Brazil's Last Frontier: Victims and Visionaries

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 33
Porto Velho, Rondônia, August 24, 1980 — September 1, 1980

August 29-30 Left Porto Velho at 4.30 a.m. with Eduardo Borcacov for Guajará Mirim 335 dusty kilometers away. Argentinean-born Borcacov of Russian heritage converses on virtually any topic under the sun with worthwhile opinions. He knows environment intimately from many years in Rondônia's forests as lumberman. Trip took ten hours driving with two hours lingering at Madeira-Mamoré stations en route, now mostly ghost towns.
Vila Murtinho, for example, a dozen or so houses around a barely recognizable square. Column in middle of soccer field commemorates 1822/1922 (Independence,) abandoned stores, inhabitants hanging around doing nothing in particular. Along the road, no evidence of real agricultural development in ten years since it was opened, usual burnt patches, some grassed areas, few cattle, all adding to depression one feels at sight of abandoned tracks, equipment, stations etc.
Madieira-Mamore Railroad Locos Brazil Uys
Madeira-Mamoré railroad relics in 1980
Some wide-ranging Eduardo pointers/ observations/ images on past and present as we traveled: a) all railroad equipment imported, including standards from London b) dormitory for visiting dignitaries above station at Guajará-Mirim c) struggling agricultural community with church under construction for five years f) small country hospital, male patients of all ages in general ward g) stream with beautiful bathing spot, Indian maloca upstream x 14 hours travel h) blue butterfly worth at least $50 i) balls of latex covering square in front of old station j) forest landing strips k) 25,000 hectare fazenda.
Weekend with Eduardo along Madeira-Mamoré railroad, in every retrospect, a valued experience. I have begun to see Vicente Cardoso's (Cavalcanti) experience in a very different light for two reasons: A) Rondônia provides bases of “last frontier” (soon to pass with coming of statehood.) B) Madeira-Mamoré story needs more than an outsider's view. Vicente has to be physically involved with the construction and thereafter gradually to become a “man of power” in the territory. All points to having Vicente actually engage on the construction of the railroad and emphasis of rubber boom.
Brazil Gold Nugget Serra Pelada  6 kilos
Gold Nugget found in Brazil 1980
Eduardo offered many leads to this in yarns like that of Maciel, the coronel/concessionaire who went batty after taking to Indian pagé's concoctions i.e. mushrooms of altered states variety. Rondônia is not “Amazonas” with all that name implies but all the ingredients are here, plus some of the unknown: a great river (Madeira); Indians of violent and pacific type: Caripunas and Novas Pacos; rubber boom; typical Trans-Amazonas type highway; pistoleiros and possesseiros; the old Wild west, to this day; great lumber enterprises; area south-west of Rondônia scene of gold rush today, dredging and panning rivers with some major finds of nuggets; significant immigration from the North-East, especially Ceará; Japanese farmers; migrants and adventurers from many lands, including descendants of the workers who came to build the Madeira-Mamoré; Shockness, Norman, the Asians, Lebanese. A microcosm of an earlier Brazil of the South and, in some respects, an unfortunate carry-over of problems of the North-East.
Madeira Mamore Rapids Brazil Uys
Madeira-Mamore Rapids near Guajara Mirim
Spent hours talking as we traveled back from Guajará-Mirim yesterday banging along cratered road with stops at "Restaurante e Borracharia" for food and to fix tires i.e. "borracharia!"
Guajara-Mirim Road Brazil Uys
Roadside Garage, 1980, Rondônia
Some of Eduardo's points: The vast land extent of Brazil is totally deceptive for you have to fight the forest inch by inch, a battle that may never be “won,” possibly can never be won and, like so many confrontations leaves a trail of victims. In this case, some human but more the spoliation of nature as depicted in the charred hulks of forest giants fallen in grotesque ruin amid fields of ashes.
As the Indians showed centuries ago, so today: The soil thus “liberated” is able to produce a good first crop, the second is poor, the third a disaster necessitating a new clearing and leaving the forest to recover with a poor secondary growth.
On North/South dichotomy: the people of the North-East, and by extension the north “migrants” are sufferers, they are martyrs who love the land no matter how cruel it may be to them and their children. The people of the South see them as the meanest laborers for whom there is little home, a burden for booming Brazil.
Edward offers an anecdote sadly familiar: “Waldemar” migrates from the North-East to São Paulo where he becomes a bricklayer engaged in the construction of one of São Paulo's skyscrapers. When it's finished, he is not allowed to enter!
On prospects of revolution: Ed refers, as do most people, to three safeguards: futebol, carnaval, loteria. (Looking at TV antenna atop the remotest shacks, I would add “TV” as fourth safeguard.)
He notes, too, that you don't launch a revolution on hungry bellies. Ché Guevara tried that in Bolivia and look what happened. The real incentive comes from a reasonably well-fed middle-class with more time to think and plan; the peasant has less time to do anything but “survive.”
A power-clique of generals and moneyed aristocracy call the shots at the national level. Men might change, as with appointment of Figueiredo offering apparent new image, but driving force and ideas remain the same. Backing the clique are multinationals and foreign banks, who in the foreseeable future make a drastic change of status quo impossible. Brazil has once again traded its independence for colonialism, this time no gunboats and foreign princelings but “economics.”
With leadership of Brazil, important to comprehend the “man on the second floor.” The real power is often held by people other than those in the “boardrooms;” people who stay out of the public eye and quietly exert Power.
Foreign influence in Brazil was same, for example, with “Ypiranga,” Strangford, Collingwood, backing independence not for sake of Brazilians but to gain a favorable trade and economic foothold for British interests. England's economic colonizer role was taken over by America and now a new “partner” is on the horizon: Japan, going after the vast mineral and natural resources.
With an important difference, according to Ed: The Brits and Americans always looked down upon the Brazilians from highest level. Brazilians, because of the big Japanese community in their midst, have come to know and respect them as honest, hard-working; they trust the Japanese whereas long experience has led to wariness of the U.S. and the British.
Also effect, in a lesser way but no doubt important, of anti-U.S. propaganda over the years, with “Yankee Go Home” drummed into heads of South Americans. Conversely, though, average Brazilian has little love for Cuba which is seen as a “government mess.” Brazilians know what a sprawling bureaucratic muddle can result in through their own home-grown examples: They're not interested in importing something that could worsen the situation.
September 1 Flew from Porto Velho to Cuiabá, changed there and flew to Brasília and onto Rio de Janeiro. It's not merely the vast distance covered within one country but coming out of the bush, it strikes you dramatically: the difference between all the poverty and struggle you have seen in “greater Brazil” and the suited, suave, soft-leather shoed people here, all bound for Rio, which most people I've seen these past forty days will never set eyes on. The contrast is shocking. I have a picture of a quintessential Rio granddame, paunchy, loaded with jewels, transported to one of those “restaurantes e borracharias” alongside any sertão road I've traversed...
Amazon Peasants Brazil Uys
Manioc mill in Amazonas settlement

7,000 Railroad Men Died in the Green Hell of Brazil


Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 32

Porto Velho, Rondônia, August 24, 1980 — September 1, 1980

August 26 On this writing table a few inches away is a souvenir of the Madeira-Mamoré railroad. A six-inch spike I picked up yesterday. It evokes so much for me. It was here, in this very place that men came from all over the world to build this railroad and left 7,000 of their number dead.
Railroad Spike
A war, in a way, against The Forest, and which almost as it ended in 1912 was lost. With the collapse of the rubber boom the purpose of the railroad (to get Bolivian rubber to the “navigable” Madeira) no longer existed.
Today there is an attempt to re-activate the railroad, some 32 of 360 miles operative, but the real story lies in the marshalling yards where half a dozen old locomotives (Baldwins etc.) stand with their great steel wheels buried in the sand. Most dramatic relic is the steam-powered crane (INDUSTRIAL WORKS - BAY - MICHIGAN) that appears at the head of the rail-advance in old photographs. You can imagine it, easily, clanking and hissing. You can imagine it but you can't ignore the twitter of the birds amid its workings.
Abandoned Steam Crane at Madeira-Mamore Railroad, Porto Velho

August 27 Above all, I have to remember to divorce present “reality” from historical fact: that the cemetery where hundreds upon hundreds - thousands - who labored to build the railroad lie is unreachable must say something. Can't go there, you're told by local head of museum, because bush that obscures place is infested with “cobras.” 
So, too, I think are the minds of those who inherited the sweat, the sadness, the lost dreams of all who came here. Nothing. Not a memorial, not a single relic except a small station filled with “functionaries” unexcited and unmoved by what they represent. 

Abandoned railroad locomotive on Madeira-Mamore line, Brazil
 By God! I say to myself, I'll write an epitaph for you yet, you brave “lost” adventurous souls who lie beneath this dust-damned soil. You came from so far away to so violent an environment, and you found the paradise you sought an earthly hell!
I walk through these dreary streets, I witness this museum without a soul and I feel a rage and anger beyond my control at such forgetfulness, such disregard for heart and soul and effort.
I look at a single spike, a single spar of rail, a rusted locomotive and I have respect. For what am I but an adventurer braving the same area, but with a comfort and safety you never knew. For five days I have trod these same grounds, endured the same heat - with air conditioning to help - and yet at no time have I seen anything that said these were men! — How I hate the forgetful, the thoughtlessness!
How I sometimes love the adage, "those who forget the lessons of the past are bound to repeat them." I wouldn't really wish it upon them but if they are so ready to dismiss the 7,000 (10,000?) who gave their lives in this place...
Baldwin locomotive from Madeira-Mamore line
I enjoy this burst of emotion, for it gives me a special urge to reach paper, it puts six thousand spirits behind me saying, "Tell them!" It brings a single spirit, a soul perhaps akin my own, who lies a dying in Candelaria with thought of a love far away, feeling all forgotten forever — I say to that spirit bound to this dusty hell hole, you will be remembered, not alone in dry unemotive reports I spent the best part of a day reading.
I sometimes begin to feel like Lord Byron and Childe Harold: “God, why did you give these people this land?” Oursler said I had to have a key. Well, tonight, amid this searching of soul — admittedly without intellectual censorship as the good Antonietta would have it — I'm hyper-critical of the Brazilians. They were handed one of God's private reserves. Are they in the process of screwing it up?
How I need a Sintra! How I need some cool, refreshing place where I can breathe “fresh air,” “sanity” and begin to believe! But then, I tell myself, how can you write about Brazil without experiencing all of it? Even the most distressing aspects? And what is better than spending so much time in the North/North-east until you begin to cry inwardly, “Away!”
Madeira Mamore Railbed Brazil Uys
Abandoned railroad in Rondonia, Brazil 

The Burning Forest: Eyes on the Invasion of the Amazon

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 31
Porto Velho, Rondônia, August 24 — September 1
Traveling from Manaus to Porto Velho again underlined the poor attempt at “conquering” the forest — the pathetic little farms alongside the road, the road itself tarred but in a state of disrepair. Almost like traveling on a dirt road, the bus swerving from one side to the other to avoid potholes and sections of the road that have completely degraded.
Atmosphere is pioneer, perhaps no better typified as in roadside “restaurants” - crude, wooden affairs catering to buses and truckers, serving one or two dishes only, great piles of food, rice, spaghetti, farina, chicken or beef, and stocked with only bare essentials.
Amazon Forest Burning Brazil Uys
Found sight of smoldering embers of destroyed forest beside road disturbing; nothing seen thus far has convinced me settlers know what they're doing.
As one informant said: they clear thousands of hectares adjoining the forest for cacão plantation and introduce cacão trees. What they ignore is forest's own defense mechanism:
Will it introduce new species of insect or disease to fight this invasion of its territory?
I like this concept of forest as a separate, living entity existing by and for itself, something surrealistic, but need to see it as such to reflect on its relationship with man.
Amazon Forest Burning Brazil Uys
In a small town like Porto Velho, you cannot help noticing excessive number of government organizations. In the downtown area virtually every street has its EMBRATEL, INCRA, INDECO, SUDENE etc - endless offices of functionaries all aiming at one or another type of disinvolvemente. (A strange word to my ears, for translated it means development; having seen some of these functionaries in action you wonder just how much "disinvolvement" gets done.)
At last, the Madeira-Mamoré railroad. Strange feeling of unreality today accentuated by sight of swimming pool, good food (!)and out in Porto Velho's blazing hot rail yard: abandoned engines and rail construction equipment, birds nesting in a great steam powered crane that once moved along the newly-laid rails.
As in Recife, Belém, Manaus, much of the historical atmosphere has been destroyed. It takes a special effort of imagination to recapture what it must've been like - to envisage it in the days of Vicente Cardoso (Cavalcanti.) Feel especially confident of Vicente as character and almost capable of writing about him now.

What is the Key to Understanding Brazil and the Brazilians?

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 30

Porto Velho, Rondônia, August 24 — September 1
August 24-25; Several letters awaiting me, Fulton Oursler among them. Fulton notes: “Why you put the shackles on make damn sure you have the key!”
A crucial poser! Have given it much thought already Don't know full answer but what comes to mind: Land. Dimension. Diversity. Possession. All these are key to understanding Brazil.
The very first impact on Portuguese must have been staggering. Coming from tiny Portugal, the men of Lisbon confine their territories to small bases hugging the littoral, same as in Africa and the Indies. Their motives are primarily exploitive, “factories” for securing wealth, trade for the motherland.
Natives collecting brazilwood in the 16th century

European man emerging from the Middle Ages, not thinking of “land” beyond concept of age-old fiefdom, small kingdoms, encounters a new world of a dimension not previously imaginable. What an impact this must have had on his mind, his view of earth, even of the universe... But could he cope with this change?
First, in Brazil, he seeks the simplest solution, the neat and totally impractical division of “captaincies” stretching as far inland as the Tordesillas Line; the captaincies themselves being divided into sesmarias. For two hundred years, he hugs the littoral, fearful of what lay beyond and lacking the ability or manpower to penetrate the interior.
1591 Map - Terra do Santa Cruz

 Essential to show difference between American homesteading and planned advance to the West and Brazilian method which to this day suggests unplanned chaos. What factors led to different development? The men, their background, their religion? The climate, the topography? All these factors have to be considered?
Did the Portuguese — despite what Freyre says about creation of a Luso-Tropical “new man” — transfer some of the worst elements of Middle-Age Europe to South America?
For example, the concept of nobles and serfs, here becoming casa grande and senzala (slave quarters,) fazendeiro and laborer. As before, the few held vast estates to which the many were bound for their livelihood. Unlike North America where whole concept, once they'd thrown off the European yolk, was toward the individual, his freedom and a stake in the land. Nothing like that ever happened here. On the contrary, in the 19th century the Portuguese Crown was able to transplant itself to Brazil and extend the age-old system almost to the 20th century.
Classic "Casa Grande" of North-East Brazil
Image: Joaquim Nabuco Foundation 

Perhaps Brazil only achieved its equivalent of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1930 with Vargas 154 years later. So that in a sense, it is today where the U.S. was fifty years after independence, mais o menos, with emphasis on spiritual and national development rather than material. The latter with 'secondary acquisition of developed technology' can be deceptive.
With what you see and hear in the North/North-East, the greater part of Brazilian 'land,' you come to realize the divergence between north/south. Whether it's Pumaty's casa grande owner or a local laborer, all decry the south for bleeding the north to develop its industries etc. If you accept that then you begin to think of Brazil as a funnel, the north the mouth, the south the thin stem to which all filters down. (But no doubt the South will have its opinion - probably on the vast cost of supporting the North and its “hopelessness.”)
More on land debate: Perhaps nowhere has “colonial” man faced so great a challenge as in Brazil and, perhaps, Siberia — the sheer vastness makes one of the early essentials for development infrastructure i.e. communication, well nigh impossible.

In Amazonas: Looking Beyond the Hollywood Backlot

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 29

The Journey -  Amazon River,  August 23, 1980

As the canoe moves along, only occasional flash of brilliant color. I think most of the birds have retreated deeper into the forest, as with the monkeys and other wild life, what little there is. I'm surprised by a lack of color other than green, only occasional touch of mauve, yellow or white, but put this down to dry season. During five days, several tropical downpours, short, furious, bursts of rain mainly in the afternoon, a respite from the heat.
Humble houses, pathetic little escolas alongside the tributaries, seem to attest to the impotence of man in this mighty environment. One is aware of the great wounds left in the forest by vast projects: as EMBRAPA pointed out, left to itself the forest can regenerate secondary growth in three to five years. This is not to say there isn't a threat.
The “Hollywood” version of the Amazon jungle is more impressionistic than Amazon Forest Interior near Manaus Brazil Uys real. I think many Amazon “adventures” were shot in California backlots showing a density and height that's not right. The greatness of the Amazon lies in its horizontal and not vertical spread; its sheer size and variety is what gives it an awesome aspect. Under the canopy, you can let your imagination drift back to  the very beginnings of earth.
If man is out of scale, so are the river fish. Saw a pirarucu that had been harpooned, six to seven feet, like a porpoise with “chain-mail” scale protection, so hard they're used as nail files.
The lianas look like taut cables stretching skyward, sometimes perfectly straight. Walking within forest, immediately assaulted by countless insects. Leaned against a tree and found small maggot-like creatures with pint-point black heads on arm. Think they're chiggers that bore into your skin. Repulsive to “civilized” man.
Walking along shore to swamp, water-logged trees, undergrowth... Picture how it must have been for those like the Madeira-Mamoré railroad workers wading through stench, insects, slimy mud underfoot, near Amazon Forest Interiorimpossibility once you enter area to find clean water.
Manaus, itself, continues to be an enigma, this island-city with its skyscrapers rising suddenly beyond the final hill as you emerge from the forest. The older, almost bizarre-looking architecture, English and French structures, market-place, library, post office, opera house take prize for incongruity. Though surely gave Manaus a special atmosphere during rubber boom days, unique and totally unlike skyscraper skyline of today.
Today's newspaper carried sobering news that Glauber Rocha died, age 43, of heart attack in Rio. (We lived as neighbors in Sintra, Portugal, prior to my coming to Brazil.) Was talking about Rocha last night at film of Getúlio Vargas.
(Some impressions from Vargas film: Depicted era similar to Peron/Bittencourt. First, there was striving for a Brazil independent of foreign dependency, multinational “colonialism.” 2) Genuine attempt to improve “lot of the workers.” Enormous popularism. 3) Many, many military-style parades in late 30s vaguely reminiscent of Mussolini's Italy, youth brigades etc. 4) symbolic flag burning, representing end of state hegemony and move toward national unity 5) Vargas, small, chubby, round-faced, spectacles, often smiling, seemed a genuine honest type. (Whatever the bias of film, I found it incredible to accept his suicide. Suicide note was a forgery to cover up his murder? I wonder. Must put that to sources.)
Almost time to go to the “Rodoviária” again — a word I will never forget. Twenty-one hours to Porto Velho.

A Meditation on the Great Cathedral of the Amazon Rain Forest

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 28
The Journey -  Amazon River,  August 23, 1980

August 23 Maybe it was the heat, maybe the “intrusion of tourist types” but the five days spent at Manaus seem the least productive, including entire day wasted waiting for director of INPA, Amazon research institute, from 10.30 till 4. Spent the time in their library. When she eventually saw me, she told me to return the next morning at 9.30. I did and was told a) no one available for an interview b) no one to go with me to the “forest.”
At which point I said to hell with it and sought out my own boat on the waterfront Manaus Small Boat Dock Brazil Uysand found a personable navigator — Daniel! Six hour trip to confluence of Amazon and Negro, then into Solimões and through narrow creeks to enter cathedral-like forest. Exactly what I wanted.
Arranged a second trip for yesterday, another six hours, this time north, very different as we went through forest to cachoeira where we swam. God knows what you could pick up!
Perhaps it's the influence of the other estrangeiros who come filled with visions of tropical menace and talk of all manner of ailments but I find myself becoming “health conscious.” Won't dare miss my malaria tablet; bathe open “wound” on my foot a) with antiseptic solution b)powder antiseptic c) cover with Band-aid. Ultra careful with water and absolutely refuse salads.
Words like malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis, septic wounds etc. commonplace in vocabulary but perhaps it's something else that calls for caution. In the U.S., in developed countries we have reached an ascendancy of man over Nature, control lies in our hands. The environment has been conquered and controlled physically and spiritually. Here, not so: when you enter the forest environment you are entirely at its mercy. Man is out of scale here, his size nothing against the horizonless, surrounding forest.
Again and again, I think of the entradas: How the small band of Raposo Tavares could have found its way through the jungle is amazing. Deviate for one moment from the mainstream and you enter a maze of water that twists through the forest, sometimes spreading like a lake, sometimes splitting into different streams that take off in several directions.
For an hour on Friday we drifted down a section of the Solimões, engine shut
Amazon River Bank Brazil Uys

off, everyone silenced. It was like meditation in a great cathedral. The trees offering every shade of green, the waters of the river colored green with their reflections.
A forbidding environment, gnarled roots of trees exposed on the banks where storm waters have torn away the soil; trees standing in the water, dead twisted shapes awaiting the final thrust of nature, when they will loosen their hold on the soil, fall and be carried away. Clumps of hyacinth stretch out from the banks, sometimes grow like small islands midstream.
Inside the forest, the water is smooth as glass, the area deserted, only occasional glimpse of a canoe with a fisherman sitting cross-legged up front, bow and arrow ready for action. A scene that was the same hundreds, thousands of years ago.
Waters deep blue out in the great rivers Amazon and Negro, a turbulent brown and blue at confluence, green in the forest. Brown, too, with soils carried down from the Andes.

In the Heat of Manaus - Walking with the Ghosts of the Opera House

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 27
The Journey -  Manaus,  August 20 -August 23, 1980

August 20 Docked at Manaus on 17th, 18th interview preparations, 19th visit EMBRAPA, 20th to INPA, Amazonia Research Station. First word to describe Manaus is HOT. Heat that brings tiredness, lethargy and seems to slow down pace of everyone.

Like many Brazilian (and South African) cities tendency has been to knock down the old in boom/bust growth. Interspersed are buildings from rubber boom days, highly ornate structures totally out of context with local atmosphere. European-style buildings transported to the Manaus Old and Newmidst of the Amazon jungle. Somewhat typical of many Brazilian cities, this failure to incorporate the local climate and scene into architecture. At least, Manaus is cleaner, less repressive/oppressive than Recife.
First three days sharing hotel room with Englishmen Rod and Mark, fine company, fine hotel, OK at 3200 cruzeiros for three but after they left I moved this morning to god-awful place only 800cr. less. No hot water, five beds in room. Carpetless floor. Practically windowless. Depressing! Reconcile myself as I look at pictureless, grimy walls that I am saving 800cr. a day = meals.
Don't have any real contacts here, so it's a long slog to get something achieved. The usual day spent in presentation and selling of oneself. Saw most of group from boat but realize that I have to distance myself from them, even though the conversation was wonderful.
I'm anxious to move on to Porto Velho but feel that I have to stick it out here until I've had a proper introduction to the Amazon forest. So far what contact there has been lacks intimacy, the feel of the place, but perhaps the excessive contact with “foreigners” adds to the problem Will persevere!
August 20(PM) Manaus is like an island, the darkness out there, this hot night — the unknown, great swards of green as mysterious as the depth of the ocean. The isolation one feels is accentuated.

I see Vicente here (“Vicente Cavalcanti,” a character imagined for Brazil), a tall, robust, bearded and gaunt figure tramping these streets in 1910/1912,feeling a totally alien atmosphere, wanting only to retreat to that “green” ocean, to lose himself in that reality. I see him walking, lonely and frightened, through the Eiffel-designed marketplace with its iron work to the Manaus Opera House and Palace of Justice, past the gaudy little hotels trying desperately to offer some hold to Europe and a civilization far removed.
Manaus Market Panorama Brazil Uys
Don't know how the mind of a Brazilian works but can hardly imagine how a Rio/São Paulo/Brasília person relates this area to “his Brasil,” other than in a possessive-territorial sense, the idea of having this superb national treasure. Posed a question to Mark and Rod as we parted: “Who are the Brazilians?” A mighty one to answer but I know what I'm racing toward.
After thirty days in North-East, feel victim of North-East depression. Somehow, I need to experience something that will show the Hope, the Excitement of Brazil.
For thirty days I have tramped, bused and otherwise moved through the North-East growing increasingly downcast at life in the region. Even the Amazon is drawn in with the sight of downed, destroyed woodland and pathetic attempt to “farm” it — a vision aggravated by fact that farms visited belong to EMBRAPA researchers. God knows how hope-filled people from the North-East face staggering challenge to “produce” something, a livelihood, on such lands. Nothing said or shown by researchers convinced me that they're anywhere near solving the countless challenges.
In my more “mature” attitude to Brazil, keep reminding myself that though Michener wrote about South Africa, he detested apartheid. There are similarities in my approach/attitude toward Brazil. I find the history, the past, utterly fascinating; the present reflected, too often, in the filthy gray pools at my feet.

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

Reflections on Slavery and Servitude in Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 26

The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980

August 15- August 16: At one point last night, some of us commented on behavior and service of crew in what is obviously one of the great attractions of Brazil. They're surly, uncooperative, unprofessional, ungrateful. They give the impression of simply not caring, one way or the other. Reflecting on this, a Brazilian at the table said that the difference between them and, say people in the service industry in Europe/U.S. was that here they were an extension of the servitude of slavery.
Interesting point, especially when considered against fact that slavery was only abolished in 1889, less than a hundred years ago. Just as there are many misconceptions or ignorance about the finer aspects of Brazilian history, so, too, the darker side. Brazilians pride themselves on the peaceful, humane liberation of their slaves but I'm beginning to believe that the truth may run somewhat contrary, that they have an exceptionally long way to go to finalize the adjustment between slavery/freedom. “Born free to live in chains,” truly applicable!

Brazilian Slave Ship - Johan Moritz Rugendas
New York Public Library Digital Collection
Elsa, the German girl stayed with a casa grande family in Fortaleza and was convinced there is also a racial element: Her hosts kept reminding her that they were “Portuguese,” i.e. “white” of the best sort. The dona of the house boasted that she had already “sold” six servant girls to the south. Elsa took that literally, though I suspect it's more of the South African way of “selling” — the arranging of girls from the farm “good girls” to go south where they're coveted because they're “honest, reliable,” that sort of thing.
Another subject that came up was the “internationalization” of the Amazon basin, once suggested by a U.N. conference but, predictably, violently resisted by the Brazilians. (In the north, among few expressions of political graffiti: AMAZONIA PARA BRASILEIRO.) A young Brazilian passenger himself suggested that this would be only way to “develop” the area properly. From what I have seen and heard about other “development” projects in the North-North-East, I'm inclined toward agreeing. At the same time, I have to consider the effect of the Tropics on Western Man - Perhaps Gilberto Freyre is too optimistic, idealistic - Perhaps the true Brazilian, man of the tropics, has not yet appeared on the scene or developed sufficiently to cope with the land, the climate and its challenges.

Amazon River settlement near Manaus
Spending time with the two Brits, unfortunately, brings my Brit-background prejudices to the surface and I have constantly to remind myself that this is Brazil and Brazilians are different. Nevertheless, I do find several things disgusting. The spitting. A downright unhealthy habit. At least on the ship the aim is over the side! Also on hygiene, lavatories are often stinking, blocked affairs with horrid little wastepaper baskets for toilet paper, open and exposed.
Then, too, the food: With rare exception, usually in private homes, it's the same monotonous starchy stuff, steak, chicken, potatoes sometimes, rice, farina, beans. The food markets in the Amazon ports are the worst I've seen anywhere. Great, open mounds of freshly-butchered meat, minimal vegetables and little to see of the exotic tropical fruits people rave about. An inveterate traveler, I can stomach a great deal but here even I reach a limit.
Where do you begin to build a “modern nation”? Aren't these basic lifestyles important? Cleanliness next to godliness, says the proverb?
I wonder, though, just how much the negative thoughts expressed here are a reflection of the depressed North-East and the unfathomable “green hell.” How heavily do those weigh on a man's soul? What will the contrast be like in the south?
Also discussed the difficulty of bridging the gap between “moneyed (apparently) estrangeiros” and locals aboard prompted by so small an incident as attitude of barman. One senses his resentment of foreigners' continual ability to go up and buy beers, cool drinks etc...It would be almost impossible to explain to him that every cent of this was worked for year after year. Says the young Brazilian with us: “They think like slaves.” Or is it simply, a “tropical” don't-give-a-damn mentality. 
Amazon Voyage  1980

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

Amazon Glory: The Dance of Sun and Moon on the Equator

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 25

The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980

August 15-16 Approaching, docking at and passage from Alenquer beyond Santarém late afternoon and evening gave dramatic impression of The Amazon.

The river divided into five channels with ship sailing in one furthest east and, far as the eye could see, these expanses of water separated by low strips of lands, occasionally merging, most continuing their separate way toward some distant meeting point. An hour time change — advance — at Santarém brought sunset early, a magnificent ball of orange, larger than any I have ever seen, going down with surprising rapidity, dancing behind the bank of trees as the ship moved along, sometimes obscured, sometimes appearing full circle in a gap between the forest. At water's edge, herds of zebu-type cattle standing white to gray against the darkening background. Channel narrower than ever.
Zebu cattle at fazenda on banks of Amazon River

Then, within minutes of the sun setting, the moon rising in the east, a smaller, perfect yellowish ball, also climbing swiftly and perfectly marked against the clear sky. Then night and the Amazon closing in — not the towering impression offered in Hollywood interpretation of small riverboat cutting through impenetrable forest but surrounding our ship with its vastness and the knowledge that way out there, only an endless expanse of uninhabited forest.
A scene my characters,Amador da Silva and Segge Proot would come to re-live in the pages of Brazil
"The constant green and gray and blue was also relieved — especially for Segge — by the dance of sun and moon on the equator. Daybreak and a faint blush in the gray would presage the rim of orange sun behind the trees. The surface of the river would be painted in way no mortal artist would emulate, passing through a spectrum of shades, from soft pinks and mauves to a fiery blaze that turned the waters of the Rio das Amazonas into molten gold.

These changes came with amazing rapidity as the sun climbed above the forest, its intensity giving a man from Europe the impression of high noon, when it was not yet midmorning. At sunset the flaming ball would sink, sometimes seen hovering full circle at the very edge of earth, where there was a gap in the foliage.
After the briefest pause, a small, yellowish moon would rise above the horizon and climb swiftly, the constellations growing pale, the higher it rose. Night would fall, the limitlessness heightened and made ominous by the close, impenetrable world of trees.

At night, we reached Alenquer, a small river port, its dockside crowded with people, sacks of grain... Sounds of countless insects in the marshy land beside the wooden quay. Go ashore for walk through town streets lined with bars. What truly sets the atmosphere is glimpse back toward the ship. Sight of her lying there lit for stem to stern, immaculately white and dwarfing every other boat at dockside. Here, unmistakably, is the picture of the Amazon I have always held.

At Alenquer, I sense a “resentful” reaction to our presence. People on the quay side, mostly young, remind one of scene from Amarcord. It's only twice a month that a large passenger boat comes through and being Saturday night, locals see this as one, if not the only “event.” But they didn't observe us with friendliness, very few smiles, and except two who made “friends” with blonde Elsa, the German girl aboard, not a single wave as the ship pulled away from the dock. Instead some First Class passengers started to throw ice at them and they retaliated with curses and handfuls of grain! Type of incident that does nothing to improve relations between the haves and have-nots.

Aboard, there is absolutely nothing to do but brood, meditate, sweat, drink and talk. Ron and Mark, two Aberdeen University graduates, future grain merchants, provide some worthwhile asides on Brazil. Ron maintains that the Brazilian “miracle,” the dramatic economic development since mid-50s had disastrous effects because it came too quickly for people to adjust to it, socially. “They entered the industrial age without capacity to cope with modernization, jarred from a post-colonial and agricultural phase into era of technology. Adopting the methods of an advanced country to one in which the mass of people still existed in backward phase.”
I agree with what he says and have serious doubts about the theory of Brazil as an emergent super-power. The first forty days contact with the people, admittedly of the depressed North-East, offer little hope for what may be a future “super-power.” Again and again, Bradford Burns's suggestion of so little having changed in five centuries as being key to Brazil appears perfectly true.