Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Diamantina, the Jewel of the Mineiro Crown!

By Renée Ferguson, Senior Direct Mail Associate for Christian Children’s Fund

At 8:00 a.m. we started the more than five-hour ride to Diamantina. The colonial village lies in a chain of mountains in central Minas Gerais at 4,140 feet above sea level and still functions as a diamond-mining town.

Our tour guide, Helena, shared a little about the area’s history and what to expect during our visit. Some of us chewed gum to counteract the slight pressure in our ears as we continued the winding climb farther and farther upward. Many times, the dramatic mountainous views outside of our windows entranced us.

Arriving after 1:00, we enjoyed lunch at Grupiara Restaurant while the helpful staff delivered our bags to the hotel and checked us in. This gave us a couple of hours to tour the quaint town. Diamantina, formerly called Tijuco, was built during the early 18th century and was the hub of Brazilian diamond mining in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The cobblestone streets were lined with lovely, traditional shops, offices and churches. The colorful Baroque architecture was absolutely breathtaking. The people were gracious and friendly.

Around 5:30 we gathered for our ride to Felicio dos Santos community to visit our first program area. Our 2008 Brazil Study Tour was the first ever to visit a remote, rural program.

We boarded two vans, as the rough terrain wouldn’t accommodate a large tour bus. We shortly learned why.

The first half or so of the journey traversed steep, winding paved roads ― but the rest of the trip took us through rugged, heavily pitted dirt roads. We bumped, bounced and swayed so much that some us really got to know the others. My head met my side window a couple of times. Fortunately there were only a few instances of mild motion sickness.

We now had firsthand knowledge of some of the day-to-day challenges faced by children and families living in remote areas.

Around 7:00, we finally arrived at Felicio dos Santos, no worse for wear, and stepped off the bus to the sounds of a band, children singing, and people cheering. Lights flashed in the darkness as tourists and media alike snapped photos.

We felt like celebrities. And to top it all off, the band and children led us in a parade through the village to the Cultural Center. We were joined by a throng of townspeople. Others waved from their porches as we walked by. Some people had traveled many hours from neighboring towns to be in on the festivities, which also coincided with their June Festivals (Festas Juninas or Sao Joao).

The small community center now burst at the seams with guests. The children entertained us with music and dance. And the community leaders shared the wonderful work that CCF Belo is able to accomplish because of faithful sponsors and donors.
Everyone ventured outside for a community meal followed by forro dancing ― country style!

After several precious hours, we expressed our gratitude and headed back over the bumpy roads to spend the night in the Tijuco Hotel in Diamantina.

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