Inland to Minas Gerais, BR

February 28, 2020, Trip: Brazil 2.0
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February 28, 2020

FIRST OF ALL – March 23, 2020

We want to let you know we are well and parked securely and self quarantining (except for solitary walks and some shopping we do not leave the campground).  This too will pass, although not fast enough for most of us.  At this time we have no plans to return home early, mostly because where do we leave Tigger and for how long?  As it is now, Brazil is not renewing visas (our expires April 6th) but we and others have been advised that no penalties will be implemented for overstaying.  

We drove mostly in the rain to Petrópolis which was quite foggy and the town was quite damp.

We parked by the Cathedral and sent for a stroll to see some of the historical homes and buildings.

Petrópolis also known as The Imperial City, is a city located 68 km / 42 mi northeast of Rio de Janeiro.  It is considered the safest city in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the sixth safest city in Brazil.  This city sits at an altitude at 800 m above sea level hence it can be cooler than Rio and many escape the heat of the summer here. 

The town’s name (“city of Peter”) honors Pedro II, the last Emperor of Brazil, who is entombed there at the Cathedral of Saint Peter Alcantara.  Emperor Pedro II ruled for 49 years and, in at least forty summers, remained in Petrópolis, for up to five months at a time. The city was the summer residence of the Brazilian Emperors and aristocrats in the 19th century, and was the official capital of the state of Rio between 1894 and 1902.  The Summer home of the President is located here as well but has not been used for several decades.

 It is the 2nd largest beer production centre in the country and the headquarters of major Brazilian brewery companies. 

In 2013, the carnival of the city was canceled, for the appropriation of the funds in the approximate amount of R$1 million, previously used in the parades, to healthcare, thus making Petrópolis a refuge of Cariocas (resident of Rio) of the Carnival. The decision was made during a meeting between the mayor and the Foundation for Culture and Tourism.

We were back at Tigger before noon and but it wouldn’t start!  Doug took out the battery cables to jump the truck from the auxillary but still nada.  The “plan” had been to head just out of town to a hotel that takes overlanders so we could plug in and power up the batteries.  We figure it’s the starter.  Now we are in the non-retail part of town and we can find no mechanics nearby online.  Doug stops a passerby and he kindly makes a few phone calls for us with no luck.  The parking attendant then directs Doug to a nearby mechanic.  He walks over and is told we can’t be helped but when he persists he agrees to send someone back with Doug; turns out his name is Douglas and he too diagnoses that it must be the starter but he’ll needs some tools.  After he returns and begins working on trying to remove the starter, the rain gets quite hard and says he needs to call it for the day but he’ll be back tomorrow morning at 8.  He does add that as tomorrow is Saturday, they only work until noon.

So we are stuck here for at least the night if not the weekend.  Where we are parked is pay street parking; we’d tried to use the machine to pay for parking before going for our sightseeing, but it wouldn’t work (could have been the US credit card we’re not sure) so when we are back here, the attendant comes to check on us and after explaining the continued situation, says with our foreign plate we shouldn’t have an issue with parking without paying – we’re sure the bag of sweets we gave him helped too!

So now we try to start the generator so we can help power up the batteries – it struggles!  WTH?!?!?!  After several tries we get it running but it’s rough; it stops sometimes and finally catches and runs getting smoother and smoother but not perfect.  We ran it for three hours and next morning Doug went out to start it from the outside so he was able to throttle it and it started first try and runs great – YEAH!

Douglas was supposed to be here at 8 but in true Latin American style is not; Doug walks over at 8:30 and is told he should be here in 40 minutes.

It did not rain overnight and is dry at the moment but the sky is not conducive to sunshine.  Doug tried the gennie, was able to adjust the throttle and it’s running smoothly now.  We’ll try and run it as much as possible today and tomorrow to help top up the batteries as overcast skies don’t work so well.

Douglas showed up just before 9 and it took him 2.5 hours to get the dang starter out of Tigger – there was one bolt that just wouldn’t budge (like that’s not happened to us before!) and by that time it was nearly quitting time (on Saturdays’ most businesses quit at noon).   He took the starter with him and they’ll work on it on Monday so we are here till at least Monday…..

We took advantage of the down time and Fran did a lot of photo/video/blogging catching up and we found a laundry service to get that caught up.  It rained a bit in the afternoon but despite a forecast of 100% chance of rain, we had a few sunny breaks but the fog settled in by late afternoon.  By 8 pm our batteries had reached 92% using the gennie and the sun we did have during the day.

Overnight it did rain a little on and off and Sunday morning began cloudy with a few short sunny breaks.  The gennie reached 95% today (it dips on average about 12% at night unless it’s quite hot and the fridge has to work harder, then it’s even more).

Monday AGAIN we awoke to rain!  Around 9:30 Doug wandered over to the mechanic’s shop and learned they were working on the starter, had found a few issues and it will be ready soon; problem is the rain – they wanted to wait until it was not raining to reinstall; not what we want, but can’t blame the guy for not wanting to work in the pouring rain.  About mid afternoon, while Fran was out walking in the light rain, it did stop and Doug went back to check with them.  Douglas arrived a little later and in the repaired starter went in and as we held our breath, Doug started the truck!  Eureka!  We are good to go once again but it’s now after 5 and we don’t want to head anywhere this late so one more night here on the street by the Cathedral in Petrópolis.  We thank our lucky stars once again.

Tuesday we awoke to overcast skies but it wasn’t raining.  Today we left and drove to Teresopolis (named after Dom Pedro’s daughter, Theresa) with the hopes of seeing the natural beauty of this small city – bare peaks in the shapes of organ pipes.  Well the sun god was not on our side and the cloud cover did not lift enough to see them from the Lookout.

we had hoped to see the Finger of God

The forecast did not seem to promise anything better for the rest of the day and it did begin to sprinkle so we left and went back to the main road, the BR-040 and began the 300 km / 200 mi drive to the city of Tiradentes in the state of Minas Gerais.  This state was where the Portuguese found large amounts of gold, silver and gemstones which they brought back to Europe with them.  There are four colonial mining towns that are now tourist attractions and we’ve decided to visit three of them.  Tiradentes is the first – it was named after the martyred hero of the Inconfidencia.

Inconfidência Mineira, was a conspiracy of a separatist nature that took place in the region of Minas Gerais before it was a state, among other reasons, against the execution of the taxes and the Portuguese domination in the last half of the 18th century. Several men were charged, some exiled for a period of time, some in perpetuity, some imprisoned, and one, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier aka Tiradentes (he was trained as a dentist – tiradentes means “tooth puller” in Portuguese), charged with the crime of rebellion and high treason was executed and quartered with his remains being marched in the streets of several towns.  To this day, April 21st is a holiday in Brazil honouring his death.

We made it about ¾ of the way by late afternoon and it was pouring by this time.  We stopped at a truck stop/gas station for the night.  The kind attendants let us plug in Tigger to the men’s bathroom which we parked outside of and we had power for the night.  We really wanted showers but it was raining so hard we put them off till morning as the showers were across the parking lot!  We did manage to get the solar panels all the way up to 100% overnight.

After showering Wednesday morning, we drove into Tiradentes to explore for an hour or so. The town is quite cute and very, very touristy.  The sun did not come out fully but it stayed dry and we were happy with that.  All the buildings are white with different coloured doors (it reminded us of Villa de Leyva in Colombia although all the paint trim there was green).

San Antonio church is considered the most beautiful church but unfortunately, it was closed on Wednesday mornings.  It was built in 1789.

So we “borrowed” this pic from Google not only to show it here, but so that we could see what we’d missed because even if it had been opened, no photos are allowed:

We also tried to visit another church, Nossa Senorha Rosario dos Pretos which was built by and for the slaves in 1708 but it too was closed.   Since slaves had no free time during the day, this church was built at night and is supposed to contain images of black saints but we couldn’t find a photo of that.

There is an old fountain called Chafariz de Sa0 Jose built in 1749 that has three sections:  one for drinking, one for washing clothes and one for watering horses.

Our next destination was the world’s largest outdoor art/botanical gardens site:  Inhotim near Belo Horizonte.  We are not huge art lovers but the photos Marcos had shown us back in Lagoinho looked intriguing.  Wednesday are the one day of the week with free entry for all, so it made it more attractive to drive out of our way a bit.

Inhotim” comes from the name of the former landowner in the region, an English geologist known only as Timothy or Tim, who, in the 19th century, settled on the outskirts of Brumadinho.  Opened in 2006, the Inhotim Contemporary Art Centre is considered the largest open contemporary art centre in the world.   It is approximately 100 hectares surrounded by native forest which was given a landscape treatment; among the ornamental gardens and lakes, pavilions and art galleries are scattered throughout, as well as support buildings. The Center also contains six different gardens with more than 4,000 species including over 200 types of palm trees. 

We made it there by early afternoon and the sun had come out in full force.  YEAH!  We had chocolate cake for our brunch in a small café on the grounds (someone on iOverlander had recommended it) and the piece was huge so on the waiter’s recommendation, we just ordered one.  It was so yummy!

We walked the large grounds for about 2.5 hours exploring a few art installations and all six gardens.

We had a pleasant afternoon despite the humidity here and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the big yellow ball in the sky.

We went into the nearby town, Brumadinho, to park for the night outside a small hotel that takes overlanders for free.  Here we had Wi-Fi (that didn’t quite reach the parking area), bathrooms and one shower but most importantly, we had power to run fans as for the first few hours it was rather warm but we are at 800 m / 2600’ so it cools down a bit more at night than at the coast so we don’t need AC once Tigger cools down.

For the past several days in all the rain we’ve had, the temperatures have not gone much beyond 22C / 72F but today we reached 26C / 79F; just about perfect.

So Thursday morning we made our way to the second mining city we wanted to see: Ouro Preto (Portuguese for “black gold”).  We awoke to rain but it stopped before we got up and by the time we got to Ouro Preto about two hours later, the sun was shining and things were drying out once again.

Ouro Preto is considered the “jewel” of the colonial cities in Minas Gerais.  It was the center for gold mining and government during its heyday.  When gold was discovered in the early 1700’s the fever began and it was considered the largest deposit in the New World.  The finest goods from India and England were made available here in this simple mining town.  The gold brought the services of baroque artisans who turned the city into an architectural gem.  At the height of the gold rush, it is believer 110,000 people lived here (mainly slaves)  – note: at the time 50,000 lived in New York City and 20,000 in Rio.  Today, the population is about 70,000.

This town is super hilly and the streets and narrow and cobblestone.  We’d read on iOverlander that it was recommended to not drive into the historic centre, but rather park near the bus terminal where there is also a large church which is not used.  As we approached this spot, a young man who appeared to be selling tours, indicated where we could park.

We locked up Tigger and began the long walk down hill into the centre of town.  This city was not only “Built on Gold” but also on other minerals as well as gemstones.  There are plenty of jewelry shops and the like as you walk around.  It is quite pretty and the surrounding hills with sunshine make a picturesque landscape.  Ouro Preto has TWENTY-THREE churches; we visited three today.

Pics

San Francisco de Assisi – finest example of Brazilian colonial architecture:

Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar is the 2nd most opulent church in the country with 434 kg of gold and silver.

the hair on this statue of Christ is human!

And we also visited the Science and Mineral museum which was interesting:

And then went for a nice lunch at an Italian place which we timed perfectly as just after we sat down on the patio, they moved us indoor as the rain clouds had arrived and as soon as we sat down inside, it was torrential.

The rain stopped after lunch and we walked around some more and Fran was able to pay her phone bill (for which this time, she did receive the bill by email).

We decided we’d had enough churches and steep streets so we treated ourselves to a delicious chocolate ice cream cone and made our way back up, up, up to Tigger.

Upon our arrival we saw we had a flat tire; Doug pumped it up some with our on-board air compressor while Fran went to ask someone where a tire repair place was located.  Fortunately, it was less than one click away and we drove there to discover the rim was cracked.  We’d hit a few “invisible” speed bumps this morning and Doug figures that’s what did it (but it was not like we’d never done that before…..).  This morning the drive was on wet roads in the sun under trees so unless there was a sign (which 9 out of ten times there is), we did not see a couple of them.

The tire repairman said we could get the rim welded in the next town and we’ll use it as our spare’s rim.

By now it’s raining once again, so rather than push on to the next town, Mariana, the third mining town, we camped near where we were parked earlier, behind the unused church.  It’s quite level and seems safe.

Friday we awoke to continued grey skies but it did not rain overnight.  We had a few sprinkles before we left for Mariana but enroute wanted to run a couple of Tigger related errands: the tire rim welding, the side mirror and one of our stereo speakers.

We stopped at a welder’s before Mariana as recommended by the tire repairman yesterday.  The fellow there said they couldn’t repair it but could take Doug and the tire to a different place outside of town.  He put the tire in his pickup and they were gone about an hour and the job was done – it was another tire repair place that also did welding so he was able to remove the tire, repair the rim and reinstall the tire as well as airing it up.

Next, we stopped at a body shop at the entrance of the town to see about the mirror casing – he said he didn’t have the proper materials to repair it so that was a bust.  Fran had moved the outer casing to realign the thing but there is a piece of sharp plastic that sticks out the underside.  Doug has given up on trying to replace the mirror glass itself but has found one on Amazon that is cheap so we’ll manage until then.  He later shaved down the sharp point so no one scrapes themselves.

Third stop was to have the passenger side door speaker looked it; it cuts out a lot and then stays off for long periods of time.  The fellow got in the car, played with the stereo itself and what seemed to “fix it” was turned the volume way up.  Hmmmmh…(btw that didn’t last).

Mariana, the third colonial mining town is much small than its neighbour Ouro Preto but has a very pretty town square.  Anyway instead of then parking and walking into the town centre we decided to drive in; mistake!  The parking we had a mind, we did not find and the streets are narrow and wind ALL over the place.  After a frustrating half hour or so we found the main centre but could not find parking.  So we saw it but didn’t get a chance to walk around it.

By now it’s late morning and we decide to make some miles towards our next stop and drive about 200 km / 125 mi to a truck stop in a small town called Realeza.

Minas Gerais state is quite fertile with lots of countryside and everything is green.

We saw many coffee farms too:

It began to rain about fifteen minutes before we arrived and it continued for a while.

On Thursday we had reached out to a private monkey reserve east of here to get a tour on Saturday.  They replied to us via WhatsApp on Friday afternoon which message we received when we pulled into a truck stop into Realeza saying that they would let us know but it sounded good.  We made our way in that direction on Saturday morning having heard nothing more.  Enroute we were held up for over half an hour as super wide load came down the highway:

Just before arriving at the Preserve Muriqui, we had a cell signal and two messages came through saying that they already had a large German group that day and could we postpone until Sunday!

Preserve Muriqui – In 1944, a local coffee farmer named Feliciano Abdalla, committed himself to preserving a large chunk of his land which was covered by Atlantic rain forest.  Forty years later the protected status became official with the establishment of the State Biological Reserve of Caratinga. 

The reserve has been instrumental in the preservation of the north Muriqui monkey. It is estimated that at the time of the discovery of Brazil, there were over 400,000 muriquis and the Portuguese colonization killed most of them.  On this piece of land back in 1944 there were only 9 and today there are over 200 and there are researches working to sustain and grow this population.  Worldwide there are less than 3,000.   The reserve also contains red howler monkeys and Capuchins. 

Muriqui monkeys are the largest primate in the “New World” and they stand about 1.5 m / 59” tall.  Its movements and physical appearance are very humanlike.  They are often called “hippie monkeys” as they are peace loving, gentle and have no alpha males or females which means no hierarchy and no need to fight.  They often can be seen hugging each other.  The female has a slow reproductive cycle which also hinders the growth of the population.  She has a gestation period of 8 months but her young stay with her for three years during which time she will not mate.

Well this last part of the road was a stretch of red clay about 7 km / 4 mi long, wet from the rain and we thought we’ll head in anyway, even if we only see monkeys near the visitors centre without a tour, it will be fine.  We arrived at the gate, drove in and were met by the resident guide, Humberto, who confirmed that there was a large group and that the weather would probably be better tomorrow; apparently the muriqui are not that active in wet weather.  We tried to finish the drive (less than 1 km to the actual visitors centre, but the first part was uphill and in the rain and wet clay, we began to slide.  It took a few tries but Doug got us back down and Humberto suggested we back up further and take a run at it – ha ha – not in our “house” we’re not!

He showed us where to back up to in order to park.   He asked the German group leader, a professor named Reiner, with a group of biology students, if we could join them and he agreed.  Luckily for us, this being a European group, they all spoke English and had a Brazilian guide who acted as their translator.  Strangely, the three research students and Humberto, who all reside here, do not speak English.

Sidebar:  While we have been travelling Latin America, our experience has often been that professional people speak some English e.g. dentists, doctors, teachers.  However, here in Brazil, outside the large centres, this is not common.  The German professor commented on this as well. 

Humberto spotted some red howler monkeys for us which we could not get a good shot at but here’s what it looks like:

And then the group made its way up to the Visitor’s Centre.  They had been fortunate yesterday seeing a group of muriquis right there eating and interacting – it was not raining at the time.

Humberto offered Reiner and us a ride up the Visitors Centre where we met the group.  It had stopped raining and Humberto spotted a couple of muriquis high in the trees and we watched them for about fifteen minutes until they swung away deeper into the jungle.  The trees here are tall and it’s hard to take photos through the trees and with the backlit white sky but here’s our best try:

and here’s one off Google:

 

When the rain began again, we all went into the Centre where the 3 research students gave a talk and answered questions through Lucas, the Brazilian guide.

A buffet lunch was served then while it rained.

 

the types of monkeys you can see here

faces of the muriqui

After lunch Lucas and Humberto took a few of us on a walk into the jungle where they pointed out plants, fungi and frogs as well as a few capuchin monkeys, again, high in the trees and no good photos taken today so the one below is a stock photo from the reserve.

By 2:30 the weather did not appear to be clearing and we cannot spend the night here, so we opted to leave.  We used the bathrooms and as we walked back to Tigger we spotted two more muriquis in the trees for about two minutes.  They are constantly on the move in the trees but quite cool to watch.

It was a bit tricky getting turned around in the wet clay but Doug made it and we returned to the main road.

This time we headed southeast instead of back the way we came and we had about one km of red clay and at first MANY topes (speed bumps)

FIVE topes in a row!

then okay pavement, then great pavement then about 3 km of dirt before really good pavement right into the village of Ipanema which we passed through and drove for a couple of hours crossing the state line into Espirito Santo – a small state right on the coast where we hope to find some beaches worth staying at for a while as we’ve been driving every day since we left Petrópolis. OH and it’s been raining every day since Rio!  We need to dry out so fingers crossed.

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