A Folha da Frontera
(The Frontier Page)

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

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.

The Project

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.

Getting Around

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 standing up.

The Food

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.

The Ranches

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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