This is a quaint little colonial town, set in the hills in the state of Minas Gerais, which during the gold boom was home to 110,000 people in the days when New York was only 50,000 and Rio de Janeiro was only a baby at 20,000. This town has contained it’s charm by having virtually no modern buildings.
After a 8hr bus ride from Rio (R$118 / AUD$60) overnight bus ride, departing at 11:30pm, I arrived in the morning and after walking in the wrong direction thrice, I checked into Posada Sao Francisco. (R$30 for a small 4 bed dorm with towel) There is almost no one here. I stayed as the manager started giving me coffee and food making it impossible to move. It’s nice here, pleasant views.
The view from Posada Sao Francisco
The town is build across three valleys ensuring that you walk uphill to get anywhere you want to go. I spent the day exploring the sites. First I arrived at the tourist info centre, and the guy was taking lunch, so he offered to take me to the oldest mine in the town, providing me with a guided tour along the way. He even offered me to have lunch at his house, but I declined, as I was eager to get some site seeing done.
The old mine is called “Mina Jeje” (R$15) was completely build by slaves using no machinery. It’s a tight set of tunnels that lead underground. From what I was told, the mines were built in peoples backyards as to avoid the tax man finding out what is going on. They’d just build a house and garden at the back, along with a sneaky gold producing mine with slave labour.
Sneaky backyard mine tunnel
Next I walked to the bus stop, to go to ‘Minas da Passagem’ (R$24) which is the supposedly the largest tourist mine going round. While I was waiting a dude rocks up with a car and tells me to get in. He drops me off at the entrance and asks for R$3. I take the Portuguese only tour of the mine, descending by antique cable car powered by compressed air. If the cable broke, I’m certain I would be dead now along with the thousands of slaves who died while dynamiting the rocks. At the bottom there is a crystal clear lake which is pretty speky.
Crystal clear lake at the bottom of the mine, get in!
I manage to get a free lift back to town by another Brazilian tourist with a car. He takes me into town, and I use the opportunity to see the mineral museum, ‘Museu de Ciencia e Técnica da Escola de Minas’ seriously. (R$5) This contains the most mineral samples on display in the world. I felt like I was in Troy Jackson’s (or any raging Geologist for that matter) wet dream, there are more samples of rocks to lick than one could salivate over in a few months. (No camera policy – so no pictures sorry)
Loves a hard rock!
Later I check out another boring museum (R$8) and decide that is enough. (Unless you really love Portuguese history – basically rich Portuguese exploiting the minerals and slaves and leaving everyone broke – yeah nice one)
Anyway what got me excited is the prospect of doing a dive in the lake at the bottom of the mine… people have dived to 70m in that lake which is already underground but 900m above sea level… but you need to be advanced or certified in cave diving, damn!
This is the side of town the slaves lived in, the other side was for the wealthy elite. Most the gold was the poor side.