After nearly two months, we finally left the state of Rio de Janeiro and crossed the border into Minas Gerais. And what a difference crossing a border can make! Minas Gerais, meaning ‘All Sorts of Mines,’ is landlocked and has none of the beach culture that comprises so much of jungle-clad Rio.
Here the evenings are cool, the landscape of rolling hills is dotted with grazing cows, and the food, a comida mineira, is delicious — known throughout Brazil to be some of the best! The people here are always smiling and the friendliest we’ve met, giving us plenty of opportunities to practice our blossoming Portuguese.
We arrived in our first city here, São João del Rei, late at night and were pleasantly surprised to find our Pousada in a beautiful old colonial quarter lit with old street lanterns! (The pousada itself was dingy and terribly dirty, but that’s a whole other story)
The huge gold rush in the 1800s in Brazil concentrated along the Estrada Real in Minas Gerais — since 1600 the principal trade route back to Portugal. This former route of gold and diamonds covers roughly 1200km from Diamantina in the North to the colonial port city of Paraty in the state of Rio. This was a path of means and the modern result is a smattering of enchanting colonial cities, many of which are slowly falling into a state of disrepair.