Boa Vista

Boa Vista is a nice city and the airport actually had walkways, not something you always get at major airports in these days of pre-world cup preparations.  The city is laid out in a circle and spokes pattern, consciously imitating Paris, with its edge on the Rio Branco.   (The Rio Branco (white river) feeds the Rio Negro (black river) which unites with the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon near Manaus.) Streets are wide and buildings mostly new, not surprising since the city is new.   It is reminiscent in some ways of Brasília, since it is a planned city, but better thought out and, of course, much smaller.  Streets have sidewalks and people can get around on foot if they want.  It is also more compact than Brasília for the simple geometric reason that a circle in more compact than the long wings of Brasília.

It is also like Brasília in that it lives mostly from remittances from the central government.  Brazil made a conscious effort to settle the territory that became the State of Roraima and connect it to the rest of the country, or at least to Manaus, so they invested in roads and buildings.  This made the state a land of opportunity and today about 80% of the population comes from someplace else in Brazil.  Like Brasília, however, there is growing up a generation born in Roraima w/o connections elsewhere.  Brasília had a couple decades head start on this, however.

The road that leads to Manaus is one of the best in Brazil; at least that is what I was told.   I saw some of the highways and they look good, as you can see in the nearby picture.  I understand that there is a bottleneck when the road passes through an indigenous reserve.  Drivers are not supposed to stop along the way and there is not travel at night.   This is a serious impediment.   River traffic is seasonal.   During the wet season, which is opposite of Brasília’s and goes from April to September, the Rio Branco can handle barge traffic, but there are no good ports so such traffic is underdeveloped. 

Problems of infrastructure make things relatively expensive in Roraima.  This problem is both mitigated and exacerbated by the neighboring Venezuela and Guiana.   Gasoline is so cheap in Venezuela that it is almost free.  Brazilians can fill up there tanks there, which creates a kind of unfair competition.   Some types of food, especially flour, come from Guiana at lower than Brazilian market rates.   All this mitigates the high prices but maybe exacerbates the long-term situation by making it unprofitable for Brazilian merchants to enter stay in some markets.

The city of Boa Vista is built on a savanna.  It is like the cerrado, but with a few more trees and shallower soils.  It stays in this grass state because of fairly severe dry seasons.  This kind of biome makes up around 17% of the state. Most of the rest is thick tropical forest. There dry seasons are less dry and shorter.  I didn’t see this myself, since we flew in and out during the night and never drove outside the city. Boa Vista’s biome is another reason the city reminds of Brasília.  It has a similar mix of grass and trees.

I came to Boa Vista for the inauguration of an American Corner cum Education USA center in the Boa Vista SENAC.  This is part of our long term strategy to reach more into the “new” Brazil.   This is why I have visited places like Acre and Rondônia and why we have opened corners in places like Boa Vista and Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul.  Brazil has changed and our public diplomacy outreach has to change with it.  It is no longer just a coastal country, no longer the country of samba.   Today it is more the country of sertaneja, a kind of country music born in the interior.

I had a busy schedule.  If you are going to travel to the end of Brazil, it is wise to do something when you are there.  I arrived on the 2 am Gol flight on Monday morning and left on the 2:40am Gol flight (same plane going back) on Wednesday, which gave me two full days in Roraima at the cost of two full nights of sleep.   Roraima is far away and it takes about five hours to get there, counting a short stop in Manaus.

Will right more later.

My pictures show me in front of the Rio Branco.  You have to wear hats in the tropical sun, especially if you are folliclely challenged as I am.  I am getting to like various hats.  My other picture show a colorful building near the river.  I found that I didn’t take many pictures of the city itself.