Kate's birthday weekend was very special this year. Usually it occurs in the depths of winter - last year's was spent filling in residency forms in a hotel - but this year we headed south to Rio Grande de Sul. We flew into Porto Alegre as Hugo arrived there by bus from Florianopolis. We struggled in the one way system to find the Dan Inn but when we did, found H already checked in. The hotel porter jumped in the car and took me around two blocks to find the hotel car park and squeezed the car in. On the way back I asked him about an Italian restuarant we passed and I got the impression it was the best around. We went there - nice homemade pasta - if a bit cremosa! I lay awake thinking of the pasta and how was I going to get the car out again! Our room was on 20th floor with only the thinnest of glass walls holding us in.
We'd hired GPS with the Fiat Uno and it proved a wise decision once we - i.e., Hugo - figured out how it worked. On the Saturday after a reasonable breakfast we set off for the Vale de Vinhedos near Bento Goncalves - a drive of 180kms. We arrived at two - perfect time for Kate's birthday lunch at Mamma Gema's. A faux-Italian style restaurant in a grand style - looking out on lavender beds and a lake - we took the degustation menu - salad followed by six types of pasta (v small helpings of!), chicken, steak, puddings and coffee, all of them delicious. One of the more memorable birthday lunches. Afterwards - a snooze on a bench under a shady tree in Monte Belo. We stopped at the Miolo Vineyards - very grand - rows of neat vines capped by roses. We picked up cheese - tipo Morbier - for supper, not that we'd be able to eat it after the great lunch, and some bottles from the less well known vineyards. The small scale of the vineyard trail provided at least one reason why Brazilian wine is inferior to that of nearby Chile and Argentina.
Our grand accommodation for the night was a pousada comprising individual 'cabins' set against the hill. H's room was so set in the hillside that half the grand room and shower were taken up by volcanic basement! The views were beautiful over the vineyards and this was a great backdrop - with local wine - to discuss the various options facing H - back or not to finish his architectural studies.
Breakfast was in a glass-fronted room - under the terrace - very nice - with grape juice from the local vineyards. We set off across country to the east - 190km to drive to Cambara de Sol. Around Bento Goncalves and Caixas do Sol there was a lot of industry with the usual accompaniment of numerous advertisement hoardings but the countryside eventually opened up as we drove up onto the plateau. Rolling hills with cattle, pampas grass, occasional Arucaria trees and strangely, lots of forestry plantations. Cambara was a real Gaucho town - reminding us of Green River in Utah - an emerging location for eco-holidays but not much else. Fortified with a burger de casa - ie with everything thrown in - we headed out of town. We found ourselves on a very well tarmacked road - which ended with the road-making crew and another 12kms of unmade road through the national park. Just as we wondered if we were on a dead end we were overtaken just at the park entrance where a park ranger 'counted us in' so we felt re-assured! We drove out to the parking lot and walked to the crest of Canyon Forteleza. The panorama took in distant views of the sea and immediate overlook of the canyon. Impressive - Brazil's Grand Canyon - 900m sheer drops. At last, some exercise and fresh air!
Heading back into Cambara we soon found our EcoHotel - quite well supported by other canyoners. We headed out for supper which turned not to be Kate's favourite meal. H had a choice of 20 varieties of neat cachaca before we tucked in to a 'grill-up'. Surrounded by heavy wooden furnishings and sheepskins - we and a few locals had a homemade brazier over which several steaks (picanha and file mignon), sausage and cheese bubbled. With beans, rice, chips, manioc and salad, this was a cowboys feast!!
The hotel was a recent construction alongside a man-made lake (pedaloes - v eco!). This gave a nice outlook for breakfast. Checking emails - we discovered that K's brother Tom had fallen off his bike in London and had a nasty broken elbow. This bought us up short but going through the emails - including one from the warrior himself - let us know he was in good hands. Doubtless this will take some time to heal but get well soon Thomas!
We set off immediately outside the hotel on what ended up being a 40km dust road. About half way along this we came to the entrance to the park. This time - inside the park a tarmacked stretch took you to the visitors centre at the edge of the canyon - less grand but in the mould of Grand Canyon. This time we did a 6km hike out and back to the canyon rim and view of the waterfall. The walk was along a level path - through the arucarias with lots of wild flowers and butterflies. Dark clouds and lightening chased us back to the car - past families just setting out! Within five minutes of getting back to the car the heavens opened! Not really heaven but a Macbethian hell - waves of water coming out of the sky, flashes of lightening and gusts of wind. Never have I felt so happy to be in a car - even if it was a 1000cc Fiat Uno! Luckily, the dodgy door seals held and kept us dry. We descended in complete wetness - like going down a gravel bedded river. Kate regetted not being able to see the view but I think the 900m drops might not have seemed friendly in that weather!!
We lunched at a supermarket in Grande Praia - not a beach in sight - before driving across the flat expanse of rice fields to the coastal highway. We drove back into Porto Alegre and the rain eventually dried up. We headed back to the Dan Inn - not because it was the best place we stayed - but because we knew how to find it. Our trip no Sul was rounded off with caipirinhas and the full works at a good local churrascaria. We listened to the Liverpool Man City draw in Campinas airport on our way home. Who'd have thought H & I would be doing that a few years ago.
Time to start planning the next adventure...