Where River and Ocean Meet
A night of sleep was enough to bring me fully back into happy travel mode and I woke up on Friday ready to pack and move on. No crazy São Paulo weekends this time. Were it summer, I would have stopped in Florianopolis for its unique beach landscapes, but on Marcelo’s recommendation I opted to make Porto Alegre my last stop in Brazil on the road south. I made it on the first bus of the day at 12h30 which got me in at 7 the next morning. Sunset coincided with our winding exit from verdant, hilly western São Paulo state.
Those 18h made a huge difference in temperature and light (you really have to plan your photos to avoid sun stars). It felt like continental Canada in the late fall: clear skies, a very low sun, hot light with a cool wind. I didn’t know what to expect in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state, but Porto Alegre turned out to be a wonderful place to discover for a day’s visit. People were strolling around everywhere throughout the commercial areas of the centre and I just kept walking from one busy area and square to the next, eventually passing through the beautiful indoor municipal market on my way to the tip of the city centre, the Gasômetro, an old powerplant turned into an art gallery.
I went for the view of the Guaiba River, but I was equally impressed by the collection of exhibits: one floor was dedicated to a retrospective on the work of famed Brazilian singer Elis Regina, another presented the winning selections from the 2011 Brazilian Art prize, in the basement, in a row of colonnades, militant art from the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and on the third floor they were giving a break-dance workshop. Legal! Cool!
Between the market and the Gasômetro, I also passed through the Fundação Santander building with two floors dedicated to Italian contemporary art and design (free to visit). However, the overwhelming force that convinced me that Porto Alegre is an artist haven is the amazing street art painted across the city, with many of the works standing officially labeled.
On my way back I ran into what looked like a multi-party rally at the legislative assembly. Several batucada squads were streaming out of the building to join the assembled crowds along with a few politicians. It was clearly a manifestation, but it all unfolded in a very low-key communal tone, perhaps because I mostly saw women and teenagers. I know that state elections are coming up in Brazil, but I should have found out what the issues were: if I’m going to post pictures, I should also know exactly what they’re about. I’m still happy with the following gem though.
I ended the afternoon walking through more residential areas east of the centre, eventually ending up in packed Rentenção Park. There I caught some festive San Juan / Fiestas Juninas celebrations, which from what I understand are related to the end of harvest and the summer solstice.
Porto Alegre feels like a diverse but tight family-oriented community. That night there was going to be a giant gathering in the park with live music and a light show to reclaim it for public use at night since incidences of crime have recently gone up. You get a sense that the regional identity is strong and that people genuinely care that their big city looks out for itself as one community. This was repeated to me by Fernando and Leticia, the two CouchSurfers I met up with at the end of the day for a cafezinho (well they had chai / tea, I’m the coffee addicted Swedish waiter). The conversation flowed so well that I had to accept their offer to drive me to the bus terminal so that I could make my bus to Montevideo on time.
I arrived in the Uruguayan capital at 8am this morning. It’s been nearly half a day and I’ve concluded that a Sunday in winter is not the best time to get a feeling for the city. Other than a giant street market east of the centre, the streets have been mostly empty with a cold wind whipping you from all sides. With the low-light, it made for a solitary and reflective day of walking around with all my stuff and taking landscape pictures, but I’ve got another CouchSurfing host to look forward to meeting tonight! Táh / that’s how she goes!
Second one from the top: chorizo and mixed bell peppers poached in white wine!