Weeks 2+3: A vacation from the vacation

When faced with an opportunity to take a vacation, you should always take one, even if the vacation is just trading one vacation for another. So that’s what Nate and I did when friends Emma and Thomaz offered us a weekend away from São Paulo when I had only been in town a week! We left São Paulo in heavy rush hour traffic on Friday evening packed in a Subaru with Maggie the dog and E and T’s friend visiting from Florida. There were snacks, winding roads similar to California’s Highway 1, some excellent music and the promise of a late dinner upon arrival.

E&T’s family sitio is in the state of Minas Gerais  just outside the small town of Gonçalves. The name Minas Gerais means general mines and refers to the gold and diamond mining that significantly shaped the region’s past. While Minas is speckled with opulent colonial gold towns, Gonçalves is a rural retreat just beyond São Paulo state. Today the Minas region is known for its production of food, including farm cheese and artisanal cachaça.

We pulled into sleepy Gonçalves around 9:30PM and settled in to an adorable sandwich shop. A plate of fried potatoes was ordered (think whole cloves of roasted garlic, fresh herbs, homemade ketchup), and the famished travelers devoured it quickly. Nate and I split a pork sandwich with passionfruit sauce and a yuca and pork soup. After a satisfying meal, we went to the bar/cultural space around the corner for spicy caipirinhas made with local pepper jelly.  And that is how the weekend went: eating delicious food, hiking, reading, and sitting by the fire. While I failed to capture any of the delicious things we ate on camera, some of my favorites included: toasted french bread with gooey farm cheese for  breakfast, aromatic cornbread wrapped in banana leaves as our snack on a long hike, dinner cooked at home including local meats, a sweet yuca puree, and salad with mango, and finally the spicy caipirinha with a side of roasted pinhão (large pine nuts) for dessert.


 A hike in the hills beyond the house


 Nate looks out at mid-day misty hillside

IMG_0778 Maggie relaxes after a strenuous hike



A half wheel of fresh cheese and sweet guava paste sustained us while we cooked dinner


Cutting mango for the salad


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The barkeep stoked the fire so we could roast and crack (yes, with that hammer) fresh pinhão. I was into it, to say the least.

I’ve been in São Paulo for three weeks and the time has passed quickly. I submitted a lingering paper last Monday and Nate is drafting a grant due on Friday, and going to research meetings left and right. I’ve tagged along for some of his meetings, including to the Horto Florestal in the city’s northern reaches where we saw capybaras. I also joined him for a meandering four hour walking tour of one of the city’s buried streams. We’ve made some tasty meals, heard some stellar music, and watched some ok movies. Which is to say that life in São Paulo is normal, but with the added bonus of new things to see and city life alive outside our door.

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The stream-inspired walking tour by the group Rios e Ruas (Rivers and Roads)

The World Cup begins on the 12th and the first game between Brasil and Croatia will take place in our very own São Paulo. The past two weeks have been marked by World Cup inspired transit strikes (with calls for a wage increase of 10%), protests, and widespread and visible anger at FIFA.  Nonetheless, international soccer fans are beginning to arrive, including two journalists–one from Russia and another from England–who are sharing our already crowded apartment. While many Brazilians rightfully hate FIFA and the wasteful spending on stadiums, they still love soccer. It seems like the World Cup malaise has been replaced with friendly banter about Brasil’s chances of winning, Neymar’s studliness, and displays of nationalism, including streets being painted in Brasil’s iconic green and yellow, and flags being strung from balconies and across intersections. Once Nate finds a suitable knock-off jersey, we’ll be ready for the cup too.

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 Painting the street in Vila Madalena

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This shopping mall has the spirit!


 We woke up last Saturday to cheering on the Minhocão


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