Friday, July 2, 2010

Paraty, Angra dos Reis, Brazil

 A schooner and snorkelers near Paraty (photo by Luis Bastardo)

 The next morning we asked around Trinidade and found that there was an "escuna" (the Portuguized version of the English word "schooner") going out on a snorkeling tour of the Bay of Ilha Grande around the nearby colonial town, Paraty (pronounced Para-chee). We had no idea what time it was leaving, so we just strolled leisurely down to the booking office with an Irish couple we had met at the hotel, only to find that we had less than 10 minutes to departure and were at least 20 minutes walking distance from the dock. The agency owners shook their heads vehemently, telling us that it was impossible for us to go today, that we would have to wait until tomorrow. Luis, using his super hero powers of persuasion, talked them into calling the captain on his cell phone and having him hold the boat for us. We thanked the agency owners profusely and took off like bats out of hell for the dock. We arrived, sweaty and out of breath, but just in time, as the captain was beginning to cast off. We flopped thankfully into the boat and sat panting in the ocean breezes that swept across the deck as the other passengers looked on curiously.

  One of the Escunas (schooners) of Paraty (photo by Luis Bastardo)
 
 Our first stop was a remote white sand beach, where the captain gave the passengers the option of swimming to shore and back to the boat or taking the dinghy. We both thought it wise to swim, since we had been scarfing down delicious Brazilian food all week and were definitely in need of exercise. Anyway, the dinghy was already weighed down with several, shall we say, "waistband challenged" people, who had taken up every square inch of rubberized surface, making the dinghy look none too safe. All was well with the swim, until I felt something brush up against me and glanced down to see a long needle-like fish poking me with his (nose? beak? protuberance?). "Arggghh!" I yelled to no one in particular since everyone else was either on the boat or the shore, and increased the speed of my swimming to approximately 2,000 mph, with the needle fish in hot pursuit. Luckily, he was momentarily blinded by the reflection bouncing off my preternaturally white body, and I was able to escape.

My scary needle fish companion (photo by Simone Cannon)
After our boat ride, we decided to take a walk around the well-preserved historical center of Paraty, originally a Portuguese colonial center. The cobble stoned streets are much as they were in the 17th century, although the town has been through many economic cycles, starting with gold mining by the Portuguese and followed by coffee, cachaça, fishing, agriculture and finally tourism. The town is filled with an interesting mix of cafes, artists' studios and galleries, charming tree-lined plazas, older family restaurants and chicer, newer boutiques and bars. As the sun set, the streets took on an even more romantic, other worldly authenticity as the original gas streetlights (now electric) came on, the cafes jumped to life and strings of paper flags fluttered overhead. Peanut vendors walked through the streets with what appeared to be glowing lanterns, but what turned out to be small metal buckets filled with glowing coals to keep the paper cones full of fragrant roasted peanuts warm. After exploring the little side streets with their inviting shops and cafes, we sat at a table in the street drinking (what else?) caipirinhas and munching on warm peanuts. Tomorrow, we would head to modern, progressive São Paulo, but tonight we lingered in the 17th century.


 The historical center of Paraty in the evening (photo by Luis Bastardo)

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