A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Veneza no Brasil

Our Portuguese is improving

sunny 32 °C

We rely on our team of highly paid researchers and travel agents to plan our trips to coincide with important natural and cultural events so, when we arrived in Paraty, the Venice of Brazil, we were disappointed that no one had told us that the streets would only be submerged by the tide on the day of the full moon. And then we realised - today is the day of the full moon.
What a coincidence! As the moon hit its zenith at 3.28pm this afternoon, the waters poured into the streets and the happiest person was the horse-drawn taxi driver…
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It’s not exactly the Grand Canal but everyone, including us, got wet feet. But it was warm and worth it...
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Carnaval on Shrove Tuesday, (February 21st ) is probably the biggest, and drunkest, annual event throughout Brazil and we will be doing our best to avoid it in a couple of weeks time. However, colourful decorations are already going up in Paraty’s ancient streets…
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The streets and buildings of Paraty are some of the most photogenic. But even the most beautifully painted doorway can be improved by the presence of a pretty young Brazilian woman…
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Motor vehicles are only allowed into the historic part of the city for deliveries on Wednesday mornings, so it was easy to get traffic free pictures of the quaint houses with their terracotta roofs…
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Paraty’s four churches date from the 17th and 18th centuries when this port city was built on the back of the gold trade…
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Much of the gold from the world’s richest mines in the interior was shipped from here to Rio de Janeiro before being transported back to Portugal. However, the ships were often plundered by pirates whose hideouts were the surrounding bays and islands. A new road eventually took the gold directly to Rio to avoid the pirates and Paraty declined. Magnificent mansions were built during Paraty’s heyday and many are hotels today,,,
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The town was revived by the coffee trade in the 18th century, but that too declined and was replaced by a new crop in high demand at the time – sugar. Also in high demand were slaves from Africa to work in the cane fields and Paraty thrived once more. But what to do when you have more sugar than you can ever eat? This man in Paraty knows…
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With sun, sea, and unlimited bottles of ‘refreshment’ it’s very tempting to just stay here in this little paradise for the next few weeks, but would our readers and sponsors be happy about that?
P.S. If you want to watch the monkeys playing on the balcony of a beautiful apartment - try Calamar Flats on Jabaquara Beach.

Posted by Hawkson 15:37 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Picturesque Paraty

sunny 31 °C

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The soft, warm, morning air still retains the fresh fragrance of the night’s tropical storm as the clouds slowly dissipate across the bay and reveal a sparkling sky over the coconut and banana palms that we view from our kitchen window…
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The tropical flowering trees alongside the beach have been freshly watered by nature and are prepared for another sunny day, while chattering birds hide in the lush vegetation and cute ring-tailed marmoset monkeys clamber around the balcony of our apartment…
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The rising sun awakens the perfectly preserved riverside town of Paraty and the storekeepers and boat owners prepare for a weekend of tourists…
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Giulia Luuka, a young Brazilian artist with a big heart and a warm smile, creates miniature masterpieces from recycled materials…
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While everything in Giulia’s shop is made by her imagination and her hands, many of Paraty’s stores are filled with shiny baubles to attract the visitors. Gaily painted balloons made from gourds seem very popular…
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But back to the beautiful streets where every building is at least 250 years old, and the roadways are paved with the original cobblestones laid down by Portuguese settlers in the 17th century…
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The wide colonial streets of Paraty are unusual, if not unique, in that during the year’s highest tides they are briefly flooded when the waters surge over the seawall and turn the entire town into a Brazilian Venice. It is a lucky tourist who gets to witness this rare phenomenom.
Paraty has a chequered history based on three of the world’s most addictive products: gold, sugar, and coffee. Over the next week we will explore more of this area’s past as we follow the “Golden Road” nearly a thousand kilometres inland to the gilded cities of Ouro Preto and Tirandentes. But, for now, we will continue to enjoy strolling these picturesque streets…
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And basking in the warmth of this tropical paradise.

Posted by Hawkson 14:47 Archived in Brazil Comments (7)

A First Taste of Brazil

sunny 29 °C

We have been to Brazil before, but only to the tourist hotspots of Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu, and when we thought of returning, we discovered that we had already visited most of the country’s major attractions: Copacabana and Ipanema beaches; The statue of Christ the Redeemer; the Sugar Loaf Mountain; Rio’s notorious favelas; and Iguazu Falls. We had also visited Amazonia – albeit across the border in Ecuador. But Brazil is almost the size of the United States so, what to do with a whole month in mid-summer in the southern hemisphere?
First stop - Sao Paulo. With a population of nearly twelve million it is a very modern city of gleaming towers linked by 8 lane highways where many residents live the high life. One mall even has a full-sized fairground to entertain the kiddies while mum and dad shop in hundreds of well-stocked stores…
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The cars, fashions, and dining experiences mirror those of any city in Europe or North America. And, unlike Canada and the U.S where the shopping malls are struggling against the tide of online retailers, here they are thriving. But we can visit modern cities anywhere so, after a night’s rest, we drove three hundred kilometres through bucolic countryside and tropical forests to the ancient port of Paraty on the East Coast. Here’s the view of the bay and the palm-fringed islands from our balcony…
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Once we had left the main Sao Paola to Rio highway we drove through tropical forests on serpentine roads in the mountains where road signs warned of panthers, anteaters, coypu, monkeys and snakes. We saw no animals, but were enthralled by the lush vegetation; the vibrant tree blossoms and the myriad of hydrangeas along the roadsides….
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The vistas were spectacular, but the road was so narrow and tortuous that we were unable to stop for views or photos. Whenever we stopped for other vehicles all we saw was dense forest…
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However, we did stop at a very pretty waterfall surrounded by lush forests…
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Our Brazilian adventure is only just beginning and over the next four weeks we will be travelling the length of this country seeking out the amazing sights that few foreign tourists have the time to explore - but were are not sure we want to meet a panther or an anaconda along the way.

Posted by Hawkson 23:09 Archived in Brazil Comments (5)

Thoroughly Modern Mexico

sunny 28 °C

Wherever we wander in the world we focus on the past, rarely venturing beyond the historic centres of cities except to visit well-known tourist attractions or 'indigenous villages' with locals acting as their ancestors in order to sell 'handmade' trinkets or perform ritual dances (for a fee). This is Playa del Carmen's 5th Avenue - a pedestrianised tourist mecca filled with fancy restaurants and upmarket jewellers, and sellers of 'tradtritional Mexican' trinkets...
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But, in Playa, we live as locals in a residential neighbourhood away from the fancy hotels, nightclubs, bars, and beachfront resorts.
And this is our experience as we walk around our local mall to shop with the locals. Firstly - there is a huge Sears department store with shelves stocked with high quality goods…
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The mall's super-clean aisles are filled with well-dressed shoppers until 10pm every day...
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The huge food court is a haven for families with McDonald’s, Burger King, and a wide choice of Chinese, Italian and Mexican foods. There is an American donut stand because the Mexicans love the sweet life...
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It even has a mariachi band to entertain the crowds at weekends…
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And there are are higher end restaurants, like our favourite – Tok’s.
There is a sprawling supermarket where the choice and quality of products is enviable. This is just a part of the fish counter…
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An entire aisle is dedicated to milk of every kind…
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Although there are plenty of local businesses, there are many international retailers like Costco, Home Depot, Staples and WalMart in Playa. Their shelves are stocked with everything we have and more. There are, of course, regional differences - snow suits and de-icer wouldn’t sell well, and some prices of imported products are higher. However, ten dollars at the nail bar sounds like a good deal for these young women...
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With the advent of multiple streaming services, and the lingering effects of covid, many cinema complexes around the world are struggling. But not here where there are long lines for tickets to the twelve screens offering movies in Spanish and English. It's not that people don't have monster TVs or hundreds of channels. And most have the latest computers, cellphones and cars. Many Mexicans live in comfortable houses, or modern apartments, which are just as well furnished and equipped as those in Canada or Europe...
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As for the prices - the cost of living here is considerably less than in Canada. However, the minimum wage in Mexico is only $15 USD a DAY. One marked difference at present is the cost of fuel which is a little more expensive here. Not a problem for us when we rented the latest fully electric car in Cozumel.
One last swim and then we fly to Bogota, Colombia, for a night's stopover en-route to southern Brazil. See you soon in Sao Paola.

Posted by Hawkson 23:17 Archived in Mexico Comments (7)

Cozumel

sunny 30 °C

Although Christopher Columbus is credited with ‘discovering’ America in 1492 he only ever discovered Cuba, Haiti, and a handful of other Caribbean islands, and thought he was in Japan. Other than the Vikings who lived in Newfoundland a thousand years ago, it was another 27 years before large scale landings were made by Europeans on the North American coast, and the very first settlements began here on the windswept coast of the island of Cozumel just a few miles off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico…
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In May of 1518 the Spanish under Juan de Grijalva brought the Words of Christ to the native islanders and held their first mass near the site of this church…
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A year later, in 1519, the Spanish came back en-masse and ransacked the whole island, destroyed the temples and enslaved the population, before moving onto the mainland and wiping out the Aztec Empire throughout South America. However, Cozumel doesn’t loom large on the history trail today. It's ‘Holiday Central’ for northerners seeking fun and sun without the high-octane nightlife on the nearby Yucatan coast. This is the clock tower in the laid-back central square of the capital, San Miguel…
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Numerous touristy stores and restaurants surround the square...
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However, Cozumel is one of the few places that has a deep water port in this part of the world so it is a magnet for giant cruise liners. But few cruise passengers meander Cozumel’s dusty streets or buy hats, trinkets or churros from the stores or street vendors…
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Most of the passengers are quickly ferried off on a 30 minute trip to the mainland hotspots of Tulum and Playa del Carmen, or take a daytrip to the famous Mayan ruins of Chichén Itza. However, Cozumel has its own Mayan ruins - San Gervasio…
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This temple, dedicated to the goddess Ixchel, was a place of pilgrimage for Mayans seeking the goddess’ help to become pregnant, (and, strangely, also help with their weaving!). The Spanish Conquistadores led by Juan de Grijalva destroyed many villages, but parts of the temple and surrounding buildings survived…
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While there are a number of all-inclusive resorts on Cozumel, many people visit in order to dive in the coral reefs to view the many varieties of fish. We didn’t go diving, but we did enjoy a fabulous dish of fresh lobster, shrimp, and mahi-mahi in a family restaurant…
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This was just one plate – the other had a whole red snapper. And all, including margueritas and tequila shots, for just $20 each.
Now we are returning to the mainland where tropical thunderstorms are on the horizon.

Posted by Hawkson 16:09 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

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