26 Mar – 03 Apr
I had initially wanted to take a later bus to Belo Horizonte so that I would arrive at a decent time, but because I got bored of the cold in Cabo Frio and changed my bus to an earlier one, I arrived in Belo Horizonte at an ungodly 5am. Not wanting to wake my host, Mayra, up at such a supremely horrible time, I whiled away about an hour at the bus terminal before giving her a call so that she could pick me up, but she didn’t answer her phone so I made my own way down to her place. I still had to wake her up anyway, but it was 7 by then, so I didn’t feel too bad. I hung out with her and her friend for a couple of hours, before taking a nap to make up for the crappy overnight bus. After lunch, I headed out to explore for a bit, while Mayra and her friend studied for their exams.
First impressions of Belo Horizonte – it is a city.
Lots of tall, modernish buildings, except for the city centre, where historical buildings have been preserved.
I paid a visit to a random museum which had some interesting exhibits about the city’s history,
and wandered around taking random pictures of the city. Still being quite tired after the overnight bus ride, I turned in early that night.
The next day, it was off to explore the city properly. I visited some monuments,
and the municipal market,
which was pretty fun. In the evening, I met up with some CSers – Isadora, her boyfriend and Diogo – for drinks and we had a jolly time chatting and hanging out.
Diogo also wanted to head to Serra do Curral to do a hike, so we made plans to meet up the next day and conquer the mountain (well, not really) together.
We met up around lunchtime the next day, and after lunch, set off on foot toward the general direction of Serra do Curral.
It was a long uphill walk, but we finally made it…somewhere.
We weren’t quite sure where the trailhead was, and neither did anybody we asked (but we were told strange things like it would only take 40min to trek to the top of Serra do Curral), but eventually we managed to find our way to the entrance…only to be told we couldn’t do the trek. Apparently, since Serra do Curral is part of a protected national park, we could only go on a guided tour, instead of exploring independently. And obviously, with our luck, the guided tours for the day had already left. Bummed by this sudden turn of events, we left our names with the rangers for the tour the next day, and headed to Parque Mangabeiras instead. It was a long walk back the way we had come, and eventually we arrived at Parque Mangabeiras which (thankfully) didn’t require guides to explore. It turned out to be a nice walk,
although we did get a little lost due to the horrible signs (or lack thereof) in the park. It definitely felt good to get away from the city,
and relax in the (semi) wilderness.
That evening, Mayra and I headed to the weekly CS meeting, where we met up with lots of cool CSers, and had a good time as usual.
I woke up bright and early the next morning, determined to make it to the top of Serra do Curral. When I arrived there, I was told that as the only person requiring an English-speaking guide, I would have my very own guide! How awesome is that, eh?
So off we went on our trek. It was an easy trek for the most part, and I had an enjoyable time chatting with Paulo, my guide, about Minas Gerais and Brazil, and other things in general.
And of course, the views of the city were absolutely stunning.
I must admit, the name Belo Horizonte was not given in error.
The trek ended just in time for me to run off and meet Isadora, Diogo, Jacek and Alison, some CSers, for lunch at Mercado Municipal. While hanging around waiting for people to arrive, we had an absolutely delightful Broa de Queijo, an alternative take on the traditional Pão de Queijo.
Lunch was a yummy affair, sampling local cuisine, and after lunch we split ways after making plans to meet up in the evening. We met up in the evening at Malleta, where most of the bars are located, and whiled away the evening chatting.
Sunday! God’s day of rest, but the day all the hippies come out to play. Belo Horizonte is home to one of the biggest hippie markets in Brazil (South America?) and I decided to check it out and my God, it was huge!
It was full of people and tonnes of stalls selling all sorts of knick knacks.
I wandered around looking at stuff and trying random food for a couple of hours before feeling rather overwhelmed and heading home.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the house with Mayra and generally taking it easy. One thing I’ve come to realize is that being in a city is extremely tiring and draining. Bleh.
Anyway, being as tired of the city as I was, I decided to escape to a much smaller town the next day, Ouro Preto. The town, whose name literally means Black Gold, is so named for the huge deposits of gold that were mined from the black rock by the Portuguese conquistadors, but it has since fallen from its days of glory now that most of the gold has been extracted.
I took a bus from Belo Horizonte and after a (relatively) short bus ride of a couple of hours, I was in Ouro Preto.
This cute little town is built on and around several hills, but makes for an impressive view from the top of any one of the hills.
I was immediately in love, and despite the rain which started up barely 20 minutes after my arrival, I refused to be daunted.
I headed to the first restaurant I came across to have a traditional lunch of rice, beans, meats and salads (Brazil has this lovely concept of paying by the weight of your food, which means you get to eat a large variety of stuff for a reasonable price), but after lunch the rain still hadn’t let up. Still, because I had planned to return to Belo Horizonte on the last bus back, I headed out into the rain, determined to see something of the town.
As luck would have it, and me being the forgetful person that I am, it was a Monday, and I had forgotten that all museums, churches and anything vaguely interesting to a tourist would be closed. After trotting up and down several hills to try my luck at a couple of churches and museums (only one of which was open), I bit the bullet and decided to call it a day.
Ouro Preto, while once a prosperous mining town, now is home to one of the best universities in Brazil, and as such, has turned into a bustling university town. Unfortunately, it was vacation period for the university, but that meant the many fraternities and sororities in the town had room (at very reasonable prices) for poor travellers such as myself. So off I went, knocking on the doors of several fraternities and sororities, before I finally came across Patotinha, a sorority with lovely girls who took pity on my drowned-rat state and let me stay for free. Such delightful girls they were, and I really enjoyed chatting with them.
At some point, the sun also decided to get back on my side, and at about 4pm, I realized the rain had slowed to a drizzle light enough for me to venture out again. Armed with some suggestions as to places to visit before night fell, I headed out to explore and thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering up and down the lovely rolling hills of the town.
That evening, I had a jolly time with the girls, chatting and watching Brazilian soap operas before turning in for the night.
The next morning, I woke up quite early to make the most of my day and headed out to wander some more. It turned out to be an excellent day,
where I headed to the famous Igreja Santa Efigênia, a church built by the African slaves for themselves (obviously, they weren’t allowed to worship at most of the other churches they built for the white colonialists). While the church was closed for restoration, I managed to sweet talk my way into the church and even sneakily snapped a couple of photos before the construction guys realized what was happening.
P.S It never hurts to ask if you want something – sometimes it pays off! It also helps to know the local language and bonus points if you’re from somewhere “exotic”, like Singapore.
Anyway, pleased with the efforts of my sneaky ways, I headed off up some streets and down others, just soaking in the lovely atmosphere of this chilled out town.
The huffing and puffing that accompanied my walks up some streets were also definitely worth it, for the gorgeous views they afforded of the town.
Although the gold mines are now mostly closed, some still function as tourist attractions, where tourists get guided visits through the mines.
I decided to go on a tour of one of the most famous mines, the mine where Chico Rei worked, an African slave who was eventually freed by his master and who went on to mine an incredible amount of gold he then used to buy the freedom of his people with. While the tour was in Portuguese, with my less than perfect Portuñol, I managed to get the main gist of the history of the mine. Fascinating stuff, but at the same time, an appalling reminder of the evilness of the human race. 😦
I ended off my visit to Ouro Preto with a visit to Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pilar, which houses a ridiculous 1000 pounds of gold (in addition to 900 pounds of silver), and is the church with the most gold in the country. No pictures because photography isn’t generally allowed, but trust me, literally everything there was covered in gold. Absolutely nuts to think about how the church could easily use all that gold to eradicate a significant amount of poverty in the town or even the state, but nope, the gold is obviously better off “protected” behind the closed doors of the church. Sigh, sometimes, religion doesn’t make sense to me.
The rain started up again just in time for lunch, so I hid indoors again, and whiled away some time before heading to the bus station to catch a bus back to Belo Horizonte. I must say, in my short time there, Ouro Preto definitely captured a place in my heart.
The next day, it was off to Pampulha, an huge man-made lake outside the city centre of Belo Horizonte. In taking a bus there, I somehow managed to miss my stop and had to take another bus back (lesson learnt: always ask the bus driver to tell you where to get off), but eventually I arrived at the lake. And my word, it was huge.
Still, it was nice walking around it, and I visited a couple of architectural works of Oscar Niemeyer,
as well as the Olympic gymnasium
and the World Cup stadium, Mineirão.
Going on the tour of the Mineirão made me mildly sad that I wouldn’t be in Brazil to soak in the atmosphere of the World Cup, but I quickly reminded myself how crazy (expensive) everything would be then, and then I felt a lot better. Haha.
Still, it was a nice day spent walking around, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Having had enough of Belo Horizonte, I decided it was time to pack my bags and leave, so the next day, I spent chilling out and organizing my photos at Mayra’s place, before leaving to catch an overnight bus to Vitoria.
Stupidly, when I booked my bus ticket online, I didn’t realize that my bus left from a different bus terminal than the main one, and arriving at the main bus terminal 30 minutes before my bus was due to leave, I was told to catch the metro to the other terminal. What ensued was a mad dash to the metro, an interminable ride on the metro, a mad dash to the bus terminal 5 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, where I was told I had to change my printed ticket for another one at the ticket office, another mad dash to the ticket office, before finally boarding the bus which had kindly waited for me. Breathless from all the frantic rushing about, but finally on board, I was off to Vitoria!