Black Gold and A Beautiful Horizon
After leaving the state of Rio de Janeiro, I went on to see a little of the state of Minas Gerais.
I first visited Ouro Preto (Black Gold) and I really liked this historic town. It is mostly known for having preserved much of the physical colonial history of Brazil. I arrived on October 23 after 12 hours or so of traveling from Arraial do Cabo. I checked in with family and friends since I was doing this leg of the trip solo. I then took a nice hot shower and went out to find food. On the flight from Rio to Belo Horizonte, the Azul airlines magazine had a short piece on Ouro Preto as a destination. So, I took a copy with me and decided to check out some of the places they recommended. The first was Escadabaixo (translated as something like "downstairs"), which is a really cool pub with an awesome atmosphere. There are 3 major sections to this place: the ground floor that features live music, and the lower floor that has a bar area and a second outdoor patio area.
My first night I did not sleep well só I ended up starting my next day around 1PM. When I finally was showered and decent looking, I again went in search of food. I decided to try another suggestion from the magazine and went to a pizzaria (I know, also not very Brazilian) called O Passo Pizza Jazz. As you may guess from the name, this place had Pizza and other Italian fare and Jazz playing on the radio. What I did not know before I arrived is that this place was a little more upscale. Unfortunately for me I showed up in my favorite most comfortable jeans that I've basically ripped the entire right knee out of, a basic tank top and my favorite most comfortable pull over knit sweater that is unraveling at one of the wrists. I also chose to wear flip flops out of laziness, putting on socks was just too much. I didn't notice right away either how out of place I was until I realized all the other patrons staring at me as if I didn't belong there...I don't know for sure why they were staring but I'm going to give this clearly well-off crowd the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to my overly comfy clothes and my hippie jewelry made of plant materials and discarded animal parts. Maybe it was just because I was eating alone.
The next day I decided to get up early and do some exploring. I walked around a lot of the downtown and surrounding area which all pretty much looked the same: cobblestone streets, hills, classic architecture. The churches were huge, imposing and decadent. I thought I would be impressed, but they kind of made me sad in a way – só much effort and resources put into só many buildings instead of the surrounding communities who looked to them for comfort. I guess I was thinking too much instead of being wrapped up in the art of it – I didn't even remember to take pictures as a result. All that exploring made me hungry, but this time I wanted to try regional food só I went to a restaurant serving traditional foods from Minas Gerais. I walked around until I found a place called “Restaurante Chafariz.” I have no idea what that means, I think it's someone's name. Anyway, the staff was really nice and attentive...and bored. I was the only person there! I assumed they were probably more busy for dinner and the food looked good só I decided to stay anyway. I tried okra, potato soup, rice and beans (of course), collard greens, a jam-packed farofa (a flour-like condiment made from yucca) among other things. In general the food was pretty decent but I was underwhelmed. It was too salty for me and I was expecting to be wowed by mineiro food. I decided I'd try again when I got to the next city Belo Horizonte. Besides the food though, the ambiance was a little strange. The music sounded like medieval monks chanting hymns, it was dark and every inch of the walls was covered in framed photos of all kinds of things. There were old candelabras and mirrors and statues everywhere. As another couple who came in to check out the restaurant while I was eating (and decided not to stay) it was like eating in church.
After eating I thought I should start souvenir shopping. I checked out the soapstone market and few small giftshops and got some nice pieces. Soapstone crafts are extremely common in Ouro Preto as the rock is abundant in the area. I also stopped by some street vendors (traveling hippies selling jewelry) and spent over an hour talking with them. One was Brazilian, the other from Argentina. I met a poet also. These people were só nice and carefree, loving as much as I exchanging a human experience with a complete stranger.
I won't say exactly what I bought because I want to keep my gifts for folks a surprise. After my brief shopping spree, I went back to my hostel to rest. All the walking in the sun pretty muched drained my energy. But then I got a phone call from one of my advisors about a grant that he wanted me to collaborate on. I was like “Sure!' until he said it was due midnight the next day. So I ordered a pizza for dinner and spent the rest of that night and much of the next day (my last day in Ouro Preto) working on writing the grant. I had reserved that day actually to do work anyway, só it wasn't sooo bad. But I still had to finish my presentation that I was going to give at the university in Belo Horizonte. So it was a very very long busy day of writing and powerpoint.
To explain, I visited BH to talk with a bat researcher there about possibly collaborating on a project as part of a post-doc. I know...I've had a lot of trouble this trip getting work done in Brazil, but that's why I decided to start talks with people early and in person, to really get a sense of what I could expect in terms of productivity. I was meeting with Valeria Cunha Tavares, a well-reputed bat researcher from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. As part of the visit, I was giving a talk about the first chapter of my dissertation. It went very well and the discussion/questions afterward were all very encouraging. It even made me miss working on monkeys! I met some really cool students, post-docs and professors who seemed genuinely interested in the work.
The last couple of days I spent planning with Valeria our prospective future work together. I was very encouraged and excited about the prospect of working with bat evolution and about the partnership in general. Unlike much of my recent experience with research in Brazil, I felt confident that progress would be made. I also felt like a true researcher, finally given the chance to discuss science and to communicate my abilities to contribute to it. And so we talked and talked about the possibilities and what they would involve and overall it was a very fruitful visit. But it didn't leave much time for exploring BH (hence the lack of pictures! Sorry!), so I will just have to make another trip there!
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Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Illuminating the Diversification of Evolutionary Radiations
stories of current and past fieldwork and explorations of nature.