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Brazil

Day 41: Cardeal Mota, Serra do Cipó National Park

 
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A rainstorm lashes the forest that was burning only a week before.
Michael Palin - BrazilThe materials are wood and palm thatch and the big, wide roof is open-sided. There's a huge kitchen on whose smoky wood fires a Sunday lunch is being prepared. Meanwhile, there's tea and coffee and local cheese-bread snacks. Flick, an engaging, entertaining, independent woman, sees herself, I feel, as inheriting the mantle of the pioneers she so much admires. Like Richard Burton, better known for his African exploits, who came this way with his wife in the mid nineteenth century, when he was briefly the British Consul in Rio. They travelled up the São Francisco River to see the mining concessions he'd acquired in the area. Or Margaret Mee, a diminutive English botanist, explorer and superb illustrator who fought the miners who she felt were destroying much of Brazil's natural habitat, and for whom Flick doesn't conceal her admiration.

'She was the first person to make people aware of the deforestation of the Amazon, back in the 1950s,' she says, then adds 'and she was only little.'

Flick and her friends are still fighting the same battle. She tells me, with great consternation, of a huge pipeline, the biggest of its kind in the world, being built at a small historical town nearby, down which iron ore will be sluiced 600 kilometres (370 miles) to a new terminal complex at Vitória. Nine thousand construction workers will be invading the area and vast amounts of water will have to be diverted from the ecologically important Santo Antônio River to flush the ore down to the coast. Old colonial farms will be destroyed to make way for this leviathan of pipelines and the four new mines that will feed it.

'It'll change the whole structure of the area – social, economic and cultural – overnight,' she warns.

Flick's indignation comes from a great respect for the traditional way of life in the Serra. With a passion that perhaps only an outsider can bring, she celebrates the land and the people amongst whom she's chosen to live, from the diversity of the plant life to the cautious nature of the inhabitants, which marks them out from the more extrovert national stereotype. Mineiros (as they call those from Minas State) are, she says, shrewd, discreet, unflamboyant and, until they get to know you, wary of outsiders.

'You never know what they're thinking.'

This latter quality is, she considers, why they make good politicians. The current President, Dilma Rousseff and President Juscelino Kubitschek, who built Brasília, were both mineiros.

It's not surprising that the food she sets on the table for a Sunday lunch is typical comida mineira – miner's food. The ingredients are basically what was portable, what the bandeirantes and the mineiros could carry with them and that wouldn't go off; hence a staple of rice, beans, cheese and pork that could be salted and kept. As the chill wind blows out of the forest and across the wide timber deck the local product we most appreciate is a locally brewed cachaça of oaky taste, cherry hue, and quite outstanding smoothness.

Tonight I hear the scratchings and shufflings above me, but now I know that it's only a skunk and not the ghost of some thwarted gold prospector I just turn over, pull up the bedclothes and go back to sleep.
 
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Filming a vehicle trying to extricate itself from a sea of mud.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 41: Cardeal Mota, Serra do Cipó National Park
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Cardeal Mota
  • Book page no: 174

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