Trip Start Jun 09, 2008
Trip End Aug 12, 2008

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Where I stayed

Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Friday, June 13, 2008

On Friday we took a bus from Rio to Paraty.  The coast south of Rio is full of forested mountains rising up dramatically out of turquoise water, which made for a beautiful four and a half hour ride.  Paraty itself is an old city, built up mostly in the 1700's and early 1800's when it was the terminus of the Royal Road that began in the gold mines in Minas Gerais.  With all the gold flowing through the city on its way to Portugal, there were a lot of beautiful churches and houses built, which are still there along with cobblestone streets in the now touristy historic district. 

Our first day in Paraty we had dinner in a restaurant featuring Bahian food (from north eastern Brazil) - it boasted New York Times reviews on its windows, and it was almost as good as it looked.  There was live jazz in the restaurant, and the fish was very fresh, and the sauces unusual.  Sarah had a type of fish called vermelho with a star fruit pineapple sauce, and I had a fishier fish called robalo, in a moqueca (red palm oil and coconut milk sauce) with pirao (a thick yellow fish and yucca sauce).  After walking around the historic district after dinner we went back to "Villas de Paraty" over the river just outside town. 

The pousada (our hotel, the Villas) had a pool, gym, library, and a little courtyard outside our room with passion fruit growing on a vine, and butterflies fluttering through trees resembling overgrown pointsettas.  The ceilings were high, and it was a great place to stay, especially for Michel and Babi since there was a playground for their kids, Bene and Sofia, and a little kitchen.  Prices were surprisingly  high - it seems that with the fall of the dollar and the rise of the Brazilian Real, Americans are no longer living like kings in Brazil.  Even the prices in the supermarkets are comparable to New York.  For imported food, prices are astronomical - around $30 a pound for pistachios, for example. 

When we woke up the next day, we drove with Michel and his family to a fishing town about 30km north where we took a small boat to an island in the Angra dos Reis bay.  This area is so rich that the private airport, which can already accomodate 50 jets and a fleet of helicopters is completely packed.  We read in Veja magazine (Brazil's equivalent of Time) that there are approximately 200 new Brazilian millionaires every day.  The island we went to wasn't quite so rich - it was more like Gilligan's island, with rare birds from all over the world on display in a rescue center, and a perfect white crescent of beach surrounded by rocks and virgin Mata Atlantica forest which has (or had) the highest density of biodiversity in the world.   When we got off the boat, we went for a swim, ate some white shark, drank cashew fruit caipirinhas, and caught a ride back to the mainland with a French-Brazilian couple and a few other tourists.

Back in Paraty we ate at another excellent restaurant, this time sitting at a table in the middle of one of the cobblestone streets in the historic center.  On Sunday, we finally checked out the area during daylight, and ate lunch while watching the filming of a movie, set in the 1800's around the time of Brazil's independence.  We spoke with some of the crew and found out it was a big production for Brazilian standards.  Although Paraty made a good backdrop they built a number of sets, and did such a good job that we didn't realize we were walking on a set until we knocked on stones only to realize they were made of painted wood.  After lunch, we caught a bus to Sao Paulo. 

With traffic, the trip ended up taking almost 7 hours, but the scenery again was amazing.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, followed by A Date With Ted Hamilton (I'm not sure if that's the right title in English) played on the TV's on the bus.  Sarah slept most of the trip, valiantly fighting off car sickness as we wound through the mountains up to the plataeu that surrounds the megapolis of Sao Paulo.  When she woke up, we took off our headsets and made up words for the characters in the horrible "Ted Hamilton" movie.  It was one of those formulaic Hollywood movies where you could tell exactly what the characters were saying without reading lips.  Once we started to see the big buildings of Sao Paulo, we still had two hours to go before we penetrated half way into the city to the bus station.  Sao Paulo has suffered from 'conurbanization' - that is, it has swallowed every city around it to the point where it takes up 1500 square kilometers.  It has the largest population of any city in the western hemisphere.  Lucky for us, Michel and Babi are letting us stay in their beautiful apartment in the very Manhattan-esque Jardins neighborhood, and since they're here the big city is  worth visiting.
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