On the Gold Trail in Paraty
Going through past blog posts and travel photos, I realized that I haven’t yet written about a special tour we took during our short stay in Paraty. You may recall my interview with Rodrigo Pereira, one of the owners of adventure outfitter, Paraty Explorer, in which he shared his thoughts about Paraty and his recommendations for things to do around town. I was compelled to interview Rodrigo following our tour of Paraty’s Caminho do Ouro (Gold Trail) which was led by Paraty Explorer. In light of the current World Cup and upcoming 2016 Olympic Games, I thought that now would be a great time to share our experience with those of you who are currently in Brazil or who are planning a trip to Brazil and are looking to round out your Brazilian adventures with a taste of Brazilian history and culture in an off-beat setting.
Located on Brazil’s Costa Verde (“Green Coast”), Paraty is a relatively sleepy colonial Portuguese town sitting on the Bay of Ilha Grande. Surrounded by small islands, tropical forests, mountains, and waterfalls, many people may not realize that Paraty is a hotbed of Brazilian history, especially in connection with the Gold Trail.
During our tour, we hiked along a small portion of this 1200-km (about 746 miles) road that was built by African slaves through the Atlantic Rainforest. Although it was slow to sink in, we soon realized the gravity of having to clear trees and sheer jungle habitat in order to lay stones for a long pathway in extreme weather conditions. What was the purpose of building the trail? Greed and gold!
When the richest gold mines in the world were discovered in 1696 in the mountains of Minas Gerais nearby, a gold rush ensued. So the Portuguese had to think of a way to get the gold from the mountains to the sea where it could then be exported on ships bound to Portugal. The trail would also be used to transport miners, supplies, and slaves. Not wanting to do the arduous work themselves, slave owners instead used slave labor to build the trail.
Gunpowder was used to blast rocks into stones. Today, many of the stones along the trail are covered in moss or have been eroded by water.
During our guided hike, in addition to the history of the trail, we learned about the local flora, fauna, and insects.
Specifically, we learned about leaf-cutter ants, army ants which eat everything in their path, and termites. Along the trail, we came across a large, fallen tree that met its demise due to termites.
Although we visited Paraty in the dead of Brazil’s winter and it was somewhat chilly, we saw some locals wading in Tarzan’s Pool. My cousin even took a ride down Toboga Waterfall – a natural waterfall slide.
I found it particularly interesting that slave owners were able to keep control over their slaves by getting them hooked on cachaça, a distilled liquor made from sugarcane juice. That fact was the perfect segue into our next stop along the Gold Trail: a working cachaça distillery.