Quaint But Fun

Trip Start Aug 17, 2010
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Trip End Sep 16, 2011


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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paraty is an almost fully preserved and fascinating remnant of Brasil's Portuguese colonial past. The seaport town is basically still intact and approximately functioning as it was in the 16th century – allowing for the necessary modernization of some businesses such as the restaurants and hotels. As such, upon disembarking from the bus at the coach station on the outskirts of the town, one is immediately faced with a confusing maze of old stone paved laneways and tightly packed buildings. Adding to the challenge of finding one’s hostel is that the last 500 years has not been kind to the streets, resulting in paving so uneven that it is almost impossible to walk on without immediately turning an ankle ! It does need to be appreciated that the streets have been purposely designed for the sea tide to come in and flush the streets clean at high tide. As such, the pedestrian pavement has been stepped up from the street, but very narrow, remembering that all of this road construction would have been done by hand.

All of this historical observation can be very interesting, but the timing is possibly not the best for a couple who have been backpacking constantly for nearly 3 months and get off yet another long South American bus journey and just WANT TO FIND THEIR HOSTEL, A SHOWER AND A MEAL ! Great fortune then smiles upon us, as in complete contradiction to all the warnings about travelling in South America and in particular Brasil, a fellow pops up – clearly perceiving our frustration and impending explosions – grabs our bags and trots off, saying "follow me, I will take you to your hostel". And guess what – that is what he did, no funny business, no scams, just an honest, hospitable local helping visitors to his town ! He did turn out to be a tour guide, but expected no tips or return for his help. We found out what tour agency he worked for, and booked all of the trips about to be told through them, mentioning the help we had been given. So maybe not only was he honest, but a smart businessman too !

So - with disaster averted, we settled into Paraty, and found the town very chilled and relaxed indeed. A great place to recharge the batteries, from watching our backs in Sao Paulo, to preparing for the rigours of surviving Rio De Janerio. Here in Paraty, one does not have to be worried about walking down the street – day or night. Sitting on the beach or visiting the forests – all can be enjoyed without stress.

Paraty is very quaint, being as I mentioned, almost untouched since the 16th century. An industry in Brasil that is almost as old, and Paraty being one of the major regional centers for – is cachaça production – Brasil’s version of “firewater” – an amazingly strong spirit distilled from sugar cane, which most people will have met in the form of Brasil’s national cocktail – The Caipirinha. In the same way Chile, Peru, Bolivia have the Pisco Sour, Brasil has the Caipirinha – and the base of the Caipirinha is cachaça ( though some philistines use vodka instead ). What we did not know was that there are many different types of cachaça – depending on what fruits or spices have been infused into the distilling process. There are shops in Paraty dedicated to selling cachaça, with entire walls of different bottles of the spirit. They like their cachaça, the Brasilians do !

While Paraty is not a surfing centre like Florianópolis, it does have a couple of modest beaches, and here we find the Brasilian concept of the “on the beach” café. Tables, umbrellas and chairs are placed on the sand in front of any number of kiosks, attended by a roaming army of waiters who somehow know what tables belong to which kiosk. One simply sites down, menus appear, and before you know it, you are eating delicious fish bites and drinking a cold beer while watching the waves wash in. Heaven.

The next day, we are feeling more active, and jump onto a cruise ship heading out to 3 islands close to the shore, for a bit of sight seeing and snorkeling. The photos show it as a stormy day, but being on a latitude similar to Cairns, the weather is quite tropical and warm. The boat stops at the first anchorage, and we jump off and have a swim and snorkel. There are a few inquisitive fish, and we have fun poking around and circling the boat. The feature of the second anchorage is a monkey family on the shore, they are shy but we do get a glimpse of one braver than the rest. The final anchorage is just off a beach, and we swim into shore for a look, then back out to the boat. All in all, a fun day, and we did distinguish ourselves as Australians, given few of the other adults took to the water, preferring to use the dingy run around by the crew. Strange, as there are many parallels between the Brasilians and the Australians – such as the beach culture and a passion for sports, but not swimming ! Ah well, we entertained the kids, they thought we were fun and cheekily tried their classroom English on us !

After the sea – the mountains, and on our 3rd day we head off into the hills in search of famous waterfalls. In fact, the tour should have been titled the “water funpark tour” as the day consisted of visiting a number of spots on the river popular with the locals for cooling off – Wet & Wild eat your hat – the fun to be had by natural river formations rates way better.

First up, the site of an old hydroelectric scheme. The presence of a river strongly flowing down through the mountains lead to early adoption of hydro power – from carving off a section of flow using primitive stone aqueducts carved into the rocks to drive farm machinery such as crushers, winches, etc - evolving to installing turbines and generators to produce electricity. We are climbing past a decommissioned hydroelectric station up the river to a river pool reputably 6m deep ! The water is freezing, and I must admit to declining the offer to jump into the “monster pool”, though a few of our tour group do go in – grown Brasilian men squealing is not a good sight ! The river scenery is beautiful, reminiscent of the rivers in Far North Queensland.

We move onto another river pool – nestled in between rocky walls, complete with rope swing ! The older of our guides, who looked like he could barely get out of the driver’s seat of the bus, jumps on the rope, swings out high above the pool and drops in ! This time I could not resist and scramble up for my go – yeeehaaa !

The water fun around our final river stop has to be seen to be believed. Here the river oozes over flat rocks down to a narrow pool – which someone in the past decided was perfect to serve as a natural water slide ! Being in Brasil, the locals are not satisfied to simply sit and slide down the rocks – they stand and basically “surf” down the rocks, requiring a prodigious leap into the air at the end to land in the narrow rock pool ( and not end up head first on the rocky bank ! ).  This time the younger of our guides demonstrated, and we have the video evidence, which is still hard to believe !

Guess who could not resist an initiation to the rock slide – though as a “new chum” it was acceptable to sit down to slide. Second yeeehaaa of the day !

Given the attention, all the guides started to compete with each other with ever daring tricks – cumulating in one guy surfing down the rocks, jumping over another guy kneeling on the rocks midway, landing on his feet, and finishing with the leap at the end into the rock pool. Wow.

So what we had started to suspect since entering Brasil was confirmed – Brasilians know no other way than 150% craziness in everything they do ! Well, just remember how they support their national soccer team !

On the way back to town, we stopped in at one of the oldest, still operating cachaça distilleries. Fascinating, as the plant was basically still operating as it has been for 500 years ! Water channeled from the river drove the cane crusher, and yes, there may now be electric pumps used, but the cane sap is still fermented and distilled in the original copper boilers and still. We made a small purchase of a “Gabriela” cachaça which, as it was infused with cloves and cinnamon, we felt would make a perfect aperitif for a Swedish Christmas dinner !

Soggily, we finally made it back to our hostel, with our Paraty visit rounded off in an entirely satisfactory manner by our water fun tour.

But the fun is only beginning. The time has finally come. Rio De Janerio.
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Comments

Elizabeth on

Super photo collection, the bottle shop looks pretty and tempting. Sam and myself rate Lauren's performance,(drum roll), "that of a true professional", if they don't know the words they keep on going!

Patricia Moreno on

Hi guys:
I am missing your stories and adventures. I was left out or you are not writing any more?
love you
Patricia

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