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Saturday, July 28, 2007

on the road again

Another moment to take a breath here so thought I would jot down some more thoughts. Usually I'm composing emails in my head as we tour around but I think this crazy existence is starting to feel a bit too much like normal life and I really have to think for inspiration! I've got my travel diary beside me so I can remember all we've been up to. Let me do another quick count - yes we're now in town number 10 and it must be about day 19 - half way through already!

The last few towns have all seemed very similar. Basic formula for a Brazilian country town is a central square which might have a fountain or bit of garden with a place for locals to gather, flanked by a church/cathedral and the prefeitura or town hall. Probably a police station close by too. Shops and houses are quite mixed up - the nicest houses are just out of the centre of town and the poor areas surround each town, usually climbing high up the hills.

Alem Paraiba

Everyone (other than the very poor) has some kind of security - the houses a wrought iron gate with intercom to announce visitors and the apartments a burly security guard who has to buzz you through. We visited one closed community with its own gatehouse and guards.

The roads are mostly cobbled which we found charming at first but they get a bit wearing! Mechanics and suspension specialists do pretty well I reckon. They have speed bumps everywhere including on the highways. We travelled 45 km in about 1.5 hrs on the federal highway from Viçosa to Visconde do Rio Branco where the road has fallen away in places due to landslips, and the potholes are more like manholes - add to this the fact that this is a busy manufacturing/agricultural area and they did away with the railway system about 20 years ago - makes for some hairy commuting. All the cars have a modification which locks all the doors as you start to drive and all the (electric) windows automatically wind up when you take the keys out and lock up.

The road to Vicosa

We arrived today in Mariana and it's the first time we have seen tourists! It's a beautiful city, the oldest in the state. It was founded around 1700 during a gold rush and has heaps of amazing colonial architecture. The region is an archdiocese and the insides of the cathedral are crusted with pure gold leaf. It's the cultural centre of the region too so while we're here it's all museums, history, music and culture - not complaining.

Mariana

Vocational visits continue to be fascinating and challenging. We tend to attend the visits as a team so I've seen plenty of schools, council offices, physical activity programs, farms and abbotoirs as well as universities, hospitals and charities but many of our interests overlap so it's been enlighening for all of us.

Yes you read that correctly - abbotoirs - well meat processing plants - both chicken and pork - two days ago at "Saudali Alimentos" we dressed in white tracksuits and gumboots and witnessed the pork production line right from the little squealers to the smoked bacon and sausages. A very clean, modern, humane and hygenic facility - similar I imagine to large plants in Australia. VERY challenging but I am actually glad I saw it - not quite enough to turn me vegetarian (though we declined the product samples right afterwards) but definitely good to think about where our food comes from.

Had a good stay in Viçosa which is a university town about the same size as Launceston. The public Federal University there is one of the best in Brazil and has 15000 students - there are 30 applications for every place. It's a beautiful campus on 300 acres and has its own hotel, restaurant, school, supermarket and rainforest reserve. My host is a professor in the Food Science department working in the area of probiotics - so Yakult for breakfast each morning. Nice to stay for three days this time in a cool apartment with hosts who speak good english - I'm all about the cultural experience but sigh - sometimes its nice to be understood.

In the garden of the Hotel Parque Nacional do Caparaó

Ok, will see if I can get some more pics off my camera - sorry the file size is a bit big but I can't resize them here. Have taken about 500 so far (yes in 19 days) so hands up who wants to come round for the slide night when I get home?!

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