After orientation in Rio, those assigned to Mato Grosso flew to Campo Grande; however, 10 of us were offered the opportunity to take four Willys Rural Jeeps (all the same color) to MT for use of the Ag Volunteers already in country. We left early in the morning from the Hotel Florida and arrived in São Paulo at sunset. The trip from Rio to São Paulo was uneventful except for being stopped by the Polica Rodoviaria every time we went through a check point - five Jeeps loaded with Gringos, all the same color, was an attention getter! Roger Pearson and his wife Linda Lee were in the lead Jeep. She had the best Portuguese of the "convoy" and did all the "talking". The rest of us just followed along like baby ducks due to our less than fluent Portuguese.
We stayed in a hotel near Praça da Republica; then a nice area. I recall going out that evening with a couple of other Volunteers to take in a movie; however, since we weren't wearing ties we were not allowed in. One of our first experiences with "cultural shock". NOTE: Ties are no longer required.
From São Paulo we continued on to Presidente Prudente through rolling countryside with nice, clean, and quiet little towns. We stayed in a hotel located on the main praça. I remember thinking at the time that this Peace Corps thing wasn't going to be so tough after all - Rio had been great, São Paulo State was very pretty with well-kept farms and pleasant villages and good Brazilian beer. I hadn't reached Mato Grosso yet!
The following day was the beginning of our Mato Grosso experience. Ron Webster, my driving partner from Stockton, CA, and I arrived late at the Rio Parana crossing due to mechanical problems. The rest of the group had already made the crossing.
The Mato Grosso side was a wall of tropical forest. The river at this point was about a mile (1.6 km) or more across with a strong current which required us to travel twice that distance to get to the other side.
We crossed the river on a barge. It was a National Geographic adventure. To board the barge, you had to drive up a steep ramp. First you had to get the Jeep in position. The barge crew and miscellaneous other folks who were just standing around all pitched in to help. After much waving, yelling, and general chaos, the Jeep was ready for "launching". It was like taking off from an aircraft carrier. The barge loader kept indicating to me to race the engine. Finally when he was satisfied he gave me the "go" signal and I flew up the ramp (Ron had decided it best to walk up the ramp). I immediately had to hit the brakes to stop from going into the river. There were no barriers to prevent the vehicles from going off the barge. The barge was already loaded with cars, and trucks and ours was the next to last to go on board. A barge crew member got in the Jeep and locked it down.
When we arrived on the Mato Grosso side we entered another world. There were four or five little huts selling food, beer, and soft drinks and that wall of tropical forest - that was it. We met up with the rest of the group who had been waiting for us on the other side and during the wait had made contact with a fazendeiro (rancher) who had studied in the States. He had told Linda that we would not be able to make Campo Grande that day and that there were no pensões along the route. He invited us to stay at his ranch house.
We took off on a narrow, dirt road through the tropical forest around 3:00 p.m. The road was wide enough for a bus and car to pass providing the car moved off the road into the edge of the forest. For the next several hours we ate dust! Lots of dust. You could not see anything on either side except towering trees. About 8:00 p.m. the lead Jeep met one of the ranch hands who the fazendeiro had left on the main road to direct us to his ranch. We turned off the "main road" and drove on an even smaller road for another hour until we arrived at the ranch.
As it was dark, we couldn't see much. The ranch house was a simple, but comfortable, wood-framed building. It had its own generator. I remember so well the rancher offering us COLD Brahma beer.
We arrived in Campo Grande late the next afternoon. After a couple more days of orientation we were sent out for our six weeks of in-country training at sites where PCVs from BR12 were already on-station.
Some of the group: