Destination Brasil

Walking the Streets Again

Near the historic and modern city of Campinas, in the state of São Paulo, sit the towns of Sousas and Joaquim Egídio, which are linked to the city’s colonial past. With their cobblestone streets, surrounding mountains, and bustling nightlife, they are perfect places to visit Campinas’s past and enjoy Brazilian hospitality.

Por  Ana Teresa Benjamín
Fotos: Carlos Gómez

The Campinas train is as colorful as a fall day, and its steam engine whistles like trains in the best dreams of children.

A century and a half ago, more or less, this train was the means of transportation for the coffee that was grown in the fields of this city in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. But this August morning, its only burden is a bunch of kids, 12 to 15 years old, who talk and laugh boisterously.

The Campinas railway has the name of a woman, Maria Fumaça. It’s pronounced “Fumaaaza,” since it’s Portuguese. A couple of years ago some wise people from Campinas formed the Brazilian Association of Railway Preservation (ABPF, for its initials in Portuguese) and decided to revive the hundred year old train: in these days of bullet trains, they said, the old locomotive and its wagons had the potential to be a tourist attraction.

That’s how Maria Fumaça began to travel the roads of yesteryear, a journey that, for scholars, also becomes a history class, albeit a fun one: once the train starts and launches its characteristic steam, the children get out to learn, in a room at the Pedro América Station, what a work day was like in the station before there was internet or cell phones. Between anecdotes and facts, Marcos Carvalho, who is responsible for the ABPF train, captivates the students with the details of its construction —the natural ventilation, the old methods of communication, and even the attire. He talks about the large “fazendas,” or estates, that first cultivated the sugarcane, and later coffee, that was harvested through slave labor.

The trip by steam train is, in the end, a look at the immigrant, rural, and colonial past that made Campinas what it is today: a city known throughout Brazil as a center for science, innovation, and technology.

Rural Campinas: Between History and Fiesta

Campinas produces 1.8% of Brazil’s GDP and, according to census data, is home to more than a million people. Around the year 1700 it was just a rest stop for travelers journeying from Goiás to Mato Grosso, but its history began to change when the Portuguese crown gave Francisco Barreto Leme land to develop, sow, and pay taxes on.

For more than a century, the fazendas of important barons and landowners in Campinas prospered using slave labor. When slavery was abolished in 1888, they were left without help. As a solution, they lured hundreds upon hundreds of European men —Italians and Germans, primarily— to leave their native lands and travel to Brazil, with a promise of prosperity that vanished almost as soon as they stepped on South American soil and were converted into white slaves.

This cycle of forced labor ended when the immigrants began to farm their own lands in the villages that the barons made them build. In this way, they began to form towns like Sousas and Joaquim Egídio, where the custom of planting spices and vegetables in the backyard still exists.

The city of Campinas could be recognized as a cutting edge urban center for its research and technology development, but Sousas and Joaquim Egídio still retain the intimate, reserved appearance of colonial towns: low-lying houses, small plazas, and windows looking out over cobblestone streets.

Perhaps because it’s closer to the city, in Sousas you feel intense movement: there are small restaurants, a square where fruits and vegetables are sold, people playing politics —Brazil was in full presidential campaign mode in August— and cars going up and down the streets. So much activity in a town from the colonial past is understandable when one knows that the development of residential real estate is booming, turning Sousas into a purchasing center for the area’s supplies.

A little further on is Joaquim Egídio, with a completely different look. Still sleepy at this hour, almost noon, Joaquim Egídio is a town more connected to the mountains and country life. Although its center is also full of old homes, a short walk reveals horse stables, pastures, and yards planted with lettuce and chives.

Both towns are connected not only by a road that’s in excellent condition, but also by a shady path, equipped with benches and exercise equipment, that can be walked in half an hour.

Still, those in the know say that at night Sousas and Joaquim Egídio end up resembling each other: restaurants and bars open their doors wide to welcome nightlife enthusiasts, and the party doesn’t end until morning, out of exhaustion.

Legacy of Slavery: Cachaza and Frijolera with Pork

Another way to connect with Campinas’ colonial past is by making a visit to Vila Antiga, an outdoor museum organized in a somewhat arbitrary manner. Objects related to the cultivation of sugarcane in the region are exhibited here, as well as toys from the first half of the 20th century, old printing machines, and even classic cars.

To the left of the entrance there is a long wooden structure that houses two string instrument makers: Ricardo Spieth, maker of chord and percussion instruments, and David Pupo Nogueira, who makes guitars. The place is very inviting, because it’s not every day you get a chance to talk with manufacturers of sound and watch closely as they put their instruments together. One learns that Spieth makes pedagogical and therapeutic instruments (bought by schools and those working with music therapy, for example), and that Pupo Nogueira gets the wood for his guitars from old country buildings and recycles them, because “that’s the best wood.”

The mills operated by slaves to extract juice from sugarcane are also displayed on the premises, and one discovers —from the guide’s explanations— that cachaça, the most popular distilled alcoholic drink in Brazil, was discovered by slaves while fermenting sugarcane.

We also have the African slaves to thank for the existence of the rich frijolada (bean soup) accompanied with rabito (little tail), legs or small pieces of pork. During the period of slavery, the barons kept the best parts of the animal for themselves and gave the slaves the leftovers. The slaves then prepared this kind of bean soup, which can be found in several Latin American countries today.

The journey through Vila Antiga and Campinas’s past ends with a visit to a local restaurant: an open space that offers samples of Brazilian cuisine such as barbecue made right in front of diners, rice with pequi (a type of fruit), and the delicious dulce de leche (caramelized condensed milk dessert), firm and with a custard-like flavor.


Getting There

Copa Airlines offers a daily flight to the Viracopos airport in Campinas in a 737-800 aircraft. For more information, please visit or

Places to visit

Above Joaquim Egídio, nearly 3,500 feet up Monte Urania, is the Jean Nicolini Municipal Observatory of Campinas. An installation of the Department of Culture, it has been used for astronomical observation since 1999. “We photograph asteroids and meteorites, and these photographs are then linked to other information from other telescopes. In this way we are building maps of the universe,” explains Adilson Fernandes Dias, who is responsible for equipment maintenance.

If you visit the historic center of Campinas, be sure to see:

Municipal Market

The building, dating back to 1902, was a train station. Its interior is a festival of colors: spices and seasonings for almost everything, fruits, vegetables, meats (smoked, salted, and fresh), and seafood.

Castle Tower (Torre do Castelo)

Since this is the highest point in the city, the dome offers a panoramic view.

The Palace of Tiles

Dating back to 1878, today it is the Museum of Image and Sound.