“Relax your neck. Keep your arms together. 1, 2, 3, go!”
The next 10 seconds were a blur. My world turned upside down. I was spinning on my back.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I’m gonna die!”
The combined force of Alex (my tour guide) and the young, jacked local sent me water-sliding down the huge rock-waterfall, Cachoeira do Tobaga.
Yes, a waterfall. And yes, sliding down.
Splash! The next thing I knew, I was completely submerged.
After 10 days of chaos, madness and frenetic pace of Carnaval in Rio, I seek peace and quiet at the coastal town of Paraty (pronounced pa-ra-chee), south of Rio de Janeiro. Ironically, the exhilaration from sliding down Cachoeira do Tobaga was the highlight of my trip.
Wander Around the Old Centre of Paraty
It’s 9pm as I walked into the historic old town, two nights ago. Shops were closed. Roads were empty. And yet, I felt safe. A sharp contrast from the nightlife of Rio’s world-revered Lapa party district.
In the day, Paraty is a photographer’s playground. Against a mountainous jungle backdrop, low-levelled houses brightened the old town with all shades of blue, crimson, green, and yellow with their colourfully painted wooden doors and window frames.
Summer flowers and bougainvillea vines embellish these ancient houses, strategically arranged to be a maze, adding a soft touch to the exquisitely preserved colonial centre.
There are cobblestoned streets, and then there are the cobblestoned streets of Paraty. The stones were dug up for laying the electrical wires of the city and tossed back without a care, jutting out like small boulders. Never mind driving, I struggled to walk on this uneven terrain. But the ancient-looking streets, coupled with horse-drawn carriages, are largely why this historic old town is so charming.
I wandered around the small old centre, frantically snapping photos; stopping at every corner and every angle for the perfect shot, knowing full well that my amateur photography skills don’t do this unbelievably photogenic town justice.
Learn the History
At 5pm every day except Wednesdays, the Paraty Free Walker Tour gathers at Plaza Matriz. The eloquent bilingual guides bring you to the historically significant spots in the city, including the churches, town centre and important old shop houses.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how gold, sugar cane, cachaça and coffee put this town on the world map, amused that the foundation of the main church is slanted, awed by the impact of the Freemasons in this city, finding the house of a current Brazilian royalty and participated in a little surprise activity at the end.
Without spoiling the surprise, all I can say is that I ended the tour with a smile and made new friends. I highly recommend this tour. The price is whatever you wish to tip!
Relax on the Beaches
Just across the canal beside the old centre is Pontal Beach. It is small, dirty and unlike the beaches in Rio. But it is a windy respite from the heat and humidity in summertime Paraty. I sat by the beach restaurant, enjoyed the reggae music and had the best mango smoothie of my life.
With more than 300 islands around Paraty Bay that are easily accessible by hiking or a boat ride, you will be spoilt for choices. I’m not surprised if you even find your own private beach!
Wander around Paraty and you’ll see many tour operators providing Jeep Tours. I signed up with Paraty Adventures and the next morning, got picked up by my tour guide Alex.
Our first stop was to the Paratiana Cachaca Distillery. Cachaca is the main liquor used to make Brazil’s national drink, Caipirinha. I believe that to truly understand a country, one has to try her national drink. To know how it’s produced is like going behind the scenes to see the process that makes a country one of the biggest party destinations.
Unfortunately, the guide in the distillery couldn’t speak English fluently. Even though she tried, she was reading off a written script with a Portuguese pronunciation and it sounded very strange. If you’re interested to know the production of Cachaca, I’d suggest do your research and find a distillery with English guided tours.
After trying different flavours of Cachaca (from sweet to spicy) early in the morning, we were loosened up and ready for my favourite activity – chasing waterfalls! There’s something about the combination of the green, blue, and white that mesmerizes me. It’s something that cannot be found in city-state Singapore.
We alighted from our jeep, walked through a bamboo forest reminiscent of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Japan, and arrived at the first waterfall, Pedra Branca.
It was around 10am and I still had the just-woke-up hair. I took off my shirt and dived into the clean, running river. The water was ice-cold and whatever sleepiness I felt went away immediately! We spent some time for our morning swim and even climbed up the waterfalls. What a refreshing morning!
Then, it was time for the main act, the main reason I signed up for the tour. Pedra Branca, to me, was just the appetiser.
We made our way to Cachoeira do Tobago with a mixture of excitement and fear. Or maybe it’s just me. Having read about it, I knew I had to come.
At the base of the waterfall slide, people gathered, like spectators in awe. At the top, a handful of youths ran across the flat part of the waterfall to build momentum before letting gravity bring them down, as if they were surfing down the waterfall slide.
A couple of daredevils decided to bring it to the next level. One sat down midway down the slide, and the other built up his momentum before jumping over him!
Not a far distance at the bottom were piles of rocks. Landing slightly off could easily mean serious injury. It’s as if these guys were competing to see who’s more ballsy.
I had goosebumps just looking at them. None of us in the group dared to try. Despite being the reason I came, I was hesitant. It was only after multiple assurance by Alex that I decided to go for it…laying down.
As I emerged from the water, the smile on my face was huge! I felt alive! It was one of those moments when you’re afraid to do something, but you went ahead anyway, and you realized those fears were for nothing.
I immediately rushed up for a second time. One by one, the others in my tour group slid down slowly. I could see the joy in their faces after the slide, and the silence among us quickly went away.
During lunch at Poco do Tarzan just 5 minutes away, tucked deep in the jungle, with live music and a Bob Marley vibe, we shared tasty spaghetti and laughter, as a result of overcoming our common fear together.
Paraty, although an expensive little old town, is rich in history, beauty and unique day-trips. It showed me that people who don’t speak the same language could become friends by doing something scary together. And here is where I began my love for small, historical towns.
And now, it's your turn.