I never expected to be cold in tropical Brazil in the middle of summer, but for the last few nights I was glad for the extra blanket at the foot of our bed.
Then again people do come from all over the country to the city of Gramado
to experience the winter atmosphere, including frost and a dusting of snow in the winter at the elevation level of 850 m (2,790 ft).
The other times of the year the stores and restaurants, the tourist board, and the whole city administration try their very best to convince the many visitors they have been magically transported to Italian Alps,
a Swiss chalet (with fully functioning fondue),
or a Bavarian mountain town.
And to the mix an entirely non European Gaucho culture from the pampas stretching out in the lower elevations of the state of Rio Grande del Sur.
and everyone’s shopping needs can be satisfied. Because when you have hordes of tourists, they will certainly need an assortment of appropriate souvenirs, gifts and items for home
clothing for work and leisure
Seeing that we are NOT particularly interested in shopping, we very quickly realized that our only other option would be to spend our days eating through either mounds of meat and pasta, sampling chocolates at countless chocolateries (quite possibly the most per square foot of any town in the world) or finding something entirely out of character with this fake Europe concept.
In all fairness we do have to reference the fact that Gramado and surrounding towns have been established by German and Italian immigrants in 19th century who did bring with them their culture and language.
As a matter of fact our first morning in town we stepped into a bakery&caffe, immediately recognized by our lack of shopping bags as foreigners and greeted in Italian by the old proprietress in crispy white blouse. She was absolutely charmed by our entire vocabulary of 5 words of Italian and continued to check on us twittering in Italian and telling us how delighted she was she could converse (!) in Italian with us, as nobody spoke The Language around here any more. Secondly, on our last evening we went to dinner to a German Brewery where we not only tasted a wide variety of excellent beers, but also got an extra portion of sauerkraut with our meals.
This dinner was shared with our Brazilian Airbnb hosts, who abhorred sauerkraut, but were otherwise absolutely without fault and the most wonderful of people (in a sea of other very wonderful Brazilians).
Betti and Carlos were simply tops. They just recently moved from Sao Paolo and with their own two hands built a small B&B with 6 en suites and a breakfast area where the most delicious and rich breakfast was served including a variety of fresh juices and different breads baked daily.
By the time our 4 days were over we had all improved our language skills to such an extend that we had long conversations in Portuguese and English with only occasional help of Google translate. Lots of laughs over mistakes, too, of course. Who knew that my 5 private lessons on Portugal’s Algarve coast two years ago would be such a great springboard and in truth a lifesaver for travel in Brazil.
With summer vacations just finished, we were the only guests, so we had their undivided attention. In the evening Mirek played with their two dogs
and Betti tried to (unsuccessful) introduce me to the ritual of yerba mate té drinking.
OMG! I never tasted anything as intensely bitter and green!
When they heard we were looking to rent a car for a day and drive to the canyons, they immediately offered to take us with their own car. “Only if we can pay for gas and dinner!” we countered. Reluctantly they agreed and we spent the most wonderful day traveling together to the far flung and spectacular places
that we would have had a hard time finding in the first place and secondly, and even harder driving to them on the pretty bad dirt roads.
We spent more time at the first of the two – Fortaleza Canyon, where we only met a handful of people. And it was lucky that we did, as they told us we had to wade over the top of the waterfall and hike on the rim trail to see the whole deep canyon and the whole length of the fall.
The day was just perfect with the white fluffy clouds in the blue sky. Every color was intensified, the green of grass and ferns,
the purple of wildflowers.
But what really stole our hearts was the many araucaria trees. These were Brazilian relatives of the ones we encountered in Argentina. Very different in shape, but impressive in their own special way.
At the second, Itaimbenzinho canyon we were first sidetracked from our trek by homemade signs for coffee and baked goods. We followed the path past some horses and cows
to a fairytale garden cottage
that hasn’t changed much since 1945, when it was built by a German immigrant couple. It was like stepping back into our grandparents’ home.
From there, full of caffe con leite, pastels de chocolate and old memories, we easily reached the edge of the canyon with more waterfalls.
It was a long day with all our senses and our old brain overstimulated.
Closer to home we visited, what in our view is the best Gramado has to offer– Gramado Zoo. We are usually not into Zoos, especially after having had a chance to see so many animals in the wild, but many people, even a vet, told us it was the best Zoo in the whole of Latin America.
Hearing that many animals were actually rescued from traffickers or nursed back to health from traffic accidents, we decided to go. Dr. Mariela, whom I know through a volunteer project in Cambodia, and whose sister incidentally owns the Zoo, arranged for us a private tour by the biologists on staff. Poor guys, what they probably thought will be a quick VIP walk through, turned into the whole afternoon of Q&A in a mix of Portuguese and English. Tachi, Marcus and Andre did a marvelous job, they even treated us to a close encounter with a falcon
and an owl.
It has been my wish for a long time to go to Brazilian Pantanal region, which is a notoriously hard and expensive proposition. Now we had a chance to see many Brazilian animals up close in large, well built enclosures. We were especially impressed with huge and tall aviaries where birds could even fly and nest on top of trees. The colors of some of them were just brilliant
and we figured they must have been the inspiration
behind the local state flag.
Our visit would deserve a whole blog on its own, but let me just share a few favorite Brazilian animals.
I could go on and on but let me serve you with the last piece of information: Brazil is a country with the most biodiversity in the world. We didn’t expect to find so many tropical species in the Mountains of Gramado, but we are sure glad we did.
We might have not enjoyed Gramado for the same reasons as other visitors, but we couldn’t have had a nicer time and it was much to do with the warm-hearted Brazilians we met along the way. Now we jump on an overnight sleeper bus to Montevideo, Uruguay.