The Waves, the Flowers, the Missions

    The Waves, the Flowers, the Missions

    The truth had neither suppressed the anguish nor put an end to the
    pity of herself. I will give everything I have for my freedom. These words come from the
    large portrait where he poses as Napoleon Bonaparte. Why would he have to go out arm in
    arm with that little whore, ridiculous, with his hair painted black, the two of them going
    down the spiral stairway as a couple of young sweethearts.
    By Brazzil Magazine

    RIO GRANDE DO SUL

    Porto Alegre, gaúcho capital and Brazil’s sixth-biggest city, lies on the
    eastern bank of the Rio Guaíba at the point where its waters empty into the huge Lagoa
    dos Patos. This modern city makes a living mostly from its freshwater port and from
    commerce. Originally settled by the Portuguese in 1755 to keep the Spanish out, Porto
    Alegre was never a center of colonial Brazil; it’s mainly a product of the 20th century,
    which is when many of the German and Italian immigrants arrived here.

    Although most travelers just pass through Porto Alegre, it’s an easy place in which to
    spend a few days. There are some interesting museums and impressive neoclassical
    buildings, as well as friendly gaúchos (and their barbecued meat—the city
    abounds in churrascarias).

    River Cruise

    Two boats do tourist cruises on the river, both passing many of the uninhabited islands
    in the river delta. The Cisne Branco leaves from the waterfront at the end of Rua
    Caldas Júnior, in the Centro. The Noiva do Caí leaves from in front of the Usina
    do Gasômetro. A one-hour cruise costs $4.00 and the ones at sunset are popular.
    Timetables change frequently, so ask for details at one of the tourist information posts.

    For places to stay and eat, read the book

    Getting There & Away

    International buses run from Porto Alegre to Montevideo ($27, 13 hours), Buenos Aires
    ($52, 24 hours) and Asunción ($36, 16 hours). Other buses service Foz do Iguaçu ($25, 18
    hours), Florianópolis ($12, 7½ hours), Curitiba ($17, 11 hours), São Paulo ($27, 18
    hours) and Rio de Janeiro ($37, 27 hours). Road conditions in the state are generally
    excellent.

    Getting Around

    Porto Alegre has a one-line metro that the locals call Trensurb. It has 15 stations,
    but the only ones of any use to the visitor are the central station by the port (called
    Estação Mercado Modelo), the rodoviária (which is the next stop) and the airport
    (three stops further on). The metro runs from 5 am to 11 pm. A ride costs $0.25.

    LITORAL GAÚCHO

    The Litoral Gaúcho is a 500-km strip along the state of Rio Grande do Sul—from
    Torres (in the north) to Chuí (at the Uruguayan border). Of all Brazil’s coast, this
    stretch is the least distinguished, the least varied. The beaches are really one long
    beach uninterrupted by geographical variations, wide open, with little vegetation and
    occasional dunes. The sea here is choppier and the water less translucent than in Santa
    Catarina.

    In winter, currents from the Antarctic bring cold, hard winds to the coast. Bathing
    suits disappear, as do most people. Most hotels shut down in March, and the summer beach
    season doesn’t return until November at the earliest, with the arrival of the northern
    winds.

    The three big resort towns on the north coast are Torres, Capão da Canoa and
    Tramandaí. Torres, the furthest from Porto Alegre, is only three hours away by car. All
    three have medium-sized airports, luxury hotels and up-market nightlife, and they all fill
    up in summer with Porto Alegrenses, Uruguayans and Argentines. This is not a place to get
    away from it all. There are many campgrounds and cheaper hotels in the towns, but the
    flavor is much more of well-to-do weekend resorts than of fishing villages.

    Torres

    Torres is 205 km from Porto Alegre. It is well known for its fine beaches and the
    beautiful, basalt-rock formations along the coast. This is good country in which to walk
    and explore, and if you can get here early or late in the season, when the crowds have
    thinned out, it’s especially worthwhile. There is also an ecological reserve, on the Ilha
    dos Lobos.

    Information

    There’s a really good tourist office on the corner of Avenida Barão do Rio Branco and
    Rua General Osório. It publishes a list of hotels, including the cheapest ones. There are
    a few câmbios in town. Try Brasiltur, at Rua Corte Real 950. For travelers’
    cheques, there is a Banco do Brasil branch.

    Festival

    A big drawcard over the last few years has been the ballooning festival, held in the
    middle of April.

    Capão da Canoa

    This smaller resort, 140 km from Porto Alegre, lacks the glamour and glitz of Torres.
    Its best-known beach is Praia de Atlântida, three km from town. The beach is big and
    broad, and there’s an active windsurfing scene on the lagoons.

    Tramandaí

    Only 120 km from Porto Alegre, Tramandaí’s permanent population of some 15,000 swells
    to half a million in January. On summer weekends, the beaches are the busiest in the
    state; they’re good, though not as nice as those around Torres.

    Festival

    There is a good festival here in late June, the Festa de São Pedro, with a procession
    of boats on the sea.

    Chuí

    The small border town of Chuí is about 225 km South of Rio Grande on a good paved
    road. One side of the main street, Avenida Brasil, is Brazilian; the other side is the
    Uruguayan town of Chuy. The Brazilian side is full of Uruguayans doing their monthly
    grocery shopping, buying car parts and taking care of their clothing needs for the next
    six months. The Uruguayan side is a good place to change money, buy cheap, duty-free
    Scotch whisky and post letters.

    Visas

    It’s much better to get your Uruguayan visa in Porto Alegre than at the border at
    Chuí, but it can be done here. You won’t need a medical examination, but you do have to
    wait overnight. The Uruguayan Consulate (65-1151), at Rua Venezuela 311, is open from 9 am
    to 3 pm. Visas cost $20.

    Getting There & Away

    The rodoviária is at Rua Venezuela 247, and buses leave constantly for most
    cities in southern Brazil.

    You can buy tickets to Montevideo on the Uruguayan side of Avenida Brasil. Seven buses
    leave daily for Punta del Este and Montevideo, the first at 4 am and the last at midnight.

    All buses crossing the border into Uruguay stop at the Polícia Federal post on Avenida
    Argentina, a couple of km from town. You must get off the bus here to get your Brazilian
    exit stamp. In Uruguay, the bus will stop again for the Uruguayan officials to check your
    Brazilian exit stamp.

    PELOTAS

    If they gave out awards for the most outrageous-looking bus station in Brazil, Pelotas
    would be a major contender in the `Imaginative Uses of Concrete’ category.

    Pelotas, 251 km south of Porto Alegre, was a major port in the 19th century for the
    export of dried beef, and home to a sizeable British community. The wealth generated is
    still reflected in the grand, neoclassical mansions around the main square, Praça General
    Osório. Today the town is an important industrial center. Much of its canned vegetables,
    fruits and sweets are exported.

    There’s really no reason to stay in Pelotas, but if you’re waiting at the rodoviária
    for a bus connection and you have some time to spare, it’s worth going into the center for
    a look.

    RIO GRANDE

    Once an important cattle center, Rio Grande lies near the mouth of the Lagoa dos Patos,
    Brazil’s biggest lagoon. To the north, the coast along the lagoa is lightly
    inhabited. There’s a poor dirt road along this stretch, which is connected with Rio Grande
    by a small ferry. While not a great draw card, this active port city is more interesting
    than Pelotas if you want to break your journey in this area.

    Information

    There’s a tourist office at Rua Riachuelo 355, but it’s rarely open in the low season.
    The only tourist brochure in town is available from any travel agency or big hotel, such
    as the Charrua. A good place to change money is at the Turisbel, a bar and gemstone shop
    at Rua Luiz Loreá 407. Its English-speaking Greek owner will even change Australian
    dollars. For travelers’ cheques, there is a Banco do Brasil branch. The post office is at
    Rua General Netto 115.

    Catedral de São Pedro

    The oldest church in the state, this cathedral was erected by the Portuguese colonists.
    In baroque style, it’s classified as part of the Patrimônio Histórico. Even if you don’t
    usually look at churches, this is an interesting one.

    Museu Oceanográfico

    This interesting museum on Avenida Perimetral, two km from the center, is the most
    complete of its type in Latin America. It has a large shell collection, and skeletons of
    whales and dolphins. It’s open daily from 9 to 11 am and 2 to 5 pm.

    Other Museums

    The Museu da Cidade is in the old customs house, which Dom Pedro II ordered built on
    Rua Riachuelo. It’s open on weekdays from 9:30 to 11:30 am and 2:30 to 5 pm and on Sunday
    from 2:30 to 5 pm. Across the road is the Museu do Departamento Estadual de Portos, Rios e
    Canais (DEPREC), which houses the machinery used during the construction of the large
    breakwater. It’s open on weekdays from 8 to 11:30 am and 1:30 to 5:30 pm.

    São José do Norte

    Boats leave from the terminal at the waterfront every 40 minutes and make the trip
    across the mouth of the Lagoa dos Patos to the fishing village of São José do Norte.
    This is a nice trip to do around sunset. The last boat back to Rio Grande leaves at 7 pm.
    The round trip costs $2.

    Getting There & Away

    The rodoviária is about six blocks from the center, at Rua Vice Admiral Abreu
    737. Buses connect Rio Grande with Uruguay and with all major cities in southern Brazil.

    AROUND RIO GRANDE

    Cassino

    Twenty-five km south of Rio Grande, reached by local bus from Praça Tamandaré,
    Cassino is a D-grade beach resort popular in summer with Uruguayans and Argentines. If you
    like littered, windswept beaches, brown seawater and cars zipping up and down the beach,
    this is the place for you.

    SERRA GAÚCHA

    North of Porto Alegre, you quickly begin to climb into the Serra Gaúcha. The ride is
    beautiful, as are the mountain towns of Gramado and Canela, 140 km from Porto Alegre.
    First settled by Germans (in 1824) and later by Italians (in the 1870s), the region is as
    close to the Alps as Brazil gets. It’s known as the Região das Hortênsias (Hydrangea
    Region). Both Gramado and Canela are popular resorts and are crowded with Porto Alegrenses
    in all seasons, but particularly when it’s hottest in the big city. There are plenty of
    hotels and restaurants, especially in Gramado, and many have a German influence. Prices
    are high by Brazilian standards.

    Hikers abound in the mountains here. In winter there are occasional snowfalls and in
    spring the hills are blanketed with flowers. The best spot is the Parque Estadual do
    Caracol, reached by local bus from Canela, eight km away.

    Gramado

    This popular mountain resort is a favorite with well-to-do Argentines, Uruguayans,
    Paulistas and gaúchos. It has lots of cozy restaurants, well-manicured gardens and
    expensive, Swiss-style chalet/hotels.

    Information

    There’s a useful Centro de Informações in the center of town, on Praça Major
    Nicoletti, which has maps, and information on most hotels and restaurants. It’s open from
    9 am to 9 pm.

    Parks

    Well-kept parks close to town include the Lago Negro, at Rua 25 de Julho 175, and the
    Parque Knorr, at the end of Rua Bela Vista. The Lago Negro park has pine trees and a small
    lake, while the Parque Knorr has lots of flowers and a good view of the spectacular Vale
    do Quilombo. There’s also the Lago Joaquina Rita Bier, a lake surrounded by hydrangeas, at
    Rua Leopoldo Rosenfeldt.

    Festival

    Each June, Gramado hosts the Brazilian Film Festival. It’s a big event, and attracts
    the jet set.

    For places to stay and places to eat, read the book.

    Canela

    "If you’re scared of leopards, hate mosquitoes, but want to do some ecological
    tourism, come to Canela." (Canela tourist brochure)

    While not as up-market as Gramado, Canela is the best jumping-off point for some great
    hikes and bicycle rides in the area. There are cheaper hotels here than in Gramado, so
    budget travelers should make this their base.

    Information

    The tourist office (282-1287) in Praça João Correa is helpful, offering a reasonable
    map that shows all the attractions. Staff speaks English, will assist with hotel bookings
    and can put you in touch with the outfits that arrange rafting trips and mountain-bike
    adventures.

    Parque Estadual do Caracol

    Eight km from Canela, the major attraction of this park is a spectacular 130-meter-high
    waterfall. You don’t have to do any hiking to see it, as it’s very close to the park
    entrance. On the road to the park, two km from the center of Canela is a 700-year-old,
    42-meter-tall araucária pine.

    The park is open daily from 7:30 am to 6 pm. Entry is $0.40. A public bus to the park,
    marked `Caracol Circular’, leaves the rodoviária at 8:15 am, noon and 5:30 pm.

    Ferradura

    A seven-km hike from just outside the park entrance brings you to Ferradura, a stunning
    400-meter-deep horseshoe canyon formed by the Rio Santa Cruz. You can camp in here, but
    you have to bring everything with you.

    Parque das Sequóias

    This park at Rua Godofredo Raimundo 1747 was created in the 1940s by Curt Menz, a
    botanist who cultivated more than 70 different tree species with seeds from all over the
    world. This plantation occupies 10 hectares, and the rest of the park (25 hectares) is
    native forest. The park has lots of trails and a pousada.

    Morros Pelado, Queimado & Dedão

    These hills provide great views of the Vale do Quilombo, and on clear days you can see
    the coast. Reached via the road to the Parque das Sequóias, they’re five, 5.5 and 6.5 km
    (respectively) from Canela.

    Castelinho

    One of the oldest houses in the area, Castelinho, is on the road to the park. Now a
    pioneer museum, a German restaurant and a chocolate shop, Castelinho was built without
    using metal nails.

    Festival

    From 26 to 28 May, 80,000 pilgrims arrive in Canela to celebrate the Festa de Nossa
    Senhora de Caravaggio. A highlight of the festival is a six-km procession from the Igreja
    Matriz to the Parque do Saiqui.

    For places to stay and to eat, read the book.

    PARQUE NACIONAL DE APARADOS DA SERRA

    One of Brazil’s natural wonders, this national park is Rio Grande do Sul’s most
    magnificent area. It is 70 km north of São Francisco de Paula and 18 km from the town of
    Cambará do Sul.

    Things to See

    The park preserves one of the country’s last araucária forests, but the main
    attraction is the Canyon do Itaimbézinho, a fantastic narrow canyon with sheer 600
    to 720-meter parallel escarpments. Two waterfalls drop into this deep incision in the
    earth, which was formed by the Rio Perdiz’s rush to the sea.

    Another of the park’s attractions is the Canyon da Fortaleza, a 30-km stretch of
    escarpment with 900-meter drops. You can see the coast from here. Nearby, on one of the
    walls of the canyon, is the Pedra do Segredo, a five-meter monolith with a very
    small base. It’s 23 km from Cambará, but unfortunately in a different direction from
    Itaimbézinho.

    Getting There & Away

    If you can’t afford the four-hour taxi ride from Cambará do Sul ($45), or to hire a
    car (or airplane) for a day, put on your walking shoes if you expect to see both
    Itaimbézinho and Fortaleza. Hitching is lousy, and no public buses go to either canyon.
    The closest you can get is three km from Itaimbézinho, by taking the bus to Praia Grande
    and asking to be dropped at the park entrance. From the other entrance, on the road
    between Cambará and Tainhas, it’s a 15-km walk to Itaimbézinho. To get to Fortaleza,
    you’ll either have to walk 23 km or make a deal with Borges, the taxi driver, to take you
    there and back (around $25, but it’s worth it).

    There are various ways to get to the park itself. One is to come up from the coast via
    Praia Grande and get off the `Cambará do Sul’ bus at the park entrance. You could also
    come up from Torres and change buses at Tainhas, but if you miss the connection, there’s
    nowhere to stay in Tainhas. Both these roads from the coast are spectacular. Another route
    is to come up from São Francisco de Paula and get off at the other entrance to the park.

    It’s also possible to hike 20 km from Praia Grande into the canyon itself, but this is
    dangerous without a guide. People have been trapped in the canyon by flash flooding.

    If you’re driving, follow the `Faixinal do Sul’ signs from Praia Grande.

    JESUIT MISSIONS

    Soon after the discovery of the New World, the Portuguese and Spanish kings authorized
    Catholic orders to create missions to convert the natives into Catholic subjects of the
    crown and the state. The most successful of these orders were the Jesuits, who established
    a series of missions in a region, which spanned parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.
    In effect it was a nation within the colonies, a nation which, at its height in the 1720s,
    claimed 30 mission villages inhabited by over 150,000 Guarani Indians. Buenos Aires was
    merely a village at this time.

    Unlike those established elsewhere, these missions succeeded in introducing Western
    culture without destroying the Indian people, their culture or the Tupi-Guarani language.

    In 1608, Hernandarias, Governor of the Spanish province of Paraguay, ordered the local
    leader of the Jesuits, Fray Diego de Torres, to send missionaries to convert the infidels,
    and so in 1609, the first mission was founded. Preferring indoctrination by the Jesuits to
    serfdom on Spanish estates or slavery at the hands of the Portuguese, the Indians were
    rapidly recruited into a chain of missions. The missions covered a vast region of land
    that encompassed much of the present-day Brazilian states of Paraná, Santa Catarina and
    Rio Grande do Sul as well as portions of Paraguay and northern Argentina.

    The Jesuit territory was too large to defend, and the Portuguese bandeirantes
    found the missionary settlements easy pickings for slave raids. Thousands of Indians were
    captured, reducing the 13 missions of Guayra (Brazilian territory) to two. Fear of the bandeirante
    slavers caused these two missions to be abandoned, and the Indians and Jesuits marched
    westward and founded San Ignacio Mini (1632), having lost many people in the rapids of the
    Paraná. The missions north of Iguaçu were decimated by attacks from hostile Indian
    tribes and were forced to relocate south.

    Between 1631 and 1638, activity was concentrated in 30 missions, which the missions
    Indians were able to defend. In one of the bloodiest fights, the battle of Mbororé, the
    Indians beat back the slavers and secured their lands north of San Javier.

    The missions, under administration based in Candelaria, grew crops, raised cattle and
    prospered. They were miniature cities built around a central church, and included
    libraries, baptisteries, cemeteries and dormitories for the Indian converts and the
    priests. The missions became centers of culture and intellect as well as of religion. An
    odd mix of European baroque and native Guarani arts, music and painting developed. Indian
    scholars created a written form of Tupi-Guarani and, from 1704, published several works in
    Tupi-Guarani, using one of the earliest printing presses in South America.

    As the missions grew, the Jesuit nation became more independent of Rome and relations
    with the Vatican became strained. The nation within a nation became an embarrassment to
    the Iberian kings, and finally, in 1777, the Portuguese minister Marquês de Pombal
    convinced Carlos III to expel the Jesuit priests from Spanish lands. Thus ended, in the
    opinion of many historians, a grand 160-year experiment in socialism, where wealth was
    equally divided and religion, intellect and the arts flourished—a utopian island of
    progress in an age of monarchies and institutionalized slavery. Administration of the
    mission villages passed into the hands of the colonial government. The communities
    continued until the early 1800s, when they were destroyed by revolutionary wars of
    independence, then abandoned.

    Today, there are 30 ruined Jesuit missions. Seven lie in Brazil (in the western part of
    Rio Grande do Sul), eight are in the southern region of Itapuá, Paraguay, and the
    remaining 15 are in Argentina. Of these 15 Argentine missions, 11 lie in the province of
    Missiones, which hooks like a thumb between Paraguay and the Rio Paraná, and Brazil and
    the Uruguay and Iguaçu rivers.

    Brazilian Missions

    São Miguel das Missões

    This mission, 58 km from Santo Ângelo, is the most interesting of the Brazilian ones.
    Every evening at 8 pm, there’s a sound and light show. Also nearby are the missions of
    São João Batista (on the way to São Miguel) and São Lourenço das Missões (10 km from
    São João Batista by dirt road).

    Paraguayan Missions

    The missions of Paraguay, long since abandoned, are only now being restored. The most
    important mission to see is Trinidad, 25 km from Encarnación. The red-stone ruins are
    fascinating. If you have the time, see the missions of Santa Rosa, Santiago and Jesus.

    Argentine Missions

    In Argentina don’t miss San Ignacio Miní, 60 km from Posadas on Ruta Nacional 12. Of
    lesser stature is mission Santa Maria la Mayor, 111 km away from Posadas on Ruta 110, and
    mission Candelaria (now a national penitentiary), 25 km from Posadas on Ruta 12. It’s
    possible to cut across the province of Missiones to San Javier (Ruta 4), crossing by ferry
    to Brazil at Puerto Xavier, or further south at Santo Tome, and taking a ferry across the
    Rio Uruguay to São Borja, Brazil.

    The border at Uruguaiana, 180 km south of São Borja, is more commonly used. Uruguaiana
    is 180 km from São Borja and 635 km from Porto Alegre. Buses operate to Buenos Aires,
    Santiago do Chile and Montevideo. The Argentine Consulate ((055) 412-1925) is at Rua
    Santana 2496, 2nd floor, while the Uruguayan Consulate ((055) 412-1514) is at Rua Duque de
    Caxias 1606.

    Getting There & Away

    Use Encarnación as a base for visiting the missions of Paraguay. Riza buses leave
    daily from Ciudad del Este for Encarnación, 320 km south; from Asunción, they depart
    daily for the 370-km journey to Encarnación on Ruta 1. Either way, it’s a pleasant ride
    through fertile rolling hills, a region where the locals (mostly of German descent) drink
    a variation of maté called tererê.

    Getting Around

    This is the sort of traveling that’s best done by car, but unfortunately, car-rental
    fees are high and driving a rental car over borders is difficult. It’s possible to hire a
    taxi from any of the three base cities: Posadas, Encarnación and Santo Ângelo.

    Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
    Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more
    information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
    Used by permission.

    Buy it at
    Amazon.com

    Lonely Planet
    Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit

    by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
    Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,
    704 pp.

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