Rio Grande do Sul is the southernmost state in Brazil. It was settled in the 1800s by Italian and German immigrants, and the effects of that are still very much in evidence today. Gramado, where we’ve stayed over the Carnaval weekend, is a small town with 28,000 people that now lives mostly from tourism and hosts a famous South American film festival.

In most other parts of Brazil you can expect a town this size to barely have paved streets. In contrast, Gramado has dozens of first-class hotels, broadband Internet everywhere, upscale boutiques and many well-kept tourist attractions. It feels much like a prosperous tourist town in, say, Southern Germany.

Except for the sun and the tropical plants, this photo of an apartment building looks very European. Here’s a shot of the downtown shopping district:

The tree on the left is a “Paraná Pine” (Araucaria Angustifolia), the local variety of pine. I’ve seen much larger ones in the nearby parks. The fellow walking towards me is clad in the common clothes of the rural gaúcho (pronounced gah-OOsho or, by the locals, gah-OOtsho).

A well-known gaúcho specialty is the chimarrão, the local variety of mate tea. It’s traditionally drunk in a special cup made from a gourd and with a metal straw that has a disk-shaped strainer at the end. Here’s the chimarrão set our bus driver carried around with him:

Once the gourd is properly set up and packed, it’s replenished periodically with hot water from the thermos bottle. It’s very tasty and invigorating. Since it has high caffeine content it ought to be useful for programming…