Cuiabá

Joca Reiners Terron

Inviting strangers to our hometown is almost an invitation to a place extinct. In order to be possible, however, this ideal trip to the past should include astray sight-seeing to the wet earth under the shade of huge mango trees that only exist in childhood or bare feet stuck on the white sandy margins of rivers that no longer exist. In the beginning of these mornings of yesterday, inhaling the smoke given off by the water that is warmer than the air is the only way to cease the flow of the river and freeze time. And suddenly hear again the deep voice of the captain of the boat welcoming Cuiabá port.

Céu do PantanalThere should be no wider sky than the sky above the Central Plateau. This can make us believe the rest of the landscape, about thirty percent of what is before the eyes of the unbelievers, cannot defy it. But it is a false impression. No wonder Cuiabá is known as the Green City: an expanse of mango and palm trees of various species covers the city and tree roots are freed from the asphalt, breaking into the traffic. Here, the concrete city will never forget what preceded it, because nature will always remember to bring its pequis and bocaiúva fruits. In Cuiabá, Cerrado is all around, and this is hardly an exaggeration, thanks to the profusion of parks like Mãe Bonifácia, Massairo Okamura and Zé Boloflô, besides Horto Florestal.

Cuiabá, as the houses of the historic center suggest, is no novice: it was founded in 1719 amid the gold rush of the bandeirantes (members of the bandeiras expeditions). Green and gold should be in their badges, but they are not: what prevails in this hot capital is really the ruby-red of the temperature and friendliness contrasted to the blue sky of Mato Grosso. Cuiabá River, after which it was named and whose flow was the way to its discovery, is also one of its major attractions. Facing this affluent of the Paraguay River and crossed by sixteen other rivers, the city knows how to make the best out of being on the watershed between the Amazon and Platina basins to strive against the heat. River beaches and restaurants along the waterfront, as in the ancient fishing village of Passagem da Conceição, are ideal places to understand the origin of the nickname displayed by the cuibá citizen: papa-peixe (kingfisher).

Chapada dos Guimarães, a lush plateau whose waterfalls surrounded by verdant jungles are the glory of travelers.”

Pacu slices (ventrechas), a cut typical of the region are more than sufficient argument for understanding this predilection. Simply serve them along with the steaming Pintado mojica (fish broth thickened with fish meal) with manioc and rice cakes and fried plantain coated in cinnamon and sugar and that’s it: we enter the fertile ground of childhood, a magical place again reachable only through gastronomy. It is in this lost paradise that are all devoted grandmothers and their kitchen secrets, just waiting for their lickerish grandchildren in a delicious and whitish sugar sky.

Parque Mãe Bonifácia
Not far from Cuiabá are two jewels of the central-western Brazil. About forty kilometers away is Chapada dos Guimarães, a lush plateau whose waterfalls surrounded by verdant jungles are the glory of travelers. It was there, before the Bridal Veil waterfall, that my mother posed for the photographer exactly one year before my birth, but this does not come as a privilege: all brides in the region have the same photograph. Just the groom and bride change, of course. And a hundred kilometers to the south lies Pantanal mato-grossense, widely varied and unique ecosystem on the planet, with its rich fauna and of such colorful palette that not even Matisse would dare rival.

Geodesic center of South America, surrounded by Cerrado, the Amazon forest and Pantanal, the capital of Mato Grosso also lies equidistant between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Maybe that’s the reason for its unique climate and the amount of churches of all faiths, only on the 13 hectares covered by the historical center are nine of them. Also, the city hosts the only mosque in the state and the largest evangelical temple in the continent. Cuiabá is therefore a privileged spiritual place that could house the faith of fans around the world. This sultry Brazilian city will never lack beauty. Here is the beginning of the trip, the boat whistle has started to whistle at the port of Cuiabá!

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