Until the beginning of the 20th century Acre belonged to Bolivia. Legend says that Acre was traded with Brazil for two horses, but it is not true. The territory was occupied by the Brazilian exploited rubber tappers and Bolivia tried to get it by military means. The Brazilians revolted and there were border confrontations, mainly the Acre Revolution that ended with Bolivia giving up in accordance with the construction of the Madeira-Mamoré railway.
Decades later, another rubber tapper showed strength in the region, already belonging to Brazil. Born in Xapuri, Chico Mendes dedicated his life to preserve the Amazon rain forest and to safe rubber workers against the abuses of great farmers. His political action aroused the anger of powerful people, who murdered him on 22 December 1988.
This 2-day trip takes you to the cities of Rio Branco and the Xapuri, in a tour that goes through some of the paths walked by environmentalist, while revealing the beauty of nature of Acre, the scene of his life and his struggle.
We begin the trip by the city of Xapuri, 170 km from the capital Rio Branco, where Chico Mendes lived. Because of its most famous citizen, the city is considered the cradle of the environmental movement, ecological concerns and environment preservation, ideas defended by Chico Mendes throughout his life.
The first destination is the house where he lived and died, preserved exactly as on the last day it was inhabited. Humble and small, it brings documents and information about the political life and the last moments of the rubber tapper. By its strong symbolic importance, became a museum and symbol of the struggle against social injustice and the Amazonian deforestation. It was listed by National Cultural Heritage of Acre by the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute.
The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve was created in honor of the political leader. It is a conservation unit of 900 thousand hectares, with trails through the forest, adventure circuits and 40 rubbers plantations dedicated to sustainable development. One of them is the Seringal Waterfall, where the Chico Mendes family still lives, along with other tappers, who love to tell stories about the Amazon legends.
After visiting the forest, it is time to go to São Sebastião Church. The church was built during the Acre Revolution in colonial style. Its construction is a tribute of the local inhabitants to São Sebastião, and a request of protection against the imminent war. Since then, he became the city patron saint. Italy gave to the church a São Sebastião image in 1915, which became an important piece of local faith: on their feet, believers light candles and pray for many reasons.
After Xapuri, we return to the capital of Acre. We begin the day visiting the Chico Mendes Environmental Park, founded in his honor.
The environmental reserve holds 52 hectares’ area of virgin forest and specimens of its impressive fauna and flora. Located in old rubber trees, the park has trails, small zoo, playgrounds and picnic area. It is also important environmental education center and preservation which houses a memorial about its patron life and ideology.
The Floresta Library is another outstanding center of ecological knowledge. It combines the knowledge and culture of the Amazonian people as well as the researchers, in a building that mixes modern architecture and indigenous aspects. Its collection is about the Acre history, environmentalists struggle and forest biodiversity. Naturally, there is a permanent exhibition about Chico Mendes.
To finish the tour, we will go to Rio Branco Palace, headquarters of the state government. Its neoclassical construction is worth a visit and its exhibitions are very interesting: culture and Acre origin. You can find there more information about Chico Mendes, an important person that became ubiquitous in the city. Due to its central location, it is also a good starting point to explore a little more of the state capital, as the Novo Mercado Velho, a restoration of the old market town, full of shops and restaurants of local specialties.