We spent the end of the year in Minas Gerais, the massive Brazilian state next door to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Because of our cat almost dying back in September, and him having FeLV, we’re still weary to leave him alone for too long. So, we didn’t want to go too far, nor for too long. Though, thankfully, colleagues of ours loved the idea of spending their end of the year at our house, bringing a pool, and enjoying their escape from the hustle and bustle of São Paulo.
The central destination of our week away was Santuário do Caraça, a former monastery and boarding school that now operates as a fancy guest house, set in a large reserve, where the primary attraction is the nightly feeding of the maned wolf, or lobo guará.
The wolf is actually a dog, the largest canine in the Americas, and a very elegant, if skinny, animal.
Back in the 1980s, the monks at the sanctuary found that some animal was raiding the church’s trashcans at night. A nightly wake revealed the culprit: a maned wolf was snacking on the church’s leftovers. Then, to enjoy the spectacle, the monks decided it a good idea to specifically leave out food for the small family of canines, after the evening’s dinner, and this soon started to attract visitors.
At first, it was allowed to feed the animals by hand, and some photos of the priests doing that are on show at the monastery, but it’s now a criminal offence to physically interact with wild animals, in Brazil, so, now, dozens of spectators stay at the sanctuary every day, for the privilege of hanging out with the snacking canines.
You can’t blame the animal, the full-board at the monastery provides superb food.
The park which the monastery is the centrepiece of, is pleasant and relaxed. A convenience, as we suffered an accidental, if severe, psychedelic experience, where the park allowed us to recover in exquisite calm.
Another quirk of the sanctuary is that the church has a saint on display. Or rather, a puppet in the shape of a human, where some remains of the represented saint were moved to the church in the 18th century.
Supposedly, these are the remains of a Roman soldier who was killed for professing his Christian faith, and was giving the name Pio, after the name of the pope (Pio VI) which governed at the time of his body’s discovery.
There’s little of the man out there, except a short Wikipedia article in Portuguese, making me a bit skeptical of the veracity of the whole episode.
We stayed in two more locations during our short trip.
First, the often-overlooked town of São João del Rei. Like many of the towns in Minas Gerais, the city has a colonial past, complete with some lovely architecture, but is often passed over in favour of the nearby Tiradentes, or the slightly further away Ouro Preto. But, its relatively limited tourist appeal also means that, virtually without tourists, and plenty of students, the place is a pleasant destination for a few days.
Then, we headed to the town of Alagoa, not-yet-famous for its excellent cheese. We left with close to 10 kilos by the time we headed home.
In Alagoa, we arrived on the day the town celebrates its anniversary. The celebration centres on a 5km float on one of the valley’s rivers, where hundreds of participants meander down the stream on their own huge inner tubes.
The town takes its anniversary seriously; a large stage had been set up for live music. I’d say ‘in the center’, but the town is so small that even the ‘center’ is hardly a ‘center’. Live music was scheduled for three days in a row, including New Year’s Eve. But, because of the limited funds of this small a town, they only had managed to get one band to play, for three days straight. We detected enthusiasm for the band had already started to wane on the day we arrived, the second of three days of live music.