Ihla Grande and Paraty
01.06.2009 21 °C
My attempt to have a break from Rio and find something a bit different has led me through Ihla Grande, the`Big Island´, and Paraty, a town on the coast four hours south of Rio. Both have shown me extremely diverse tropical environments and given me a wealth of wierd experiences. Before rushing on I´ll begin where I left off, on my last day before leaving Rio. By the way I have a few gaps to fill in uploading photos, but I´ll try and do this over the next few days.
Having some time to kill in the morning, I went to tick off another item on the to-do list and visited the Botanical Gardens. There are spectacular plants here from all over the world, and even some exotic wildlife, including little howler monkeys.
I met up with some people from the Rio couchsurfing community in the afternoon. We went to see an Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at a cultural centre, before a show at a local theatre by the famous samba singer, Martinho da Velha. He was backed by some great musicians who had their own solo spots in between songs. It was quite a show and everyone left smiling following lots of jiggling and handclapping.
I took an exhilerating speedboat ride to Ihla Grande. Until you get close up it looks entirely green. There are no cars, and no banks on Ihla Grande. Getting fom one point to another generally has to be done by boat, as so much of the island is thick with forest and rocks. It is however surprisingly tourist friendly and there are some quite fancy restaurants and hotels close to the shore. The beaches are something pretty special.
This is possibly the most beautful Brazilian beach I´ve seen so far, and much more chilled out than those in Rio - the advantage being that on Ihla Grande the beaches are completely safe. You don´t get mobbed by people trying to sell you stuff either. Just explore and laze in the sun. I did unfortunately experience the worst sunburn I´ve had in a long time after returning, but it was worth it, and hey I may even have a tan when I return to England.
I had to include this last picture of a dog just to give me an excuse to talk about the South American dogs. They´re kind of wild dogs which you might suppose would make them dangerous, but they´re so relaxed and so free. It makes me even more sorry for dogs in England who get neutered or spayed, kept in small apartments, and taken out on token walks every now and then. Then again I don´t think animal health care or pet protection is likely to be very well organised over here, and some wild dogs probably cause trouble every now and then. Well thats enough animal rights for now. I haven´t had my rabies jab so I should probably be careful, but they´re so cute! Ere boy. Ooos bootiful? Resrooaarr. Resrooarr bootiful...
For my second full day on the island I had to suffer the double whammy of terrential rainfall and a grizzly hangover (caparinhas again). I did somehow though drag myself round some of the main historical sites, including the ruins of the old prison which was dynamited in the 1960s, and the aqueduct which still serves the town.
The rain and grey skies continued for the day of my arrival in Paraty, and throughout my first full day. It was grim. The Sereia do Mar Hostel, recommended to me by my friend Eva in Rio, is a great place. But I felt trapped by the weather and unable to appreciate the supposed tropical paradise in which I found myself. I hid my nose in a book and plotted my escape. I would give Paraty one more day to impress, and then I would be out of here. The next day a few of us took an excursion to a cachaça brewery (that´s the sugary liquor they put in the caparinhas) and a waterfall, Cachoeira do Taboga. What makes this waterfall special is that you can slide straight down it on your bum at high speed. It doesn´t really look that safe, but hey everyone else was doing it. It was great fun and just the spirit lifter I needed.
On Tuesday morning, when I had planned to make my escape to Rio, suddenly the sun came out, the sky cleared up, and all of a sudden Paraty took on a whole new atmosphere. I still intended to leave in the afternoon, but made sure I did a quick tour of the historical centre of town before returning to the hostel. Paraty is an important part of the old gold and diamond mining route. Much of the wealth was taken back to Portugul, but a lot of it made its way to England and helped finance the Industrial Revolution. The centre of town here, as with other towns on the route such as Ouro Preto and Diamente, has the look of a quaint old European town formerly booming with riches.
COASTAL ISLANDS AND PIRATE CAVES
When I returned to the hostel it was still beautiful and sunny. Putting off my escape to the bus station I tagged along with a couple of friends and was guided by a Brazilian guy who works in the kitchen at the hostel to some amazing sites within walking distance. There were some old Portuguese forts, and further on caves that were used by pirates. These caves are still used for religious cermonies by the assortment of Catholics, pagans, and African religions that live side by side in Paraty. Later that day I checked the forecast for the following day and, finding it favourable, I decided it would be worth sticking around and giving Paraty a chance. Now that the sun was out a whole load of possibilities were out there for me to expore. I was beginning to enjoy myself again, and in no rush to get back to Rio.
There are around 380 islands surrounding Paraty. Thats almost as many bridges as there are in Newcastle. A man called Miguel gives boat tours of the islands and my friends Joanna, Emma, and I took him up on his offer to go exploring. Miguel proved an excellent guide and a really interesting character. He´s travelled the world as a casino boat croupier, and now sails around Paraty and sleeps on beaches. The politics of these small islands is fascinating. Up till about eighty years ago anyone could land on them and claim them, so they were all owned by fishermen. All the poor fishermen were later bought off by rich Brazilians and they are now privately owned. Their beaches and docks, however, are still public, and you´re perfectly within your rights to sail over and camp on their beaches. Generally they welcome it. The houses on these islands aren´t all owned by Brazilians though. A certain gringo lady by the name of J.K.Rowling owns a house on one of them. I don´t know how often she comes here to write, and I find it hard to connect the tropical paradise of Paraty and the fantasy world of Harry Potter in my imagination, but there you have it. There´s quite a big literary community on Paraty actually, and there´s a writer´s festival coming up in a couple of weeks.
This was an island we explored on foot, which had a giant wheel covered in moss - the remains of a water mill powered by slaves in colonial times.
An hour´s bus ride takes you to Trinidade, with another incredible beach and a natural sminning pool. `Excuse me, are these rather large tropical fish kissing my feet or trying to eat me?´
MORE LAST MINUTE CHANGES IN DIRECTION
I was originally planning to head back to Rio this weekend to enjoy another full week there before flying back home. There was also the draw of a free festival I´d heard about in my hostel, supposedly taking place on Cobacabana beach and featuring Madonna, Snoop Dog, The Killers and others. After further research this turns out to be a fantastic hostel rumour. The potential change in direction was heading to Sao Paolo today and spending the weekend there instead. A number of people have warned me against Sao Paolo. Its big and grimey and slightly intimidating. Its not touristy at all. But then others have given very positive reviews. Its full of art galleries and museums which would appeal to me. Besides all the positives and negatives, Sao Paolo the megacity has long loomed large in my imagination and I felt I need to experience it, for better or for worse. So that was the plan until this morning, when I recieved a message from my friend Kirsty that there is a big music festival on in Rio this weekend. There´s no Madonna or Snoop Dog or whoever. But there are some big Brazilian names, including one of my all time favourites, Tom Ze. Ze was one of the legendary Tropicalia musicians from the 60s. Hes still going strong and knocking out quirky and inventive music combining all sorts of genres and styles. I´m catching the bus back to Rio in one hour to try and get tickets. Even if I can´t see Tom Ze there´s heaps of other stuff on all over the city. Its a shame to miss Sao Paolo, but this could work out nicely.
NEARING THE END
The next post will be most likely once I´ve returned home to Sutton, when I´ll give you a full account of my return to Rio, the journey home, and maybe some final thoughts. Until then, wish me luck! x