A Folha da Frontera
(The Frontier Page)

The Official Newsletter of the Hayes-Bohanan's Rondônia Travels

Volume II, No. 1 - July 2000

The Whole Family

If you knew us back in 1996, you may recall receiving three issues of Folha da Fronteira, Volume I, which documented James’ travels to Brazil for dissertation research. This summer James returned for a conference and some follow-up research, and the whole family went along. We’ve been back in the States for several weeks, and we think it’s time to share our experiences. This edition of Folha is based on our recollections and on journals Pam and Paloma kept during the trip.

“I’m Going Bra-zil”

Of course, the decision to take Paloma – who was not quite three – for a month in Brazil is not one we took lightly. In the months leading up to the trip, we talked with Paloma about it quite a lot, and near our departure she was telling everyone she knew that she was headed to “BRA-ZIL!” The whole family needed shots, and Paloma was very brave getting hers. It helped that she got shiny Band-aids ™.
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Paloma, Pam & James at the Brennand ceramic factory and museum near Recife

Paloma is a good air traveler, and was pretty excited about all the planes. As she wrote in her travel book, “We ate on the plane. We slept on the plane.” Varig, the major airline of Brazil, is a bit shaky on organization but very strong on service, especially for kids. Paloma enjoyed a number of special toys and meals, and a lot of fussing over by the flight attendants.

In order to make the adventure last, we decided to depart from Miami, rather than Boston. As soon as the semester ended, we started driving south, visiting friends in Pennsylvania and Georgia. In Florida, we stayed with Pam’s mom for a couple of days before heading to Miami, where we spent the last night before our flight with friends. From Miami, we flew overnight to São Paulo. The good news was that the Customs people there ushered us through the line quickly because we had a tot. The bad news was that this made our layover even longer – stretching from about six a.m. to 10 p.m. – too brief to really enjoy the city (one of the largest in the world), but too long to be comfortable in the airport. We did take a shuttle into the center of the city, but spent most of the day pacing and chasing Paloma.

Arriving in Porto Velho

We arrived in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, early in the morning of May 27. We crashed in
a hotel for what was left of the night, and then James’ friend Miguel took us to his house, where we met up with some other friends from the 1996 trip. As Pam wrote in her journal, “I spent my 36th birthday meeting James’ friends and listening to them tell me how much he talked about me when he was here four years ago.” James and Pam had been apart for her birthday that time. :-(

Our House

This time it was a bit trickier finding a place to stay, as most people do not have enough extra room for a family of three. A friend of a friend came through, however, letting us spend our three weeks in Porto Velho at his house. He is a government official with a very large house by Brazilian standards. It was only near the end of our trip that we realized it is actually smaller than our home in Bridgewater – but it has less stuff in it and it looks larger in comparison to other houses in Porto Velho.
The house has two stories and is located in a new, gated community. Our bachelor host spends very little time in the house because of work, school and church (he is one of the growing number of Assembly of God adherents in Brazil). For this reason the house had few amenities, and it was not child-proof. The tile floors and steep stairs made us nervous with Paloma running around, as did some dangling wires. Our room had air conditioning, though, which was something we really did not expect.
Click for high-resolution color Paloma enjoyed taking her baths in the sink. She also enjoyed helping out with the laundry, which we did by hand in the same sink.
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Hanging out: Every house in the north of Brazil has at least one set of hammock hooks. We spent a lot of time relaxing in this hammock, which James had used on his 1996 trip.

Magic Realism

(From Pam’s journal, 6/1/00)
“Yesterday we saw the black strips of ash falling from the sky that reminded me of the sugar cane burning from the [Rio Grande] Valley, but this was from burning trash. It is like a surreal precipitation and I am reminded once again about magic realism.”

(From Pam’s journal, 6/1/00)
“Today we went to the most wonderful place. It was a place on the Rio with a waterfall and there were hundreds of butterflies around. It was very much magic. The butterflies flew all around us in all colors. I’ve seen that many butterflies before, but never so many different species. I saw one of the big blue butterflies [Blue Morpho] that James told me about when he came back the last time. There was a treacherous bridge that James kept wanting to take a picture of with a car on it. It was made of wood planks spaced wide enough apart for a car to drive on. Graça drove over it with us in [the car] so James could take a picture. I was somewhat freaked.

“The other day while we were at UNIR [the Federal University of Rondônia] a tractor trailer overturned right outside the gate of the university. It was carrying fabric softener. We could still smell the fragrance when we drove by the spot today.”

A Lingua Portuguesa

(From Pam’s journal, 6/1/00)
“I was very proud of James yesterday. We went to UNIPEC [a private university] to hear Miguel’s talk about Amazon perceptions. When we got there Graça asked James what he knew about the Internet. He answered ‘a lot.’ She shuttled him off to a room full of people waiting to hear a talk about English for the Internet. He spoke for almost an hour in Portuguese without preparation.”

Pam, of course, speaks Spanish quite well, which was gave her a good head start in learning Portuguese. The languages are different, though, especially in their pronunciation. Pam found that she could read things pretty easily, but was reminded that it is real work learning to speak and comprehend a language. She made impressive progress in a short time, however, by working with a textbook and spending time conversing with her new friends.

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Paloma enjoying pops with her friend Daniel in downtown Porto Velho.
The children of our friends in Porto Velho were anxious to meet Paloma, but had been concerned that she would not be able to play with them because of the language gap. She never noticed! She made fast friends with quite a few kids – most of them the children of professors at UNIR. She picked up about a dozen words of Portuguese, but only toward the end of the trip did she seem to realize that a different language was being spoken. It never made her shy.

Consumer Products

One of the findings of James’ work in 1996 was that the global marketers had certainly found Porto Velho. Still, we were a bit concerned that we would not be able to find some of the products we needed. It turned out we could, though there were some differences.

(From Pam’s journal, 6/3/00)
“Diapers, tampons, and sanitary napkins only come in packs of ten. It seems that anyone would have to buy more than one package at a time, so I find this very odd. Baby wipes were very difficult to find. We finally found some Johnson’s ™ wipes in a pop-up canister of 70. When I opened it, I mentioned to James that they were small and thin. He responded with `Well, at least they were expensive.’ ”

The interesting point here – from James’ perspective – is that although the American consumer-products companies have been able to sell consumer culture, they have not yet been required to compete on the basis of quality and price. In a place where incomes are relatively low, it seems the profit margin is nonetheless quite handsome.


In 1996, James had been surprised at how uncommon it was to encounter panhandlers in Porto Velho. In 2000, it is still quite uncommon, but we had a couple of very unusual encounters, both in the center of the city.

(From Pam’s journal, 6/11/00)
“Two days ago James and I were at the bus stop and a man asked for some change. We refused him and he asked again. We refused again and he walked away. He came back a minute later and put 50 cents in Paloma’s hand, looked at us directly, scowled, and walked away, [crossing himself].”

The other incident was in some ways even more unusual. One of our favorite pastimes in Porto Velho was to visit an area along the Rio Madeira near the old train station and city dock. It is the departure point for pleasure boats on the river, and it has a long series of tiki huts selling food and drink and playing music. It was at a table here that we were approached one day by a man selling necklaces, a few of which we purchased.

Several days later, we were near the place when the same man asked James for help picking up a heavy garbage pail, which he put on his head and carried across a road for disposal. Clearly he had been hired to do this. We were very surprised a few minutes later when he appeared at our table asking for change. At first James misunderstood him, thinking that he wanted change for a one-Real note. When we realized that he was just panhandling, we were very surprised because of the previous two encounters. More surprising was that he objected when James gave him only a couple of coins. As he walked away, our waiter had a few words with him, and we never saw the man on subsequent visits to the area.
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Pam greatly enjoyed drinking coconut  water straight from the coconut. She is shown here doing so at our favorite spot by the Rio Madeira. 
Viagra bar
The beaches in Recife are lined with tents from which food and drink are sold. This one had by far the most interesting theme. The captions can be loosely translated as “Hey, foxy!” and “Stop taking your Viagra!”


Our final week was spent in the Northeast at a conference. It is a resort area with great beaches so it seemed more like a vacation. We were amazed to find that many products were actually cheaper there than they had been in the Amazon. While on the beach we encountered dogs, cats, chickens, horses and even cows!

While in Recife we stayed at a charming bed and breakfast run by a family with a daughter just a year older than Paloma. We were invited to the daughter’s dance recital, where Paloma got to pick the winner of the door prize.

Home again

We flew back to Miami in late June and spent two weeks driving back to Bridgewater. We visited some friends and family along the way, some we had not seen in many years, and we took Paloma up Scorpion Knob, the mountain on James’ mother’s family property in North Carolina.
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No real story here – just 
a very cute picture of Paloma.

To read about James' 1996 trip, see Folha da Frontera - Volume I, No. 1
To read about James' 2003 trip with a student, see Folha da Frontera - Volume III
To read about James' 2004 visit to Florianopolis and Rio de Janeiro, see Folha da Frontera - Volume IV

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