While night falls over the mountains we seem to be driving straight into a spaghetti western. The white houses here are all small in size with wooden doors painted in all kinds of bright colors and you see crosses and Maria statues everywhere. It is not hard to see that Brazil's countryside is still very religious. The small town "Tiradentes" has no more than 7000 inhabitants and appears to be one of the few towns in Minais Gerais with a still intact 18th century town center. You can imagine those times with horses and carriages going down the gobbled streets. From a corner of the old town square I can hear a sultry female voice singing Portuguese, accompanied by the soft tones of strumming on an acoustic guitar. Bossa Nova is not often heard in the big cities, but in this environment it seems to fit perfectly. I order a local sweet cachaca which is then placed on the table in a tiny tin cup and gives me a warm and satisfied feeling after the first sip. Meanwhile, the singer leaves the stage and her musical accompanist tells a story about the town. "Tiradentes is not just the name of my city, it stands for something; the struggle for our independence. More than 200 years ago a man named Tiradentes lived who could no longer stand the gold greed of the colonizer Portugal and the suffering of the people of his country. He became one of the leaders of Inconfidência Mineira, a revolutionary movement with the motto “Libertas Quae Sea Tamen (freedom, even when it's too late). But before he could act, he was betrayed and then hanged for his revolutionary ideas of an independent Brazil.” While the old guitarist still has a serious look, he says: So let's cherish our freedom today and he starts singing a song about blonde women. I notice that my mind has a hard time switching, but luckily all the Brazilians present start laughing loudly and the evening continues into the night.
"Many black people in this region are still struggling with the problems of slavery, which means they have no love for themselves. Fortunately, I am teaching my children to love themselves for who they are."
The next morning I wake up a little groggy, but a classic Brazilian breakfast of strong black coffee and freshly toasted bread with butter makes up for a lot. The hilly landscape in Minais Gerais is characterized by the constant presence of meadows, small wooden fazendas (farms), meter-high brown termite mounds and trucks that apparently often overlook the non-catching signs. Another constant factor on the highway are the signs along the road with "Caldo de Cana" or ice cold sugarcane juice. We stop at a large pick-up truck with a bright blue front. The 52-year-old Ronaldo is just cutting some sugar cane and is waving to us. We take a seat in the back of his truck, which has been transformed into a mini-road restaurant where he makes pastels (Brazilian empenadas). Meanwhile, Ronaldo is pushing the sugar cane threw the presser until there is enough foamy green sugar cane juice for a hefty pitcher. While we put the well-filled glasses with juice and ice on our thirsty mouths Ronaldo is laughing a little. I ask if there is anything going on and he says to my girlfriend: "I hardly dare say it but you really have beautiful hair. I used to have an afro when I was young. In my younger years I thought it was very ugly because I was often bullied with it, but nowadays I find myself incredibly beautiful. Many black people in this region are still struggling with the problems of slavery, which means they have no love for themselves. Fortunately, I am teaching my children to love themselves for who they are. "Moments later, his wife and son arrive and Ronaldo tells his wife to let her afro grow. His wife shakes shyly, to which he responds with a smile: "then I should go find another wife." We say goodbye to Ronaldo and his family and continue our way towards the mountains. Along the way the landscape starts to change. The fields and cerrado (Brazilian savannah) are declining and instead we see more and more wrinkled green mountains looming. Other road users seem to have disappeared and after a sharp turn we see a monastery in the distance. The small white church tower provides a sharp contrast with the immense green forest around and it feels completely deserted, a perfect place to rest.
"Now we see that nature conservation is part of the faith as the care for our earth is not only in the hands of god, but also in in the hands of men."
A few small sun-rays shine through the cracks of the wooden window. The rippling water of the fountain in the inner garden of the monastery provides a serene feeling while I stretch out for a little while. But suddenly I hear some sort of low whistling sound coming from the garden. I open the windows and see dozens of black birds flying chaotic and with a lot of noise. They are jacu (a kind of wild forest bird) and their black feathers in combination with bright red eyes gives them an almost ominous appearance. But after a few minutes it is clear why they are here in large numbers. From the side of the monastery comes a little gray man, with a large bag of bread and popcorn in his hand. He is the priest of the monastery and patron of the surrounding park. “Believers still come here for a retreat where they can experience the tranquility of the monastery and talk to clergy, god or themselves. At the same time, we welcome many biologists and scientists who are doing research here on biodiversity and the conservation of the area.” Father Palu has lived here almost his entire life and still knows well that the monastery used to serve only as a training center for priests and monks. “I was taught here by Padre Monteiro who was my mentor in my studies. But just after I finished my studies, he left with a woman. So I took over his duties as a recently graduated priest." That all changed in the 70s when the monastery was also opened for visitors and guests. The vision then shifted to a mixed form of religion experience and nature conservation. In the park tehere are a lot of differnet species of plants and animals. "We have some special species in the reserve like tapirs, cougars, wild dogs and the red maned wolf. An elusive creature that is very beautiful. It has a red and orange coat, stands high on its feet and looks a bit like a mix of a wolf and a fox. ”Father Palu himself takes photos of animal species which he then forwards to researchers. He proudly shows his last photo of a toucan and says: "now we see that nature conservation is part of the faith as the care for our earth is not only in the hands of god, but also in in the hands of men."