Sao José Dos Campos and around

Published: July 1st 2011
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Sao José Dos Campos is a large city in the Sao Paulo state and is probably not a name that would ring any bells to any backpackers, even the well travelled ones. But for me, it was a must go destination for one simple reason: my cousin lives there. I couldn't possibly go to Brazil and not go and see her, especially as she and her husband have had a baby girl recently. So it was my 3rd encounter with familiar faces in 3 weeks and I was starting to get used to the company, so much so that I wondered how it would be once I'd be back to being on my own. I would find that out a few days later.
When I got the 1pm bus from Paraty, I was told it would take 3 hours, so arranged for Claudio to pick me up at 5pm. When it was nearly 5.30pm and I asked the driver why it wasn't taking 3 hours, he replied “It's about 3 hours plus the stops. We'll be there soon” I think it had gone 6pm by the time I arrived. Claudio had been patiently waiting and as soon as I arrived, we were off to their house. There I met Clara, my 9 months old second cousin, in the middle of her diner and having a tantrum. Not the best of starts but I was assured she normally was very good. Claudio's sister was also there visiting for a couple of days. On my first evening, we had a nice chilled catching up time and planned the next few days' activities.
The next morning, Cloé (my cousin), Karina (Claudio's sister), Clara and I went to visit a national park. We had a nice walk in the forest, following a path that clearly said you were not allowed to go that way without a guide. Well, that's OK, Cloé knew the area pretty well, so she was being our guide! On our little hike, what impressed me the most were the trees: some typical trees of this area. I really liked them and took tons of pictures, some actually quite good. The walk took us about 2 hours and when we got back to the start, we played around a little lake for a while before setting off for the next stop. Having a 9 months old with us, meant we had to take it easy (the hike wasn't hard but Cloé was carrying Clara all the way and I wasn't sure I could have done it myself with the extra weight!) and have plenty of stops (feeding stops, changing nappy stops and so on... I'm definitely not used to babies!).
After the park, we were going to a town called Campos Do Jordao, which had been described to me as little Switzerland. Indeed, it was like a replica of a mountain village (one of the prettier ones). A lot of the buildings had pitched roofs with a very acute angle, along with beams showing and with “Boulevard Geneve” and “Aspen Mall”, at least they weren't shy to admit where they'd got the inspiration. It was early afternoon by then and it was time to stop for some lunch. Cloé informed me of a local speciality, so that's what we decided to try out. It was a pasty filled with your choice of ingredients, so we shared one with meat and cheese for mains and one with banana and chocolate for desert. It was delicious but very filling and I don't think I could have eaten a full one on my own. After that, we went for another walk around town, doing a spot of window shopping and looking at all the funny looking buildings. Somehow it just looked out of place without any snow around, but maybe that's just because I only go to mountain resorts in winter... The town even had a chair lift to take you up the hill if you wished.
Time was moving on and we had one more stop before heading home: a small site with waterfalls a few minutes away. I'd been warned it wasn't the most impressive waterfalls ever and have to admit that was no lie. But of course, having been to Iguazu a few days earlier, nothing was ever going to amaze me, although I'm not sure anyone would have been taken aback... I'll let the pictures do the talking.
After that brief visit, we headed home, for a quiet evening in. Karina was leaving early the next morning to return to Sao Paulo, but Claudio had managed to get the day off work, so we were going to go to the beach.
It was an early start, but it was quite a long drive (everything in Brazil is far away, even when it looks very close on the map). Clara and I slept most of the way, so the parents had a bit of peace and quiet at last! Eventually, we arrived at Ubatuba. It was a small beach and there were only another couple of families around. Despite the sunshine, the water was a little cold for my liking, but in all fairness, this was autumn, so I really couldn't complain. I walked all the way to the end of the beach, trying to take some decent pics and moaning about my camera being rubbish (it's no longer working properly as it has dust on the lens, which I can't get rid off, so it has become very temperamental.) It was also funny to see Clara's reaction to the sea and waves, as I believe it was her first time at the beach. She was a little scared at first, but all was well in the end.
Having spent our late morning at the beach, it was now time to go and have lunch. Cloé and Claudio invited me to a local restaurant they knew in the town. Once again, it was time to try one of the local dishes: … The portions were huge and I ate as much as my stomach would allow (which is quite a lot, as you will know if you read my kilo restaurant adventure), but we struggled to finish the 2 persons portion between the 3 of us.
For the afternoon, my host had planned a short walk in the forest and along another beach. I really enjoyed it and got to see some beautiful wildlife, mainly birds and butterflies. There were also some fantastic looking plants and I wished I could have taken some home with me! Unfortunately, it was soon time to head back and we had to turn around and return to the car. That was the end of day 2 and with just one more full day in Brazil, I was keen to have a look around Sao José, to know where my cousin lives a bit better.
So on our final morning, it was just Cloé, Clara and I and we went to have a look around town. We went to visit a couple of parks, one of which had lovely old buildings falling into disrepair (if I remember rightly it used to be a sanatorium). This all belonged to the council, so we could only hope they would soon start some sort of restoration project, but I couldn't help but have my property developer head on (as I normally do when I see beautiful buildings falling apart) and wanting to go and fix it! After the short jaunt, it was back to the house for lunch and a chat about planning my upcoming trip to Bolivia (as Cloé and Claudio went there about 3 years ago and had kept lots of useful information). We ended the afternoon with a trip to the largest park in the city. It didn't feel like we were in the city anymore and again, we got to see plenty of animals. The park had a lake with a small island to which access was forbidden as it was the home of some big rodents of which the name I can't remember. We still managed to see them, but they were too far for me to get any decent shots. As 6pm approached and we were heading back before closing time, the mosquitoes arrived and we had to rush back quickly to avoid getting eaten alive. On the way home, we stopped at the bus station to get my bus ticket for the next day and that was the end of the day's activities, but also the end of my Brazilian experience.
Overall, I didn't love Brazil, nor did I love the Brazilian (although my opinion is influenced by some travelling Brazilian idiots I met later on the journey). Compared to other countries I'd seen so far, there was nothing wrong with it, but it was just too similar to home, so I didn't get the culture shock I was looking for. I was also disappointed with myself for not speaking any of the language, as I felt it really hindered my experience. So many times I have loved a country because of the local population I have interacted with, but there, I was unable to communicate with the vast majority of the population (almost nobody speaks Spanish, although they understand it a fair bit). I thought I had been lucky that I spent most of my short time in the country with other people, as otherwise I would have spoken to nobody for 2 weeks!
The next morning, I was catching a bus to Sao Paulo airport, where the plane would take me to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

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5th July 2011


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