of a cinema and subway are circling around the town. As we drive by the construction site and view the progress, Renato asks if we want to head to his farm. Of course the answer is yes as I am always up for an adventure. What will we find? How will it compare to the farm we visited in December or the farms of Iowa? We travel about 15 minutes and soon begin down the dirt path to his farm. He shows us the eucalyptus trees he has planted on the left and right. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the trees to grow and be harvested. As we travel down the path, there is an old man working with the few cows and horses on the farm. Renato calls out to him and he responds. We soon arrive at the house and are excited to take some photos as some of the trees are in bloom and it is a sunny day (again wishing the sun would have come out last week in Rio - but so goes life) The house is a simple house with tiles floors and a lot of outside living area. We are treated to some tangerines we pick from the tree and Luiz is given some harvested Brazilian peppers to take home. We enjoy our time on the farm and the current residents seem to enjoy showing us. It is a lovely and relaxing afternoon, very similar to many afternoons on the farm growing up.

We head back to town and are invited to Renato and Marinete's for dinner. We will take them up on this offer, but only after relaxing a bit more (I spend my time blogging and listening as most of the conversation is in Portuguese). We arrive at their home after dark and what a wonderful yard and home they have (behind the walls and electric fence). They have set up an intimate dinner on the side of the house with chairs and a small table set with tableware and appetizers. Kind of a picnic of sorts, with quibe and bread, it is a wonderful evening. The night slip by (like all evenings do) and soon it is time to head back and get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day and I want to be ready for it.
(Read "Day 2 in Mineiros")

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