Posts tagged ‘Paraty’

The backpack diaries – our top ten South American experiences

So this post is a little late – over a year late to be precise – but that’s okay because we still remember every miniscule detail of the trip as if it was yesterday. We’re determined to get back on the blogging horse and we have a few great European posts up our sleeves for you, including (home sweet home) Dublin, so don’t go away yet. To get the ball rolling here is our long overdue Top 10 of South America, it took almost a year of arguing, biting and scratching to compile so you had better enjoy it…

10. Paraty, Brazil
Pretty little Paraty may not make it onto many Top 10 of South America lists but this picturesque gem of a town beat tough competition from Ilha Grande to appear on ours. The reason is its unusual charm, the product of pristine beaches married with a picturesque historical centre. In town you have uneven cobbled streets lined with white-washed cottages, windows and doorframes a flipbook catalogue of bright blues, reds, yellows and greens. Outside of town there are endless perfect beaches backed by rainforest that get quieter and quieter as you trek through the forest, away from parents sipping beers on plastic chairs and kids playing football. Walk far enough and you’re sure to find your own deserted patch of sand.

9. Colca Canyon, Peru
Hidden away from the world by towering canyon walls is a tiny gem of a place. Giant cacti bearing bright red fruit, birds with a three metre wing span, terraced fields, well tended orchards, winding paths sheltered by overhanging fruit trees and little girls chasing stray sheep. This is where the mighty Amazon begins as the gurgling stream we dipped our toes into after the long slide downhill. The only problem? What goes down must come up. It was a hike that for me at least, was more difficult than the three day Lares trek – but we did it in two hours.

8. Wineries in Mendoza, Argentina
Take six wine-loving backpackers, six dodgy bicycles, one hand-drawn map and dozens of world-class vineyards, chocolatiers, olive oil producers and absinthe brewers. Throw in a dash of sunshine, a sprinkling of local characters and you have yourself one hell of a day.

7. Trekking in Tupiza, Bolivia
Who would have thunk it? In the arse end of Bolivia, itself the (lovely) arse end of South America, we found the whirlwind adventure we had been chasing all this time. Our reluctant partners in crime, advertised as Argentinian stallions, turned out to be a bunch of fat, grumpy Bolivian mules. Together we cantered across arid scenes of red-sand cliffs and rocky terrain worthy of John Wayne, we crossed railway tracks, fast-flowing rivers and fields of waist-high grass. When we slept it was metres away from them. When we ate they were tied to the trees under which we sat. We wore cowboy hats, chewed coca leaves and spat a lot. It was breath-takingy beautiful and eventually, bum-numbingly painful and it was our biggest South American adventure.

6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
You don’t walk in Rio de Janeiro, you dance. You tap your toes as you sit in a restaurant, wiggle your bum on the beach and shake yo’ thang at the Lapa street party. Here salsa is king but caparinhas shaken by large-bottomed women with infectious smiles are a close second. Rio lives up to the hype. We came expecting endless white sand beaches with beautiful people playing volleyball, City of God slum towns where kids wandered alleyways with guns slung over their shoulders, skyscrapers that winked in the sunlight and entire neighbourhoods that spent all night dancing in the streets. It was all of that and more, so why isn’t it better than Buenos Aires? Because we were expecting it.

5. World’s Most Dangerous Road, La Paz, Bolivia
At certain points, if you go over the edge of the World’s Most Dangerous Road you fall 600 metres before there’s anything to grab hold of. So obviously we had to try it. And obviously we were bricking it. The start was a fantastic warm-up – smooth tarmac road, a metal barrier and space enough for everyone – but eventually the road changed into a narrow, gravelly track that wound blindly around corners. Then came the trucks, hurdling towards us at video game speed. They took the inside lane while we spun out to the very edge, our toes teetering over a vast drop where birds circled above a rainforest canopy far below.

4. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
At Devil’s Throat it wouldn’t be hard to convince yourself that the waterfall is actually inside your head. With the way it thunders and pounds, sheet after sheet of white noise, it’s hard to think of anything else really – just the waterfall and those suicidal little sparrows that nose dive into huge clouds of spray. Foz Iguazu is actually 275 waterfalls spread over 2.7km in two countries. At it’s highest point it drops 83m, that’s 29m more than Niagara and at one viewpoint, visitors can enjoy 260 degrees of waterfall – a fact that prompted Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to sigh “Poor Niagara!” on her first visit. Poor Niagara indeed. Surrounded by national park, the Argentina side has a fantastic array of wildlife too, from rainbow coloured butterflies to (reportedly) tigers. And no visitor should miss a chance to take a speedboat into the waterfall either – all those screams you hear are happiness at it’s most hysterical. Just leave your clothes on dry land.

3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Since we’ve been home people have asked us time and time again where did we like best. Now we don’t like to play favourites but if we were to pick just one place where we could stay suspended in time for ever and ever, it would be Buenos Aires. Maybe it was because we had a reunion with a long-missed friend or maybe it was just because Buenos Aires really is just that good. It has tango dancing in the streets, steak you can cut with a spoon, a nightlife that never seems to stop, real life cowboy markets, a cemetery you could easily build a home in and so much to do that you could never get bored here. Buenos Aires is all that and a bag of chips.

2. Lares Trek, Peru
Okay so there was a little bit of altitude sickness but there was also a team that sprinted ahead of us to cook four course meals three times a day in an oven made from stones, a guide that made us giggle, hours of singing The Sound of Music while we skipped down mountain sides, and eye-opening visit to a Quechun village, beautiful scenery, much coca leaf chewing, a night spent drinking macho tea under the stars and of course, the star of the show, Machu Picchu. I defy anyone not to include this beauty on their top ten of South America list.

1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
For two days we saw nothing. The sandstorm was so bad it tore the roof off a hostel (the temperature was -20°c), so bad that it blasted all the paint off one side of our jeep, so bad that we couldn’t see to the end of our bonnet. Then we arrived at Salar de Uyuni and it stopped. At first it was just a mirage glimmering on the edge of the desert but as we got closer it sucked all the colour out of the world until all that was left was a bright blue sky and a ground so dazzlingly white, we needed sunglasses. This wonder of nature is one of the few places in the world where you can clearly see the curve of the earth.


There are more pictures from South America available in the gallery


December 21, 2011 at 11:44 am 10 comments

Perfect little Paraty, Brazil

I don’t like to throw the ‘P’ word around but Paraty may be the perfect weekend getaway. Pretend for two minutes that this lovely seaside town in Brazil is not 11 cramped plane hours and the guts of US$1,000 away. Pretend, for example that you live in Sao Paulo, a mere four hours away by bus and probably only three by car. Pretend that you have a spare weekend in which you can just flitter about eating ice-cream, sunbathing and tripping along the cobblestones. Well since you’re here now anyway, you might as well have a look around.

A perfect mix of Colonia del Sacramento and Ilha Grande, Paraty has as much sparkling white sand as you could ask for along with an interesting dash of old world colonialism. As you wander along the cobbled streets navigating your way between the three churches – one for the working slaves, one for the freed slaves and one for the Portuguese – it is not hard imagine the first settlers arriving on the beaches, throwing out their rowboats and paddling to shore.

Once they had shooed away the locals using a combination of gunpower and western diseases, they would have had a rare old time tending to potted plants on their brightly-coloured windowsills, whitewashing their terraced bungalows and chasing passing monkeys down the cobblestones with sweeping brushes. It’s a pity for them that the Italian influence came later because, like so many other spots in Brazil, there are few more enjoyable things to do in Paraty than to buy a kilo of self-serve ice-cream and sit on the beach watching the tide come in.

The centre of town fills a few lopsided blocks along the beach, white houses lining uneven streets. As you walk up and down the doors and window scream at you with their flipbook catalogue of bold blues, reds, yellows and greens painted onto whitewashed walls. Every now and then a monkey leaps from an overhanging tree onto a roof and scarpers along the drain. And inside is no less interesting. The Portuguese are gone now, leaving only their pale, fair-haired genes. Instead the dimly lit houses have been filled with boutiques full of hand-made clothes, hand-made jams and walls and walls of coloured potions with hand-made labels.

Where the real beauty lies in Paraty though, is where the Portuguese didn’t go. Just a half hour out from town is a string of pristine, white-sand beaches backed by forest. The first few have the odd beach shack with plastic furniture laid out for huge families of Brazillians (or families of huge Brazillians) where Mum and Dad sit sipping a Skol beer while the kids bob about the sheltered water in rubber rings or play barefoot football on the huge expanse of clear, flat sand by the washout. As you move further and further away from the town though, trekking over headlands and through the forest, the shrieks of delight fade away and beaches become more and more deserted.

Because the waves are so violent down here there is a constant, dreamy mist clinging to the shoreline. As you look back at where you have walked from and see clumps of towering trees and grey rocks disappearing behind the screen, it’s hard not to feel removed from the rest of the world.

After about 40 minutes of leaving fresh footprints on wet sand, of walking barefoot through mud and over coarse rocks, the forest trail leads back to the beach. Late in the evening this spot is almost empty as most have fled the dusk and its cloak of mosquitoes. This part of the sea is almost completely sheltered, cut off from the crashing waves by a barrier of rocks the size of houses. The water here is calm, the level rising and falling only once every few minutes as the tide advances and retreats. Stripping off, you leave your clothes on a huge rock and crabwalk down the face and into the water. It’s freezing cold but after a humid trek through the jungle there’s no harm in that. As you watch the mist swallow the light for yet another day and listen to the waves batter the shore only metres away, it would be hard not to agree that Paraty is the perfect weekend getaway.

There are more pictures from Paraty available in the gallery

November 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm 3 comments


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