sábado, 6 de noviembre de 2010

Gramado & Canela - A European Enclave in the "Serra Gaucha"

We leave from Montevideo on a Friday at sunrise, by car. A twelve hour drive awaits us. The previous day an Indian summer unusual for this time of year had begun, after which there came an unexpected wave of polar cold air that would torment us. Before midday, we were at the border. The landscape in Brazil did not change much. It could have continued being Uruguay or the wet pampas of Argentina, with the softly undulating land, cattle fields and rice paddies. Once we had passed the city of Pelotas traveling towards Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the intense transit of trucks is what looks different. A little before Porto Alegre, we got lost in the chaos of cloverleaf overpasses, intersections and highways circumventing the city. The signaling is not so good and one must know that it is necessary to follow the signs that say “Serra.” Well, we are on our way to the sierra. After Porto Alegre, we didn’t have any more problems. “Gramado” appeared on the signs and the rest of the trip was easy, since we were almost there. We entered through the pórtico of Gramado, with the last rays of the day.

Gramado and Canela are capitals of different municipalities. But you can pass from one to another, without noticing, via Avenue of the Hydrangeas, which connects them throughout the top of a hill, more than 2600 feet above sea level. We selected a place to go eat, an Italian cantina called Pasta Sciutta. After dinning we went to sleep, exhausted by the trip. On Saturday we went to Caracol Park, the most visited site in the state of Rio Grande de Sul. It is just a few miles from Canela and it only took us 15 to 20 minutes to arrive. Its principal attraction is the spectacular waterfall, with a fall of more than 425 feet. You can see it from above, but it’s well worth the effort to descend the 900 steps by foot, which lead you to the waterfall. It is a stairway with lookouts from where you can appreciate distinct views. On this day there was no wind, but they say when there is, you must be prepared to get wet. More than anything I think that one must be prepared to climb what one descended: take it slowly, pack lightly and upon arriving at the top take a good rest. The park is very well maintained and offers all the necessary services, including barbeques and grills, a small handicrafts fair, some very clean restrooms and a lunch place or restaurant that offers affordable lunches (the “ feijoada” was delicious, although not so apt for people with hypertension; it had a little too much salt). Another activity well worth it is to walk on the different “trilhas” or paths.

We were able to walk for a while through Canela in the afternoon and, at sunset, visit Gramado’s downtown. Gramado is perhaps more important and ambitious, the one which has the grandest avenues and most of the excellent hotel options. Canela is more small and intimate, although it tries to conceal that with its Baroque-styled Stone Cathedral, built with the basalt stones that abound in the area.
The impression of these locations embedded in the middle of the “Sierra Gaucha”, in southern Brazil, is the tradition that a strong European immigration has conserved (mainly Italian and German) especially in their architecture and gastronomy. Gramado and Canela are tourist cities, so much so that they are the fourth most visited areas by nationals and they receive more than two and a half million visitors per year. Tourism is, likewise, the principal source of employment for the population. The region is also famous for its wines, handmade cheeses, leather goods, chocolate and timber production, including large furniture factories.

The cleanliness and urban maintenance are incredible. Just walking along the streets and sitting in the plaza is pleasant. Flowers are everywhere, although the hydrangeas have not yet bloomed. There are cherry trees along the sidewalks, which are in full bloom; the white and intense pink azaleas are the largest I have ever seen and the entire city is planted with the most diverse varieties of flowers in the gardens of the plazas, the centers of the avenues, on every corner and in private gardens.

We dined very well in Beirut, a Syrian sandwich shop on the Rua Coverta de Gramado, a street roofed with a metal dome that in spring is covered with vegetation. Here the people fill the tables that the bars and restaurants put on the street at noon and night.
On Sunday morning we went shopping for a Little while in downtown Gramado. The chocolate shops, the shoe stores and leather goods stores, the wine shops and furniture stores (although I wouldn’t be able to carry the furniture in the car), all tempt me. There is a shop with charming handmade clocks imported from Germany, sculpted and carved by hand with wood from the Black Forest: cuckoo clocks, miniature clocks and music boxes. Going out towards the portico from where we entered the city, we find “The Garden of Lavender,” a country house in the outskirts with a garden of lavender and other flowers and aromatic herbs. It contains a sophisticated theme shop with all types of products related to lavender: from cosmetics to chocolate bonbons with the essence of lavender. The entire area is a marvelous display of shops.
After having lunch at Edelweiss, which offers Swiss and German food, we went to Ferradura Park, also very near Canela. It looks out onto a deep and misty valley. There below, you can see a river that surrounds a hill forming a perfect horseshoe. The views make quite an impact. This silence formed by the continual murmurs of nature in its purest state surrounds us. It is certainly an ideal site for adventure tourism. For those who like scaling hills and discovering the surprise of gorgeous landscapes, there will never be enough time to explore the surrounding areas of Gramado and Canela. And fans of such sports as trekking and rafting will find here a lost paradise.

There are many other trips to take. The Parque das Sequoias is a beautiful forest with more than 130 species of trees, both native and imported. Other excursions that are not so short and could last the entire day include trips to rural establishments where one can experience the “gaucho” country life. The Alpen Park also deserves an entire day: an amusement park with games for both children and adults, in a privileged natural setting. I must mention the events and celebrations that take place throughout the entire year. The most important is the Gramado Film Festival that occurs every August, the most important in Brazil and one of the launching pads for Brazilian cinema in particular and Latin America in general.

Our last night the summer abandoned us and we were wrapped in a white, thick fog. On Monday morning we bid farewell to Gramado and Canela through the mist that, as if by a magic act, disappeared as we descended the Sierra.

Colonization in Rio Grande do Sul

The colonization began at the beginning of the 17th century with the arrival of the Jesuits, who founded the missions and introduced cattle. When the Jesuits were expelled in the middle of the 18th century, Rio Grande do Sul was transformed into a land of very extensive cattle ranches and “charquerias.” It sustained the height of the gold rush of Minas Gerais and supplied the “charque” (salted meat dried in the sun) necessary for feeding the immense enslaved population of the plantations and the poor inhabitants of the cities all over Brazil.

In 1824 the first contingents of immigrating Germans arrived. They received lands near Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. In 1875, the arrival of the first Italians took place, who established themselves in the Sierra region. It didn’t take long for the economy to begin to change; the immigrants introduced industry and agriculture on a small scale; they established links with their countries of origin and permitted the emergence of an internal market and a middle class of free men. In the 20th century, agricultural diversification.