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I live on the coast of the northeastern part of Brazil (Rio Grande do Norte). As you go inland, the terrain becomes very arid. There are cactus and a lot of xerophilic plants that remind me a lot of those from southern California or Arizona. Since the sun is almost always shining here, starting a fire with a magnifying glass isn't very difficult, but if you had to do so with the bow or drill method, what Brazilian plants would work best? Fire-starting methods often involve a spindle and a hearth. What plants or woods would be most suitable for that in the interior regions of northeastern Brazil?

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Just a note: I hate the bow-and-drill method. What a pain. For all practical purposes, I would say try to bring a light and a flint. –  theJollySin Jan 18 '13 at 15:42
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Sure. A lighter, match or magnifying glass is easy, but I have no idea where I can find flint in Brazil. But that's not the point. Survival situations are often those where you are completely unprepared. You have no resources. Learning about survival is about learning to make do with whatever you have around you, and in many circumstances, you might not have a lighter or flint or whatever makes fire starting easy for you. –  Pé de Leão Jan 18 '13 at 15:58
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1 Answer

I am neither from Brazil nor experienced in primitive fire starting - nevertheless I will try to help.

Find out what to use as tinder

As mentioned, I don´t know a lot about Brazilian plants. Things I would try to light with matches to see how they burn before you go on a trip or get in a survival situation:

  • Dry parts of cactus or, if they grow there, palm trees
  • Parts of (dead) trees - especially bark can bee a good guess.
  • Everything that looks like lichen or algae or moss
  • smell intensive plants, as they can likely contain essential oils that burn well (the same thing that makes birch bark burn that well, though it doesn´t smell)
  • everything kind of foamy - in Europe we have some kind of reed whose insinde is just like foam and burns quite well.
  • grass or straw
  • dung

Of course there are many possible ways to prepare tinder so it burns better/longer by putting it in oil and so on, but I think thats not your intention.

Doing the bow-drill style

There are many different ways to light up that tinder, but I will only comment on this one. For the bow you need a stable stick. If the string you get (e. g. made from grass or cactus filament) is very stable you can try using a more flexible bow to get more tension in the string, but you will have to experiment with the setup a lot. For flexible bows I would suggest the only Brazilian wood I know: biribá, as is used for Berimbau instruments. But I would guess it rather grows in humid climate.

I would suggest you get also some inspiration from famous Les Stroud aka Survivorman as he also did some episodes in desert climates (look here) and covers on fire making as well as fire carrying. I think he uses the bow method in one of his episodes in Africa, but I can´t remember which.

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