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Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

28 June 2005 (Tuesday) – Gruta de Maquine, Brazil

Yesterday morning, I was at the rodoviaria for quite a while, deciding what my future days would be. One of the decisions made then was to take the bus to Gruta de Maquine today, a cave, some 112km from Belo Horizonte. While the decision had been made then with MUCH thought, I ended up wondering TODAY… what in the world I was thinking then!

Firstly, the bus to the cave leaves at the ungodly hour of 6:30am and returns at 4:20pm. I had brought along my mobile-phone to be used as an alarm clock but as I had not been able to recharge it here in Brazil, I had not used it since I left Buenos Aires. Thank goodness, I have another alarm clock with me, but I _found_ this clock and personally, I had never had it tested on me yet. Nevertheless, I had the presence of mind to check the battery yesterday – dead – and had the battery replaced at Mercado Central.

Throughout the night, I woke up repeatedly, concerned that I would not hear the alarm go off. I woke up at 1:40am and at 3:40am. I berated myself for my insecurity… I would hear the alarm, don’t worry, go to sleep.

Suddenly, I was woken up by a knock on the door. “Sim?“, I asked sleepily. The senhora of the hostel informed me that it was already 6am and reminded me that I had a bus ticket for 6:30am. What the hey???? Already 6am?? I scrambled out of bed and got ready in 2 minutes. I didn’t even brush my teeth!

As expected, I slept nearly the entire 3-hour ride to Gruta de Maquine and we arrived at around 9am. I was the only tourist there. I bought a ticket and a scholarly-looking elderly gentleman guided me through the caves. Something about me and caves, it seemed. In a way, after a while, they all look the same. But still, despite my slight claustrophobia and poor eyesight in the dark, I always found myself drawn to visit a cave or two. And this one was really huge and nice. The temperature totally changed the minute we entered the cave. It suddenly felt very warm. I later learnt it was because there was no fresh oxygen in the cave. The guide showed me various formations and explained everything to me in Portuguese. I pretended to understand, and sometimes, I did understand. I even managed to ask him a question or two.

Gruta Maquina

The little tour of the cave ended by 10am. I looked at my watch and calculated the time I had to wait for the return bus. 6 hours! This decision to come to Gruta de Maquine was thoroughly ridiculous. To leave at 6:30am (without brushing my teeth too!), travel for 3 hours by bus, see the cave for 1 hour, wait 6 hours, and travel 3 hours back to Belo Horizonte. Not so bright, was I? What am I to do with 6 hours??

Nevertheless, determined to overcome my ridiculous decision by turning whatever experience into something positive, I found a nice little spot near the cave entrance, took out my book to read.

There were many little birds flying around the cave entrance, popping into and out of the little holes way up where their nests must be. Meanwhile, hovering around me were various species of colourful butterflies… I called them, the Tangerine (orange-coloured) sect and the Bumble-bee (yellow and black-coloured) sect. My apologies to butterflylogists.

I heard a rustle and spied a gecko… Licky. He darted up a rock, gobbled up something, paused for a moment, then dashed off to some bushes behind. Cute.

I returned my eyes to the book for a while before spotting a tiny little green worm making his way across the ground below my boots. That would be Mr Omega, for obvious reason. I was thoroughly fascinated by Mr Omega as he made his epic journey across the endless land, so I sat staring at him for a few minutes. Sometimes, he even fell over at his most ‘omega’ position. Poor little dear.

I heard another rustle. Licky? That you? No, this was a smaller gecko, a rather sweet one – Junior. Ah, there Licky was, appearing again mysteriously behind another rock, all poised and ready. He looked around sharply and darted off somewhere. Back to the book for a while… before my eyelids felt rather heavy. I stretched out on the bench and promptly fell asleep for about an hour or so.

When I woke up, I looked around for Licky again. Nowhere in sight. Junior came scurrying by though, very pensive-looking. Now, where was I in the book… I heard some footsteps, and a big brown dog trotted by. She looked rather vague, distractingly browsing for something as she passed by me, ignoring me. That would be Nonnie, for her nonchalance attitude. She did not appear to find what she was looking for, returned the same way she came from, ignoring me again. Rustle, rustle… must be Licky again.

I must have been asleep for quite a while, as now I found a tiny little spider hanging from his thread from the end of my hair! Gosh, he must be at his first step of engulfing me in his web of deceit. Tchau, tchau, arañita! Nono, I didn’t kill him. I gently scooped him out and tossed him to a bush next to me.

Ah, hey Licky, there he was… right over there. Oh, Licky has a little girl-friend… No, wait!!! That’s NOT Licky! He’s at least 2 sizes smaller! What a horrendous mistake!!!!

And that was how I spent 3.5 hours reading Umberto Eco‘s Foucault’s Pendulum.

Overcome by hunger later, I headed to the restaurant below and ordered lunch. The TV was showing yet another football match. Hey, between Argentina and Brazil. Again?? Whatever cup it was, the score was Argentina 1- Brazil 0 at the moment. I was munching away when I heard GGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!! Destined to always miss goals, I looked up to try and catch the replay. But 2 guys had stood right in front of the TV set by now, basking in national glory of attaining a Brazilian goal.

I continued with lunch slowly, carefully ignoring the feijoada, and then, this time, my eyes happened to be trained on the TV set just in time to catch an Argentine goal. There was no one in the restaurant at the moment, but the commentator’s GGGGOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!! finally drew an elderly woman into the room. She had been knitting in the far corner and must had gone to the toilet for a moment. “Goal??? Argentina? (pronounced ‘Ar-gen-chi-na’) Goal????? Argentina?????”, looking at me, with some horrors, for confirmation. I nodded. She turned back to the TV set, thoroughly despondent. Two other persons hurried into the restaurant and stared, totally crestfallen. Then, it was all over and Argentina won! Yeah!! But in order not to draw attention to my joy, I had to pretend to seriously saw my tomatoes apart.

And that was how I spent another 2.5 hours eating lunch.

Mellow Fellow Belo

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

27 June 2005 (Monday) – Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Let me explain a little about the layout of Belo Horizonte. Imagine, squares with criss-crossing 1-way streets. Then, imagine, another series of squares, much larger… perhaps, between 4 to 5 of the smaller squares. These are the 2-way avenues. Tilt the larger squares at 45 degrees to the small ones, and superimpose both together. There, you have the centre of Belo Horizonte.

With this design, there would inadvertently be spots where the junction of 2 streets is crossed by an avenue, thereby creating a junction of 3 roads, or 6 radiating lines. In theory, there is the possibility of 8 radiating lines, where the junction of 2 avenues meet the junction of 2 streets but the good city-planners of Belo Horizonte never let that disaster happen, by creating a square here, or a round-about there, sneakingly diverting the unsuspecting traffic away.

Utterly chaotic crossroads!!

So, at each junction with 3 roads (1 of the road has 2-way traffic, mind you), it was always utter chaos for me. I never knew when or how to cross the roads. Sometimes, there would be a lull, and I would attempt to cross… only to have massive traffic, usually appearing from my blind-spot, bearing down towards me. Then, I tried to follow the fellow Belo’s crossing habits. In my 2-microseconds of inattention, he would have spotted a mini-gap between the vehicles and leapt across to THE OTHER SIDE. The contours of Belo Horizonte are also very undulating. So, it was rather a mean feat for a car to zoom straight down from that hill at top speed, then, make a left turn… not of 90 degrees, but of 135 degrees, and then, zip straight up another slope, all with enough horsepower. I made full use of the rotating capabilities of my head each time I ended up on such a junction. Then, of course, when I did manage to get to the other side, I would have to recheck the map again on which radiating line to follow.

Anyway, with these little escapades enough for a Monday morning, I wandered down to Mercado Central. This is another massive market, but permanent, selling all sort of food, household items, baskets, pets, and other assorted home decorations. It was a huge maze, and I found it rather delightful as well, with many interesting things and people to observe.

Mercado Central of Belo Horizonte

I navigated to Parça da Liberdade to admire the contrasting styles of the buildings around. There were some buildings, namely the Palacio, of neoclassical style, some of modernistic style like the Mineralogy Museum and that retro-looking curvy building on its opposite side which I rather like. I spent some relaxing time sitting in the nice park and reading my book.

A typical 'lanchonete', selling snacks like X-burger

By evening, I was rather charmed by a little band playing Cuban son, one of my favourite kind of music!, on one of the squares near Praça Sete. I found myself standing there a good half an hour listening to the great music. The squares seemed perfect for the mellow Belos to hang out. Some middle-aged and elderly men were playing checkers on one side. And teenage boys were skate-boarding at the other end.

Although I had not done much today, I had been thoroughly charmed by the unassuming city of Belo Horizonte so far.

International Woman of Feiras

Monday, June 27th, 2005
26 June 2005 (Sunday) - Belo Horizonte, Brazil I finally opened my eyes (closing my eyes did not mean I slept) as I heard delighted shouts from the other low-lifes (like me) who paid for the cheapest ticket on the jiggly ... [Continue reading this entry]

Road to Belo Horizonte

Monday, June 27th, 2005
25 June 2005 (Saturday) - Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte, Brazil My last day in Rio de Janeiro today. Yep, it is time to move on. I had really enjoyed my time here, wandering around and absorbing the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Winter in Rio

Sunday, June 26th, 2005
24 June 2005 (Friday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Today, it seemed really bright and blue. Finally, this was perhaps my last chance to get it right by heading to one of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. At ... [Continue reading this entry]

City of Gods

Friday, June 24th, 2005
23 June 2005 (Thursday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I heard about a square called Largo do Boticario that is just a stone's throw away from where I was staying. It is a square that apparently had some really old and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Celebra-drink Life

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

22 June 2005 (Wednesday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There was a cold front that set in since last Sunday and it caused some rain yesterday. Yes, I now learn that Rio de Janeiro does rain! Time to adjust the picture-perfect ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bamboo in My Soul

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
21 June 2005 (Tuesday) - Paraty to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The streets of Paraty are strikingly lined with huge round stones that are tricky to walk on properly without looking. Yesterday, my thoughts had been - "Oh dear, I ... [Continue reading this entry]

Para Ti

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
20 June 2005 (Monday) - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty, Brazil I had found out the bus schedules to Paraty earlier - 4am, 6am, 9am, 12+pm, etc... Who in the world heads out anywhere at 4am or 6am?? I would ... [Continue reading this entry]

Girl to Ipanema

Monday, June 20th, 2005
19 June 2005 (Sunday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil My intention is to go to Ipanema today, for the hippie fair and then later, to the beach. But instead of the warm and sunny weather we had had for the ... [Continue reading this entry]