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Socceroos head to the wild west

Friday, June 13, 2014

SAO PAULO - Australia's elite soccer players are headed for a Brazilian city where cows and beans are big business and tourists rarely stop.

Cuaiba, the location of the Socceroos' World Cup opener against Chile tomorrow, is located in what was once Brazil's wild west.

The capital city of the state of Mato Grosso has a population of about 540,000 residents and relies heavily on surrounding massive cattle ranches containing another quarter of a million people.

Cuaiba was founded in 1719 because of a gold rush: the region was beset upon by thousands of fortune-hunters from around Brazil.

To get there, they crossed the lands of several indigenous people — many of them formidable warriors.

The fierce Bororo tribe frequently attacked gold mining settlements — the city's name is the same as the Bororo word for arrow fishing.

And the dreaded Paiagua people ambushed convoys of boats transporting gold along the river, Rio Cuaiba, to Sao Paulo.

As the gold rush subsided, farming and fishing became the main industries.

It wasn't until the Brazilian government enacted a policy in the 1940s and 1950s to develop the country's interior, and the construction of the new capital of Brasilia in 1960, that another wave of migrants came to Cuaiba.

The city and surrounding state has grown into something akin to Brazil's breadbasket with cattle, soy beans, corn, rice and cotton in vast plantations.

And the state is renowned for some of Brazil's most spectacular wildlife and scenery.

Cuaiba is a primary destination for ecotourists and anglers but it's a mere gateway.

Most visit the city fleetingly before travelling to the Pantanal, an enormous floodplain containing one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world, home to jaguars, anacondas and giant otters among others.

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