Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Carnival Part 1: Tiradentes

Getting there was a rainy adventure. Old Gringo was in for the ride of his young life, we had never taken him this far so it was time to test the waters. The first few hours of our vacation boasted beautiful pastures and hills reminiscent of Ohio or Pennsylvania. Rodovia Fernao Dias is a highway of sorts with two double lanes and about 3 hours into the trip on the opposite side we passed an 18-wheeler that had flipped over completely perpendicular to the road blocking all traffic. Not only that, it was full of gravel… yes gravel had poured out along the road for at least a hundred feet.  It appeared as though it had just happened, but then as we started to pass the hundreds, then thousands  (I could be exaggerating just a bit) of stranded vehicles waiting in angst to start moving again we realized they were probably in for a minimum 10 hour wait AT LEAST! Also there was a nice ditch between them and us making it nearly impossible to cross over and turn around. Mind you, I think this was also the busiest traffic day/holiday of the year next to maybe New Years. However I think Carnival is even bigger as Brazilians get more days off. Never found out anything more about the truck mess but we were just glad to be on the right side of the world that day!

So a few hours into the ride there was that.... and then the fact that it was pouring down rain like some Brazilian God had really been betrayed. In addition we came upon a fun little detour. It was mud on top broken concrete with potholes that make Chicago roads look blissfill on a post winters day.  It was a minefield and another mess. By the time we pulled into Tiradentes mid afternoon (we left at 5am) it felt like we'd conquered a country and it was time for a local brew! When isn’t it time?

While there it continued to rain. All day. This was my first carnival and I only knew what I had seen on TV or heard briefly through friends and somehow I always pictured it bright and sunny. Was it possible that it could rain during ALL of Carnival?  As we huddled under the umbrella wearing sweaters and jeans we saw the stage set in the middle of town, streamers and masks on every light post and an abundance of party goers draped in ponchos and glitter, beer in hand in postponed cheer. This picture did not change until Tuesday. I have never seen a happier group of people in pouring down rain dancing like it was college spring break. We were voyeurs to the magic that is Brazil and its people. Ray told me to mind the cobblestones in the town center as it was designed 300 years ago to keep slaves from fleeing. He wasn’t kidding and so we can prepared, sporting our bright white tennis shoes like disney world pros! The brazilian women however STILL wore their 6 inch heels despite the rain and seemed to manage those cobblestones as if they were dancing on a Rio float. 

Our hotel was more than perfect. We made our decision based on a few recommendations from Alex’s friends at work and it was good we spent the extra money. You never need a good hotel until you need a good hotel. And unfortunately, we ended up spending more time in it than of out. So instead of being poolside, or out horseback riding in the hills like we imagined, we split our time between the bar around the corner smack in the middle of town so we could make fun of drunk people in the rain or we were hunkered down on a big old couch next to a fireplace watching Carnival in Salvador on TV where it was hot and sunny! 

Tiradentes has incredible arts and crafts and its fun wandering the streets full of furniture stores and linen shops. It is also known for its Dolce de Leite to which my father in law decided he needed to bring back enough to feed the city of Chicago. He also decided he would buy himself a matching american tourist style hat and t-shirt that read “TIRADENTES, MINAS GERAIS.” Minas Gerais is the state in which Tiradentes resides.

Maybe the funniest part of the weekend was when he walked out of the store to show me his new treasures and said, “well I had to buy memorabilia to wear at the gym when I get home and this was perfect, it has the name of the town AND Mardi Gras all written together so everyone will know I was there!" He was so happy, I hated to rain on his parade but he interpreted Minas Gerias to be Mardi Gras?!!! No more do Brazilians call Carnival Mardi Gras than they watch baseball instead of soccer. WRONG country, WRONG language, WRONG party... Poor guy BUT hilarious.

It finally cleared up on Tuesday and even though a storm was looming our cabin fever put us on the old steam engine train through the countryside to Sao Joao del Rey. As they say in Portuguese, ‘Valeu a Pena' = worth the pain. That day made all the others, spent waiting to get out, well worth while. Alex and I even took an afternoon run along the river on a muddy dirt road checking out all the farms where our lovely “Slow food” style dinners came from (check out Tragaluz if you find yourself in need of a wonderful meal!) 

Carnival, there! Each night a different bloco planned its parade through town, usually in a downpour but sometimes in a light sprinkle. Either way, we were there. To watch men dressed up regardless of sexual preference as women, women scantily clothed as beer maids and cops, disney characters and nurses or whatever their bloco theme designated. Those themes I observed, can range widely from roman gods to diapers. It’s a themed party and anyone’s invited to witness a bloco's practiced dance that vaguely looks synchronized after multiple pre parties. They surround a band, usually made up of teenagers and grandpas with drums and horns controlling the beat through the town singing songs and chants. That my friends is a small town bloco and we got to see about 5 of them. The blocos in Sao Paulo, Salvador and Rio however practice all year, invest sometimes millions in décor and strategy and are flawless and magnificent, charging hundreds of dollars to see. Our little Tiradentes Carnival was free and a perfect way to be introduced to such a wonderful Brazilian tradition.

It was fun to...

Watch drunk men hit on what they thought were women, “Hey snow white how youuuu doin…? Woah hey, sausage surprise!" (we heard a lot of that in so many words)

Drink a lot of caipirinhas at Conto de Reis. The owner of the bar looks like Santa Claus and has his picture painted on the wall inside. Outside lots of of boys were following groups of sixteen year old girls in teddys and other lingerie with blinking lights and bunny ears much like American Halloween. Except in the US I rarely see dads dressed as keg-orators with taps on their heads and their kids dressed as beer bottles!

Dance in the street with roman emperors in my ann taylor cardigan and sperrys... the most conservative obvious American in town! If you didn’t know it by my appearance you knew it by my dance, a la Tom Brady style (if you don’t know what I mean click here) something I clearly need to work on if I plan to attend more of these in the future. Yes the outfit AND the dance.  Less clothes more action in the hips. When in Rome… still an American.

Leaving there of course it was sunny and beautiful. Alex may have backed up into a stone curb causing a crunch and a bang so when we made it to the highway the bottom of our car rattled the entire way home. But even with a little jingle and shake, it was the perfect backdrop to reflect on our wonderful time there. Despite the rain and samba tunes that lasted well into the morning preventing our beauty sleep, Tiradentes is a must see if you have a weekend to spare. Great food, incredible history, top notch pousadas, wonderful and inexpensive furniture, a quiet peacefulness you cannot find in the city. An experience well worth your while!

Next up part 2: Rio @ Sambadrome


Nina said...

love love the photos. All inspiring for future plans!

Gil and Ray said...

Dear Jana,

I love that you guys had a great time. This is my favorite region to travel in Brazil and Gil has never been there. I will need to count on you for Hotel tips in that area when we are ready to make the trip to the "Cidades Historicas".
Back in 1988 when I visited the area we stayed at an awesome Catholic Monastery, it was an amusing and very interesting experience to say the least, I was still in High School and it was all fun and adventure, but I do appreciate the amenities of a good hotel these days.



Sara Louise said...

Looks like so much fun!
And I have never been able to master walking on cobblestones in stilettos!

tony said...

Great trip. Wonderful description. I just hope your children don't get their intelligence from their paternal grandfather. Tony

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