The road from the coast inland into the state of Minas Gerais became increasingly twisty as the tar snaked past mountain sized granite boulders. Much of the countryside was eucalyptus tree plantations but there were also swaths of Atlantic rainforest.
The maned wolf is the largest wild canine in South America, it looks a bit like a European fox but it has long black legs. They are beautiful looking creatures but they are very rarely seen in the wild as they are shy and nocturnal. Parque Natural do Caraça has a family of wolves that although they are completely wild they are regularly seen. The whole park is owned and protected by a church’s congregation, the monastery building was run for many years as a boarding school but after a fire in the 60’s it was rebuilt into a posada (small hotel). The surrounding parklands are a transition zone between the Atlantic rainforest and the drier cerrado ecosystem so it has many unique species. A hike to a waterfall gave us some fantastic views.
The wolves come at night to the church steps next to the posada and as there is no camping in the park, we stayed overnight in one of the former dormitories. It was a simple but beautiful place, very spiritual and quiet.
Three hearty meals full of Minas specialities were included served in the atmospheric old refectory. As well as the usual Brazilian staples of rice, beans and salad; there was a whole host of stews, manioc flour with beans and very sweet fruit and tapioca paste for desert. This was all kept warm onto of a wood stove. After dinner we waited out on the terrace and got talking to the park’s director. He told us that 32 years ago that they started hearing the wolves at night as they scavenged for food from the posada’s bins. One of the priests start leaving out meat on the church’s steps and slowly the wolves became less shy of humans and came closer. Whist waiting Lucy had a great time finding all the different insects that were attracted to the light. We found huge moths, iridescent beetles and a massive grasshopper, all photographed for her growing bug journal. Thankfully it was also blissfully free from biting insects Unfortunately we weren’t lucky with the wolves and none appeared that night.
One of the teachers from Lucy’s former school in Prague is Brazilian and since we left had moved back home. When Natalia heard that we would be passing close by to her home in Belo Horizonte she very kindly asked us for lunch at her families’ house. It was great to meet her and all four generations of her family, they were all charming, generous and interested to hear about what we are doing. Unfortunately Alisha was feeling a bit poorly so took herself off to bed in the truck, I love camper van travel: you always have your own bed with you. But Lucy had a ball playing with Natalia’s nieces and nephew. Her father spoke good English and told us a lot about Brazil. Alisha is obsessed with sewing at the moment, so her Grandmother showed me a special quilting technique so I could teach her when for when she was better. It was also so nice to see Natalia again and hear how she has settled back into life in Brazil.
A few hours south of the modern city of Belo Horizonte is the colonial gem of Ouro Preto. The town was built using money from the gold mines just outside the city. All steep hills, cobbles, whitewashed houses with bright shutters and a church on every hill top, it was really stunning. The churches were all carved in the Barroco Mineiro style, which is slightly different from European baroque. Much of it was carved by a man known as Aleijadinho (little cripple), the girls were fascinated by his story. The son of a Portuguese architect and an black slave, he worked carving several of his father’s churches. Before he lost his fingers, toes and the use of his lower legs through disease but he still kept carving by strapping his chisel and hammer to his arms. He went on to carve the facades and interior pieces of many of the churches in the region. Not usually a huge fan of the baroque style, I really liked his graceful figures.
Unfortunately although the campsite was green, leafy and stuffed full of cuddly puppies, much to the girl’s delight; it was opposite a nightclub that played music till 5am. After Saturday night’s bed vibrating to the beat of the bass experience we thought we got lucky on Sunday with a quiet night. We decided to stay another day as we’d hung out in the site the preceding day so Alisha could recover, only to find the club was back pumping all of of Monday night too.
Tiradentes is another former gold mining colonial town, just as pretty but a lot smaller than Ouro Preto. On a Tuesday afternoon it was almost deserted and we got to see inside a couple of the baroque churches, something we hadn’t had a chance to do in Ouro Preto as they are closed on Monday. Beautifully carved with figures of saints, animals, cherubs and scroll work all painted intricately realistic colours. And of course it wouldn’t be a colonial baroque church without lashings of gold leaf everywhere.
We slept well that night in one of the prettiest “proper” campsites we’ve been to next to a friendly Brazilian couple in their camper. A good thing too, the next few days promise a lot of excitement as we head to our next destination… Rio!