Page 13 of sapere18 Travel Blog Posts

South America » Brazil » Bahia » Salvador July 15th 2006

Descending over the Bahia Todos os Santos reveals an eye-popping view of a bustiling metropolis of skyscrapers, towering apartment complexes and dingy slums. Paraphrasing one of the great American orators of our time, Ray Nagin, Salvador is a chocolate city. This is not the place to come if you are uncomfortable around people of color. I am the only fair-skinned resident in the neighborhood except for the passing taxi drivers and the British couple with me in the Hotel Maridina. The shift in environment sets a new, exciting tone of discovery. Shops, kiosks, and stands spill onto the sidewalks. Vendors peddle anything and everything that could possibly be sold. The scene is chaotic, yet oddly under control. As a first impression, Salvador overloads the senses with an excess of loud whistles, human commotion of a darker ... read more
All Types
Home in the Cidade Baixa
Calm and Collected

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Belo Horizonte July 14th 2006

To put it mildly, Serro is rough around the edges. Arrival into this mountain community, as its namesake infers, is a rude awakening. Ninety kilometers, but a three-hour bus trip from Diamantina, its backdrop could not contrast more starkly to the sparkling movie sets of Diamantina, Ouro Prêto, or Tiradentes. A curly haired ten-year-old and I rock and yaw in unison as the bus navigates the few portions of road that are paved. Housing is abysmal and hard to distinguish from scurvy storefronts in the outskirts. Only around a sharp curve in the distance does the view improve. The center of town is now a half mile off. The hopeless and repetitive scene of block concrete buildings connected by sagging electrical wires in time appears more in line with the 20th century. Moreover, there is a ... read more
Rustling in Tree
Bus Station at Serro
Policia Militar

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Ouro Preto July 13th 2006

Not as spiffy as Tiradentes, but cozier than Ouro Prêto, Diamantina’s location in Minas’ outback has its benefits. It is a five-hour ride into the highlands north of Belo Horizonte. The only way to continue on the track of common destinations throughout Brazil is to double back to Minas’ capital. The coach cuts through semicircular mountains of pointy, barren rock face. Minas’ interior remoteness resembles a cross between western Nebraska and County Galway. Wind and water have eroded the reddened iron-rich earth to create formations not unlike the Badlands of South Dakota. The relative wealth of Minas Gerais has dissipated; life arduous here. Common comforts for those living in the countryside are fewer. Public transportation allows people to go to market, see loved ones, and get to class. Without the Belo Horizonte-Diamantina bus, thousands would be ... read more
Local Hospital
One of My Favorites

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Ouro Preto July 12th 2006

Mariana is Ouro Prêto’s modest colonial neighbor. It most enduring quality is that it is not Ouro Prêto, nor will it ever be. A half hour bus ride for students whose studies revolve around the arts and sciences, its feel is a more agreeable marriage between old and new than the abrupt demarcation in São João del Rei. A few hundred steps above the booths and vending stands by the bus depot, continuous rows of colonial housing run up and down past ladies carrying home the morning’s groceries. Men on step ladders touch up window sills in high gloss white paint. I am the lone American visitor who occasionally pulls out his camera to take a snapshot and stands in the middle of a bumpy road. He is spellbound by the simplistic beauty that surrounds him. ... read more
Mine shafts
In Charge

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Tiradentes July 10th 2006

The Portuguese accomplished their greatest feat of architectural and artistic splendor in all of Brazil when they created Ouro Prêto. The colonial mother ship to which all roads lead, Ouro Prêto is the epicenter of Brazil’s historic and academic identity. Nestled in valleys and climbing distant hills, it embodies all the best a traveler from abroad could expect. Ouro Prêto ranks among the top historic cities in the entire Western hemisphere. “Beautiful” doesn’t begin to describe it. The city has it all: The cobblestone alleyways, glowing incandescent street lanterns, rectangular squares laden with fountains, colorful shutters that frame painted wooden doorways, and a feel that you are truly in, or have never left Portugal. Volumes have been written about Minas’ pièce de résistance. It behooves any who come to Brazil to see it with his or ... read more
Parking Regulations

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Tiradentes July 8th 2006

Brazil’s national soccer team has claimed the World Cup five times, setting off a national celebration that would make Carnaval come across as a family backyard barbecue. All the heavenly bodies were in perfect alignment for “Germany 2006”: The Green and Gold of Brazil had not lost an important international contest for ages. Their reserves are the envy of wishful sides like the Americans, Danes, and Colombians. In fact, the Brazilian bench would not only qualify for the World Cup if it were its own entry, but I would argue it would advance deeply into the second round. Nothing on earth compares to world dominance in soccer for a Brazilian. However, a distant second would be a heart-smashing, last minute loss for Argentina, sending their southern neighbors home in disgrace. Brazilians speak almost as passionately of ... read more
Arrive Early
No Doubt

A 19th-century steam engine company operates a scenic tourist line of old passenger carriages between Tiradentes and São João del Rei. Called the Maria Fumaça (Smoking Mary), it epitomizes everything I set out to avoid while abroad. It costs over triple the bus fare, but in return it is supposed to bring visitors back to the classic age of South American train travel. A real-life manifestation of a little boy’s model train set in the basement, it is outfitted with a black and red locomotive with oversized cowkicker, and archaic brick station. It even has the functioning turntable. Imaginarium’s Thomas The Train could not do better. As the locomotive slows into the station, the cold steam from a side duct chills my bare ankles. The railway staff shoves the concrete turntable on which sits the detached ... read more
Better Than The Bus
Make No Mistake

South America » Brazil » Minas Gerais » Tiradentes July 5th 2006

The echoing sound from an approaching galloping horse splits the tranquil night air in Tiradentes. I doubt there is a more striking sensation than the thundering clap of iron horseshoes fiercely striking hard slabs of red and grey cobblestones. The riderless animal disappears ahead into the mist as quickly as it approached, leaving in its wake only a fading echo. Tiradentes is a carefully preserved, colorful, and bumpy colonial showpiece of Minas Gerais that not only lives up to, but surpasses expectations. It is concealed among craggy hilltops often enveloped in morning clouds. Its perfectly situated churches framed by flowering trees and courtyards create a supremely blissful scene. There is no need to explore further; the setting has already delivered its full impact. I casually dismiss the art emporiums, French restaurants, boutiques, and horse-and-buggy tours. Even ... read more
Colonial Masterpiece
Guitar Ballads

Traveling by bus in Brazil is not exactly like going Greyhound. In a country where public safety is as sure a thing as a World Series appearance for the Chicago Cubs, transportation companies take extreme measures to ensure passengers arrive at their destination without having been separated from their valuables. Not catching on at first, the driver for Gardenia Lines instructed me to fill out a form prior to boarding. I needed to include name, passport number, age, date of birth, reason for travel, my mothers’ maiden name, and how many times I was held for detention in high school for not covering my book. No passenger can board without having an original passport or identity card fully inspected. No identification, no trip, and no refund on your ticket. The staff went through all my belongings. ... read more
Minor Accident

South America » Brazil » São Paulo » São Paulo June 25th 2006

Few cities intimidate like São Paulo. Its reputation for both its enormity and threatening nature should not be taken lightly. Arriving at night eliminates any doubt that it is not in the best interest for the casual visitor to South America’s largest metropolis to immediately start exploring poorly lit and ominous streets around the Praça de República. Shady characters abound. Even as I stepped off the airport shuttle, it was apparently clear that I should take a taxi to my hotel even though it was but five blocks away and less than a ten-minute walk. As I looked up from putting my luggage on the ground, a face was in mine. I could smell his pungent breath. This is the same man, who to ensure he would get a fare from me said my upon getting ... read more
Departure gates
Urban Maze

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