So You Think You’ve Seen Bad Roads

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force with you, you will grow vigorous and happy—“ John R. Miller

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

But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in l955. Most of the road from the city of São Paulo, the capital of the state, to where we lived 350 Kilometers to the Northeast was dirt. Gravel wasn’t used on those roads for gravel was practically non-existent. But graders and bulldozers kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when it was dry.

Believe me, the dust was incredible. To travel with windows closed not only did not keep out a fine layer of red dust, but it meant near suffocation with the heat. All of my white shirts had a pink tinge—something I didn’t much like.

Because of those dirt roads, I often took the train when traveling to the city of São Paulo. Though some dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with the window open. But that put me in another danger. In this case since the engine was a wood burner, embers would escape and fall over the train. And some of those sparks would at times enter a window. The result? I had a number of white shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Ouch! Those sparks penetrated further than the shirts and when they did I had a good reason to remember the occasion.

But back to roads. How were those wet dirt roads during the rainy season? The roads might be greasy for only a day or two if the showers were brief. But there were those times when the rain would not let up– for perhaps 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 often leveled roads by grading the dirt to the side, piling it up where one would normally find ditches. So 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. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me I shall go to my grave clearly recalling that distasteful expedition. It happened that a friend of a another missionary was driving by car back to São Paulo. He had news that the roads were passable. During the rainy season that meant that a person was only risking their neck, not their life. Anyway, I arranged a ride with this family.

About a half hour of slipping and sliding on greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour. The only way for us to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one, a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through to a higher section of mud. The driver would turn off the engine during this maneuver through the mud for the fan would distribute mud all over the engine. Believe it or not the mud holes were that deep.

That incident multiplied itself 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 mud. But that is another story all to itself. If you wish I would share that part of the story with you over a coffee.

My arrival in Sao Paulo was in the middle of the night. And I never did see my benefactor again though my emotions indicate that I not call him that. He never did look me up and since I decided to use what other means of transportation were available, I never looked him up either. It was a good way to close down that trip on Brazil’s dirt roads—that is, do my best to forget the mud and the trip.





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