By Craig Parker
The road to Paraty, Brazil is like the road to heaven in two distinct ways: 1) it is paved with good intentions; and 2) the journey is filled with twists and turns, curves and bumps.
Recently, full of curiosity and armed with a three-day Tiradentes weekend (you have to love a holiday based on a public hanging), my wife Denise and I embarked on our voyage to see Paraty for the first time. We grabbed a cab after work and made the 5 P.M. Reunidas bus out of the Tiete Rodovrio (bus station).
After crawling out of São Paulo, we were soon traveling in the Mercedes Benz omnibus (bus) down the highway toward the eastern coast. There, in the darkness – safely ensconced in our air-conditioned seats – we were unaware of the passing hamlets, houses, towns, and favelas etched into the countryside that are Brazil’s signature. As the bus hurtled like a silver bullet along the cut highway, the massive foliage encroached on either side, as if allowing us safe passage by its own accord. Through hillside, cliffs, and mountains, the blurring constancy of passing silhouetted trees provided comfort to the weary night-time travelers – and made us feel strangely at home. Therefore, though it was but early-evening, we did what everyone does at home. We slept.
The bus pulled into the Paraty Rodovrio at 11 P.M., and Denise and I walked quietly to our pousada (lodging).
Finding a place to stay in Paraty is not a problem. More pousadas are positioned about Paraty than bees benignly swirling around a street vendor making caldo de cana gelado (a delicious sugar cane drink). The ratio of pousadas per capita in Paraty is almost as great as the per-capita rate of corrupt officials in São Paulo government. There are so many pousadas, even Jesus would not have been turned away. And it is my guess that he would have liked Paraty.
Paraty is a charming and quaint visage of a town that harkens back to the horse-and-buggy days. With its narrow, large-rock cobblestone streets, the whole town has a feel of some well-kept secret that only we are privy to. There’s not much to do in Paraty, so you begin to pay attention to the singular moments of life:
– watch an old woman park her flat-bed truck from the street to the curb, missing a garbage can by a perfect two centimeters – and then smiling;
– barter with the necklace vendors on the wharf, although not very well – and then buy their wares anyway;
– listen to the canter play acoustic guitar and expertly sing “No Woman, No Cry” in Portuguese – then stay for the next dozen songs;
– eat a sumptuous breakfast of bread, fruit, coffee, and bolo de coco (coconut cake) – and give no thought to weighing yourself afterwards;
– get turned around and lost in a town so small, then surprise yourself by actually asking someone for directions.
Focusing on the simple pleasures in life allows one to live in the moment and reflect on the magical charm of Paraty.
Paraty is an oasis in time. Its hope is that it is found; its treasure is that it is experienced. It is futile to attempt to listen for secrets; its whispers are too faint to be heard by the human ear. Rather, strive to feel its rhythms and slumber in its arms.
Do not dwell on Paraty’s dark gold-rush history, which Vinicius de Moraes referred to as the “despair of the infinite.” Paraty is not the place to plum the depths of one’s soul; rather, it allows you to skim over your joys as a yellow butterfly dances across the water-its destination unknown.
Paraty is like no other place on Earth. Rio de Janeiro has far-superior nightlife but none of the slowed heartbeat that is Paraty’s signature. Cabo San Lucas was once comparable to Paraty, but unregulated commercialism altered the Mexican fishing village’s face forever. Cancun was never in Paraty’s league, since it was built exclusively as a resort town. Although Hawaii has greater natural beauty, its charm is now choked by neon signs and condominium sales.
Paraty, by contrast, sleeps like a diamond in the sand, waiting for the venturesome traveler to discover. Its place on the registry of National Historic sites ensures that it will remain in its present and preserved condition. The anonymous, civic-minded visionaries who fought for Paraty’s protected status should hold a special place in all Brazilian hearts. Thanks to their efforts, Paraty is unique as a destination. It is the sphinx of South America. Like some strange obelisk in an Arthur C. Clarke “2001” series, Paraty remains unspoiled by human progress. All Ayn Rand architects, be forewarned: you can build the Freedom Tower monuments, palatial tributes, and multi-national testaments to greed.
Paraty you will not touch.
As travelers, ours is a journey with destination unknown. Some of us choose to make this trek from the couch in front of the television set, while others are more intrepid. Regardless of mode or want of action, this fact seems certain: All that we have experienced in our lives will one day be no more than standing water in a cobblestone street, reflecting what we once were. Many of us seek to get to another world, each in our own way. For travelers, it would seem that we are using new faces and new places to sort the pieces in our jigsaw puzzle redemption. Hopefully, one day we can all meet and help each other with the sorting.
Perhaps on the road to Paraty.
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