The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

Road to Brasilia

When I was in Barra do Bugres this last time, I put a lot of effort into finding old friends from my Peace Corps years. Many had passed on, of course, and two, who were extremely wealthy in the 1970s, had died in poverty due to poor life and business choices.

During this last visit, almost every morning I passed a gas station a half-block from where I was living. I always saw an older gentleman sitting just outside the little convenience store. One morning he called my name and I walked over to him. He told me his name was Chagas, and that we knew each other well, having made a rather crazy trip to Brasilia back in the old days, along with a mutual friend. I was glad to run into him. We were close in those years.

He and José opened a truck tire repair shop across the street from where I lived, plus they drove trucks for a beer distributorship in Barra. The nearest brewery was in Brasilia, about 1,200 miles distant, so they traveled a lot in two 25-foot tandem axle Mercedes trucks, hauling empties to Brasilia and beer back to Mato Grosso.

I had just separated from the Peace Corps, and had some U.S. Government checks to cash. I also needed a new passport from the embassy. Zé and Chagas agreed quickly when I told them I could help with the driving if they let me tag along.

We left Barra at dawn, and after four hours to get over the 100 miles of dirt between Barra do Bugres and Cuiabá, we hit the narrow asphalt – one person sleeping and two driving. After three or four hours we pulled over to a truck stop. We fueled, and at the bar my companions told me that the only things safe to drink when traveling were a Coca Cola, a shot of cane liquor and a pill called ENGOV. The pill contained at least a couple grams of caffeine, plus other toxic stay awake potions. It worked well.

And so it went – just on the edge of drunkenness, all of us. We climbed up onto the massive cerrado which is a large, flat terrain, covered in small trees and range grass.

There were hours and hours of nothing but dry cerrado. The only live thing I saw was a huge ant eater wrestling with a termite mound. It's all soybeans now, so even the termites in that area are dead.

Toward evening we stopped at a mud house miles and hours from anything. It was kept by three delightfully amoral women who made their livelihoods feeding and occasionally bedding truck drivers.

While eating supper, Zé and Chagas discussed whether we should stay the night. While they were talking, a giantess, well over six feet tall and exquisitely muscled, came out from the back and pointed at me, saying, "If you guys are going to stay, I want him." And she pointed at me. I weighed maybe 120 pounds in those days, and the woman was easily twice my weight, without being obese.

But we decided to travel on to Brasilia, hoping to get there by morning. We drove all night stopping only to fuel the trucks and drink our potions and pills.

I settled up with my friends and left them at the brewery. The embassy made me wait for three days, which I spent walking the entirety of the city, visiting all of Niemeyer's works and enjoying the soft climate.

After I got things done, I took a plane back to Mato Grosso. In Barra do Bugres they told me that on the trip back Zé and Chagas had wrecked one of the trucks. I visited with them later, but they didn't want to talk about it.

When I spoke with Chagas in Barra, I asked about Zé. Chagas told me that Zé had gotten involved in a get-rich-quick drug scheme and was assassinated quite a few years ago.

I talked to others about the killing, but they were reticent about the incident. Knowing Barra do Bugres, I took it to mean that some important people in the community were involved.

Another old acquaintance was also murdered not long ago. Nilson was from a traditional family in a small town about 30 miles from Barra. Active politically, he was not an especially nice person, so after an extended conflict with some other politicos, they just shot him.

An old friend who knew those involved told me that they somehow got a heavy chain over the main power line to Porto Estrela, grounding out the entire network. The assassin waited in the darkness at a window in Flavio's house, then shot him as he lit a kerosene lantern. It was a very polished assassination compared to others I know of.

But I feel badly about Zé. He was a mild-mannered fellow and didn't belong among drug people. As per Nilson – that's just politics.

I still wonder, though, what might have become of me if we had stayed overnight in that little mud house out in the cerrado. The giantess and I might have had a future. 


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