A New Look at Paraná, Brazil after 8 Years
In December 2008, we made our first visit to Brazil. We came from Paraguay to visit Iguazu Falls. From there we drove across country through the state of Paraná to the Atlantic coast in just 2 days. It’s around 750Km.
This time we entered Brazil from Uruguay and are making our way up the coast, with many detours into the mountains that follow it. We have revisited places we went to in 2008, and also discovered new places that we had bypassed last time.
In this post you will read about the places in the east of Paraná we have either seen for the first time, or revisited and looked at with new eyes [link to our 2008 post].
In 2008, we had planned to find a particular campground on the outskirts of Curitiba, and spend a couple of days exploring the city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the campground, and continued on to Paranaguá.
This time we were determined to visit the city, thanks partly to Michael Palin and his book ‘Brazil’ . In it he describes the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, and that sparked our interest in seeing it. The museum is named after its architect, who was responsible for much of the public building design in Brasilia, and many striking buildings in other parts of Brazil and internationally [The Guardian Gallery Post].
The gallery building didn’t disappoint. It should be on anyone’s ‘must see’ list if visiting Curitiba. It has 3 levels connected by wide ramps. The ground floor has a lot of open space, the ticket office, a café, and the requisite souvenir shop.
The first floor has 9 galleries which hold temporary exhibitions, some of which are marked as ‘open-ended’. Unfortunately, several of the galleries were closed to install new exhibitions.
On the subterranean level there are permanent exhibitions of Oscar Niemeyer’s work, and access to a sculpture patio. From there you walk through a disorientating tunnel, which must be experienced to be believed, to take an elevator to ‘The Eye’.
‘The Eye’ is the striking tower, which stands alongside the unobtrusive museum building. This gallery is full of strange works of art, whose goal seems to be to continue the disorientation that started in the tunnel. I must admit that some of the pieces left me faintly nauseous because of the way they affected my senses. But this is not a reason to avoid it – this gallery is the most impressive in the museum.
The city of Curitiba is also notable because of it’s urban planning.
Today, while Brasília is viewed as a white elephant city, Curitiba has become the gold standard in sustainable urban planning: variously the “green capital”, the “greenest city on Earth”, and the “most innovative city in the world”.
Source: The Guardian
There are green spaces everywhere, but it wasn’t easy to find a level place to park in them because of the up and down nature of the landscape. And the public transport system with dedicated bus lanes on major arterials is very impressive.
We spent a short time on a Sunday in the city centre – it’s the only day we like to drive Berta into a city of this size. There are some nice old colonial buildings, and some evidence of German influence here – yet again. But it’s still a city of almost 2 million people, so not really a place that we would normally spend a lot of time.
When we left Curitiba this time, we didn’t drive on to Paranaguá. Instead, we left the highway and drove directly to Morretes. It’s a small, pretty town set along both sides of the Rio Nhundiaquara. In the historic centre along the river, there are a lot of well preserved or restored colonial buildings, and lots of shady trees and places to sit while watching the world go by.
It’s a tourist town and therefore has a lot of restaurants and coffee shops, as well as stalls selling locally produced items. Since we arrived on ‘Corpus Christi’, which is a major holiday in Brazil, there were many tourists around on that weekend.
We just caught the end of a procession through the streets to mark this important day on the church calendar. There were colourful carpet squares marking the route and flower petals strewn between them. The streets were closed to traffic, but the cleanup crew worked so close behind the procession that they were open again in a very short time, to allow for the influx of traffic bringing the lunch crowd to the restaurants.
Even so, the town is very pedestrian friendly and we enjoyed wandering around it. We stopped in a coffee shop where we were served coffee and home-made cake by the Japanese couple who owned it. Last time we had stayed in a campground run by Japanese. We knew that Japanese were a significant part of the migrant heritage of Brazil, but this is the first area we have visited where we noticed their presence.
This colonial town is 14Km from Morretes, on the ocean. We had also visited it in 2008, so we decided to retrace our steps. In comparison to Morretes, Antonina appears to be a bit run down and not so well cared for. For example, the railway station is a majestic building that has a heritage order, but is in such bad repair that it won’t be long before it’s a ruin, like so many others in the town. Our photo from 2008 shows it in much better condition.
In between though, there are some nicely restored colonial buildings – some of them we had photographed on our last visit and, coincidentally, photographed again.
Another thing, which made it unpleasant for us, were the groups of drunks we encountered in two separate parks that we had parked next to. They were not people just out having a good time – they harassed us for money and cursed us when we refused.
We left and drove back to Morretes – it has a much more pleasant feel to it.
Estrada da Graciosa
This road is an alternative route between the coast and Curitiba. It has signs leading up to it that trucks can’t use this road, so Berta put on her motorhome disguise and we did it – again. In 2008 we drove this road, but only part way because we needed to move south. This time we were continuing north so we drove the whole length of it.
It passes through the stunning scenery of Serra do Mar, which is covered with a remnant of the Atlantic Forest. Unfortunately, this time and last, the weather was not being kind. We drove mostly through low cloud, fog, and sometimes rain, so we missed the vistas that make this cobbled road such a favourite.
What we didn’t do
We didn’t go back to Paranaguá. While there are parts of that city that are also attractive, it is a port city and not so pleasant when you leave the historical centre.
There is a train from Curitiba to Morretes that also crosses the Serra do Mar, although a different part than the Estrada do Graciosa. Our Footprint South American Handbook says:
The railway journey is the most spectacular in Brazil. There are 13 tunnels and sudden views of deep gorges and high peaks and waterfalls as the train rumbles over dizzy bridges and viaducts.
If you take this trip, you can get out at a station called Marumbi to vist the Parque Nacional Marumbi, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.
We had attempted to visit this national park in 2008, but it was raining so hard that the tracks in the park were not passable. This time the weather was also against us, even though it was 7 months earlier in the year.
Maybe if we ever return to Paraná, we might have better luck… Third time lucky?
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