Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 5

Morning has broken... cold as it is.  If you read day 4,  you know there is no heat in our hotel so we woke up under layers of blankets as the outside temperatures dropped close to zero Celsius (thirty two Fahrenheit).  Time to quickly get ready, put on our jackets and headed to breakfast.  I do want to make sure my readers know that there are hotels with heated rooms in this region of Brazil if you want to travel here in the winter.  But when we arrived at the hotel,  those rooms were taken and I guess that is the risk you take when you don't make reservation.  I am sure we could have driven around and found a hotel but for one night we can make it work. 
The morning air is brisk but we have some site seeing to do so we are out the door around 9:24 A.M.  We drive down a road past a bright orange house (I had to mention it as it truly woke me up and I had to share that Brazilians are not afraid of using color to paint their homes) exiting Canela on our way to a destination unknown to me.  A little over four miles later we arrive at the entrance of Caracol State Park and pay the fee to enter.  It is a beautiful park with trees full of Spanish moss and other plants hanging from its branches and growing on their trunks.  It reminds me a lot of Savannah, Georgia. The parking lot is about half full and around the parking lot there are little shops full of art created by local artist on sale.  We leave the car and walk down the path where we are greeted by a couple of guys in front of a structure that looks like a ranger station. 
The guys are selling entrance to the tower that overlooks the valley but since we already paid at the gate, we decide to take a look around and continue walking down the path.  Why does this short narrative make my blog you ask?  Well, there were several people walking down the sidewalk with us and each of them made some comment about how they already paid to enter the park.  None of them want to pay again as they complain that this is how things works in Brazil. Always trying to have people pay more, but I think this is how tourism works as there are many places in the United States where you pay to enter only to find a part of the attraction requires more money to participate (Georgia Aquarium, Arnold's Park,  Stone Mountain, just to name a few). But, back to my day... soon we come across a observation deck that extends out about twenty feet over a valley.  As we get on the platform I quickly realize why we have come
to this particular park. Luiz had mentioned a waterfall he wanted to show me and this is where the waterfall is and it is like no other waterfall I have ever seen.  Oh yes,  I have been to Niagra Falls, and it is spectacular, but this Cascata do Caracol (Caracol Waterfall) is spectacular in a whole different perspective.  The Caracol River comes roaring over the edge and drops at least forty stories (426 feet) onto rocks below.  I say an edge as the basalt rocks of the cliff which are behind the waterfall follow the plunging water for about twenty stories and then recede.  A huge cavern then takes the rocks place behind the plunging water and the water continues plummeting with nothing but air behind it until it hits the rocks below.  Well nothing behind it immediately as there is earth somewhere and trees are growing at the edge in the cavern creating a backdrop.  The Caracol Waterfall happens to be the second most visited tourist spot in Brazil and I can see why.  (thanks wikipedia)

After spending a little time there observing the waterfalls grandiosity from the observation deck,  we decided to get a little closer as we are supposed to be able to hike to the base of the waterfall.  As we walk, we continue to enjoy the park and all it splendor.   I am a little disappointed as we arrive at the entrance of the 927 stairs which would take you to the base of the waterfall as it is closed today.  Bummer!   We will have to be satisfied with a short walk through the park along the river and plan this adventure if we ever make it back to visit.   There are some other smaller falls and it is quite relaxing and tranquil as we continue to enjoy our morning in nature. 
Time to leave the park and check out Canela so we hop back into the car and drive back into town past the orange house.  (Oh - if you ever go to Caracol Falls - there is another option to see the falls - it is from the cable car that gives you wonderful panoramic views of the falls- at least I hear and this will be a plan for me if I ever return)  We end up in the little downtown area and I feel a little off kilter.  They have snowmen on the corners, holly decorated street lanterns, and other "winter" decorations all about the city.  Then I realize again, that it is winter here and they could have had snow recently. (how quickly I forgot last night's cold temperatures)  This is definitely a tourist draw for this little community.  Snow in June?  Quite a bit different then what I was expecting and there are signs all around the city waiting for the people and the little white flakes.  Thank goodness the weather forecast is for warming temperatures and no snow.

At the end of the main street it is impossible to miss the Catedral Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes) or also known as Catedral de Pedra (Cathedral of Stone).  This spectacular structure built of the local basalt rock -- towers into the sky 215 feet (65 meters).  Construction in English Gothic style, construction of the church began in 1941 and as far as I can tell was finished in the late 1980s.  One fact about the church I found interesting was that the tower houses 12 bronze bells (known as "independence bells") imported from a foundry in Crespi Italy.  They took their home in the tower in 1972 and some time after that they stopped working.  The bells spent around twenty five years without producing a sound until 2005 when they were repaired and today they chime for all in the surrounding area to hear.  (facts thanks to wikipedia and a Brazilian website - I hope my translation was accurate.)   The interior of the church has the usual spectacular stain glass windows complimented by some incredible artwork.   A grand church and a must see if you are in the area.

OK - time to walk back downtown and look for chocolate.  Yes the city Canela (which means cinnamon) is known for it's chocolate.  But before we get to the chocolate stores, I  am greeted by a man on the street in the traditional dress of this region (a gaucho).  I advise him "não falo português" (I don't speak Portuguese) as he hands me a flier for a local restaurant he is promoting and attempts to share with me. I know many Americans like me,  associate gauchos with the grill masters at Brazilian Steak houses found in the good old USA.  Well those grill masters come from this region of Brazil and a "gaucho" is actually a cowboy who has a well known style of dress.   The typical outfit would include a poncho (which doubled as a saddle, blanket and sleeping gear), a facon (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip) and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas,  belted with a tirador, or a chiripa, a piece of cloth.  This style of dress is only seen from time to time anymore and he allows me a quick photo with him  before we head off to buy some chocolate.
Little chocolate shops litter the city of Canela with their fronts screaming for travelers to stop for a photo opportunity.   The shops compete for the travelers with a variety of life size chocolate statues.  We stop at a cute shop and I quickly fill boxes with chocolate of all kinds for my American friends.  The cashier tells us to make sure we head upstairs to see what is up there before retreating to our car.  Of course our curiousity is heightened and we head up past

the chocolate waterfall and life size chocolate figures.  We come to a room with music playing.  After futher investigation,  we see two kids ice skating, but this is no regular rink - the kids are skating on chocolate.  Yes chocolate.  I watch a while and think of putting on a pair of skates myself,  but it is a small rink and we have more of Canela to see.  (OH - by the way the chocolate I bought in Canela was deliscious)

Our next stop in Canela is at one of the well known Colonial Cafes.  I had several Brazilian friends facebook me on which cafe to try so I know it is a must experience for our visit.   Luiz has already chosen one for us to eat lunch at and it is not much further down the road.  A Colonial Cafe is a restaurant where you sit and the wait staff brings everything coffee to your table. Salty and sweet,  cheese and bread, meat and starch, are soon filling our table ready for a taste.  The experience is unlike a buffet as it is all there at your fingertips.  The meal is wonderful and I can put this in the books as another pleasurable eating experience in Brazil. 
As the afternoon clicks in,  it is time to head to our next destination Porto Alegre so we say goodbye to the  Rota Romatica region of Brazil. As we drive the first few miles I wonder if I will return someday to see it during the hydragia season (October - December).  Miles of roads framed with hydragias in full bloom.  It must be spectacular but for now I will have to be satisfied with the post cards we purchased.  The drive to Porto Alegre takes a few hours and I have to admit I sleep a bit so it is very quick for me.  As we arrive in Porto Alegre it doesn't take long to realize that this is a good size city.  We manuever to the downtown area which is bussling with people. At one point we turn down a street that is absolutely full of people and I wonder how we are going to navigate it.  The people reluctantly move as we drive no more then one mile an hour and they don't really have another choice.  (thank goodness it is only a few blocks)  My first impressions of Porto Alegre is that it is full of wonderful architecture,  history,  military importance, people, and the city must rely on the waterfront for a lot of its character.

Off to find a hotel,  we end up stopping at a few hotels before settling on a nice hotel with heat.  Since the sun is about to set we quickly unload the car and head back to the waterfront.  There is a famous spot to watch the sunset located near the old power plant that has been turned into a tourist center.  As we park and cross the street, there is a band playing while a man sings.  It takes a while for us to figure out what he is saying as his English is very poor.  Junior and I laugh a minute as neither one of us can understand him. 
The waterfront has a row of vendors selling food and other products to the thousands of  people who have gathered to excersize, socialize, and watch the setting sun.  We walk out on the pier and I soon notice a square of caution tape on the ground.  After a closer look,  I see a pair of birds.  One is playing hurt trying to keep people from going to close to the other.  It is obvious that these birds have chosen a bad place to lay their eggs and someone has tried to assist them with a caution tape berrier.  I watch for a while with a small group of other people and wonder if this is a wasted effort or will these two birds be proud parents of little hatchlings this laying season. We decide to walk along the water as the sun disappears over the horizon.  Soon it is time to head back to the hotel and get ready for tomorrows further adventure in this great city - Porto Alegre.  
 Click here to Read Cross Country Travel - Day 4
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