Tiradentes, a quaint town hidden in Minas Gerais that has EVERYTHING to do with Brazilian Independence Day. A guide and a few tips on how exactly to wangle an extra national holiday.
The Yankees got one. The Frenchies got one. Even the Russians got one. We’re talking a blood-spurting revolution to march into the era of “modernity”. Brazil, however, did not jump on the band wagon. Despite belief that violence lies on every corner of Brazil, their independence from the Portuguese was remarkably pacific. It involved the heir to the Portuguese thrown, Dom Pedro I, declaring Brazil’s independence in 1822. He then eventually headed back to rule Portugal when his father the king of Portugal died. Thus, he named his five year old son, Dom Pedro II (of course) Emperor of Brazil. Pronouncing his family’s Brazilianess forever more.
A blissful uprising that embodies the equally frustrating and admirable laid-backness of Brazilians. But hold your horses, did we just miss out on the chance of a national holiday?
Did I hear someone say two independence days?
Independence Day number 1: the day Dom Pedro exclaimed independence from Portugal (basically his dad) and everyone applauded the civility of the Brazilians.
Independence Day number 2: a failed uprising against the oppressive Portuguese that ended with a bloody massacre of one dentist.
That’s what we’re talking about Brazil. National holiday deprived Anglosaxon countries listen up!
How to wrangle yourself another national holiday… by Brazil.
Tiradentes & The Plot
Let’s rewind to the State of Minas Gerais in the 1780s when Joaquim José da Silva Xavier leads a group called Inconfidência Mineira – Mineira’s distrust. A winning name I say.
Since Joaquim’s full name is a bit of a mouthful, he’s known in Brazil only by his profession, a dentist. In Portuguese the original word for a dentist was literally “tooth-puller.” Tira = to pull or remove and Dentes = teeth. Indeed, at the time all a dentist could do was literally pull out teeth. Ta-da Tiradentes shall be your name, you plotting rascal.
The Inconfidência Mineira group was bummed because they perceived, rightfully, that the Portuguese crown was abusing their colony Brazil. The yearly taxes on gold were due, but year after year the mines were popping out dismal quantities of gold. The mines were beginning to run dry. Therefore, the plan was to overthrow the crown and declare the state of Minas Gerais, where nearly all the gold and diamonds were, as an independent country.
Surprise surprise, Tiradentes and the gang of distrusters were betrayed. One member of the distrust troop, was rather more distrustful than the others. Covering his back he betrayed the gang in exchange for a years exception of paying those notorious gold taxes.
Tiradentes, what a babe, took all the blame. He was hung, then cut into teeny pieces that were thread onto spikes every bunch of kilometers from Minas Gerais to the capital at the time, Rio de Janeiro. A gruesome reminder not to mess with the Portuguese.
21st April 1792 Tiradentes was executed for plotting treason against the crown. Then over 200 hundred years later, after fervently scouring the history books, the Brazilians managed to declare this day their “bloody” opposition against the Portuguese crown.
Another national holiday hits the books.
Three things you can do
1. Chariots of Fire:
Not literally on fire, but you can prance around the quaint town of Tiradentes in a horse drawn wagon. If romance is on the cards or the kids are in tow this is a winner.
You can get the chariots from Largo das Forras for about R$25.
2. Church up your Life
Have the most religious day of your life. I’m kidding, but there are 9 interlocking streets and a whopping 7 churches. Churches in Minas Gerais are in a Portuguese colonial style. Usually white and yellow or white and blue, and jazzed up with crosses and bells. Step inside the churches and their walls are plastered with gold as far as the eyes can see.
3. Ride a Steam Train
The steam train just runs close by between Tiradentes and São João del Rey. Though short, you get a rush as it is actually run on steam as it was when the railroads were first brought to Brazil because of the Mining Rush.
Three things you can stash:
1. Pinga com mel
This is cachaça, the national drink of Brazil, mixed in with organic honey. Strong as vodka, but the sweet overtone means it goes down a little too easily.
As we already seem to be going down a rocky path, I’m going to make a polemic suggestion. Buy all the cachaça. Minas Gerais is the king of producing this sugarcane alcohol and they keep the best of the best in their own state. Around town many of the stores will sell local produce including cachaças. Also in a town close by Bichinho they have a distillery and sell 49% golden cachaça that will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF.
2. Artisanal Handicrafts
Minas Gerais is also famous for its handmade decorations and ornaments made in the many rural towns. On the road between Tiradentes and Bichinho (7 kms) there are numerous stores with extremely competitive prices. However, if you prefer to root down in Tiradentes you will be spoilt for choice between the artisanal shops.
3. Wooden Furniture
Similarly to the above, Minas Gerais crafts some of the best furniture in Brazil. In a country where even the Ikea equivalent Tok-Stock will set you back $50 for a plastic chair, this is an asset to treasure. Obviously, maybe you can’t get a wardrobe on the plane, but the craft is so professional and pure you could purchase some smaller goodies.
Three things you can chomp:
1. Torresmo – Brazilian Crackling
2. Fogão a Lenha – Firewood cooking Mineiro Style
Mineiro cooks balance pans over wood fires and the food slowly stews for hours on end. You can find anything and usually pay an all you can eat fee that is pennies! You got your greens, beans, meat, including some ambiguous animal parts that you can take or leave.
3. Brazilian Food Festival
Also my wonderful man took me to the Festival Cultura e Gastronomia de Tiradentes. This is an assemble of the BEST Brazilian chefs, teaching, cooking and making sweet wizardry in the kitchen.
Please note: disorganized as we are, we rocked up unannounced and unprepared. This town has 9 streets, that means space is limited and you have to pre-book. Usually people jump on this, but we slept rather precariously in an unaoffical airbnb.
Tiradentes is 4 and a half hours by car from Rio de Janeiro. You could hire a car, it is not a difficult route to follow. Especially once you liberate yourself from the chaos that is Rio de Janeiro. Check my Brazil driving guide here.
Buying in advance you can get a relatively cheap flight to Belo Horizonte the capital of Minas Gerais. However, from there it is another 3 and a half hours to Tiradentes. Alternatively, there is a small airport in São João del Rey, where you can jump on the steam train! Always a top choice, but unfortunately one that comes with a price tag.