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Paraty

Written on: Sunday March 16th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Paraty, Brazil 

Author: Julie 

Bom Dia! 

Plans sometimes change on the fly as did ours to visit the Brazilian side of Foz de Iguacu (or Foz do Iguacu as it is named in Portuguese). After having checked out of our hotel, we embarqued on a bus that would take us to the border for passport control. A 10 minute wait in line, a few misplaced Portuguese phrases, and a new stamp in our passport, we were now officially in Brazil. Our bus ticket allowed us onward travel to the city of Foz do Iguacu so we settled down to wait at the bus stop, in the beating sun, for the next bus expected in ½ hour. We bided our time by chit-chatting with other travellers who were waiting for their own connection. One Australian couple were travelling not with just their backpacks but also with a full set of copper pots and pans they had bought in Bolivia a few months earlier. For 50$ USD, a full set of 3 cooking pots and 2 frying pans could by yours. We had considered it but the weight was prohibitive and we didn't want to pay for the shipping costs. We now regret now having bought them, considering the price they would have been in Canada. One more reason to return to South America, but with a large hockey duffel bag next time. Our bus transfer arrived and we were driven into the city, only be dropped off on a city corner. The bus did not go to the bus station nor did it go anywhere near the hostel area. 

As we were looking at the map, we were approached by a man with an official looking "Tourist Information Agent" badge. Knowing that these were easy to fake, we were weary of asking him for help. We asked him where a certain hostel was located and said it was too far to walk but that he could book us into a similar one nearer to where we were. Seeing this for the scam it was, we said "no thank you" and waited for a taxi. He asked if we needed to have money exchange, and although we didn't want to deal with him, we didn't have any Brazilian Reais (other than the small amount our friend Mijin had given us as a going away present before leaving Canada) so we asked him where the closest bank machine was located. Saying it was only around the corner we walked over to find out that he had pointed us to an exchange office with a ATM terminal. Biting the bullet, we took out some money and exchanged the remainder of our Pesos into Reais, at a fairly decent rate. I carefully recounted the amount twice and checked for fake or ripped bills, which is a common scam exchange offices run. They either slip a few bills out of the total amount when you are not looking or pass along unacceptable bills that won't be usable, but everything was alright. The "information agent" had followed us and asked if we still needed a taxi. I quickly consulted Kevin and asked him how much he really wanted to see the same falls but from a different view point. When he answered that he could do without, I proposed that we should take a bus to the area of Ihla Grande on the Altantic Ocean, between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. It was quite a distance to travel but given that we had to travel it at some time, might as well do it now and start a new phase of our trip. So with our new destination agreed upon, we hopped a taxi and headed for the bus station. At the ticket counter, we were informed that although there wasn't a direct bus to Paraty, we could travel for 18 hours to a small city on the outskirt of Sao Paolo and buy another bus ticket to our destination. We didn't want to actually enter the metropolis of Sao Paolo as we didn't have any intentions of visiting the city. It was known for being dangerous, dirty, polluted and tourist unfriendly. If we could, we were quite happy to skip it. So, we handed over 170$ (ouch!) and settled down for a very long bus ride in a new country. 

I between bouts of sleep, I watched the landscape pass us by. The occasional plantation with a small shanty town on the outskirt for the seasonal workers, would be traded for large patches of forest only to be changed again for large industrial and unremarkable cities. We were now in a Portuguese speaking country, which is similar in writing to Spanish but very different in spoken. We couldn't understand anything that was being said around us by our fellow passengers. Although, the price for the bus had been the costliest in all of South America up to this point, the bus was more like a Greyound bus with semi-adjustable seating and very narrow legroom. We had become accustomed to the luxury of buses in Agentina and Chile and had now resort to more basic standards. Such is the life of a traveller. We arrived the next day around 10 AM at the bus station where we were supposed to transfer. I had to ask the bus driver if this was our stop or not since the name written on the ticket didn't sound anything like he was pronouncing. Portuguese is spoken with a lot of "shushing" sounds and a lot of syllables are prounounced different than you would think, for example: words ending in "ão" is pronounced as "ong" and the letter n is pronounced like an "m". Very hard to wrap my mind around it. Why not use the appropriate sounding letter in the writing of the word? We got off, collected our bags and walked to the center of the bus station where the bus companies were arranged in a circle, displaying their destinations on the ticket window. We walked around a couple of times, reading the hundred of destinations but none said Paraty. I was a little worried since we had been told to come here to continue on. I approached the bus driver again, with the word Paraty written on a piece of paper and talking to him in Spanish trying to see if he knew which bus companies went that way. He couldn't help us so I started approaching different bus companies, figuring they must know which one went there or at least where we had to go next to find a connecting bus. Finally, after a half hour, a man was able to help and point us to a small ticket window for a local bus company that although they hadn't advertised it as a destination did have daily bus departures for Paraty. Phew! We booked our ticket for the next bus leaving later in the afternoon and settled down for a bit of lunch.

At 2:30 PM, we got on our next bus and settled down for the 3 hour bus ride. The village was known for its lush tropical mountains and island dotted coastline and was somewhat of a popular destination for visitors from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, the rest of Brazil, and the world. It was founded formally as a town by Portuguese colonizers in 1667, in a region populated by the Guaianás Indians. The Guaianás people who lived where the city now stands called the entire area "Paraty". In the Tupi language "Paraty" means "river of fish". fter the discovery of the world's richest gold mines in 1696 in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Paraty became an export port for gold to Rio de Janeiro and from there on to Portugal. The ensuing gold rush led to the construction of the "Caminho do Ouro" or "Gold Trail", a 1200 kilometer road, paved in steep areas with large stones, which connected Paraty to Diamantina via Ouro Preto and Tiradentes. Not only was it was used to transport gold to Paraty, but it was also used to convey supplies, miners and African slaves by mule train over the mountains to and from the gold mining areas. Two substantial sections of the Caminho do Ouro have been excavated near Paraty and are now a popular tourist destination for hiking. The Gold Trail fell into disuse because of attacks on the gold laden ships bound for Rio de Janeiro by pirates who frequented the islands and coves of the Bay of Angra dos Reis. Eventually a safer overland route from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro was created because of these pirate raids. Finally, the gold itself began to run out in the late 1700s, and Paraty declined. The city's economic activity revived as a port for a new boom, the coffee trade of the Paraiba do Sul River Valley in the early 1800s, until a railway along the valley created cheaper transport to the port of Rio de Janeiro. Another smaller revival came late in the 19th century with the production of cachaça, which is a sugarcane-derived spirit best known today as the basis for Brazil's most famous drink, the caipirinha. The name "Paraty" in that period became synonymous with cachaça. Since then, Paraty has been out of the mainstream, which is why it did not change for centuries, until a paved road was built from Rio de Janeiro to Santos, near São Paulo, in the 1970s. The city then began a new cycle of activity, which transformed a small, almost abandoned town living on very limited economic activity, mainly fishing and agriculture (bananas, manioc, sugarcane) into what is now known as one of the "must see" tourism attractions in Brazil. Paraty is known for the cobblestone-paved streets throughout the Historic Center District. No cars or trucks are allowed in this part of town. Only foot traffic or bicycles. Horses and carts are a very common sight in Paraty and are frequently used all around the city. Thanks to Portuguese engineering involving an ingenious curvature of the cobblestone streets, Paraty is home to a unique phenomenon. Once a month when there is a Full Moon and the tide is high, seawater rises from its normal levels, and pours into the Historic Center District through special openings in the seawalls that separate the city from the harbour. The streets are only flooded for a short time, until the tide recedes. The water is usually only six to ten inches deep and a few merchants near the seawall put out small bridges to span the flooded streets for the benefit of pedestrians.

We arrived on time 5:30 PM and had only a few hours of sunlight to find a room. With the help of our guidebook, we knocked at a few hotels but most were full for the week-end. The city is dormant during the week, but fills up on the week-ends with visitors from neighbouring cities. We had met a Brazilian, from São Paolo in Buenos Aires who had summered in the area every year till he was 16. Many hotels, hostels, timeshare condos and private villas could be seen along the highway on our approach to the town. It was where the rich came to escape the stifling heat, dirt and poverty during their days off. We finally found a place at a small hotel, located on corner, about 1 block from the ocean front. It had been built in the 1650s, with large windows, thick stone walls, gorgeous chunky antique furniture and a small indoor courtyard choked with plants and hummingbirds. The hotel had been in the same family for at least three generations and the current owner, Maria, loved animals so we shared the common areas with 2 mature cats, a kitten, 2 dogs and a puppy. I was in animal heaven.