An Excursion up the River Paraguaçu

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Fri 24 Apr 2015 19:07
12:40.96S 38:51.65W

Between torrential downpours we sailed out of Salvador's Terminal Náutico. 'Yao' saluted us on the foghorn, as we passed. Although the wind was light we were able to sail, dodging anchored cargo ships and tankers, all the way to Itaparica, the large island on the other side of All Saints Bay. Pink bellied dolphins played around us. We later identified them, they were tucuxi (pronounced 'too-koo- shee'), a type of river dolphin which populates the rivers of South America.

The anchorage, at the north end of the island, off the village of Itaparica is idyllic, green and peaceful, a relief after the excitement of the city. It is difficult to imagine the boat burglaries of a fortnight ago taking place here. We anchored next to Yemanja (the German boat we met in Salvador) and Tomi came over in his tender and towed us to shore in 'Arnie'. This is the first time we have used our new dinghy, and although it packs small and can be man(or woman)-handled by one person, it is a lot larger than expected. No doubt the extra space will be useful.

Walking through the village I was transported back twenty-four years to my time in Central Java, Indonesia: the cobbled streets, the sound of the cicadas and the tropical warmth of late afternoon. Franco filled our water bottles at the Fonte da Bica, the village fountain, fed by a mineral water spring. The water is delicious, the best since the mountain streams of Morocco and people come from miles around to fill their bottles.

The next day we spent time scrubbing Caramor's bottom, she had sprouted 3cm long goosefoot barnacles. We wandered through the historic centre and found a jack fruit for sale. I had forgotten how sticky they are, you can't wash the goo off! As we walked back along the prom we watched Yao arriving.

Green coconuts and jack fruit

Next morning both ships set off up the Paraguaçu river. Using our electronic chart and the marker buoys, we stuck to the channel. We were surprised when Yao cut straight across the bay as we could see the lighter colour of the water where the sandbanks were. Later Jean-Loup told us he didn't have a chart of the area.

The river is broad and tidal, the banks rise up to low rolling hills covered in mata atlântica, the lush coastal jungle. 

Yao heading up river

We arrived at Margojipe where we anchored off the town pier for the night. The next morning we headed into town for the Saturday market which draws farmers from many miles around come to sell their produce. We bought a short facão (machete), better balanced than the longer ones which are the size of a short sword. At some anchorages we will need to cut kelp or vegetation that has drifted downstream and can be heavy enough to make the anchor trip or too heavy to lift. We wandered around the colourful fruit and vegetable displays deciding what to buy. We certainly didn't recognise everything and even with familiar foods there were sometimes surprises. We bought what looked like a mixed bag of oranges, some large, some small. The stall holder told us they were 'laranja lima', meaning 'orange lime' - a little confusing. Later I tried one, It was so bitter I had to spit it out. The pineapple was delicious though, sweet and juicy. You can tell when they are ripe as the leaves at the top should pull out easily. You don't haggle over prices in Brazil but everything was very good value, seldom more than two Reais. We bought a small bag of plain cashew nuts from a farmer for 10 Reais, possibly the most expensive item on the market.


Saveiros at Margojipe - every year there is a saveiro race from Salvador to this town, these saveiros have secured sponsorship

A dug-out canoe

the fishing fleet at Margojipe

Margojipe market every Saturday

Mules and horses are still an important means of transport

Marianne and Kath enjoying juice and biscuits

Riding a zebu to market

Jean-Loup an Marianne bought meat and hired a wheelbarrow and pusher to take it back to the boat. Many of the wheelbarrow drivers are young boys, when they are not working they snooze in the wheelbarrow which is just big enough to be comfortable.

We went on a wild goose chase looking for mosquito nets. Many routes led to the large bed shop but the shop assistants assured me they didn't sell any.

Mid afternoon we set sail for the convent of São Francisco where we dropped the anchor. Behind the church there is a small village where fishermen and farm workers live. On the shore are a few small marquees selling drinks. We rowed in for a green coconut, unfortunately they weren't cold. In the countryside, the fridge is reserved for beers! We were entertained by a couple of lads performing acrobatic dives into the river. They were eager for an audience.

A saveiro sailed in and rested in the mud. These shallow draft sailing boats transport goods to and from the villages in the bay. It was loaded up with new bricks and sailed away at dusk.

Convent of Saõ Francisco

Saõ Francisco main street

The ‘recycling centre’ 

The saveiro came back for more bricks the following morning

From São Francisco the river splits, the Paraguaçu goes up to the District town Cachoeira while the Iguape goes to Santiago. Neither arm have been surveyed. When last here seven years ago, Jean-Loup sailed Yao up to Cachoeira, using waypoints another sailor had plotted. He had no information about the Iguape. Our pilot gave waypoints for the Iguape as far as Santiago which seemed fairly straightforward. About the route to Cachoeira it says; "the significant silting of the bay makes access to the northern part of the river difficult. It is possible to go there in a shallow draft boat." Jean-Loup was disappointed when we said we didn't want to take Caramor (at 1.7m deep she is hardly shallow draft) any further up the Paraguaçu. We decided to sail up the Iguape together and then go our separate ways.

Santiago was bigger than São Francisco. At 10 a.m. a group of teenagers and children walked down to the beach and practised Capoeira for a couple of hours. We set off in Ding to explore a rivulet in the mangroves. As we were approaching the entrance, a fisherman in a dug-out canoe deployed his net right across the entrance to the small river. We watched him slap the water with his paddle to scare the fish and realised that by going round his net we would actually be helping.
In the mangroves we saw thousands of tiny crabs, a white heron and a few other waders. 

Mangrove swamp

After lunch we rowed to shore for a walk through town. The large village square has a shiny new exercise machine park, nobody was using it. A dog was thoroughly enjoying life in a blue rubbish drum. Nearby were the state-of-the-art recycling bins. As we walked up the road, villagers returned our greetings. We noticed that more people here are seriously overweight, not necessarily a sign of wealth. We passed a few horsemen dropping into town to pick up groceries. I bought some bread and bananas. The lady in front of me bought bread and rice. The shop keeper opened a one kilo bag and weighed out the amount she wanted. Rice is a staple here.

We bumped into a Frenchman and his Brazilian son who live in the village. Marianne remembers meeting him and his wife on a sailing boat near Belem seven years ago. The man is now divorced and is spending half the year in France. He has handed the business, a semi-derelict hostel over to his son. In the past, they used to offer horse riding. The son and his Brazilian wife are currently restoring the building. We asked him who his clientele would be. He explained that Santiago used to be a slave village and that there is growing tourist interest in former slave sites. During the three days we spent anchored off Santiago we were the only tourists. 

Caramor at Santiago de Iguape

A dog’s dinner

‘Just popped in for a few groceries’

Santiago de Iguape

We followed a small group of musicians (two adults and several small boys) back to the beach where they played their 'berimbau'. This instrument is used to accompany Capoeira dancers, it is a bow (similar to an archery bow) with one string, at the base is a resonating gourd. One hand plucks while the other holds a rattle and a small pebble between the thumb and forefinger. The rattle is shaken to the rhythm of the tune while the pebble is applied to the string to vary the sound. The gourd is pressed against the belly or not, depending on the sound required. At the same time they sing. Our little troupe sang about their Iguape river. Young men and one woman were performing Capoeira. They practise the acrobatics, backflips, somersaults, complicated handstands, at the water's edge, landing in the shallows.

We joined Yao's crew for a couple of caipirinhas, made with the cachaça (rum) Jean-Loup had bought in Margojipe, which was a lot nicer than the stuff served in bars.

The next morning we motored back to São Francisco where we parted company. Yao only have a month's visa left so they will have to move onto Paraguay quite quickly.

We continued downstream to anchorage number 4 in Michel Balette's pilot. It is within walking distance of a waterfall in the forest. In the morning we paddled to the jetty and asked for permission to go to the waterfall. "Of course you can! It's up that way." We paddled round to the beach where the stream came out and two of of the sons led us across the property to the start of the path in the forest. They handed Franco a large facão, one the size of a sword! Luckily we didn't need it as the path was well used. The waterfall was deliciously cool even though it was only a trickle.

Anchorage no 4 Michel Balette Brazil Pilot

Mata Atlántica

Jungle shower

Saveiros ply regularly up and down the river, mostly they motor sail as the winds are light. In this day and age Brazilian saveiro sailors can no longer afford to be becalmed.