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Bronzed on the gold trail

Bronzed on the gold trail
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First Published: Fri, Mar 12 2010. 08 47 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Mar 12 2010. 08 47 PM IST
There is only one word to describe Brazil: sexy! Steaming-hot sexy. Where else in the world would one see half the city’s resident women in bikini tops and hot pants on the streets? And perfectly sculpted men’s abs on a bus, main street or shopping mall? Brazilians know how to express their sensual nature in the most upfront manner. In homes you can see old couples dancing in their verandas, young couples in close embraces and matrons wearing string thongs on the beach, physical imperfections be damned. And it is not just because Carnaval is around the corner. Sensuality is just a way of life in Brazil.
At the sleepy port town of Fortaleza, I go to see a show put up by street children trained in dance. It is one of the best modern dance performances I have seen. Every detail—from the sound to the music selection, the choreography to the costumes—is sheer genius.
In Natal, we race our buggies in a manic frenzy on the 200m-high sand dunes. You can easily distinguish the tourists from the bronzed, swimsuit-clad locals. Looking up, we see condors glide across the sky. Looking down, we see the dunes part magically to reveal hidden lagoons with coconut, cashew and almond trees.
For a strong dose of history, we visit the charming imperial town of Salvador de Bahia. Do not be surprised if you bump into Naomi Campbell on the old cobblestone pavements winding up and down the hills around this time of the year: She is known to prefer the Salavador Carnaval to the one in Rio. Last year, someone threw a cordless mike to Bono, who was watching the Carnaval parade from a first-floor gallery. He sportingly sang free for the million-plus crowd.
I am amazed at the preparations for Carnaval: They are said to invest $400 million (around Rs1,816 crore) in Carnaval but earn back $4 billion over one week. Everywhere I look, stalls, stands, police cabins and overhead lamps are being put up. The 372 churches that stand among the multihued Portuguese homes fight for attention with the Carnaval prep. Finally, we visit the baroque St Francisco Church, gilded with enough gold to shame a treasury. We are also tempted to pay-and-pose with African Brazilian women dressed in their voluminous skirts and turbans.
On a cool, sunny morning, the Silver Spirit glides into the French Riviera-style city of Buzios, in central Brazil. Made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, this chic resort town has a statue of the actor. You can sit on her bronze lap for a photograph and then head to one of the two dozen white sand beaches or feast on delicious seafood. Nightlife takes on an elegant note in Buzios. No wonder Madonna, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger party here. This part of Brazil is also famous for the Pau Brasil tree, the wood of which is used to make violins, and which lent its name to the country.
Dropping anchor: (clockwise from top) An African-Brazilian woman in traditional gear; the imperial town of Salvador de Bahia; and Paraty is a tourist’s delight. Photographs by Nat Green / Silversea
To recover from the action on shore, the Silver Spirit sails at sea between ports. Time to relax by the pool, catch a bit of theatre, simply sit and read on a deckchair or dance till dawn to the current hit, Jai Ho! Rahman has made Hindi music a la mode. You can hear it blaring from passing boats where Brazilians dance the samba to the Indian beat.
The ship saves the best for the last port, before Rio de Janeiro. In an azure bay with tiny islets lies the city of Paraty (pronounced Paraji), a hub of the gold trail in the 17th century. The Portuguese designed the city in such a manner that every full moon, a 2ft tide washes through the city to clean it up. Today this beautiful city is a tourist’s delight. Away from the friendly people and the pedestrian-only cobbled streets, one can see waterfalls in the dense tropical forest, marvel at greenhouses with exotic flowers or visit a cachaça factory to sample the brew from private distillers.
It is with a heavy heart that I leave Paraty. But we will return to this magical city before the next port of call…where the frenzy of Rio awaits. I have already booked a seat to see the mother of all Carnavals. Viva Brazil!
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks writes a cruise column exclusively for Lounge from on board the ‘Silver Spirit’.(www.silversea.com)
This is the third of an eight-part series.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Mar 12 2010. 08 47 PM IST