S’il existe un pays qui jamais puisse se passer du reste du monde, ce sera certainement la Province des Mines.
We had been in Brazil now nearly two years, vegetating between Santos and São Paulo, with an occasional trip to Rio de Janeiro. Though Richard had made several expeditions on his own account, I had never yet been able to go very far afield or to see life in the wilds. It was therefore with no small delight that I received the news that we had a short leave of absence, admitting of three months’ wandering. The hammocks and saddle-bags were soon ready, and we sailed for Rio, which was about two hundred miles from our consulate. At Rio we received some friendly hints concerning our tour from exalted quarters, where brain and personal merit met with courtesy, despite official grade and tropical bile. We determined in consequence to prospect the great and wealthy province of Minas Geraes, and not to do simply the beaten track, but to go off the roads and to see what the province really was like. We wanted to visit the gold-mines, and to report concerning the new railway — about the proper line of which two parties were contending — a question of private or public benefit. We also intended to go down the São Francisco River, the Brazilian Mississippi, from Sabaré to the sea, and to visit to Paulo Affonso Rapids, the Niagara of Brazil.
We left Rio on June 12, 1867, and sailed from the Prainha in a little steamer, which paddled across the Bay of Rio in fine style, and deposited us in about two hours on a rickety little wharf at the northern end called the Maná landing-place, whence the well-known financial firm of that name.
Whoever has not seen the Bay of Rio would do well to see it before he dies; it would repay him. All great travellers say that it competes with the Golden Horn. It is like a broad and long lake surrounded by mountains and studded with islands and boulders. But it is absurd to try to describe the bay with the pen; one might paint it; for much of its beauty (like a golden-haired, blue-eyed English girl of the barley-sugar description) lies in the colouring.
At the rickety landing-place begins a little railroad, which runs for eleven miles through a mangrove and papyrus flat to the foot of the Estrella range of mountains. Here we changed the train for a carriage drawn by four mules, and commenced a zigzag ascent up the mountains, which are grand. We wound round and round a colossal amphitheatre, the shaggy walls of which were clothed with a tropical forest, rich with bamboos and ferns, each zigzag showing exquisite panoramas of the bay beneath. The ascent occupied two hours; and at least, at the height of three thousand feet, we arrived at a table-land like a tropical Chamounix. Here was Petropolis, where we tarried for some days.
The Bay of Rio
Petropolis is a pretty, white, straggling settlement, chiefly inhabited by Germans. It has two streets, with a river running between, across which are many little bridges, a church, a theatre, four or five hotels, the Emperor’s palace, and villas dotted everywhere. It is the Imperial and Diplomatic health resort, and the people attached to the Court and the Diplomatic Corps have snuggeries scattered all about the table-land of Petropolis, and form a pleasant little society. The cottages are like Swiss châlets. It is a paradise of mountains, rocks, cascades, and bold panoramas. Here abounded the usual mysterious châlet of the bachelor attaché. I will take you up that ridgy path and show you a type of the class: four little rooms strewed with guns, pistols, foils, and fishing-tackle, a hammock, books, writing materials, pictures of lovely woman dressing or kissing a bird or looking in the glass, pretty curtains, frescoes on the walls drawn in a bold hand of sporting subjects, enfantillage — and other things! This is the châlet of the Vicomte de B— attaché to the French Legation, a fair type of the rest.
We left Petropolis for Juiz de Fóra at daybreak on a fine, cold morning; the grey mist was still clinging to the mountains. We had a large char-à-banc, holding eight, in two and two, all facing the horses. We took our small bags with us, but everything heavier had gone on in the public coach. Our party, besides Richard and myself, consisted of Mr. Morritt, proprietor of the hotel and the char-à-banc, and three other Englishmen, who with the driver and my negret Chico made up the eight. The four mules were so fresh that they were with difficulty harnessed, and were held in by four men. When the horn sounded, they sprang on all fours and started with a rush, with a runner at either side for a few yards till clear of the bridge. We simply tore along the mountain-side.
I shall save a great deal of trouble if I describe the scenery wholesale for a hundred miles and specify afterwards. Our trap dashed along at pleasant speed through splendid amphitheatres of wooded mountains, with broad rivers sweeping down through the valleys, with rapids here and there, and boulders of rock and waterfalls. The drive was along a first-rate road, winding over the mountain-side. The roads on the other side of the Parahybuna River were as high, as beautiful, and as well wooded as the one along which we drove. In all my Brazilian travelling this description of the scenery would mostly serve for every day, but here and there we found a special bit of beauty or more exquisite peep between the ridges. At first you think your eyes will never tire of admiring such trees and such foliage, but at last they hardly elicit an observation. A circumstance that created a laugh against us was that, like true Britishers, Richard and I had our note-books, and we beset poor Mr. Morritt with five questions at once. He was so good and patient, and when he had finished with one of us would turn to the other and say, “Well, and what can I do for you?”
Our first stage was the “Farm of Padre Carrea,” a hollow in the hills, where we changed mules. We drove for forty miles downhill; then we had fifteen or twenty on the level when crossing the river valley; then we ascended again for thirty-nine miles. The road was splendid; it was made by two French engineers. Our second station was Pedro do Rio. The third was Posse, the most important station on the road for receiving coffee. Here thousands of mules meet to load and unload, rest and go their ways. This scene was very picturesque.
After Posse we began to see more fertile land, and we passed a mountain of granite which, if it were in England or France, would have a special excursion train to it (here no one thinks anything about it); it looked like a huge rampart, and its smooth walls were sun-scorched. After this we passed a region of coffee plantations, and thence to Entre Rios (“Betwixt the Rivers”), the half-way house. It is a very unhealthy station, and there is a dreadful smell of bad water; otherwise it would be a first-rate place for any one wanting to speculate in starting a hotel. The last ten miles before coming to Entre Rios lay through virgin forest. We saw tucanos (birds with big beaks and gorgeous plumage of black, green, scarlet, and orange), wonderful trees, orange groves, bamboos (most luxuriant; they would grow on a box if they were thrown at it), plants of every kind, coffee and sugar-cane plantations, tobacco plants, castor-oil plants, acacias, and mimosa. What invariably attracts the English eye, accustomed to laurel and holly, are the trepaderas; and the masses of bamboo form natural arches and festoons, and take every fantastic form. We crossed the rivers over bridges of iron.
We breakfasted at noon at Entre Rios; we then mounted our char-à-banc once more, and drove on eight miles to the next station, called Serraria, where we sighted the province of Minas Geraes on the opposite side of the valley of Parahybuna. At Serraria we got a wicked mule, which nearly upset us three times. A wicked mule is a beau-idéal fiend; the way he tucks his head under his body and sends all his legs out at once, like a spider, is wonderful to see; and when all four mules do it, it is like a fancy sketch in Punch. They drive none but wild mules along this road, and after three months they sell them, for they become too tame for their work. Soon after this last station we passed through the “Pumpkin” chain of hills. We had ten miles to go uphill, and it was the hottest drive of the day, not only on account of the time of day, but because we were at the base of another huge granite mountain, much bigger than the last, like a colossal church.
We were not very tired when we sighted Juiz de Fóra, considering that we had driven nearly one hundred miles in twelve hours. We drove up to a châlet built by the French engineers just at sunset, and were guests in an empty house, and were well lodged. After supper the moon was nearly full, and the scent was lovely. There was a fine road; nearly all the buildings were on the same side of it as our châlet; opposite us was a chapel, farther down a hotel, and farther up, the thing that made all the beauty of Juiz de Fóra, the house of Commendador Mariano Procopio Ferreira Lage. It appeared like a castle on the summit of a wooded mountain. We were serenaded by a band of villagers. The evening air was exquisite, and the moon made the night as light as day.
The following day we inspected Juiz de Fóra. The town is a pretty situation, two thousand feet above sea-level, and the climate cool and temperate. The wonder of the place is the château of Commendador Mariano Procopio, who is a Brazilian planter who has travelled, and his wealth is the result of his energy and success. He built this castle on the top of a wooded eminence. This land eight years ago (I believe) was a waste marsh. He spent £40,000 on it, and made a beautiful lake, with islands, bridges, swans, and a little boat paddled by negroes instead of steam. He made mysterious walks, bordered by tropical and European plants, amongst which the most striking to an English eye were enormous arums with leaves five feet long and three broad, and acacias, mimosas, umbrella trees in full flower. He also erected Chinese-looking arbours, benches, and grotesque designs in wood. I believe the man carries out all his nightmare visions there. In another part of the grounds was a menagerie full of deer, monkeys, emu, silver and gold pheasants, and Brazilian beasts and birds. He has an aqueduct to his house and fountains everywhere. There is an especially beautiful fountain on the highest point of Juiz de Fóra, in the centre of his grounds, and from there is a splendid view. There is a white cottage in his gardens for his aged mother. He has also an orangery of huge extent, different species of oranges growing luxuriantly, and we reclined on the grass for an hour picking and eating them. All the land around was his; he built the chapel; even our châlet was his property; and besides he has a model farm. Altogether Juiz de Fóra appeared a thriving town, and the Commendador was the pivot on which it all moved. It seemed so strange to find in the interior of Brazil a place like that of an English gentleman. One cannot give this generous and enterprising planter enough praise. If there were more like him, Brazil would soon be properly exploited. Some object that the arrangement of his place is too fantastic. There is no doubt it is fantastic, but it is so because he is giving the natives a model of everything on a tiny scale, and collecting in addition his native tropical luxuriance around him, as an English gentleman would delight to collect things on his estate, if he could get the same vegetation to grow in England.
On leaving Juiz de Fóra, I was obliged to leave my baggage behind, which appeared to me rather unreasonable, as it only consisted of the usual little canisters, a pair of long, narrow boxes for the mule’s back. If the ladies who travel with big baskets the size of a small cottage had seen my tiny bundle and a little leather case just big enough for brush, comb, and a very small change, they would have pitied me. We mounted the coach on a cold, raw morning — this time a public coach. Only one man of our party accompanied us on to Barbacena; the rest were homeward bound. The two coaches stood side by side, ready packed, facing different ways, at 6 a.m., to start at the same moment. We had a small, strong coach with four mules. A handsome, strapping German youth, named Godfrey, was our driver, and we boasted a good guard. Inside was a lady with negresses and babies, and an Austrian lieutenant. Outside on a dicky my negret and a large number of small packages — only such could go. The driver and guard were in front, and above and behind them on the highest part of the coach was a seat for three, which held Richard, Mr. E— and myself in the middle, the warmest and safest place in event of a spill. The partings ensued between the two coaches, and the last words were, “Remember by twelve o’clock we shall be a hundred miles apart.” The horn sounded; there was the usual fling of mules’ heads and legs in the air, and we made the start as if we had been shot out of a gun. We proceeded on our drive of sixty-six miles in twelve hours, including stoppages, constantly changing mules, for the roads between Juiz de Fóra and Barbacena were infamous, and all up and down hill. The country was very poor in comparison with what we had left behind, but I should have admired it if I had not seen the other. The roadsides are adorned with quaint pillars, mounds of yellow clay, the palaces of the cupims, or white ants, which they are said to desert when finished. They must be very fond of building. The sabiá (the Brazilian nightingale) sang loud in the waving tops of the “roast-fish tree.” We passed over wooded hills, broad plains, and across running streams and small falls. At last we reached the bottom of the great Serra Mantiqueira. The ascent was very bad and steep for ten miles, and through a Scotch mist and rain. All the men had to get down and walk, and even so we often stuck in deep mudholes, and appeared as if we were going to fall over on one side. I now comprehended why my baggage could not come; my heart ached for the mules. Travelling on the top of that coach was a very peculiar sensation. When we were on plain ground and in full gallop we heaved to and fro as if in a rolling sea, and when going fast it was like a perpetual succession of buck-jumping, especially over the caldeiroês, lines of mud like a corduroy across the road. On the descent our coachman entertained us with a history of how he once broke his legs and the guard his ribs and the whole coach came to grief at that particular spot.
Our next station (and it seemed so far) was Nascisuento Novo; then came Registro Velho, where travellers used to be searched for gold and diamonds, and amusing stories are told how they used to conceal them in their food or keep them in their mouths. Here we had our last change of mules, and here the Morro Velho Company from the mines halted for the night, and we found to our delight that we should find a special troop of them waiting at Barbacena to convey us where we liked. This was our last league, and the weather was frosty.
We arrived at the Barbacena hotel when it was dusk, and found it a decent but not luxurious inn, kept by an unfortunate family named Paes. At the door we saw a good-humoured Irish face, which proved to be that of our master of the horse, Mr. James Fitzpatrick, of the Morro Velho Company, who was awaiting Richard and myself with two blacks and ten animals. We therefore asked for one of the spare mules and saddles for Mr. E— who had decided to accompany us to the mines. The town appeared quite deserted, but I thought it was because it was dark and cold and the people were all dining or supping. We were tired, and went to bed directly after dinner.
Next day we inspected Barbacena, a white town upon an eminence. The town is built in the form of a cross, the arms being long. It is three thousand eight hundred feet above sea-level, and is very cold except in the sun. There was little to see except four churches, all poor and miserable except the Matriz, which was the usual whitewashed barn with a few gaudy figures. It was a dead-alive kind of place, with all the houses shut up and to be bought for very little. All the young men were gone to the war. There was no one about: no society, not even a market; no carriage save the public coach, with its skeleton horses eating the grass in the streets.
After dinner that evening we saw a black corpse on a stretcher. The porters were laughing and talking and merrily jolting it from side to side, and I was considered rather sentimental for calling it disrespect to the dead. Our table d’hôte was a motley and amusing group. There were the driver and guard of our coach, the Austrian lieutenant, ourselves, several Brazilians, and Mr. Fitzpatrick. We all got on together very well. There was some punch made; and as the conversation turned upon mesmerism for the night’s discussion, a delicate subject, I withdrew to a hard couch in an inner room.
On Wednesday, June 19, we left the last remnant of civilization behind us at Barbacena, and that remnant was so little it should not be called by that name. We shall now not see a carriage for some months, nor a road that can be called a road, but must take to the saddle and the bridle for the country. Our party consisted of Richard and myself, Mr. E— Mr. James Fitzpatrick, captain of our stud, Chico, my negret, mounted, and two slaves on foot as guides, three cargo mules, and two spare animals as change.
Our first ride was to be twenty miles, or five leagues, across country. We did it in five hours, and one more half-hour we employed in losing our way. The country was poor, and through what is called campos — i.e. rolling plains, with a coarse pasturage. Near dusk we reached Barroso, a village with a ranch, a small chapel, and a few huts. The ranch was small and dirty, and smelt of tropeiros (muleteers) and mules. The ranch was a shed-like cottage with a porch or verandah. It had one room with a ceiling of bamboo matting, whitewashed mud walls, no window, and a mud floor. The only thing in it was a wooden bedstead without a bed on it. This was ours; the rest had to sleep in the verandah or on the floor with rugs amongst the tropeiros, picturesque-looking muleteers. They gave us rice, chicken, and beans. I prepared the food and slung the hammocks, and after eating we lay ourselves down to rest.
We rose at three o’clock in the morning, before it was light, and at 4.30 we were in our saddles again. We rode twenty-four miles. We breakfasted under a hedge at a place written “Elvas,” pronounced “Hervas,” and got a cup of coffee from a neighbouring gypsy camp. Shortly after we passed a ranch, with a curious old arched bridge made of wood. To-day’s journey was very like yesterday’s in point of country, but we were a little tired the last few miles, as we had been somewhat dilatory, and had been eight hours in hard saddles on rough animals; the sun also broke out very hot. At last, however, we were cheered by arriving at a pretty village, and shortly afterwards sighted a beautiful-looking town on a hill, with many spires. We rode up to the bridge to enter the town, tired, hot, torn, and dusty, just as the procession of the Blessed Sacrament was passing, followed by the friars and a military band. We bent our heads and bowed down to the saddle. This was the town of São João d’El Rei, and it was the Feast of Corpus Christi.
São João d’El Rei is five thousand two hundred feet above sea-level. It was June 21 (here the shortest as in England it is the longest day), and the climate was delicious. We met two English faces in the streets, and hailed them at once. They proved to be Mr. Charles Copsey, who had been at Cambridge with my husband’s brother, in command of the Brazilian Rifle Volunteer Brigade (I knew many of the same men), and Dr. Lee, a man of Kent. Dr. Lee had been there thirty-five years. These two compatriots were most kind to us. They introduced us to all the best families, and showed us all the lions of the place.
The churches of São João were so numerous that we only “did” the three best. We walked about the principal streets, getting the best views of the white, spiral, hilly, little city, which looked beautiful at sunset. We visited one Brazilian’s general collection, another’s books, another’s pictures, and the only place we did not go to see was the hospital. We loafed about, and everybody dined with us at the hotel — very little better than a ranch.
We left our hotel, or rather ranch, at 10.30 a.m. the next morning, and rode to Matosinhos, the suburb at the entrance, where we breakfasted at the house of Dr. Lee and made the acquaintance of his Brazilian wife, a sweet-mannered woman, whose kindness and hospitality charmed us. After a sumptuous breakfast we walked about his grounds, and he gave us a cão de féla, an ugly, toad-coloured, long dog, with a big head, broad shoulders, and lanky body, answering in breed to our bull-dog.
Here Mr. Copsey could not make up his mind to part with us so soon, and actually forsook his wife and children and cottage to accompany us for a few days.
Our ride was a pretty easy two leagues, or eight miles, over mountains, bringing us to a small white village or town, which we should call a village, nestled among them, called São José. This village contains a running brook, a bridge, and a handsome fountain. Our ranch was a miserable affair, without any pretension to bedding, and if possible less to a washing-basin; so the rest preferred sitting up all night; but as my experience has taught me to take all the little comforts that Providence throws to me, in order to endure the more, I slung my hammock and slept the sleep of good conscience, in spite of the clinking of glasses and twanging of guitars.
We intended to leave São José at one o’clock a.m., but those who foolishly sat up had all sorts of mishaps. There had been a little too much conviviality; the animals had strayed; so, though we started before light, it was much later than we intended. Our road was a terrible one; we could not keep together, and got lost in parties of two and three. At first the road was very pretty, through woods; but as dawn appeared we had to climb a wall of steep rock, terrible to climb and worse to descend. Two of our party unwillingly vacated their saddles before we got clear of it, and Mr. E—‘s saddle slipped off behind from the steepness and bad girths. We then had a long ride over campos, and stopped to breakfast at a deserted ranch. We were then supposed to be about twelve miles from our destination, Lagôa Dourada. The rest of our day was full of misfortunes. The valiant people who would dance and drink all night dropped asleep upon the road. We lost our way for six miles, and had to ride back and take another track. Our black guides had not laid a branch across the road for us. (It is an African custom to place a twig or branch on the road, to convey any intelligence to those who are coming after you.) We came to a Slough of Despond, a mudhole across the road, which looked only a little wet and dirty, but a mule or rider may be engulfed in it. Mr. Fitzpatrick luckily preceded me, and fell into it. My mule jumped it, and in the jump my pistol fell out of my belt into it, and was never seen more. We had a very hard day of it up and down hill through virgin forest with several of those swamps. At sunset we arrived very tired at the top of a hill, and found an aboriginal-looking settlement of huts. We then descended into the valley by a steep, winding road for some distance, and came to a long, straggling, hilly, but pretty and more civilized village, with a few churches and a running brook, with a decent ranch at its extreme end, where there was a party of English engineers, who kindly attended to our creature comforts while at Lagôa Dourada.
It was Sunday, the Eve of St. John, and there were big bonfires and a village band. Our ranch was a cottage. The brook with the gold-washings ran by it, and the purling thereof made pleasant music that night.
The great object of our visit to Lagôa Dourada was to see with disinterested eyes which course the continuation of the Dom Pedro Segunda Railway should run through Minas — that is, to see which course would be for the greatest public advantage, regardless of private intrigue. The English engineers and Richard having quite agreed upon the subject, they kindly invited us to celebrate the Feast of St. John by assisting to “lay the first chain.” It was a day likely to be remembered by the Brazilians, for it connoted their pet feast — the “Feast of Fire” — and the commencement of a work to be of great benefit to them.
At twelve o’clock (noon) the next day the English engineers, with a party comprising all the Brazilian swells of Lagôa Dourada, proceeded to a valley within the village to lay the first chain for the exploration of the mountains which divide the watershed of the Rio São Francisco and the Paraopéba from the Carandahy and Rio Grande, for the prolongation of the Dom Pedro Segunda Railway.
I had the honour of giving the first blow to the stake and breaking a bottle of wine over it. The sights taken were S.73’ W. and N. 74’ W. The engineers made me write this in their books. (The following day all were to break up, our party of engineers bound northward, and ourselves on our march.) The inauguration passed off very favourable. It was a beautiful day. The village band played, flags were flying, wine was produced, glasses clinked, and we drank the health of “The Emperor,” “The Queen,” “Brazil,” “England,” “Unity,” “Future Railway,” and most of the principal people present; speeches were made, and vivas shouted, and last the Brazilians proposed the health of St. John with vivas. When these ceremonies were over, we marched back to the ranch with the band playing and colours flying.
In the afternoon we walked a little way up and down the stream, and saw some gold-washing on a homeopathic scale. The land belongs to a Brazilian, who get three or four milreis a day out of it (about eight shillings). We then sat down in the village on benches in the shade. The men drank beer and smoked cigarettes, and I took my needlework and talked with them.
In the evening the English engineers gave us a big dinner in the ranch, and how they managed to do it so well I cannot imagine. It was like a big picnic. The village padre sat at the head of the long wooden table, and I at the bottom, and on wooden benches at each side were eight Englishmen and seventeen Brazilian local magnates. We had chickens, messes of rice and meat, feijão (beans) and farinha (flour), bread, cheese, beer, port, and other drinks — all out of the engineers’ stores. It was great fun. Directly after dinner they began speechifying, and each man ended his speech with a little nasal stanza to friendship, the audience taking up the last word. At last somebody drank the health of the married men, and then some one else proposed the health of the single, and then every one began to quarrel as to which was the better and happier state. Richard and Mr. Copsey loudly stood up for the single, and urged them on to greater frenzy, and I would have done the same thing only I was afraid of shocking the padre. The wordy war lasted fully half an hour, and terribly distressed one spoony Englishman, who gave us a homily from his corner on the sanctity of the married state. If it had been in France, there would have been half-a-dozen duels, and I fully expected to see some kniving; but with them it was only hilarity and good spirits, and they embraced across the table at the very moment I thought they were going to hit one another. We finished up by repairing to our room and having some punch there, and we all parted happy and pleased with our day. After we were in bed we were serenaded by the band. The people walked about with music, and twanged their guitars all night. It is a great day for marriage — for lovers, and all that sort of pleasant thing. The girls dress in their best, and put the flowers of São João in their hair, and one likes to see the young people happy. A pleasant remembrance of this place lingers with me yet.
The next morning we proposed starting at four o’clock, and got up early. Our white horse, however, knew the ground, and strayed six miles away, so we could not start till 9 a.m. Moreover, Mr. Copsey, who was on duty at São João d’El Rei for next day, was obliged to wish us good-bye and return.
When at last we started, we rode for two leagues and a half, accompanied by several of our friends of the evening before, and at last came to a brook, where we sat under the shade of a tree and breakfasted, after which our friends wished us good-bye and returned. We then rode on, uncertain as to our course. The scenery was pretty; the weather was very hot. We had no road, but found our way over the hills through bits of forest, and towards evening we came to a village called Camapoão.
We had been detained by bad road and accidents, and had been five hours doing only fifteen miles; so, though we could only find an infamous ranch (the worst we had ever seen), we thought it best to risk it for the night. We had been obliged to pass one by, as it looked really dangerous with damp, filth, and reptiles. The owner of the ranch, one José Antonio d’Azevedo, was a character, and a very bad one — original in rudeness, independence, and suspicion. There was, however, one bed (José‘s), and no amount of entreaty to let me rest my aching limbs on it would induce him to allow me to do so. I had almost to go on my knees to be allowed to swing my hammock, lest I should spoil his mud-and-stick walls; but after a glass of cognac from our stock and much flattering and coaxing, he did permit that, and gave us some beans and flour, rice and onions, to eat. Richard slept on a wooden table, I in the hammock, and the rest of our party with the mules on the ground round a fire. It was a bitterly cold night, and we got full of vermin. At about one in the morning I was aroused by a loud whispering, apparently close to my head, and a low growl from my dog underneath my hammock, and I could distinctly hear the old man say, “Pode facilmente matar a todas” (“It would be very easy to kill the whole lot”). I felt quite cold and weak with fright; but I stretched out my hand in the dark to where I knew my weapons were, and got hold of a bowie-knife and loaded revolver. I then whispered to Richard, and we got some matches and struck a light. There was no one in the room, and the whispering and laughing still went on as if the old man and his negroes were conversing and joking behind the thin partition wall. Nothing occurred. In the morning we thought he was only alluding to his chickens; yet, as we learnt afterwards, he did bear an ugly name.
We were very glad to get up at 4 a.m., though pitch dark, and to set out. The old man did his best to keep us by talking of the atoleiros on the road, which we must pass, and were sure to fall into. And indeed an atoleiro is an ugly thing; for you only expect a passage of wet mud in the road, wheras you and your horse go plump in over head, and sometimes do not get out. We passed a fearful one a mile past his house, but sent the blacks on first, and they brought us a long round through brushwood, which was not dangerous, but unpleasant to fight through; and Chico stuck in it, and we were fully ten minutes extricating him. We then rode up and down mountains and waded several rivers, and moonlight passed away, and dawn came with a welcome. By nine o’clock we had accomplished twelve miles, and arrived at Suasuhy, a long, big village, with a church and about three hundred houses and fifteen hundred inhabitants. We were quite overcome with the luxury of being able to wash our hands and faces in a basin. We had too a better breakfast than usual. The ranch was kept by a handsome family — father, mother, and four daughters. After this we rode on again through beautiful scenery up and down mountains, through shallow rivers and bits of virgin forest. Yet, though the scenery is magnificent, it is so alike, that one description describes all, and what you see to-day you will to-morrow and for the next three months, with the exception of every here and there a startling feature. After another three leagues we sighted the Serra d’Ouro Branco, a grand pile of rock, and presently caught sight of a convent and a large square and church seated on an eminence below the mountain. We were descending. We turned a corner down a steep, stone hill, and beheld a beautiful white village in the valley, and silvery, winding river, called Maronhão, running through it, and another smaller one discharging itself into the larger. A striking church, the Matriz, rose on the opposite hill. In the distance were the two Serras, straight ranges like a wall, one shorter than the other. Ouro Branco is so called because the gold found there was mixed with platina. It was three o’clock, and we had now travelled six leagues and a half, and were glad to rest. The sunset was lovely.
This village was Congonhas do Campo. We got into a comfortable ranch, and then called on the padre. That is the best thing to do at these places, as he is the man who shows you hospitality, points out the lions, and introduces you and gives you all the information you want. The padre showed us great kindness, and took us to see the college and the church, the most striking part of the village and valley. Walking through the streets, we saw the arms of some noble Portuguese family, well carved in stone, over a small deserted house — doubtless the arms of some of the first colonists.
The padre breakfasted with us at the ranch next morning, and saw us set out from Congonhas at twelve o’clock. We rode three leagues, or twelve miles, which seemed more like five, up and down mountains, through rivers and virgin forests, and on ridges running round steep precipices and mountain-sides for many a mile. On our way we met a small white dog with a black ear, looking wet and tired and ownerless. Mr. E— hit at it with a hunting-whip; it did not cry nor move, but stared at our passing troop. Towards night we arrived at a little sort of private family settlement, consisting of four or five ranches belonging to a man of the same name as the place — to wit, Teixeira. Here we found the villagers in a great state of excitement, armed with guns to kill a mad dog, which had been rabid for some days, and had bitten everything it saw, communicating the disease, and had after all escaped them. He was a small white dog with a black ear!
We had great difficulty in finding a night’s rest at Teixeira. Four or five houses would not take us in. One man was especially surly; but at last a cobbler and his wife took us in, and were kind and hospitable to us. Here I had a little bed of sticks and straw, and slept soundly.
Next morning we had a shot at a flock of small green parrots before starting for Coche d’Agua at 8.30, and we rode till 10.30. We crossed the Rio da Plata six times (it was so tortuous) before nine o’clock, and twice the Bassão later. After crossing the Bassão the second time, we sat under a shady tree on its banks, and ate our breakfast out of our provision basket — cold pork, onions, and biscuit, and drank from the river.
We had been told that the remainder of our ride to Coche d’Aqua from this spot was four leagues; but it was nearer eight leagues (thirty-two miles), and we arrived after dusk at 6.15. It was a very poor place; there was nothing to eat, and no beds, and we were dead tired.
The people were kind, and lit an enormous fire in the centre of the ranch, and let me lie down upon their sleeping-place till 3 a.m., “because I was a Catholic and spoke Portuguese.” It was a slab of wood with a straw sacking, and even so I thought it a great luxury. We rose next morning at 3.30. The mules were called in, and we rode four leagues, first by moonlight and then dawn. We passed through two valleys, and arrived at 8.45 a.m. at another settlement. This was the village outside of the Morrow Velho colony, and as the bells rang nine we alighted at the entrance of the Casa Grande, and were most cordially and hospitably received by the Superintendent of the São João d’El Rei Mining Company and Mrs. Gordon, and conducted into their most comfortable English home.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48