Paraty Water Trails
Cultural and historical revival in defence of the environment and the local Caiçara Culture
Paraty Water Trails
In my case, I started paddling without thinking about it too much.
From the time I first moved to the Costa Verde region I heard talk of people and their canoes who used to paddle incredible distances, often in rough conditions, to bring their crops and dried fish to market.
Once there they bought products that were difficult to find in the remote coastal villages at that time; things like salt, kerosene and soap – always using these water trails.
First of all I lived in the village of Abraão on Ilha Grande (Big Island) and, living on an island, one of the things you need to learn is to paddle.
For me it was as natural as riding a bike.
I paddled a kayak; used the dinghy to go back and forth from the schooner; I paddled to fish; or when the boat broke down. I towed tourists on Sit On Top kayaks – if you’ve done this you know what I’m talking about (haha); paddled outrigger canoes and paddled just for the sake of it. For me these were my water trails.
Whether you had nothing to do or not, it was always the same – go paddling!
In the same way, after I moved to Paraty it was business as usual – nothing changed.
First of all I lived in Paraty Mirim, on the coast on the way to the Bay of Mamangua.
There were walking trails to the beaches but there were also kayaks, canoes, dinghies and sailboats. Obviously, on most days, the best option was by sea and there I was again: this time on Paraty water trails.
When I moved to the town of Paraty itself I continued doing what I’d absorbed through the pores: paddling – working with kayaks and paddling. It was at this time that I met my friend and business partner Michael Smyth who started guiding (and towing!) clients around the Bay of Paraty as well.
In those days the company we worked for had easy access to the Pereque Acu river where we embarked and disembarked on what became another water trail.
Eventually we started leaving the kayaks on Jabaquara beach, after plenty more times towing clients, and from that point on, Jabaquara became our kayaking base.
We rented sit-on-top kayaks and Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boards until we finally discovered the world of sea kayaking.
From the first time I sat in a sea kayak I was certain I would never paddle a sit-on-top kayak again.
It was about this time that I first heard from a friend of mine that people used to paddle from Ponta Negra fishing village, on the Juatinga Eco-Reserve, to Paraty.
More Paraty Water Trails? Straightaway I became interested!
From the beginning I was fascinated by the tales of adventure, adversity and immense knowledge of the natural world that was required to paddle such a long distance in rough seas in a canoe that seemed so small and fragile.
Also, how did they manage to carry loads of dozens if not hundreds of kilos, on top of the weight of the paddlers?
Not so easy…
And then I realised just how tough life must have been. Working the land, planting, harvesting and producing the manioc flour and then having to get to the local market by canoe.
Quite a feat!
Ponta Negra village to Paraty was a four day round trip paddling a heavy canoe.
It’s also worth noting that before 1970 there was no asphalted road to Paraty. The products came and left by ferry coming from the towns of Mangaratiba and Sepetiba.
But here we are again – another Paraty water trail!
The Paraty Indians
Continuing my research I started reading about the indigenous people who used to live in the region of Paraty.
According to his book, which many regard as fantasy, and others as an accurate description of pre colonisation Brazil, the German adventurer Hans Staden – was already talking about the prowess of the local paddlers in about 1549.
Other adventurers drawn to the region in search of riches also spoke of the same canoes.
Canoes manned by dozens of natives, paddling so quickly that if there was no wind the sailboats were unable to escape. They completely dominated the forest and the sea.
These people were extremely skilled in the construction and navigation of the canoes. Very often the canoe is made from a single tree trunk.
But not just from any old tree trunk, it had to be the right type of wood. And this also set me thining: how did they get the tree out of the forest and transport it so the beach or river’s edge to make the canoe? How much trial and error was required to achieve this level of perfection?
The best trees for Canoes
These days we know some of the types of trees from our region are perfect for making canoes, for example:
Cedro, (Cedrela fissilis)
Timbuíba, (Balizia pedicellaris)
Ingá amarelo, (Tachigali denudata)
Jequitibá, (Cariniana legalis),
Ingá flecha, (Inga sessilis),
Guapuruvu, (Schizolobium parahyba)
Figueira branca, (Ficus insipida).
According to a study by Márcia Regina Teixeira da Encarnação:
“The Sambaqui people of this region would have led lives fully adapted to the geographical characteristics of the coastal mountain range, the coast itself and the lagoons. Their canoes must have criss-crossed the waters of the lagoons and the region’s rivers, to all four corners, scouring the region. The Sambaqui people established a civilisation of canoeists living primarily from shellfish and fish.”
A brief digression
I was also fortunate enough to work as crew on the largest canoe I’ve been on, Tocorimé Pomatojari.
Built in the Amazon and then sailed down to Paraty, the Tocorime also decided to make Paraty her safe haven.
It was a great apprenticeship in oceanic sailing: trips between Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande and Paraty with groups of visiting foreigners.
I got to know lots of sailors and captains, including a Czech who built his own boat with friends and sailed around the world, but when he got to Paraty, of course, he fell in love.
In love with the city and with his partner. And has never left Paraty since. Ah! That’s love for you.
But this is another story that I’ll save for another day. Mika, your time will come!
And these days, whenever we paddle we see scenes that remind us of everything I am describing here:
Nets being thrown from canoes and hauled back in; the lives of thousands of people who continue to live from the sea, be it transportation or sustenance and the need to maintain their traditions, culture and protect their ancestral territories.
The local Caiçara people belong to the sea and the sea belongs to them.
Coming full circle back to the start of the text, if you’ve got something to do or not, it doesn’t matter, go paddle!
The Paraty Water Trails route
At long last, with 16 years experience and plenty of stories to tell, let’s talk a little about each stage that can be paddled – distances, places to spend the night and where to eat.
Along the way, whoever decides to paddle will gain an understanding of the richness of Paraty culture and that the true UNESCO heritage is the people that live here.
Before we get to the paddling itself, here are a few reminders:
- Respect local culture;
- Including the pace of life;
- Support the local economy;
- Remove garbage from the sea whenever you can and always take your own with you;
- No wild camping;
- Respect the rules of the Environmentally protected area.
Crossing the region on Paraty Water Trails
1º) Tarituba – Ilha do Araújo – 18 Km
Launch from Tarituba village. Easy road access for unloading and setting up equipment.
Keep a lookout! A lot of dolphins pass through this route.
There is a great mix of paradisiacal islands and beaches on this leg. Worth stopping at
- Pelado Island – with restaurant
- Cedro Island – bar restaurant opens but not daily
- Ventura Island
On arrival at Araujo Island we recommend staying at local people’s houses and trying the local caiçara cooking
2º) Ilha do Araújo x Praia Vermelha – Média de 18 km
3º) Praia Vermelha x Saco do Mamanguá – Media 20 km
4º) Mamanguá x Pouso da Cajaíba – Média 20 km
5º) Pouso da Cajaíba x Ponta Negra – Média 25 km
6º) Ponta Negra x Trindade – Média 18 km
Where to eat
Rodrigo Pereira de Almeida
Tour guide and founding partner of Paraty Explorer