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We began our journey through Brazil’s centre-west region in Campo Grande - a modern, safe and hot city of around a million people which is the capital of the Mato Grosso do Sul state.
Its airport and services make it a comfortable place to begin or end a visit to the region. Yet it’s more than a staging post - there’s plenty to see and do.
Best was the Park of Indigenous Nations, one of the world’s biggest urban parks, and handily enough it was right next to our hotel. It has a 4km paved circuit that, come early evening, gets filled with joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. But they don’t get the place all to themselves. Dotted close to the paths and near the fresh water areas are groups of wild capybaras. These friendly-looking creatures are the world’s largest rodents and seemed quite happy to share the space, coming right up close to the paths and play areas.
The park is due to be home to the world’s biggest freshwater aquarium, but that is still under construction. For now it houses the more modest Dom Bosco museum, which seems to be little visited but is a well kept and welcoming place to spend an hour out of the afternoon sun. One exhibit is a collection of stuffed mammals and many of the birds and insects that can be found in the region. But the highlight is the museum’s display of the indigenous people, many of which faced persecution over the last century as Brazil’s interior was opened up for cattle rearing and other farming that remains the mainstays of its economy. There remain some indigenous communities nearby, some of whom helped to curate the exhibition to help preserve their disappearing culture.
Like many major Brazilian cities, the car is king in Campo Grande and it is difficult to explore on foot. There are many restaurants and bars, some offering live sertão, or Brazilian country music - this is cowboy country after all (its popular, though definitely not everyone in the city is a fan). We ate some wonderful local dishes at the Fogo Caipira restaurant, including rice with sun-dried beef strips, fried manioc and freshwater fish cooked in maracuya fruit sauce. It’s a homely spot though still popular with high rollers - the state’s deputy governor was eating with her advisors at the table next to us.