A Folha da Frontera
The Official Newsletter of James Hayes-Bohanan's Rondônia
(The Frontier Page)
Volume I, No. 2 - July 14, 1996
Click back to Vol. I, No. 1
Hello, friends and family. It has been great hearing from so many of you
since the first newsletter. Pam is forwarding letters that were sent to
our house, and I've enjoyed getting letters and e-mail here, too. I only
get to my e-mail about once every week or two, so if you've written and
I haven't answered, that's the reason.
My work here is going well. My first contacts here have led me to a widening
circle of interesting people, libraries, and places. Most days I go into
downtown Porto Velho to read, gather statistics, or interview people. I
have also had the opportunity to visit several ranches and Rondônia's
major hydro-electric plant. I have trips planned to a couple of the newer
cities of Rondônia before I leave. One interesting thing I have discovered
is that when a town becomes a county seat, it is said to be "emancipated."
This emancipation is the beginning of a new city/county, with its own mayor,
legislative body, etc. Twenty years ago, Rondônia only had 7 of these
seats. Now there are 52!
I have seen two big groups of wildlife - one at the city zoo and one in
a collection at the hydroelectric plant. Next to the control room that
directs power to all of the cities of the state is a morbid little collection
of stuffed monkeys, birds, and reptiles that were "rescued" during the
development of the power plant.
I have also seen a rhinoceros beetle - an insect about the size of my
fist. On the campus of the Federal University of Rondônia I recently
saw three huge macaws - scarlet red and bright blue.
There are also lots of frogs and toads. A friend here has a huge frog
that comes into her laundry room every night to sit in a little tub of
water. My friend leaves cat food out for the frog.
Like most people in Porto Velho, I rely on city buses for transportation.
They are generally in good shape and reliable. Sometimes it is a bit like
surfing though, if the driver decides to speed around a corner and I'm
As I have gotten more familiar with the city, I have found a wider variety
of foods to eat. Porto Velho is full of "lunch by the kilo" places. The
price per kilo depends on the variety and quality of the offerings. My
favorite is in the center of town under "Tres Marias" - the three old water
towers high on a hill that are the symbol of Porto Velho. I also drink
a lot of "sucos" - fruit juices that are for sale everywhere in the city.
There is a variety, including the familiar pineapple, strawberry, and banana,
as well as the cucua‡u, passion fruit, a‡ai, and many more. The customer
chooses not only the fruit but also whether to add ice, milk, and/or sugar.
They are quite delicious, and a welcome break from the heat.
Because of all of the cattle in the area, beef is incredibly abundant
and cheap, and people here eat much more of it than in other parts of Brazil.
Although most food these days costs the same as it would in the United
States, beef is a bargain - $1 per pound for T-bone steaks, $2 for filet
mignon. It is common for people to nibble on filet mignon in a bar, dipping
little chunks of it in a coarse manioc flour.
About a week ago I prepared spaghetti and baked chicken for some of
my friends here. Some were skeptical, because spaghetti here is a side
dish with no real sauce. They loved my slow-cooked tomato sauce, and I
have already had one encore performance. Everywhere I go people who weren't
at the first dinner tell me that they've heard about it.
As I mentioned above, I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of ranches
near Porto Velho. On my first visit, enormous racks of beef were slowly
roasted between two huge fires. On both visits, I was given a long tour
of the ranch by the owner. One is a new, 500-acre ranch owned by a family
in the city; the other is a 200-acre ranch created as part of the Brazilian
government's settlement projects in 1972. The larger ranch is being used
solely to raise cattle, and still has some virgin forest on it. The smaller
one is has cattle, cucua‡u trees, and ponds for raising fish. There is
no virgin forest left on this ranch, but the owner took me into the forest
on a neighboring ranch. He showed me how to tap for rubber (just whack
the side of a tree with a machete and watch the rubber ooze out). Then
he showed me a similar tree that yields a kind of "milk." I didn't think
it was as sweet as he had described it; he says the indigenous people used
the milk from this tree to feed children and to make bread.
By law, all ranches in Rondônia are required to leave 50% of the
original forest cover, but clearly this is often not followed. At a government
office today I saw a database of the largest ranches in Rondônia
- those over 5,000 acres - listing the percentage of forest removed. Satellite
images are being used for this project, whose goal is to force the largest
ranches to replant enough trees to return to 50 percent forest cover. I
noticed a few entries in the database of 100.0, meaning that absolutely
no forest remained on some ranches exceeding eight square miles in area!
Driving along the highway or the side roads in the northern part of
the state, it is common to see rain forest - in the distance. The vast
majority of the forest along the roads is gone. The problem is that there
is a dense network of roads in the state.
I have read that this area is very smoky during the dry season because
of all of the rain forests being burned. At this point, early in the dry
season, the forests are not yet being burned, but it sure is smoky. There
is a tradition of burning trash, even in densely-populated areas that have
municipal trash pick-up. On any given afternoon in my neighborhood, several
smoky fires are smoldering. It is also common to see people taking their
trash to a particular stretch of highway between the city and the university
to dump it in the ditch and burn it. The government is trying to stop this
practice, which often spreads to the surrounding vegetation.
Like any city, Porto Velho has its share. One day while waiting for a bus
I was punched in the arm - hard. I looked around and saw that my assailant
was a small, older woman. She was running around punching all of the younger
men at the bus stop. Some of them were pretty funny to watch as they ran
around trying to dodge this little lady. It was both funny and sad. Walter,
my host, was with me (he did not get punched), and said that this lady
is always there. What I really have to watch out for, he says, is the man
who throws rocks .... I have not seen him yet, but I have heard about him
from other friends, too.
The story continues in Folha da Frontera - Vol.
I, No. 3
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