Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
July 2005: Visiting Serra do Cipo (MG), making new friends, and enjoying Festas Junina.
I had become familiar with (part of) the Brazilian summer, but a Brazilian winter was totally new to me. The winter season begins mid May and ends mid August. During the day it is still comfortable with a temperature just above twenty degrees, with some peaks reaching thirty degrees. The nights may be quite cold, about fourteen degrees; sometimes it may reach below ten degrees. Bear in mind that the houses in Brazil, unlike the Dutch houses, are not isolated to keep the cold outside. For many Brazilians, winter time is a blessing, because of abundant sunshine and low temperatures; for others it is a curse, because of prolonged drought that may cause respiratory problems and allergies, and the cold that is hard for them to bear.
My time as a guest in the apartment of Jessica’s family can to an end, after three enjoyable weeks. I moved to the neighborhood of Indaiá, near the university campus. Thanks to the contacts of my colleague and namesake, I met another namesake, who knew a colleague was looking for a roommate to share the rent. In this way, thanks to the students from Minas Gerais and Pernambuco, I met my roommate from Ceará. Ronaldo is a quiet man, small of stature and muscular. At that time, Ronaldo was busy with finishing his Masters, and had already started his doctorate. He spoke no English; in the beginning it was anything but easy for both of us to communicate with each other. There are two peculiarities of Ronaldo, I will never forget: his love of cachaça (liquor distilled from sugar cane) – he could drink one liter of it, without the appearance of being drunk – and his self study of the Chinese language.
Ronaldo and I were not the only occupants of this apartment. A professor from the far north of the country was the actual tenant, but was only visiting us to pick up his mail. The apartment was on the top floor of the tallest building in the district and had a huge roof terrace of about ten to eight meters. It was an ideal location to dry laundry, to take a rest, and especially to have private parties. Churrascos (barbecues) were organized regularly for colleagues and friends. It was during these churrascos that I quickly learned to know Ronaldo’s friends and colleagues. One of my best friends at that time was Marina. She speaks fluent English and has often helped me and Ronaldo, when we had some language problems. Marina is very social and has a very wide circle of friends. In a few months time I met dozens of her friends, and still many of them are also my friends.
There were not only parties and barbecues in the weekends; I also continued to explore more of Belo Horizonte. Close to the apartment and the university is Lake Pampulha, a large artificial lake that was created in the forties of the past century. The famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer has designed some of the buildings along this lake: a casino (now a museum of modern arts), a small church, a tennis center. The circumference of this lake is more than eighteen kilometers, and has a curvy course. On a Sunday I started to walk the distance of eighteen kilometers and to take pictures of every one hundred meters. At every one hundred meters, a small pole marked the distance to marco zero, the zero point. In four years, in four different months, I completed this course and took pictures of every one hundred meters. In this respect, I have obtained a nice and representative overview of the lake.
Serra do Cipó
Marina invited me for a walk in the Serra do Cipó, a huge nature reserve, about one hundred kilometers north of Belo Horizonte. A sudden change, from the hectic city into a peaceful silence inside the park. Marina knows this reserve pretty well, and guided me on the various trails. No asphalt or brick roads, but paths of cobble stones, or a natural trail that was marked on the rocks and through the grasslands. It was not cold that day; however, we were wearing sweaters and light coats. It was a very sunny day; the views were magnificent and breathtaking. The flattened peaks, showing the drying and dying vegetation, give you a feeling of being in a fantasy world. You feel yourself tiny, very small, engulfed by the large, brown-green mountains. One of the highlights that day was a visit to a waterfall, with a name that sounded familiar to me: Véu da Noiva, or Bridal Veil Falls, a famous waterfall in Yosemite Park, in the United States.
One of the highlights of this month was Festa Junina. In Dutch, this festival may be called like the Feast of Sint Jan (Saint John), given the symbolism associated with this festival. In Brazil, each region celebrates Festa Junina in a different way. In Minas Gerais, it is common to wear the same kind of clothes that farmers used to wear, a few centuries back. All look like farmers, and indeed, one of the women is appointed as the bride, in the search of her groom. There is also some kind of a wedding ceremony, with the traditional quadrilha dance. The music and food are also based on years of tradition. Soups (caldos) of manioc or beans are very popular, and the candies that are prepared with peanuts. And hot chocolate milk, which may be added with brandy. No doubt, that most people will prefer beer and cachaça…
By Dr. Adriano Antoine Robbesom
- Travel in Brazil: Bus Travel Belo Horizonte – FORTALEZA (06). Beach Resort Praia de Pipa (RN) (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Brazilian Days (234): August 22 (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Brazilian Days (215): August 3 (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)