What a week it has been. We got back from our road trip through Minas Gerais around 2am this morning. It was definitely something different, and definitely a lot of fun. Last Wednesday before we were about to leave I realized that our car rental hadn’t been finalized. We hadn’t thought about the fact that car rental shops would also be on holiday that Thursday and following Tuesday for the feriados, so no, we could not rent nor return cars on those days as planned. Keia and I ended up just finding a place by walking around and grabbing the last car they had for the cheapest price. So there might not have been any power steering, but it had air conditioning, and that was better than what our pousada can offer. There were five of us going on the trip including Keia, Joe, and myself plus Leo (resident carioca) and Nuno (another exchange student friend). It was a tight fit in the little four door sedan, but we managed to cram all of our luggage and some groceries inside and set off for São Thomé the next morning.
São Thomé das Letras is a small, mountaintop town in the south of Minas Gerais (the inland state bordering Rio). It takes about five and a half hours to get there… if you don’t stop for an hour long lunch and take the small dirt road the last hundred kilometers. 7 or 8 hours after we set off, lots of biscoitos, a very dirty car, and a karaoke version of The Proclaimers famous song “(I’m gonna be) 500 miles” later, we arrived safely in São Thomé. Really it was a miracle, because our little “shortcut” took us down some roads that car should just never have been able to make it past. Once we finally arrived, we found the pousada we had booked for 3 nights, settled in, and went to explore. The town is known for stone mining, extra terrestrial sightings, and cachaça. We didn’t see any aliens, but the streets and nearly all of the homes there are made out of the local stone that is mined in the area. We found a bar on the main praça that we deemed our own. It had the best cachaça any of us has ever tasted in Brazil. We all bought bottles of the Pinga de Figuinho (Fig Cachaça) to bring back home to the States, and we might even think about sharing some. The next morning – our first real day in São Thomé – we walked to the praça again to find out what there was to do. Because of the terrain in the area, the best way to see anything is by jeep or ATV. We quickly decided to rent a couple of quads for the afternoon and a guide to show us around. He took us to see four different waterfalls, which was perfect since we could pick out which one we liked the best and plan to go back the next day. São Thomé is known for having a lot of caves (“grutas” in Portuguese) too. Day 3 of our trip, we drove out to one – Gruta do Carimbado, to the end of which no one has ever gone and which legend says runs all the way to Machu Picchu – only to find that it was closed down and we couldn’t go inside. Instead, we stopped by a grocery store on our way through town to fill up a bucket with some beer and a bag of ice, and drove out to one of the waterfalls we had been to the day before. The water was chilly, but the sun was hot, and we spent most of the rest of the day lounging near the cachoeira and enjoying doing nothing. At night and in the early mornings it got really cold in São Thomé. On the last day there, I decided I wanted to see the sunrise. Even the view from the roof of our pousada was gorgeous, so I knew the sunrise from the pirâmide or the cruzeiro (a couple of touristy monuments that sit atop the highest points in the city) would be well worth it. Keia agreed to come with me, so we bundled up just before 6am and made it just in time to see the first rays of light peeking over the edge of the valley. We climbed to the top of the pirâmide and watched the world wake up for a little while, then we found a padaria with some warm, fresh bread for breakfast. The boys pretty much refused to wake up before 11am, so we went back to sleep for a couple of hours before waking the troops and leaving for Belo Horizonte.
Belo Horizonte is the capital of Minas Gerais and the 3rd largest city in Brazil. There aren’t a whole lot of touristy things to do there, but our friend Amanda is originally from there and had gone home for 3 weeks to visit her mom. After the 4+ hour drive there, we were so grateful to have a place to stay and to eat some real home cookin’. I can honestly say that Amanda’s mom’s stroganoff is the best one that I have ever had. We took it easy that night, and the next day drove about an hour and a half outside of Belo Horizonte to a historic, old mining town called Ouro Preto (“Black Gold”). Back in the day, it was either the biggest or one of the biggest cities in Brazil because of its natural gold resources. After all of the gold was gone, all of the people left, as they tend to do, and now the town thrives mainly on tourism and some other less-precious stones. It turns out that Mondays aren’t the best days to visit the city, because most of the churches and museums are closed. We were okay with that since the boys had a strict “no church tours” rule. Instead we found a guide who took us to a R$13 all-you-can-eat restaurant, a slavery museum down one of the prettiest roads in the city, and an actual mine that we could enter across the city toward the top of one of the mountains. The food in Minas is more stewed meats (often served in hot cauldrons atop a bed of flames) and the beans are lighter. I liked it a lot. The mine was neat, although a little anti-climactic. It didn’t go very far into the mountain, and was safe to walk through pretty much standing upright. Every picture I took in that town could be a postcard though. We bought some gifts at the end of the day and went up to the “mirante” (overlook?) to get a view of the whole city before driving back to Amanda’s for the night. Back in Belo Horizonte, we went to a samba rock bar with a live band playing in Centro. Samba rock is so much fun! Some of the songs were like samba versions of popular songs in the States right now, and others were just edgier versions of normal samba songs. Either way, it was a lot of fun to listen and dance to.
On Tuesday we got a late starting heading back to Rio. The drive is 6 or 7 hours long, but with rain, hills, having to turn around because no one had cash for the road tolls, stopping for dinner, needing to get gas and find a car wash, we didn’t make it home until around 2am (~12 hours later). Today we had to snap back to real life and hit the ground running, now that we only have one month left before we go back to the States. Keia and I are going to try hard to quit speaking so much English, and we have a lot of schoolwork to get through before the semester is up.
I keep forgetting that tomorrow (now today) is Thanksgiving! We three Americans might try to pull together a dinner for our friends. I hope everyone has a good one, we’re all missing you here.