Brazil: Boa Vista: The Metropolis of the Savannahs
Aug 21, 2016 By Nicholas Peters
Under the cloudless midday sky, the green shrubs and red loam of the savannah
sped past the vehicle, every metre leaving the Kanuku Mountains further and further behind, a ghostly blue in the distance.
This was my view on the first leg of my journey from Guyana’s border to Brazil’s northernmost metropolitan centre. And for most Guyanese, this is what it is like going to the city of Boa Vista.
Boa Vista is the capital and largest city of the State of Roraima – the northernmost state in Brazil. It is no more than an hour and a half away from the Guyanese border town of Lethem to the Brazilian city on the BR-401 Highway.
During my sojourn in Lethem, I thought to myself that the town would have prepared me for what to expect when in Brazil. I was soon proved wrong. Upon arriving in Boa Vista, it was immediately evident that Lethem may have been what Boa Vista was many decades ago but not anymore. Today, the architecture, livelihood, culture and general vibrancy of Boa Vista cannot be matched by Lethem.
With a population of just under 300,000 inhabitants, Boa Vista is one of Brazil’s smaller cities. To put it in perspective, Georgetown can fit into Boa Vista twice over, have space for more, and is still small by Brazilian standards.
The natural welcome mat to Boa Vista is the vast Rio Branco (Portuguese for “White River”). The broad, meandering river dotted by islands was impressive to admire as I crossed the Macuxis BR-401 Bridge into the metropolis. In fact, the river is the source of Boa Vista’s name. Translated in English to “Good View,” Boa Vista refers to the good view of the Rio Branco from where the city is situated.
The city was named by the Portuguese, but the area was first inhabited by indigenous tribes like the Macushi and Wapishana peoples. Once the Portuguese settled there, they introduced cattle rearing to the area. To this day, the evidence of this cattle rearing past can be found in the region’s cuisine and architecture.
Still standing is one of the first ranch houses, which is now a quaint building with an unmatched view of the river. The ranch serves as a symbol of “old Boa Vista” as the city’s oldest buildings surround it.
Interestingly, across the street is one of the city’s newest structures – a pier structure called the Orla Taumanam. Located above the Rio Branco, the structure boasts an idyllic view of the river, attracting people young and old as restaurants and bars set up for night time festivities.
Boa Vista is a city that proudly displays its historical transitions in its monuments. One monument that stood out to me was Monumento aos Pioneirosa, a sculpted mural that blends the arrival of Portuguese pioneers to the region with Indigenous iconography.
Meanwhile, the Praca Do Centro Civico is the circular heart of Boa Vista, where magnanimous government buildings and a neatly maintained park surround the elevated monument of a man sifting through minerals. The Centro heralded the arrival of Boa Vista as a modern Brazilian capital as the mining industry sparked a large migration to the region in the 70s and 80s.
There is also the Praca Das Aguas, constructed at the turn of the millennia. This avenue, topped with a square arch, has an extended water fountain that lights up with music, adding that famous upbeat Brazilian rhythm to the scene.
But Boa Vista has more than impressive monuments, as I observed that Brazilians love to shop. Apart from the colonial clay-brick souvenir market by the river bank and the busy commercial avenue, Boa Vista has two massive malls on its outskirts. The Roraima Garden Shopping and Patio Roraima Shopping are “must visits.” Their sheer size had me walking for hours, fetching more bags than intended when I only wanted a pair of Ipanema sandals.
I knew I had entered Latin America when the first thing I ate was a ham and cheese-filled pastry. Beef and dairy are staples of Brazilian cuisine. There is even an appetiser called “queijo grelhado”: cheese grilled on a stone slab and served in its chewy melted formed. Brazilians are also large consumers of cassava by-products. They use it to make snacks like Tapioca and the familiar side dish farine, which is found in almost every meal.
Among the benefits of a multicultural country like Brazil, is the assortment of food that restaurants offer. “There’s such a wide variety of food with different influences,” a colleague on the trip, Kayla DeFreitas, commented as we savoured flavours of Japanese sushi rolls.
My forays in the city were short, as most of my time was occupied covering a tourism event organised by Conservation International – Guyana. However, in one of my brief walks around the city, I came upon a protest across the street from the imposing State Legislative Assembly building. Being a journalist, I was naturally attracted to the scene of passionately chanting citizens listening to rousing speeches from charismatic leaders. I subsequently learnt that the demonstration was organised by state forestry workers unsatisfied with the pay they were receiving.
The demonstration reminded me that even our richer counterpart has its own issues to sort out. Much like Guyana, Boa Vista (and the rest of Brazil) has to deal with rising crime rates. And regardless of its beautiful multiculturalism makeup, racism is another social problem that persists. Furthermore, corruption within the central government has had lasting effects in both countries.
Despite its troubles, Boa Vista manages to operate in a highly efficient manner. Environmental responsibility is of high priority as new parks are developed and streets are continuously kept spotless by public servants. The city is almost clock-like in its operations.
Boa Vista is unlike the Brazil we are used to seeing in popular media. For travellers looking to go somewhere new, familiar and close, Boa Vista provides the best introduction to Brazil’s distinct life and customs – like eating your pizzas with a knife and fork. I can best describe Boa Vista as ‘The Metropolis of the Savannahs’.
Read more about BoaVista in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boa_Vista,_Roraima
Read more about Lethem. Guyana in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lethem,_Guyana