Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our honeymoon in the Visconde de Mauá region in Rio state

There’s nothing like another commitment ceremony to cue up a travel adventure.

This past February 14th marked the 10 year anniversary of Luiz and my then temporarily-legal marriage performed at San Francisco’s City Hall. As a gay couple, settling into a marriage which includes the rights, privileges and protections afforded all married citizens has been an on again, off again experience for us. When your civil rights are put up for a vote in the public square or horse traded by loathsome politicians you often find yourself chasing after those rights into whatever legal margins might offer a foothold.

After one marriage (since struck null and void by the California Supreme Court) and two domestic partnership contracts (one in San Francisco and one in the State of California) we finally took advantage of Brazil’s “separate but equal” Stable Union option, and the 10 year anniversary date, to re-up our “marriage” thing. This legal union in Brazil affords us the rights, privileges and protections (and obligations) of civil marriage throughout the country. It’s a good thing we like each other so much. We have been through more than our share of “commitment ceremonies.”

At the risk of working our friends’ last nerve on this subject we hope to, at a future date, legally convert this contract to a full-on “marriage” in name and substance when (we hope) the LGBT activists in Rio will organize their second annual mass public wedding ceremony. Given the relatively invisible (but ever-increasing) LGBT rights struggle here we think it is important to participate in a public event to draw attention to the urgent need for a Brazil without homophobia. Stay tuned.

If you came to our most recent (re)commitment party and brought a toaster or set of bath towels to wish us well, you need not feel shy about coming to our next without a gift.

But to the point of this post: we just got (re)hitched and it called for a honeymoon getaway.

One of the best facts about being relatively new to Brazil is that there remain many, many cool places to visit that we have never seen before. Our objective for our honeymoon was to identify one such place and take it on with gusto. We settled on the mountainous Viconde de Mauá area in Rio de Janeiro state near to the borders with both São Paulo and Minas Gerais states. The region is both remote, with hiking trails, rivers and waterfalls, as well as populated with scores of pousadas from basic to quite lavish. For the outdoors types this place has something for everyone.

Our chalet.

A good internet search and few phone calls brought us to reserving a chalet at Brilho da Natureza. This place was perfect. Located one kilometer further up the mountain from Maromba it was peaceful and absolutely beautiful. Our chalet was right on the river with a natural swimming area just a few steps from our veranda (although the mountain spring water was COLD).

Pousada central, including the breakfast room.
They have 16 chalets in all over two pieces of riverside property.

The cool mountain air was SO refreshing. We very much enjoyed a privilege most recently withheld from us in Rio’s record breaking heat wave: sleeping in each other’s embrace under a blanket. Honeymoon bliss. Good sleeping weather.

Temperatures during the day were in the 80s but after the sun set the temperature dropped into the 60s. For us that’s pretty chilly weather. We took advantage of the chill to make a romantic fire in our chalet’s fireplace.

Waking up to a super delicious breakfast spread is the hallmark of a good pousada in Brazil. Folks in the States would be blown away by the extent and quality of the breakfast served in even the most modest of Brazilian pousadas. Brilho da Natureza set a high bar in this regard. Nearly all of the baked goods were fresh made on premises: bread, ham and cheese rolls, pão de queijo, cookies, cakes, etc. Plus the cheeses, jams and honey were fresh from area farms. Of course the juices served were fresh as well. To top things off, after we sat down the delightful woman from the kitchen came over (with toddler son in tow) to ask if we would like her to prepare us some eggs. Fantastic.

Our days were occupied hiking to waterfalls. Our evenings were quiet, first walking to and through Maromba (longer to walk the one kilometer to Maromba than to walk around the tiny village) and then snuggling in our cozy chalet.

I’ll shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves.

Busy downtown Maromba.

Cachoeira Porção da Moramba

Luiz taking a blessing at Cachoeira Véu da Noiva (Bridal Veil)

What Luiz made look simple I struggled to complete. Yikes!

Cachoeira do Escorrega

Portuguese speakers will get the joke.

True to our style of adventure we spotted a tiny, makeshift “restaurant” on the banks of the main river in the area. Drawn in by its funky charm (and the big sign advertising fresh grilled trout for 2 for R$25) we decided to enjoy an early lunch to take advantage of this unlikely but super scenic restaurant.

Thanking our proud host.
The trout lunch was fantastic.

After three nights in Maromba we decided to relocate to Maringá just 3 kilometers down the road. Maringá is the tourist hub in the area (exceeding Viconde de Mauá proper in this regard as well). Still a small village, Maringá afforded us more restaurant choices and some boutique shopping as well. The Rio Preto river runs through this tiny town and is also the geographical border between Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states. The town has a decidedly Minas feel, which was just fine with me. I absolutely LOVE comida Mineira (food from Minas Gerais).

The busy main intersection in Maringá.

Shopping is not really our thing, but we love finding a deal and especially love buying from the source as much as possible. While in Maringá we pretty much avoided all the boutiques (except the ice cream and chocolate shops). As an alternative we kept an eye out for “direct from the source” opportunities. As such we bought fresh berry preserves from a woman behind a rickety roadside stand, a jar of unprocessed honey (complete with tiny bee bits floating in the product) from a family tending bees in the area, goat cheese and sausage from a delicatessen featuring local products, and – our favorite – tiny paper flowers and fabric butterflies on long thin reeds made by a local retired pharmacist-turned artisan.

Luiz requested butterflies without the reeds.

Having spotted “the flower lady” on the street making a delivery of her wares to a boutique for resale, we asked how we might reconnect with her in the coming days to buy some of her flowers. She invited us to her home to check out the possibilities. Sorry to say I do not have a picture of Carmen's tiny cottage home/studio. It was super cute: teeny tiny, filled with art, super organized efficient kitchen, steep stairs/ladder to the bedroom loft, and 8 visiting humming birds buzzing around a feeder hanging from an eave over her porch. When we visited we found the cottage a short distance up a driveway to a much larger main house. As is traditional in Brazil, we clapped loudly when approaching the house to signal our visit. Carmen called out from her kitchen for us to enter via the side walkway (the front path had a wobbly stone step). We spent the next hour or so having coffee at her kitchen table, admiring her work, and sorting out which flowers and butterflies Luiz wanted for later use in his own flower arrangements.

We had done well choosing this area for our honeymoon getaway. It was all the nature we could want plus sufficient tourism infrastructure to make it easy and convenient. Pousada and restaurant prices have gone up all over Brazil and that was apparent here as well. But there were still values to be found. Our strategy of arriving late in a weekend and staying through the weekdays worked well to get us good deals on the pousadas we stayed in. It also meant that there was next to no one at the waterfalls we visited. We hiked all alone (except for the huge green snake with half a frog sticking out of its mouth that crossed our path one day) and never saw more than three or four people at a waterfall. Most of our time we were in our own private paradise. But we did learn an important piece of information about little Maringá. It is basically a weekend-only village. Nearly ALL of the shops and restaurants were CLOSED Monday through Thursday. It was kind of weird. But the locals just shrugged and said there was next to no business during the week, so it made sense to them. Be forewarned.


GingerV said...

Lots of thought came and went while ready your post, I will try to remember some of them but they will not be in order. I miss the trout. Was important to make sue it was fresh not dried. Two totally different tastes. I loved mine with capers. I know your focus /dreams is to have a marriage, a legally sanctioned one ... Because you two are already married in the best sense of the word... But I love the idea of a commitment ceramony. Maybe being committed to your partners and the relationship is more important than being 'in love' with love and the grand show of the 'wedding'. So many fail with this in love thing, while being committed might well keep couples trying.
In friburgo the shops where closed on weekends and holidays. The underwear shops. Made no sense to me because when woman have time to shop for underwear would be weekends and holidays.... But weekends were fore church and family so the shops -run by women- were closed....local customs hard to understand...... Great post Jim. And thanks for your note on 'flowers' meant a lot to hear from you.

My Other Car's the Tardis said...

Parabéns to having celebrated your 10th anniversary!

Jim said...

Ginger - There was trout everywhere. But we only had it for dinner that once. It was so amazingly delicious I was afraid to order it in another restaurant and have my last memory be less than that first one. But I bought some smoked trout paté to bring back with us.

Other Car -- THANKS!