In 1982 at the end of my first semester my University (the U.F.R.J) organized a holiday trip to the historical town of Ouro Preto, in the state of Minas Gerais as part of their peer bonding policy. The town was about seven hours by car from Rio and had been constructed by the Portuguese in the 1700’s when the region was one of the world’s biggest suppliers of gold.
It was listed as a heritage for humanity by UNESCO and still retained the elegant and prosperous colonial architecture, and had churches literally covered in gold. The streets were still of cobble stone and despite the cars and electric cables it must not have been much different to what it was 400 years ago at the time of its splendor. In the early 1908’s the mines had dried up long ago and it had become a university town which translated into a lot of young people having fun away from home in student hostels which they called republics.
Not only the town was very special but the surrounding too. The more temperate climate accounted for beautiful and pleasant forests, the now gold-less soil main element was the “pedra-sabao”, or soap stone, which the rain and rivers had sculpted into creating strange caves with natural pools and waterfalls. These natural showers were about a half an hour’s on foot from our republic and were perfect to sober up the hangovers and just the walk itself through the countryside was worthwhile.
Besides the magical settings and the numbers of young people, there was another other cool aspects of Ouro Preto; the free student’s refectory was the best one I had ever been to.
The winter weather wasn’t always great and the students would stay indoors getting bored and drunk. As soon as they found out that there was a guitar player/singer around they started to organize parties where my un-amplified nylon string guitar and my voice on top of the dining table was the music box. The success was so big that people from other “republics” started showing up. I was enjoying myself so much that I decided to stay on for another two weeks after my class mates left.
Six months after joys of that holiday the good life would be overshadowed by the harsh realities of hyper-inflation, recession, joblessness and other illnesses brought by bad economic administration.