Road to the First World

Driving spring rains washed out a bridge this week. We drove this route just a few weeks ago on the way back from the airport. Mind you, this was the good road to take during the rainy season.

The bridge is closed to all traffic, even foot traffic.  It will be closed for a while since the bridge will need to be completely rebuilt.  This is the only route to the coast for hundreds of miles.  I cannot imagine what life will be like for residents of this area or for truck drivers who need to travel this way.  For those traveling from our nearby teeming metropolis of Teofilo Otoni (pop: 135,000) to the coast the detour will cost them an additional 100 km and three hours travel time.  For those poor souls that used to live in Carlos Chagas and want to travel to Nanuque?  The detour will take them nearly five hours to travel what once took them 45 minutes.

(for you geography nuts, here’s a map.  The detour takes you south to Ecoporanga then north again through Murcurici to Nanuque).

Brazil is immense.  Arguably one of its biggest weaknesses is lack of  infrastructure.  Once you are outside the major cities the roads are winding with little passing room even if you include the shoulders (which Brazilians certainly do).  Problems with one road means hours of driving in the other direction to find a way around.  Travel is never quick.  Bridges are in sorry shape.  Pothole, speed bumps, and accidents are common.  I won’t even start on what the road signs look like inland (assuming you can find one…).

Amazingly, Brazilians prefer their feet firmly planted on the ground and usually opt for bus trips that take days to traverse the country versus air flight.  Which means that even for us travelers who don’t mind a little air time there aren’t local airports or flights to serve us.  An ironic chuckle escapes me every time a relative offhandedly mentions “dropping by” on their next vacation to Brazil, I explain we’re 5-8 hours away–one way–from the closest airport, and jaws flop and eyes pop.  Ah, we’re so spoiled by all the proximity on the East Coast of the USA!

President Dilma has promised in investment of about USD$66 billion (R$137,8 billion) between 2011 and 2014 in transportation.  In my mind it couldn’t come soon enough.  My husband and I have back-burnered more than one small business idea simply because it’s so hard to get parts or certain materials.  For most of these things if we need them, we’d have to travel to São Paolo (18 hours away).  The city of Salvador has a growing port, but without strong lines of transport there’s no way for commerce to take advantage of this emerging resource.  Brazil might be a booming world economy but to move the majority of the nation from the third world to the first they’re going to have to build themselves some roads.

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4 comments

  1. Hi there. It seems you live near Diamantina. I visited that region a few years back and especially loved this little town
    http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distrito_de_S%C3%A3o_Gon%C3%A7alo_do_Rio_das_Pedras
    I found it to be very interesting, and organized, so I asked the locals why. They told me that during the seventies a Swiss-German couple came to Brazil to work as school teachers. This couple taught the children of German engineers which were then in Brazil to build the Angra dos Reis nuclear power plant. Anyway during school breaks the teachers would vacation in that little town, after a while they even started taking their pupils there on extended class trips. Once retired they moved there and helped the locals in improving the town. One man told me that the German dude eventually became a Brazilian citizen and ended up convincing past Minas Gerais governor Newton Cardoso to establish a public school in town so the kids wouldn’t have to get on a bus and suffer long trips over crappyroads to get to class. When I visited they had even set up a big community center with a grant from the European Union, quite impressive.
    It really is a lovely little place.
    I also went to this really cool folksy ‘venda” when I was there. It’s kinda like a mom and pop store that also offers lunch. The owner is always up for a chat and I even got his contact info. I googled him recently and found the vid below: guess he is kinda famous now.

    Love your blog.

    • Hi there! thanks for reading & I´m so delighted to hear that you´re enjoying yourself. We are in the Diamantina region (a little further north, but definitely close by Brazilian standards). The town you describe is really interesting. There´s not much tourism this far inland, so I find that there are neat places such as this just tucked away. The only way you find out about them is by word of mouth. We travel that way every so often; we´ll have to take a detour and go check it out!

  2. Hi Malvina,

    I was really surprised the first time we went on a road-trip out of Rio (the city) and out into the countryside of Rio state – as you say, things change very quickly once you’re out of the major cities. As you also say, the distances in Brazil are vast and so present a huge challenge. My (Brazilian) wife always laments the lack of railways in this country. I wonder if improving the rail network forms part of Dilma’s plans?

    • It does! In fact, it seems that´s where a lot of her focus lays. In the blog I linked she´s quoted as saying: “Precisamos ampliar nossas ferrovias e hidrovias que, em um país continental como o Brasil, são excelentes alternativas de transporte de passageiros e cargas, mas precisamos também investir em rodovias, aeroportos e portos, pois esses modais se completam.” Although I´ll believe it when I see it when it comes to an Amtrak-like system of passenger railways. I´m thinking it will be more for cargo, which wouldn´t be a bad thing. For example, Bahia has scary-bad traffic due to narrow roads and too many cargo trucks that can´t make the hills. Fewer cargo trucks would speed up & de-stress the drive considerably.

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