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Day 40: Cardeal Mota, Serra do Cipó National Park

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Pedro Country. The restless inventor and engineer Pedro Sales has virtually taken over this picturesque headland to build and design his highly individual properties. All for his children, he says.
Michael Palin - BrazilBy the time we've reached the marshy reed beds by the lakeshore we're protected from the worst of the wind. Egrets, heron and crowned plovers flit and skitter about. A few skinny horses graze on the water-meadow. They're immediately rounded up by Pedro's constant companion, a hyperactive German Shepherd dog which just loves rounding things up. Animals or humans, he likes them to be in a group, where he can keep an eye on them. The talk turns to mining and, though he's a keen environmentalist, Pedro defends the business he's been involved in for so much of his life. The miners, he claims, no longer have it all their own way and are in constant dialogue with conservationists. And their work is much less obtrusive than the cattle ranches up north. 'When they want to clear the land they just drag chains through the forest.'

He shakes his head and, brightening up, turns away from the lake to show us his most recent acquisition, a patch of land he calls his ranch. He's already started building on it, though the house, at the moment, seems to consist only of a toilet.

Pedro appreciates the beauty around him and yet he has helped create technology to crush mountains into dust. Maybe it's as well that Brazil is such an enormous country and that, for now, the two sides of Pedro Sales can exist side by side.

In an even more remote part of the mountains we meet someone at the other end of the economic scale. José Branco is a subsistence farmer. He has chickens and cows, one of which has five legs and is called Surprise. He also grows mango, papaya and oranges and makes his own biscuits, jam and coffee. The house he was born and brought up in, sixty-five years ago, is now one side of a muddy cowshed and he and his wife have moved into a modern extension where they serve food. The kitchen has few mod cons. The pots and pans hiss and spit over a fire which is fed by sticks and branches pushed in beneath it. It's the familiar meat-led diet of the Brazilian interior. Beef and chicken, spare ribs and beans, spring onions and pork crackling, followed by their own home-made cheese, jam and doce de leite, a sweet and smooth Minas delicacy. José hovers. He's no maître d' and seems much happier out and about on the farm. A wiry little black dog, looking up expectantly at his owner, accompanies him everywhere. José, short, slim and straight-backed, with a neat grey moustache and a patient, weathered face, is a Minas man through and through. He's descended from German and English diamond hunters. They say that his English great-grandfather had eighty-two children, so if anyone did get rich there can't have been much left after sharing it out.

He expresses no regret at having to live on what he produces. He left school early.

'Five years I spent there. I didn't learn much, and what I did learn I forgot,' he tells me proudly. The recollection makes him smile, and reveals two fine gold- capped canines. He's worked on this same farm since the age of eight. When I ask if he has ever wanted to travel, to see more of the country, he shakes his head, more reflectively than regretfully. 'It's difficult for us. We don't know how to travel.'

It's begun to rain and low clouds are closing down the spectacular views. But
I can't go without checking out Surprise, the five-legged cow. And there she is, in the yard, an extra leg hanging down from her backside as if in the process of giving birth. Apparently the vet didn't arrive in time to tidy up the deformity and Surprise has lived with her added appendage ever since. And that's not all. When I ask him what it's like for the cow he looks towards her. 'She also has two places to shit and two places to pee-pee!'

At which he dissolves into laughter for quite some time. And he's still chuckling a half-hour later when we bid our farewells and set off down to the valley.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 40: Cardeal Mota, Serra do Cipó National Park
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Lapinha
  • Book page no: 171

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