Someone wrote to the website recently complaining that I write too much. More photos is what you need, he said!
Inspired by this sentiment we’ve decided to make this month’s article a pictorial tribute to Brazil.
(If you want to enlarge the photos just click on them. Some also have a secondary caption which will appear when you hover the mouse over them.)
Since our home is a boat our vision of the world is necessarily lopsided. We can’t afford to hire cars and tour the interior of the places that we visit, and so our view is exclusively of the coast. In the case of Brazil this vantage point is actually not so skewed, because the country is focused around its waterways.
Anciently, rivers and estuaries were the only highways through the Brazilian forest, and to this day they are conduits for much of the country’s trade. From the Amazon, in the north, to the Rio Grande, in the south, the waterways of Brazil are still very much in use and big ocean-going ships still plough their way as much as 1,000 miles inland, into the green heart of the nation. Meanwhile, the lesser waterways are the back-roads and country lanes travelled by people travelling from isolated villages to the market towns and to the cities. Boats of one kind or another are the buses, pick-up trucks, and bicycles of the folk who live alongside the countless waterways and on off-lying islands.
As boat people ourselves we have a better understanding than most foreign visitors of the delights and the dangers enjoyed and endured by the fisher-folk and ferrymen, and we have a better opportunity to explore this facet of Brazilian life.
Boarding a ferry, in Brazil, is much like boarding a bus. Forget timetables. Forget safety, too. The principle feature of such an excursion is chaos combined with easy-going goodwill. The ferryman will happily transport the week’s groceries, two or three motor bikes, a new fridge, somebody’s sofa, and an excessive number of passengers, all without batting an eyelid.
When the time came to leave our boat was found to be aground, but no one was fazed. The captain and his crew simply hopped over the side and shoved. Indeed, all of the male passengers shoved, and the skippers of the adjacent vessels joined in. When, finally, our boat slipped into the stream there were no crew aboard… But the women continued nattering to one another as the ferry drifted off on the tide, and they seemed quite oblivious as the men grabbed at the gunwhales and, wet and bedraggled and somewhat exhausted, hauled themselves aboard. All par for the course, it would seem.
In past times the ferries were powered either by oarsmen or by the wind. So far as we are aware there are no longer any sailing ferries in Brazil, but there are plenty of sailing canoes and there are still a handful of sailing traders.
These relics of the 18th century are your correspondent’s grand passion. Not only do they look beautiful, they are also astonishingly fast; embarrassingly fast, indeed. Their design is so basic and their construction so crude that any yotties reading this article will find it hard to credit, but, unladen, the saveiros can out-sail pretty much any cruising yacht, whether on or off the wind.
This one has just delivered 40 tons of sand to an island village.
This saveiro is carrying earthenware pots and lumber from one side of the Bahia de todos los Santos to the other. It’s a trip which would take all day on the devious network of roads. E da Vida will take… well, to be honest she will probably take almost as long, given that the wind will probably fail her half way across the bay; but she won’t burn any fuel; and she won’t pollute the sky or the sea; and, hey, what’s the hurry anyway? This is Brazil!
Two wind-driven traders bowl down river in a stiff breeze with their cargo of stone. Could there be a finer sight?
In such a wind the enormous gaff sails are very powerful and the helm, consequently, very heavy. The boats are, at one and the same time, exciting and quite demanding; thus, the three-man crews are having a great day out as they tweak the sails as keenly as their counterpart aboard a modern racing yacht.
What else have we ever done which entails such marvellous co-operation with Mother Nature, harnessing her without doing her any harm? Windmills and watermills are superb, but they don’t even come close to the beauty of travelling and trading under sail. If man has created anything more perfect than these old wooden sailing boats I have yet to encounter it.
As you can see, basic – in boating terms – does not have to mean slow. And just because these are peasant folk, many of whom hardly know how to write their own names, this does not mean that they do not share our love of drama and excitement. Just because they earn their living on the river this does not mean that they don’t also use their boats for entertainment; oh, it most certainly does not…!
From Monday to Friday your average dug-out canoe is a bit of an old dog. Most are propelled by a paddle. When the wind blows from the right direction then they might set a very low-tech lugsail. Some might even set two. But – look ye here! – see what they do with the old dug-out canoes at the weekend on the Paragauaca!
“Do you ever capsize?” we asked.
And they looked at us as if we were idiots and said, “Of course we do!”
Unfortunately, nobody capsized while I and my camera were watching…
Further north, on the Rio Paraíba, the dug-out canoe has been replaced by flat-bottomed boats. During the week these are used as ferries, fishing boats, and general runabouts. Many are nowadays propelled by outboard motors. But at the weekend the men sometimes get together and race.
Again, this is a no holds barred kind of a race. The sail carried by these “canoas” is, to be frank, utterly ridiculous. The keel is a lee-board improvised from a floor-board; the trapeze is another plank, whereon as many crew as possible will perch. One man bails all the while; and the helmsman does the best he can, steering with the oar.
Not for nothing is the sail emblazoned with the words, Keep Your Distance.
One other standard feature of Brazilian life is the vegetable market. In the more remote towns of the northern part of the country the market attracts farmers from the hinterland, and whilst some will come by boat the majority will arrive on horseback.
These two farmers are heading home again, with their baskets empty of manioc and oranges and their pockets, hopefully, filled with money.
After selling their home-grown produce the farmers trot over to the supermarket and convert their cash into flour and soap, and so forth. It’s quite something to see their transport parked up outside the shop!
As I said at the outset, our view of Brazil is the view of the coast. More specifically, it tends to be a view that only a boating visitor can obtain. This is certainly the case with this next little batch of photographs. They feature one of our all time favourite places, and it’s one which can only be reached by yotties and fishermen.
I’ve already written at length about the ecosystem which we know simply as “the coroa” (or sand bar). Besides being a wonderful mini-world it is also a great place to hold a barbecue.
Mind you, since the sand bar is only uncovered at low water it’s a good idea to check the tide table before beginning the picnic. This one ended prematurely when the sea returned.
Brazil is a two-part nation. The further south you go, the more affluent it becomes. I’ve an idea that this is a climatic thing – for, after all, it is true of much of the world. People who live in the sunshine seem to be warmer hearted than the rest of us and they also seem to be more laid back. I suppose you might call it laziness, but in reality it’s a case of being happy with their lot. The peoples of the colder climes are genetically prone to seek more. Our ancestors had to work hard to get enough food and enough warmth just to survive, and so we’re programmed to be demanding; that’s my theory.
So far as Brazil is concerned – and so far as a coast-hopping yotty is concerned – the further south one travels the fewer the adobe huts and dug-out canoes. But there are other compensations.
Salvador is the destination most popular with cruising yotties – but that’s just because it is the most convenient point of arrival. For those who are not hell-bent on heading for the Caribbean, the Ilha Grande, south of Rio, offers a more interesting cruising ground.
More interesting, and safer too. Poverty can be laid-back and picturesque; it can be welcoming and warm-hearted – but it can also be dangerous. Everyone has a tale to tell of friends who were robbed while visiting Salavador, but we’ve yet to hear of any boat being broken into in the Ilha Grande and nor have we ever heard of anyone being mugged while ambling around Angra.
The Ilha Grande bay offers an immense variety of anchorages; and if you don’t have your own boat you can take a day trip aboard a “schooner” or hire one of these luvverly pink boats.
On the debit side, the sun and the wind are not so reliable as they are in the Bahía.
Most people enjoy the calm sheltered coves and islets which lie hidden behind the Ilha Grande, but our preference is for the more rugged, windward face.
Few yotties visit anywhere south of the Ilha Grande. Those who do are generally heading for the Rio Plata, and they have generally run out time. Alas, the Brazilian tourist visa only lasts for six months. This might seem adequate, but with a country as vast and as interesting as this one even two years would hardly suffice.
Having run out of time we are obliged to hurry on our way, missing out on Paranagua, Santa Catarina, Porto Allegre, and a good many other interesting places.
This time we managed to arrive at Paranagua with just one week in hand, and so we were able to take a fleeting look at the place.
These petty rules which divide our world are so pointless and so frustrating! What harm can it do to let yotties spend a few more months in the same country? A few more months and a few more Reals, too, mark you…! Pleading is useless – (believe me, we’ve tried) – and the authorities send us on our way.
Mind you, it’s only the rule-makers who are stiff and unbending. The Brazilian people could not be more friendly.
From a photographer’s point of view they are an absolute delight. They positively welcome the intrusion of the camera; they even ask to be photographed!
Happily, with a digital camera one needn’t worry about wasting film; and one can even show the patient the result, on the little screen. (Ideally, I like to be able to print out a copy, but this generally isn’t possible.)
I guess that for this fellow his horse is the equivalent of a flash new motorbike… or perhaps she’s just his best friend!
Now that we’ve left it behind Brazil seems even sunnier and more beautiful than we ever realised; in fact, I’m wondering why we chose to head south, out of the tropics… So, too, is this young fellow who fell madly in love with Roxanne. “When are you coming back?” he shouts.