Several daily buses connect Campo Grande with Aquidauana and Anastácio (2hr) and Corumbá (7hr), the scenery becoming increasingly swamp-like the further west you travel. West of Campo Grande, the savanna becomes forested as the road approaches the first real range of hills since leaving the Atlantic coast. The Serra de Maracaju sticks up like a gigantic iceberg in the vast southern Mato Grosso, and beyond, interesting geological formations dominate the horizon: vast towering tors, known as torrelones, rise magnificently out of the scrubby savanna. Further west, around the small train station of Camisão, is a relatively lush valley supporting tropical fruits, sugar cane and, of course, beef cattle, and up towards the swamp’s edge lies the little town of Miranda, popular for its fishing.
AQUIDAUANA, 130km from Campo Grande, is a lazy-looking place and very hot, sitting under the beating sun of the Piraputanga uplands. Since the demise of the passenger trains to Corumbá, it sweats somewhat uncomfortably some distance from the main BR-262 highway, and, though it still serves as one of several gateways into the Pantanal, it’s better known for fishing and walking, with some superb views across the swamp. These days, most visitors see little more than the signpost at the crossroads where the highway bypasses the town; if you stop by here, it’ll most likely be to use the highway café or toilet facilities at the junction. If you do go into town or stay over here, it’s worth enquiring about two nearby but seldom visited sites: the ruins of the Cidade de Xaraés, founded by the Spanish in 1580 on the banks of the Rio Aquidauana; and the Morro do Desenho, a series of prehistoric inscriptions on the riverbank and in the nearby hills.
The Terena Indians
The Terena Indians
The Serra de Maracaju provided sanctuary for local Terena Indians during a period of Paraguayan military occupation in the 1860s. Under their highly ambitious dictator, Solano López, the Paraguayans invaded the southern Mato Grosso in 1864, a colonial adventure that resulted in the death of over half the invasion force, mostly composed of native (Paraguayan) Guaraní Indians. This was one period in Brazilian history when whites and Indians fought for the same cause, and it was in the magnificent Serra de Maracaju hills that most of the guerrilla-style resistance took place.
The late nineteenth century saw an influx of Brazilian colonists into the Aquidauana and Miranda valleys as the authorities attempted to “populate” the regions between Campo Grande and Paraguay – the war with Paraguay had only made them aware of how fertile these valleys were. Pushed off the best of the land and forced, in the main, to work for new, white landowners, the Terena tribe remained vulnerable until the appearance of Lieutenant Rondon (after whom the Amazonian state of Rondônia was named). Essentially an engineer, he came across the Terena in 1903 after constructing a telegraph connection – poles, lines and all – through virtually impassable swamps and jungle between Cuiabá and Corumbá. With his help, the Terena managed to establish a legal claim to some of their traditional land. Considered by FUNAI (the federal agency for Indian affairs) to be one of the most successfully “integrated” Indian groups in modern Brazil, the Terena have earned a reputation for possessing the necessary drive and ability to compete successfully in the market system – a double-edged compliment in that it could be used by the authorities to undermine their rights to land as a tribal group. They live mostly between Aquidauana and Miranda, the actual focus of their territory being the town and train station of Taunay – an interesting settlement with mule-drawn taxi wagons and a peaceful atmosphere. You’ll find Terena handicrafts on sale in Campo Grande.