Last night, I got back from Ouro Preto – I was supposed to stay for five days, but loved it so much that I ended up staying a total of twelve days. I would have stayed longer if I could..hell, I would have MOVED there if I could, but had to come back to Rio for other commitments (plus, I only have 12 days left in Brazil now, so I have to start packing and preparing for my departure).
It was one of the first times I have actually traveled by myself – and I met so many great people during my stay. This just goes to show that, while it is always fun traveling with friends, you can sometimes have just as much fun (if not more) traveling alone!
For those who haven’t heard of it, Ouro Preto is a former colonial mining town located in the mountains, in the state of Minas Gerais.
It has even been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beautiful architecture. It looks like a European town, with cobblestone streets and red-roofed houses. Since it’s built in the mountains, the entire town is extremely hilly – it’s basically a guarantee that anywhere you go, you will have to walk up a steep hill.
To add to the charm, the signs for the shops and restaurants all look hand-crafted. Like this…
Another thing that makes Ouro Preto stand out from other Brazilian cities, is the fact that it is the only city in Brazil with fraternities/sororities. Ouro Preto has a massive student population and most of these students live in shared houses, called républicas (aka fraternities or sororities).
I stayed in two male républicas when I was in Ouro Preto (which I found thanks to couchsurfing!). I stayed in one called Républica Kome Keto for the first five days and then stayed in another called Républica Vaticano for another six nights.
I had an especially awesome time at the second républica I stayed at (Républica Vaticano) – their house was located in the center of the city and everyone in the fraternity was so welcoming and nice, making me feel right at home.
When I first asked them if I could stay six nights (which felt like a long time and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome), they said “Of course!! You can even move in here if you want!” So nice. I felt a bit bad because even though some people had to share a room in the house (the youngest people of the house generally have to share a room), I was given my own room and everything.
Some of the républicas charge couchsurfers, but Vaticano refused to accept my money. They treated me as if I were an actual guest and friend, not just some stranger occupying their living space. They also had their own personal chef, who came to cook delicious food each day – I’m already missing that food!
There are around 500 républicas in Ouro Preto – walking down the street, it feels like nearly every house is a républica. Someone told me that in Ouro Preto, people tend to give directions according to républica, rather than the street name. Each républica generally has about 11 students living in the house – most are either all male or all female, but there are some mixed/coed houses as well.
Ouro Preto is far cheaper than Rio and living in a républica is super cheap, as well – one guy told me that he only paid R$ 200 a month to live there (granted, he did not live in the center and had to share a room with two other guys…but he said that the price would be the same when he was upgraded to a larger room later on). He said you could share a place in the center of town (with an individual room) for around R$ 400. Compare that to the average exorbitant price of around R$ 2000 one pays to live in the center of Rio…
The houses each have their own name (some are super creative!) and people in the house are loyal to that house/one another – like a fraternity/sorority. Each person in the républica has an “apelido” or nickname – everyone calls one another by their nicknames and it is is almost as if their real name is a secret. Each républica also has several “bixos” which are like the American version of pledges – they do all of the grunt work for about six months and only after that, are they officially part of the républica.
And of course…républicas also throw awesome parties nearly any day of the week (which rival any of the parties I attended in college). Let me just say that mineiros (people from Minas Gerais) know how to party!! While in Ouro Preto, I realized that I had never seen that kind of partying in Rio – I felt like I was back in college – and I loved it !
On Saturday, there was a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) at the Vaticano and the neighboring républica (Républica Pureza) – basically a 12-hour eating, drinking and mingling fest – gostoso (delicious). Nothing like some good Brazilian meat to satisfy an empty stomach !
I learned the Portuguese phrase “virar a copa” (chug the cup), which I had never once heard during my nine months in Rio – let’s just say the going-out/drinking culture in Rio is much more centered around sipping, rather than chugging beers!
The parties (called “rocks” in Ouro Preto – pronounced “haw-ckeys”) are all thrown in some part of the républica houses – the last one I went to was quite massive and in the center of the city – part outdoor, part indoor, with about five different rooms – one room that resembled a club with strobe lights…another room with a beautiful view overlooking the city…and alcoholic punch could be found throughout.
One “rock” I went to with Républica Vaticano was in this outdoor space in Centro (the center of the city) – at the party, there were all different kinds of cachaça – cinnamon and peanut butter were my favorites – and there was a competition between the républicas to see who could drink the most shots of cachaça (I learned that Mineiros drink a LOT of cachaça! On the other hand, Cariocas don’t seem to like it much). The républica that won snagged a date with the female républica that hosted the party – guess what? My républica (Vaticano) won!
At the parties, nearly whenever someone does a shot, people in the corresponding républica raise their glasses and chant the “reza” (cheer) of their house (each républica has their own cheer) – the cheer of the house I stayed in went something like this…”Quém tem amor tem saudade..” (Whoever has love has saudade) and…I forgot the rest haha. I wish that I had recorded it – but here is the “reza” of another républica to give you an idea…
I loved how energetic everyone was – the parties were just so full of life and a ton of fun. The upbeat sertanejo music style seems to be quite popular and only adds to the lively atmosphere. It sounds something like this…
Despite being the oldest person at these parties, I had a fantastic time. I have to admit that I was/am seriously jealous of all the students living there – it made me want to go back in time and be a student again..this time in Ouro Preto!
I went to a “rock” the Sunday before I left – it started early, around 6PM and we stayed till like 10PM or so – even though it was a Sunday, the party was packed, strobe lights were flashing, and people were drinking like there was no tomorrow. You would have thought it was a Saturday night !
Going out in Ouro Preto is a nice change from Rio, where, if I’m lucky and limit myself to no more than one or two drinks, I will maybe just spend R$ 50.
In addition to being much smaller than Rio (eliminating the need for taxis much of the time), Ouro Preto also feels (and is) much safer than Rio – I would feel totally comfortable walking home alone at night, for instance, especially in the center of town.
Even better, there are very few gringos/foreigners that study in OP – as far as I know, I was the only gringo at these parties – which means that I spoke nearly exclusively Portuguese the entire time…and of course everyone was intrigued about my foreigner status and where I was from etc. 🙂
Despite the fact that I sometimes felt a bit out of it (thank you, language barrier) and felt like I was repeatedly saying “what?”, all the guys were very patient with me and constantly giving me tips on “girias mineiras” (slang from Minas Gerais). It’s funny, but in Brazil, the slang (and accent) differs so much with each region. In the US, we only have a few words that change, but the slang is pretty universal (as are the accents).
For those who are interested, here are a few “girias” from Minas that I learned…
fragar – sacar/to understand (very common)
passar fina– dar uma dica/give a tip
kamofa– galinha or a player (that is female)
uai – when are you don’t believe someone etc (don’t really get the meaning of this word but it is used all the time by mineiros) – sounds like “why”
In addition to being super helpful, everyone was also very complimentary of my Portuguese (they thought it was funny that I had a carioca accent too haha).
That is one thing that I love about Brazilians- no matter one’s level, Brazilians will always compliment a foreigner’s Portuguese and tell them how well they speak. Several guys in the house said things to me like “Nossa, vc ta aqui 8 meses e já fala melhor do que a gente!” (Wow, you have been here 8 months and already speak better than us!). Keep in mind that I have a thick accent speaking Portuguese and speak far from perfectly – so I definitely appreciate how everyone always tells me how well I speak – very nice and encouraging!
Overall, my trip to Ouro Preto was an awesome experience. And believe it or not, I did do more than just party and drink! I loved how nearly everyone in the city of OP was so incredibly friendly. I would walk down the street and random people would strike up a conversation with me – this type of thing doesn’t really happen in Rio.
Despite the fact that OP is quite a touristy town, people were still very curious about where I was from and what I thought of Brazil. Even when just buying something from the pharmacy, for instance, the woman at the checkout counter, upon noticing my accent, curiously asked me where I was from. And when buying something from the market the other day, the people who worked there struck up a conversation with me about where I was from, what I was there, differences between Brazil and the US…This type of thing happened quite frequently.
While there, I also met a nice couple who brought me to a different part of Ouro Preto called Lavras Novas (where there are supposed to be some great waterfalls – the “beach” of Ouro Preto!) – once there, we had a few caipirinhas before going to grab dinner at a charming restaurant (which was actually someone’s house) in the town. I believe that the guy we were with knew the owner, this older woman, but she welcomed us and treated us as if we were her family or old friends, not customers. The large kitchen looked incredibly ancient (with one of those old stoves that I don’t think I have ever even seen in real life)…and of course the food was delicious.
The guy we were with helped the old lady out by making the caipirinhas himself. I had never seen anything like it! This sort of restaurant experience is definitely unique to Brazil – I can never imagine this sort of thing happening in Europe or the US.
Yet this sort of thing seems to be normal in Minas Gerais. I was reading an article in the New York Times about this woman who was traveling around Minas and she said that, while driving in the middle of nowhere, she and a friend stumbled upon what seemed to be a “mirage in the dust. Curious, we pulled up, wandered the out-of-place manicured lawn and found a gentleman farmer from the city examining his banana orchards. Rather than shoot us for trespassing, he invited us in for coffee and homemade guava paste. For me, that was a typical moment in Minas Gerais…” I think that sums up the Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais) quite well..
The friendliness and openness of people was one thing that I really adored about Minas Gerais. I was actually surprised when I moved to Brasil, finding Cariocas to be pretty closed off as a whole…a lot of people in Rio have their friends and don’t seem that interested in making new ones – whereas in OP, perhaps because it is a huge student city and many of the people are not from OP (whereas many people living in Rio were raised there as well), everyone is very open and seems happy to make new friends.
Ouro Preto reminded me of why I love Brazil so much: the friendly/open and hospitable people, the happiness and the energy that is everywhere, the jaw-dropping scenery, the laid-back culture, hearing and speaking Portuguese all the time…and of course the fun parties don’t hurt!
Even though I can’t turn back the clocks of time and go back to student life, I think at the very least, I know where I will be spending my next Carnaval…