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Notes on the Geography of Brazil: Mato Grosso Road Trip

It's not exactly your garden-variety Brazilian vacation, but we'll fly out to Sinop, which is 600 miles northwest of Brasilia. We'll rent a car and drive 300 miles south to Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso. Exciting! An agricultural frontier!

What? You've never heard of Sinop? Fair enough. It has about 115,000 people, but (here's your defense) there are over 200 larger towns in Brazil, and this one didn't exist until 1972. That's when the Northwest Parana Real Estate Society moved in. It acquired 1.5 million acres, then began selling chunks and creating towns. The third of those towns was Sinop, which is an acronym constructed from the name of the Society. Enough background for you?

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What, no jetways? Shocking, simply shocking.

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Bang: one minute from the airport there's a cotton field calculated to put fear in the hearts of Texans.

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Ten minutes later we're in town, which has (naturally) a substantial Catholic church.

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A little ragged, maybe, but not bad for 40 years.

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What you want, you can mostly get.

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No, you're not hallucinating. Havan is a home furnishings chain, and so there's a scattering of Lady Liberties around Brazil. Still, this is the most remote of the lot, and it can be a bit of a shock, especially because there really is an air of freedom in this pioneer fringe.

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Stop it! You know perfectly well it's not a laptop.

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Expensive tastes?

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Security is always an issue for the prosperous in Brazil. In this case, at least, part of the "wall" is glass. Downright sociable.

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We're not going to do so well here: can't talk our way past the guards.

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Which is a pity because quality of life matters.

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Not so sociable.

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Call it the Brazilian disease: have to have a highrise, even where there's nothing but room to roam all around.

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It's not enough to have a perimeter gate; you've gotta add electric fencing at the top.

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Here's what passes for a historic building in Sinop. Heaven knows what it was.

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We're not going to solve the mystery.

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Unless this peek over the wall gives you any ideas. I'm out.

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Here's BR163 as it passes by the edge of town. Call it Brazil's Route 66, stretching south 2,139 miles from the Amazon at Santarém all the down to the edge of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's most southerly state. You'll notice that lots of the towns on this trip spend money on parks.

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Before we head south, we're going to make a little northern sidetrip. Better get used to the grain and bean warehouses.

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We've gone off on a branch road (MT220). Call the forest the "before."

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Call the truck the "during."

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Call the cornfield the "after."

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Dusty, but under the leaves (which I shucked to make the point) there's gold.

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Fallow.

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A branch of the branch.

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It's getting a bit rough.

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End of our line.

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Nearby, a branch of the Tapajos River.

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You get the contrast between primeval forest and the power of modern agriculture. We're heading south now. Notice the sprinkling on the ground?

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Soybeans and unhusked rice have blown out of or leaked from the river of trucks that run down the road. There's no other way to get to market. Brazil's high transport cost is the only thing saving American farmers from otherwise ruinous Brazilian competition.

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All the big boys are here, ADM and Cargill as well as Bunge.

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Others, too.

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Shall be go shopping? How about a combine that's lost its reel?

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Or one that's found it?

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A fair-sized planter.

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Up close.

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You'll need a mean tractor to pull this one.

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A veteran 'dozer from the early days of land clearing.

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Can you believe it? We're in the pioneer backwoods. You'd expect semi-savages, barbaric backwoodsmen, yet here's a medical lab whose name does not provoke instant picketing, as it surely would in at least one more developed country.

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And here's a traffic circle in the same town. Can you believe it? How many communities in the American Midwest and Great Plains are willing to fund such stuff today?

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Flowers? Flowers! In Nova Mutum.

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People here know which side their bread's buttered on.

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They respect their not-so-distant pioneers.

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They also have a sense of humor.

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Another little cotton field.

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Outskirts of Cuiaba: we'll take a pass, but this picture gives you a fair idea of what lies ahead. Brazil will be Brazil.


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