Saturday, 19 January 2008

Around Brazil – Crazy Town

Uncle Mad lives in Crazy Town. When you have somebody who lives on the edge of the Amazon Jungle and thinks he owns it all, it would be stupid not to pay him a visit. It sounded like it could be an adventure. The journey there from Manaus was either a six-day boat trip sleeping with the goats, or a flight for about R80 more. Covardes that we are, we flew.

Money well spent. Flying over the Amazon Rainforest is special. It ain´t called the rainforest for nothing though, but when all those clouds clear, the view of nothing but green trees all the way to the horizon, very occasionally slashed by a winding silver river, can´t be described in any lesser terms.

Coming in to land at Crazy Town, it seemed like we were dropping onto the tree-top. Like the rest of Crazy Town, the runway has been cut from the trees that used to cover the area. The furthest navigable point on a major tributary of the Amazon, the town used to be on the part of the South American map that had the giant word ´Jungle´ across the middle and no more details. It grew around the train station that was supposed to bring rubber from deep in the interior, avoiding rapids and waterfalls, to send it all the way to Europe. Henry Wickham put paid to that idea.

Like thousands of the people who worked on the line, the train died a slow death. The road that connected the Mato Grosso plantations to the wood river in the 1980´s has had more success, if success is the correct word. A wave of loggers, ranchers, chancers, gangsters and traffickers flooded the area, arriving on the newly paved road, while hardwood trees, cattle, soya and cocaine flooded out. Many people believe that cocaine comes from Bolivia, but they´re mostly wrong. Coca leaves come from Bolivia, form an important part of the cultural fabric of the High Andes (especially with regards to altitude sickness) and are generally farmed by poor Bolivians such as President Evo Morales once was. With US DEA officials burning and bombing the farms, it makes no sense to produce cocaine in the same place. The leaves are taken away and formed into a paste which is then shipped secretly down empty Amazonian rivers and across unmarked borders to end up in factories hidden around Crazy Town and such places. Only here is it processed in the powder, which in turn heads along that paved road to favelas in cities around Brazil, and from there - the world!

There are risks to be run, fortunes to be made and lives to be lost in trafficking as well as the other legal and illegal trades of the area. Crazy Town and its airport might not be on the edge of the shrinking Amazon Jungle for much longer, but it will likely remain at the front edge of a few of Brazil´s internal battles in the coming years.

One of the battles involves the Movimento Sem Terra group, which fights for land and rights for those who have neither ( A part of the group won land concessions on the outskirts of the expanding town back in the 1980´s. He wasn´t connected to the group in any way but, chancer that he is, Uncle Mad joined the scramble and he´s been there ever since. He doesn´t have a crocodile in his swimming pool any more though.

No comments: