Cold and rainy as the south of Brazil may get (intermittently and not for long, in my limited experience), the further north you get, the warmer, sunnier and beachier it gets. Actually the seasons here frame the year a little differently – it seems to be hot as the Earth’s core and humid to boot from September to April/May, a little rainy in between and it gets chilly around July to October. Notice I didn’t say freezing… true, there are places of higher elevation in Brazil where you’ll probably feel the bite of the wind more sharply, but I remember when we arrived in Sao Paulo in June 2014, it was definitely warmer than it had been a month earlier in Mendoza, Argentina. We sported jackets in the morning and at night, but it’s almost the middle of June right now and I’m still wearing shorts and T-shirts most of the time (nope… this is not a place Dirk J would call a comfortable home ;P) but it’s the perfect place to cultivate beach culture! What a surprise that this is exactly how I would describe any part of Brazil that is less than a week’s drive from the coast – every long weekend, holiday or time off is much rather spent at the beach than in the countryside, hiking, camping or any other conceivable outdoors activity. Icy cocktails, cold beer and pools/beaches dominate both time and money spent on leisure here. And so… this is exactly what Kiernan and I did for the long weekend at the start of June 2015…
We got a mid-day bus from Sao Paulo to Paraty – a small town of 36,000 inhabitants, only across state lines in the state of Rio de Janeiro. There is only one bus company that makes this trip (Reunidas) for a mere R$55 each way; though it must be a popular route, because there is a bus taking off every hour and when we bought tickets a couple of days before, all but one time was completely sold out. Unfortunately we can’t buy tickets online here so I rushed to the bus terminal and practically screamed at the woman to sell me the last 2 tickets i saw online before someone else snagged them, but she took it lightly. 🙂 By now we’re used to busing it so the 5 hour journey was no problem at all. We arrived just after sunset and did the short walk to the Bossa Nova hostel – the entire town is so small, from the rodoviaria (main bus terminal) on one side, you can walk all the way to the harbour on the other side in 20 minutes. Manager Daniel showed us around the hostel, supplied us with a map of the city and some great suggestions of which areas in the famous Historic Downtown were worth exploring or best avoided.
The town is so seriously geared toward tourists, I bet most of the money changing hands here goes towards restaurant bills and shopping; the historic downtown forms the biggest part of the city, with most of this space taken up by antique looking bars and restaurants in a cobblestone maze of streets, whitewashed coastal walls, old street lamps, and a leisurely atmosphere. Actually, come to think of it, this part of the city has no lanchonetes (the daily lunch eateries) which normally pack streets two or three in a row; here these eateries congregate around the bus station and the residential side of town. Instead walking around we saw cute little book shops, crannies with fashion stores, restaurants, and oddly several places with live jazz. Climbing on this bandwagon ourselves, we walked to the last park plaza before you get the harbour, sat down at an outside table and had the most deliciously decadent dessert – flash-fried pineapple in cinnamon with creamy vanilla ice cream, and mojitos. There were some aloe leaves reaching up out of the ice cream for good measure; maybe just to remind some people of the sunburn they’ll be nursing for the next couple of days (it can’t all be paradise and leisure… that would just not be fair).
The wellspring of this tangy, hot and cold delicacy, is a restaurant called Senzala; I later learned this word refers to the slaves’ quarters on old farms and plantations, abundant in Brazil in the 16th and 17th centuries… huh…
The first impression of Paraty as laid-back, comfortable and sincere was reinforced the next day; we woke up and had breakfast at a leisurely pace, had our morning coffee… by the time we made it out the door, all sun-lotioned up shades down, it was already 11am. Oops. 😛 Oh well. The harbour is almost overflowing with boats of all sizes, ready to take tourists to some of the many islands and beaches around Paraty. We saw boats which were very obviously made for “private party” cruises – only about 2-5 people – and others that went the opposite way – squeezing a warm body onto every bit of space on deck; we went for something in the middle, with a very friendly, solicitous skipper with a genuine smile, on a boat called the Escuna Aloha (much recommended)! It seemed like most boats followed more or less the same program, because we saw the same boats and/or tourists at the various places we stopped; though there were quite a few people, it was still comfortable and we had some elbow room both on the boat and on the beach… but I can imagine in peak season this would be a hopeless luxury. Anyway… the hostel offers the same deal with a company / boat service that they know and deal with, but walking down to where the boats were moored we literally got the same thing for half the price. The skipper & boat team we went with (Aloha) is a family of parents and three sons who manage all the boat stuff (all of which I’m totally ignorant of) and the lunch we had – the smells of fish, spices and other food wafted up at us all through our first two stops, making us even more hungry than the swimming did. The beer, other drinks, snacks and lunch were all available on the boat, but of course not included in the R$25 we paid for our passage. From the meals we had to choose from, Kiernan and I both had a fish with calamari sauce ensemble that was mouthwatering and made to mollify us cityfolk.
The beaches we stopped at were Praia Vermelha and another whose name escapes me; the islands were called Castelini and Peixere, but since they were both private property both the boat and its passengers only bobbed in the water close by. Bobbed and cavorted we did… The water was a clear blue-green and inviting, Kiernan and I only swam out to the first beach, but it was so refreshing and the surroundings so beautiful, it’s enough to make you feel like you’re in a completely different world than busy, crowded places like Sao Paulo. Besides swimming we relaxed on the boat reading on the front nets and pillows, charmed by salty undulations in a state between grinning and naptime. Like Kiernan said, if we were to spend even three or four days there, it could feel like we were rested enough for a month’s worth of vacationing somewhere else. People were happy, smiling and relaxed, friendly and open. Together with the sun and the salty sea water, this was a source of contentment that our photos can really only hint at.
We headed back to town right before sunset, thanked our capi-tans, and did the usual hostel dinner. Since it was still a warm evening we acquired a bottle of red wine and decided to head down to the historic square with the gas lamps and dragonflies and what marelise described as a grasshopper orgy to enjoy the night and read the night away.
On the third day we decided to venture out to the wondrous beaches that the hostel manager advised we’re the best stretches of coastline for miles. From the main road we jumped onto the 1040 bus for a roughly hour ride out to a little bust stop in the jungle. From there we trail hiked out to the beach roughly 50 minutes on a decently steep trail with many ups, downs, and twists made challenging by the humidity. But after a soda cans worth of sweat we summited the last ride and saw a gorgeous stetch of coast below us. It was a mini paradise, not too crowded, with many campsites, a free beach shower, beach bar of course, and just the right temperature of water and shade. It’s promising area apparently with several waterfalls over the next ridge and even more secluded beaches, but we didn’t feel like risking the possible dificulty of snaging a boat taxi to get back before sundown. We spent idle hours dipping, sunbathing, lathering holy mother of god please don’t fry me sun lotion, reading, and fading to the chorous of subsiding swells.
The rest of the day was a gradual wind-down. The hike back up the hill was enjoyable though scratchy in sweat soaked trunks. Getting back to town we stowed our bags for a few hours in some bus station lockers, happened upon a heavenly Turkish restaurant with grade-a fresh doner kebabs and appetizers run by an Argentenian lady chef and a Turkish gentleman with a prodigious handlebar moustache. The rest of the night was spent waiting and drinking for our late bus to take us back to the big city and place of encumbering responsibilities.