Melons for Afri…errr… Brazil! (Day 4)

4.30am: Drift awake slowing, uncertain of my circumstances, mouth dry as a ice of sundried leather, my body feeling like a steam roller has driven over me. The luxury of a nonchalant rollover, close your eyes, drift back to sleep ceases to exist when your next flight leaves at 06h45.

5.00am: Pack – check passport – check wallet – check out – check taxi – aeroporto obrigado (Airport thank you) – check in – check wallet – check passport – hold on tight. The repetitive process is the same for each flight. When travelling away from your home country there are two items that you keep on you at ALL times and hand over on threat of death alone. Passport and debit card, one can lose everything else but without either of these two, life will rapidly take on a series of complications no one would want to face. In the instance where you’re working in a foreign country the loss of a passport with accompanying work visa will very rarely have a happy ending. Baggage can get stolen but to get my passport you lever it from my cold dead fingers, good luck!

The flight to Fortaleza from Petrolina also transfers through Recife. Touching down in Fortaleza just before 10h00 it started to feel as if the steam roller has moved up and was trying to crush my skull. This is a massive city, there is a noticeably larger amount of vehicles on the road. It seemed like we drove for almost an hour before we were even out of the city. About 300 km south east lies the Mossoro region which over the last 20 years has been changed radically with an increase in agricultural output. The area is extremely sandy, hot and very dry. The sea lies close by but the rainfall remains significantly low. (600 mm average with temperatures reaching mid 40C means that red and brown are the two most common colours for the region, the latter being the vegetation and the former the sand).

Agricola Famosa is predominantly a melon grower. This grower illustrates very clearly the enormity of the Brazilian agricultural powerhouse. A total area of 24 000 ha under their control, they have 6000 ha of melons alone, at the peak of their season they are selling over 300 containers a week. Each container holding 20 tons of fruit, an annual production of over 140 000 tons of melon.

In addition to this they grow a large area of papaya and banana, and continue to supply and develop a healthy internal vegetable market growing tomatoes, sweetcorn and aubergines. They have a talapia fish section consisting of 28 growing tanks.

All their plant material is self propagated in their nursery as well as the laboratory in fortaleza.

The amazing aspect of this place is that there is no surface water available at all in this region. All irrigation water is pumped from boreholes up to 800 m deep. They needed to use oil drills to get this far down to find water.

This is one serious operation going down in one very small part of one very large country. 

Peterborough to Petrolina (Brazil day 1)

Brazil has always been an enticement and when an opportunity arises to go and see this powerhouse of the southern hemisphere in action, it needs to be grabbed onto with utmost vigour. 

Airlines are always going to try and cram as many people to a flying tube as possible. They calculate their costing as number of humans per square centimetre, and somewhere in-between all of the excitement and profit projection they forgot that 1 human did not fit onto a square cm, and TAP is no exception. TAP goes the extra mile by ensuring that you can’t check-in on line in time and can’t select you seating between Lisbon and Recife, the net result being a feeble attempt to sleep in mid space without the luxury of a window to slouch on.

The Portuguese once ruled the world but that was many centuries ago and the chaos that ensues from a collapsed empire is still evident in the way the airport is designed and operated in Lisbon. No clear transfer zones means hanging around waiting for directions from an over-crowded official. However the long walk through a glass divided corridor soon reflects happy home comers and tourists flocking to the Portuguese capital. A brief, relaxed slander through security, while holding my shorts up (belt through the scanner) and before long one is enjoying TAP hospitality for the next 7 hrs.

It’s always a tossup between keeping the belt on, thereby risking some random security guard frisking you where no man wishes to be frisked and sending it through the big black box and holding your shorts up while tiptoeing through the metal detector. I pity the sorry soul who’s forgotten his keys in his pocket and taken his belt off. He gets frisked with his shorts falling down.

Mid air sunrise
Sunrise over the Atlantic

Arriving into Brazil you start to get an idea of the immensity of this country. Parts of the NE region are fairly dry, with rainfall averaging on 600 to 700 mm per annum. Vast areas of brown thorn scrub are broken occasionally by irrigated farmland and a few towns and villages. The down side of only transiting a city is that all you see is the airport and normally a dingy view of the said city’s less attractive side, on landing and take-off. Well if the city of Recife is anything like its airport then it’s definitely worth visiting. Clean, bright, new and quite impressive all round.

Tour note: rumour has it that the little village of Olinda has a fascinating  history, slave trade market still standing, and “chicken beach” being a must see. When the “entire” world had banned slavery, the Portuguese decided to list them as chicken cargo….hence the name “chicken beach”.

The one hour flight to Petrolina is fairly uneventful. If taken at night one will miss the impressive Saõ Francisco river snaking below. This bright blue (or brown depending on the season) water mass is at least 500 m across in some parts. The city is built on the bank of the SF and doesn’t bode much except for being the centre of a massive grape and mango production region.

Judging from the flights in and out of Petrolina, not many people arrive and leave this place. All four of these flights taken were less than half full. This Ibis hotel is apparently a new addition to the Petrolinian landscape. It’s a 10 min drive from the airport and holds true to its global image that one ibis is as practically identical to the next one (the sales idea is that if you know what you’re getting, then you’ll go for what is known instead of stepping into the unknown). That’s the practical side, the reality is that you never get to experience the culture of a new region unless you take a few risks, and book into something slightly more cultural.

In this instance, after travelling for 27 hours, practical is more appreciated than cultural and stretching out on clean sheets and a comfortable mattress with the air-con blowing gently in the background at 4 am htz (home time zone) beat having to sleep in an upright aircraft seat hands down.