4th – 10th July 2014
The fourth stop in our Brazil itinerary, Paraty, was a bit of an odd choice given our current northern location, but, as I mentioned before in my Porto Seguro post, our route was somewhat misshapen since our destination choices were dictated by budget, with the World Cup price inflation forcing us to seek out the towns with the cheapest accommodation. From Porto Seguro, we had originally planned to head to Vitoria and the surrounding national parks before reaching our final stop of Rio. But, thanks to it’s proximity to the capital and the World Cup Final, prices in Vitoria were way beyond our backpacker budget, so our only choice was to take one last ridiculously long bus ride south of Rio de Janeiro to the backpacker towns whose prices hadn’t been too badly effected by the football.
We wound up in Paraty purely because it was nearer to Rio than Florianopolis and avoided us an extra few hours on the bus. Not always the best way to choose a destination, but luckily we discovered in Paraty the perfect place to spend the penultimate week of our trip. A backpacker haven with cheap accommodation, plenty of tours and restaurants with English menus, it also boasted a beautiful historic centre of pretty colonial buildings, and a gorgeous setting combining the rugged Atlantic Forest with dramatic coastline and postcard-perfect beaches.
Being back in a hostel again was a bit of a shock to the system after our “mini holiday” in Porto Seguro, but luckily the one we found was nice enough. Besides, we didn’t stay in too much, as there was so much to explore. We started, of course, with the beach. Acting on a recommendation from our hostel receptionist, we took a bus to Trindade, about 40 minutes down the coast, where we discovered a small bay at the foot of an enormous, forested hill. Turquoise waters, sea-smoothed rocks, islands out in the bay like big humped back turtles, all pinned in by towering emerald hills and a forest of wiry branches and rubbery leaves. It really was one of the more beautiful beaches we’ve discovered on our trip.
The following day, we headed into the forest on the hunt for waterfalls. There are dozens in the area surrounding Paraty, some more easily reached than others, but of course the easiest to find are the ones that all the tourists go to. We wound up first at Penha, where a short walk through the rich Atlantic forest, full of the smells damp moss, bark and big tropical leaves, brought us to a long wooden bridge over the shallow river which led to a strategically placed restaurant alongside a small, trickling waterfall. The real highlight here isn’t the fall, but the huge natural slide further along the river; a big slab of slanted and perfectly smooth rock along which a thin layer of river flows, leading to a short drop into a very cold natural pool. Unfortunately, the Brazilian winter had finally caught up with us, replacing the sunny blue skies with clouds and drizzle, and while the day was very humid it was most definitely not hot enough to swim in such icy water. We gave the slide a miss and instead explored along the rest of the river, clambouring down mini cliffs and over rocks as far as we could go to another tiny waterfall further along which was completely secluded.
On the way home, we experienced a fantastic example of the wonderfully welcoming nature of Brazilian people. Not sure when the next bus might be, we were walking along the road toward Paraty while waiting for one to appear, but after about an hour of walking it still hadn’t materialised. As we trudged wearily back toward town – still about another two hours away – a completely lovely lady in the world’s smallest car pulled over and insisted (in loud Brazilian and mime gestures) that she give us a lift, to the total mortification of her teenage son. We climbed into the back and squeezed ourselves into one seat next to a tiny dog which was taking up the other one. Our conversation was pretty limited, as neither me or Sam speaks Portuguese, but the lady was really friendly and it was a fantastic reminder that there is still generosity and kindness left in the world!
We discovered one more swimming hole a few days later, on the recommendation of Hans, the lovely owner of the Shambhala Lounge where we had lunch. The Poço do Inglês, or Englishman’s Well, is a very secluded spot which was much less busy than the fall at Penha. We had to walk along a winding, muddy track through tangled forest to find it; a deep, clear pool in a small clearing with a tiny, tinkling waterfall and a big rope swing over the water. This took a lot of work to get hold of – we had to use a long and very heavy branch to hook the rope and pull it in – and it also took quite a lot of work to get me to actually take the leap and jump. In the pictures, it doesn’t look that much of a drop into the pool, but from where we were stood on the rocky ledge overlooking the pool it felt very high. Once I took the plunge, it was so much fun – in spite of the seriously cold water.
I’ve already written about everything else we did in Paraty in a series of separate posts, but in case you missed them… we watched the World Cup semi final with all the locals on a big screen in the town centre; we headed into the forest for a tree-top adventure with Paraty Sport & Aventura; we sampled cachaça at one of the many nearby Alambiques, and I finished the week off with a wonderful treatment at the heavenly Shambhala Spa. It was a fantastic week and I could have stayed much longer if Rio, and the last week of our five month trip, hadn’t been calling.