Saturday, 24 January 2015

Brazil Cruising Part 1

We officially reached Brazil at Fernando de Noronha, and first saw the mainland at Recife, but I didn't get any feeling for this massive country until we reached Salvador, staying on the beach and in the yacht club at the first two stops respectively.

Really, our tour of Brazil also begins with the addition to our crew of a second Ukrainian, Tanya. Russian speaking was kept to a minimum (lest Putin declare Auriga a part of Russia) and Ukrainian flags reached a maximum. Otherwise Auriga remained as British as my influence allowed.

Starting touristy, I would say Salvador is worth a visit, but not a stay. A city of about 4 million people, and, unless you live there, only two districts worth a visit – the historic colonial center, the Pelourinho, and the bar district of Barra.

The Pelourinho is fascinating. These days the colonial architecture and thousand street side art shops make it beautiful, but Salvador, the first capital of Brazil came by its wealth through slavery, and the magnificant St Franciscan Cathedral is testiment to this, being built by slaves who were not allowed to worship here – they took their revenge by carving the angels and cherubs into various obscene poses.

If Christmas is in summer you have
to be inventive to make a snowman!
But we are not backpackers, so taking advantage of our floating transport we soon moved away from the city to explore the huge cruising ground of Bahia Grande – the bay in which Slavador is found, said to be the largest natural bay on earth. After Christmas in the North at Ilha Bom Jesus we headed south to the largest island of Itaparica. 

There is a town on the North of the island well frequented by tourist boats, and with a good marina we stopped there first. There is not much to say of the town, it's nice enough. I met a woman who followed me for half an hour insisting I introduce her to Prince William. We drank in a South African bar run by one of those endlessly proud travellers that tell you in a sultry voice the joys of life only to be found by settling in a tiny fishing village and never moving on – “It's the pace of life maaannn”

Heading South we found a perfect private beach with it's own freshwater waterfall for a shower. Private until Tanya sat on the beach in the morning and started attracting attention. Unfortunately that attention came from a man in a sinking kayak. Heading further from home than his leaking kayak (and inability to swim) could manage, this unfortunately amorous Argentinian sank 10 ft from the shore and had to be rescued by out blonde heroine. Fishing up the kayak took the additional hands of Igor “saviour complex” Gotlibovych and the surprisingly unembarrassed gentleman was sent home on a passing fishing boat.

The closest route to the Atlantic – and onward progress – was blocked by the uncharted shoal waters of the Canal do Itaparica. The passage through is well documented in the pilot book which reads: pass between the two GPS waypoints given – you will see breaking waves, but do not fear, continue at slow pace through waters of 8 to 10 m. Dead on the path between the given waypoints the breaking waves materialised - “should we continue?” “Um, yea? Book says its Ok, depth still 6m...”

Bang! Smash. Thump thump fuck! thump. Drop sails – turn around, engine on, shit! full throttle – are we Ok?

In 6 months it's the first time we touched the bottom and it was a bad one. All we can say is, Auriga is made of tough stuff and secondly, it's a good thing we were trying to exit the bay, not enter – the wind was blowing us off the sandbar, and most of the ocean swell had been dissipated by the time it reached the inside edge. Entering the bay by this route might have been a different story.

The next day we made passage to Camamu, and, after a tremendously cautious entrance into the river mouth “crap, the depth is only 20m! Should we continue?” we arrived in Paradise. The pilot book is out of date (really!?), calling the bay untouched by tourism, but nonetheless it is still beautiful. This was new year's weekend and a popular getaway for Brazilians making the most of a few days off.

We first headed up the river, passing Marau, and it's gigantic fresco. After 6 months of ocean sailing, all this river sailing reminded me of motoring up the Orwell to Ipswich after a CUYC trip. Except that there are no buoys. And the river is totally uncharted. And the banks are not the hills of Suffolk, but uninhabited tropical forest... The best pilotage we had was the (trusty??) pilot book, which uses clumps of palm trees as navigation marks -

“Is that the group of tall palms?”
“No, no, I think it's just normal palms. The tall palms are past the red rocks”
“Those red rocks?”
“Ahh, yes, wait, no. don't hit those. THOSE red rocks!”
Ahh, I see, yes, it makes sense – that nest of crocodiles(1) is marked on the chart next to the palms”

Eventually we reached the waterfalls of Tremembe by kayak. We didn't take the straightforward route, and took a tour through the Mangrove swamp complete with biting flies the size of golf balls and huge crabs hanging on the branches above our heads. The waterfalls were quite spectcaular, and for the trade of a knife Igor persuaded the local kids to show him where to safely jump through the frothing water.

New years was a fantastic party, depending on who you ask. All agree the Russian salad* was (given restraints in local ingredients) fantastic. After that 1/3 of the crew passed out and 1/3 were bitten by a dog(3). Those left standing were plyed with as much beer and meat as they could consume at a local party. Some of the crew learnt that lying drunk on the “paradise” beach is an invitation for leeches, still others learnt that if you sleep on deck the flies bite. All three appreciated free coffee at the bar the next morning...

600 miles South followed in very relaxed style. With three aboard we took it easy, and for the first time in 6 months we shared watches – it was a pleasure to have some company at night. The passage passed uneventfully until about 30 miles from the destination. With full sail up F4 turned into F5, then F7. As we approached the entrance to Buzios, 1000m depth turns into 20m and as you pass between a 500m gap between rocks things start to get exciting... Professional racing helmsman Igor took over from the self steering and we remained in control into the shelter of the bay.

Buzios is an interesting place. I liked it, but I'd equally respect anyone who hated it. “Discovered” by Bridget Bardot as a sleepy fishing village it is now a major tourist attraction for the wealthy of Rio. Mostly fancy restaurants and boutique shopping, I feel it retains a charm, and unlike such tourist traps in many other countries, I was not once approached by a street hawker, no waiters hounded me to enter their bar as I walked passed, and when I sat down to eat I didn't once have to shoo a flower or hat salesman from my table. It's overdeveloped, and not at all a secret sleepy fishing village, but the beaches are good, the scenery pretty, the statues everywhere are quaint and there is good food. In my mind, even though there are 4000 other people enjoying it alongside you, and two cruise ships moored in the bay, what's the complaint? I had a lovely time, so there!

There are these quirky statues all over the place

The final passage was slow and uneventful. We were greeted on evening arival by a huge lightning storm over Rio, a common occurrence after hot summers days. Fortunately/unfortunately, the wind died, and it took us all night to cover the final 25 miles, so we dodged the storm.

Final approaches to Rio, and Copacabana
swims into view

Our stay in Rio has been interesting. Despite reputation for crime(5) the place has a more welcoming feeling than the other large cities we visited in Brazil, and being a huge tourist draw there are far more people who speak English, which is helpful to uneducated types like myself. There is a lot to see and do across the city. The city surrounds several large hills, most of which comprise the largest national park in any city in the world, where we went hiking for a day surrounded by butterflies the size of pigeons, and other less pretty insects. The Pao du Acucar(4) (sugar loaf mountain) has a cable car to the top and spectacular views. Tanya got her fill of moneys in the botanical gardens, and I have been dancing the samba, both drunk and in dancing lessons.

View from the Pao de Acucar
More tales of Brazil to follow soon in part 2, as on the 30th Giulia finally joins Auriga and we head back, retracing our steps North throughout February.

1 Ok, I got carried away, there were no navigational(2) crocodiles.
2 Or, indeed, any crocodiles.
3 Thanks mum, for research in to prevalence of Rabies in Brazilian dogs. Thanks Hywel, for advice re. treating wound.
4 It took me a long time to work out what sugar loaf was. It has nothing to do with bread.
5 See coming blog entry...

1 comment:

  1. Good blog Matt, looking forward to hearing more and seeing the rest of the pics x