Friday, January 30, 2009

Hello, City Slicker!

Last Friday I took a bus to Canela, situated in the mountains a couple hours north of Porto Alegre. I checked in to Pousada do Viajante, which was conveniently located next to the rodoviária (bus terminal), and offered comfortable, en-suite, private rooms for quite modest prices.

The weather was perfect for my excursion—sunny skies and a lovely breeze. I set out in the afternoon for a long ramble around. Heading past the charming stone cathedral, I aimed for one of the parques (nature preserves) that surround the village. With so much green space, ecotourism is a big industry here. I didn’t go rafting, trekking, or repelling this time, but I did visit a dude ranch. Olha só, I’m a city slicker all the way and I have never whispered with horses.

On Saturday, Fazenda Passo Alegre sent a gaúcho in his pickup truck to change that. Arriving at the fazenda, 10 km outside Canela, I was led into one of the farm’s facilities. Inside, I geared up: on long, wooden tables were dozens of velcro-on chaps and foam cowboy hats. To the right there was a large fireplace, presumably for big churrasco (barbecue) parties.

As I waited for another couple of adventurers to arrive, I sat on the stoop and admired the stunning landscape—not at all apprehensive about the trotting off across the horizon. No, the wave of intimidation didn’t sweep over me until I was perched on Alecrim, listening to a crash course in horse-operation in Portuguese. Next thing you know, I’m bouncing down a trail with the couple (who were Brazilian and experienced in this sort of caper) and a guide, simultaneously awakening to my own mortality and channeling my inner Mitch Robbins. After roughly an hour, we stopped in a valley for a rest. We hiked through the forest toward the river, scaled the rocks and sat, cooling our toes in the rapids, for a while before heading back to the lean-to where our guide had prepared a quick snack (toasted pinhão, sausages, and chimarrão).

Alecrim was a great horse, but I took out some extra insurance by giving him an ear and neck massage before starting the journey back to the fazenda. I think it was a combination of this and my increasing comfort level that made the second hour more enjoyable. Then, I was able to manage the reins and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

After safely de-boarding, I rewarded Alecrim with carrots.

I liked this sign, though it’s hard to translate for you:

The closest I can come is to say “Mas BAH Tchê!” is to a gaúcho what “Party on! Excellent!” was to Bill & Ted. (Incidentally, I recently realized that I have started inserting "Bah!" in routine speech. More Gauchinha every day!)

During our celebratory jigger of moonshine, I noted that a pin should be added to the map representing their first Chicago City Slicker!

My hosts then drove me back to the hostel, where I met a new arrival; the well-traveled Englishman, Charles, with whom I visited Parque do Caracol the next day for Round 2 of my nature adventures.

The 7km route to the park zig-zagged through lush woods and along streams, the road rising and falling in gentle rolls. The park has great infrastructure; various lookout structures, well-maintained trails, shops, restrooms, and a restaurant. The sign atop the cliff tried its best to dissuade people from descending the 927 steep, iron-grate steps to the base of the waterfall…

…but, of course, we were not the type to heed warnings. Charles and I practically skipped down, into the increasingly humid void. It was probably only 800 steps, or so, because the last few flights have been conquered by the forces of nature.


The climb back up, though, nearly conquered me! Still, the water rushing over the edge plummets 131 meters and, from the base, the views of the fall and surrounding canyon are well worth the muscle burn. I was relieved to take it easy Sunday night, on the bus carrying me back to my city life. Looking out the window as the scenery passed, however, I did toy with some ideas about a whitewater rafting expedition. (insert smirk)

The Canela outtakes—tips for living well.

“The young can and should drink coffee daily.”

Traveling is good for you.