Sunday, June 22, 2008


We left Belo Horizonte a few days after arriving, taking a bus for about 100 km to the outlying city of Ouro Preto. We stopped at a roadside cafe about halfway there that was festooned with folksy decorations and featured a small zoo in the back. These places are apparently common on the outskirts of BH, letting people know in an amusement park fashion that they are headed for the country.

Ouro Preto is located in a mountain range and has steep, twisting streets paved with hand cut bricks. It was the site of a major gold rush in the 18th century and was apparently the largest city in the Americas during this era, surpassing Boston and other commercial hubs further north. Despite its relatively small size, the city has 13 opulent churches whose construction was funded by the elite of the mining community. Most churches feature elaborate sculpted interiors and gold inlay, with the notable exception of the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario, which was established by slaves and features interior decorations carved from wood and stone and decorated with local paints and dyes.

Ouro Preto was also the site of the Inconfidencia Mineira in 1789, a failed colonial independence movement which resulted in the hanging of one conspirator. This figure, known as Tiradentes, eventually became a major folk hero in Brazil, and there is a monument to him both in the central square of Ouro Preto, as well as at the end of the central axis in the capital of Brasilia.

We hiked up and down the streets, met our Canadian counterparts from Ryerson University, had a much needed Portuguese lesson, and made an excursion by steam powered train to the nearby city of Mariana, where we watched a seemingly endless procession of marching bands clog the streets.
Highlights include a pinup in the ground floor of Niemeyer's Hotel Grande, a piano recital in the oldest continually operating opera house in the Americas, a tour of a local gold mine, and dancing samba with some local students in a convenience store.

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