This post will show you a different side of Brazil. This is about those small towns and villages where the mailwoman is still an attraction, where dogs sleep on quiet streets, and police officers have long lunches because there is not much to do anyway. Places that might not be on your list when you plan to visit Brazil.
These places indeed are nothing like Rio de Janeiro, a city swarmed with tourists and where crime unfortunately is still not an exception.
We are in the state of Minas Gerais, North of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Here we visited some small towns and villages: Patrocinio, Estrela do Sul, Romaria…… names you have probably never heard of.
But these places (and the people that live there) will give you an insight into life in Brazil outside of the major touristic destinations. This post is your visual tour through Terra Incognita: the unknown Brazil. Part 1.
Family history in Brazil
But first: why did we travel to Brazil last January? You can read an earlier post called A Spiritual Travel Tip, but let me explain again very shortly.
The story starts almost 100 years ago. My father’s uncle went to Brazil in the 1920s, to work as a missionairy. His name was Huub van Lieshout, but in Brazil they called him Father Eustaquio. In Brazil (mainly the state of Minas Gerais) he became religiously famous where people believed he had the ability to heal people from diseases and other problems.
Every day thousands of people wanted to meet him in person: to bless their drinking water or for the laying on of hands! In the end this almost turned into chaos and Father Eustaquio had to be physically moved to other cities (he actually moved a couple of times).
The great thing is that still nowaday people in Brazil worship him; they kneel down at this tomb in the city of Belo Horizonte to pray and call for his power; even 60 years after his death. More about this story and the city of Belo Horizonte in part 2 of this post.
We believe it’s a fascinating story, and part of our family history. Eustaquio was beatificated in 2006 and many Brazilians are waiting for him to be declared a Saint (so-called canonization). Together with my parents and sister we traveled to Brazil to visit all the places he lived, the churches he worked and the museums that were built to honor him. A real family history trip!
Our friends in Patrocinio
So much for the history part.
1000 kilometer from Rio de Janeiro, in the city of Patrocinio, we started our trip into the Brazilian Terra Incognita: destinations beyond the obvious touristic ones. We drove a long way, passing miles and miles of coffee plantations. The area is actually one of the most important coffee regions in Brazil; 75% of the local economy is connected to coffee! The views were beautiful: lush green and fierce red coloured sand. Beautiful!
In Patrocinio we were hosted by two good friends: Pedro and Lucélia. They showed us that a sleepy city of 80,000 inhabitants still has a lot to offer! Within one hour I was approached by this Brazilian freshman girl who was celebrating the fact that she was just accepted to university! “Welcome to Brazil!” she was shouting enthusiastically, all covered in cake (?). Great start!
After this introduction Pedro and I climbed uphill to the local version of the Corcovado (Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro). Look at the view! I really fell in love with these countryside views…
Next morning we were kindly invited for breakfast in one of the oldest houses of the city, built by architect Borges in 1922! Currently the 4th generation of the Borges family lives in this house; a truly historic place full of Brazilian family history. A nice link to the purpose of our own family history trip by the way.
The generosity and friendliness of the Borges family was wonderful and illustrative for all the people we met along the way.
When we walked through the city of Patrocinio, you can imagine we attracted a bit of attention. We accidentally met these elderly ladies, owners of a small grocery shop. They were quite amazed to hear that we are family of Father Eustaquio! She was so honored to meet us…which kind of felt special but awkward at the same time. I mean, we are just a regular family from the Netherlands!
In Patrocinio we enjoyed some nice and attractive plazas, one of them with this lovely church surrounded by palm trees. The doors were open and you could hear people in the church sing…
Early evening we ended up at a local pub. We met some friendly locals and although not many speak English you don’t need much to communicate and understand each other. Here’s a picture of my sister with a local celebrity (who we thought looked a lot like the famous Dutch soccer player Clarence Seedorf!). We had so much fun.
This was indeed not your regular holiday trip. We traveled with a purpose and along the way found ourselves exposed to parts of Brazil we definitely did not want to miss! It was amazing to see how quickly we felt comfortable and at ease in these places.
Later on Pedro and Lucélia took us to two even smaller villages: Estrela do Sul and Romaria. More about these places in part 2!
Did I mention we also love Brasil for its Caipirinha?