I met my friend Ettore during my last semester of university, while he was studying abroad in Vancouver. His family lives in Juiz de Fora, 3 hours north of Rio de Janeiro. I could not pass up the opportunity to visit Ettore, his girlfriend Luciane, and both of their families.
The highlight of my brief yet fruitful stay in Brazil was a trip to Ettore’s family cottage, nestled in the lush and green Parque Estadal Ibitipoca. This cottage made quite the impression on me! Built from the ground up over many years by Ettore’s family, it reminded me of what you’d see in a magazine on interior design: every square foot on the living room walls were covered with souvenirs and handycrafts from all over the world. It was welcoming, classy, and humble – just like his family. The photo does not even begin to do its good style any justice, but it does show how welcome it makes guests feel.
The next day I was taken into the park – a park full of flora, fauna, rivers, and canyons.
Then Ettore showed me a cave!
Well, that did it for me: I was like a kid in a candy store! They eventually had to pull me out of the cave, since there was still plenty to see inside the park.
I was very sad to leave. We had other plans during my stay, and had to hit the road. But as luck should have it, there had been a misunderstanding about one of the beaches we were supposed to visit. I had pictured a beach like the ones I have around Vancouver Island: pristine, wild, and practically deserted. The day before we were supposed to go, Ettore had brought me back down to Earth. He painted a far less attractive picture for me – one of crowds, cars, and buildings. And only then had it occurred to him to mention that Ibitipoca park has more caves! Well, this settled the matter.
Back to Ibitipoca! During the evening ride to his cottage, we had had an animated discussion about astronomy. He brought his tripod, and began teaching me a few tricks about nighttime celestial photography. We spent the evening taking photos of the constellation Orion, clearly visible from his doorstep.
Our fascination with photography experiments carried over to caving the next day. We fixed our headlamps so as to illuminate the cave’s walls and remain hidden from view. After about 15 minutes of playing with the shutter speed and ISO, we both found our favourite shot.
We continued to explore the caves in the park, squeezing inside tunnels and making sure that every hole was looked into.
But entering my favourite cave was an experience on its own!
And the inside was pretty cool too. (….”Girl, look at that body.”)
It’s been a good day!
My time in Brazil (and especially in Ibitipoca) was unlike any other of my experiences in South America so far. I left behind the cold, dry, and rocky environment of the Andes where I felt most in my element, and entered a world that was humid, lush, and green. This was a true mountains-to-jungle transition, and a completely different kind of beautiful.