Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Minas Gerais

The bus from Belo Horizonte airport into town was extremely swish. It even had on board wifi that actually worked. It was 10 before I'd checked into the hotel, so I didn't see much. I just had time to grab a snack at the lanchonete opposite and have a couple of beers in a bar. I should have eaten in the bar. It was very cheap and the food looked good. It's not a touristy place and the prices reflected that.

The next morning, it was pouring with rain, so I hung around hoping it would clear up but it didn't really, so I got the bus to Ouro Preto. It was still raining a bit when I got there and it persisted for most of the afternoon. Ouro Preto is very touristy. It has lots of preserved, colonial era buildings, a lot of them churches. It's up in the mountains and has extremely steep, cobbled streets. It's also a university town, so the night life was a bit livelier than normal. That said, there really were only 3 lively bars, all next to each other.

School of mines

Lonely Planet waxes lyrically about Mariana, another town nearby. It's a short bus ride, so I went for a look. It's flatter than Ouro Preto but much smaller and there isn't as much to see. Still I had a walk around and a nice lunch.

The next day I got the bus to São João Del Rei. This took about 4 hours. For some reason, my ticket said I was going to São Paulo. The bus was and the guy at the ticket office had some long explanation about why this was right which I obviously didn't understand, and it did only cost R$48, so went along with it.

I'm not sure exactly what the rules are, but you often need to provide a CPF number to buy a long distance bus ticket in Brazil. If you're a foreigner, obviously you don't have one, so you give your passport number. This is one reason why you can't use a lot of Brazilian travel websites, assuming of course that your credit card would actually work.

The checking of this seems somewhat erratic, but the bus driver was being very officious about it this time. He made me get my passport out and made a big show of checking it. But my ticket said this:

That's right, the guy who'd sold it to me had just put "foreigner" in as my name, so quite what Mr Jobsworth was checking, I don't know.

The bus station in SJDR is conveniently located over a mile from the town centre. It was fairly flat until the last bit to my pousada though.

On Friday-Sunday, there's a steam train to nearby Tiradentes and I just managed to make the 1pm departure, more by good luck than judgement. It's R$40, which is a little expensive, but it was fun. If you're expecting dramatic bridges over mountain scenery, you're going to be disappointed. The mountains are mostly in the distance, but it's pretty enough. A lot of the trees looked suspiciously Australian. They've planted gums everywhere. When we got to Tirandentes, they turn the train around on a manual turntable.

Tiradentes is another well preserved colonial place. It's incredibly touristy. Almost every building is either a pousada or a gift shop. I got the bus back to SJDR which was much cheaper and dropped me back at the incredibly conveniently located bus station.

Back in SJDR and there are a couple of bars on the corner of one street which were open and had people in. I tried the first one but the waitress didn't understand when I asked for the menu. I only used one word, the same word I'd been using successfully for the previous 5 weeks, but to no avail.

I decided I really couldn't be bothered so I went to the other one and helped myself to the menu, an act of resourcefulness which was rewarded by being completely ignored for 10 minutes by all the staff. There is a reason why I like the self service restaurants here so much. I was wearing my last clean t-shirt, my Lamb of God one. Maybe the waiters had a thing against Christian music. When the food finally came, it was nice though there was far too much of it, which is another reason why the self service places are good.

Later I found some more bars and restaurants further up the road, where the people were considerably more friendly and helpful. There's also a nice square in front of the church. It's all lit up at night and makes a nice backdrop if you can stand the disapproving looks of the scary statues on the front:

The next morning, I needed to do my washing. Despite having walked from the bus station twice, I hadn't seen a lavanderia anywhere. Normally they're everywhere. So I asked at reception and was given directions. I went in and they told me they couldn't do it until Friday. It was 10am on a Monday morning. Still there's bound to be another one, right? Over an hour of wandering around proved fruitless. I did find a pool supplies shop, a couple of places that develop film and even two shops that sell ribbons and thread, but lavanderia? Não. The tourist information guy looked at me like I was mad when I asked him.

So I went to the supermarket, bought some washing liquid and did it in the sink. Then I bought a bus ticket to Rio. I don't really want to go to Rio yet. I want to go to Paraty, but I can't find a way of getting there any other way, even though it looks like there ought to be.

The tourist map I was given by the posada had about 20 historic buildings of interest, about half of them churches. It takes about an hour and a half to walk around them all, maybe an hour and 45 minutes if you've got a sack of dirty washing under your arm.

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