Our first order of business in Ouro Preto was, as always, to secure a place to stay. Predictably, it was less than a minute after we showed our faces in town square that a man approached us uttering the simple words, “You look pousada?”
For simplicity’s sake I will now refer to this man as Mr. Dirty.
Mr. Dirty’s excitement at our acceptance reminded me a bit of a small puppy who’d just been adopted by his new owner. He’d indicate the direction in which we’d be walking and scamper off a few paces ahead of us. Then turn around to make sure we were following, walk three more steps, turn around and point in the direction we were traveling. “It’s just this way!” Three more steps. Point again. Three steps. Check. Point. When we arrived he’d run inside to negotiate with the owner on our behalf. If the deal wasn’t to our liking, before we could finish our sentence he’d already be out the door, pointing in the direction of his next suggestion. Walk. Stop. Point. Walk.
“Hmmm, is THIS the way you wanted us to go? I’m sure glad you stopped to verify, I almost got lost at that last major intersection!”
However, it soon became clear that Mr. Dirty didn’t really know the prices or even what the places had to offer – he just knew where they were. My guess is that there’s some kind of general arrangement whereby a Brazilian who brings a foreigner in for lodging gets a small percentage of the room rate. Or maybe the rates go up to pay for the guy’s cut. Who knows. But after his fourth failed attempt to satisfy our simple criteria – a room with two separate beds for 35 reais or less, or 25 if it doesn’t include breakfast – we decided to go with a place Peder had popped into on his own during our walk. Mr. Dirty attempted to rush in ahead of us to make it look like he was the one who brought us there, but the clerk already knew better.
Nice try, Mr. Dirty…nice try.
Pousada Tiradentes turned out to be a great choice. As mentioned at the end of my previous post, the view from the room was just magnificent, and it was located right smack in the middle of town square. Spacious, clean, and quiet. One couldn’t ask for more.
After dropping off our bags we spent a couple hours walking around with a British girl who we’d met on the bus, visiting a church or two along the way and marveling at the unspoiled beauty of Ouro Preto. Then when it got dark, we headed home for a nap. After not sleeping on the whole bus ride from Porto Seguro to Belo Horizonte I was about as tired as I’d been since Carnaval, and I wanted to be conscious for our first night out in a new city.
Three or four hours later, guess who was still milling about right outside our pousada.
You guessed it. Mr. Dirty.
“Oh, are you guys going drinking?? Come with me, come with me!!”
“Uh, I think we’re gonna go…over here first…”
::Mr. Dirty comes and waits outside::
“Now you wanna go drinking? Let’s go!”
“I think we’re gonna sit in town square and sip these beers for a few minutes, we’ll, uh, catch up with you later.”
::Mr. Dirty stands around waiting::
“Come, this way, this way” (point, point, point)
“Alright Mr. Dirty, we’ll play it your way.”
…He leads us to a nearby bar in the usual fashion – a puppy on a walk – and beckons us inside. It’s pretty obvious that he’s just a harmless old man, but he’s also clearly very drunk. And dirty. We decide that we’re not interested in spending the evening with Mr. Dirty and manage to escape, prowling the city by ourselves for a bit but ultimately growing disappointed at the level of activity. I thought Ouro Preto was supposed to be a happening college town? Why are all these streets abandoned?
Apparently all of the Universities in the area were still on Summer vacation, so most people were home visiting their families.
Traveling is all about timing.
But after chatting with a few remaining students on their way home from a small private party, we made our way back towards Mr. Dirty’s bar – located on the only block with any people at all – and ducked into a place across the street. It was certainly no Rio Scenarium, but it did have 20 to 30 customers and have a very quaint, local feel. We ordered a couple of Skol’s and I made a quick run to the bathroom, stopping on the way to fill the glass of a fat and intoxicated customer who wouldn’t let me by without first providing him a taste of my beer. By the time I returned, Peder was sitting with the only four girls in the entire place.
We sat and chatted for awhile. Then Mr. Dirty emerged from the darkness and pulled up a chair. The girls weren’t exactly turned on by his…smell. We talked with him for a bit trying to be pleasant, then sort of geared the conversation away. He would zone off into space for a few minutes, then regain consciousness and butt back in. We responded tersely. He persisted. Mr. Dirty was a very predictable man. Eventually we chose to try the silent treatment, hoping he’d get bored and stumble away. He began jabbing the girls nearest him in the arm to get them to respond. We dragged the table a few feet away from him and towards the window. He dragged his chair right along with us. The waiter noticed. He asked Mr. Dirty to leave. Mr. Dirty walked outside and stopped by the window next to which we were now sitting. He reached inside to jab his way back into the conversation. The waiter closed the wooden shades. Mr. Dirty began knocking on the window.
This guy just wouldn’t give up!
But finally about 15 minutes later he seemed to wander off somewhere. And when we saw him the next day, although he recognized us, he didn’t seem to hold any grudges. Or maybe he just didn’t remember anything.
The small bar closed its doors around 1:30am and we walked our new friends to their car. We said goodbye. They offered for us to come along with them.
Always another adventure!
Now, I’m a pretty confident driver, but driving through Ouro Preto is something I would never in my lifetime even consider attempting. Not only are the roads mind-bogglingly steep, but the fact that they’re all cobblestone makes the ride feel like you’re on a rickety old coaster just barely managing to hold itself together. Slam on your brakes and you’re just as likely to stop as to pull up part of the road with your tires. Try to make a turn and you’re just as likely to flip the car over a 45-degree hill as to navigate safely where you intended. Up, down, left, right…the six of us in that tiny old vehicle smashing back and forth against the doors, windows, and ceiling. To me it was great fun. Like a rollercoaster. But damn, I’m glad her brakes hung in there!
It turned out that the entire city was dead that night. After our fun little ride and stopping by a few more empty bars we decided to call it a night, getting to bed somewhere in the 2’s.
Not the wildest time of my life, but significantly better than I’d predicted when I first stepped out onto Ouro Preto’s “busy street” to find one bar with twenty-something guys and one Mr. Dirty!