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Memorial Day in Mafra, Brazil

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Since I went to Ponta Grossa following an extinct railroad, I haven't been in mood to drive too far. I planned to go to Jaguariaíva, but it is pretty distant, almost bordering São Paulo state. In the end, it seems more worthwhile to use whatever spare time I've got to explore the immediate surroundings.

So, the last two occasions that my wife let me go around, I stayed within the "backyard". Since I've got a better camera and a certain drive to try to take better pictures, there is an additional motivation to revisit known places.

In Mafra/SC's countryside, I have found many lookalike abandoned rural schools, like the one in the picture below. They follow the same blueprint: two rooms at the extremes with a small hall in the middle.

Figure 1: Abandoned rural school

Municipal authorities prefer to put all countryside children in a bus and concentrate them in fewer schools, which may be more economical, but it erodes the sense of community of these people since tender age. Personally, I see primary school (first 4 years or so) more as a socialization device than a learning device. All these abandoned schools represent, to me, the progressive loss of one of our strengths: good distribution of population across the state territory. These people that are clumped together at school will repeat the pattern later.

Figure 2: School with exactly the same architecture, but still active

My primary "mission" was to drive aimlessly and so I did. I decided to exit the highway in a locality called São Lourenço, where a small dam and hydroelectric plant is found. Unfortunately, the plant is surrounded by private land and I could not take any interesting pictures.

More to the north, I found a scary quarry. The picture below, and the next, show the stone texture as well as the muddy green lake, that looks unable to support any form of life whatsoever.

Figure 3: Quarry in Mafra/SC
Figure 4: Stone texture in quarry

Both images took some software processing (unsharp mask) so the picture transmits the same feeling that I experimented in loco: the rudeness of the stone, with alien colors, or as if it were a hill made of lead.

It is worthwhile to click on images and see them magnified for better appreciation. They could have shot the Mordor scenes of Lord of the Rings in that quarry.

From São Lourenço I wanted to reach the General Brito locality (still in Mafra town). This locality is within the Rio Negro valley. The road went uphill and soon some interesing landscapes were revealed, like in the next two pictures.

Figure 5: Rio Negro valley, west of Mafra/SC
Figure 6: Rio Negro valley landscape, west of Mafra/SC

All this region is full of farms and reforestations, not much of the original forest is left. It is a labyrinth of roads and shortcuts; it is very easy to get lost even with map and GPS. In many cases like the next picture, it is not immediately clear which way to go. Monitoring the general heading for a quarter mile or so clarifies any error.

Figure 7: Crossroads at Mafra/SC

But I could find the locality of General Brito, as well as the site of the once-existing railroad station. A curious kind of bush, with regular height and fuzzy texture, grew on the railway as can be seen in the next picture.

Figure 8: Railroad at General Brito, Mafra/SC

It looks like the dying railroad is entering the mist of the heavens, like narrated by people that sustained near-death experiences.

The next picture shows the site more clearly. This straight patch of land was the station yard. It possibly had one siding track that is a dirt road today.

Figure 9: Site of the General Brito station yard, Mafra/SC

It was said that this railroad was so abandoned at a certain point of time, that a 18ft tree had grown between sleepers at this point. I did not find this tree; the railroad operator "fixes" the railroad from time to time, just enough to run a chemical weeding train on it, and the mythical tree must have felled on occasion.

I have visited many abandoned station sites of this railroad segment, but not all. In this particular region, between Mafra and Três Barras, I hadn't visited anyone, since I had been warned that the big tree plantations pose a problem to access some sites, mostly because the dirt roads get bad and labyrinthic. But, since I was around, it made sense to follow the railway and see what happened, until reaching Três Barras city. There is even a tunnel in this segment.

Figure 10: Flower and its predator

The Barracas station was so elusive that I didn't even find the access road. I guess it is behind some private property gate that I ignored. Then I went towards the locality of Canivete, but I found a calling card of the most recent flood (see next picture):

Figure 11: Damaged bridge at Canivete, Mafra/SC

Unfortunately, there were an interdicted bridge, with the heads washed out. I had seen many bridges that had clearly been rebuilt, but this one is still waiting for repair. It is possible to drive around it, but it is a 13-mile, above the laziness threshold.

Figure 12: Damaged bridge at Canivete, Mafra/SC
Figure 13: Damaged road bridge and railroad bridge

A curious aspect of this spot: the railway is very near the road. In the picture above, the railroad bridge can be seen, intact, parallel to the damaged road bridge. The difference of height between them is the difference of wisdom between 1914 and 2014. In 1914, people didn't have many resources and could not afford to pretend that there would be no floods.

So I turned around and went to another site that had never visited: Cruz Lima It is still in Mafra city territory, but east of the town. Unfortunately, the road access to this station is through a private property, and I did not want to bother anyone in this Memorial Day weekend. There was another road, but a local resident warned me that it was in terrible state.

In the end, I took no pictures of Cruz Lima region. It is not pretty, it is not possible to see the Rio Negro valley, and all dirt roads are made of a yellow clay, almost no gravel. The clay was one indication that it was a valley, since the soil near big rivers seem to be always clay. One drop of rain and everything turns into a swamp! I talked with a local farmer that happened to own a bad-ass 4x4 truck with enormous mud tires. "If it rains, you are stuck here unless you don't have these" — he told, confirming my impressions.

People say that single men should always have a "friendly ex-girlfriend" available, just in case the weekend's date fails to end in bed. The local trainspotter-equivalent of this ex-girlfriend is the Rio Vermelho station, at São Bento do Sul/SC. It is a pleasant place to go, very calm, and there is always a train around. And off there I went.

Figure 14: Rio Vermelho station, São Bento do Sul

I know this place inside out, even my wife knows it well, but it was the first time I went there with my new Nikon DSLR. So it was a nice opportunity to play with the equipment and commit silly errors like the next picture, where the lens focused on the bush instead of the axle.

Figure 15: Axle in Rio Vermleho station
Figure 16: Rio Vermelho station yard

The picture above is a scene that I have shot countless times, at the same spot, having the red locomotives at my right. But it is clear how DSLR features like Matrix Metering and Active D-Lighting can squeeze a good picture from such a difficult lighting: clear sky, shadowed platform, and locomotive with all sorts of lighting on her body. And everything looks natural and detailed, except the very bottom of the locomotive that is very dark anyway.

Still about the loco picture, I just had to increase the "Shadow Protection" knob on Capture NX-D to make the locomotive bottom (trucks, etc.) visible and detailed. But then the picture looked HDR-esque, and many unpleasant details like chipped paint became too evident. The original camera balance seen in the image happens to be the most pleasant. But it is reassuring that is possible to recover images from such dark image parts if necessary.

In the next picture, I used very high aperture, between f/16 and f/32, to achieve the sunstar effect on the locomotive's headlight.

Figure 17: Rio Vermelho station

In theory, a high aperture limits the picture sharpness by difraction (and even more in a non-full-frame camera like mine). Worse, I had to use high ISO sensitivies to compensate the aperture, because the sky was getting dark due to sunset and incoming rain. And I did not have a tripod.

So, it is clear that the picture above looks technically bad if analyzed under high magnifications, but the overall image is good enough. As said Henri Cartier-Bresson, "sharpness is a burgeois concept". If I had insisted in parameters that warranted perfect sharpness, the picture would not exist.

The locomotive engineer told me that another train was expected in about one hour. I kept waiting, but the sky got darker and the calm surroundings seen in the next picture changed to a windy rain that evicted me from the platform.

Figure 18: Early sunset at Rio Vermelho

I should be at Rio Negrinho/SC city at that time, but I had decided to visit the station to seize the day better. I was lucky, because while I was in the station, the rain and the wind almost wrecked Rio Negrinho: trees torn out, floods at some points and several hours without eletricity.

I wanted to drive by Rio Natal (a dirt road that follows closely the railway downhill) but the strong rain had surely damaged the road. I went back home through the highway, just stopped by Corupá station to show my respects. The next picture is a sample of graffiti that adds art and vibrancy to the faded and discolored compositions.

Figure 19: Grafitti in car at Corupá/SC station
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