Last night I got back to Rio after spending twelve incredible days in Ouro Preto.
During my time there, I stayed and hung out exclusively with locals. So if you wanna go to Ouro Preto and see the city from a local’s perspective…read on.
A Bit About the City
Ouro Preto is a former colonial mining town in the mountains of Minas Gerais.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and looks and feels like a European town, with hilly cobblestone streets and red-roofed houses.
To add to the charm, the shop and restaurant signs throughout the city are all hand-crafted. Like so…
Ouro Preto is much smaller and more walkable than Rio. It’s also much safer. I felt totally comfortable walking home alone at night, for instance, especially in the center of town.
It’s also the only city in Brazil with fraternities and sororities. The city is home to a massive student population and most of those students live in shared houses, called républicas (aka fraternities or sororities).
Someone told me that in Ouro Preto, people tend to give directions according to républica, rather than the street name. There are around 500 républicas in the city of Ouro Preto. And walking down the street, it feels like nearly every house is a républica.
Each républica has about 11 students living in the house. Most are either all male or all female, but there are some mixed/coed houses as well.
The houses each have their own names and people in the house are loyal to that house and each another, much like your typical fraternity/sorority. Each person in the républica has their own unique “apelido” or nickname. And everyone calls one another by their nicknames–it’s almost as if their real names are a secret.
Each républica ahas several “bixos” which are like the American version of pledges–they do all the grunt work for about six months and only after that do they officially become part of the républica.
Staying in Républicas
I stayed in two male républicas when I was in Ouro Preto (which I found thanks to couchsurfing!). I stayed in one called Républica Kome Keto for the first five days and in another called Républica Vaticano for the last six nights.
I had an especially awesome time at the second républica I stayed at (Républica Vaticano). The house was located in the center of the city and everyone in the fraternity was so welcoming and nice, making me feel right at home.
When I first asked them if I could stay six nights (which felt like a long time…and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome), they replied without hesitation: “Of course!! You can even move in here if you want!”
And even though some people had to share a room in the house (the youngest people of the house generally have to share a room), they were gentlemanly enough to give me my own room.
Some of the républicas actually charge couchsurfers a fee to stay there, but Vaticano refused to accept my money. They treated me as if I were an actual guest and friend, not just some stranger occupying their living space. They also had their own personal chef, who came to cook delicious food each day.
The parties are legendary
And of course…républicas also throw awesome parties nearly every day of the week (which seriously rival any of the parties I attended in college). I learned the Portuguese phrase “virar a copa” (chug the cup), which I had never once heard during my nine months in Rio! Suffice it to say that the going-out/drinking culture in Rio is much more centered around sipping–rather than chugging–beers!
On Saturday, there was a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) at the Vaticano and the neighboring républica (Républica Pureza), which was basically a 12-hour eating, drinking and mingling fest.
The parties (called “rocks” in Ouro Preto – pronounced “haw-ckeys”) are all thrown in some part of the républica houses.
One “rock” I went to with some guys from Républica Vaticano was held in an outdoor space in Centro (the center of the city). At the party, there were all different kinds of cachaça (cinnamon and peanut butter were my personal favorites), and there was a competition between the républicas to see who could drink the most shots of cachaça (fun fact: Mineiros–people from Minas Girais–drink a LOT of cachaça!).
The prize for winning the contest? A “date” with the female républica that hosted the party (my républica (Vaticano) won! woot woot).
At the parties, nearly whenever someone takes a shot, people in the corresponding républica raise their glasses in unison and chant the “reza” (cheer) of their house (each républica has their own cheer). The cheer of the house I stayed in went something like this…”Quém tem amor tem saudade..” (Whoever has love has saudade) and…I forgot the rest haha. I wish that I had recorded it–but here is the “reza” of another républica to give you an idea…
Oh and if you go to Ouro Preto (or any part of Minas Girais), you can expect to hear a lot of sertenajo music. This was one popular song that I heard almost everywhere I went…
Despite being the oldest person at these parties, I had a fantastic time. Being there made me want to go back in time and be a student again…but this time in Ouro Preto!
Even better, there are very few gringos/foreigners that study in OP. As far as I know, I was the only gringa at these parties, which means that I got to speak almost exclusively Portuguese the entire time…and met a ton of people who were intrigued by my foreigner status and where I was from.
All the guys were extremely patient with me and constantly filling me in on different “girias mineiras” (slang from Minas Gerais).
While in the US, the slang is fairly universal (as are the accents), in Brazil, the slang (and accent) varies with each region.
In case you’re curious, here are a few “girias” from Minas that I learned…
fragar: sacar/to understand (very common)
passar fina: dar uma dica/give a tip
kamofa: mulher galinha/female player
uai (pronounced like “why”): basically can be added on to any sentence/used to express disbelief, admiration, impatience or to reinforce what someone just said (this is a classic mineiro word, used all the time by mineiros)
People are SUPER friendly
As a whole, mineiros are known nationwide for being incredibly friendly and warm. Go to any part of Brazil and everyone talks about how great mineiros are.
And they definitely lived up to their reputation! When walking down the street, random passerby would strike up a conversation with me.
People were very curious about where I was from and what I thought of Brazil. Even when just buying something from the pharmacy, for instance, the woman at the checkout counter, upon noticing my accent, asked me where I was from.
And when buying something from the market the other day, the people who worked there struck up a conversation with me, asking where I was from, why I was there, and the differences between Brazil and the US…This type of thing happened quite frequently.
I was reading an article in the New York Times about a woman who was traveling around Minas and she said that, while driving somewhere in the middle of nowhere, she and a friend stumbled upon what seemed to be a “mirage in the dust.” She said,
Curious, we pulled up, wandered the out-of-place manicured lawn and found a gentleman farmer from the city examining his banana orchards. Rather than shoot us for trespassing, he invited us in for coffee and homemade guava paste. For me, that was a typical moment in Minas Gerais…”
I think that sums up the Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais) quite well…
Exploring a Nearby Village
While there, I also met a nice couple who picked me up in their car one day and took me to a different part of Ouro Preto called Lavras Novas (where there are supposed to be some great waterfalls – a.k.a. the “beach” of Ouro Preto!).
Once there, we indulged in a few caipirinhas before going to grab dinner at a charming restaurant (which was actually someone’s house) in the town.
The guy I was with helped out the owner (this adorable old lady) by making the caipirinhas himself. Only in Brazil, right?
So if you wanna head to Ouro Preto and NOT be a tourist, follow in my footsteps. You’ll love it (especially if you’re in your 20s).
My advice? Use couchsurfing and stay with a local (preferably in a Républica if you can). At the very least, mingle with the locals (chances are, that won’t be hard!). Try a lil cachaca (if you drink alcohol). And have FUN!