You can fall in love at first sight with a place as with a person. ~Alec Waugh
Halfway between São Paulo and Rio on the Costa Verde is the perfectly preserved Portuguese colonial town of Paraty. ( pronounced pa ra chee)
In the seventeenth century,it was decided that all merchandise shipped to Portugal would pass through the state of Rio de Janeiro. Paraty’s whole existence was based on shipping gold mined from further inland Brazil. Huge finds of gold in the mines of Minas Gerais led to soaring tax incomes and the town quickly expanded with the new wealth. It was during this period that most of the houses you can see today were built. Paraty (which means “river of fish” in the Tupi language) became an important gold port and was the end of the infamous “Gold Trail”.
Walking those streets is like entering a time capsule. Cars are not allowed in the historic city center. Horse and carts stand around like it is the eighteen hundreds.
The huge cobblestones were from the ships coming to load up gold. Slaves pounded them into place, at least the ones who were not mining. Portuguese engineers deliberately constructed Paraty so that the high tide could enter the streets at full moon, flooding the streets and taking the garbage out to sea.
Never wear heels. The cobblestones are uneven and difficult to walk on even if you have lived there all your life. It is even harder when they are wet.
With mines running dry of gold in the late 18th century the importance of Paraty diminished. A lucrative slave trade continued, labour was needed for the ever-growing coffee plantations. When that ended so did Paraty´s importance. Production of cachaça, the Brazilian sugarcane grew considerably. and the name Paraty became synonymous with the liquor. At one point there were over 150 distilleries in the area.
There are three colonial era churches, each with their own splendor and history. One for slaves, one for free mulattoes and one for the élite.
The town stayed pretty quiet after that until 1973 with the opening of the highway BR-101 which started a tourist cycle that continues today. ( We ran into a Portuguese- African holiday celebration- tourists and locals)
The historic town center is about thirty blocks filled with stores, restaurants, galleries and history.
The buildings are painted white with the doors and window frames painted a particular bright color.
Mail can still be delivered based on writing down the color of the doors.
Doors always invite you to imagine who lives behind them and who enters through them. Rules about remodeling these Unesco houses are strict. Doors can be windows. Windows can not be doors.
The first International Literary Festival of Paraty in 2003 put Brazil, and Paraty, on the map of international literary festivals. I stayed at Posada Literatura which has a book store attached, a reading room and books in your room.
We had dinner and a cooking class and the home of Richard and Yara Roberts. Richard began with a caipirinha lesson followed by Yara’s delicious food from Bahia.
Their knowledge of Brazilian cuisine and history made the evening both delicious and fascinating.
Their house and art is beautiful as well. It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy night in Paraty.http://www.chefbrasil.com
If the weather is good take a day boat tour of the islands and beaches in the Bay of Paraty.
Though there are no really good beaches in walking distance, there are sixty-five islands and three hundred beaches in the bay.
There is always fresh fish for lunch.
The boats range from about nine dollars to private yachts and everything in between
Being on boat, going to these beautiful beaches makes life feel pretty easy.
Gabriel, thanks for the interesting history lesson and for sharing the stories of the place where you grew up.
Tenha Uma Boa Viagem,
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