Today I am going to write about something a little bit different and I hope to continue this as a little aside from all of my cooking.. At the end of each month I will share with you a little bit about my life in rural Brazil.
My husband and I have an organic vegetable farm high in the Serra da Mantiqueira, a mountain chain in the southeastern part of Brazil that stretches for approximately 320 km (200 mi) through the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Sao Paulo and reaches a height of 2,798 m (9,180 ft). Our farm is perched high in the mountains overlooking beautiful mountain views. The air is always fresh and the sun strong. Working in the fields is always a joy as there is always a beautiful view to appreciate. But rural life isn’t all about the views, there is a lot of work that goes into living rurally and country life takes on a very different tone in Brazil.
I am not new to country living. I grew up in the countryside and have spent most of my life as a country gal. I have lived the “rural” life and have always loved to be away from the noise and rush of big cities. But, when I first visited rural Brazil in 2005 it was a completely different type of rural than I was used to. On my first ascent to our farm I arrived rather shell-shocked and needed a little bit of time to acclimate myself to this new rural existence.
Growing up in a rural community in England I knew that things were far away and that it would usually take 20 to 30 minutes to reach a medium sized town. Moving to rural New York State, USA, when I was fourteen, was not such a big change from the country life I knew in England. Maybe the biggest change was that everything was bigger and we needed to drive further.
So, when I first came to Brazil in 2005 I figured that “this rural life won’t be that much different from what I am used to.” But, oh man was I wrong! Rural life in Brazil is nothing compared to that of England and the USA. The first thing that pops to mind when thinking about rural Brazil is DIRT ROADS. Yes, I had seen dirt roads in the USA, in fact to reach my parents house you need to take a dirt road that stretches for about half a mile. But, in Brazil dirt roads are a completely different story: they are horrible bumpy, not well-maintained, and stretch for miles and miles. An intricate network of dirt roads exists!
To reach our farm we need to take a dirt road that stretches for 23 km (14 mi) from the closest town. We all know that 23 km (14 mi) on well maintained roads is not far. That’s not the case in Brazil. Dirt roads can be everything from well-maintained to almost impassable. Generally, dirt roads lean more towards the impassable than the well-maintained and you always need to plan for a trip to take twice as long than it would if the roads were well-maintained. The dirt road to reach our farm is definitely far from well-maintained. Instead of a 20 minute trip up the road it takes us almost an hour to reach our farm. We are able to reach a record speed of 60 km/hr (37 mi/hr) in only a few stretches that probably total 2-3 km (1-2 mi). On average we keep a speed of 25km/hr to 35km/hr (15-20 m/hr) and the whole trip feels like one big roller coaster, especially when my husband decides he wants to try to get to town or home a little bit faster than usual!. Getting onto our road you need to be prepared to be thrown all over the car. If you have hyper-sensitive seatbelts, like my husbands truck has, then be prepared to not be able to move your upper body while your lower body jumps everywhere. I have given-up on seat belts on the dirt road as the belt seems to get progressively tighter as the road gets more bumpy. I now prefer to be tossed around!
Our road goes through various stages throughout the year. In winter we get to experience the best maintained road. That is to say, there is no rain and trucks that drive on the road have an easier time passing, therefore not ripping up the road. The road is not wet and muddy and therefore going up hills becomes much easier for large trucks carrying tons of wood. Instead of mud flying everywhere in the winter we have extreme amounts of dust. Cleaning your car is completely pointless as it will just turn orange after a 5 minute trip. Summer is a completely different situation for us. Heavy rains cause the road to become muddy, trucks can’t get up hills and as a consequence create massive ruts in the road, spit mud everywhere, and leave a muddy disaster for the rest of us to try and pass through. Summer is not fun to drive on the road and trips can become much longer.
What always causes jokes (and frustration) for my husband and I is when the town decides to try and fix the road. They get their big machinery up the road, scrape the top to make it flat and leave it. The next rain always results in the newly fixed area turning into a mud bath and only 4 x 4 vehicles being able to pass through. Fixing the road? Forget about it!
So what is different about living in rural Brazil? Well, getting around becomes much more of a challenge. Knowing that a trip to town is going to take you an hour to get there affects how often you will go to town during the week. Suddenly, 23 km (14 mi) becomes much further and you try to avoid eating anything before taking the bumpy drive to run all of your errands. Getting anywhere means taking a long trip on VERY bumpy dirt roads.
Emergencies from where we live need to be avoided at all costs as we are not reaching a town for about 1 hour. When we do reach the closest town there is not much of a town at all. The closest town has a population of approximately 21,000 but the largest supermarket doesn’t carry half of the items you want or need at home and most of the brands are ones you probably want to avoid if possible. There are small clothes stores, but you are not going to do clothes shopping there, only if you need something for working outside on the land. The closest town for us where we can do a big grocery shopping and find nicer stores is an hour and a half from our farm (one hour on dirt road and half and hour on the highway). Do we get to go to the real town often? Absolutely not.
Living in rural Brazil I prefer to stay on our farm and work in the fields seeding, transplanting, and harvesting. The dirt road trip is only for when I really have to go somewhere (and unfortunately cannot be avoided)!