Car-free Brazil

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Wed 3 Jun 2015 17:36

13:23.75S 38:56.7W

The Brazilian government boasts that it has the largest volume of environmental legislation in the world ... but enforcement doesn't always follow. It is proud to have hosted the Rio Earth Summit but at Matarandiba, less than a mile from a police station, we watched fishermen blowing up their own fish stock; using dynamite to kill fish is illegal in Brazil.

Here, on the Island of Tinharé things are different; the whole island is car-free. From a subsistence fishing community where nobody could afford cars, it became a cool place to hang out for Brazilian tourists wanting to get away from the city traffic. No cars means jobs for local men, if you want something moving you hire a wheelbarrow taxi. Visitors to the island are charged a BR$15 environmental tax which goes towards waste management and environmental projects. It seems to be working as the water is certainly a lot cleaner than in Bahia de Todos Santos.

Landfall at Morro de Sao Paulo

Morro de São Paulo is the main tourist village and has been called the Ibiza of Brazil, it is pretty but the streets are wall to wall expensive boutiques. Just a little further into the bay is Morro de Gamboa where we are anchored. A few bars and restaurants along the beach, a campsite and a smattering of hostels, a pleasant village without the hype.

Morro de Gamboa main street

Since there are no roads or bridge connecting the island to the mainland, transport is by boat. There are traditional (slow) launches and fast launches (modern speed boats).

Up-river is the small town of Valença, a bustling hive of activity. As the river is too shallow for Caramor, we caught a slow launch. Our main interest was to see how dugout canoes (piroga) are made as the town is famous for traditional boat building. I spent a bit of time the night before learning Portuguese words to do with boats, timber and tools.

The slow launch

We were surprised when our launch stopped at Atracadouro, the other side of the bay and everyone jumped off onto a waiting bus. We followed. Locals want to get to Valença fast, they aren't interested in the river scenery, the bus journey cuts 20 minutes off the travel time. The land is low lying and marshy, reeds, grass and palm trees are the main vegetation.

River at Valença

We downed a cold green coconut at a bar by the river and approached some fishermen, processing their catch by a dugout mooring. "Você sabe onde fica a fabrica de piroga? (Do you know where the dugout workshop is?)" we asked a big burly fisherman. "Ask her, that's her domain" he replied. She certainly looked the part, broad shoulders, hair done up in a long pony tail and sleeves rolled up to above her elbows, she was removing scales from six plump fish. She listened to us patiently "a fabrica de peruca? now let me see, maybe in the market over there. Hey José do you know where these guys will find a wig factory?" I may have a bad haircut, but can it really be that terrible? "No, no, PIROGA not PERUCA!" "Ah you mean canoa!" Vowels in Portuguese have a life of their own, they are pronounced differently depending on where they are in the word, peruca (wig) sounds remarkably like piroga (canoe), the difference being a 'k' sound rather than a 'g' sound. Although 'piroga' and 'canoa' both mean canoe, it seems that a dugout is 'canoa', at least in this area.

José explained that no one is making timber dugouts anymore because the government has passed legislation which forbids it. If you own a dugout, you can continue to use it and repair it but you cannot make a new one. This is to protect the forests. We suspect that trees large enough to build dugouts are few and far between. Certainly in Bahia all the forests we have seen are secondary growth and none of the trees would be large enough, the timbers for dugouts would have to come from a long way away and would cost a lot of money. José said that fibreglass is now being used but the design remains traditional.

Basket shop

We wandered along the river and found a man repairing dugouts, using an adze he was shaping ribs to reinforce a large rotting canoe. He was salvaging timber from an old wooden boat.

A ‘dugout’ made from planks

A fibreglass ‘dugout'

Back in town Franco fancied a coffee. Although Brazil is a huge coffee producer and supermarkets sell nice tasting ground coffee, finding a shop that makes a decent brew in a small town is a challenge. Some street vendors specialise in coffee, they have a trolley with a dozen flasks but it doesn't taste good and is probably instant. The cake shop didn't do coffee but K-Burger opposite had an expresso machine. We walked in and were welcomed in English by a very fair blue-eyed man, the owner. We guessed he must be German and had recently moved to Brazil. We were wrong, his family had been here for generations and he was as Brazilian as they come. The expresso machine wasn't switched on and our expresso order caused a certain amount of consternation among the staff. "Are you sure you don't want the flask coffee instead?" they pleaded. "No, no," we insisted. In the end the machine failed to work so we got a refund. We did go back there for lunch. 'Comida a kilo' (food by the kilo) is a popular and cheap way of eating at lunchtime. Restaurants lay on a buffet that generally includes several types of salad, meats and sauces, you only pay for what you eat, usually around £2 for a decent plateful. K-Burger didn't seem to be selling many burgers but their buffet was in demand.

We caught the really slow launch back. It was full of supplies for the hotels and restaurants with a few foreign backpacking tourists. While we were waiting to depart, a lady selling hair nicknacks came aboard, her eyes lit up when she saw me "I have just what you need" she thought, and dashed over to present me with a selection of hair clips. I bought a bag of hair ties for one Real and she was grateful. Someone who is grateful for selling 20 pence worth of stuff is having a really bad day.

Deliveries at Morro de Gamboa, the porters are wearing red T shirts

The local bus service

We got off at Morro de São Paulo where we found an ice-cream parlour, the best in Brazil so far. The owner studied ice-cream making in Italy and the cream he uses comes all the way from Argentina because the milk from Brazilian cows doesn't have enough cream.

The steep hill from the port

The main square

Best ice cream in Brazil (so far)

The ‘sail loft'