Friday, April 8, 2011

Beach Me Brazil (31 March - 4 April 2011, Days 112-116 of 127)

On the morning of Thu 31MAR we woke up to scattered cloud and some sun. We all decided to go for a 5hr cruise ASAP just in case the weather got worse. We would take whatever sun we had.

Paraty (Pop 32,900. Est 1650) is a quaint, cobblestoned town full of multi-coloured colonial Portuguese houses and rickety churches. The cobblestone are more like "bolderstones" - they are big and full of cavities and give your feet a hiding!

The main attraction however is its port and harbour and the many islands and isolated beaches up and down the protected bay it is snuggled in. The town is surrounded by a wild coastline with pointy topped, jungle covered mountains - it looks very Rio-ish and reminds you of Fiji's Coral Coast or Bora Bora in Tahiti. Very tropical looking.

By 10am we were down at the wharf and by 11pm we set sail on our 28 foot, 55 ton "Schooner" called "Soberano Da Costa" and powered by diesel. We were lucky that it was low season and there were 10 of us and 6 others in a vessel that was licensed for 68.

The boat has a huge forward deck with a big, soft communal settee covered in pillows and a tarp overhead. We just stretched out and enjoyed the cool breeze and nice harbour and island views. "Baia De Paraty (Paraty Bay)" is very natural dotted with islands of all sizes covred in lush vegetation and many are privately owned with terrific homes.

Even under cloud the water was a milky green colour and the vegetation very green and varied.
Our first stop was an island called "IIha Comprida". We spent 40min snorkelling here. Approx 4 varieties of coloured fish and various lichens growing on the underwater rocks. Nowhere near Barrier Reef or Galapagos.

Second stop was a bay with beach called "Praia Da Conceicao". It is here that I went on my 1.5km swim whilst the others had lunch. It was a great swim - a stuck to the coastline and could see fish and lichen below and the water was a fabulous 25C.

By this time it had clouded over and a light sprinkle broke out just as we approached our third stop, an island called "IIha Da Pescaria". This was a privately owned island, probably around 5 acres and it had a great little harbour/bay. Only I went for a "luxury" swim here, since I had only one "Caipirinha" kiwi, mango and sugar-cane spirit and crushed limes cocktail along the way whereas the others were down 3 or 4.

Our final stop was a bay and beach called "Jurumirim". This was the best one of all since it was very protected, serene and the beach covered in foliage.

This beach also had a private house belonging to a famous Brazilian explorer. We spent 30min here walking the beach and swam approx 200m to and from the boat.

On the way back it sprinkled again but the views were still good. On a sunny day the views and colours would be stunning - we found this out on our second day here... The total cruise was 5hrs and only cost 17AUD.

After our usual pre-dinner drinks it started to pour but that did stop us from pursuing some seafood fare. To our surpise none of the cruise crew could recommed a restaurant offering whole fish so we reluctantly took our leader's advice. Why did we do this? The restaurant we went to was way overpriced and the two whole snappers that we shared amongst the four of us took 30min to cook, came butterflied and fried, were too bony and lacked enough meat to fill us up. They set us back 20AUD each plus 9AUD for a bowl of rice - too much for what we got! No more leader recommendations. Guess who sulked all the way home and to bed!

When I saw the clear blue skies the next morning (Fri 1APR) I quickly forgot about the fish! I was out at 7:30am visiting the most photogenic town to date - Paraty.

The sun brought out colour and detail that made by camera spin! No words here - just look at the photos in this post!

The best thing about photographing early, apart from the position of the sun, is no gringos! Nice clean photos!
At 9:15am, Maureen, Sue and I set off by rickety public bus on a 16km, 40min ride to "Paraty Mirim", a secluded calm beach complete with tree covered "Baracca" (Bar & Fish Grill)! The last 8km of dirt road was appalling - rocks, holes and pools of water everywhere. It is amazing that the bus did not fall apart from all the creeking, rattling and shaking.

The beach was just what we wanted. Calm waters, nice breeze, lush vegetation everywhere and no gringos! We had the place to ourselves. It reminded me of the beaches of the Daintree in Queensland. Maureen and Sue settled down on the beach for some dips and tanning and I was off on my run before it got too hot.

Too late.

It was steaming but I pressed on. I must have sweated 2L as when I returned I almost drank 1.5L of water.

Then it was off on my 1.5km swim along the coastline. It was better than yesterday since there was more to look at - a string of private homes, probably holiday houses of rich Sao Paulans or Rio De Janeirans since they were large, had jetties and boats and lovely gardens with outdoor settings.

When I got back we lunched by the beach under the shade of 5 huge rubber trees on cajun-style fish and Brazilian bean stew washed down with 450mL cans of cold Brazilian beer!

What a treat. What a scene.

It was definately the highlight of our Paraty stay.

For the first time I had a kip when I got back - the heat of my run and the rickety ride dit it!

When I woke I had found the energy I needed to blog Iguassu and when it started raining, I decided to have an in-room dinner with my 2008 Special Reserve La Mision Chardonnay from Chile's Maipu Valley - it was terrific - not a lot of wood but good fruit for a full body back palate bite!

My only entertainment was a boatload of funny emails from Maureen since my TV only had 6 channels, all in Portuguese and 3 of them were evangelical!!!

How lucky. The sun and blue sky greeted us again on the morning of Sat 2APR.

I also woke to find my forearm had puffed up from the wasp bite during lunch at Paraty Mirim.

This time to accompany us on our trip to the village of "Vila Do Abraao" on "Illia Grande", half-way bewteen Paraty and Rio, some 121km away.

Door-to-door the total journey took 5.5hrs (2hrs on the bus from Paraty to Angra Dos Reis and 1.5hrs on the boat from there).

The scenery on the bus was something else. Pointy, jungle covered mountains on one side and Pacific style tropical beaches, waterways and islands on the other side.

We even passed a nuclear electric plant on the way.

The bus was travelling way too fast for its age and ability and threw us all over the place but the view and sunshine made it fun.

Angra Dos Reis is a busy port with colourful houses rising up very green slopes. The boat that took us over was more like a covered barge with a single room seating up to 500 people.

Vila Do Abraao is the only village on the island containing the bulk of the islands 3,600 inhabitants. Ilha Grande is Brazil's third largest island at 193 sq km with over 100 beaches and 356 smaller islands around it. It has no roads or cars.

It was first inhabited by the Tupinamba Indians who were known to be canabals. The Portuguese colonised the place in the 1700's with sugar cane and coffee as the main trade using black African as slaves. After slavery was abolished the Chinese established a thriving sardine industry in the 1900s which has since persihed.

Tourism is now the only industry.

As we disembarked the hot sun hit us immediately - it is definately hotter and more humid than Paraty. This area is also the playground of the rich and famous, attracting massive yachts from all over the world including Greg Norman.

Vila Do Abraao is quite exotic, suurrounded by lush jungle, pointy peaks, nice bays and lots of yachts. It was straight to the beach after checking in. Lovely calm green waters with one small beach after another, each with a bar on the sand.

The main beach (2min from our hotel) has restaurants on the sand - much like Phuket but without the crowds - this was off-season. I swam around the bay, passing 2 more smaller beaches next to ours. The water was a pleasant 24C.

At around 6:30pm we had pre-dinner drinks in my room and polished off my "Japanese Peanuts" which is actually Brazilian peanuts coated in a crispy corn shell and fried! Just the thing with beer! Dinner was also treat despite walking there in pouring rain - Maureen and I started with the classic "Caipirinha" cockail and then feasted on "Moqueca" which is the Brazilian version of Paella - this one had "Pescado" or fresh fish with rice and a special tomato and mashed potato sauce called "Pieca". It was delicious.

The next morning (Sun 3APR), I woke up with the forearm of Bubbles De Vere! Yes - my wasp-bitten forearm had swollen up so I visited the local doctor with Alberto, our tour lead. This doctor was a real character making jokes all the time and injected me with an anti-inflamitory and anti-allergen in either butt-cheek! That was no joke! It bloody hurt! He also prescribed some antibiotics. The injections felt like someone had kicked me in the bum and they made me very drowsy. I fought hard not to sleep when I returned to the hotel because today I wanted to trek to the island's most scenic beach - Lopes Mendes.

I set off at 11am and initially went the wrong way landing at a beach called "Abraaoville". I then back-tracked and headed for the first beach called "Enseada Das Palmas". It was a steep climb through very thick jungle and because it had rained overnight was very muddy and slippery.

On arrival at the beach after 50min I had to jump a stream and made it (I had my hiking boots on and did not wnat to take them off - takes ages to put them back on again). The beach was idyllic, serene with deep green water and calm. Of course there was a bar on the sand!

It was another 30min to get to the second beach called "Mangues Pouso". This time I did not make the jump over the stream - one leg went in and got soaked. Damn! THe beach however was even smaller and more calm and scenic. It had a bar and even a wharf from which you could take a boat back - this was my plan as the injections had taken their toll and I was tired and still drowsy.

Lopes Mendes was only 15min from here and it was altogether different. A very expansive surf beach with creamy sand and tourquiose waves perfect for body surfing - off I went for a few rounds. Water was a nice 23C and there was a light sprinkle.

At 2pm I decided to return to the second beach to catch the ferry home and made it.

To my surprise the boat was called "Golfo" (around 15m long with room for 100 souls) and in 30min I was back at Abraao.

I was too drowsy to run or swim but not to join Maureen and Sue for some pre-dinner drinks. We even enjoyed some sardines and crackers with our chilled Chilean 2009 Chardonnay.

Things got even better - after our 7pm briefing Alberto showed us how to make the classic Brazilian "Caipirihna" cocktail using crushed limes, sugar and the sugar-cane spirit "Cachaca". We all then took turns making our own and that put us in the right frame of mind for a fun night!

That night Ben and Sarah joined us for a typical all-you-can eat Brazilian "Churassco" or BBQ featuring every type of skewered meat over coals with an unlimited salad and pasta bar. It was very tasty and satisfying. The beef was especially good - moist and as rare as you liked - they cook one side well and the other side not! We slept like babies!

Today (Tue 4APR) I was keen to go on a cruise. I woke at 7:30am to prepare for the longer cruise but the sky was thick with cloud so I opted to go back to sleep and wake up at 8:30am to catch the half-day version.

After some shopping I was at the wharf just in time for the 10:30am departure with snorkelling gear in-hand. The 32 metre "Anna Maria III" pulled out at 11am and we sailed straight for "Lago Azul (Blue Lagoon)" which is the main attraction.

 After 40min we were there - what a place - a calm lagoon of deep green water surrounded by lush jungle. I started out on my 1.5km swim around the lagoon with only face mask, observing the vast array of colourful fish amongst decent coloured lichens, sea plants and even some coral. This was much better than Paraty and a lot calmer. I felt so good and enjoyed the view so much that I extended my swim to 2km. I loved it - the best so far. I still had time for some snorkelling before we pulled up anchor and sailed back towards Abraao stopping at a beach called "Freguesia De Santana" after 20min.

A very calm place with greenish-yellow water! Unusual! We swam to shore to see an old church built in 1843 with just one solitary grave next to it. There were a few houses around belonging to retired locals and a fisherman.

From here it was another 15min to our lunch stop at a beach called "Japariz". This place was a little bigger and busier with 4 restaurants and a pier, obviously purpose built for the cruise operators. I enjoyed a little kip whilst the others ate and then it back to Abraao.

During the cruise I reclined on a mat near the front of on a raised platform in the centre and with the ship's Brazilian music in the background and a view of green water, lush jungle and distant peaks with whisps of cloud around them, I really felt I was in another world very far away from my own - exotic and relaxing.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a group of visitors from Barcelona, the main man, Carlos was extremely friendly and animated. Then the impossible happened. Just as the conversation was warming up the ship ran out of beers! Carlos certainly gave that one mileage calling the crew all sorts of names! I was sad to leave such company when we got back at 4pm but I felt very re-freshed so decided to go for a run around town since there are no roads going out.

I ran between our hotel at one end of the town and the fortress ruins at the other end (2.5km) - four times to complete the usual 10km. It was great since the day was still cloudy and the temperature had dropped with lower humidity.

By 6pm I was nibbling on sardines in tomato salsa and sipping cold Chardonnay with Maureen. We even tried a chilled Tannat (heavy red like Durif) which was like drinking ink - big on tannins and like drinking cold plumbs laced with tobacco.

We then had the most enjoyable dinner to date. Picture this. A table on the sand, just 10m from the calm water, fall of boats bobbing up and down. In the distance the glow of Rio and just a solitary candle to see what we were eating. To eat, a large cast iron kettle full of sizzling seafood broth containing fresh chunks of fish, calamari, mussels and prawns. This is a typical Brazilian dish called "Caldeirava". It is accompanied by a smaller pot of sauce containing fish stock, mashed pumkin, tomato and spices - this is called "Pirao" and you put it on the fresh fluffy Brazilian rice accompanying this seafood feast. Add some cold beer, more cold Tannat (Argnetian Red Grape like Durif) and some gossip and you have a magical last night on Ilha Grande!

To top it off, Carlos and his date for the evening suddenly appear out of nowhere and shout us a beer. We then shouted back with Tannat and the rest is history. The rest of the Intrepid group also ate here and we completed the evening at a self-serve Gelato Bar and a desert from a push-cart containing Brazilian sweets that does the rounds of the island! We had all the energy we could muster for the greatest party town of them all - Rio!

NEXT BLOG: covers Rio De Janeiro due 10APR.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: 1) My thanks to a lead, Alberto for taking me to the doctor and translating. 2) Thanks to Carlos for his company and shouting us beers at dinner - "Oh what a night!!!"

HINTS & TIPS: 1) Most restaurants in Brazil list menu items that are meant for two people - so halve the price for the per-person equivalent. The quantities are large so it suits most gringos to share. If however, you only want a single serving then you will pay 60% of the price-for-two in the menu. Brazil is determined to stuff your face!