|Leaving the samba sounds of Rio behind us, we headed down the coast towards uncertainty. About 300 km South you reach the Costa Verde which, as it says in the title, is very green and coastal. With mountains on one side, rainforest in the middle, and white beaches overlooking many small islands, it is a stretch of coast that is pleasant to many of the senses. One of the most striking things is that, probably because of the abundance of vegetation and possibly because of the plankton-rich South Atlantic Ocean, the sea in many places actually looks a rather littoral green, like a large duck pond in a sleepy West Country village. Pleasant and highly evocative to those of the right disposition. We pushed on, until we reached Paraty.
Paraty is a colonial town, and is very attractive. Probably the best introduction one can give is the fact that UNESCO considers its one of world’s most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture and subsequently the whole city has been elevated to the status of a national monument. It is indeed pretty, although, as one would expect, geared towards the tourist market and is notably more expensive than many smaller towns close by (and also a bit tacky in places in its choice of arts and crafts on sale and that sort of thing). Colourful buildings, cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages and a pretty church, complete the mountainous backdrop and waterfront lined with colourful fishing boats. We ambled around for a bit and saw a funny sight, worthy of brief mention. There was a black man dressed in slave clothes with a chain wrapped around him and he was stood in front of the church inviting people to take pictures of him, for money of course, in these ridiculous heroic poses, then cracking jokes in between in a cockney accent. There was an alarmingly large queue of people wanting these shots, yes, let’s not be culturally shy, many of them were Japanese and American tourists, which is not a judgement, just a statement. I love random things and this made me chuckle on so many levels that I don’t need to overly pontificate my contemplations.
Two things stood out about Paraty. The first was the heat. It was as humid as a badger’s undercarriage in a burrow fire. Not the sort of conditions a gentleman wants to walk around in, going about his business, since this endeavour is guaranteed to be paid in the currency of sweat, and a gentleman should not sweat while conducting his affairs, lest he be judged suspiciously as a bounder, fiend and cad-like rotter of the lowest stock and end up the talk of polite society.
The other notable thing was the language. Everyone here speaks Portuguese and less English than many Spanish speaking countries we’ve been to. I shudder at how arrogant it sounds; “I went on holiday in Portugal and they all spoke Portuguese. What is their problem?” However, as an Englishman I’m historically bound to be unashamedly mocking of the foreign tongue, and as a traveller I’m stood on the precipice, on the one hand trying to be frightfully civilised at dinner parties, “Yes, we’re going to South America. Of course we’re learning Spanish. And of course Portuguese. Yes, we’re taking lessons.” On the other hand, the underlying reality of such often spoken statements, particularly amongst polite society, whereby you are filled with good intentions but ultimately find it more comfortable to not do anything. We speak some of the lingo, of course, but Portuguese is just another hurdle and I have found that playing charades with strangers is more effective than clutching the little guidebook as you walk around the streets looking dumfounded, asking elderly women where all the anacondas are, or sit in a restaurant fumbling to find the word for “Badger Pie.”
Ultimately I’m ashamed at how poor my Portuguese is and yes, we tried to learn it, but couldn’t so didn’t, but to try and fail is either noble or the inevitable discourse of a fool, history shall be the judge of that. However, there’s a part of me that can’t help but shudder when I hear people trying to speak another language, clearly failing but trying to look like they are some International linguistic Messiah. Of course one should try to make an effort, but with a gently self-depreciating smile, silently acknowledging that you know you sound like the equivalent of Manuel off Fawlty Towers. To not do this annoys me as much as when people go on holiday to third world countries and dress up in the local clothes, effectively just looking like a git, and visibly mocking their host nation, as if there is something funny about what they wear, or to remind them that we can afford to take a bite out of their life and then casually toss it aside like an apple that we’ve scrumped from someone else’s garden, taken a bite and found it ultimately disagreeable. Lazy, arrogant, ignorant or just a shark that does what a shark does and loves the ocean for making it that way, ultimately this is a judgement that I cannot make on myself, only speculate, considerably. Maybe I should just lie and tell everyone that we learnt lots of phrases but years from now when people say “Like what?” we’d just shake our heads in surprise and say, “Oh it was ages ago, I can’t believe how much we’ve forgotten.” But, guided by the self destructive hand of honesty I’m going to come clean and just admit, we tried for about a day to learn Portuguese but it’s just confusing when you’re still trying to learn Spanish, and ultimately it’s a rubbish language. Speaking Italian makes one sound cultured, speaking Cantonese makes you sound clever and business minded, speaking Swahili makes you sound well travelled and adventurous, but Portuguese as a second language just makes you sound like a git and I’m having no part in it. I have conscientiously regressed to hand gestures, pulling faces and grunting and everyone seems to understand me, as if I were born to be a caveman.
In conclusion, Paraty was nice and neither of us actually needed to order Badger Pie. Button’s Tower of Babel is growing every day in height and surely there can be no stopping my ambitions now...