Seven hours later found us travelling E-NE (7h30 local time) heading out to see a mango grower 250 km’s further down in the Sao Francisco river valley.
This amazing farm has almost 800 ha of producing mango situated in a mostly hot, arid environment. With an annual rainfall of only 600 mm and tropical temperatures, it’s no wonder that so much of the vegetation is succulent and cactus. A significant effect on the landscape is the presence of an acacia thorn tree that makes this region look remarkably like certain parts of the South African lowveld. Apparently this tree was brought in for its rapid growth properties, which it proceeded to do very well and now is an invader species. Later, while walking through one of the orchards, we came across a brightly flowered little thorny bush known as Lantana Camara, apparently it’s native to the region, it’s possible the Africans traded favours with the Brazilians, they have our Acacia, and we have their Lantana, apparently we got the dud end of the deal.
My host, Willi, whom I’ve only spoken to on Skype before, turned out to be as friendly and helpful in person, as he’d been on-line. Willi is in charge of costs and planning and his enthusiasm in this matter is clearly evident. Exhibiting his extensive knowledge and mastery of excel he whips through production plans, costs, and estimates, tasks and sheet sizes that have clearly outgrown his 5 year old Dell, which drudgingly tries to keep up with his enthused typing.
The jewel of this farm is the Isla de Varsea. A 148 ha production block sitting in the middle of the Sao Francisco River. The river must be close on 800 m wide at this point and the 10 minute boat trip out is unique. The water this time of year is azure blue, and invitingly calm. Chatting to Willi while standing on the bow of the longboat, one begins to realise the passion and enthusiasm that he has for this enterprise.
Once on the island, the logistical nightmare of farming on an island becomes apparent. Harvesting and carting 4000 tons of fruit off the island annually, not to mention the daily management, fertilisation, irrigation etc., that’s required to ensure peak production from these trees. While wondering around the island a common encounter was a strange medium size black parrot like fork tailed drongo which the locals call Anum. Multiple Sagui can be seen tiptoeing from tree to tree. These tiny little tree beasts must be a species of monkey (similar to South African bush babies) and are exceedingly cute to watch as they trip over each other when you approach too close to their branches.
Far too soon it’s time to return to the ‘mainland’, the long boat weaves its way back downstream, the experienced helmsman skilfully navigating the subaqueous rocks. Passing by a fisherman’s sail boat sporting ancient canvas serves as a reminder of the selectivity of progresses’ timeline.
That night is spent in a nearby village of Belem. Willi, with a grin spanning the breadth of his face, describes it as having two streets, one for the shops and one to use to get out of there. Many years ago the drug barons ruled this part of the country. Its complete isolation meant very little interference from the outside world, and with the river acting as the perfect irrigation source, it makes an ideal environment for marijuana production. Willi speaks of seeing an occasional strange show up in the middle of nowhere with an AR 15 rifle, and then pop back into the bush. That was not many years ago, and the police have made a big drive to clean out the area. Unfortunately the Brazilians have inherited the corrupt nature of the Portuguese, and so this problem will persist for a long time.
Supper with Willi and his beautiful wife Simona is a relaxing affair. Sitting outside a Pizzeria, watching the general populace of Belem musing about, eating steaming slices of pizza is therapeutic. And while Viviane, Willi’s youngest of 18 months, never sits still their son follows his little sister faithfully ensuring she doesn’t go running into the street.
For all appearances life is very relax in little Belem, Sao Francisco.