Rose at 5:30 a.m. to catch the taxi I was sharing back to the Airport in Brasilia. The night was still inky black-blue and two bright planets were shining just above the skyline – gorgeous! A rooster started crowing perched atop the stone wall fence across the street – he was silhouetted against the bare beginnings of early dawn. It was a special sight I’ll always remember, wrapped into the entire euphoric experience of John of God’s Casa!
The taxi delivered us to the airport in an hour, where I waited until 3:00 p.m. for my flight to Belo Horizonte. Arrived at 4:30 and took an Airport bus to the Rodoviario. Hopped in a taxi to try to find a particular hostel I had read about in my guide book, but unfortunately it was no longer in business. There was one other hostel I had considered, and he whisked me off to it. A high rise building in the busy downtown area, it was quite noisy, but clean and well maintained. I met a woman, Niki, from South Africa, who was also traveling to check out somewhere new to live. She was on her way to the Chapada Diamentina. There is a valley on the west side of the park she was going to explore that is known for its organic gardens and sustainable community.
Belo Horizonte reminded me of San Francisco – the architecture, the steep hills it is built on, the cooler climate, and the trolley cars were all highly reminiscent of the City by the Bay. I want to return someday when I can spend more time there. But my destination was the historical gold mining town of Ouro Preto. My bus left at 8 a.m. and I was in Ouro Preto by 10 a.m.
Ouro Preto is built on steep mountain slopes with cobble stone streets and more than its share of turreted cathedrals. Sadly, the rivers are filthy with litter and dirty water. After checking into my hostel, I hiked up to Morro da Forca, a flat hilltop park with fantastic vistas. Later, while sitting at the glorious restaurant “Deguste”sipping a cup of divine coffee, I gazed up at the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (a cathedral) directly in front of me and contemplated life. It was a beautiful day, and I was extraordinarily thankful to have come to Brazil! Grateful to be alive!
That evening I explored more businesses in the downtown area, and attended a theatre to see “Hereafter,” a Matt Damon flick that had been subtitled in Spanish. Back at the hostel I went to bed before 10 p.m. and tried to stay warm that night – it was freezing cold!
Breakfast in the morning was relatively Spartan – it turned out I was the only guest at the hostel, so they hadn’t wasted any money on breakfast food! While sitting on the patio feeding the birds, a young man arrived and took breakfast, also. He was from Florida and had been laid off from his job. Since he had received a relatively good severance package, he had come to Brazil to study Portuguese, and had been living there for 6 months. He started feeding the birds, too, and we talked for quite a while.
Later that morning I walked through town to catch the bus to the next gold mining town, Mariana. Upon arriving at the Rodoviario in Mariana, I got ripped off by the taxi driver again – that was the second time. Gringas are easy targets, I guess, but it was teaching me how to make a better deal the next time. I was dropped off at the Mariana Hostel, a beautiful and spotlessly clean, new building run by an English-speaking man.
The historic gold mining town of Mariana is absolutely charming. Wide cobblestone streets that are mostly flat, freshly painted buildings, a central town park with water features, artistic classy shops, and friendly smiling people are just a few of the stand-out qualities of this incredible place. I strolled around town and went into one museum and two churches. The work of one of Brazil’s most famous sculptors – Aleijandinho – was in one of the churches. The quality of his sculpture is clearly superior to anything else I’ve seen in Brazil.
While walking around town I met Antonio Paulo, a young man who not only owns a sweets and coffee shop on the main street in town across from the park, but also a franchise of #1Number One English School, a chain company in Brazil. He offered me a job teaching English, and took me for a tour of the school and its classrooms. I met some of the other English teachers, and some of the students, too. It was a tempting offer, and I let him know I’d think about it.
Later in the afternoon I walked up the highest hill overlooking the town, to the Igreja de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos, the cathedral perched on top. The sun was getting low against the distant mountains, and I returned to the Mariana Hostel for an early retirement. The Spirits were supposed to come that night and remove the stitches from my Spiritual Operation, and I wanted to be ready.