Rio Grande Do Sul… Literally “the big river of the south”, Brasil‘s southernmost state and the home of some of the nicest people I have ever met and wow do they ever know how to BBQ
Enjoy the photos and remember to get your cholesterol checked, ha ha…
Later… Well as you can see by the photos Brasil is beautiful, really beautiful. Wide open spaces, green fields, and endless friendliness. Ya! That has got to be it – the people. Everywhere I went I was made to feel warm and welcome.
So let me tell you a few things about Brasil. Well the national past time must be football, everywhere you go you see kids kicking a ball around. The six o’clock news is a mix of stories about robberies and football. The kids at the pool in Ju’s condo looked at me like I was a complete freak when I declined their invitation to play with them. Me and my two left feet, I don’t think so.
Next up is BBQ or as the Brasillians call is Churrasco (pronounced shoo-RAS-koo). Now have a look at the pictures of this. These people take this very seriously, only the men can prepare the fire and the meat, the women make the salad and keep the men refreshed with Cerveza Bem Gelada. BBQ in Brasil is a little different, they get great big hunks of fresh meat (never frozen), stick it on a metal skewer about 2m long followed by another hunk of meat and so on. When the skewer is full the meat goes into the specially built CHURRASCARIA (all brazilian houses have built in BBQ). While all this is going on the first thing that gets cooked is Churrasco de coracão de galinha otherwise know as chicken hearts, also cooked on a skewer, then passed around on a platter with manioc flour or farofa. These little suckers are a taste to be acquired, not bad, only the texture is what gets me, a bit chewy. They also do little sausages, called sausachioun Linguiça with farinha de mandioca, as appetisers. After an hour or so of this the meat is ready. The person serving will come around to each person with the skewer and you put your fork on the bit you want and he will then slice it off for you. So if you like the endy bits or prefer the middle bits, you always get what you want.
Now did I mention the Brasillians’ passion for cold beer. Now we are not talking regular cold, this is what is know in Brasil as Cerveza Bem Gelada, meaning GOOD COLD BEER. When you order a beer in Brasil they bring you the bottle and a plastic insulated sleeve with a lid that fits of the bottle to keep the beer COLD. Did I say cold. Yes, the kind of cold that when it hits the back of your throat on a hot day in pure heaven. And the beer is pretty good too, Bramma Extra being the one I like, nice strong lager… BEM GELADA…
Brasillian drivers, pass you on the inside, motorcycles passing thru the middle of the lanes, trucks that just cut you off with no warning and tail gaiters… Mind you I was sticking exactly to the speed limit as I have no license. The roads are generally in good condition, but there are toll booths every 100 km or so that hit you up for R5 (US 2.5). Very annoying.
Did I mention football.
Good things to eat in Brasil, well as mentioned already BBQ. The next most popular food, must be Pastils. These are little pastry pockets stuffed with a rainbow of fillings, everything from Calazone to Strawberry Jam, deep fried and delicious, available at every corner store and Rodarvio Posto(petrol station),they range in quality and taste from delicious to downright oily. Good things to drink, the national soda drink is not Coke at all, but Granada’… 2l bottles with lunch. Ah yes and in Brasil the main meal of the day is taken at lunch, with the evening meal often being lighter.
In the south as most of the people are of a European decent, especially Italian, and German, the food is very heavy. Lasagne, Pastas, Salamis, Stroganoff, and Strudels. All delicious if a little on the bland side. The Southern Brazillian palate is noticeably mild. Its not all heavy though Brazil has a passion for fresh fruit and vegetables and the variety is staggering, farmers park their trucks, wagons and van on the side of the road and the prices are very reasonable. 3 juicy pineapples cost us R5 US$2.50, not cheep, but not expensive by any means, and very juicy and sweet, even if the redneck farmer who sold em to us was one of the very few unpleasant Brasillians we encountered. How about that!
Ya so in the six weeks I was in Brasil aside one or two crazy drivers who must have been annoyed at my grandpa driving, I can say that the asshole fruit farmer was the only jerk I met. The rest of the population are like a dream, they stop to talk to you and will tell you half their life history in one breath. Brasil runs on Brasil time, not saying that it runs late, just that people stop to talk to each other and are genuinely concerned after the health of your pet chickens. Yes I have got to say O Brasillerios é pesos muintos agradável.
Part of the socialising ritual involves carrying around a hot water thermos and a chimarråo gourd and sucking thing. Erva Mate is the green ‘tea’ that is said to elicit all manner of health benefits. It originates from the local indigenous peoples and is enjoyed religiously by millions everyday across Gaucho country. Gauchos carry their Chimarräo with them where ever they go, the shopping mall, the beach, to the office, movies, and the favourite has got to be sitting in garden chairs in front of the house getting the passing neighbours, passing the chimarråo to the person on the right. One of the rules of drinking Chimarråo is that it is good to make the gurgling sound sucking on the straw thing called a bomba which are made out of silver and gold. Gauchos are south american cow boys and their culture is one of horses, cattle, wine and music, did we mention football Churrasco e Cerveza Bem Gelada. The music is very European flavoured ; harmonicas, accordions, drums and tambourines and lively songs about love, harvest and cows… I’m learning Portuguese listening to these songs on my ipod, ha ha… Eu t’ Amore… Meu Amore… America Latina… The sun is warm…
Oh yes the sun is warm, especially in the summer, November to March, southern hemisphere yes! So where did we visit ? Santa Maria, Porto Allegre, Praia do Rosa, Gaurpaba, Florianopolis, Gramado, Nova Petropolis, Bento Gonçalves, Vale de Vinhos and the Marriot Såo Paulo.
Santa Maria, in the heart of Gaucho country, a lovely city of 350,00, with the main industry being farming, education with the state University and several other institutions of higher learning making the city thier home. Brazil’s education system is controlled by the federal government. Competition for the limited spaces is intense and the annual Vestibular (entrance exam) is much dreaded and widely followed. Results are announced over the radio and are much followed, fire crackers are let off by the families of the successful and banners announcing said are hung in the fronts of the houses. Parabens Ana Lucia UFSM Piscologia 2006.
We visited Florianopolis in the state of Santa Catarina north of Rio Grande Do Sul and about a 4 hour drive from Porto Allegre. Florianopolis is an island 80km or so long and about 10 km wide. There are some 42 beaches on this island plus a fair sized lagoon in the middle. I cannot say enough about how wonderful this place really is. It is a haven of outdoor activities, beach, windsurfing, kite surf, mountain biking, sandboard, parasailing and paragliding being some of the activities available. The beaches are clean, the sand white and makes a skrunching sound when walked on and the air is clear. As one of tourist attractions of southern Brasil, Florianopolis does not dissappoint. Flocks of Argentine tourist decend on the beaches during the summer months and pousada prices double. During Carnival the place becomes a zoo… for more info on this great island check out…
We also visited Brasil’s wine region, vale de vinhos, in the hill country north of Porto Allegre. The drive up to Bento Goncalves is beautiful. Hilly farm country, the fruit basket of southern Brasil, as well as numerous battery chicken farms, phew! Along both sides of the row, someone has planted thousands of Hydranga plants, which in the summer bloom into colourfull glory, lining the path into the city. Bento Goncçalves is Brasil’s wine capital. A city of some 100,000+ the main industry centers around wine, furniture and kitchen utensils. South of Bento is Vale De Vinhos, an area of small family run wineyards, with a few big corporate players thrown in. We stayed at the Pousada at the Casa Valduga Winnery. At R179 a night it was a little on the pricey side, but the view from our balcony looking out over the fields of growning wine … we had the million dollar view. Now get this Casa Valduga’s is all about making money these days, upon entry into our very nicely appointed room, we spied a small 340ml bottle of Cabernet Sauvingnon which quite miraculously when I picked it up to look at it, the cork just popped out. Thinking this was our complimentary toddy we pulled chairs out on to the balcony and sat down to survey our domain. The shock came the next day when I checked the bill to find they’d charged us R12. R12 is alot of money in Brasil. Dinner at the Pousada was lovely, we enjoyed set menu
The Casa Valduga restaurant ensures a stimulating and welcoming atmosphere. The menu has the main delicacies of typical Italian cuisine, linked to the wines produced by the winery. It provides lunch and dinner by reservation during the week, and is open to the public for lunch at weekends.
Radicchio with bacon;
Pastas (with assorted sauces);
Pork and Chicken on a spit
Sagu with cream;
and other delicacies
Washed down with a couple of bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Excellence
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Origin: Vale dos Vinhedos Bento Gonçalves / RS – Brazil
Winemaking process: Late harvest supermaturation of grapes, stemming, crushing of grapes, addition of selected yeasts, alcoholic fermentation, temperature control, racking, malolactic fermentation, maturation in oak casks, bottling, aging in climatized cellar and labeling.
Appearance: deep and even violet-red color.
Bouquet: striking bouquet, aromas of spices and mature red fruits.
Palate: full-bodied, rounded, balanced and harmonious. Developing tannins, superb.
Serving: 16 20 ºC.
The dinner was excellent, if a little bland. The wine was gorgeous, full bodied and flavourful with a nice long finish.
We fell asleep to the sound of a gentle breeze in the vines outside.
I made a determined effort and was up and out shooting at 6am. I managed a couple of good shoots but the sun was already quite intense and I vowed to get up earlier the next morning, (it didn’t happen). We spent the day wondering in and out of the winnery buildings, taking a self guided tour and shooting some lovely ‘winnery’ stock. Julian was putting her new Canon 350D to the test. A llovely little camera. We joined the one hour wine tour, retracing our earlier steps, we did get a Portugues explanation of the inner workings of Casa Valduga.
Learn to appreciate wine.
In the afternoon we had booked tickets for the twice weekly, Wednesdays & Saturdays, steamtrain ride. Maria Fumaça or Puffing Mary as she is known is a real genuine steam train. It takes a 40 km journey from Bento Gonçalves to Barbosa stopping in Garibaldi along the way. Depending on if you take the morning or afternoon tour, you will go one way on the train and return on a coach bus, or as we did catch the bus from Bento to Barbosa and then the train returns us to Bento via Garibaldi. The train is great they have two engines in service, one a 1954 built JUNG, the other a 1941 American Locamotive Company that had seen better days. Check out the tools used to service them. As we got off the bus in Barbosa a Gaucha singer started into a lively song from the station platform. I guess she was just the warm up act as it was singing and dancing all afternoon long. After a few upbeat renditions of what were obviously Brasillian crowd pleasers, we all boarded the train. There are six carriages each carring somewhere close to 80 people, at R38 each, well you work it out.
As the train jolts into motion our carriage attendant comes down the isle passing out little plastic wine glasses. Followed by a few more trip down trying to flog Maria Fumaça souvenirs. Bless her.
The entertainment was excellent, with musicians moving up and down the train, singing traditional Gaucho songs, playing accordian, harmonica drum and tamborine. The train stopped at Garibaldi where everyone got off to have some Spumante, local sparkling wine. Quite sweet and very fresh. On the platform the Gaucho musicians pulled people out of the crowd to dance and soon everyone was joining in.
As the train headed up the hill to Bento Gonçalves it started to rain and hail. Everyone scrambled to close the windows and the hail made quite a noise bounching off the roof. Back at the station in BG we were greeted with more music and a basket of cheese and some cheep red wine. The locamotive then unhooked from the carriages and headed into its hanger. We watched as the trainman pulled all the fire out of the furnace and prepared to shut down the steam train, very interesting to watch.
After all the excitement we decieded to have out own “Cafe Colonial” dinner, basically wine, cheese, salami, cherry tomatoes, and wheat crackers, sitting on our balcony watching the sun set over the hilly wineyards.
The next day we visited the Caminho de Pedres, or Way of the Rock Houses
. The Caminho das Pedres is a map with stops of interst along the way. Cottage industries, winneries and the best of all the HOUSE OF ERVA MATÉ – House of Chimarråo da familia Ferrari. The house has a water wheel outside that is turned by the force of the flowing water. Inside the axel of the wheel is connected by all manner of belts and drives these great wooden machines used to crush the ERVA MATÉ… Facinating to watch as the machine went up and down all powered by water. The house can generate up to 2hp of power to its machinery. After touring the house we crossed the road to drink some chimarråo. Ju loves it, for me it is a taste to aquire, I think it would be much better with sugar, but that goes against the rules of chimarråo.
After stopping at a small “artiste vinho’ for some afternoon degustation (wine tasting) and buying 4 bottles of wine, we headed up the road to GRAMADO, by way of Nova Petropolis. We stopped in Nova Petropolis’s Immigrants Village. A small theme park with various stalls and shops from Europe. There was also a Rotunda and a live Umpa Band, lederhosen and all, playing Bavarian Waltzes and such, and the people were dancing, around and around they went, stopping to applaud the band after each number and downing lots of CERVEZA BEM GELADA. A treat to watch.
Gramado is a small BAVARIAN city in the hillsides of Brasil. You would be very fooled into thinking you were no longer in Brasil. Quaint, neat, and tidy and just downright picturesque…