São Thomé das Letras is a small town of about 7,000 people located in the south of Minas Gerais state. It is located about 35km (20 miles) east of a city called Três Corações (three hearts), which is known to almost every Brazilian as the birthplace of football legend Pelé.
The town is located 1,440 meters above sea level on a large deposit of quarzite. As you approach the town you are greeted by a sheer wall of rock that seems far too high to drive up, yet a small road full of potholes does climb up into the hills leading travelers into the town, which has one central square with surrounding streets paved with quartzite stones.
The town has two main industries, commercial mining of the local quartzite deposits and tourism. The mines are close to the town and are fairly ugly as you pass by, but once inside the town there is only a view of the mountains, waterfalls, and jungle – which is why the tourists love the area so much.
Many people believe that the rock has an energy that cannot be explained and this has led to São Thomé das Letras becoming a major centre for UFO sightings in Brazil and people who explore an alternative lifestyle are drawn to the town.
The idea of alternative lifestyles covers a lot of ground, but can be summarized as the opposite of middle-class office workers. Many people who live in São Thomé das Letras, or visit the town regularly, enjoy a sense of freedom from the normal pressures of life. They would be called hippies or travelers in many countries and for some reason dreadlocks and Bob Marley t-shirts are very popular – reggae culture is popular in Brazil anyway, but in this town Bob Marley is an icon!
Local craft is focused on the use of Quartzite to make ornaments and fashion items, but when the Gift Brazil team visited town we picked a weekend with such bad weather that most of the artisans stayed away from the market.
That was a real shame as we had been told about the Sunday craft market, but on the day found only two artisans braving the rain. One of them was selling small handmade houses shaped from pieces of Quarzite collected in the quarry. She complained about having no market to sell her craft beyond the town square alone – which was not much of a market on a day like that.
Of course, this is one of the main reasons why Gift Brazil was created. Once we find these artisans all across Brazil, we can help them reach out to a global audience of people interested in Brazilian craft. We can help the artisans of São Thomé das Letras to find new markets all over the world, but we can’t help with the search for more UFOs – the tourists can keep on looking for them!