Snorkeling in Paradise

Dawn on the Waterway

May 22, 2011 – Woke with the dawn and went out for a walk down along the waterway, over to the beach and on to the pier, around the perimeter of town, and back via the main street. What a charming town this is! Originally built as a port from which to ship gold back to Europe, the fort was designed to protect against the pirates. Another fort port is up the coast a few hundred miles, so the pirates didn’t know which port was being used at which time. Now the historic fort is used as the high end shop and restaurant area – nicely done!

My Hostel on the Waterway

Back at my Hostel, I had breakfast overlooking the waterway, where I watched a cormorant swim at least 80’ underwater and schools of very large fish swimming past. Though the water is a muddy brown color, it still has fairly good visibility.

Our boat trip was to begin at 10:30, so the group of 8 passengers – all from our Hostel – walked out to the pier together with the skipper. Normally the boat would come up the waterway and pick us up at the dock of the Hostel, but the tide was so low this morning there wasn’t enough depth for the boat to come up the waterway.

Early Morning Fisherman with his Nets

As we approached the pier, a horrible fight was going on between a young woman and an older man – perhaps her father. The police were there keeping the “domestic” under control, but the screaming and crying and raised fists were the first I’d ever experienced in Brazil!

Walking down the length of the pier we saw dozens of tour boats ready to take tourists to the various islands for the day – it was astonishing how busy it was! We boarded our small, hand-crank engine boat, and it putt-putted out into the flat water ahead of all the other tour boats still loading at dock.

Along Waterway Looking Back at Paraty

Our first stop was an island where we anchored just offshore and snorkeled for at least 45 minutes. The water was crystal clear and lukewarm.  The skipper tossed some small bits of bread into the water and INSTANTLY a group of fish appeared and ate it! They looked like Pirhana to me, but he called them some other name…hmmm.

The Pier

From there we putt-putted over to another island beach and anchored offshore again. This island had a restaurant with beach tables and umbrellas – Lovely! I had brought my health food with me – apples, cheese, carrots, nuts and crackers – so I was already set for lunch. After more snorkeling and sunbathing I fell asleep on the sand. It felt divine to relax in the sun to the sound of the gentle waves lapping at the water’s edge.

Several Boats at the Pier

About 1 ½ hours later, we putt-putted to another beach, and our skipper took us on a short walk into the jungle to show us where the Germans built a factory 150 years ago to make a highly potent alcoholic drink from sugar cane. The large water wheel that powered the pressing of the cane is still standing, though quite overgrown by jungle. The Brazilian who owns the land is interested in preserving this historical landmark and is not planning to develop it, according to the skipper.

OnBoard Our Boat

Late afternoon was underway, and our skipper putt-putted the boat back to Paraty and up the waterway, where we disembarked at the dock of our Hostel. We arrived just as the sun was going down. I grabbed my duffel bag and headed over to a different Hostel – the first one had horrible sheets and flimsy bunk beds made with aluminum frames – scary. I had arranged my new Hostel – Hostel Che Legaro –  during my early morning walk.

Me on the Boat Roof

My new room was not a dorm room – I now had a double bed, fresh cotton sheets that felt like sheets should, a great bathroom and a wicked-good shower! After showering I headed down for a delicious dinner of fresh fish.

Making the extra effort to get to Paraty was well worth it. The entire coastal area is stunningly beautiful, peaceful and as close to paradise as I have perhaps ever been.

Looking Back at Paraty

This is a town I could see myself living in. It is situated half-way between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, so if one wanted to visit a bit of city life there’s plenty not far away. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of small gorgeous islands to explore, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, kayaking, diving, beaches, fresh fruits and veggies, delightful restaurants and shops, incredible views of mountains circumferencing the town, and clear blue water to gaze upon.  Paradise looks like Paraty!

Another Tour Boat Passing Us

Vacation Homes Along Island Beaches

First Island Snorkel Stop, Looking Through Boat Window

Bread-Eating Fish

Onward to the Second Island

Getting Off At Second Island

Ahhh, Sweet Paradise!

Some of My Boat Mates

Reboarding Our Boat

Third Island Stop

Old German Water Wheels

Hand-Crank Boat Engine

Heading Back to Paraty

Restaurant Island - Boaters' Only

Approaching Paraty

Coming Up the Waterway to Our Hostel

The End of a Grand Day

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One Wild Dash to Paraty!

Parque Gazebo and Swimming Pool Building in Coxambu

May 21st, 2011 – The breakfast buffet was a lavish spread laid out on glass plates in tiers on a long, white tablecloth. The dining ware was equally elegant, which made the whole experience quite impressive. And, at last, I was not dining alone – there were at least 25 others at breakfast, most of them probably in their 70s. The one strange thing I noticed is that the breakfast music that was playing was “Smile, though you are in pain, Smile, though ….”  A bit of a curious choice, I thought.

One of the Many Mineral Water Jug Filling Locations

I was excited to get down to the Parque to see the hot mineral waters and discover whether this was a place I might be able to hold future health retreats for Brazilians. I was looking for hot soaking mineral waters, but to my astonishment I learned upon entering the Parque that these mineral waters ARE FOR DRINKING!

Swan Lake in the Parque

There was a large pool house where people could swim in the mineral waters, but the water was not heated, and there was a separate admittance fee to use the pool house after you had already paid to get into the Parque. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I decided to walk around the Parque anyway and see the rest of it since I was there.

Chairlift Hill Above Swan Lake

The Parque is the central feature of Coxambu, and has a small lake with swans in the middle with a single seat chairlift that hoists people above the lake to the top of a hill overlooking the Parque and Coxambu. I took the chairlift to the top, and on the ride up I saw a wild Toucan in a tree just next to the lift!

View From the Top

The views from the top of the hill were magnificent! Once down the chairlift I walked back towards the Hotel, and passed the Rodoviario on the way. Upon checking when the next bus left for Sao Lourenco, I was told it would be LEAVING IN 5 MINUTES!!! I raced to the Hotel, grabbed my bag and raced back to the Rodoviario and boarded the bus just as it was driving away from the Rodoviario! That was a bit close!

Chairlift Ride Back Down to Coxambu

Sao Lourenco was the next mineral water town I wanted to visit, again to see if it might work as a health retreat location. The bus pulled into Sao Lourenco just before noon, and I could already tell from the drive into town to the Rodoviario that I didn’t want to even bother spending any time checking it out. Coxambu and Sao Lourenco were the first two towns I’d been to during my entire journey through Brazil that I did not care for. And now I had only 2 full days left after this day to enjoy the rest of my trip – what was I going to do? I was in a dilemma! I stood at the Rodoviario and looked at maps and schedules.

Parque in Coxambu

I decided I really wanted to go to the coast and spend my last two days at the beach. In the 15 minutes it took me to figure that out, a bus left that would have taken me to a connecting bus on to Paraty, a coastal town that Niki, the South African woman I had met back in Belo Horizonte, had raved about. She had spent a week there when she first arrived to Brazil and couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Coxambu Parque Tour Bus

I went back and forth between two ticket windows talking with each ticket seller about buses and schedules, and there was no bus in either direction that could get me to another connecting bus to Paraty by the evening. The ticket agents each called other terminals for me to verify bus departure times, and did all they could to help find me a way to make my destination. But nothing was working.

Mineral Water Fountains

Finally, after debating all the options, I decided to take a 2+ hour taxi ride to Barra Manus – a taxi would get me there in time to catch a connecting bus to Paraty and arrive at the seaport by evening.

The ticket seller at one of the booths helped me secure a good taxi. Ticket sellers are licensed to make taxi recommendations with licensed taxi drivers, a system which is supposed to spare non-Portuguese speaking travelers from getting ripped off. It worked. He quoted me $R200 in comparison the $R500 another independent taxi driver quoted.

A Gazebo-Covered Mineral Water Fountain

After thanking the young ticket sellers profusely for all their assistance, I was off again, this time in the front seat of a taxi with a driver that spoke minimum English. It could have seemed like a very long two and a half hours to Barra Manus, but it didn’t. He was a kind, likeable man, very thoughtful and considerate. And the scenery was stupendous!

Parque Walkway Along a Mineral Waterway

The road wound through the verdant mountains between the states of Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It twisted and cris-crossed back and forth over the borders along the high peaks, and eventually descended down into the flatland of the state of Rio de Janeiro. We arrived in Barra Mannus one hour before my bus departed to Paraty, so the pressure was now off. I finally began to relax – I was going to make it to Paraty after all!

Swan Shaped Paddle Boats For Rent

During the bus trip to Paraty I began to realize how tired I was. I was falling asleep while sitting upright in my seat, and I would suddenly wake myself up with a little SNORT! How embarrassing!

We finally deboarded the bus in Paraty at 9:20 p.m. It didn’t take long to walk through the streets to the Hostel del Rio on the waterway. Checked in to a dorm room, and before long was sleeping soundly, finally at my coastal destination for my last two full days in Brazil. What amazing fortune to have made it to the coast! There was a full-day snorkel tour of the islands happening in the morning, and I was already booked!

Swan Lake Reflection

 

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The Train to Tiradantes, and a Surreal Scramble

Old Steam Engine in Train Museum

May 20th, 2011 – My trip was down to the last 4 days before catching my flight out of Sao Paulo back to the U.S. I had missed two other steam train rides that I had hoped to take – one early in the trip at Curitiba, and one at Mariana. Now I had one last opportunity to ride an old steam train into the small gold mining town of Tiradentes, which means tooth-puller, and was named after Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier, who lived from 1746 to 1792. He was a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidencia Mineira. The movement’s goal was full independence from the Poruguese colonial power and to create a Brazilian republic. When the independence movement plan was discovered, Xavier was publicly hanged. After the republic was formed he has been honored as one of Brazil’s national heroes.

Model of Early Donkey Engine

Breakfast was abysmal at the Vila Hostel, and once again I was the only one staying there. I raided the almost empty fridge, sucked a couple raw eggs and strolled out to enjoy the beautiful morning in the lush, green back yard. Packed up my duffel bag and stashed it in my dorm room, left the Hostel and walked to the well-maintained train station. A Museum about the history of the train era and gold extraction in Brazil was housed within the station.

Boarding the Train to Tiradentes

As I was perusing through the Museum while waiting for the train to begin boarding, hordes of screaming 8 to 10 year old school children flooded into the Museum, all ticketed to take the train to Tiradentes. Every single one of them had a digital camera and they were flashing photos like mad as they dashed around and leapt from one old train engine to another. There were several school teachers accompanying them, though not controlling any of them in any way.

Leaving Sao Joao del Rei

The train began to board and I chose to sit in a car near the rear of the train. Shortly after doing so, I realized my mistake – the rear cars were loading up with all the wild and screaming children. I quickly moved forward about 4 cars to one that had older, quieter folks, like myself. Fortunately, I was still in time to find a window seat. The windows slid up and down and all of them were open which made it easy to stick the camera out to catch train shots as it went around bends.

Conductor Punching Tickets

The ride to Tiradentes was flat and went through lush green countryside, with lakes in the foreground, mountains in the background. Occasionally the smoke from the engine’s smokestack would drift into the windows – ugh! It was filled with small black particulate matter, and later I learned that the train was burning oil, which stunk to high heaven when it wafted by. But for most of the ride the air was clean and breathable. The countryside was gorgeous!

Through Lush Green Scenery

The old-time train whistle was great to hear, and it tooted as often as it could, at every crossing, at every passer-by – it kept pretty busy! As we pulled into Tiradentes, there were over a dozen horse-drawn taxi carriages ready and waiting to transport people into town. I chose to walk, as the town was just a couple blocks from the train terminal and I wanted to exercise the legs.

Horse Drawn Taxi Carriages

Tiradentes is a beautiful town with a river running through it, mountains all around, and it sits fairly high with commanding views. The highest hill in town has a Basilica perched atop, and the cobblestone streets that splay out below are lined with high-end tourist shops and restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed this town – it was elegant, peaceful and surrounded by stunning landscapes in every direction.

Turning the Train Engine Around

Before I had headed into Tiradentes I watched the group of train engineers turn the engine around to ready it for it’s return to Sao Joao del Rei. It was quite an operation. Many of the passengers stood and watched the engineers get the engine onto the turnstile, rotate it around and back it up to hitch it to the train cars. Interesting to see.

Taxis at the Tiradentes Plaza

I caught the 1 p.m. train back to Sao Joao del Rei, and it was totally empty of school children – they had all returned by bus. Arriving back into Sao Joao del Rei, I had quite a time finding the Rodoviario, but upon finally locating it I learned that there was a bus that departs every day at 3 p.m. to Coxambu, my next destination.  I didn’t want to stay another night and almost full day in Sao Joao del Rei just waiting for the next day’s bus, so I decided to try to catch this bus – but it was already getting late. By the time I got back to Vila Hostel, it was 2:50 p.m.!

Basilica at the Top of Tiradentes

I grabbed my duffel bag, quickly paid my Hostel bill, asked the desk girl to call me a cab, and dashed out the door to the other side of the road. I stuck out my thumb to start hitching a ride to the Rodoviario, in case my taxi didn’t show in time. A woman was pulling out of a parking lot just next to me, and I asked her for a ride to the Rodoviario, but I think she thought I was a rather strange person, and chose not to.

Wooden Sculpture at Artist’s Shop

I was feeling a tad frantic! The next car that came driving down the road I started waving at with both arms and hailed it down as though it should pull over – AND IT DID!  The driver was a sweet older gentleman and upon quickly explaining about trying to catch a bus at the Rodoviario that would be leaving in 8 minutes, he offered to take me there!!!

The Artist at Work

He drove a luxurious car with plush leather seats. I jumped in and off we went. Fortunately, he knew the shortest route to the Rodoviario, and though we were slowed by having to wait for a couple red lights, he ran the third red light (no one was coming) and dropped me off at the Rodoviario at 2:57 p.m. Gushing many grateful thank yous and waving good-bye, I dashed to the ticket counter – it was closed! But – the ticket sales woman saw me and remembered me from earlier. She came out from the ticket office and walked me over to the gate, where she explained to the bus driver that I could still board the bus and pay for the ticket once I was onboard!!

The Artist’s Poster

I still had to buy another ticket to go through the gate to get to the bus, so after quickly purchasing that ticket at a kiosk I passed through the gate and boarded my bus to Coxambu! The bus was full – I was the last passenger through its doors!

Once we pulled out of Sao Joao del Rei, the bus assistant came down the aisle and collected fares from those who had not yet paid. Fortunately, I still had the name of the town I was going to and the fare cost written on the paper the ticket office woman had originally given me. The rest of the ride was a breeze as the bus wound its way through gorgeous scenery along the old trade route to Coxambu.

Artist’s Gallery Shop

The bus arrived to Coxambu at 6:30 p.m. I walked to the nearest hotel and booked a room. The hotel was made entirely of marble – quite grand. It also had a Spa which I used immediately. First, the steam room, and then a 40 minute massage. Ahh, what luxury!

It was the end of a wonderful, crazy day. Before heading off to bed, I watched a large group of hotel guests dancing to a live jazz band in the large lobby area of the hotel. Nearby was a fireplace dancing with flames, while outside everything was frozen solid at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It felt like a great accomplishment and relief to have made it to Coxambu, the city known for its mineral waters, and to have a secure, warm place to stay on a frigidly cold, dark night.

Pulling Back into Sao Joao del Rei Before the Surreal Scramble Began

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With a Little Help From My (New) Friends…

Breakfast Buffet at Hostel Mariana

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.

Hostel Mariana along the River

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.

Ouro Preto in the Sun

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.

Tribure to Brazil's Greatest Sculptor

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.

A Cathedral Honoring Aleijadinho

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.

Steep Cobblestone Streets in Ouro Preto

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.

Fun House in Lavros Novas

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.

A Hotel in Lavros Novas

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.

A House in Lavros Novas

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.

The Basilica with Aleijadinho's Sculptures in Congonhas

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.

Sculptures of Saints at the Basilica

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.

From the Basilica looking down on Congonhas

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.

Laize, my helpful new friend

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.

The Greenway through Sao Joao del Rei

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.

Horse and Cart in Sao Joao del Rei

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!

Full Moon Over Ouro Preto, Taken from Hostel Brama

 

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Ouro Preto and Mariana – Gold Country!

Ouro Preto from the Rodoviario

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 Cathedral just above my Hostel

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.

Main Plaza in Ouro Preto

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 from Hilltop Park

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!

From "Deguste's" Looking up to Cathedral

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.

Train Station in Mariana

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.

Park Side Street up to Cathedral

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.

Water Feature in Mariana's Central Park

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.

Antonio's Sweets and Coffee Shop

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.

The Highest Cathedral in Mariana

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Eye, Nose and Spiritual Surgeries

John of God Performing Nose Surgery

Wednesday – The town was full – there wasn’t an extra room at a hotel to be found. Over 200 people were at the Casa all dressed in white, the suggested clothing color. They had come from everywhere on earth for every type of health reason imaginable.

Before John of God came on the low stage in front of the packed audience, another gentleman addressed the crowd for over 30 minutes, all in Portuguese. Comprehending only a few words, I understood him to be explaining how the healing works. The person receiving the healing must be strong in their faith and prayers to help facilitate the change they need. Without much introduction, John of God was suddenly standing before us onstage, only 10 feet from me. The first speaker stepped to the back, and John of God began talking, in Portuguese, of course.

The Man Who Had Eye Surgery - Post Operation

His voice was deep and mesmerizing, even and peaceful. He was already in a trance state – his eyes were in another world. I was very near the front of the audience – I figured if I came this far to see what it was all about I wasn’t going to stand way in the back. A number of people around me and in front of me were videoing him with their small point and shoot digital cameras. I considered doing that, too, but thought it seemed disrespectful to be filming, considering the spiritual nature of the whole event.

Eye Healed With No Pain 2 Days After Operation

John of God spoke for about 20 minutes, then turned and conducted a quick eye surgery onstage – the young man had been patiently waiting onstage for almost an hour, and I’d been watching him having difficulty standing in the position they had put him in. The eye surgery consisted of an assistant coming onstage with a tray of instruments, John of God picking out a scraping tool that looked like a knife, holding the young man’s eyeball open and scraping the inside of the eyeball closest to the nose.  I didn’t see any blood, but it looked like it must have been painful.

Bust of a Healing Saint Who Assists John of God in Spirit Form

When the patient was guided offstage by assistants, a young woman came onstage and John of God performed a nose surgery. This was gruesome to watch. She was holding her belly and I thought she must have colon cancer or some other abdominal issue, but when he approached her he stuck the 4 ½” long tweezers directly up her right nostril, twisted it around and pulled it back out. Blood spurted down the front of her white blouse and skirt. Aidan and I exchanged cringing glances, while everyone else was capturing it on photos and video. Not me. Too gross.

Lindo Horizonte, My Hotel

She was escorted off-stage to a private room. John of God called for all those who were having Spiritual Operations to form a line and go through the Current Room first. This is a room where people sit together in prayer and meditation, and you must walk through them to stand before him to receive your “reading.” The line was long but moved fast, and during the short 2 seconds I stood before him he gave his pronouncement to my “handler” to have me come back at 2 p.m. for my operation.

I was terrified at first – an operation! Not after what I’d seen earlier…but then I realized it was a Spiritual Operation he was talking about, not a Physical Operation, as you have to ask for one of those, and no way was I doing that!

24 Hours of Post-Surgery Rest in My Hotel Room

I suddenly learned, after speaking to one of the volunteers, that I would not be able to go to the waterfall until Friday, because after you have an operation you must sleep for an entire day – 24 hours! Even then, on my return to the Casa on Friday, I must ask permission from John of God directly to be able to visit the waterfall, which is a very sacred area.

Before the 2 p.m. operation, I had to figure out where I would be in a week, as the spirits visit you a week after your operation to take out the “stitches”, and they need an address that you must provide on a slip of paper into a collection basket. I determined I would be in the gold mining town of Mariana, and provided the address of a Hostel.

Flowers Outside my Hotel

I got in line for the 2 p.m. operation, and witnessed a wedding ceremony that was held on stage before the line started moving. Once the line moved forward, we filed through four Current Rooms until we were silently requested to sit in the last Current Room with our eyes closed, our right hand over our heart, and left hand resting on our left leg with palm up. We sat in that position for about 25 minutes, receiving the healing operation from the spirits. Interesting lights and visions played behind my eyelids, and finally we were requested to stand up and file quietly out into the bright daylight. We had had our Spiritual Operation.

Checking out the Crystals

Our “prescription” that John of God had given each of us that morning  – a scribbled handwriting on a slip of paper – was now necessary to fill over at the Pharmacy, which carried the healing herb capsules. The Pharmacy was just an open window you stood before, showed your slip of paper to, they transcribed it and set out the appropriate amount of bottles, and you paid. My prescription called for 5 bottles. all the bottles are the same – everyone receives the same herbs, it’s just a matter of how many bottles are prescribed to you to purchase. From there I went to the Bookstore to buy some more Blessed Water, and from there back to my hotel room to try sleeping for the required 24 hours.

Delicious Foods at Frutti's

I slept all night and until noon the next day, but after that I simply wasn’t tired. In fact, I was downright antsy. The 24 hour resting requirement after the surgery specifically and strictly called for no reading, no internet use, no writing and no TV. The TV ban didn’t bother me, but the reading, writing and Internet did.  I decided to go for a gentle walk, and over to Frutti’s for a delicious sandwich and coffee.

Frutti's BackYard Spirit Artist

On Friday I stood in line before John of God to ask permission to go to the waterfall, and it was granted. The walk down to the waterfall is on a peaceful dirt road descending on a moderate grade for about ¾ mile to a large dirt parking lot. A paved trail strikes out from there, and curves back and forth down the canyon to a gate, where a single person of either sex must wait for another of the same sex before going through the gate on down to the waterfall and pool. It’s a matter of protection and safety. I waited for about 5 minutes, and three women showed up. They waited at the gate while I walked down the last 100 feet to the waterfall, ducked my head quickly under the spray – it wasn’t too cold – splashed water over my body and then headed back up to the gate so they could go on down and enjoy it.

A Portrait of Her Spirit

Back up at the Casa I witnessed John of God performing another nose surgery on a woman. This time he had a gauze tip on the end of the tweezers, and he didn’t twist them once they were rammed up her nostril. There was no blood this time, either…made me wonder what had happened to the other woman. At lunch I overheard the eye surgery recipient talking about how the pain in his eye had disappeared in only one day, right after he had prayed to Mary Magdalene. Now he planned to have the same surgery done to his other eye! I also talked with the woman who had the bloody nose surgery, and she said it hadn’t really hurt, and that she was all healed up a day later. Amazing!

Supper with New Casa Friends

The rest of my stay in Abadiania focused around hearing people’s stories – why they were there and how they had heard of John of God, eating good food with new friends, lots of laughter, more visits to the waterfall, and watching the incredible night sky studded with stars as big and bright as diamonds. It was an amazing week, and I would highly recommend it as a place to visit while in Brazil. For me, it was a time of spiritual reverence and respect of dimensions and energies most of us know so little about. I am sure there are dozens of spirits at John of God’s Casa – even the night photographs I took showed hundreds of orbs!!

Orbs - Not Lens Dust

More Orbs

Sunset From the Casa

 

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John of God’s in Abadiania

Walkway to my Room at Lindo Horizonte

May 10th, 2011 – Walked about a mile in the morning to the Rodoviario, and caught an earlier bus than the one I was ticketed for.  Seated next to Oliver, a bright, young videographer from the U.S., I listened intently as he explained how he had been hired to work for an NGO in Brazil, only to discover the real purpose of the NGO was to extract money from the government, not provide humanitarian assistance as it purported. He was quite disgusted with them, and after working for about 6 months he was quitting and returning home.

In the Garden

It reminded me somewhat of my discoveries back in 1987 about how the field of archaeology worked, which also left me disillusioned and disgusted. I had thought I had found the one line of work that couldn’t be adulterated with greed, ego and corruption. I’d already seen how yellow and controlled journalism was, and how the field of education was manipulated. But was I ever wrong with archaeology! What I learned is that when funding is limited, even archaeologists will go to any means to get them, including denigrating, discrediting and trying to destroy other leading archaeologists who are vying for the same funding.

Peter, Myself and Aidan

The bus pulled away from the gas station in Abadiania after I deboarded, and I waved goodbye to Oliver. I had no idea where I was in the town. While glancing at a map in my guidebook I saw two men striding along near the highway. I called out to them and waved, and Peter and Aidan became my new best friends for the entire week of my visit at John of God’s. They walked me to the proper street and delivered me at the doorstep of my hotel. Peter was there to be healed of cancer, and Aidan was there to be with him. They were wonderful, happy and funny, with an incorrigible sense of humor.

Casa Gardens

After checking into my large, clean room at the Lindo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon), I took a stroll down the street to the Casa de Dom – John of God’s spiritual healing center. It a large block of many buildings: meditation rooms, a book and crystal store, a kitchen and seating area, therapy rooms, and outdoor seating areas overlooking the valley view. A trail leads from the far end of the property down to a waterfall lower in the canyon.

Large Crystals at the Crystal Shop

John of God is well known around the world as a healer. The healing is facilitated by spirits that work through him. As a young boy he was “told” by spirits that his life would be of service to others by giving them healings, and he has kept to that for many decades. He’s a busy person – he also owns a cattle ranch. He has travelled the world facilitating healings for those who come to him. One of the rooms at the Casa holds dozens of pairs of wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and other apparatus left behind by people who have been healed and no longer need them. I had heard about John of God several years ago, and wanted to witness a healing, and experience the Casa in person.

Casa Room full of Discarded Crutches, Etc.

The place was quiet with very few people around, as it was early in the week and John of God is there only on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I took two back-to-back sessions of Crystal Bed Therapy for a total of 40 minutes. Lying on the massage-like table and covered with a light cotton sheet, the soft ethereal music relaxed me into an almost dreamlike state. Above my body running from my head to my hips, a row of crystals cast their chakra-colored lights onto the corresponding chakras of my body. While drifting into realms of deeper relaxation, I noticed some vibrational effects or energy traversing up and down my abdomen. When the session was over, I felt exceptionally calm, peaceful and at one with the world.

Long Distance Views from nearby the Casa

Walking back to Lindo Horizonte, the incredible beauty of the surrounding countryside came alive. There were views in all directions of green hills and valleys, and wide expansive skies of blue, with a peach-colored sunset unfolding. Flowering trees and fragrant bushes lined the streets, and a deep sense of peace and beauty permeated the entire landscape. Between the relaxation, the natural beauty and the heavenly scents, I slept like a baby that night in the best room I’d stayed in during my entire trip in Brazil.

Evening Sky at the Casa

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