Friday, December 25, 2015

Finding Christmas in Gramado

A group of 11 senior missionaries went to Gramado in Rio Grande do Sul for an 8 day Christmas break. It was a good break where we finally found Christmas in Brazil.

Dec 15 (Tue)

We left Tuesday morning, taking a bus to El Dorado Shopping then a big bus to the Campinas airport (about 1 1/2 hours away). As we walked in the airport they were giving out free popcorn and cotton candy.

Sister Hale getting popcorn
We flew to Porto Alegre and got on a touring van for our 2-hour trip to Gramado.
Getting in the van
As we went through Porto Alegre we went to see the temple. We didn't have time to go through a session (which would start later in the evening), but we were able to go inside and look around.
The Porto Alegre Temple
Our group
Porto Alegre Temple
Once we got out of the city the trip to Gramado was delightful, with a lot of green hills and valleys. We checked in quickly then went to an Italian restaurant for too much food.
Waiting for our food
Our hotel was located between Gramado and Canela, which is mostly filled in with businesses and hotels.
The courtyard of our hotel

Dec 16 (Wed)

Wednesday was our first tour day. We started by passing through Canela to see the Caracol (snail) Falls. Gramado is known for its purple and blue hydrangeas, which grow everywhere.

A Hydrangea garden 
Things have changed since we were here 15 years ago. There is now a gondola ride to see the falls.

The gondola
There is also a nature trail through the forest (mata). It made for a pleasant walk.
Along the trail in the mata
It includes wildlife, but the kind we saw was more like you see at Christmas time.
Wildlife in the mata
They had a little museum of wooden sounds. They had a lot of animals you scrape to make realistic sounds (like the rasp frog from Vietnam).

Listen to the gater
The gondola took us to a nice overlook to see the Caracol Falls.
The Caracol Falls
We then went to the other side of the valley to a state park that had trails along the river leading to the falls and stairs down to the bottom of the falls.
Falls along the Caracol River
We took a wild trail to an ancient mill site.
The mill site
There was a museum along the trail that showed the natural history of the area.
At the museum
We then went down 690 stairs to the bottom of the falls. The challenge was the 690 stairs back up.
On the way to the bottom of the falls
the bottom of Caracol Falls
From the falls we went to see the Parque do Ferradura. It is an overlook into a canyon with a horseshoe river running through it. On the way down a steep trail to an overlook Diane fell and twisted her ankle. That put her out of commission for hiking the trails.

Overlooking Ferradura Canyon
Horseshoe river
We returned to Canela to see the center of town. It has really grown since we were here last.

Two shoppers in Canela
The matriz (mother church) of Canela
We returned to Gramado and decided to visit Lago Negro. Last time we were here Diane wanted to ride the swans, but there wasn't time. We decided to do it in spite of her sprained ankle (it takes two to pedal).

The swan driver
Zauggs in a swan
Chalet on Lago Negro
We all went to one of the 500 fondue restaurants in Gramado. The dinner starts with cheese fondue followed by meat grilled on a stone (instead of deep fried), ending with chocolate fondue. The meat dish came with a lot of toppings.
Grilled meat with toppings
In the evening we had one of our big shows "Natal Luz" (Christmas Light). It was a parade along a covered road with bleachers on both sides. There were elves, and clowns along with large floats. At the end, Santa came along with snow. A lot of the Brazilians went down to the road to play in the manmade snow.
Waiting for Natal Luz
While waiting for the parade to start I made friends with Isabela from Manaus. It helped the time go by playing with her voafante (flying elephant) instead of her elefante.
Isabela and her father
A float of Natal Luz
Wise men riding elephants?
It was a big day as we returned to the hotel late and tired. It was a good day except for Diane's sprained ankle.

Dec 17 (Thu)

We didn't have any planned activities for Wednesday during the day so we took a shuttle to Gramado for a look around town. This made it more difficult with Diane's sprained ankle. We stopped by a pharmacy to get Ibuprofen and an elastic bandage to wrap around her ankle.

Picture in our hotel
Have a chimarrão
St. Peters in Gramado
Fountain by the church made out of locks
Reindeer along the road
We did a lot more walking than we should have, but at least we encountered Christmas in Brazil.
Two old men
Giant Christmas tree in Gramado
In the evening we went to the second of our major shows, "Eu Sou Maria" (I am Maria). It was an outdoor show on a lake in Gramado. It told the nativity story (Brazilian style) with fireworks, waterworks, and music. It was a spectacular, but a sensory overload.

Eu Sou Maria
More wisemen

Dec 18 (Fri)

Friday was our second major tour day. We took a 2-hour bus ride to Aparados da Serra National Park, the Grand Canyon of Brazil. The countryside was very beautiful. 

Fields and lake in countryside
We had to go on a dirt road to get to the park. We really enjoyed the walk along the canyon (the Ibuprofen and wrap helped Diane survive). 
Canyon view
Resting along the way
Big ferns in the park
Through the fence
Waterfall across the canyon
Paraná pines
From there we continued on a dirt road then went to Torres on the coast. We stopped for a picnic lunch at an overlook of the ocean.
Lunch time
We then went to a state park that included a beach area and steep cliffs. Diane and I made it to the top of one cliff with steps.
She made it to the top
And back down
The beach itself is a small cove surrounded by cliffs.
Beach cliffs
Wading in the water
Let me sit for a bit
Sister Hale washing her shoes
Elder Zaugg and I decided to go up another set of cliffs while Diane rested.
Fishermen on the Atlantic
The tops of the cliffs gave a nice view of the beach and other cliffs.
Cliff that Diane and I went up
Atlantic Ocean
Shrine on the clifftop
When we got back we saw a storm rolling in so we decided we should get back on the road to Gramada.
Storm clouds rolling in

Dec 19 (Sat)

Saturday was a free day. I took a walk around the area where the hotel was while Diane rested her foot. There were a lot of chocolate stores and one western store. It wasn't a gaúcho store, but a caipira store from the western part of brazil. I talked to Andreia and her young friend about the church and the Book of Mormon. I promise to find her a copy. 

Andreia and her friend
Chocolate factory
We decided to go see Canela. We caught a bus (after a long wait) and arrived close to the matriz church just before noon. It was quite foggy.
Church in the fog
We were looking for something to eat when a boy dressed like a sertaneijo (cowboy from the northeast) handed out an ad for their restaurant. It was an open buffet, crowded, but good.
Does she look hungry?
Waiter dressed as sertaneijo
We found the LDS chapel close by. It is a nice big building. There was only a rented building when I was last in Canela. It is still just a branch, but it is big and active. We stopped at the chapel and got a copy of the Book of Mormon for Andreia. When we delivered it she hugged it and said she would read it.
Canela chapel
We all went for fondue for dinner tonight.

Dec 20 (Sun)

Sunday was a nice day. The hotel manager took us all to church, three car loads full. There is a nice big chapel in Gramado, the district center. They didn't have one when we were last here.

Gramado chapel
Elder Zaugg mentioned to the branch president that we could sing a musical number in sacrament meeting if he would like. He has only been in the calling for two weeks and is still trying to get things organized. As it ended up, we not only sang, but we all bore our testimonies. There was a youth speaker, but we were the rest of the Christmas program (12 talks in all). I was the last. Diane was the only one of the sisters who gave her testimony in Portuguese, which the members really enjoyed.

We had priesthood/Relief Society first, followed by sunday school and sacrament meeting. Diane played the piano in each of the meetings.
Getting ready for sunday school
Opening song in sunday school
We were able to rest in the afternoon. We got together for games in the evening. It was a guessing game to get to know each other better. It was a very nice day.

Dec 21 (Mon)

Monday was the first day of summer. We decided to go see some of the sights in Gramado we missed by going to Canela on Saturday. The Harts went with us. 

Girl on the wood pile - used to heat water in the hotel
We went to see Aldeia do Papai Noel (Santa's Village). It was a lot of fun and brought the Christmas spirit the first day of summer.
Who is the tin man?
The elf's bedroom
An elf in the trees
Santa's sewing machine
The village is on a hill above the city and gives a nice view of the surrounding area.
View from the village
Elder and Sister Hart
We took a monorail ride to get to Santa's house.
Sister Wheeler's new companion
Santa's livingroom
Santa's house
There were a lot of little areas representing Christmas with snow.
Winter park
When we stayed in Gramado 15 years ago we stayed in a small hotel on the corner as we came into town from Canela. This restaurant looks a lot like the hotel where we stayed. It has become the Italian restaurant where we ate the first night in Gramado.
Hotel turned restaurant
Clock church
We went to see Mini Mundo (small world). Over the years a local family has made many scale models of places in Brazil and other places of the world. It is fascinating to see the detail of the work.
Porto Alegre opera house
Miniture village
Neuenswanstein castle in Germany
On the way back we passed through a plaça that gave a Christmas theme.
Large snow globes
Flowers made out of pop bottle bottoms
Today was Elder Hale's birthday so we went to a dinner-show. It was a churrasco buffet and a dancing show of gaúcho music.
Introduction to chimarrão - gaúcho tea
Gaucho drinking chimarrão 
Gaucho dancing show
Gaucho with a bull

Dec 22 (Tue)

Tuesday was going-home day. We took a bus to Porto Alegre and had a short tour of the town. We stopped by the Metropolitan Cathedral. 

In front of the cathedral
Waiting for the christ child
Inside the cathedral
Picture inside the cathedral
While we were at the praça in front of the cathedral we had a bit of excitement. We were warned to watch our valuables and this is why.
thief caught by the police
The Laçador (gaúcho statue) has always been a symbol of Porto Alegre. It was on the entrance to the city between busy streets and difficult to photograph. They moved it near the airport with a parking area close by. It made it nice to stop and take pictures.
The Laçador
So after a flight back to Campinas, a delayed bus ride to São Paulo, and a taxi ride to our apartment we finally made it home. It was a good break. We now will have some work days intermingled with holidays.

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