Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 37 – Belo Horizonte

We had a great day in downtown Belo Horizonte! First a good breakfast at the hostel (café de manha is a sacred tradition here in Brazil, and no matter how simple the hostel/hotel they always put out a great spread), and then the brilliant decision to leave the car at the hostel and spend the day walking.

Belo Horizonte is a relatively young city, founded in 1897, at the site of a small ranch. To start with, the founding commission set the few houses in fire, so they could start with “a clean slate”, and then proceeded to overlap two grids, rotated at 90 degrees from each other, to set the plan of the city. The coarser of the grids is oriented north-south/east-west, and separates the city in big barrios, originally intended to house the different classes (the politicians lived in one, the military in another, and so on). Then, in 1940, the mayor of the city hired a bright young architect, Oscar Niemeyer (yes, the same guy who designed Brasilia 30 years later), to revamp the old city, and plan the expansion of the next stage of growth. Finally, in 2000, centenarian Oscar Niemeyer, had another go at it, moved the state government to its own complex north of the city, and turned many of the old government buildings into a cultural mall, not unlike The Mall of Washington DC.

Unfortunately we entered the old downtown by the bus station, and had to cross the ugly part of town on our way to the museums of the cultural mall. It was unfortunate because our first impression was of a dirty city. The image changes considerably as you move into less marginalized portions of the city, but we short-circuited the transition by crossing through the Municipal Park (an equivalent to Central Park in New York) to enjoy the refreshing shade of enormous trees and the happy laughter of kiddies playing in the merry-go-round.

Once we reached the cultural mall we went into the Vale Museum of Minas Gerais. Vale is the name of the main mining company of Brazil, and the museum is their gift to the people. It is a fabulous museum that touches on many of the historical highlights of the sate of Minas Gerais, through the use of a few exhibits, many interactive displays, and clever use of computers and film. The discovery of gold in the 16th century, and diamonds in the 17th century, made Minas Gerais the original example of the Gold Rush and Diamond Fever. Because of the mineral richness the state was for a long time the leader in art, literature, and social change.

We have learned our lesson, and at 12:30 headed for our nearest restaurant, and had a wonderful by-the-kilo lunch, with churrasco. This is a very common type of lunch, where you go through the salad bar selecting what you want to eat, then pass the churrasco counter, where the friendly chef cuts you select morsels from all the meats he has on the grill, and then you go weight your plate, and pay by weight, at the rate of 38 reais per kilo. Besides being delicious I learned that this is the best way to have Annie eat her plate clean. Normally, you see, she has to leave something (or a lot) on her plate, daintily hidden under a crumpled napkin. Not here, though, she feels she paid by the gram, and she is not going to waste any of it!

Our second museum was the Museum of Minerals and Mines, which not only elaborated on the incredible diversity of mineral deposits in Minas Gerais, but using very clever exhibits discussed the history of the Mine of Morro Belo as you went down the 2,500 m deep shaft (a very cool effect), the uses of the different metals, the lives of the great geologists and engineers of the state, and the history of Xica Da Silva, a black beauty who became world known for her extravagant diamond jewelry, among others. They also had a great display of minerals!

Tired of museums we went for a bit of people watching to the Mercado Municipal, one of the cleanest markets we had ever seen. The variety of wares for sale was fascinating, the food was enticing, and the colors and aromas were mesmerizing. We took advantage of the beautiful veggies to buy the necessary items for supper.

Having done our duty, we came back to the hostel jut as the sun was setting. Plenty of time to cook to cook a potato-leek-broccoli soup for supper (and a very fine cream it tuned out to be).

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