Laranjeiras, Neopolis, Penedo
26 February: It's obvious that we were in a low-end pousada from the quality of the breakfast. There were too many flies for my liking, I just had some bread, butter and coffee. We set out to find the tourist office, we land up at the Casa do Tradicño, which is a very large old building with no separating walls within, just one big open space. There's a stage somewhere in the middle. No people around. Near another exit we find some men, they help us with a map and briefly explain the nearby sights of Laranjeiras. We set off to explore the town, it's very photogenic, with a number of churches, colonial buildings, interesting-looking people.
Laranjeiras is surrounded by three hills with churches on them. We buy some water and Coke, then visit the church of Santa Ana on a small nearby hill. It's closed, desolate. We try another shot at finding the tourist office, they can indeed arrange a visit to an old sugar mill which is several kilometers from town. We need to be there before 12, so we set off right away, the gatekeeper of the factory's already informed and sends someone to guide us in.
At the chemical lab we meet Antonio Cruz who would guide us through the factory. He learned English at University but can't really converse, so we stick to Brazilian. We start in the main factory, from when sugar cane is unloaded, crushed, squeezed, juice-separation, sulphur bleaching, acid removal with Calcium Hydroxide, crystallization, separation of non-crystallized juice for alcohol production. The factory's atmosphere is amazing: steam, noise and heat's everywhere and the smells are overpowering at times!
At the end, the sugar is packed into 1, 2 or 50 kg
bags, a 1kg bag is given to take along! (all the way back
to Switzerland!). In another adjacent building we see the steam plant and
the water purification setup. A bit off is the alcohol distillery, where the
juice is fermented with yeast and nitrate and phosphor needs to be added to
keep the yeast happy. Huge bubby vats emit a very strong smell. There are a
number of distilling columns, where 50%, 95% and (with additional chemicals)
near 100% pure alcohol condenses. Apparently the sugar plant produces
surplus electricity and water and can supply the adjacent village as well.
It's a great visit, recommended!
drive on to Neopolis, which turns out to be rather unimpressive with a
church and a long line of locals lining up outside the lottery office. To
continue to Penedo, we need to take a ferry. While on the boat, we read the
LP and discover that Penedo apparently has some great Pousadas, so we
quickly decide to stay the night there. We check Pousada Colonial which
overlooks the river and get the best room in the place (Room 21)! The second
floor view with the river-sunset is spectacular! The room is simple but
elegant, with a wooden plank-floor, nice large windows and even a balcony.
Apparently it was built by a Dutchman several centuries ago. We walk though
town, it's a real highlight, such a charming place! Have dinner after sunset
at Forte da Rachoeira, expensive but great food! We then reconfirm our return
flight. The night with the a/c was a bit on the cool side.