28/05/12 – 03/06/12 – Paraty, Brazil
There’s a few ways you can leave Ilha Grande. Which is nice because depending on your mood you can put up with that whole ‘wheres the bus-stop.. is this the right ferry.. excuse me can you show me where the ticket office’ thing.. or you can get an ‘Easy Transfer’, have the A-Team van pick you up, close your eyes and be whisked away to wake up some hours later at your destination. It’s probably important to note there is a scale of economy here which can affect your overall decision as well. You certainly pay a lot more for door-to-door service; about 50 bucks for both of us.. as opposed to say 15 through local means.
We thought the ‘whole wheres the bus-stop thing’ might be an alright thing. Plus, I think part of us wanted to get back to that whole budget traveler thing if only to prepare for countries with less tourist infrastructure. So at 10am we boarded one of those barge ferry things made of solid cast iron and spent a good hour and half burbling across the ocean to Angra, a nice port town on the mainland. To make the adventure even more authentic we’d been drawn a map by Carolina, the guesthouse operator who advised us roughly (as if hand-drawn maps are precise) where we needed to find the bus once we’d disembarked from the ferry.
Well we found the round-a-bout and the general bus-stop she’d drawn but everything else became a shimmering enigma. We’d walked past all that; the local Angrans lined up for buses with bags of crackers and other produce, teens with over-sized caps just chillin’ and looking intimidating to foreigners, and the odd meandering old man; waving his arms around, shouting and getting in our way. We trudged probably a kilometer or so with our bags, in the heat, smartly wearing black jeans, and dripping.. DRIPPING with sweat. ‘This isn’t right..’ I said. Nothing. ‘THIS ISN’T RIGHT!’
Thankfully by some chance we found an Information Centre that kindly pointed us to the bus stop and told us to look out for Colitur buses, which we knew, but in which direction; and for some reason we were looking for a ticket office instead, when you could buy tickets on the bus. Our bus soon arrives, we stumble on-board, throw our bags behind the rear seats, stumble over locals and grab ahold of the rails, standing up, for dear life. Again, the Brazilian bus drivers are probably required to be psychopathic for the purposes of employment. We flew up and around the Costa Verde mountains, occasionally getting glimpses of a beautiful coastline, yellow sandy beaches, deep blue water, rich green of the enclosing forests. Reminding me of the Brazilian flag. Gradually as people disembark we get a seat for the rest of the journey, which includes a meander through the local nuclear power plant workers village. Identical rows of pre-fab houses, pickets fences, eerie in a Stepford Wives/Blackhole Sun kind of way. But its some 2 and a bit hours and we’re rumbling into Paraty’s local bus station.
Paraty was established as a gold trading port to Rio De Janiero in the late 1600’s. It’s located at the end of a 1200 kilometer road called the Caminho do Ouro, along which gold and diamonds were dug and transported. We took in some of this road over the next few days as part of a local waterfall tour. It’s a kind of tourist road now along which there’s plenty.. PLENTY of cacha (Ca-Shash-Ah) distilleries. The irony of the authentic experience is that the bus stop placed us some 2 kilometers from our pousada (guesthouse). So we got a taxi, that cost a good 10 bucks or so. Which meant that overall we saved probably 20 bucks, at the cost of our sweaty clothing, getting lost, bundled into buses and probably a good additional 2 hours or so. WORTH IT.
So by the time we got to the pousada and we didn’t have the correct change for the taxi I wasn’t really in the mood for some prick at the gate stating the bleeding obvious..‘There’s a bus.. but I guess you wouldn’t know that’. ‘Uh-huh..’ Taxi driver then asks us in Portugese if we have a 5 Riel note to make up the fare. ‘He wants to know if you have a..’ ‘YEP!…’
Turns out he gave up and just gave us a discount in lieu of correct change. So that’s a plus.
Then it turns out the prick at the gate is the pousada owner, Antwon (not his real name; for reasons described later on..).. who ushers us into the property that he owns and lives in with his wife and son. And suddenly I’m the one who feels like a prick because he’s a really nice guy. Their pousada is this lovely double story place with an upstairs deck that overlooks a mountain enclosed bay. They’re wandering around in shorts and no shoes, showing us all the outdoor chill-out areas, some with local monkeys and wildlife. I’m being overly nice to make up for being so short at the gate. We put our stuff down and take a walk along the local beach front.
There’s a scattering of beach kiosks serving food, drinks and good times on tables setup on the sand. We sit down and get a meal between us consisting of a beautifully fried local fish, with a home-made sweet vegetable sauce and rice. Delish! We debate walking the mile into town being late afternoon and instead decide on finding the local supermarket. The local area consists of a kilometer or so local housing no more than 2 streets back from the beach, before the landscape disappears into the mountains. You know it’s really weird here because both Rebecca and I got a sense of one of those NSW small coastal towns that you roll up to, setup a tent or caravan and then walk around explaining yourself to everyone else, because they’re locals and you’re obviously an outsider.
Horses roam freely around the town, munching grass and kicking local dogs. The dogs likewise roam freely, forming their own society, fighting their own turf-battles, holding their own elections, having underground boxing matches. If a family decides it’s wants a dog, it seems they simply wander out into the street with a collar, chase down a local hound and adorn it with the collar. The dog might eventually learn where the family lives and if it can’t seems to find food anywhere else in the area, it might grace the family for a feed, outside of that, it’s basically running free, with a nice collar. The council runs a fumigation cart around the town, blowing puffs of white smoke into the trees and surrounding properties to keep the population of mosquitoes down. We did our best with an electrified tennis racquet as well; but the mosquitoes are pretty notorious. There’s no fly-screen on the windows so you have to find a balance between keeping the room cool and surviving being bitten.
We walked into town the next day and discovered a charming old town that has managed to maintain the historical charm of the past 250 odd years. No motor traffic, bar the odd adventurous motorcycle, is permitted to enter so you have human and horse drawn carts and foot traffic only. The cobbling is a bit ridiculous though, the cobbles are rocks so it’s kind of like walking along the local breakwater. You get these occasional nerve twinges from your Achilles and calf muscles every now and then you’re in constant fear of a more serious injury. Which is justified because the town is so pretty, with it’s whitewashed walls, giant wooden doorways, painted all variety of colour, that you’re too busy sight-seeing to watch where you’re walking. We took in local sites, the port, the Capela De Santa Rita, the oldest church, and arguably the most iconic, positioned close to the waters edge. We took in the massive Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remédios and it’s nearby garden square enclosed in vine covered trees. Amongst all the age there’s a flourishing arts scene and we popped into a cacha/arts shop (weird..I know) and
bought a boutique caipirhina cocktail (with passionfruit) and had a crepe.
Antwon arranged for us to go on a local Waterfall tour the next day with the rest of the pousada guests, which was great as we all got on pretty well. We were all bundled into a jeep with a Brazilian driver who spoke not a word of English and we spent the day wandering jungle paths to view waterfalls, and spend money in cacha distilleries. Thankfully the jungle environments are nicely preserved given the amount of visitors they receive. It’s possible to swim at most of them and despite it being a cooler day, with some rain, we swam anyway. It was cold, heart-joltingly cold but “refreshing”.
There was a rope swing at one of the falls which was adventurous enough but we drew the line at the Toboga waterfall which has become a natural water-slide through the combination of moss covered rocks and fast moving water.
See.. ? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMNE9IQP OvQ
The sign ‘Risk of Death’ was enough to ward us off, and we were told later by Antwon that he had had guests who had smashed their jaws on the waterfall and ruined the day for everyone else. Pass.
So here’s me on the rope swing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHxV0KBx 7Dg
We took in a pay-by-the-kilo lunch at Lingo Lingo.. basically a smorgasbord where your plate is weighed prior to eating, and a cost is calculated based on the weight. Mostly chips, stews and random vegies, with token fatties being un-hygienic at the bain-maries. It was okay.
Despite the natural beauty in the area, the weather over the next couple of days kept us landlocked so we had plenty of time to take in some of Antwon’s stories. Some of Antwons life experience includes: Mini-cab driver – evaded secondment by a criminal group who required his services for an armed robbery by flying overseas. Returned to find apartment trashed and said group after him. Mini-cab driver – girl asked to be dropped at bridge so she could jump off; managed to talk her out of it. Illegal street racing of BMW’s with Jamaican gangs in L.A. Good friends with notorious Jamaican drug lord/gangland killer who has since been shot and killed. Acquainted with crossbow killer, currently on the run. Son has told guests to ‘shut up and eat your ******* cake’.
So there was certainly no shortage of entertainment despite the weather but it did mean we missed out on seeing several of the surrounding islands via a boat trip. To make up for it, Paraty put on a Jazz Festival for us, so there was plenty of music in the old town, random jazz groups stumbling along the cobbled streets through to New Orleans fly-ins to perform for the night on the main stage.
By the time that was done we’d spent 5 nights there and it was time to head into the mega-city Sao Paulo with an estimated 22 million people. Should be relaxing.