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Lazy days in Paraty

Written on: Monday March 24th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Paraty, Brazil

Author: Julie

Bom Dia!

We woke up to our first day in lush Paraty. Our view upon walking out of the hotel was of the small local town square, surrounded by large three-story white-washed historical buildings with brightly colored windowsills. The old Spanish homes with their thick walls and dark, cool interiors were now renovated and transformed into a lovely city center of boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, intersected by narrow cobblestone streets flanked by high sidewalks to avoid the flooding during high tide. A few were still occupied as private homes, inherited by multiple generations. The little town was surrounded by green tropical mountains capped by white clouds, hugging it to the emerald water of the Ihla Grande Bay coastline. There was a calm to the old section, with few people walking the streets, the occasional bike delivery passing by. In front of the pier, a green space marked the location of Capela de Santa Rita, the oldest church in Paraty. It was completed in 1722. This was the church of the white elite and freeman, former slaves who earned or paid for their freedom. A filly and her young, frisky pony munched on grass. Docked at the pier, dozens of sailing ships of all sizes awaited chartering to cruise the islands of Bay of Ilha Grande. The smaller boats had a top deck with a couple of lounge chairs, a couple of parasols and mats to lie in the sun while the boat motored around the lovely tropical coast line. We decided to rent one the next day. The larger mast-sail boats accommodate large groups of over 50 people.

It was Saint Patrick's Day. Kevin, being the good son of an Irish-descended family, had to do his duty and ring in the day with at least one bottle of Guinness. On the recommendation of our hostel owner, we walked the pretty area of old town, trying to find a bar that stocked international beers and hopefully a bottle or two of the dark brew. Unfortunately, they didn't serve Guinness but did have the Brazilian-brewed Antarctica Dark Bier which the waiter assured us was similar. Kevin toasted his family and took a sip. He gave me a queer look and swallowed. Turns out it was a dark but very sweet beer. He couldn't drink it, it was horrible. It tasted like root beer but with hops, a very strange combination. Oh well, at least we tried. That evening, we made the acquaintance of Jane and Oz, a British-couple our age, having just started their one-year around the world trip. Their excitement and awe reminded us of when we had left home happy, excited and nervous all at the same time. They were travelling across South America in the opposite direction we had just completed and we spent a nice evening sitting around the table in the lounge around, sharing tips and stories while consuming a nice bottle of red wine between the girls and beer for the guys, listening to Irish music from their iPod.

The next day, with Jane and Oz, we walked to the pier to see if we could rent a boat for a decent price. I had read that you could barter around and get it for about 180 Reais (100$) for the day, about 30 Reais an hour. We talked to a few but they were asking way too much. A small group of the boat owners had combined together to form a cooperative and took turns taking tourists out, sharing in the profits. The old gentleman who sat behind the desk had an old sea-dog look to him with darkly tanned skin, huge hands, the typical captain's cap and a shock of white hair underneath. We explained what we wanted and for how long and he said the price was 180 Reais, which was more what we had expected to pay. We agreed to the price and one of the sailors lounging around, jumped up and escorted us to his boat. It was well-kept with the common layout of a top deck with a couple of chairs, mats and umbrella's. We discussed with him that we wanted to do a bit of snorkelling and touring and off we went. It was a lazy day spent chatting, on top while the dark green coast line passed by. We stopped at a couple of dive spot near a couple of small islands. The water was warm and the fish were abundant. Around 3 PM, we motored into a small restaurant only accessibly by boat which served fresh seafood plates, including shrimp and freshly cooked fish with lime. It was delicious. We returned to Paraty as the sun was setting.

The next day, Oz and Jane spent the day at the local beach which we stayed in our room working on the blog. We were behind (a lot less than we are now!) and wanted to play catch up before we left South America. We knew we had a week to relax in this town and a couple of days dedicated to the blog were in order. That evening we got tickets to a puppet show that was really popular. All we knew was that it had won quite a few awards, was considered cutting edge and that posters for it was everywhere. It was a bit of a cultural institution in Paraty and had been operating for over five years. We didn't know what to expect and we were surprised. During the one hour show, two women dressed in complete black hand-manipulated very life-like puppets in a variety of sketches, all covering adult themes. One was about loneliness and depression ending with the character writing a suicide note and shooting himself in the head, another was about love in the twilight years with an older woman and man flirting with each other, till they are sitting on the bench holding hands, then they change back into their younger selves, the most interesting sketch was of a female character masturbating. The show had all of us going "humm, that was different!" after it ended. The movement of the puppets were so realistic, it didn't seem like it was a doll being moved by human hand. I recommend it to anyone who visits Paraty.

On the third day, we lost our new friends as they moved on to the next location of their trip. We had a few days remaining and spent them working on the blog, walking the streets at night, looking in shops, enjoying hand-made ice cream, watching the street performers. Quite a few were dressed in really elaborate costumes and would stand still till someone would drop a coin in their basket. They would perform a choreographed set of moves appropriate for their character, then they present a small piece of paper with a fortune written on it, to finally come back to original standing pose to await the next coin donation. There were ghouls, knights, an Egyptian queen, a couple caught in a rainstorm, etc. My favourite street vendor was a man who wore a purple robe, hand-made butterfly clips. He had them clipped everywhere on his body, including his beard, moustache, eyebrows, ears, hair, glasses, etc. Every corner had a dessert vendor selling freshly made cakes and sweets from a hand-pulled wagon. All the restaurants would put out chairs and tables in the streets and serve food and drinks till the wee hours of the night. Vendors selling sunglasses, music, deep fried foods, and cotton candy would line up their stalls around the town square, while teenagers hung out in the park. A few groups of Capoireha dancers would perform for the small crowds gathered around.

On Easter Friday, a large religious procession passed by the hotel. Worshippers carried religious images, icons, statues, and candles in a long procession while being flanked by men dressed in what seemed to be roman warrior outfits. In the rear came a small band playing the processional music and lastly a man setting off fireworks at a safe distance.

The last couple of days we ventured out to the beaches. The first one was over a bridge, off of the main square. As we crossed, local boys were doing backflips off the bridge to land in the brown waters of the river below. The second beach was a five minute walk over to the next bay. Along the way, was the small mud road that led to Forte Defensor which was built in 1703 and outfitted with six cannons for the protection of the city's important commercial warehouses. With the aforementioned economic decline of the region, it was in ruins until 1822, when it was reconstructed and dedicated to Emperor Dom Pedro I. Some historians believe that it was at the fort that the first nucleus of the town began, in that the area around the fort is still referred to as the "Old Village." Ruins of the old rock defensive walls together with the cannons can still be seen today. It is also home to a Powder House for storing explosives - one of the few still existing in Brazil. Forte Defensor is one of seven fortifications that were built around the harbour of Paraty, two of them being in the city. All of the others that were constructed outside the city are now only ruins. We took a quick look and photos and departed. There isn't much remaining to be seen other than an old building, an open lawn, some of the old cannons, a dead tree and a beautiful view of the sea below. We spent the afternoon at the beach, swimming in its warm waters. At one point, Kevin had a beach dog join him in the waters. Wherever Kevin swam, the dog followed, he just wanted to have someone to play with for a little while. The weather was warm but mostly cloudy so by 6 PM we were back at the hotel.