Ilha Grande Stories and Tips

Rio state hinterland - Cachaca distillery and waterfall

Cheap amusement for the locals Photo, Ilha Grande, Brazil

How could you not love a country with thirty different kinds of mango?

Brazil is for the senses. Not just the ears and eyes but the nostrils and taste buds as well. On one leg of our trip between Angros dos Reis and Paraty, we were taken to a cachaca distillery hidden away in the jungle. Cachaca is a kind of unmatured rum and has a kick like a mule. Also included was a trip into the jungle and a visit to a waterfall.

At this stage of the trip we were down to six people--mainly from the British Isles. There was a Dubliner couple called Derek and Doreen, myself, an Englishman, Gary, who is on his way back to Thailand via Brazil, a Paulista woman who spoke no English called Ilse, and a Yorkshire couple who could only be described as a pair of very friendly punk rockers. We all got on splendidly and when the South American Experience suggested a stop on the way to Paraty, we all readily agreed. Our guide was the superb Marcelo--an intelligent Carioca who had spent ten years in London (Romford, in fact) and whose English was top-notch. She was at pains to point things out. And the stretch of road between Angros and Paraty takes in the famous Costa Verde. The soaring mountains of Rio de Janeiro hit the sea here to create beautiful islands. Our mouths dropped open as it was green cove after green cove stretching for tens of miles.

The town of Paraty is famous for its cachaca and at the distillery we had the chance to purchase this fearsome drink. At about 3:00pm, we pulled over in a town deep in the jungle. First a walk, then a visit to where they make the cachaca. Marcelo led us onto a jungle trail. The earth was scarlet and army ants crossed at many points. We brushed past bamboo groves and lianas and emerged at a river where an enormous, inverted, bowl-shaped rock was used by the locals as a slide (see photo). We stood on precarious boulders as men slid down the rock on a film of water landing with a heavy splash. A toddler had gone down it before we arrived and had landed awkwardly. Marcelo asked if we wished to have a go. . . ummm, no thank you. . .

We followed the trail further along the river and stopped at a boulder-strewn waterfall. There were little bamboo planks across the river to a barraca on the other side, but the views upstream and downstream were the highlights. The jungle was as mesmerising as ever and reminded me of the Erawan NP in Thailand. I always enjoy the experience of the jungle with its thick canopy, birdcalls, and buzzing insects. We took off our shoes and socks and dangled our feet in the water, Ilse and Doreen slithered and slid over the rocks, having trouble keeping their balance, and insects bit Gemma--but we all loved it there.

We ran into the people who were on the South American Experience bus before us and had come out on a day excursion from Paraty. There was quite a bunch of us crossing the road to the cachaca distillery. The owner is an eighty-year-old who built the distillery by hand and we were shown his endeavors. Inside the small shed was a giant wooden hammer. Beneath the hammer was manioc powder/paste and a natural water channel outside filled the hammer. When full, the waters weight pushed the bottom of the hammer downwards so the head rose up. As the water dispersed, the weight from the hammerhead sent it down again to crush the manioc paste. And the process was repeated.

Marcelo showed us the local jungle fruits that are grown nearby. Her enthusiams was infectious as she pointed out natural pineapples, papaya, bananas, and mangos. Ilse had discovered her own fruit and was spotted a little ways off munching on her discoveries. Above her was a tree covered in such a delicacy (see photo). They seemed to come out of the trunk--branches and leaves and the entire tree was covered in pustules like a disease. We all tried some, and they had a sharp, acrid, sweet taste and you had to remember to spit out the stones. My favorite image is Marcelo climbing this tree and sucking on these fruits deliriously.

Even more fun was the plant for making cachaca which was equally ingenious and powered naturally by waterwheels. Five gnarled old men chopped up manioc and threw it into a bucket. This went into the crusher and then a huge mixer stirred the paste. Oliver decided to taste it and came away with white powder covering his mouth like Al Jolson. We got to taste the cachaca at its different stages and the drink in its early stages was pretty tough. Even at its final stages it was strong enough to blow your ears and bring tears to your eyes. This didn't effect Ilse who consumed it in huge quantities. All I can say is that the woman must have a constitution of a rhinoceros.

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