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Day 69: Curitiba to Morretes

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Epic view of the mountains and the Atlantic rainforest.
Michael Palin - BrazilLeaving behind the anodyne skyline of Curitiba we pass by shanty towns and half-cleared construction sites. It's dull stuff and a disappointing hour has gone by before we enter a tunnel and find ourselves, quite suddenly and dramatically, swallowed up by the mountains. From here on, the narrow course of the railway threads its way through a particularly dense and dramatic part of the Mata Atlāntica, the Atlantic rainforest, whilst barely impinging on the majesty around it. We stop at a small, abandoned station to allow one of the long freight trains from the coast to toil past us on the single line. The station must have looked good once, with red gabled roofs, plain plastered buildings with chunky stone decoration around the arches. The air is clear and fresh and the combination of rocky pinnacles, crags from which water briefly catches the sunlight before cascading into some invisible chasm, the yellow butterflies and the purple blossom of the wild hydrangea make this somewhere very special. Far below we can see the red roof of the next station, which the railway will have to make a very tight turn to reach. For a moment time seems suspended, with only the subdued noises of the forest around us. The panorama of high peaks, tall trees and distant waterfalls reminds me of those American Sublime paintings which pitch man, the heroic pioneer, against nature at her most awesome.

I have a chance to see how brilliantly engineered the track is here when I'm asked up into the cab and given the controls for a while. (The driver obviously hasn't heard of my erratic landings in the aircraft simulator at the Embraer factory.) Clutching the single brake lever, I'm entrusted with bringing us round some tight corners, made a touch more terrifying by the fact that the wheels turn a beat or two before the train itself, giving the impression, for a brief heart-stopping second, that I've driven us all off into space.

It's early afternoon by the time we have emerged from the mountains and rolled into the small and picturesque town of Morretes.Marcelo and I go for lunch at a restaurant which serves the traditional dish of the area called barreado which means 'sealed'. It refers to the method of cooking brisket of beef in a ceramic pot with a manioc flour seal. Only salt and garlic are added and the whole lot is left over the fire for twelve hours. The recipe is centuries old and comes from the early settlers.

The sun is already edging behind the mountains we've just come through as I walk with Marcelo beside the horseshoe bend of the fast and shallow River Nhundiaquara, which snakes through this village full of brightly painted two-storey colonial houses, many of which are now art galleries or studios. The beauty of the place is clearly a big inspiration.
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In the driving seat.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 69: Curitiba to Morretes
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Morretes
  • Book page no: 289

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