Monday, December 23, 2013

Peru-Brazil – Days 42 through 49 – The protracted end

This is the last entry on this particular series. My computer is giving me a lot of trouble, and Annie has lost all interest in further travel. She wants to plop herself on the beach at Copacabana and do nothing more, so each of us did our own thing during the week we spent in Rio de Janeiro.

We rented a one-bedroom plus dining room, with a kitchenette, tiny bathroom, fridge, two TVs, and AC for 230 realis per day, two and a half blocks from the beach in the heart of Copacabana. I negotiated with the concierge and got parking in the building for 100 reais for the 6 days. The address of our apartment was Rua Paula Freitas no. 78 - Apto 303. To rent contact Ju Dias. She only speaks Portuguese, but like all Brazilians understands Spanish pretty well. Her e-mail is

I made full use of the metro to explore the city, which included surprises such as the Museo de Bellas Artes (which was having a special exhibition of masterpieces of the Vatican collection – including the oldest representation of the face of Christ on a painting), the Plaza Tiradentes, the Sala de Lectura (one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen), the Sahara district (the market district of Rio, where you can buy just about anything from colorful stalls), the Cathedral (actually, I don’t think the modern Cathedral is all that pretty, but we arrived in Rio in the wake of the departure of Pope Francis, and the excitement of the World Youth Conference was still in the air), and the Arches district, where Bossanova was born, and where all the greats of Brazilian music made their debut).

In the afternoon I went for a ride through the Bay, and visited the island of Paquetá, which reminded me a lot of Catalina Island as a small resort town where there are no cars so everybody walks. The water front walk is particularly pretty, where I was surprised to see a baobab (a southern Africa tree). The bay itself is very beautiful, and at night easily rivals the bay of Hong Kong in terms of the illuminated urbanscape.

On several occasions I rented a bike, which afforded me a wide range of action. A particularly enjoyable trip was down the Copacabana beach and into Ipanema beach, where I was privileged to see the Girl from Ipanema:

Olha que coisa mas linda
mas cheia de graça
é ela menina
que vem e que passa
num doce balanço a
caminho do mar.

The visit to Christ the Redemptor of the Sierra of Corcovado was a highlight. This statue looks down benevolently over Rio and its surroundings, and you can see it from many places from the city and the beaches. You take a cable car up the mountain, and climb, climb, climb until, like a bird, one can look at the whole bay and city as a blanket of twinkling lights under the setting sun. At the top, the sight of the enormous statue of Christ extending its blessing over the whole metropolis stirs the soul.

My visit to the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açucar), the famous landmark at the entry of the bay of Botafogo was not as impressive, because it was a smoggy day and the details became blurred. I was still puzzled by this particular “dome” of bare rock, which is formed by a coarsely-crystalline gneiss that has been stripped of all its weathered cover. The steepness of the dome would easily explain why the rock is not weathered, but what exhumed the dome to begin with is a hard thing to explain. And it is not a unique landform. Similar domes are found south of Ipanema, between Copacabana and Botafogo, and on the slopes of the Sierra of Corcovado.

During the last couple of days I wandered through the city, visiting places like the Monastery of San Benito (a Baroque jewel with its gold-leaf altars), the Flea Market, and any number of bookstores. Copacabana and Ipanema are separate portions of the city, each with its own downtown and amenities. Outside de obvious allure of the beach, Ipanema counts with the Lagoon of Ipanema and its surrounding park, and the campus of the Pontificial University. Copacabana, on its side, has a lively commercial area with all sorts of expensive shops, street vendors (a fellow doing casaba pancakes with herbs and cheese deserves special mention because of the intensity that he invested in creating the perfect cake), and the ever available walk along the water front. A favorite pastime of both locals and visitors is to seat down under the friendly awning of one of the many little restaurants along the waterfront, have a drink, enjoy bossanova played by one or two musicians, and eat something delicious (pizza-on-a-cone was my favorite, where a cone is made with pizza dough, is filled with pizza sauce and sausage, and is topped with cheese, and then is baked for 20 minutes as a regular pizza).

Eventually it came time to say goodbye to Brazil and fly back home. Thank you Brazil for your people and your welcome, and for your natural beauties and your music. And thank you Rio de Janeiro, Ciudad Marvihlosa, for being the port of entry to this amazing wonderland.

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 41 – Tiradentes

From Sierra do Cipó we headed for Belo Horizonte, took the peripheral ring, and started on our way to Rio, intent on following the ´Gold Rush´ road until we reached the town of Tiradentes. The city was renamed in the 1900´s to honor the leader of the first (unsuccessful) struggle for independence. This gentleman happened to be a dentist, and hence the moniker Tiradentes (or teeth-puller).

The approach to the city is not particularly promising, but it is indeed very charming, and a true shopping paradise for artsy stuff. We did our duty as shoppers, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. A peculiarity of this town is that the streets and sidewalks are “cobbled” with big slabs of sandstone, on the face of which are beautiful ripple marks. It is a true exhibition of these remarkable sedimentary structures. We had a pizza for dinner, listening to a very good singer, and after a late visit to the church of Saint Anthony we went to bed.

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 40 – Four-wheel driving in Tabuleiro

Our goal today is to get to a place named Tabuleiro, where there is a hostel that advertised beautiful hikes, and the third tallest waterfall in Brazil. Annie was inclined to spend the day by the pool, but I energized her and off we went. The rocks along the road were very interesting, and we saw a lithologic unconformity, lots of sandstones eroding to fantastic forms, and impressive cliffs formed on a reef limestone. After going nearly 90 km we were directed to turn left unto a dirt track, and from there started a challenging 4-wheel drive track.

We have a rental VW Fox which, being a rental, is by definition a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It may not have a lot of power on high gear, but in first gear the little car hurled itself up 45 degree slopes without a single hiccup. It was a long ride, full of uncertainty, but from time to time we found a local who assured us that yes, the Rabo de Cavahlo waterfall was down the road. Eventually we got within 5 km of a very tall cliff, where lagoonal limestones had been thrusted over a reef complex. The thrust fault was so beautifully exposed that I wished Kait would have been here to oooh and aaah. Unfortunately at this point the trail went into a creek, and I have to confess I chickened out, to the great relief of Annie, who had been clinging with nails and teeth for the best part of two hours.

To get back we decided to take a shortcut, which turned out be be even more scary than the original way in. I told my Honey I owed her a waterfall, but she was all too glad to exonerate me from that debt!

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 39 – Serra do Cipó

We left Belo Horizonte around 8 am, bound to the northeast, where there are a couple of national parks that seemed pretty scenic. On the way north we passed through the new Administrative City, where all the state government has moved to. This "city" is really three ultramodern buildings arranged in a very pleasant complex. We also went through the airport, which is 45 km north of city center.

After going through Lagoa Santa (a small town surrounding a beautiful lagoon), we finally made it to Sierra de Cipó. This is a town devoted 100% to tourism. Because of its nice temperature, beautiful surroundings, and beautiful flowers it is a favorite relax spot for the people from Belo Horizonte (plus the odd couple of foreign tourists). We retained a nice room for two nights, and right away Annie went into her poolside persona, and laid herself on a chair "to sun like a dead fish".  In the meantime I took advantage of the hammock and didn't wake up until 1 pm.

After a snack we went out into the town, rented bikes, and went for a big circuit of the town and the surrounding mountains. It felt good to exercise!

 In the afternoon we took the car and went to look for the entrance of the national park, which we found around 4 pm. Unfortunately they only let people in until 2 pm, so we missed it. Bummer!

For dinner I bought charcoal, veggies, steaks, and sausage, and we had us a churrasco! It was pretty good, if I say so myself.

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 38 – Ouro Preto

We woke up late, had breakfast, and by 9 am were ready to face the Belo Horizonte morning traffic to go to Ouro Preto, about 80 km away. Unfortunately I missed the shortcut and ended driving a lot more before getting there. This charming little town,  which reminds me a lot of Taxco, was the place of the original gold rush in the early 1700's. Legend has it that a laborer put these black rock in its pocket, and that when he got home he realized that it had flecks of gold in it. The black rock is an iron-rich sediment, called itabarite, named after the nearby town of Itabarito (To its other marvels, Minas Gerais includes large mineral deposits of iron). The gold found in this black rock is what gives it its name of "ouro preto" or "black gold".

In less than 20 years the town of Ouro Preto spread over the surrounding hills, and became the economic, cultural, and religious center of Minas Gerais. After the capital was moved to Belo Horizonte, the old town remained behind as a tourist attraction, although there are still many mines around it, so the town still has the original School of Mines, and is the hub for the trade in gemstones and gold.

Annie wanted to buy a ring as a souvenir, and after two hours of hard search found one ring of quartz with rutile needles inside it, and another one with imperial topaz (a gemstone only found in the region of Ouro Preto), so she is now a happy pup.

After a nice lunch, and much up and down to visit baroque churches and artist galleries, we headed back. This time we took the shortcut, which took us through Itabarito and other mining towns. Traffic was fierce when we got to Belo Horizonte, but with Annie as a navigator and my sixth sense as a pilot we unerringly found the way to our hostel in the first try.