Mountain Flying Logo

Gringo in Brasil (continued)


After securing the airplane and watching some locals ignite some humongous clearing fires around the perimeter of the airport, José, using the airplane radio, called the policia to request a ride into town (no taxis). To kill time before our deadhead to Manaus, we decided to take a boat to Guayaramerim, Bolivia, for some sightseeing.

Along the riverbank we saw men in bathing suits with ropes tied around their waists diving into the dirty water of the Rio Guaporé to repair something on the bottom of a boat. This was too unusual except that other people were fishing for, and catching, piranha next to the boat. They said the piranha don't bother you unless you have an open cut. They must be right, we didn't see anyone get eaten.

To the north of Costa Marques is the small, bustling city of Guajará-Mirim. This place confirmed my developed hatred for scud-running or making instrument approaches into airports with no navigational aids. After we broke out of the clouds very close to the only mountain in the entire area, I told José, "No more." This type of operation seems to be normal operating procedure in much of Brasil.

Road from Guajará-Mirim
airport to the city
boat.jpg (5476 bytes)
Divers in Rio Guaporé River

José with piranha

Guajará-Mirim and Rio Guaporé

Guajará-Mirim terminal

Sparky in Bolivia

No taxi - shuttled by police ... really
Sparky with policemen

Guajará-Mirim, Brasil boat ride
to Guayaramerin, Bolivia

Rio Guaporé piranha

José with taxi
in Bolivia

The runway has a hump. During
takeoff we passed the hump to
find people crossing the runway.


Porto Alegre is Brasil's sixth largest city with 2.9 million population. It was founded in the 1740s on the eastern bank of the Rio Gualba where it empties into Lagoa dos Patos (Logoon of Ducks). This freshwater lake provides a route for shipping commerce (leather goods, woolen textiles, chemicals, beer and wine) to Pelotas or Rio Grande some 171 miles to the south. The goods are then transferred to ocean-going vessels.

Although originally settled by the Portuguese, Porto Alegre is a modern city, emerging during the 20th century with the arrival of German and Italian immigrants. It is the gaúcho capital of Brasil. The gaúcho is a cowboy of southern Brasil; vaqueiro is a cowboy of northeast Brasil.

The city abounds with churrascarias, the restaurants serving the gaúcho style of barbecued meat. I was impressed with the 40-foot long salad bars containing fruits, vegetables, salads, breads and desserts along both sides for the full length. After sitting down, waiters (garçons) come around with swords (espitos) full of various cuts of beef, chicken, pork, sheep and sometimes fish. You point to the area you want and they slice it onto your plate. They keep coming every few minutes until you yell "enough!" Actually you have a chip or small wooden tower with green on one side and red on the other side. When you have had your fill you merely turn the chip to the red side up. The cost was around US$6-8 and included beer and wine. At restaurants with entertainment the cost is about US$1 more and well worth it to see the dancing, singing and boleaderiras demonstrations (dancing while swinging ropes with balls on the end).

On Sunday mornings one end of the central park (Parque Farroupilha) turns into a market and fair called Brique da Redenção. This is the place to purchase antiques, leather goods, hand-made souvenirs or specialty clothing. There are bands and music abounds. It is a good place to see the friendly gaúchos in action, dressed in their finest.

Parque Farroupilha


Chalk drawing in street

Lenny Baldwin and Ione
(American mechanic)

Two American mechanics, Lenny Baldwin and Sam Snyder, came to Porto Alegre to work on the airplane. They brought to mind a mountain flying axiom that is appropriate to flying at Porto Alegre. "Trust you instincts. If a situation feels uncomfortable, get out of it." I found myself in situations when accompanying Lenny and Sam, where I thought to myself, "Gee, I don't know if I should be doing this." It was usually late at night and not in an airplane. And, sure enough it turned out I shouldn't have been doing that.


It is obvious the airport at Porto Velho is carved out of the jungle because once you step out of the airplane you are surrounded by lush vegetation. Most airports in the west and north of Brasil are the same. As the capital of Rondônia it still provides a reminder of the American Wild West with Indians, gold prospectors, cattle ranchers and desperados, many of whom maintain present-day conflicts.

José Vargas

Governor's hangar
Governo de Rondônia

Governor's mansion
Porto Velho

Governor Osvaldo Piana

I walked around various parts of Porto Velho during the day and night including the bus station, slums, waterfront, and downtown, and never felt threatened by anyone. I was warned that the State of Rondônia was a major distribution center for drugs, mainly cocaine, from neighboring Bolivia and Peru. Even being forewarned, we didn't notice any activity around airports.

I walked around various parts of Porto Velho (bus station, slums, waterfront, downtown) during the day and night, and never felt threatened by anyone.


The Itaipu dam on the Paraná River has destroyed Sete Quedas, which was the world's largest waterfall. In its place is the world's largest hydroelectric works and a 870 square mile (1,400 sq. km) lake. Brasil and Paraguay joining forces in 1982 and some US$18 billion later they can generate 12.6 million kilowatts of electricity to supply the needs of all Paraguay and southern Brasil.

Itaipu Dam

Outflow from dam
Largest hydroelectric plant
in the world


iguacu.jpg (8764 bytes)If you have an opportunity to visit Brasil, don't miss seeing the "Foz." Foz do Iguaçu is the city. The 275 falls comprising what is known as Iguaçu Falls or Cataratas Del Iguaçu are over 1.9 miles wind and 262 feet high. They must be seen and heard to be approciated. Brasil (Iguaçu) is on the east, Paraguary (Iguassu) is on the west and Argentina (Iguazú) is on the south. the falls are higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria (the seventh largest falls in the world). They are probably prettier than either. The flood season runs from May to July and prohibits approaching the falls. The best time to spend a couple of days to see the falls (from the Brasil and Argentina sides) is during August to November.

Iguaçu Falls

Approaching Iguaçu Falls
from the west (Paraguay)

Iguaçu Falls
looking northeast

Iguaçu Falls
facing south

Iguaçu Falls
facing west-southwest


Brasília is an expensive city to visit, but not exorbitant. Most of the propaganda concerning the city leans toward being derogatory, saying it was built for automobiles and air conditioners, not people. The eight cities built around the core city make it unique. The architecture is fascinating. Consequently I didn't listen to the opinions of the many people that were castigating the city. I formed a favorable impression of a beautiful city. I came, I saw, I liked.

Millions of peasants worked around the clock for three years, building Brasília from scratch, to encourage development of the interior of Brasil. The capital was moved from Rio on April 21, 1960.

I was also impressed while flying a governor and his entourage to see his body guards (minimum of three) discretely carrying MAC-10 sub-machine guns in rolled up newspapers and folded coats.


The Amazon tropical rain forest (selva) is the largest equatorial forest in the world, encompassing 42 percent of Brasil's land. The Amazon is endangered, but maybe there is hope. We flew over the forest extensively for five months and saw only a few fires; most of the smoke was the result of burning in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, rather than Brasil. It was also encouraging to hear some Swedish businessmen talking about timbering in the Amazon. They said the hardwood trees weren't suitable for many uses that require strength. It seems the growing season is continual and the fibers of the trees are spaced too far apart to be of much use to them.

Rio Amazonas

Rio Solimôes
approaching Manaus

Rio Negro and Rio Solimôes
join on the east side of Manaus
forming the Rio Amazonas

City of Manaus

Rio Negro with overflow

Favelas - outskirts of Manaus

Buildings in Manaus

José and Sparky at
Amazonas Shopping Center

Of the 1,100 tributaries that flow into the world's largest river (somewhere between 2,093 and 3,899 miles in length depending on who you talk to), 10 carry more water than the Mississippi River. The Amazon is not the longest rive, which is the Nile. Even at present many of the major tributaries are still unexplored.


The C.T.A. (Centro Tecnico Aerospacial) is the Brasilian counterpart of the U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with office at Säo Josée dos Campos. This is a beautiful city located northeast of São Paulo with rolling hills all the way to the ocean.

Because the Cheyenne 400LS was the first in Brasil it was necessary to do flight certification tests. This included flight where ballast was added to back of the airplane to crease the most rearward allowable center of gravity. The flying concentrated on simulating accidental stalls, Vmca, air starts, lateral and longitudinal stability, flight manual procedures, stick pusher demonstrations, and various engine computer functions.

Murphy (as in, if something can go wrong, it will) went along on the first 12-minute flight of the day providing a failure of the right engine bleed air regulating valve that caused a bleed air overtemp condition that filled the cabin with smoke. Back on the ground with five of the CTA mechanics assisting (can you believe that?), we found the problem. I explained what had happened and the temporary fix that would allow us to complete the certification flights and they went along with it. I have worked with other agencies where this just wouldn't be done. These guys (Aviador-Major Lancia and Engenheiro-Captain Passos) were fantastic. They used common snese and saved us about six hours of flying to go have the repairs made and then return.


I grew up in Jackson, Wyo. with a population of 612. It was so small and innocuous that kids were allowed to go anywhere, day or night, with absolute safety to explore the town or surrounding mountains and National Elk Refuge. Brasil is still that way in many smaller towns. Although there is a lack of law throughout Brasil, there is order in the manner the small town citizens conduct themselves. Greater Rio (more than 11.2 million residents) and Greater São Paulo (more than 17.1 million residents) are exceptions. There is no law and order.

Brasil, according to the latest Gallup poll, is the world's second most violent nation, surpassed only by Colombia. Robberies, mostly by gangs armed with guns and knives, are extremely common. While tourists are the most vulnerable because they are easy to pick out, the natives are not exempt.

The police report from my encounter read:

Proximo ao Resturante Nanking, 2115 hors, quatro armados de pistole automatica e dirigin do um GOL de cor branca, fizeram a communicante: cala a boca ... eu te mato!

The roughly translates to: "In the proximity of the Nanking Restaurant, 9:15 p.m., four men armed with automatic pistols, arriving in a white Volkwagen, issued an order: shut you mouth ... I will kill you."

Notwithstanding the fact that I had been in Brasil for one week and didn't speak Portuguese, I did not argue. The loss of personal possessions is an emotional and stressful occurrence, but articles can be replaced; people can't. I had just received a $2,000US cash advance and lost it all, along with my passport. Don't argue. Carry with you only those items that you are prepared to lose, then lose them graciously. Tow other Brasileiros I worked with were also robbed in separate incidents.

When I arrived at work (Aeromot) the next morning everyone had heard about the robbery. These guys, most of them working for $40US per month, were putting together a pot to pay me back the money I lost. I refused their generosity. It was a nice gesture, honestly made and typical of most Brasileiros.

The law requires you to carry your passport at all times. After losing mine, I made a certified photocopy of the new passport page and carried that and a hotel registration card to present if required. Don't wear rings, watches or jewelry and carry about US$2 to US$5 to pacify any muggers.

Sand bar covered by water between Porto Velho and Manaus.

Amazon rain forest (selva)




Brasil borders every country in South America except Chile and Ecuador, making it the fifth largest country in the world. It is the sixth most populous country with over 156 million inhabitants (the U.S. by comparison has 252,688,000 people). Of these people some 25 millionlive in shanty towns (favelas) and 40 million are malnourished. It's difficult to imagine that over 12 million children have been abandoned. As a comparison the U.S. has 13.1 percent of the population (33,102,000 persons) living below the poverty level established at $12,675 annual income.

Corruption, violence, lack of health services, lack of education services, and urban crowding are the main problems Brasil is trying to solve. There is no social welfare system. The north and northeast have the worst poverty. As a result you run into beggars everywhere. Let your conscious be your guide when deciding what you can give to whom, since it is impossible to give something to everyone encountered.

Brasil is not paradise on earth, but it comes close. It isn't the mountains, rivers and Indian tribes that are still being discovered that makes it a paradise. And it isn't because it ranks first in the world for the numbers of species of primates, amphibians, and plants; or because it is third for bird species; or because it is fourth for species of reptiles and butterflies. No, it is the people. They are wonderful, caring, thoughtful, gracious and outgoing. Brasilians are a very "touchy-feely" people. While talking they continually touch you lightly on the arm, hand, shoulder or back. It seems to develop a closeness or friendship bonding that is missing in many societies. Meeting a stranger on the street when you requir assistance in find an address often results in them leading you to your destination.

Figures indicate the populace is 53-percent while, 22-percent mulatto, 12-percent mestizo, 11-percent blank, one-percent Japanese and one-percent Indian. Asian and others. It was refreshing to see no displays of prejudice toward anyone throughout Brasil either in large cities or small towns.


The Brasilian winter is from June to August. It doesn't get cold in Brasil except in the southern states of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Rio Grande do Sul. Here the average temperature is between 13-18ºC (55-64ºF). The summer season is from December to February when you will find the temperature in the 30��C (86ºF) range.

The Amazon is not nearly as hot as you might imagine. The average temperature is 27.2ºC (81ºF), but it is humid. It can get hot and humid. During the spring (September to November on four out of five flights into Manaus we encountered temperatures of 40��C (104ºF).


Much of the water in Brasil is not potable. Bottled water is available everywhere, just check that the container is sealed. The fruit juices (sucos) are fantastic.

Brasilians like a little coffee with the sugar (strong and hot coffee), calling if cafezinho. There drink it any time of the day or night. Many grocery stores also have a coffee stand near the center. When the coffee is ready people abandon their carts and make a mad rush to be first in line. If you don't like sugar, ask for espresso.

In the south, tea (chá or chimarrão) is important to the gaúchos where it is mixed by adding hot water ina hollow gourd (cuia) and sipped through a silver straw (bomba). They cannot or will not drink the tea without the bomba. According to custom the water is not boiled, only heated to just before the boiling point.

Coke (Coca Cola) seems to be the preferred soft drink but Guaraná is my favorite.

Few visitors escape the "turista" or diarrhea. This is not caused by lack of sanitation or poor food, but rather by a change in diet or by local strains of bacteria. It's strange that I never experienced turista in Brasil, but did when I returned to Denver, Colorado.

Brasilians dine late and people do not arrive at restaurants until after 9:00 p.m. Despite the hour, the restaurant will not close when there are customers remaining. Diners sitting around visiting after eating do not experience the rude lights flashing off and on or other distractions designed to encourage them to leave.

The main diet revolves around white rice (arroz) and black beans (feijão), but any food you can imagine and much that you can't, is available at reasonable prices. Portions are large enough for two. If you can't eat everything ask for a doggie bag (embalagem) so you can give it to some deserving soul on the street. Saturdays are black bean day (feijão preto) with a buffet of individual pots of beans containing ham, pork chops, bacon, beef, beef ribs, pork ribs, and more. They are labeled if you read Portuguese.

If you get homesick and need a pick-me-up, McDonald's is found throughout Brasil. Although the quality is comparable to the U.S., the prices are quite high in comparison.

It was difficult to find black pepper (pimenta-do-reino) in much of Brasil and the mustard is similar to yellow mayonnaise without much spiciness.


There are real physical threats and dangers due to the plight of the people, but these are easily avoided. My real concern was bugs, spider and snakes. One morning in Manaus while stepping into the shower during my before-coffee daze I turned my back to the water (it had hot and cold taps). It turned out I didn't need coffee to wake up. The three-inch diameter glistening black spider staring at me from the other end of the stall caused a surge or adrenaline greater than any caffeine high. Darn if he didn't look like he was crouched to jump. I didn't even feel bad about tearing down the shower curtain until later after I ran to find Osmar Schröeder, my co-pilot, to dispose of the spider – ah, murder without remorse. Even after the spider was gone I didn't enjoy the shower. I kept looking around at the floor, walls and ceiling thinking if there was one, there might be another ...

People have asked if I would return to Brasil based upon my experiences, to which I replay, "I can be ready five minutes ago. Quiro uma passagem de ida para Brasil (I would like a one-way ticket to Brasil).

Back button  Forward button