I take my head out of the car window and breathe the cold air of July.
The bus was driving slowly due to the high concentration of traffic. It was better this way. The breeze slapping my face as I observe the houses and shops in that small street covered by green brought me such tranquillity.
I smiled when I saw a small building made of wood painted in red, and a showcase full of coloured statues and symbols. This is my place, I thought.
When I got out and stretched my legs, I breathed heavily and looked around me. Penedo, the only Finish colony in Brazil and a piece of heaven between SÃ£o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, welcomed me with its calmness despite the traffic. I believe it's impossible to contemplate the trees and green hills around the small colony and not forget the constant pressure from the big cities.
Being a writer and coming from a busy and crowded city, I felt at peace and home seeing the birds flying through the trees and the houses and sites full of pure green and wood.
With an estimated population of over five thousand, Penedo might not be on the list of exotic places to visit here in Brazil, far from that, but it shouldn't be ignored. It is not a place to have adventures (only if for adventure you consider a trail to the mountains nearby), but to rest, get in contact with nature, and to see a small piece of Finland.
When I arrived, I searched for a place to stay, walking through busy restaurants and quiet sites resembling farms from the rural area.
I couldn't stop smiling, and I'm almost sure people thought I was out of my head. Maybe I was, but I also was grateful and relaxed. The problems of everyday life didn't weight as heavy and seeing the clouds dominate the sky and the mountain range Serra da Mantiqueira far away, I remembered how good it is to become one with nature.
Since I was starving, I decided to go to a snack bar to get my energy back. When you hear about Penedo, it's impossible to not talk about Pequena Finlandia (roughly translated to Small Finland), which is a piece of the Nordic country in the middle of the town. It's a big open-air shopping with buildings resembling the Finish architecture. The place is also known as the House of Santa Claus because during winter the bearded man resides in a house there where children can go to visit him.
Sitting on a small bench, I waited for my order and started writing in my notebook. Just like many places in Brazil, the gastronomy in Penedo is diversified. You can have from simple meals like hamburgers, natural sandwiches and cheese pasta with meat to more exotic meals based on the Finish, German, Swedish and Scandinavian culture. The most common meal is the local trout. It's amazing how many combinations you can make with it. There are abundant quantities of sauces and pasta to choose and make it even more delicious.
Since I wanted something quick, I ordered a natural sandwich with turkey breast.
Inspiration can come from observing people, and Pequena Finlandia is full of them. You can see families, couples, children, and even dogs. I watched them take pictures of an open corridor full of colorful umbrellas hanging from wires on top. It's wonderful the details and the man-made structures living alongside nature, and it gives you the feeling of being in a cold European country, especially if you go during the winter and December (when everything receives Christmas decorations). And if the cold season is not for you, there are waterfalls scattered throughout the region like the famous Serrinha do Alambari, Cachoeira de Deus, and TrÃªs Cachoeiras.
I proceeded to a colonial shop and breathed a fine perfume while observing the small religious statues made of clay, ornate tapestry with exquisite drawings, and candles of all sizes.
Since it was July and it was morning, the atmosphere was cold. I crossed a wooden bridge above a pond where fishes were swimming. Carefully observing, it is possible to see coins underwater and rock above the surface where a turtle enjoys resting.
Some snack bars were full, and I could see the drinks served to the tables. Penedo also has a variety of beverages. You want an exquisite wine to appreciate the view? You can choose a ton of options scattered throughout the town. Want some beer? Suit yourself and choose from draft beer to craft beer. But you want something warm and sweet? Well, there's hot chocolate. Speaking of which…
It's a must to visit the chocolate factory and go to the many shops that sell all kinds of sweets. A landmark there is Tonttulakki Suklaat, which sells chocolate 100% Belgium and almost every time, the movement there is intense. The weather in Penedo enables the susceptibility of the production of chocolate, so it's not hard to find shops selling it.
Walking for a few minutes, I realized how the silence started to predominate. Most of the visitors don't seek to stay for more than a day, unless during the winter season and Christmas. The hostel I stayed in was almost empty, and it was not difficult to find a vacancy. The price varies depending on the location and needs; obviously, it can cheaper for a single man than a family, and, of course, the type of hostel has an influence. Since I was going to stay there for two days, only to dedicate myself to writing more, I chose the cheapest and the simplest.
The hostel, like most of them there, resembled a colonial house. The fireplace came in hand during the night where the temperature dropped exponentially. For a moment, I thought I was in Europe seeing the other guests dressed in heavy jackets and scarves.
At night, Penedo is a beautiful show of lights. Most of the restaurants are open and full of families, noises, and live music. I stayed in a bar listening to a nice guy singing famous pagode hits. The smell of meat and coal, combined with the lively atmosphere and cold weather, were the perfect ingredients to a delightful night. Even though I was solo, I did not let that bother me. For a night, I let my wonders rest in a simple bar with happy people and upbeat songs.
After breakfast, I put in the work. I let the green horizon of mountains covered in mist and the chanting of birds send their blessings. I've never been so inspired to create. I almost thought the ink of my pen would run out, but I'm glad it didn't. The only thing I regret not enjoying was the pool since it was cold as the North Pole.
Penedo is for me the best place to an artist close to my busy city, Volta Redonda. As I said, if you're looking for an exotic place and adventures, it might not be for you, but if you're looking for somewhere to enjoy some peace, have inspiration and get in contact with nature, then I recommend this place. You can get a taste of a Brazilian environment while being comfortable in a European setting.
Written by: Gabriel Alencar
Gabriel decided to be a writer after reading A Game of Thrones for the first time when he was 15 years old. A lover of cinema, music, and videogames; his biggest inspirations are the works of filmmakers Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noe, and writers George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. Gabriel lives in Brazil.