Jason Daniel Shaw
The Friendliest City in Brazil – Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte – Minas Gerais, Brazil
Before I met Amanda, I had never even heard of the city of Belo Horizonte, let alone thought that would be the first place in Brazil that I would visit. When I would dream of visiting Brazil, I naturally thought of dances through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale or exploring the rain forests and jungles that surround the Amazon River. What I found in the state of Minas Gerais were some of the friendliest people that I have met in the world and some of the best food that I have had in a foreign country. Though you won’t find Belo Horizonte on a lot of tourist brochures, I would highly recommend a visit to this unique city if you get the chance.
Arriving in Belo Horizonte
I arrived in Belo Horizonte airport after a long flight from LAX to MIA and then from MIA to CNF. I immediately tried to pick up my rental car at Avis while waiting for Amanda to meet up with me. If you don’t already know, I don’t speak Portuguese – apparently the Avis employees don’t speak anything but Portuguese. Once Amanda arrived, I was able to pick up the car and we were headed into the city. The airport about an hour from the city center. As we drove along the freeway, I was warned by Amanda to watch out the “hadars” that would get me a ticket (I still can’t get used to the fact that the “r” sounds like an “h”). Side note: I did end up getting at least one ticket that was charged to by credit card by Avis after I returned from Brazil so be careful when you are driving and watch out for those radars.
The city of Belo Horizonte is beautifully unique. There are high rise buildings scattered all amongst the hills. One of my favorite pictures of Belo was just after I arrived on the first day, from the parking lot of a liquor store overlooking the city. It was the first planned planned modern city in Brazil and it shows. Things seem to be organized and laid out in such a way that it is easy to navigate. We spent time in the city center visiting museums, shopping and of course, eating. It is a large city, the third largest metropolis in Brazil with a population of about five million in 34 different districts. Some of the streets are often steep, reminding me of San Francisco.
Lagoa da Pampulha – Pampulha Lake
Famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, had a big part in designing the areas surrounding Pampulha, as he was originally form Belo Horizonte. You can visit one of his most famous works, the Church of Saint Francis Assisi, which sits along the shore of this artificial lake. There is also a path that takes you all around the lake with many sights to see along the way. In 2016, Pampulha was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the area and taking photos. This is also where I had one of my most shocking experiences in Brazil. It was night time and I was walking down close to the lake, across from the church, to get a long exposure shot of the church with the lights reflecting off the water. As I walked along the shoreline, I noticed a stump and thought that I would setup the tripod on top of that for my shot. As I got closer, I noticed that the stump was looking back at me – it was a gigantic capybara. I was immediately stopped in my tracks as I had heard that these things can attack humans. It was much bigger than any dog I had ever seen and got my heart pumping on that dark night.
Inhotim – Contemporary Art Museum and Botanical Garden
About an hour from the city center, in the middle of the rolling hills, sits one of the largest museums that I have ever been to, called Inhotim. It is outdoors and is set amongst a lush landscape of botanical gardens of about 5,000 acres. There are several different color-code paths that you can take to explore the multitude of exhibits that litter the grounds. While we spent the good portion of the day there, I am convinced that you could spend a week visiting and still not see all that Inhotim has to offer. A lot of the exhibits are interactive and, as is the trend these days, setup for social media photographers. Inhotim could also be combined with historic Ouro Preto for a nice, multi-day excursion outside of Belo Horizonte.
Mineirão – Home of Cruzeiro
It just so happened that while we were in town, the hometown team, Cruzeiro, was playing the team from Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo, in the last game of the finals of the 2017 Copa do Brasil. I had only seen one other live soccer match in my life and that was just the local Los Angeles Galaxy, so I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some world class football. The stakes were high as they had already tied 1-1 in the first game of the two-game series and this final game would take place in Mineirão, a site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We were able to get tickets for the game and made our way to the stadium for the tailgating festivities. It reminded me of a rowdier version of college football in the SEC. The entire city shutdown and everywhere around the stadium were vendors filling the streets selling food and alcohol. Everyone was pumped and so was I. The whole game was watched from our feet and not once, did anyone in the stadium dare to sit down. When the time had expired, the score was tied at 0-0. It would all come down to penalty kicks and the energy in the stadium was unlike anything you can imagine. Flamengo missed their third kick, meaning that Cruzeiro only had to make their remaining kicks to win the 2017 Copa do Brasil. When the ball sailed past the goalkeeper on the the fifth kick, the crowd went crazy and Cruzeiro secured their fifth title. Throughout the night, all through the city, you could hear people partying and fireworks going off. I am so stoked that I got to experience such an event.
The Food of Belo Horizonte
In all of the countries that I have been, I have never had as much wonderful food as I had in Belo Horizonte. From the pão de queijo (cheese bread) to feijoada (rice and beans) to coxinha (battered & fried meat) to churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) to brigadeiro (chocolatey dessert), I also don’t think that I have ever eaten as much in such a short time. I was lucky enough to spend time with Amanda and her family, who all live in Belo. Each day, a new family member was inviting us for lunch or for dinner to try a new Brazilian dish and each one was so good. By the end of the first week, I had to tell Amanda to let her family know that I couldn’t eat anymore food and to not take offense if I didn’t go back for seconds and thirds because I just couldn’t physically eat anymore. I can’t say enough about the food, though, each and every dish was absolutely amazing and I highly recommend that you visit the city that most tourist overlook and visit Belo Horizonte.