May 18th, 2011 – Woke before dawn and had trouble getting back to sleep – I’m pretty sure the Spirits came and removed my stitches last night. Just a feeling… Finally fell back to sleep and woke again at 6:40. Breakfast buffet was laid out for myself and a couple other guests. The entire Hostel Mariana is highly attractive. Attention is paid to detail, and there is an artistry, a professionalism about the place that is above the norm for hostels. I appreciate that type of care to a business, as that is the same class of quality I try to aspire to in my own life. I greatly rnjoyed the place, and highly recommend Hostel Mariana, if you’re ever in Brazil’s Gold Country.
Caught the 8 a.m. bus back to Ouro Preto. The visit to Mariana was just a quick one, as I was down to only a week left in my trip to Brazil before flying back to the U.S., and there were still so many places I wanted to see. Back in Ouro Preto, I tried a different Hostel this time, one next door to the one I stayed at last time. This one, Hostel Brama, had fantastic views of Ouro Preto from its terrace patio, a nicer breakfast spread, great bathrooms and showers, and free maps.
After checking in, I walked down into town and visited the Museum Casa dos Comos, Museum Oratory, Museum of the Inconfidencia, and Museum of Aleijadinho (Little Cripple). The last museum houses a fraction of the work of the sculptor who is so famous in Brazil. Aleijadinho’s story is spellbindinding. During his prime years he was a socialite and womanizer, but as he got older he became afflicted with a disease that ate away his fingers and hands, toes and feet.
Near the end of his life, when he created his greatest sculptural masterpieces, the carving chisels he used had to be bound onto the stumps at the ends of his arms for him to work, and he had to be assisted to his worksite by helpers lifting and carrying him, as he could no longer walk on his own. He became more and more reclusive in his retiring years, and died alone. But the sculptures he created in his last decade are the most astonishing creation of his entire lifetime, though all his works were highly masterful.
After all the museum going, I was ready for a delicious cup of coffee – coffee in Brazil is to die for, not your normal North American brew – and a slice of leek quiche with a side of cherry tomato salad. Yummy! Just remembering it makes my mouth water. Divinity!
That night the full moon hung over the town of Ouro Preto (Yellow Gold) and myself and two young women from Belgium, teachers on Sabbatical traveling the world together for one year, enjoyed watching it ride the night sky for over an hour.
I didn’t sleep much that night – my travel alarm battery had died and I was worried about missing the 7 a.m. bus to Lavras Novas (New Land), a mountain village I had heard about. It was off the beaten path, but supposed to be a unique town of great beauty and interesting history, and I wanted to see it. Black slaves who had rebelled and freed themselves from the gold mining regimes had broken away and started their own free village at Lavras Novas.
The bus ride to Lavros Novas was interesting – I was the only fair skin on it. Everyone else’s skin was quite dark, and most people were male.
The drive up into the distant mountain village took us through large factory villages with fire spewing 30’ out the tops of tall chimney stacks, and the factories enclosed by large cement walls with heavily gated entrances.
When the bus arrived in Lavros Novas, the town was wrapped and folded in a cloud. I could see little beyond 100’ – and nothing was open, not even the Tourist Office.
I waited 20 minutes outside the door of the Tourist Office while a young black man tried to get the woman inside to open for me. Meanwhile, she was inside, singing beautiful, uplifting songs to her Lord. I started to notice the religious statues on the rooftop and at the corners. She may have been singing morning hymns to her Saints. In any case, she didn’t open, so I left and walked on down through the town with no map, not knowing where I was going, more or less lost in a cloud, viewing buildings and businesses in this small, early morning, dead-quiet, lovely little town.
I found a coffee shop and met Cintia – an amazing woman who said she was on her way to walk to Ouro Preto with her little day pack – that would be almost 17 miles! She had owned a bookstore in Lavros Novas, but had sold it. Now she did business in stones and gems. She’s lived all over the world – Italy, Ecuador, Columbia, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, and several other countries I cannot remember. She said she spoke only two languages – Portuguese and Italian, yet her English was very understandable and clearly she must have known some Spanish. After enjoying a lively conversation with her, she left the coffee shop to walk to Ouro Preto.
I had originally thought I’d take the 4 p.m. bus back to Ouro Preto, but after finding my way around in the fog for an hour, I decided to take the 10 a.m. bus back. Halfway back to Ouro Preto, the bus stopped at a desolate corner of road crossings and picked up Cintia – it was great to see her again. When we arrived in Ouro Preto, she and I walked part way up the road together until she spotted her beau from Argentina – a new male friend of hers, and we parted ways.
I checked out of my hostel and caught a 1:15 p.m. bus to Congonhas, the town where many late life sculptures by Aleijadinho were featured at the Basilica. A sweet and very helpful young woman helped me make my connections via taxi to see the Basilica in just one hour, before catching the next bus to the city further on, Sao Joao del Rei, for the night. It was a bunch of craziness, but it all came off like clockwork, thanks to her.
Many thanks to you again, Laize Resende! Her assistance helped me greatly in seeing a very special place in Brazil. She is a young woman studying to be a lawyer, and by now is already practicing in Ouro Preto. She, also, was going to be catching the bus on to Sao Joao del Rei, and we later became seat mates on that ride.
The taxi waited for me in the Basilica parking area while I spent less than half an hour dashing from one area to another, snapping photos incessantly of the incredible sculptures and taking as much in as possible with the short time I had. The taxi then raced me back to the Rodoviario, and I caught the bus on to Sao Joao del Rei, where Leisi and I sat next to each other. During that bus ride, we went through an incredibly beautiful, drenching downpour of a rainstorm. The salmon and gray colors in the clouds were intense, and the high mountain roads offered stunning views of wet, green vistas in every direction. Laize filled me in on all types of information of the area. She disembarked in a remote part of the landscape, with the bus pulling over to the side of a field, and her father picking her up in a pick-up truck. We waved good-bye.
At Sao Joao del Rei I was all prepared to have a taxi driver rip-off con-artist try me again, but fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that – a stunningly beautiful black-haired woman, LuAnna, who had sat in front of my seat on the bus, offered to give me a lift to wherever I needed to go, via her Mother. Apparently she had overheard much of Laize’s and my conversation, and she wished to be of assistance to a visitor from the U.S. to Brazil! What an incredibly delightful offer! Of course, I accepted. Her mother met us at the bus stop, and they proceeded to drive me all over the small city of Sao Joao del Rei. The town was quite attractive, and I was glad I had made this place an overnight stay on my way out of Brazil.
When she finally dropped me off at Vila Hostel, she told me she was friends with the owner, Victor. It turned out he owns another hostel in Tiradentes, another gold mining town I planned to visit by steam train the next day. After checking in to my dorm room, I walked to a charming little restaurant and had a vegetarian rice dish, and later on to another place in a small shopping center that served me up a delicious ice cream cone. Finally, back again at the Vila Hostel, I realized I was the only one there. Slept on an excellent, firm mattress, crisp clean sheets and noiseless night – heavenly!