On Friday we were picked up in the morning by a very nice, and patient, driver from Paraty Tours, who deciphered from my pidgin spanish that two of the intended party was not able to make it on time due to plane connection problems in Paris. So it was just Karen and I and the other members would be coming down the next day and more participants throughout the weekend. We picked up another passenger with a cute little maltese dog and made our way (excrucatingly slowly) out of the city. After narrowly escaping Rio (um, story for another day with a few Caipirinhas), we made it down to Paraty in 5-6 hours. The coastline is beautiful here. There are many islands, of all sizes, dotting the twisting, tortured landscape. Mountains give way to sea, lined by large cargo ships tucked away behind the islands to protect them from the open ocean’s fury, while they wait out the economic downturn and once again fill their decks with goods to deliver around the world.
Karen and I arrived in Paraty, Brazil’s oldest port, in mid afternoon and were met up by Simon Boxall, an oceanographer from the National Oceanography Center in Southampton, UK. Paraty is a beautiful, historic coastal town nested in a small bay surrounded by mountains and Atlantic rain forest. We walked around to find a good place to eat, eventually a great little restaurant called Camello that filled our plates to brim with all sorts of food. I had pita with hummus, babaganoush, and drained bean curd, which almost tasted like a yogurt feta hybrid, very tasty. I tried a brazilian pale ale. Although the name escapes me, it was very nice, had a very caramel overtone to its aroma and taste. I felt that it was a pale ale with a bit of nut brown ale in it.
After making our way back to the hotel, we met with Tocorimé builder and owner Markus Lehmann who took us to meet 60 students from three local schools. The students were handpicked and had spent about a month eagerly learning about Darwin, the Beagle voyage, and oceanography and had prepared astonishly well for our visit! The room was decorated in posters from the British Research Council (kindly translated to portugese by Instituto Sangari) highlighting the importance of evolution to everything ranging from medicine to music. In all honesty, I have never been so impressed with a group of young students. Karen talked Darwin and the Beagle voyage, highlighting the fact that he did all this work while he was a very young man. She also discussed the Beagle Project‘s goals. Simon talked about oceanography, the importance of microscopic plankton, and some of his sailing adventures from the North Atlantic. He also discussed climate change and the point of sea level rise really resonated with the children. They wanted to know to make it go back. I told them that entire island countries are already being evacuated and looking for new homes, which received several shocked expressions.
The kids ooo’d, ahh’d and gasped as they were captivated by all tales told by Karen and Simon about doing science at sea. They were very interested in Darwin’s life and many had questions about how Darwin did the research and detailed questions about the Beagle and Beagle Project itself. The whole event lasted a little more than 2 hours. The students (and teachers) were so enthusiastic that it was never a problem to find a question. They valued their education and this experience to be able to talk to real scientists very much. It was certainly a real joy for us to speak with them! Adriana, our translator for this event, said that the students prepared for over preparing and are very excited for Monday when they will speak to an astronaut on the international space station. In fact, Karen showed them a picture of Mike Barrett in space and they got very excited!
After the event Markus, Adriana and the crew of the Tocorimé took us out for a fabulous dinner complete with never-ending supply of Caipirinhas. The owner was a friendly, amazing host who made sure we had plenty to eat and drink. Lots of work ahead of us still! The hotel we are staying at does not have wifi, but does have a land line modem, so updates may not be exactly in real time. I am writing at the end of each day though. Much more for Day 3 and Day 4, stayed tuned!