A large, partially deforested region in the southwest corner of the Brazilian Amazon, the state of Rondônia (named after the famous explorer, Indian “pacifier” and telegraph-network pioneer Marechal Cândido Rondon) has a reputation for unbridled colonization and very rapid “development”. The state was only created in 1981, having evolved from an unknown and almost entirely unsettled zone (then the Territory of Guaporé) over the previous thirty years. The first phase of its environmental destruction began in the 1980s when roads and tracks, radiating like fine bones from the spinal highway BR-364, began to dissect almost the entire state, bringing in their wake hundreds of thousands of settlers and many large companies who have moved in to gobble up the rainforest. Poor landless groups are a common sight – some the surviving representatives of once-proud Indian tribes – living under plastic sheets at the side of the road.
The state is not exactly one of Brazil’s major tourist attractions, but it is an interesting area in its own right, and offers a few stopping-off places between more obvious destinations. Porto Velho, the main city of the region, is an important rainforest market-town and pit-stop between Cuiabá and the frontier state of Acre. Rondônia also offers border crossings to Bolivia, river trips to Manaus and access to overland routes into Peru.
Given that it is such a recently settled region, the system of road transport is surprisingly good, and combines well with the major rivers – Madeira, Mamoré and Guaporé. The main focus of human movement these days is the BR-364, which cuts the state more or less in half and, from east to west, connects a handful of rapidly growing nodal towns: Vilhena, Pimenta Bueno, Ji-Paraná, Ouro Preto, Jaru, Ariquemes and Jamari. Ji-Paraná is the largest, having grown from a tiny roadside trading settlement to a significant sky-scraping town of 108,000 people in the last forty-odd years.