Chapter 7 – São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras

Dear reader,

In the closing of chapter 6, I said that this would be the last chapter covering the Espinhaço Range in the state of Minas Gerais. Well, I was wrong! In August 2011, I decided – for no specific reason but gut feeling – to explore a tiny locality called São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, nearDiamantina, of which I had no information save for the fact that there was a small inn I could stay. The internet offered little help, besides the geographical location, that is, in the Estrada Real and relatively close to the Serra do Cipó, a good sign in biodiversity. In similar circumstances in the past, I learned to trust my instinct so I hit the road.

The decision to dedicate chapter 7 to São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, is a tribute to its spectacular scenery and diversity. It is the habitat of many species of bromeliads, orchids and cactii of splendorous forms and exquisite colors. The people are nice and one is instantly involved by a glorious silence, a characteristic of the savannas. This said, I am confident this addition will please you.

The Cerrado, the largest savanna of South America, which occupies a fourth of the Brazilian territory, is now reduced to half its size. More recently, it is ceding vast areas to eucalyptus, soy and sugar cane plantations. A stupidity that already shows irreversible consequences in the supply of water, inside and outside the limits of the biome. This information is more dramatic when you know that the Cerrado is the natural reservoir for vast regions occupied by almost 90 million inhabitants!

The hills of Minas Gerais are burning in 2011, probably a record year of criminal fires. In 15 days alone the fires have consumed 10.000 hectares! The environmental conflicts are not solved but, alas, growing. Unpunished and unresolved, of course!

A final word covering the fires in the Cerrado: they impact directly in the biodiversity, affecting pollinators in general and bees in particular. These formidable insects use vision and smell to navigate and return to a food source. “Alter or remove that smell and the bees could starve”, reveals a recent study published in New Scientist. “If pollinators disappear, we won’t have food” warns Jeff Riffel.

I acknowledge the usual kind assistance of Domingos Cardoso, Marlon Machado, Harry Luther, Mike Andreas and Derek Butcher.

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Happy New Year to you and yours!
Oscar Ribeiro – Rio de Janeiro, Dec. 2011

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