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)

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