Posted by: Alex MacGregor | August 3, 2013

To The Mines!

Being a bit beached-out at this point, we made our way north to Minas Gerais state, which we read is full beautiful colonial cities.

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We’re definitely in agreement with the people around the world who flock to these colonial gems. We chose to visit the most popular colonial city–Ouro Preto (“Black Gold”).

True to our form, we rarely go anywhere without a somewhat dramatic travel experience first.

Getting to Ouro Preto (OP) requires a 7-hour bus ride, which we elected to do overnight to maximize our travel time. This meant a nighttime departure from Rio’s main bus station.

riobusstation

A good plan in theory, but as the bus departure loomed and we couldn’t get a hostel or pousada on the phone to save our lives, we didn’t have any reservations.

After a teeth-chatteringly cold night on the hyper-air-conditioned bus, we realized that we hadn’t accounted for some pretty painful facts: it would be about 5AM when the bus arrived, pitch black, and quite chilly.

On arrival, we decided that finding accommodation was the first priority. Our guidebook talked about some popular options near the bus station, which we walked to. At the first one, the bell simply wouldn’t wake the night guard, and we gave up. The second was closed–for good.

arrival

Thus began one of the most trying travel situations we’ve ever had to deal with. Here’s Caroline, trudging down an unpaved road in the frigid darkness with all of her stuff. Not a happy time.

We went back to the bus station and looked at the hotel across the street. 250 reais ($125) a night, and it didn’t seem very friendly or convenient. This was starting to rival the time we had to trudge through miles of tidal flats, beaches, and even ford a river to reach our beach hut in Mozambique.

Eventually, we got a taxi into town and, after trying unsuccessfully at a couple more places, asked the cabbie for his advice. He took us to a pousada he knew was open, which let us sit in the lobby waiting for the sun to rise and for a room to become available. Still very cold, but at least we had found shelter.

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Stepping outside at sunrise, we realized the place was worth the hassle.

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Caroline after the rough morning.

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We wandered around a lot that morning, waiting for our room to become available and soaking up the colonial ambiance.

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OP truly is spectacular. I’d say it’s the most beautiful small colonial city we have been to–and we’ve seen our fair share.

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Ouro Preto rose to prominence in the 1700s, the site of a major gold rush. The city’s gold rush was so long-lived and lucrative that it became among the largest settlements in the New World, and filled with wealthy merchants and high society. (I can’t help draw a contrast with Jerome, Arizona, which is interesting because its mining rush was so rough-and-tumble and short-lived.)

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The city’s location in a steep valley means that fabulous panoramas abound.

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The view from our Pousada’s breakfast terrace.

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Steep streets!

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The city’s former wealth is readily apparent in its grandiose buildings. It was a major seat of government until the 20th century, when that business also packed up and left for nearby Belo Horizonte. With both mining and government at a halt, development ceased and the town was frozen in time.

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OP boasts a seemingly-endless supply of incredible baroque churches. Each is intricately carved and in impeccable condition.

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The latter church–Igreja de São Francisco de Assis–is possibly the most striking of the bunch, and arguably one of the finest colonial carvings in the world (or so say the experts on the matter).

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The hand-carved entrance.

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Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in any of the churches. You’ll just have to visit yourself to see what they look like!

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The city is basically laid out like a big spider web of beautiful colonial streets winding from one praça (plaza) to the next, each containing an amazing colonial church.

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Perhaps it’s an understatement to say that this gives you quite the thigh workout after a while. Brazil may not have a Flywheel like Seattle, but this certainly is better than nothing!

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Good luck, little Beetle!

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If walking in OP is tough, driving isn’t much better. The cobblestone lanes were definitely not laid out with the automobile in mind. Micro-traffic jams pop up whenever cars meet each other in the bottlenecks.

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(Sorry I keep posting random pictures of this place. Its beauty just doesn’t quit!)

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To the east of the tourist district, a small river cuts through town, delineating the old slave quarter. The housing in this part of town is far more basic, and the hills are even worse than the rest of OP.

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Much of OP’s wealth is built on the labor of slaves, who comprised the vast majority of its population during the early boom years.

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At the top of the hill east of town sits the seldom-visited Igreja de Santa Efigênia, the church built by and for slaves, and named for an Ethiopian saint. It was closed without explanation during our visit.

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The cemetery out back.

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Despite being a top-tier tourist destination, OP doesn’t feel very gringo-fied at all. It’s still home to about 70,000 Brazilians. In addition, the vast majority of tourism the city gets is Brazilian.

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The winter festival was going on as we visited.

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As far a as cuisine goes, we had our pick of traditional Minas food…

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…and an abundance of mouth-watering pizza!

Definitely a wonderful place to explore and relax for a few days.

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Responses

  1. […] among the very best colonial towns in the Americas. The only one I’ve seen to rival it is Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais, Brazil. And that particular place requires twice as much flying followed by hours […]


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