25 January 2009

In Country: Estas Aqui

Whew! We have made it back to civilization after having spent a week on the islands of the Parana litoral. Click here for a really cool interactive map of the litoral. http://iguide.travel/Parana .

To re-cap: last Sunday we took the train from Curitiba (on the left side of the map) down through the jungle to Morretes. On this map Morretes is located between the roads labeled PR-410 and BR 277. After a couple nights in Morretes we caught a local bus to Paranagua, a large and important shipping port in southern Brasil. From Paranagua we hopped on a boat headed for Ilha do Mel, which is the island shaped like a fish in the mouth of Paranagua Bay.

Ilha do Mel, known in English as Honey Island, is great. Cars are not allowed on the entire island, hence there are no roads. Rather, everyone gets around on foot via sandy walking paths, and only a small portion of it is inhabited by the 1200 year-round residents. The fat western portion of the island is a rain forest ecological preserve and is off limits to visitors.
We stayed at Enseada Pousada, a clean place run by Sueli and Carlos located a short walk from the beach. Each morning Sueli had fresh home made breads and hot coffee waiting for us when we woke up. Each afternoon, hammocks were strung outside our room for island lounging.

After breakfast on the first morning we walked to the lighthouse known as Farol das Conchas. On the map it is the topmost (northeastern) dot located on the tail of the fish-shaped island. The lighthouse, built in 1872 in Scotland, was brought to Brasil under orders by Dom Pedro II in the waning years of his Empire. This view of the island is on the path near the light house. Surfers frequently try their skills on the waves on the left side of this morro (hill); there were lots of them here on the day we visited.

On our second day we rented bikes and rode down the beach to an old fort known as Fortaleza de NS dos Prazeres (Fort of Our Lady of the Pleasures). This fort, constructed between 1767-1769, is only one of many built by the Portuguese in the 17th and 18th centuries as they sought to defend their colony from English, French and Spanish attacks.
Apparently the fort at Ilha do Mel was constructed by the Portuguese after one particular episode involving a French pirate ship chasing a silver-laden Spanish galleon into Paranagua Bay in 1718. The Portuguese, concerned for the island residents and their ability to fend off powerful invaders, initially placed two roqueiras (stone throwing cannons) on the bluffs above the village in 1734. As Brasil became more important to Portugal, this measure was not sufficient and a series of look out towers and the fort itself were contructed in 1767 and remained in use until 1815. With the exception of one conflict with England in the 19th century, the fort never really saw military action and since 1972, it has been under the protection of the Office of National Historical and Artistic Heritage.

Clearly baroque in style, there are several features on the fort worth mentioning. Above the entrance appears the King of Portugal's crest. There are also two gruesome faces placed on each side of the doorway, apparently to ward off evil. In an era of divine right kings and the power of the Catholic Church, this makes some sense. Today they are just grim reminders of a world that no longer exists. Most of the information about the fort came from a this source: http://www.patrimoniocultural.pr.gov.br/arquivos//benstombados/File/BIBLIOGRAFIACPC/ESPIRAIS/prg2.pdf

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