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Going up the Paraguaçu

Dernière mise à jour : 26 mars

In this article, the pace is slow, very slow.  A way to share the absolutely timeless way of life of the shrimp fishermen on the Paraguacu River in Brazil.  So if you want to experience a few moments with them, it's here


The bay of Todos os Santos is one of the largest in the world.  There are 56 islands and islets to explore as well as the mouths of several rivers.  The Paraguaçu River is the largest (its name means "the great sea" in the indigenous language): partly navigable, it goes far into the lands of Recôncavo, a very rich agricultural region (tobacco, sugar cane, livestock), before the abolition of slavery.

Here only fishermen are on the water as the river is not chartered but we have some information from friends to sail to Santiago do Iguape in the far northeast.

After a few hours, we arrive at the bay of Iguape, a large area of ​​sandbanks. Only part of it is visible, even at low tide.

We must use the rising tide to enter the non-mapped part. This is where the friendly advice helps us, providing the waypoints needed to continue north to the small village of Santiago. Here the official map is so wrong that our route is placed on earth!!! Fortunately a fishing boat greets us on our starboard side.

We show our camera with a questioning look and receives a big smile from the men who show us their fishing in a net of the type we use for very little fishes. The propeller turns at the end of a very long pole which allows the engine to remain well above the water.

The fishing boat reaches stakes in front of a large baroque church and we follow it to drop anchor in the mud.  Yes, we did it!

It is a peaceful, and completely preserved setting. Of the church, there is only the walls and the very beautiful facade.

Historically and economically, Brazil was born here. Sugar cane was exploited extensively in the States of Pernambuco and Bahia for nearly two centuries. It generated a particular form of social organization: the engenho, or "sugar mill". It has marked the social relations of Brazil. The main workers were black slaves. They lived in very harsh and miserable conditions and Francisco covents were the governance and administrative centers . Many slaves fled to non-navigable parts of the river.  These fishing communities, called quilombos, are their descendants.

We visit the village where everyone is friendly and a little bit curious : they never see a boat here ! We only know a few words in Portuguese, of which calameiros, but it is enough for an old woman to tell us to follow her to her courtyard where there is a smoking room.  The shrimp are placed on a wood fire: what a treat!

Back on the slippery slope, the tide is low and our dinghy is no longer in the water, damn !  But some kind locals come to help us to put it back in the water.

At daybreak, all the fishermen get busy. They must take advantage of the ebb tide. They greet us and we follow them with only our front sail. It makes us go at the speed of their fishing boats, going mainly by oar. This leaves time to look at them setting and collecting nets, with different techniques. There are trap. type nets, long nets that cross the width of the river, nets placed along the roots of the mangrove... The boats, motionless in the current, wait for the nets to fill with shrimps  .

Going down with the tide, we end at the former convent of Sao Francisco, the old religious administrative center, in ruins.

There is a very small, typical beach restaurant on the shore right in front of a Madonna in the water : only oyster and blue crab on the menu.

From the restaurant we see a canoe which goes around our boat then approaches the shore: it takes us a while to understand that our boat is an obstacle for the fishermen who want to cast their nets here.

They ask us to move with a smile and almost apologetic.  We rush to move the boat, the one and only rush of these two days!!!

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1 Comment

Apr 07


thank you so much for all your posts, and this one particulary. You allow us to learn the history of the place, and feel the atmosphere in the same time. People seemed very welcoming and we can imagine, by looking your pictures, that is was really quiet.

Thanks for your share.

Nadia, from Bites of Happiness

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