Could and Should

Trip Start Aug 19, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Minas Gerais,
Thursday, December 2, 2010

After that weird week in Rio de Janeiro I decided to head up to Ouro Preto, which is in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, because I wanted to go inland to see a bit of the non-Amazonian interior of Brazil - I'd been, up-till-now, more or less, holding close to the coast on my journey up (or down, depending on how you see the world) Brazil.  Someone I met in Floripa weeks ago told me that if I wanted to see something in Brazil that was non-beach but would nonetheless blow me away, then I should go to Ouro Preto.  So I did.

And it did (blow me away).  Ouro Preto is a small town nestled in the mountains of Minas Gerais.  The town has done a good job preserving and/or recycling itself to look like what it might have looked like in colonial days.  The town itself is in a small valley surrounded by mountains (or large hills), so getting around town was not easy.  Imagine climbing up a steep, probably 40- to 50 -degree, hill that has giant cobblestones, most of which are slippery because the rocks had been worn down and polished by ages of wear.  But the views were amazing.  On the higher-situated areas, when you look down into the valley, you see a sea of red-tiled roofs that looked like waves bobbing up and down inside the valley broken only by the many churches that looked like ships among the waves of red tile. When you looked around, you can see that, surrounding the town was a ring of lush green hills. And when you looked up, you can see a deep blue sky peeking behind big fluffy clouds framed, again, by the ring of green hilltops (it seemed that there were always big white clouds in the sky in Ouro Preto).

I got to Ouro Preto early on November 29 after a night bus from Rio de Janeiro.  During my first two days in Ouro Preto, I just walked (hiked, really) up and down the streets of town confused at what I was seeing.  What was this place?

When I was in Rio de Janeiro the week before, I found the most awesome chain bookstore: the Livraria da Travessa.  In this bookstore I found the entire version of The Open Veins of Latin America in English(!)  I was happy that I'd finally get to read (and understand) all of it instead of just the bits (in Spanish) contained in that Galeano anthology I picked up in Montevideo.  I was happily reading it while I was in Ouro Preto and was somewhat surprised when I came across a few-page section in the book on Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto, it seems, is the lesser-known Potosi.  I think most of us 'Merricans know about Potosi and the European bloodletting of its silver veins, but my high school world history class somehow left out (or reduced) Ouro Preto - I didn't even know of its existence until I heard about it in Floripa.  Apparently (according to those few pages in Galeano's book) Ouro Preto was the gold equivalent to Potosi, though there was far less gold in Ouro Preto than there was silver in Potosi - but it had similar issues on imperial advantage-taking.

It really was quite something to be someplace while reading and learning about it for the first time.  I'm not sure if I'm describing this concept well.  I mean, I think that I'd have a different experience when I visit Potosi in a few months because I already know of its existence and some of its history. Ouro Preto was different - I knew nothing about it when I got there and after reading those few (dense) pages in Galeano's book after already being in it for 2 days, I wanted to go out and trek those same cobbled hills again because they all started to mean something different to me altogether.

Galeano quotes someone saying that, at one point, Ouro Preto was so rich from gold that they didn't know what to do - so they built churches one next to the other.  Yes, this made sense(!)  I was wondering why there were so many churches in town - in fact any place you fix your eyes to in the valley, you can bet that there will be at least 3 churches in your view and I'm sure that if you're in the right place and look in the right angle, you can probably see 7 or 8.  To get an idea of how nutty this is - I would say that the valley that Ouro Preto is in is smaller than the valley where the Rose Bowl sits.  That's a lot of churches in a tiny space - and these aren't rinky-dink churches, these are proper stone behemoth churches.  Crazy.

I could go on and on about all this, but you get the idea. 

On one of the days I also visited a neighboring town of Mariana, which, though not as impressive as Ouro Preto, still gave you those WTF? moments.

On the fourth day I was in Ouro Preto, I decided to leave.  I could have easily stayed because I really liked the feel of the town and it was so cheap there.  But I had to ask myself the question about whether I should stay. 

Despite being astounded and confounded by the town, I still hadn't been able to shake off the funk I acquired in Rio de Janeiro.  I thought that if I kept on, the movement would prevent me from wallowing in my own funk.

Onward, then.


Reading list: The Open Veins of Latin America, obviously.

Playlist: A companion playlist to the one from Rio de Janeiro: One Two (this version) Three


Until next time.

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