Week of May 15, 2005
We held out in Montevideo until late in the morning in hopes that some sunshine would break through. To our vexation, only rain found its way to the streets. We moved onto Punta del Este, a beach resort-playground for wealthy Argentines that like to spend their "dirty" money there (money that they hide from taxes in Argentina). Again, we were surrounded by an ocean storm and we were unable to enjoy the beaches. Not that we missed much as this time of year is well after "season" and the town was rather desolate.
We did manage to find a famous landmark. The Casa Pueblo was built by the artist Carlos Paez Vilaro and houses a museum of his work as well a small private club. The architectural wonder has no right angles in its construction. Where so many of these so-called "palaces" are a blot on the landscape, the Casa Pueblo reminds us that man can create something that enhances his environment.
Since our wishes were being ignored by the sun gods, we decided to make for the Brazilian border a few days early. Now, one would think that entering into Brasil would be difficult for me and a cinch for Gerson. Au contraire, I was not even looked at twice when they stamped my passport; however, Gerson had to dig out his residency papers from the United States and cross his heart and hope to die that he was still a resident of the United States and that we were not sneaking Cindy into the country in want to sell her for the humongous profit we would receive. A few hours later, all the papers were in order and Gerson's passport and Cindy's documents were stamped.
A celebration of sorts is called for...Cindy officially made the journey to Brasil on May 16, 2005. Can you believe it!? We started this journey on July 20, 2003 with a total of seven months of time at home....for a grand total of 16 months of traveling for Cindy to reach Brasil's border.
And, speaking of Brasil, I will impart a joke that Gerson told me was a very old one, but still timely...
During the creation of the world, one of the archangels peering over God's shoulder at the work in progress could not help noticing that one country had been especially favored. "You have given everything to Brasil," he said. "It has the longest beaches, the largest river, the biggest forest, the best soil. The weather is always warm and sunny. There are no floods or hurricanes, no natural disasters at all. Don't you think that's a little unfair?" "Ah," God replied, "but wait until you see the people I am putting there."
We drove into sunshine as though Brasil was welcoming us with warm, open arms. Other than a lengthy stop on the road while a jack-knifed truck was carefully extracted from the road, the long drive to Porto Allegre was remarkably scenic and unremarkably easy.
Gerson has a good friend in Porto Allegre and we found him, or I should say, he found us, and we found Cindy a nice place to tuck in for a few days. We were a tad suspicious though about all the puddles of water and we soon found out why. The rain had deviously snuck around us to gave us a full frontal attack the next day. However, we did not mind too much for it gave us a chance to spend time with Griva (Greeva) and Ronette, Gerson's friends.
Griva and Ronette were unbelievably gracious in abandoning their apartment to us and their staying with their adorable son, Joao Antonio (Szhow-on-tonio), at their parent's nearby home. What a tremendously kind thing to do for us.
At the first chance of sun, Griva and Ronette (Nette or pronounced Netch as a nickname), took us for a drive along the shore and up to a mirador over the beautiful city. The Rio Guaiba was placid and the local urchins were not. We enjoyed watching several children play the game Brasil is known for and even Griva encouragingly joined in.
Something that is the norm in the larger cities throughout Mexico and on down to South America, is that the wealthy and the middle class tend to stay near the city center where they maintain their residence close to their source of income. The very poor, encroach on the open hillsides and unused land around the cities and create a haphazard sprawl of slums (much like you have seen in Rio). However, as the wealthy and the middle class afford the mobility of automobiles, their want to become separated from the city becomes apparent as they start to build further out. Conflict arises when all those years that the slums "graced" the prime hillside locations becomes acknowledged overnight and the wealthy wants to displace the poorer tenants. As a result, you will see nice, very well protected neighborhoods alongside the most dilapidated homes as the two forces contend with each other.
Later that evening, we met up with another friend of Gerson's, Daniel and his wife Simone. Having a delicious churrascuria at a dinner house that showcases traditional gaucho dance and costumes, the friends, the food and the festivities allowed for the evening to be a complete blurry success. I say blurry because my eyes and ears could not be in more than two places at any one time and I needed six sets of each to keep up with all the merriment and activity. Of course, my mouth easily concentrated on the meats that appeared on my plate!
We opted to bother Griva and Nette a few days longer than we originally planned as we were having such a great time with them. On the weekend, we ventured up to their mountain resort of Gramado. The towns of Gramado and Canela combine to make a charming and enjoyable place to explore while deciding at which sumptuous fondue restaurant you are going to eat too much.
We meandered our way around the Lago Negro, a small man-made lake with these ridiculously wonderful plastic swan boats that you could not help but smile at as the people peddled by. After our jaunt around the lake, we took time to view the valleys embracing Gramado and Canela from various amazing miradors. Even though the cities are only 1000m (about 3,000 feet) above sea level, they maintain a crisp, cool environment that makes you feel as though you are much higher in altitude. As Gerson says, this is where Southern Brazilians go in order to feel like they have been in snow even though it is extremely rare to have snow.
One of the area's main attraction is the Parque Estadual do Caracol which is home to the impressive Cascata do Caracol, a 130m (400 foot) free-falling water fall. You can hover over it with the assistance of a 100 foot tower, you can look at it eye-to-eye (that is, if waterfalls had eyes), and you can step it down 927 stairs to its base only to be refreshed with a soaking spray. The day was chill but sunny and made for a perfect time to explore the very well-tended park.
As if the trekking around the park was not enough, we drove over to the other side of the park so Gerson and I could indulge in a chairlift ride that gave us yet another view of the Cascata do Caracol and the surrounding park lands. In the distance, you could see the edge of Canela and the horizon demarcated by the mountains.
We capped off the weekend with a visit to a churrascuria and a scenic drive back to Porto Allegre. Nette and Griva gave us the tour of their family and we were met with nothing short of enthusiastic graciousness. We are now proud owners of two apartments and one house as everyone offered us their homes as our homes. What a wonderful group of people...
We said our good-byes that night and tearfully promised that we would return to Porto Allegre. It is definitely not an empty promise as we know that there is much more to see around here and we enjoyed our time here very much. But alas, we have more friends to annoy up the coast a bit and more sunshine awaits (or so we hope).