*original blog written March, 4th 2006*
We are trying to play 'sightseeing and shopping catch up'. We have to cram in as many places as possible before Anne leaves for South Africa. Today was the turn of Serra Negra. I have been talking about it for some time and we never seem to get that far. On the way to Serra Negra are a host of interesting little towns. The stops add up and we inevitably end up turning around before hitting Serra Negra.
We started out by missing our turnoff on the freeway. At this point, I must tell you that certain people had put the map at the back of the car, instead of the cubby hole, so I had no way, except vague memory, of navigating. Then certain other people have this habit of just driving on and not waiting for me to make sure we're on the right road ;) For the uninitiated, I am the official navigator and scapegoat. Our travels are nothing, if not interesting. Let's just say, we take the scenic route as a matter of course.
Back to the story....
We eventually arrived at a tollgate, where we asked for directions. We had two options, one was to take the 'retorno' and go back the way we came for some kilometers or go straight and take offramp number 136 to Serra Negra. Great! We decided on the offramp up ahead. We drove a little further and found offramp number 136, which, once we'd turned onto it, said it was road number 133. Ugh! We decided to 'donner maar voort' (roughly translated... keep going blindly). What followed was one of the more 'interesting' and 'rustic' and longer scenic routes we'd been on to date. Anne's car's shocks were tested to their limit, I'm sure. We ended up at Hollambra, Brazil's little Holland with its windmills and Dutch cookies, where we stopped for coffee for our backs to recover from the jolting. At least we finally knew where we were.
On to Serra Negra. Of course, we had to stop in Pedreira to do some shopping. It has lovely wrought iron work, crystals and stoneware. We then passed through Amparo, a pretty, but confusing town for people like us. We asked directions a few times. We kept hearing 'just go straight'. I can't begin to tell you how many times we went around turning circles into different directions and still hearing 'just go straight'. The final straw was at the lake, where a nice old man told us to 'just go straight', which we duly did, only to find ourselves at a T-junction! Straight? A hobo clutching a stack of money was sitting at that junction. We almost got desperate enough to ask him. Perhaps he was put there to lure unsuspecting lost souls into paying for the solution to 'just go straight' at a t-junction. We ended up following our noses and on the right road... thank goodness!
Serra Negra warrants mention. Its a really pretty town, where bougainvillea is trained to grow over the road. When its in flower, its a beautiful sight. The town has its own cable chair, where you sit and get take up over the town for the view. We didn't have time for this. Then there's the 'Maria fumaça' or 'Smokey Mary'. Its a little tourist train that runs through the town. We parked the car and went shopping. It was hot... I mean... really very hot. Even the locals were complaining. Apparently, Serra Negra was never known to be that hot, but then, the whole of the state of São Paulo seems to be in the middle of an extreme heat wave.
There are many leather work shops in Serra Negra, as well as knitware shops. Not the knitware we're used to. I'm talking about an entire suit made by knitting machine. In fact, any item of clothing for any sex or age group. Those are the two types of shop we were most interested in, though, naturally, there were loads of touristy shops.
We had a late lunch at one of the cafe's alongside the town square. The poprietress was thrilled to have her son handle our order in English. He was around 10 - 12. For a cafe, the lunch was good. We then hunted around for a bank and while doing so, a small orchestra of 4, three violinists and one cellist, set up in the square. We sat and watched them for a time. It was peaceful under the dappled shade of the trees and the music was beautiful.
The trip home was uneventful. We were tired, but well rested from a relaxing, but interesting excursion into the countryside of the state of São Paulo.