Monday, August 6, 2007

Minas Gerais - the mining region

It s been some time from the last update. Meanwhile, we got to settle down in the capital of Bahia – Salvador. But first we’ll tell about the mining region – Minas Gerais.

From Rio de Janeiro we first stopped in Belo Horizonte for couple of days. The city itself was nothing particularly interesting, but people there seem to enjoy life a lot. We witnessed many spontaneous street parties, people playing samba on improvised instruments and women dancing bare feet. On Saturday night we visited a forró club, popular music and dance, originating in north-eastern Brazil. We found the dance quite passionate, on times even vulgar. It seemed, however, that teenagers at the club mastered it well, spinning and singing a lot. Belo Horizonte is the capital of the region Minas Gerais and was built on behalf of gold hunting demands in 18th and 19th century. Today the city is recognized as a commercial and student metropolis. We had big troubles finding our way in the city, since it was reconstructed in 1890 and throughout the centre it has, apart from horizontal and vertical, also diagonal streets.

Ouro Preto is a small colonial town, close to Belo Horizonte. It used to be the capital of the region, before Belo Horizonte became that. There are still many streets conserved in the way they were built three hundreds years ago. Picturesque façades, tall buildings, narrow streets and colourful doors are all meant for tourists today, while long ago they used to be houses of lucky gold hunters from Europe. We tried to look around for an apartment there since we liked the town in the mountains a lot. It turned to be rather difficult to get hosted there. The town was rather small and therefore had few offers of apartments to rent.

Our one day visit ended with the decision to continue up north to see how we like Salvador before settling anywhere.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cidade marvilhosa - Rio de Janeiro

Rio, the famous city, didn't impress us as much as the reputation would suggest. Anyway, we spent a great time there. We visited most touristic locations; our favourites were Corcovado mountain with the huge Christ statue, the "sugarloaf" mountain and the Leme beach.

Rio is nice because of its topography with steep hills just by the sea. The city has grown around the hills, and sometimes it even grew by flattening out some of the smaller ones with the help of bulldozers. We stayed in the city for a week, waiting for better weather. As the rumours say, it is quite unusual with rain in Rio, but obviously we brought the bad weather from Argentina with us. When the sun finally came we spent a whole day walking on the famous beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon. There were no crowds, some "cariocas" playing futvolley, soccer and volleyball. Sure, there were also some girls in bikinis and big beefy boys showing their well-tanned bodies. We enjoyed just walking in the sand and playing with big waves.

It was in Rio where we met Maja and Andrei, a friendly couple with whom we spent a couple of days. They wanted to show the beauty and the crime of Rio. It is true that there are robberies on a daily basis, however we felt quite safe. The reason was the Pan-American Games that brough a huge increase in police presence on the streets. And as soon as the games were over we heard news about shooting in some favela.

They say Rio offers excellent night life. We experienced a bit of Bossa Nova bands, Samba clubs and outdoors performance of "jogo", a dance similar to Capoeira but without acrobatics. It looks an African dance of a couple with a lot of spinning in half circles, tambores as instruments and women wearing long coulorful flying skirts.

The streets of Rio offered a pleasant atmosphere, with lots of street vendors, open markets, street bars and relaxed people. The view of the fancy streets differs a lot from the poorer ones, and on the extreme end the favelas with plumbing, water, and electricity arranged by hijacking. One thing that seems to be in common for all the people is the ocean and the beaches.

On one cloudy day we tried to find a geocache hidden on Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf hill). It is difficult in Brazil to hike wihtout a guide, but following instructions we got to a wild part of the park, with no paths, but with beautiful views on hidden bays and islands around the city. The landscape allows the oceanic climate to meet with hilly one, wich enables a specific flora to grow, so called Mata Atlantica (atlantic forest). Walking in organized parks (this is the only way a tourist can safely experience nature), we saw amazing, big trees, incredible fruits of all shapes and colorful flowers. There are so many fruits in this country that people don't even know the names when we ask. We have tried some (caju, carambola, papaya, coco, chirimoya, small bananas, açai), but mostly we have been enjoying incredible amount of cheap freshly made juices. Simon particularly likes coco water - a fresh and cool water from a green coconut, which they cut open in front of you. We look forward to go up north and try even more exotic fruits.