Oreo Preto and Tiradentes part 2

Amongst the beautifully maintained and restored churches, offices, houses and modern museums in Oreo Preto we stumbled across the restored “opera house and theatre”. This is not Sydney! It was rather a delightful “miniature” of the European opera houses but built in entirely in timber, no bricks, mortar or stone work, let alone marble. It had 2 tiers of dress circles and a ” royal box” at the back wall.

Osley and I both performed on the stage! I did a small song and dance routine- to rapturous applause.

We also visited an old underground gold mine. Descended on the old pulley/cable train.

On the second day in Oreo Preto we also walked, without a guide, in the local national park. Rather dry and very hot! A bit like a walk in the Flinders Ranges. We found a small waterfall and pool so had a “swim”. We did not get lost and obviously survived all the wildlife that Brazil could throw at us on the day!

The pousada (hotel) at which we stayed in Oreo Preto was a beautifully restored old Hotel 4 star and filled with antiques! No sarcastic comments please! We had a room which was basically in the attic almost! But not basic by any means!

These historical towns and villages were invariably built on the highest hill in the area, so the cobbled streets to some extent go up and down like a smaller layout of San Francisco!

Tiradentes is an even smaller village about 80 km further away from Oreo Preto and rather unusually is nestled on flat land but beneath a long soaring mountain ridge, which we climbed – as is our custom to date. That’s not to say that the locals managed to build a large church on a modest “incline”, within the village.

The ornate church housed the sole remaining organ of a renowned portuguese organ builder from the 18th century. By lucky coincidence there was an organ recital on Friday night so we went along! Varied programme of conventional western 16 and 17th organ music including of course J.S.Bach.

At Tiradentes we stayed at another great hotel. – Pousada Solar da Ponte. This was an abandoned, neglected and half completed mansion, stumbled upon by a dapper and friendly Englisman and his portuguese wife almost 40 years ago! They purchased it, financed it’s completion into a 4 star pousada! The owner, John, now in his 80 s was a chatty delightful host.

The mandatory walk of each village was our intention in Tiradente, to climb up and along the mountain ridge and down at the other end. John also recommended a guide, advice we chose to turn down, the only time we should have paid the miserable pittance for a guide! Basically we negotiated the way up and all along the ridge for a distance of perhaps 6 to 8 km. But buggered if we could find the way down at the other end! The light was fading, we had consumed our heated bananas and were down to the last few sips of water. So rather than waste time and effort to try and find the elusive way down, we backtracked. By this time I was covered in scratches and charcoal dust as there had been a recent bushfire. I was also rather sweaty and no doubt smelly! So I suspect I presented a rather wild and frightening visage to any passerby! The chance of a passerby seemed remote until like mountain goats, 3 young men in Nikes and shorts, bared chested and sweaty, nimbly run up the rock strewn cliffs from the direction that we had just unsuccessfully negotiated the path down!

I am not sure who was the most surprised by this meeting on the mount! Anyway they described how the path went down leaving us feel irritated, frustrated and stupid! Add this to our blood and sweat, no wonder tears were not easily suppressed. As we had by then almost reached the way we had ascended at the beginning and dusk was descending, we decided to not go back and find this invisible trail. Besides traveling down with 3 young men seemed safer! Sadly I at least had no chance of keeping up!

My time in Brazil and indeed this extended holiday is coming to an end ! A final blog may follow!

Oreo Preto and Tiradentes part 1

Before I briefly combine the blog of these two delightful villages, I shall document that eucalyptus trees were introduced into Brazil from Australia in 1910. They are now ubiquitous. I was fascinated to read that Brazil now has more eucalyptus trees under plantation than any other country, including Australia. They have so spread far and wide across the whole country worse than cane toads!

In fact whilst it is true that the delicate ecology of Australia has been severely compromised by introduced flora and fauna, our revenge on the rest of the world has been the eucalyptus tree. Not a continent has been spared other than the antarctic, I can’t remember if this is a continent? I failed Geography 1.

Driving on the open road is a little disconcerting as the along the side of the roads the general vegetation is basically gum trees. The outside temp has been around 30 degrees, so the overall feel is essentially “well bugger me I seem to be back in Australia”!

Oreo Preto and Tiradentes were thriving towns that grew up rapidly as a consequence of gold fever that saw thousands flock to the mountainous region. Oreo Preto became the capital of the region called Mineas Gerais. This town has made an honest attempt to restore and maintain the Portuguese traditions, cobbled streets and, as usual, the churches, of which there was one or even two, on any and all hilltops and the village squares.

The tourist office in Oreo Preto was ultramodern, up to the standard of the best in Australia. Many of the museums had also made an obvious effort to create uncluttered, simple well lit displays for the exhibits. Many had bilingual descriptions or provided a laminated leaflet in various languages.

Photography was not permitted at all, in any of the churches and most charged a modest entrance fee. Assuming this was going towards maintenance and restoration, I was not to complain.

As with the religious buildings along the spanish Camino: cathedrals, monasteries and hospices, those in Brazil attest to the millions of hours spent in construction as well as the financing from the gold mines.

The superb paintings on the walls and ceilings, on timber are remarkable, all the more so as they are “original”. Other than fading and some water damage and variable deterioration to the timber, I was looking at buildings with all their decorations, carvings, paintings, as they were 2 or 3 centuries ago! The neutrality of south America during various world and European wars meant that bombings, rape, pillage and plunder has left these buildings unscathed!

Have reread that last sentence and whilst I have no
Idea of how “rape” would cause a church to deteriorate, you get the general thrust of my literary license? Unless of course, rape of the Nuns in a Portuguese nunnery incurred the wrath of God, leading to thunder and lightening and the roof caving in?

On the second day we decided to do a hike in the nearby national park. When ever we asked about “walks” in the various regions, the local people firstly expressed surprise that we even contemplates such activities and secondly implied that danger lurked around every corner, behind every tree (jaguars, leopards and yellow fever carrying monkeys but a modest list of Brazilian wild life) and that the risk of becoming lost was almost a given. These dire warnings, we chose to ignore or explain that we were happy to sign whatever liability waiver they offered. Resigned to our unswerving desires, these officials sighed and said that if that was the case, a local guide was obligatory. It was never clear on the justification for a local guide – simple navigation or that big cats preferentially attacked and ate the indigenous population.

We turned down these recommendations, with thanks of course, but I do admit that in Tiradentes we should have accepted the offer for we did become mildly confused. Readers may have by now realized that the daily dose of disorientation, so irritatingly predictable in Spain and Irelamd, has not been part of the Brazilian experience. It’s not that Osley has a more accurate internal compass, rather that he can say “we are lost, can you tell us where Campinas is?” in fluent Portuguese!

Ilha de Tinhare

Having explored the Pelourinho precinct, Osley suggested that we spend a day and a night on the island of Tinhare. It is one of 26 islands forming the Tinhare Archipelago of the Bay of Salvador. One can reach this island by “fast catamaran” or by a slow boat-transfer to bus-slow boat finally to island. We decided to slow boat there and fast catamaran back. In fact the journey out was slow boat (like a Chinese sampan almost) followed by reckless bus at breakneck speed followed by final slow boat. Journey takes 2 and half hours. It was a sort of foxtrot: slow-quick-slow!

The island is delightful and cars are not allowed! Goods and luggage are transported by an army of dusky young men pushing wheelbarrows. It is a well developed tourist place with several beaches, not what I would have described as ideal for surfing but great rock pools and several places for snorkeling. A small sandy atoll  within swimming distance a few hundred meters from shore but which also one reaches by kayak. For the equivalent of $5 one can hire a kayak, snorkel and personal guide to paddle to atoll and snorkel for an hour!

It is years since I went to Bali but I reckon it was probably the closest analogy that I  can come up with-  Brazilian style! The reader can make up his or her  own mind as to whether this is a good thing or bad!

The trip back was an adventure The fast catamaran turned out to be a nightmare! A huge swell caused the boat to pitch and toss and it took exactly the same time to traverse the 64km to Salvador as the slow boat journey! Added to this was the onset of crippling seasickness in most passengers. I was very macho and other than a mild queasy feeling, coped well! Poor Osley was not so blessed and eventually regurgitated a romantic lobster dinner we had had before leaving!

The pousada we stayed in was pretty basic! The owner fairly nonchalant if not so laid back as to be horizontal!

There are VIP lounges and then there are Brazilian VIP lounges

Despite these 3 months of long service leave and exposure to several airlines, airports and lounges, I hesitate to boast that I am a veteran, at least when it comes to air travel. Some of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, are true travellers, modern Marco Polo’s, in first class style. Of course he (Marco Polo) travelled by camel for thousands of miles and if there was such a thing as a “first class hump” on a camel, then Marco Polo deserved it. Of course, in ancient times, many oriental travellers, after countless months of isolation, found a first class hump on a camel the only option. Heaven only knows what sort of seating Hannibal was assigned on his regular trips by elephant.

Anyway I digress. When it comes to VIP lounges, many on this trip seem to have left off the “V”! Rio is no exception! Criticism that I am a Qantas Club snob, are justified and understandable. Indeed I eventually left the lounge in Rio and joined the masses in McDonalds! Let me explain.

I shall make several comments about airports in Brazil, in general. Firstly chaos! At peak travel times, the check-in areas rival Grand Central Railway Station in Delhi, India! Snake like lines meander for kilometers, in a realistic display of the art of static queuing. Brazil does indeed have the facility to check in on-line the day before or to check in and print your ticket at an electronic stand in the terminal on the day of departure. Astoundingly, these attempts at smooth efficiency are utterly undone by the requirement that with newly printed ticket in hand, one still joins the same static queue to do a “bag drop”! Here the clerical person basically goes through the process of checking name, flight and ticketting before weighing and labeling your bag. Time saved- zero, zilch!

The lounges have no reading material that a bored english speaking tourist can understand other than a cafe “menu”! For example the portuguese word for “hamburger” is “hamburger”! All of the airports provide free Wi-Fi. However Brazil mandates that all users must be “registered”. This requires a laborious log -on, asking such details as name, DOB, gender (thankfully they could cope without disclosure of sexuality), passport, home address , mobile and email and finally a unique password. Once completed, you are acknowledged and prompted to log on again with your newly created account and to now key in all 15 digits below a barcode on your plane ticket. The font size of this number is so minute that one is forced to move to a well directed down light and seek out a powerful magnifying glass. This convoluted maneuver takes up so much time that just as you are successfully connected, your flight is called.

Food and beverages in the VIP lounges are rather sad and sorry. A ham and cheese triangle sandwich of white bread, crusts off, suffocatingly sealed in the Brazilian equivalent of Glad-Wrap is not designed to get one’s digestive juices flowing. Anyway even if one relents, the task of finding where the Glad Wrap starts and ends, so to unwrap the tasty morsel, takes as long as setting up the Wi-Fi. I am both disconnected and unsatiated, a murderous combination.

Finally the coffee – abysmal! Why is it so? Brazil is the home of coffee beans, pop songs have been written about Brazil and coffee! It has been explained that, somewhat akin to the export of all our best Australian lobster to Japan, so the best coffee beans are exported and poor Brazil is left with the equivalent of “International Roast” instant coffee!

Hence I leave the lounge and wander aimlessly past McDonalds and the Duty Free.

As I commented in an earlier blog, duty free shopping has lost it’s shine, if ever it had one for me. Tobacco is a smoke screen, and the choices in alcohol are limited to two major categories: spirits and liqueurs. Spirits I don’t enjoy whilst my bottle of Tia Maria lasts at least 5 years. I use a third of a cup in my unique annual Xmas cake and sniff the cork mid year.

Electronic goods and perfumes are more expensive on conversion, than one would pay at home on the High Street. Besides which I have rediscovered a fabulous company in London, Cezch & Speake! Their Neroli range of cologne, after-shave and other masculine lines are sublime. A bottle lasts me a year and is far too good to even add a few drops to my Xmas cake. I am content to splash it sparingly on face and armpits after shaving (face that is, armpits not included).

If one is left with say the equivalent of $15 in local currency, burning a hole in one’s pocket, the only option around this price is a 12 kg family pack of Toblerone chocolate. Which begs the question, why does Toblerone seem to have the world wide duty free chocolate market cornered?

I write this blog on an iTouch at 32000 ft between Rio and Santiago. Indeed all my blogs have been created and churned out on an almost daily basis, using the right index finger on my iPhone, until it’s theft. Now I use Osley’s iTouch (no camera), which I shall post back to him upon my return to Australia.

I shall end this rather unexpected lengthy blog with a few final thoughts and reactions to Brazil. To set the scene, even though I had read the guides, other than a vague perception of a rapidly disappearing Amazon rain forest, home to semi naked Indians, boa constrictors and piranha infested rivers, I had absolutely no bloody idea of what to expect. In any case I did not include the Amazon on this trip!

I travelled to 5 different places and still only saw small percentage of this immense country.

From an international tourist perspective, Brazil needs to make some dramatic improvements. This is happening spurred on by Brazil’s major involvement in hosting several soccer world cup matches in 2013 and the Olympics a year or two later.

Getting around is best done by air. A planned itinerary booked and paid in advance is relatively cheap! There are at least 5 or 6 domestic and regional carriers. To give you an idea, 5 sectors across Brazil, cost me about $650 in total.

There’s no well developed rail network. I doubt there ever will be. Buses are the only alternative. But finding the right bus and from whence it departs, is a nightmare. Signage in English is non existent and hardly anyone speaks English even the younger generation.

To give the government credit, they are aware of these deficiencies in infrastructure and a dearth of English speaking people in the service and tourist industries. Plans are in place to greet the anticipated influx of hundreds of thousands of international visitors over the next few years. I was fortunate to have Osley as my clever local guide, otherwise I may have disappeared up a narrow dirty street in the Favola, never to be seen again.

What I can confidently state is that no matter where I travel in future years, the time spent in major cities shall be kept to a minimum. Globalization has sadly converted most capitals to monotonous lookalikes. Skyscrapers, Subway, motorways and McDonalds. Finding the heart and soul in these cosmopolitan cities is difficult, many I would argue, have lost them completely!

The saga of a stolen iPhone inBrazil

Osley and I were sitting in a busy side street with lots of outdoor cafe and restaurants.
 We were enjoying the local food, the colour,  the noise, the smells. The sort of thing we do on The Parade in Adelaide, but without the cafe latte, Lycra,noiseuuu and smells!
I had my iPhone on the edge of the  table beside me as I had looked up something on the Internet. (We had been having a gentle disagreement about whether a certain fruit was a “lychee” or a “rhambutan” ) 
A beggar woman came along and was very persistent – even with Osley present. She came right up to me and eventually leaned across the table into my face, imploring money. It took a lot to tell her to go away! It was actually a little frightening as she was rather menacing – straight out of Dickens. There were two outside waitresses who witnessed this interaction, displaying a look of sympathy combined with shoulder shrugs, raised eyebrows, conveying a definite message of “well it’s your problem and we see this sort of thing all the time”.
Eventually she removed her face from mine, straightened up and seemed to walk with a sort of limp up the street.  About 30 seconds later, Osley exclaimed – your iPhone! Yes – she had deftly snatched it as she leaned across the table hiding it in her voluminous african style skirt. We took off in pursuit but she was nowhere to be seen!
My major distress is that I have lost all my Brazil pictures! All others I had backed up to an USB.
The reporting of the theft to the local police was, for those of you old enough to remember, straight out of “In the Heat of the Night” but twice as bad although in retrospect, tragically funny! We walked into the office in the local main square of the historical centre – Penhorinho, at about 11 pm to be greeted by what I assumed was a policeman. He slouched on a tattered swivel
seat, with a noisy overheating PC tower to one side. The sole indication that technology was at the fore front of the local Brazilian police force was the presence of a flat screen monitor.
He had no indication of a policeman’s uniform, a permanent 5 o’clock shadow, (add on 6 hours), a rather large protuberant belly, the shirt buttons at the point of bursting and displayed an overwhelming sense of boredom. 
I filled in a form headed “Particulars for Foreign Tourists” very neatly using block letters. I handed it back, he then stared at it for what seemed like several minutes, transfixed by heaven only knows, 
He ever so slighly sat a little straighter, moved his swivel chair a little closer to the desk , gingerly clicked on the mouse then proceeded to transfer this information across to the computer. If you think that what I have described till now is modestly and quirkily funny, well what happened next was so fantastic in the literal sense, that both Osley and I were flabbergasted. It was rib tickling but we both suppressed laughter!
He drew up the keyboard and laboriously typed using a single digit – his index finger, each letter of a word. He was the slowest one finger typist i gave ever seen. He struck each key with a confident tap then at the end of each word, paused then struck the space-bar with noisy vigor – using the well worn index finger – signaling the completion of each word. Having finished the word, he would stop, swivel back a little in his chair and stare, transfixed at the monitor. Initially I assumed he was simply doing his own spell checking, ( in Portuguese) or that the effort of one finger typing each word, followed by a space, drained so much energy that he needed to rest or that the PC was a Pentium II. However he appeared so fascinated by the screen, that I came to the distinct impression, he was after all these years as a police officer, still mesmerized by the apparent miraculous way that forcefully tapping letters on the keyboard, made them appear on his screen.
After about 20 minutes he stopped, pushed the monitor around so we could see it and indicated he needed our response question number (14c) on the monitor:
Osley, unabashed, set him straight so to speak, which prompted the officer to enquire of Osley, whether he was my husband or boyfriend! I enquired of Osley of what relevance this was to the brazen theft of my iPhone? He was not sure.  The phone had  not been stolen from my handbag!
Eventually we decided it was a question related to simple statistics. One can’t argue against this and if by our openness, in 10 years time, the Brazilian government issues a warning that based on statistics,  homosexual tourists are more likely to have an iPhone stolen when in Brazil, I will claim a modest contribution and travel with a Samsung Galaxy on my next trip.
After about 30 minutes, when the humour of the situation was, as far as i was concerned, wearing decidedly thin, he stopped, stood up, yawned, stretching several buttons to breaking point and appeared to have completed his onerous and anaerobic activity. He walked across to a desk on which sat an old cathode TV, playing a Brazilian soap opera, and proceeded to consume half a packet of  biscuits. Granted he also offered us one as well! To my horror, this was just a rejuvenating repast, designed to satiate his famished finger. Having spent several minutes catching up on the developments in the soap opera, he sat and resumed his marathon. 
By this time even I was slouching! Suddenly he stopped, stood, opened a cupboard, took out a huge, frightening gun and announced he had finished and would take his report and have it signed by his superior. Why he needed to be armed to approach his superior, escaped me, even allowing for whatever Brazilian men do to each other when they meet. 
A further 20 minutes passes and he reappeared, unscathed from his superior meeting and no smoking gun! He handed across the report and we left discretely. Back át the pousada, Osley read the “statement” which, in summary, described the theft of a câmera, despite the neat block lettering describing the theft of an 
iPhone! It was all too much! We let it be – at least I have a report number! 
In the light of day we returned to the scene of the crime and then the police station, to discover that there was a sign on the wall that stated (translated) “Office for the protection of tourists” – I can confirm that whilst in that office the night before around midnight, I indeed felt very safe! 
Some of you may recall that about 9 months ago my iPad was stolen in Alice Springs, but a few weeks before the release of the iPad 2. Those cynics amongst you may think it startling that I should have an iPhone stolen but a month after the release of the latest model…so be it!