MOVING TO BRAZIL
TIPS ABOUT BRAZIL
May 23, 2016
If you like any of the mentioned above, you should keep on reading. This is my tip for your
next weekend. I am sure you will love Paranapiacaba!
The town was founded in 1867 by the British who came to Brazil to start building the first
railway of São Paulo. Together with other immigrants and some Brazilians, they settled right
between the fazendas do café of Jundiaí province and the port of Santos, from where the coffee was
exported to the rest of the world.
Coming from cool England to tropical Brazil must have been quite a change for the São Paulo
Railway workers, so it seems they did everything in order to feel at home. They chose a place on the
edge of the Serra do Mar, where a London-ish fog and rain are the most common weather
conditions. Then, they built themselves a nice copy of the Big Ben tower, with a clock mechanism
manufactured in England, and a colony of wooden houses in English-Brazilian style, with European
sanitary standards of that time. Home sweet home!
To overcome the obstacle represented by a steep rocky slope of Serra do Mar, the first
funicular system was built in 1860s. It used to be employed to transport coffee production as well as
passengers. Nowadays it still carries the merchandize of Santos harbour, but the old deactivated part
is opened to visitors. You don’t need to be exactly a train lover to appreciate the beauty of
Paranapiacaba Funicular Museum. The fixed machines, the locomotives and wagons, the tools and
the buildings themselves will take you straight to the romantic past of steel and steam.
Behind the Museum, there’s an opening between the hills through which you should be able
to see the coast. Indeed, in Tupy-Guarani language, Paranapiacaba means “the place whence one
sees the sea”. To be honest, you would need to be very lucky to glimpse it, as everything here is
nearly permanently enveloped in the aforementioned fog.
Among the important buildings in Paranapiacaba, you shouldn’t miss the chief-engineer’s
Victorian style residence called Castelinho, situated on top of a small hill (you can visit the inside of
the mansion with a guided tour), the building of the club União Lyra Serrano that has been hosting
cultural and social events for more than a hundred years, the old Market, the Charles Miller football
field and the Church of Bom Jesus de Paranapiacaba. However, in my view, the ordinary residential
houses alone are worth the trip. Strolling along the streets, I felt like back in Burma, the houses
reminding me of the British colonial architecture of Orwell’s Burmese Days.
The sad thing about Paranapiacaba is that it’s slightly rundown, as it suffered an important
period of degradation during the 1980s and 1990s. On the other hand, the good thing about
Paranapiacaba is that it’s… slightly rundown. At first you feel like we could take better care of this
place, restore a bit more, improve the museum’s display etc. But after a while you realize that this
shabbiness and sleepiness actually give the town its particular atmosphere. With all that fog, old
wooden houses and antique locos, Paranapiacaba has a really mysterious flair. Who knows, the
mansion up the hill might even be haunted.
The historical value set aside, another wonderful point about Paranapiacaba is its setting in
an exuberant rainforest. The town is literally absorbed by it. There is no ‘new town’, nor concrete
suburb: as soon as you step out of the old village, you find yourself in the forest. If you fancy going
for a trek, you need to hire a local guide registered at Associação de Monitores Ambientais. For
further details, check with the Centro de Visitantes at Rua Direita n° 371.
Now, Paranapiacaba isn’t exactly close if you still have in mind your European scale,
according to which you take a one-week holiday to go anywhere further than three hours’ drive. But
if you have been living in Brazil for some time, you’ll find Paranapiacaba ‘bem pertinho’, next door
basically! If you go by car, it will take you probably less than two hours, depending on the traffic.
Public transport gives you the train/bus option, by which you reach the town within two and a half
to three hours, depending on your starting point. Most of the websites tell you to board a CPTM
train at Estação da Luz, but don’t believe everything you find online. In fact, you need to take the
CPTM Turquesa line which stops at Brás, Mooca, Ipiranga or Tamanduateí (not Luz!). Once you reach
the final station Rio Grande da Serra, ask around for bus n° 424.
If you find that spending six hours in transports within a single day is too much for you, there
is another option: spend the night in Paranapiacaba, to make the journey worthwhile. On hotel
booking websites you can find simple pousadas that won’t ruin your budget and the advantage of
staying over is that you will have enough time to discover the village on one day and do a trek on the other.
A very romantic way to get to Paranapiacaba is to take the Expresso Turístico, this time yes,
from Estação da Luz. It’s a ninety minutes ride in wagons pulled by a loco from the fifties. You need
to book your seat well in advance on www.cptm.sp.gov.br, as the tickets get quickly sold out. The
train leaves on Sunday (except second Sunday of the month) at 8.30am and returns the same day in
Paranapiacaba has plenty of local festivities, so check in advance if you want to experience
some of them, such as the Gastronomical Festival, dedicated to a typical Atlantic Rainforest fruit
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