PC 10 Paraty

Paraty or Picinguaba? Such a difficult choice; by reputation two of the most beautiful locations on the coast between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and certainly two wonderfully exotic-sounding places!! Picinguaba is to the west of Paraty, and is a beach resort guaranteed to provide a place to unwind, a place to watch men fish and maybe to eat their catch; they’ve named the village after the indigenous tribe that lived here in the C16th. Paraty (pronounced Parachee) is closer to Rio by 40 minutes and has centuries of history – sounded perfect! Dear Brazilian chums of Celina in London had stayed at the Pousada Porto Imperial and had enjoyed it enormously. We booked online; it took a phone call to persuade them not to insist on my photocopying my passport and both sides of the credit card, scanning and sending them!! Accommodation in good hotels in Brazil is not cheap but the Porto Imperial did not disappoint in any respect and its location was excellent.

The commercial development of São Paulo and Minas Gerais during the C17th and C18th relied heavily on the development of Paraty as a port, an outlet for their exports, sugar, gold and coffee, to Portugal; in fact the road from São Paulo became known as the Caminho do Ouro (Gold Way). Latterly, as the drinks industry developed, casks of the Brazilian liquor Cachaça, distilled from sugar cane, joined the trail. Paraty was one of the most important ports in Brazil before Port Santos was built, closer to São Paulo, and loved by the Imperial family. Now it’s one of the best preserved Portuguese colonial towns, and may eventually become a World Heritage site.

With the hotel on the eastern edge of the old town, you can walk out of the front door ….. and into the C17th. Well! Almost! It’s easy to sense the ghosts of townspeople past, the traders, the fishermen, the sailors, their feet on the old cobbled streets. Half close your eyes and the throng, noise and bustle of this past life becomes imaginable. The buildings may have been turned into restaurants and bijoux shops selling locally-made arts and crafts, but the structure hasn’t changed. Well-proportioned single storey buildings, with only the odd church, such as the church of Igreja da Matriz Nossa Senhora dos Remedios standing in the main square, and larger mansions, boasting a second level. This was a small town, the old part no bigger than 200m wide and 300m long.

The streets are paved with an uneven collection of stones, the forerunner of the uniform cobble. The centre of the street has a more level line, well, comparatively (!!), probably for the  wheel of a hand cart. If you’re unsteady on your feet, this is not the place for you; but you do get used to it and tread carefully. The only disadvantage is you tend to be looking down at where your feet might go next, and not up at the architecture. One of the tour guides said that physiotherapists did a roaring trade tending sprained and twisted ankles. On the seafront the church of Igreja de Santa Rita Postal de Paraty has become the iconic pinup of Paraty. Fish is plentiful and fresh here, and we ate at Batholomew’s and at the Banana Da Terra. Both restaurants would do well in London; wonderful food but sadly comparable prices!

We had two complete days so decided to spend one on the sea and one in the hinterland. Like all coastal towns that depend on tourism, there are plenty of options. Neptun II, a 30m yellow schooner, provided exactly what it said on the tin. In the company of some 50 others from all around the world, we sailed off into the bay, to anchor off a beach to swim, to watch the colourful fish and dolphins, to visit other islands in the bay, and to have lunch on board. The canned music was tolerable, drinks were available, and the crew did everything they could to ensure we had a fun and safe time.

Fabio drove the truck the next day and was our guide for our trip into the Atlantic Forest, part of the National Park of Bocaina Mountain. A teacher of Capoeira (see note below) and a boat skipper, he took us to the obligatory Cachaça distillery where at 1100 in the morning you are invited to taste this very Brazilian drink – and of course make a purchase in the shop. The sugar cane takes 6 months to grow and develop its juice; the cropping and manufacturing process starts in May and runs until November. Then on to Pedra Branca, a large waterfall with swimming pools and roaring cascades. Strange to swim in natural water that’s not salty! Absolutely beautiful; miles from anywhere, floating in a rock pool, I could easily have imagined I was in paradise – if I could have shut out the noise of all the other tourists, that is!

Another Cachaça distillery, another torrent of water tumbling over smooth rocks, bumping along jungle trails, Avocados hanging from the trees, wild Banana plants growing by the roadside; a nice change from the beach …. and the sea!

Paraty has a more modern commercial part, stretching further inland, but it’s the old town which attracted me so much. No cars, no bright street lights, the houses all painted white with colourful shutters and doors often of differing colours; and I even got to love the strange ‘cobbles’.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

P.S. Incidentally, in the UK if we think ‘international book festivals?’ we think of Hay-on-Wye; here Brazilians think of Paraty, where there is a huge festival during the winter!

Note: Capoeria

Capoeira is a Brazilian form of Martial Arts, combining elements of dance, acrobatics and music. It was developed by the slaves who came from Africa to labour in the sugar cane plantations. Through Capoeira they learned how to fight and defend themselves, but disguised this as a dance, thus escaping punishment. With the abolition of slavery in 1888 those trained in Capoeira became a nuisance in the cities. As a consequence, the teaching of it was banned in 1890 and that ban not lifted until 1941. Today masters of Capoeira, Capoeiristas, teach all over the world and the Martial Art has a huge following.

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