Thursday, 10 May 2007

Around Brazil: Barreirinhas

It was definitely memorable. Places you visit are always much better if you have a story to tell about them. Barreirinhas is a small town which is the gateway to Parque Nacional Lençois Maranhenses. It sits on the wide Rio Preguiça with weeping trees dipping their branches into the drifting water. It has a nice riverfront, which was being refurbished as we arrived, and a river beach in the form of a huge dune. We saw all this as we hung around by the river, four 'gringoes' (one Brasileira who was always getting confused for a gringo), all survivors of the adventure from Tutóia. First up we were approached by a pretty Brazilian woman with a bright smile who told us about her jewellery in the main square. She was one of those people who you instantly warm to, sweet, friendly and the thought of her makes me smile. Of course we would see her later on. She should give classes in sales techniques to every single seller in Salvador.

As she left, a dune buggy with 'Policia Militar' stencilled on the side and three big policemen squashed into it came bouncing down the track from the main road. They looked like they were driving a kiddies pedal car, but they didn't act like it. They stepped down, looked at us and pointed to our American friend who was sitting on the steps. They walked over as menacingly as they could. Now, our friend was in the habit of smoking roll-up cigarettes. Large ones. I can only speculate as to what was in them, but they didn't look too subtle, especially to the woman in the tourist office. As we'd alighted from our four hour, 30km marathon, he'd rolled a cigarette and gone to ask questions. She became suspicious and called in the squad pedal-car. They meant business. He knew it. He was trembling and looking totally guilty. (I don't know whether he was, but wouldn't we all look like that when confronted by moody armed policemen?). Our Basque friend also smoked roll-ups and between her showing her papers and tobacco, and Blondie pacifying the mean dude who wanted to perform a search on our friend (I would have, given his guilty expression!) by telling him that it was no surprise that his target was scared, the Policia Militar calmed down slightly and eventually pedalled away down the beira rio. I guess our friend had the next 6-8 years to thank the girls for, but was too scared to realise just how much. He disappeared to Caburé, the disappearing dune village down river, as soon as he could find a boat out of town, but not before checking out what our girl and her crazy husband had to sell: 10m rolls of anaconda skins, jaguar and ocelot pelts, and baby jaguar pelts! All kinds of crazy skins and furs of endangered creatures. He bought them from the Amazon Indians, who hunt them and eat them, then sell the skins. Which is fair enough as they've been doing it for thousands of years, and those animals only became endangered after the arrival of Europeans. I think our American friend, feeling magnanimous because he wasn't going to stay in Barreirinhas for 6-8 years, agreed to buy the lot.

If anyone asks why I like travelling, that was one of the days I can use as an explanation.

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