Monday, September 2, 2013

The Old Mining Towns of Minas Gerais, Brazil

On our last day in Salvador, the sun appeared, but too late, we had to go to the airport to catch our plane to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. The airport in Belo Horizonte, like the other airports in Brazil, also had construction in preparation for the World Cup. (All over Brazil, they are improving their infrastructure for the World Cup.)

There, waiting for us like a beacon, was Dioso, our driver who spoke only Portuguese. For most of the two hour drive from Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto, our conversation was kept to a minimum. My Spanish has been helping me here in Brazil, and when Dioso and I had a brief conversation about our planned activities, I understood him to say that our guide had an accident and had lost his fingers or his hand.  I told Lauren this and so we were prepared to meet a one-handed or fingerless guide.

This morning however, Dioso and Jaero showed up and the latter had his two hands intact.

I had totally misunderstood Dioso!

What Dioso was trying to say was that we would be visiting the religious sculptures of Aleijadinho (1738-1835), an artist and a leper who had lost his fingers but had carved famous religious statues.  Aleijandinho means "Little Cripple" and his students used to carry him up the hill and they would strap his tools to his arms so he could chisel away on the soapstone figures. 

Lauren and I are  in the Minas Gerais state of Brazil, a place that had been and continues to be wealthy and influential. Our guide said that the early years of the Republic of Brazil was referred to as the "cafe com leite" (coffee and milk) referring to the oligarchy that comprised the Sao Paulo coffee barons and the Minas Gerais cattle ranchers. The presidency alternated between the two states of coffee and milk.

The discovery of gold in the 17th century in the Minas Gerais State and the subsequent boom in the mid-18th century brought so much prosperity that manifested itself in the wealthy Baroque churches in the mining towns. We visited Congonhas, Sao Jao del Rei, and Tiradentes today, and saw churches with gold-gilt altars, as well as exquisite carvings by Little Cripple.  The pictures will start to look alike to you, dear Readers, but the first set with the lifesize statues made by Little Cripple are in Congonhas.

The following pictures were taken in Sao Joao del Rei. The churches there were also built in the late 1700s, and quite elaborate, although the most elaborate church was the St. Francis in Salvador. The one in Tiradentes is also quite showy. 

These pictures were taken in Tiradentes, another charming colonial town.

The tour of Ouro Preto, another UNESCO World heritage site is scheduled tomorrow; and we will also visit the town of Mariana.

I will remember to take pictures of the towns and the landscape because those are interesting. Brazil is huge, and each place we have visited is different.  Here, the hills are not as lush as the Amazon. There are cattle ranches, and there are mines. Except for the cute colonial towns, the other towns reflect a working environment -- furniture building in one, pewter manufacturing in another, aluminum mining in another. I have the impression that Brazilians are in general hardworking, although they like to have their two-hour break mid-day, and people still sit around the plaza at the end of the day.  In some ways they remind me of the Chileans who impressed me as being hard-workers. The Argentinians have a different persona, but more on that later on as we will be visiting Buenos Aires too.

After Ouro Preto, we move on to still another city in Brazil, dear Readers, so stay tuned.

All for now,

Read also
tags: travel, tourism, Brazil, South America, Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Tiradentes, Sao Joao del Rei, Congonhas

No comments: