Pristine beaches, rainforest and cobblestones
Trip Start Nov 04, 2010
83Trip End Aug 10, 2011
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We could have spent days walking around the old town, perusing the variety of designer and souvenir shops, street markets and art galleries, maybe taking a breather from it all with an ice cream and a coffee in one of the many cafes. It is on Paraty's streets that we first discovered the decadent sweet carts selling confectioneries loaded with every flavour under the sun from coconut, chocolate, lemon to peanuts....an unforgiving habit to pick up! Every evening, Paraty's plazas, sidewalk cafes and open-air restaurants came to life with live music and we also had the pleasure of watching a Capoiera competition organized by the Abada Capoiera school infamous for it's aggressive style of Capoiera. Capoiera is a mixture of dance and martial art which stems from the Quilimbos of Brazil. Escaped slaves would practise Capoiera for self defence and used it to ward off Portuguese colonial attacks trying to re-seize the Quilimbos. When slavery was abolished, the ruling Portuguese classes banned Capoiera for fear that the ex-slaves would use it to overpower them. The art form went underground and returned as a non contact sport with live music that appeared more like a dance form than a martial art. In recent years, groups such as Abada have been trying to revive the martial arts nature of the sport; encouraging seasoned practitioners to be more aggressive and involving some wrestling moves. Check out the video below.
The areas surrounding Paraty are famous for their untouched beaches and lush rain forest so we spent a few days soaking up a little more sun, sand and rain forest in a small village by the sea called Trindade. Trindade is a true hidden gem. The first roads leading to Trindade were built about 30 years ago - prior to this, the only way to reach the small fishing village was either via fishing boat, or an arduous 8 hour trek through the jungle. It's remoteness meant it was a mecca for hippies who spent their days forming drum circles and smoking the green. Although easily accessible now, it still caters to dreadlocked tree hugging sorts and as is obligatory in these beach front villages, has Bob Marley tunes blasting from every bar. Brazilians are very protective about this place as we found out on our first day. When wandering around the edge of the village looking fairly lost a lady approached us asking "I have to ask you.....where are you from and how do you know about this place?!!" She mentioned she'd visited this piece of pristine beach since she was a little girl and had noticed an influx of "gringos" in recent years. Brazilians had been visiting Trindade for years to escape the foreigners! Now thanks to the Lonely Planet, we come into town and hike the prices up! She was very friendly though and pointed out the best way to get to all the neighboring beaches, even walking us to the closest one.
When we got to the beach, it was obvious to see why the Brazilians want this to themselves. Fine grained white, sandy beaches, rock formations giving the landscape an Indiana Jones'esque edge, waterfalls and tropical vegetation within touching distance of turquoise waters. The two beaches of note are Praia Do Meio, a beautiful cove with a rock formation splitting the beach in two and Praia Cachadaco, a remote beach with giant rocks forming a natural pool at one end perfect for snorkelling. Whilst in Trindade we stayed at the Sea and Forest Hostel, owned by a Brazilian/Canadian couple. The guy is from Sao Paolo and the lady from Montreal - travellers too, they met many years ago working on the Canadian railway. Their mutual love for travel and all things holistic, took them to Rishikesh in India, where they fell in love with the Sivanada style of yoga. They now spend 6 months of their year teaching at a Sivananda Yoga school in Montreal and the other 6 months of the year running their hostel in Trindade. Their love for nature meant they built their hostel, a collection of wooden log cabins up in the Atlantic rainforests above the villade of Trindade. We had the pleasure of breakfasting amidst this beauty each morning sometimes visited by humming birds and blue butterflies. The owners continue their yoga practise whilst in Trindade and Anjli enjoyed a number of yoga sessions in an idyllic setting - on a wooden platform built on stilts surrounded by nothing but rainforest. Heaven! This was one of the best hostels we'd encountered thus far in South America and definitely one we'd love to return to some day!
After three days or so at the beach, we were eager to check out more of the forest. A day long waterfall tour in a classic 1960's style yellow Jeep was just the ticket. Although the waterfalls had nothing on Iguazu, these were waterfalls we could play with! We had a ball getting a back massage from a specially powerful fall, sliding down rocks into natural pools and swinging from Tarzan style ropes!
The Curse of HostelWorld
Whilst we´ve been travelling through South America, every so often we´ve been using a website called hostelworld (www.hostelworld.com) to book our accomodation in advance. This site allows you to see how many hostels there are in a particular town or city, whether they have availability and most importantly it allows you to book accomodation. The site also provides a review service where by travellers who have visited a hostel can review the accomodation and give it a rating out of 100. Travellers get an impartial review from their peers, the hostel gets an online booking system and greater numbers of travellers booking ahead of time over the website and Hostelworld gets 10% from every booking made through the website. Everyone wins........or do they.....
In theory this is a great idea and works very well in practise when all hostels in a particular area sign up to the service (as is the case in Buenos Aires and much of Argentina). However, the model breaks down somewhat if only a handful of hostels sign up to the service. We have found that the handful of places that sign up to Hostelworld can hike up their prices safe in the knowledge that travellers without the time to look for accomodation on foot will settle for whatever is on the internet. Often times these places can even get away with providing a poor service as their clientelle (the internet savvy time poor traveller) has little choice but to book online. In theory, this is where the ratings and review system should act as a fail safe and inform other travellers of the hostel trap. In practise, travellers also tend to be cash poor and can easily be bribed to provide glowing reviews or indeed be bribed to give no review at all. We have experienced both scenarios in Brazil. In Florianopolis we were offered 10% off our entire bill to write a glowing report on hostelworld for ´Barra Beach Club´. The fact that we had enjoyed our stay there and would have recommended the place anyway makes us feel better about the discount! Whilst staying at Sereia Do Mar Hostel in Paraty, the water system and almost everything else at the hostel broke down - we were offered a 70% discount on our total bill in exchange for not giving the place a bad review on Hostelworld. Although this goes against the ethics of the peer review system, the 70% discount was enough to buy anyone's silence.
We have found the best places to stay are often the places that do not appear on Hostelworld or the Lonely Planet guidebooks. These places rely on word of mouth for custom and as such have to provide a great service at low cost. The longer we travel the more we are inclined to show up to a city or town and try to find cheap accomodation by simply walking about....the way things were done before the days of the internet.