Novo Mundo

After enduring two long hours on a bumpy dirt road we finally loaded the pick up truck onto a barge and crossed the Teles Pires River, the most polluted affluent of the Amazon. The young captain navigating the boat wore high boots, a dusty cowboy hat and played festive music through his powerful loudspeakers. The large flat iron surface of the barge felt like an exotic floating discotheque.

Approaching Novo Mundo we encountered a field burning on the side of the road. The flame had come down and was now mostly smoke and dying ember. Neighbors from the farm across the road had brought a water tank and were hosing enormous logs that lay on the ground half consumed. The dense toxicity of the air carried a Dantesque omen of tragedy I could read in their expressions. They knew their chances were slim, but still hoped to prevent the fire from crossing over and spreading onto their coffee plantation. If the wind decided to return there will be flames everywhere.

The Rochedo settlement at the municipality of Novo Mundo is made of a couple of hundred family farms. These families have settled in their small farms within the last five years to raise cattle and grow vegetables.

On the road we encountered Sebastião Roberto Soares driving his small motorcycle. He was introduced to me as the leader of the community and took us to the farm where his brother José lived with his wife and three sons. Their entire field had burned down with exception of the hut where they lived and a tool shed. They had prepared lunch in anticipation of our arrival. After we ate, José recounted the tragic events with stoic sobriety.

We drove into the center of the settlement, an area defined by a small grocery store and a school. We met some of the students who were eager to performed tricks in front of the lens. While filming their testimonies, it occurred to me that this model of settlement is a ludicrous project of self-colonization. Even if some families manage to endure the extremely harsh conditions, there is little hope the youngsters would choose to remain in that environment after they grow up.

We approached an area of forest were fire was out of control. Flames spread rapidly in front of us, burning entire bushes of green luscious leafs in seconds. The unleashed power of fire consuming an entire forest revealed an unexpected spectacle of colorful clouds of smoke. Turner’s atmosphere of colors blending in ethereal combinations never felt so tangible. I sat the tripod to capture the landscape when the setting sun suddenly sliced through thick clouds. As foreseen by Tiepolo, Apollo appeared heralded by majestic sunrays, riding his triumphant carriage of golden horses across robust clouds of destruction. The visual spectacle was not followed by angelic trumpets, but pierced by the unsettling sound of snapping branches caught on fire everywhere. Given the proximity of combustion, breathing became increasingly difficult as insects big and small swarmed through us, biting us along the way.

On the way back a big tree had fallen, burning in the middle of the road. Flames and night were rapidly approaching and we were forced to cut trough thorny bushes for the vehicle to pass. In the seventies, the deforestation of Amazonia became the first sin against nature to be repudiated on a global scale. Forty years later that same forest is still on fire, burning faster than ever before.