The streets of Ouro Preto, portuguese for “Black Gold”, the historic city built on hilltop upon hilltop of winding cobblestone street, seemed far less charming now as the two of us were trying to make our way out, hiking uphill through the city center, hunched-over with everything we own in a backpack. Or three. In plastic sacks in each hand, a giant blanket under one arm and a pristine bottle of de luxe Cachaça alcohol in its own fancy little baroque case.
We were trying to get out of Ouro Preto, out of the state of Minas Gerais, and continue our trip from the familiar São Paulo. After having seen every museum, market and vegan establishment Belo Horizonte had to offer,
after having hitched a ride every-freaking-where, even to and from Inhotim, the biggest outdoor modern art museum in South America,
after meeting artists and photographers bursting with inspiration or conspiracy theories, and animals that I could only have imagined in my wildest dreams,
after spending days eating bread with lettuce and ketchup, sustaining ourselves primarily on luxurious lanscapes for free,
after seeing drunk adolescents with guns casually hanging in their sweatpants pocket, yet still feeling comfortable enough to drop all our stuff at the bus station lockers to spend the night out on the town (because we didn’t quite like the vibes at our hostel), only to meet the 23 year-old owner of a vegan/feminist/lesbian restaurant who took us out to karaoke, opened up her shop at 3am to make us burgers for free, and let us spend the night at her 23rd floor apartment, even though she brought a girl home from the bar,
No, after all this, after getting lost more times than we went outside, after brushing our teeth at gas-station bathrooms, after the two of us had spent every waking moment together save the sacred privacy of the toilet (and even that only lasted until we got to Rio), having hardly slept, tensions high, we pushed on up Ouro Preto’s streets, rivalled in fairytale picturesqueness only by their hellacious steepness,
sweating, trying not to cry because my foot was itchy, and grumbling curses at the otherwise heart-swelling bucolic views,
with people staring at us as we struggled on up carrying twice our size and weight and at least 10 days worth of emotional baggage – when suddenly – something dropped.
We stopped dead in our tracks. Slowly, with the last remnants of energy we could summon, we turned our necks back and down at the escaped object one of us would have to sacrifice some vitality to reclaim –
chewing-gum. It was a pack of chewing-gum.
We looked at each other with the same articulate expression that communicated with mutual clarity: “No. Fucking. Way”
I get caught by flashbacks of this memory at unexpected moments every now and then, and find myself choking on toothpaste in sudden bursts of laughter while brushing my teeth.
Leaving the town was much harder than we expected, it got dark, we got desperate, someone picked us up, drove us around to their house, showed us photos of their dogs, then drove us back to the exact same place we were waiting at. God knows how long we waited before, finally, a young taxi-driver (after having tried to buy us both bus tickets before he even spoke to us) offered to drive us to the capital Belo Horizonte, about an hour-and-a-half away, for free. This was not the only time we were rescued by a kind taxi-driver on our trip, and since both our dads happen to be taxi-drivers, it felt like more than luck. It was magic.
When you travel without much money, you kind of start to rely on magic instead.