My Brazilian Crush: Paraty on Costa Verde. The joy of discovery of unknown.
As a VC bullish on the Latin American region, I’ve been traveling to São Paulo a lot as the city is one of the world’s most exciting tech hubs and by far the most developed in Latin America. Until the most recent trip, my only impressions of Brazil came from inside a hotel room, the backseat of an Uber, corporate buildings and nice restaurants so I didn’t feel like I had any understanding of local culture and mindset, demographics and history and it bothered me. As an angel and seed investor, i bet on daring entrepreneurs and their ability to deeply connect to the problem they are solving, dream big and execute on those dreams. So the local context is important and I didn't have it and I wanted to start fixing it by making extra time to explore Brazil outside of São Paulo bubble. One specific place came highly recommended, so I went for it.
Instead of hopping on the usual EWR — GRU flight, I arrived to Rio de Janeiro International Airpot and took a 5h ride to the UNESCO World Heritage colonial town of Paraty in the southern tip of the Rio de Janeiro state. Paraty, which stands for ‘the river of fish’ in the Tupi language, was established formally as a town by Portuguese colonists in 1667 and has a rich history as a slave export port to Colombia, an export port for gold to Rio de Janeiro; a coffee trade port of the Paraiba do Sul River Valley and as a one of Brazil’s original cachaça producing regions.
Paraty is still famous for its locally-made cachaça also known as pinga. Traditionally, cachaça is made by fermenting the sugar cane with natural yeast and distilling it in a copper still, before storing in the barrels of the Brazilian hardwood jequitiba. And it’s the proximity of Paraty’s sugar plantations to the sea that is said to give the region’s cachaca its distinct character. One of Paraty’s most famous (and relatively pricey at $40-$50 per bottle) artisanal cachaça is Maria Izabel Gibrail Costa’s home-made cachaça. The entire production processor from the planting of sugar cane to the final bottling takes place on Maria Izabel’s property, located on the sea front near town.
Every year Paraty hosts the Festival of Cachaça, also known as Festival da Pinga, aimed to spread the appreciation of top quality cachaca with variety of Brazilian music and dance, cachaca and local appetizer tastings.
Paraty is the port city and that means great variety of fresh fish and seafood — the absolute paradise for pescatarians.
Couple restaurants I really enjoyed:
PUPU’S PEIXE PANC — local ingredients, fusion of Brazilian and Asian seafood dishes. Seafood ramen with eatable flowers and fresh sashimi of local fish were the killers
QUINTAL DAS LETRAS — contemporary take on Brazilian cuisine, many ingredients come from Pousada Literaria’s fresh produce farm Fazenda Bananal
The Portuguese legacy is ingrained into the historical center buildings’ architect that preserves the distinct colonial design of white houses with brightly colored door and window frames, and the cobbled streets that connect them. Remarkably, Paraty hasn’t changed much since the colonization largerly because there were no roads that would connect Paraty to other cities in Brazil until 1970s.
Paraty area is home to hundreds of islands with pristine beaches, natural waterfalls and crystal clear water. Exploring some of them on a hired boat was a real joy. Praia da Lula and Mamangua Bay were some of my favorites.
Another exciting activity I did was hiking on Atlantic forest trails to Saco Brava, which starts in the remote fishermen village of Ponta Negra and lasts an averag 2h30 each way. Saco Bravo is a natural wonder, a waterfall forming a pool on the edge of the ocean, from where you could see the ocean in a rough. The trek is hard, requires physical stamina but the view is definitely worth it.
As much as I loved the natural wonders of Saco Bravo, my biggest impression came from witnessing the lack of access to opportunity and infrastructure for population living in the rural and especially remote areas that could and should be solved through venture capital and technology.
The village of Ponta Negra, located less than 10 minutes boat ride from the luxurious gated community of Laranjeiras with one of the most complete infrastructures in Brazil, got electricity 4 years ago and still has no cellular network coverage. The poorly functioning island school provides somewhat education till the middle grades. Commute to the nearest high school in Paraty is prohibitively long and expensive so majority of kids never graduate. The Cesta Basica (a monthly basket of basic food necessities which consumes ~62% of the minimum wage) is the essential component of local families. At the same time, everyone has a smart phone, majority of families have satellite internet access and some even have solar panels installed on the roof tops of their houses.
The opportunity to address some of these issues for the majority of 214m population of Brazil through digital education, p2p and adaptive language learning, digital health, next gen network infrastructure and smart logistics is MASSIVE and I can’t get more excited to be part of it.