Monday, February 18, 2013

Carnaval in Ouro Preto

There are more than 22 churches in this tiny mountain town.

Street party throughout most of the center of town.

Over the past 13 years Luiz and I have paraded in the Rio Carnaval parade three times and watched the Rio parade from the stands in the Sambadromo five times. It is truly the most spectacular celebration of its kind on the planet, and the energy is indescribable.

But, alas, we must admit to getting a bit tired of the “same old thing” year after year (a statement only made possible by living here).

This year we decided to forgo the Rio tourist invasion, the street party crush that only gets bigger every year, and ultimately the parade itself with our cooler filled with sandwiches and beer to last until dawn. We set our sights on Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais.

Ouro Preto has a number of elements that attracted us, chief among them our friends Dü and Carlos who live there.  Ouro Preto is a college town of about 50,000 people woven into the mountains in eastern Minas Gerais at about 4,000 feet. The town is famous for its bone chilling history of slave labor digging mines during the early gold rush in Brazil. Signs of this brutality (and wealth) are everywhere in this amazingly preserved and extensive colonial  town.  For this reason, this post will feature more photos than text.

The view from our friend's living room window.

The apartment has three levels of  outdoor space.

Luiz standing buy a retaining wall built by slaves.

The Carnaval celebration in Ouro Preto takes the form of a four night long street party that essentially infiltrates the entire center of the town. There is a main stage in the central Praça Tiradente, and four or five additional stages at various street intersections fanning out from there. The street party with all the live music is free. The whole affair is a bit like a better-organized “Bloco” so popular in Rio.

Immediately apparent to us was how young the crowd was. College students, as you would imagine. Not too many of us older folks.

There are also numerous concerts at temporary venues set up at locations a bit further out from Praça Tiradente. These events feature nationally successful bands. Patrons buy a Tshirt identifying them as “paid” and then enjoy six or so hours of music and dance (endless beer and booze included).

Dü at the waterfall with Carlos and Luiz in the background.

After the street party marathon, on Wednesday (the day after 90% of the visitors have gone home), we went for a hike to take a dip in a waterfall up in the mountains. Magical.

Taking a dip and getting out of the heat.

For those looking for an alternative to Rio for Carnaval – and if you enjoy hanging with the youngin’s – we encourage you to consider Ouro Preto.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Taking the luxury bus from Rio to Ouro Preto

Our plan was to spend Carnaval with our friends in Ouro Preto. They used to live in Belo Horizontes but now that they both have federal jobs at the university in Ouro Preto/Mariana, they have moved there. Actually, Dü was born and raised in OP, so he and Carlos (his partner of 10 years) have lived there off and on over the years.

Largely because OP is a college town, it has direct bus service to Rio de Janeiro. Good for us.  Some people sing the praises of cheaper air fare these days and fly from Rio to Belo Horizontes, but getting to OP adds a significant layer of complications and travel time. The BH airport is rather far (really far) from the center of the city so it is necessary to take a bus from the airport to the main bus terminal in BH and then transfer to another bus for the final leg to OP. Cheap airfares tend to match the bus fare from Rio to BH but do not solve the problem (or include the cost of) the need to take two additional buses to get to your final destination in the mountains.

For us, it is a quick bus from right in front of our apartment to the Rio bus terminal (or a R$55 cab fare, which we never do), then we get on a swanky, comfortable sleeper bus in  Rio going directly to Ouro Preto (one stop). It takes about 6 hours but we get on the bus at midnight, then sleep all the way to OP. Very convenient and comfortable.

There are two types of sleeper seats – “leito” and “cama.” Most of the sleeper buses provide the “leito” style seating that reclines nearly all the way back and has a leg rest that supports your legs for more comfort.  

Some busses provide limited “cama” seating with the rest of the bus equipped with “leito “ seating.
The “cama” (literally translates to “bed”) seats are wonderful.  They are super wide so you can curl up on your side to sleep.  There are only three such seats per row, two on one side and one on the other. They recline completely and in addition to all the extra space, they have the leg rest as well, completing the bed.

People who have only taken long distance buses in the United States have no frame of reference for Brazilian bus travel. It is night and day.

Next time you set off from Rio for Belo Horizontes or Ouro Preto, be sure to check into the Util busline.