A Folha da Frontera
(The Frontier Page)

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

Volume I, No. 1 - June 1, 1996

Where I Am

I am in Porto Velho, the growing capital of Rondônia , Brazil's newest and last state. Port Velho is located on the Madeira River, at about 64W and 9S.

Why I Am Here

After lo, these many years, I am doing research for my dissertation in geography at the University of Arizona. I am studying the development of urban places in Brazil's Amazon frontier. More than half of the population in this part of the Amazon Basin actually live in towns and cities.

How I Got Here

It wasn't easy. First, Pam, Pablo, and I drove to Corpus Christi, where we spent a couple of wonderful days together before my trip began. On May 22, I flew from Corpus to Dallas (a transfer at DFW is de riguer for all my travels, foreign or domestic) and from Dallas on to Miami. At 11:30, I left Miami on Varig, Brazil's major airline. The service was incredible: Did Continental or American ever offer you a complimentary Cognac in Coach? We arrived in Manaus, in the center of the Amazon, at 4:30 the next morning.

I waited for the approach of dawn, and then took a taxi to the National Institute for Amazon Research, where I met Dr. Philip Fearnside for some advice on my project. Then I took a taxi to the dock in Manaus, bought a hammock and mosquito net, and began looking for a boat to Porto Velho. Alas, I could not get any definite information, nor did I like the looks of the characters hanging around most of the boats, so I took a taxi back to the airport and got a ticket for a flight Porto Velho later that night. (I later learned that even for Brazilians the boat travel is not as easy or romantic as some of the guidebooks suggest.)

That flight was canceled, so Varig put us in a $170/night hotel for about 5 hours until the flight early the next morning. I went on to Porto Velho, where I was met at the airport by Miguel, a professor of English who had been my primary contact, Walter, another English professor with whom I would be staying, and Ana, a geography professor who came to meet me and who also happens to have a car.

Where I Am Staying

I am staying in a simple house about a 10-minute bus ride from downtown PV, and about 30 minutes from the university (UNIR). My host is Walter, an English professor who moved here from the Northeast of Brazil about 10 years ago. He is a gracious host and a confirmed bachelor. Friends of all kinds drop by almost every day, providing many opportunities to practice my Portuguese. Usually it is quiet, though, giving me plenty of time to read and write. I also watch some TV and movies, as Jim Keese, a colleague from Arizona, had suggested this would help with my language. I saw Wayne's World dubbed and O Dia do Cao (Dogday Afternoon) with Portuguese subtitles. The sound was not very good, so I actually depended upon the subtitles, as I would watching any foreign film.

Walter's house is much like the one in which Pam & I stayed during our visit to Mexico, except that it has a great porch on two sides. I often hang my hammock out to read (all houses in this part of Brazil are equipped with hooks for hanging hammocks inside and out).

What I Am Doing

In addition to my own research, I am involved so far in two projects at UNIR, the Federal University in Rondônia . One is with an economics professor who is trying to consolidate the economic and demographic data for the state that are currently available in a variety of incompatible formats. The other is with a group from the department of letters that is analyzing the discourse about the Amazon in foreign media. Both of these projects are helping me to develop contacts and information for my own research.

Yesterday I bought a copy of O Hobbit, which many of you may recognize as the Portuguese translation of one of my favorite books. It is a wonderful edition, with many of Tolkien's own illustrations. I am finding it surprisingly easy to read.

Some of My Plans

My new friends here have already planned several interesting excursions for me. At the end of this week, I will take a day trip to one of Rondônia 's newer cities along the famous highway BR-364, which opened this region to migrants from Brazil's South. Next Sunday we plan to visit a dam and wildlife preserve, also along BR-364. Later in the month, my host Walter will go with me to Guajar -Mirim, where he lived in 1991. From there, we will cross the border into Bolivia for some shopping. I am also planning to accompany several of the language professors in their rural education project one weekend. I think that all of these experiences will help me to learn more about all of the changes that are occurring in various parts of this frontier region.

What I Eat, Etc.

I eat a lot of rice and beans (thanks, Kathleen, for the Tabasco™), pasta, some beef, manioc, and coconut juice from Walter's tree. I am observing the usual traveler's cautions about vegetables, so I take vitamins to compensate. I drink copious amounts of mineral water, up to 3 gallons/day.

I have encountered very few mosquitoes, but I am taking every precaution, including garlic, chloroquin, and repellent.

Overall, the trip is going well. Of course, I miss my home, my friends, my dog, and most of all my wonderful Pam. I look forward to seeing you all again, and to hearing from you if you get a chance. Until then, Tshau!

The story continues in Folha da Frontera - Volume I, No. 2


Thanks to Carol Gray for the idea of this newsletter; to Alex Zamora for lending me the computer on which I wrote it, to Sergio Luiz de Medeiros Rivero for providing the Internet connection, and especially for Pam Hayes-Bohanan for distributing this to our friends and family.

Back to my home page.