Sadness as The Real World Tracks Us Down

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 21 Feb 2010 02:13

Date: 20 February 2010

Position: 13:54.85S 38:59.39W


A couple of days ago I received an email from good friend Barbara Traill with some incredibly sad news. “Thought you might like to know that Phil Archer died peacefully in his chair listening to his favourite music on Friday”. This struck me like an arrow through my very soul. Dear old Phil. Here we are living our fantasy dream and meanwhile, back in Ambridge, real life continues with real tragedies. I was gutted, not least because I’ve not been able to get a strong enough mobile signal in these outposts of civilisation to download a podcast of The Archers Omnibus so I could share in the nation’s grief.


But one can’t mope forever so, moving on, back to paradise.


Having allocated a couple of days amongst the extensive islands inland from Morro de São Paulo and Gamboa, we made an early start to make our way to Cairú, the last navigable settlement upriver. Although only 12 miles away over the ground, as we were punching a 2-knot ebbing tide it was 20 miles through the water, and more than a 3-hour slog, We stopped off very briefly at what I considered a delightful village on the way, where they were making and repairing on the beach “saveiros”, the traditional river boats, using nothing more modern than adze, saw and chisel. Not turned on by traditional boatbuilding skills, the DS considered the stop to be rather a waste of time.


We arrived at the ancient town of Cairú at midday. The pilot book waxed lyrical about this “jewel of baroque architecture”. It was one of those “must-vist” places (but, granted, so was the great Tororó Waterfall). The anchor had hardly bedded in before the DS declared Cairú “a dump” and insisted we had 1 ½ hours (with no lunch) to get ashore and see the place in the scorching heat of the midday sun before heading back down-river for another 3-hour slog against the now flooding tide to arrive back at Gamboa shortly before dark. This was the situation from my perspective.


The DS and I had one of those mature, rational marital discussions. I was branded (quite reasonably) a selfish pig and we spent what only I thought was a delightful afternoon in front of what only I considered to be a delightfully picturesque village. In the late afternoon we went ashore and discovered with the help of an official guide that, yes, some of the houses in the backstreets were wonderful examples of 17th century baroque architecture, but only three of them. It wasn’t exactly Venice. However, the 17th century Franciscan monastery which is still operating (albeit with only two Franciscan monks compared with the 50 or more that lived there in its heyday) and which is being painstakingly renovated was, indeed, a jewel. On this the DS and I agreed. Fantastic naïve ceiling paintings. Incredible wood and stone carvings, and pillars decorated with beautiful gold leaf designs. But, yes, it could have been seen at midday.


Another early start the following morning and with the help of a favourable tide we zinged down river in 1½ hours back to Gamboa, and we were walking down what Selina earlier described as “Paradise Beach” by 0900. We returned to the boat and relocated to an anchorage a couple of miles away behind a spit of land, took the barbecue onto the white sandy beach and cooked a late lunch of incredibly tough chicken (you see – not everything is perfect here).


Friday morning and another early start, this time to head back out into the Atlantic to sail a further 35 miles south to another big inlet riddled with islands – the Bahia do Camamú. Once in, it promised to be a wonderful cruising ground. Reading the pilot book, the entrance looked terribly tricky involving a tortuous route through rocks and shallows. Without the intricate buoyage system one would be doomed to be dashed on said rocks. Imagine our dismay to arrive to find all the buoys had gone – not one to be seen anywhere. Added to which I had discovered that the electronic charts I have covering the whole of South America were hopelessly lacking in detail. Luckily I had been able to download some good charts from the Brazilian Hydrographic Office website and with these we worked our way in with no problem.


I had been keen to try some of the Brazilian coastal cuisine. There was a choice of two restaurants opposite our anchorage. We arrived in the dinghy at the pontoon of the first and were getting out when two women asked us how they could help us. “We’ve come to eat a good Brazilian meal” we replied. “Not here, you aren’t” was the polite reply. It turned out to be a private house. The other restaurant said that sadly they had just shut (it was 6pm). More tough chicken on the boat.


An even earlier start today (Saturday) to catch the 0600 ferry to Camamú itself (it’s too shallow to get there in one’s own boat). The saveiro, an open wooden boat with benches down each side and which serves as a ferry here, was full of local Brazilians going to the Saturday market – mainly women and children. As we wove our way through the mangroves, one of the babes in arms got a little fractious so a comforting breast was produced to succour the infant. Being an English gentleman I averted my eyes. Soon, on the other side of the boat, another small child was demanding similar comfort from its mother and another breast was produced. In no time, breakfast was in full swing, so to speak, and there were so many breasts on display that there was hardly anywhere I could look for fear of potentially giving offence.


At 0730 we arrived at Camamú. It is a small provincial town, serving the island communities. After the obligatory hike up to the top of the hill to see the few so-called historic buildings all of which were closed or boarded up, we went to the market which was a seething pit of feral commerce. One market building was devoted entirely to numerous types of flour – corn, manioc etc – in vast sacks. Thousands of them. Then there was the open market with all the fruit and veg, most of which were unidentifiable to us, and more bananas than I’ve ever seen in my life. Finally was the market building which was dedicated to dead animals and all they contained. I’m a healthy carnivore and I like my steaks rare but this was enough to turn even my stomach. Every constituent part of every conceivable type of animal was on display in all its gory glory. The final straw was actually outside the meat market where we saw a jaunty little lad straining every muscle to push a wheelbarrow in which were the seeping decapitated heads of two enormous cows.


The DS was almost throwing up. “I know that seeing this sort of thing is an important part of cruising in distant lands, but I’m beginning to crave just a modicum of sophistication”.