Monday, August 29, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 4

One word --- Burr!! It is fricking cold this morning and I really never thought of being cold in Brazil, but it only makes sense that as you travel south you are getting further from the equator.  All I know is that we are glad there was a little electrical heater, otherwise it would have been much colder.  But we have all survived the night and are showered, dressed, fed, and  despite a little problem getting back into our room after breakfast (the lock was crazy and really needs to be replace)  we are on the road by 9:00 A.M. again.  Our drive today is not as long so we drive around Lages a little and admire the art deco buildings.  It is a cute little city similar to other Brazilian cities.  A few tall apartment buildings creating a skyline.  Small grocery, drug, and specialty stores dotting the neighborhoods.  Not much more to see in Lages and so we are off.  As we leave town we notice frost on the ground where the shade of the trees keep it out of the warmth of the sun.  For my traveling companions the frost is a nice surprise as they don't see frost often, but for me it just signals COLD.  I am sure the frost will soon disappear as the sun floats across the sky.  We travel down the toll roads, past flooded plains with a light layer of ice on the edges.  Soon we enter into an area with a mountainous terrain and come upon a bridge over a beautiful valley.  Since it is not so to get to our destination today, we decide to stop for a few minutes and take a walk over the bridge for photos.  It is a beautiful morning and the sun is just right to capture the beauty of the river valley.  When we return to our car which we parked at a little rest area, we notice a five foot concrete coffee pot and cuia (koo-ya). Cuia? You ask - It is a cup made of a gourd, partnered with a silver bombilla (metal straw) used by locals in Southern Brazil to drink chimarro.  That probably leads you to the question: what is chimarro? Well, it is a drink where you fill the cuia half full of erva-mate [ˈɛʁva ˈmati] (made by chopping the dried leaves of the yerba mate bush found in central Brazil),  then you fill it with hot or cold water to make the infused drink. The final step is adding the metal bombilla and then you can begin sipping the chimarro through the bombilla.  (thanks wikipedia) There is a certain etiquette in drinking this beverage in South America and as we travel through some southern cities later on our travels,  it becomes apparent the popularity of the drink. For now we just take a couple photos with the large statue paying tribute to it and hop back into the car.

The travel is quick and soon we are driving down a stretch of road known as Rota Romantica.  A stretch of highway that runs through thirteen municipalities in the mountainous Serra Rocha region. This area was first colonized by German immigrants in the 19th century. The strong German influence can still be seen as you drive through the beautiful towns and villages as we will see soon.  The route is truly set apart from other routes in Brazil because of the Germanic roots which are visible in the architecture, gastronomy and occasionally in the accent and language of the people - and, of course, the towns European appearance. 

We travel down the scenic route and soon we are ready to stop for coffee as we arrive in the first of the  municipalities Nova Petropolis. The German history is prominently displayed as we come to the entrance of the city.   Down the boulevard , there are round banners and interesting decorations on the lamp posts that are hard to miss but we are not sure why they are there.   We stop for coffee  and after I decide to investigate the avenue and decorations.  The decoration have lights and one can imagine the avenues beauty at night when lit.  The banners represent countries like Chile, Canada, Panama, and it does not take long to realize they are holding an international festival in town.  As we drive through town we soon come to the city square where the festival is in full swing.  We decide we must make a stop and take a look around since there is no hurry.  The town square is full of people wandering around enjoying the afternoon.  On one side of the square there is a tent where you can hear music being played.  We head towards the tent and there is a stage with a group of people performing a German dance.  What a great surprise so we watch for a while.  I think about how wonderful this type of festival is for a community.  It does so much for keeping history alive and building bonds between the residence of the community.  We spend about an hour enjoying the German dancing and music. It was quite relaxing and afterwards we spent a little time looking around enjoying the details of the community.  Soon it was time to continue down the road to our next destination. 

It is minutes down the road and we come to the city entrance gate of Gramado. A community of about 31,000 people situated on the Rota Romantica route.  Along with Nova Petropolis,  these two communities are a part of a stretch of Rota Romantica known as Regiao das Hortensias (Hydrangea Flower Region).   All along the roadside there are brown dried bushes of hydrangeas.  Since it is the wrong time of year, we can only imagine what it would be like with miles of road bordered by blooming hydrangeas.  During October, November and  December thousands of people come to these four communities to enjoy the hydrangeas, but since it is only August we will have be satisfied with imagining what it would be like.  We will also have to settle to seeing what else Gramado has to offer.   We soon realize the town is full of visitors although it is not hydrangea season, so what could the reason be.  Well, the 39th annual film festival starts today.  What does that mean? Well Festival de Gramado is Brazil's largest famous film festival celebrating advancements in the Brazilian movie industry.  It has also given awards for Latin American produced movies since 1992 and is by the far the most important film festival in Brazil today.  So as we begin to drive through town we begin looking for celebrities (or at least Junior and Luiz do) .  I would but the only Brazilian star I know is Fernanda Montenegro and soon I see her face on a poster as she will be attending the festival this year.  Who knows, maybe I will see her again. We find a parking spot and start to walk around.  There are people everywhere and as we walk we notice a trolley drive by.  Since Luiz and I love to take a tour,  we find the starting point for the trolley which happens to be in front of the main catholic church in town.  We pay our small fee and grab a seat and ready our cameras for the tour.  After a short wait we are off down the streets of Gramado with their German influence.  The guide speaks in Portuguese, but I don't mind as I catch a word or two and the scenery is just wonderful. There is so many beautiful homes and buildings.  Soon we make a quick twenty minute stop at Lago Negro (Black Lake).  The u-shaped lake was created by damming up a creek in 1953 and the park was designed around it.  Shortly after a boat house was built and today you can rent swan boats to paddle around the lake.  Such a great way to enjoy the lake and beautiful green space.  Again, the hydrangeas are not in bloom now and it is hard to imagine just how beautiful it must be during their peek season.  The park is shaded by pine trees which were saplings imported from the Black Forest in Germany.  They were planted in the park to give the German immigrants a taste of their native country.  We spend approximately fifteen minutes walking around the lake, trying to imagine what it would look like with the hill side full of hydrangea blooms.  On our way back to the trolley we stop at a little chocolate shop.  Oh yeah,  this area of Brazil is also known for it's chocolate and I figure what a great gift to bring to my friends back in the United States. 

The trolley tour finishes and drops us off in front of the church which is a couple blocks from where they are preparing the red carpet for tonight's festivities.  We decide to look around the red carpet tent to see if we can see any famous people.  The tent is all decked out and ready for the festival to begin and since it is afternoon and people are just starting to hang around,  we decide to head and find a hotel to freshen up.  We have decided to stay in Canela as it is about ten minutes away and surely a little less expensive.  A neighboring community of approximately 40,000 people,  Canela is known for its chocolates and almost all tourists stopping in Gramado end up taking a detour to Canela.  We plan to tour the city tomorrow so now our only goal is to find an inexpensive hotel.  We soon find one and have our luggage in the room, are freshened up and are ready to head back to Gramado.

We return and as the chill is beginning to return,  we stop at a local shop and I purchase a pair of gloves. Oh...later I am so happy in this choice.  We walk to the red carpet area and wait as the a small crowd has appeared and there is a limo parking at the edge of the tent.  One by one with a couple minutes in between,  individual people exit from the limo and walk towards the red carpet.  There is a group of people who begin shouting their names.  Luiz and Junior (as well as the other people next to us) have no idea who the emerging people are and we soon begin to think the people yelling names are the same for each "star" and wonder if this is a stunt or if they are paid for this noise making. Soon this particular limo is empty and drives away allowing for others to arrive.  As the evening slips away, it gets colder and a few Brazilian stars arrive to walk the red carpet. 

I have to rely on Luiz, Junior, and the other people in the crowd to tell who the famous people are but it is a lot of fun.  Maybe I need to develop my career as a paparazzi?  All night I am hoping that Fernanda Montenegro shows up but after two hours of waiting it become obvious that she has either chosen not to walk the red carpet or is not coming tonight.  (it is the first night of the festival anyway)   We head out for a pit (pitch) dog sandwich before retiring for the evening as the temperature plummets closer to zero degrees Celsius.  Hopefully it will be a good night as once again there is no heat in the hotel and we are happy they have dropped off extra blankets. 

(Click here to read about "Cross Country Travel Day 3)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 3

After a good night sleep,  we wake up, eat a little breakfast provided by the hotel,  put on shorts and t-shirts and we are on the road by 9:00A.M.   The travel begins like it ended the day before with fields, grass lands and sunny skies.  Soon the terrain changes and becomes hilly which is something different and yet familiar. The area reminds me of the Great Smokey Mountains in the eastern United States and just like the Smokey Mountains there are a lot of low lying clouds this morning(which looks like smoke).  Every time we head on a downward section of the road we soon encounter limited visibility due to fog. The lack of visibility slows our progress as we are unable to pass any vehicles that are creeping up the hills. It seems like the scenery would  be wonderful but the fog keeps us from enjoying it and I struggle to keep my eyes open (for some reason I really want to take a nap).  We finally get to the other side of the valley and peak up above the fog for a moment to see fields of pine trees, but the view is fleeting as we soon head back into another valley and the thick fog.  After about 2 hours of in and out of dense fog we stop at a truck stop for a coffee break and gas refill.  The truck stop is very similar to those found in the United States with displays of candy, snacks and sodas properly positioned to tempt you into spending a little money.   The restaurant served average food, the restrooms were dirty (but not the worst I have seen)  and the rest of the store is loaded with souvenirs for the average traveler to spontaneously purchase.  Junior and Luiz strike up a conversation with a truck driver that has come from the opposite direction and he says the fog continues for quite a ways.  We adjust our expectations a bit as we recalculate what our end of day destination will be due to the slow day of travel.  Soon we are on our way and after a short while we are pleasantly surprised as it seems the twenty minute stop for coffee has allowed time for the fog to lift. We do not have any more visibility issues today. We drive up and down more valleys and hills and everything seems so green compared to where we have been the last few days.  This part of Brazil has had a lot of rain last week and the rivers are out of their banks and there are a lot of ponds where fields and pastures used to be.  I am sure the people who live here are glad it is a sunny day.  There is an occasional splash of color provided by the Ipe tree (Eeepay tree) to contrast the green.  We had originally planned to tour a small town or two during the day but due to the slow going in the morning we decide to bypass these little detours to make up time.  The first little towns we pass still have their white declaration signs at the entrance but by the end of the day these entrance signs will be much grander (see below). The small towns are also changing a bit as we drive along. Instead of the brick walls with brick houses hiding behind,  the houses here are made of wood and there is no brick wall for hiding.  The roofs are still tile and clothes are still hung out to dry. 

In this hilly country side we begin to see some vineyards and wineries along the road.  This part of Brazil is known for its wine and although it is not as developed as Napa Valley,  it has some quaint wineries.  I will definitely be bringing back a bottle or two for friends.  The other crop that I notice in this area is coffee.  I have never seen coffee fields before and imagine what it would be like to harvest this crop.  It must be hard work.  I will have to pay attention when I have my next cup of coffee to see if it is grown in Brazil. 
Soon we drive through a small rain shower and it is obvious the weather is beginning to change and get a little cooler.  When we stop for lunch, everyone is wearing coats and I begin to question why I have shorts on.  I dig in the trunk and pull out my fall jacket and a pair of socks which will hopefully keep me warm until we stop for the night.  Back in the car we drive through a little more rain, by some more little towns and Luiz points out a tree along the road which seems appropriate for this rainy weather.  It is an evergreen that looks like an umbrella.  I have never seen this tree before and it is truly majestic.  It is an Araucaria angustifolia, otherwise known as a Parana Pine or Brazilian Pine.  The Parana Pine grows in the south central area of Brazil (where we are traveling) and due to logging and the collection of its seeds for food -- the tree is currently on the endangered foliage list of Brazil.  All along the road now we see people with a small fire and jars of what looks like boiled peanuts.  The native people of the region harvest around 3400 tons of the seeds each year and sell them for winter snacks. (wikipedia to the rescue) Junior and I discuss stopping and trying some and in hind sight I'm not sure why we didn't since my time in Brazil is about trying new things, but we didn't.  The afternoon of driving is pretty uneventful as each little town passes by with it's Catholic church providing at least one shot for photos as we cruise through. 
For our afternoon break we stop in a small town and since we have made up some time we decide to walk around a little and explore.  This will truly be a good break from being crammed in the car. It is a cute little town with wooden houses and visible green yards. (only thing hindering viewing the front yards  is an occasional iron fence)  We venture into the old rail station that has been turned into a town hall.  There a lady offers us coffee and the use of the restroom as Luiz asks her a couple of questions about how far we are from today's destination.  They talk in Portuguese of course and I listen intensely for any words I may know. Trying to figure out what the just of the conversation is.  We leave the town hall and and across the street there is a large house that grabs out attention.  We head in that direction and I am amazed by the great amount of detail in everything from the peak to the porch rail. 

 Its a grand old house and I am sure there is a story.  Is it a residence, a hotel, or what as it is quite large for the homes we have seen thus far in Brazil.  On our return to the car there are some kids walking down the street and I ask Luiz to ask them if there is a story.  They look at us like this was an odd question and advise us there is a lady that lives there.  (I did not need anyone to translate the look they gave us)
We get back in the car and we all notice it is getting quite cold.  We travel until just after sunset and stop in Lages for the night.  Lages is located in Santa Catarina with a population of around 160,00.  Established in 1766 it initially served as an Inn on the trade route between Rio Grande de Sul and Are Paul and today the local economy is forestry, agricultural, livestock and some tourism.  (Thanks wikipedia) We grab a Subway sandwich and find a hotel.  It is getting cold as the sun is no longer providing any warmth. Unfortunately the hotel we choose has no heat but they do bring us plenty of blankets and a small electric heater.  All will be good! (OK maybe it will be a little colder then comfortable but this is a road trip and what is a road trip without a good story about the hotels you stay in)   

Enjoy the video with a little splash of color and the photos below

The entrances to the towns got larger...

Mud slide from the rain.

A great drive through the umbrella trees

Another little town with a little creativity

Ipe tree in the fog

Splash of color