Babes from Brazil save los muchachos 80 SWMs (27-70) seek serious BBs

Villamiel, a village of 800 inhabitants in Spain's poor and remote Extremadura province, is breathlessly awaiting the imminent arrival of an army of Brazilian women on the lookout for husbands. Villamiel's 80 bachelors, aged between 27 and 70, can hardly believe their luck.

It all started last year, when the single men of Villamiel looked around in despair: there were only two marriageable women, and both were spoken for. The bachelors decided to advertise throughout the region - "Single man seeks wife, with serious intentions" - but the response was hardly overwhelming.

A few weeks ago, however, a report of their plight, made by Portuguese television, was broadcast in Brazil on the programme O Fantastico. The village was swamped by intercontinental letters, faxes and telephone calls.

Jose Ramos, who is organising a grand reception early next month, says his phone has not stopped since. He received 250 letters last week, and the town hall fax machine has used up 12 rolls of paper - as much as it consumed in the previous 24 years.

Thousands of Brazilian women are apparently ready to cross the world to try their luck with the bachelors of Villamiel. A hefty contingent is expected from the city of Governador Valadares in Minas Gerais state, an emigrant society where women vastly outnumber men.

"We never imagined anything like this. We are overwhelmed," says Jose Ramos. "What's astounding is the high cultural level of the women writing to us. They're biologists, teachers, civil servants, single women and divorcees."

Spanish consulates in Brazil have been so bombarded with enquiries that one consular driver has been diverted to telephone duty. His answers are always the same: no, Brazilians don't need a visa for Spain; Villamiel is far from Madrid; a visitor must carry $100 (pounds 62) a day and a return air ticket; and in Villamiel there are handsome and ugly men like everywhere else.

Brazilian travel agents are promoting Villamiel tours. One young travel agent in the southern town of Botucatu bought a ticket herself, and encouraged three friends to join her.

The pace in Villamiel is leisurely, amid pines and oak trees. The village women are preparing their best shawls to decorate their balconies in welcome, and their finest hand-woven silk bedspreads. Others are already preparing the feast.

The men, meanwhile, are finishing the tobacco and asparagus harvest and face months of unemployment. "We can't offer much," says Jose Ramos. "We aren't very cultured, but we can give them our affection, friendship and love and we are very serious about that."

Jose's father, Vicente, would welcome a Brazilian daughter-in-law with open arms. "They're human beings like the rest of us."

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