There was another day sailing north further up the coast of Brazil towards its largest port – the fabled Santos. Santos was famous for two things – coffee and Pele.
Unfortunately El Nino was exerting its power and unsettling the weather. We had been plagued with unseasonal rain on this trip and Santos was no exception. We headed up the inlet towards the port to find the hills around shrouded with low-lying clouds and the stilted shanty towns along the edges of the inlet all enveloped in mist.
In a coach with windows festooned with droplets we set off to the football ground that made Pele such an international star. On the way we passed by the picturesque bays with islands and sailing boats, long tree-lined promenades and parks. You could see that with the sun shining it would have been beautiful. Even today, in the rain, there was beauty.
Personally I was not enamoured by the shopping centres with their promise of cheap merchandise due to the weakness of the Brazilian currency but I was taken with the leaning apartment blocks. Some architect had miscalculated the ground stability and need for deeper piles. The foundations were not sufficient. In a few decades they’d start falling over. It looked to me that there was a disaster waiting to happen.
At the stadium we looked at the statues, plaques, art, cups and photographic homage to the great Pele. We went out to see the pitch and I marvelled at how small the stadium was. I had imagined a great stage for such a football genius to display his wares. This place was very modest.
Then it was off to the famous coffee house. Back in the day Brazil had been the centre of the world’s coffee supply. In 1922 the Coffee Exchange was built to facilitate this market. The building looks much older with its unique architecture, brilliant stained glass roof and paintings depicting scenes from the very early days of Santos. These days it is a museum and well worth a visit. I thought the architecture was great. It looked brilliant.
We walked back to the railway stage and boarded one of the newly renovated trams to take us round the old town nice and dry. My mistake was sitting on the outside so that I could take some photographs. Half of me was soaked through. But the ride was interesting. My tram was named Pele.
The old town was old. It was a mass of decaying colonial buildings. It seemed to me that the Brazilians did not value their old buildings. Everything was rotting and falling down. Perhaps there was a psychological factor at work here? They secretly wanted rid of all the vestiges of colonial control.
Back on the ship we headed off back out of the inlet passing the masses of wooden shanties housing the poor and looking far prettier, on their stilts, than they really were. Alongside them was a marina for millionaires’ yachts and huge expensive apartment blocks. That seemed to summarise Brazil – a land of extremes of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ which was responsible for the crime and violence.
I was reminded of that Bob Dylan sentiment about when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
The light was fading as we pulled out. I didn’t think I’d caught the best of Santos. But as we sailed out between the bays and hills and passed the ships moored outside the inlet I was taken with the brilliance of light as it brought everywhere to life. It was magical.