Brazil Unravelled

YOU THINK YOU’VE SEEN BAD ROADS 

            If one of these days you find yourself in Sao Paulo, Brazil and wish to travel to the interior, you might take a bus. It will be as modern as any you’ve ever seen. And the roads are good.

            But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in 1955. Most of the road was dirt from Sao Paulo to where we lived 350 Kms. to the Northeast. Gravel was not used for it was practically non-existent. But graders kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when dry.

            But the dust was incredible. To travel with a vehicle’s windows closed kept out the fine red dust but it meant near suffocation from the heat. Because of those roads I often took the train when travelling to Sao Paulo. Even so dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with my window open.

            But that put me in another danger since the locomotive was a wood burner. Embers would escape and fall over the train and some of those sparks would enter an open window. I had a number of shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Of course those sparks penetrated further than the shirt I wore and when they did I would have good reason to remember the occasion.

            But back to the roads–those roads during the wet rainy season. Then the roads might be greasy for only a day or two that is if the showers were brief. But there were times when the rain would not let up, perhaps for a week. Low areas in the road would little by little become mud holes deep enough to stop big trucks.

            But those impassable masses of sticky red gumbo and water could occur almost anywhere. You see, as the years went by the graders leveled the road by pushing dirt to the side, piling it where one would normally find ditches. Over time the roads became deeper and deeper just waiting for a big rain to make mud. Lots of mud.

            I recall one trip over that road with a friend of a friend in his car. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me, I shall go to my grave vividly recalling that expedition. The driver had the news that the road was impassible. That meant a person was just risking their neck, not their life. About a half hour on our way with slipping and sliding on those greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour! The only way to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through. The mud was so deep that the driver turned off the engine during this maneuver else the fan would distribute mud all over the engine.

            That incident multiplied itself again and again and again till I finally gave up in despair and took a train the rest of the way. Actually that trip was much worse than just having to face the mud. But that is another story all in itself—one I will not write about but if sometime we have coffee together, I might whisper it in your ear.

            Anyway, I arrived at a bad hour in Sao Paulo for it was the middle of the night. I never did see my benefactor again if you can call him that. During my time in the interior I did not have the courage to try that dirt road again. Enough was enough was enough.

YOU THINK YOU’VE SEEN BAD ROADS

 

            If one of these days you find yourself in Sao Paulo, Brazil and wish to travel to the interior, you might take a bus. It will be as modern as any you’ve ever seen. And the roads are good.

            But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in 1955. Most of the road was dirt from Sao Paulo to where we lived 350 Kms. to the Northeast. Gravel was not used for it was practically non-existent. But graders kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when dry.

            But the dust was incredible. To travel with a vehicle’s windows closed kept out the fine red dust but it meant near suffocation from the heat. Because of those roads I often took the train when travelling to Sao Paulo. Even so dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with my window open.

            But that put me in another danger since the locomotive was a wood burner. Embers would escape and fall over the train and some of those sparks would enter an open window. I had a number of shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Of course those sparks penetrated further than the shirt I wore and when they did I would have good reason to remember the occasion.

            But back to the roads–those roads during the wet rainy season. Then the roads might be greasy for only a day or two that is if the showers were brief. But there were times when the rain would not let up, perhaps for a week. Low areas in the road would little by little become mud holes deep enough to stop big trucks.

            But those impassable masses of sticky red gumbo and water could occur almost anywhere. You see, as the years went by the graders leveled the road by pushing dirt to the side, piling it where one would normally find ditches. Over time the roads became deeper and deeper just waiting for a big rain to make mud. Lots of mud.

            I recall one trip over that road with a friend of a friend in his car. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me, I shall go to my grave vividly recalling that expedition. The driver had the news that the road was impassible. That meant a person was just risking their neck, not their life. About a half hour on our way with slipping and sliding on those greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour! The only way to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through. The mud was so deep that the driver turned off the engine during this maneuver; else the fan would distribute mud all over the engine.

            That incident multiplied itself again and again and again till I finally gave up in despair and took a train the rest of the way. Actually that trip was much worse than just having to face the mud. But that is another story all in itself—one I will not write about but if sometime we have coffee together, I might whisper it in your ear.

            Anyway, I arrived at a bad hour in Sao Paulo for it was the middle of the night. I never did see my benefactor again if you can call him that. During my time in the interior I did not have the courage to try that dirt road again. Enough was enough was enough.

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