Thursday, April 26, 2012

Colonial Conservatoria and it´s slave history

We recently visited the tiny mountain village of Conservatoria in southwest Rio state. Previously coffee  country - now catlle ranches. Huge fazendas and a growing tourist economy.

Our travel plans were set by an excursion put together by colleagues of Luiz - beginning tour guides. Three dynamic and very sweet women have put together a tourism company. This was their first effort at an excursion.

We were happy to be a part of it. Most passengers were family and friends. It was completely comfortable. Lots of loud chatter.

Our pousada was a very modest place, but they made up for the simple accomodations with their attention to personal joy.  At breakfast (which was an over-the-top spread of baked goods and fruit - plus cooked meats) there was a man singing Braziian classics on a guitar - taking requests. Very nice.

The tiny village of Conservatoria was as cute as could be. Perfectly preserved colonial archetecture and a totally quiet pace were just what the doctor ordered. Father and child on horseback. Barefoot soccer games. Taxi drivers playing cards in the square, more interested in their card game results than scoring another fare.

But not so far below the surface was evidence of the history of the village - which depended on slave labor. Most obvious is the small stonework amazingness that is the streets. The stones are no larger than your fist. Yet they are placed and secured knuckle to knuckle for block after block. Each stone placed by a slave - and each still supporting heavy traffic  to this day.

The main church in the village is (relatively) spectacular. And it was built with slave labor. The stone foundations are incredibly huge -- how did they do that!? The stone details are impressive.

The most moving experience I had in Conservatoria was walking through the tunnel carved out with slave labor. This is a tunnel through solid rock that stretches for about 100 meters. It was origionally made to accomodate a train. Now it is used by cars - although only one lane wide.

My first impression was being able to see the pick ax marks on the walls of the tunnel that document the strength and toil needed to cut through the stone. Unfathonable.

The other impression came from the water that constantly - year around - drips from the stone at both entrances to the tunnel. Local lore has it that this is the earth weeping for those lost in the building of the tunnel. It was incredible and moving.

One of our African-Brazilian guides chose not to walk thorugh the tunnel because she found it too profound and sad. Emotions ran high.

We also visited a coffee fazenda. This place had also been built by slave labor and maintained a captive slave community for more than 100 years. We ate lunch in the part of the house where the slaves were confined. Ghosts were everywhere. You cannot escape history.

I enjoyed my visit to Conservatoria - but it was not always a joy.

Most of our tour group were African-Brazilian friends. They clearly felt the power of the location. I was blessed to be a part of that pilgramidge.


GingerV said...

I googled this town and nothing came up. do they have a web site.
the tour, pretty much stuck to the plan or did they add 'shopping stops'? we have had trouble with this type of not noted - but scheduled stops on other tours (not just Brasilian) if you don't care for the shopping you basically sit on the bus and wait for the rest. all in all this post left me wanting more.

Danielle said...

Wow, Jim! It sounds like it was a really important experience. Some trips kind of surprise you like that, don't they?

This was very well written, by the way. :)

Jim said...

Ginger - the only real shopping stop was the alumbique - the cachaça making place. The cachaçca tasted horrid. Otherwise it was a true tour.

Danielle - it was indeed a moving experience - especially listening to our fellow travelors speak of their experience.