Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Brasilian Paradise - Parati

"Oh! God, if there were a paradise on earth, it wouldn't be very far from here!" - Amerigo Vespucci upon seeing the coastal region of Brasil surrounding the colonial town of Parati.

During my first assignment in Brasil, I took the opportunity to visit Parati. Working in Brasil was a great experience. I often refer to Brsil as a civilized country - civilized in the sense that in the state of Parana where I worked there were 16 holidays per year. The holidays were a combination of federal, state and religious observances. To make matters even better many of the holidays occurred on either a Thursday or Tuesday. The Brasilians typically converted these holidays into 4 day weekends great opportunities to get out and about to explore the country.

I flew from Curitiba to Rio De Janeiro's Aeroporto International Rio de Janeiro. From the international airport, I drove my rental car south along the coast towards Sao Paulo. Highway BR101, named Rio-Santos Highway, runs mostly along the coast with the heavily vegetated mountains of the Serra do Mar and Serra Das Araras on one side of the road and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

Parati is a colonial village settled in the early 1500s. Parati was an important port supporting the gold mining industry of the interior regions surrounding Ouro Preto. Beside having a port, Parati was only place where the mountains and cliffs of the Serra do Mar could be climbed. Mining supplies traveled from Parati to the mines with gold leaving for Europe. Parati became very wealthy.

Parati's wealth and importance started to decline in the 1720's when an alternative route cut 15 days of travel. In the 1800s Parati was well known for coffee cultivation. Today it is well known for it cachaca (pinga) - raw white rum production as well as tourism. Until the middle 1950s the only way to access Parati was by sea thus helping to preserve the quaintness of the village.

The streets are covered with cobblestones. The buildings are trimmed with elaborate tile trim and pastel colors. Restaurants as well as shops are located in former residences which eliminates much of the commercial crassness of other tourist centers.

From the municipal pier you can buy a ticket to cruise on a schooner on the large and tranquil bay dotted with many forested islands. Some of the islands have beautiful houses on them - secluded retreats for the well to do of Sao Paulo and Rio.

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