Christmas in The Tropics
We arrived in Ouro Preto, Brazil, yesterday at about 3pm. We flew into Belo Horizonte from Rio and then took the BR040 south from Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto. The journey was a winding trek through steep but verdant mountains. The sides of the roads and the bordering vegetation were both dusted with the indigenous red clay one sees in every documentary about this part of the world. Big beautiful skies, wide green vistas and new construction all give one the impression that Brazil was discovered yesterday and that there’s lots to explore.
Ouro Preto (the name means “black gold”) is a beautiful 17th century village set high in the middle of a green mountain ridge. Although there are modern vehicles winding their way along the rough cobble stones, the overwhelming feeling is that you are a guest in the past. I love it – it feels like another world and a welcome break to the preoccupations of the one I live in every other day. By way of overview the village thus far seems to have three or four beautiful and prominent churches in the Portuguese/Spanish style catering to around a thousand souls. There is a piazza in the center of town surrounded by a sea of terracotta tiled roofs. We are staying at the Hotel Solar do Rosario, a building that fits perfectly into this tropical hamlet but includes high water pressure and internet access! In our hotel, and the handful of other buildings we have been inside so far, you can see gorgeous thick floorboards of polished teak and mahogany – evidence of the rich fruits of the nearby forests. Although this is a World Heritage site it is not a tourist trap or at least not at this time of the year. Though exhausted by the 8 hour flight to Brazil we couldn’t help popping out to try the local churrascaria. It was very good, but not like that served in the Brazilian restaurants in the United States – the food is not constantly supplied (though it is very inexpensive) and the meat is cut much thinner and served on a hot plate. They serve it with a strip of fat on the outside which tastes great. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a chocolatier where I had the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. The chocolate itself was of superior quality to that commonly available in the United States or in Europe; its warmth was contrasted with cool rich cream (that did not come from a can/bottle/hose) and finally the whole elixir was topped with dry feathery flakes of chocolate.
When I opened the curtains this Christmas morning the whole town glistened with the night’s moisture. It didn’t feel like Christmas and it seemed reasonable that even Santa Claus was unable to find us. The wooded green ridges in the distance reassured me that I was in a refuge beyond the reach of the world – a desperado hiding out with the friendly inhabitants of an old gold-mining town in the tropics.