Published: March 31st 2006March 31st 2006
Earlier in the week I wrote my grandma that I had a "big surprise," but that she would have to wait until Friday to read the travel blog. I shouldn´t have added the superlative. My grandma emailed me back - "You are staying in South America?" "You are bringing back a girl?" Even my parents, who knew of the "surprise" emailed me to say they were all waiting. My dad asked if I was bringing back a love child.
Sorry to disappoint. The surprise is, I decided to ditch the last week of my language classes and go to Minas Gerais. All last week I was thinking that I wished I had only made a reservation for three weeks in the language class. Minas Gerais was the one place in Brazil that I had left out of my intinerary but really wanted to visit (Note: I am intentionally vague about future travel plans to add a little bit of surprise :-) ).
Anyways, last thursday, while I was laying on the beach, I thought to myself "I don´t
need to stay here. I can leave." Deadweight loss, they call it in economics class. Who cares if I had already
paid the money for the class? If the trip was worth the price of plane ticket and lodging, it would still make sense to go. Luckily, I did find a cheap ticket, and even more luckily, the language institute let me sell my extra week of classes to one of my housemates.
Two days later, I was on a plane to Belo Horizonte. Freshman Travel Error 1
What I didn´t realize is that I bought the Brazilian equivalent of the JFK-Laguardia connection flight. The first leg of my flight was from Florianopolis to São Paulo. After the plane landed and deboarded, I calmy went to the waiting area and sat down for a cup of coffee. About a half an hour later I realized that my connecting flight still wasn´t on the monitor. When I asked one of the workers, I found out that the connecting flight was at the other
airport across town. I would need to take a taxi, which would take anywhere from "one to two and a half hours." My flight was supposed to leave in an hour and a half.
I booked it like a bat out of hell and grabbed
a taxi. US$42.50 for the cross-town trip. Thank god it was Saturday, there was no traffic, and I actually arrived at the other airport in less then 45 minutes. Plus, I got to see some of São Paulo. Belo Horizonte
I found a nice quiet hostel near the Savasi neighborhood of Belo Horizonte. Savassi is the trendiest neighborhood in Belo Horizonte with lots of bars, restaurants and cafes. It looks a little like Recoletta or Palermo in Buenos Aires, but with lots of hills. The hostel was a cool experience because the only people staying there were Brazilians, Argentines and Uruguayans. It was difficult switching on a dime between Spanish and Portuguese, but great practice.
The first day I visited the Pampulha lake district in the north of Belo Horizonte. Pampulha is famous for the Igrega de Sao Francisco, which was constructed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer´s building look like something out of the Jetson´s. Very cool, although a lot of the buildings look like they haven´t been maintained.
The second day I visited the "hippy fair," and outdoor market which takes place every Sunday and is purported to be one of the largest in
Latin America. I didn´t take any pictures of the hippy fair, or many of Belo Horizonte in general, because the pictures seemed so typical of a city anwhere. One of the most photographed structures in Belo Horizonte is Mineiro, the soccer stadium - it looks just like an athletic stadium anwhere. The hippy fair could have been the Ann Arbor art fair, or the Taste of Chicago.
The third day, Monday, I got a nice tour of the city from a young Miniera named Fernanda, and later went out to eat with her and her sister Rachel (special thanks to Randy Paul for getting me in touch with his Brazilian nieces). Ouro Preto and Freshman Travel Errors 2 and 3
Finally, on Tuesday I took off for Ouro Preto. Ouro Preto is a small city about two hours outside of Belo Horizonte. It was the colonial capital of Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais means "General Mines" and the gold, silver and diamond trades in Brazil were all focused here during the colonial period. Needless to say, this activity brought a lot of wealth to the area, and with it, like everywhere else in Latin America which was a colonial
center, lots and lots of churches. The most famous churches in Ouro Preto contain sculptures by Alejadinho ("the little cripple"). The style is baroque, which I know nothing about, but the churches are very beautiful. If I have one complaint about them, however, it is that they all look very similar (see the pictures).
Ouro Preto took me back to some of my old trips in Chile, Bolivia and Peru. It is a backpacker tourist town, with lots of cute little hotels and pousadas (Brazilian inns). There are great restaurants and bars that you would never expect to see in a small town in South America. In that respect, I would compare it to Cuzco, Peru, although on a much smaller scale.
My first big mistake in Ouro Preto goes back to my preparation for the trip at home. That mistake was to buy the Fodors travel guide. Fodor´s is only useful if you have a ridiculous amount of money to spend on your trip. Their lowest budget hotels are generally about US$50, which is a lot for most places in Brazil. Fodor´s suggests things like "take a walk in the morning, then an afternoon flight to a
city five hours away so you can have a cocktail and watch the sunset."
The second mistake was actually using the Fodors guide to find a hotel. I will say that Fodor´s is somewhat helpful for its tours and restaurants. Its hotel section, at least in Brazil, is useless
. The description of the hostel I stayed at in Ouro Preto said that it was "popular with backpackers" and that the "english-speaking staff will do your laundry for free." None of the above were true. There no backpackers. Only 40 something Germans. The staff spoke no English, and while they did do laundry, they also charged an arm and a leg for it, something that I found out only after I handed them two weeks worth of dirty clothes. On top of that when I tried to book a hotel for Belo Horizonte, four of the five numbers I called were wrong. Back to Belo Horizonte
Enough about Fodors, but I actually do hope that I dissuade someone somewhere from buying the guide. Wednesday I went to the neighboring town of Mariana to see more of the same, then returned to Belo Horizonte. There is another colonial town called
Sabará that is 12 miles outside of Belo Horizonte, so I spent Thursday there, then had a great night going out in Belo Horizonte again with Rachel and Fernanda and friends (and trying to dance some samba and forró).
A couple more hours and I will grab a flight back to Florianopolis. If I would have planned this out before I would have booked a flight from Belo Horizonte to my next destination. But, as I just planned this trip last week, I already had my tickets. So, it is a flight back tonight, then an early flight out tomorrow morning. I was planning on just sleeping in the airport, but I was a little too nice to my host family and they asked me to come back for the night to sleep there. All in all, definitely glad I decided to come to Belo Horizonte.
There are more photos below