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I was in Paraty, a delightfully pretty little place and nestled on the stunning Brazilian coast between Rio and São Paulo. Because of its excellent location it attracts a good number of visitors and a small but vibrant industry taking people into the nearby jungle in African style safari jeeps has sprung up. 130s and batted BJs ply the dirt roads in the hills, but with the best looking and prepared vehicle by far is Fernando Bradok of Elite Tours. At 11am sharp he pulled up. I was hoping for a bit of a discount in exchange for sharing my photos but the car was empty. Fernando had spent the last evening looking at the last issue of the magazine and liked it so much he wanted me to do the full story without the distraction of other passengers!
Just a couple of kilometres up the tarmac we turned up a steep road that soon became compact dirt and the leaves of the jungle touched the wing mirrors. The first stop was a waterfall in a little nature reserve. People in the other 4x4's that pulled in at the same time head off to the entrance gate, but not one to follow the crowd I took the opportunity to take a closer look at the Land Cruiser.
In Brazil Land Rover have the Santana made on licence but another long lasting partnership Bandeirante have been making Land Cruisers in Brazil since 1959 and until one in front of me the day before I'd never heard of it. At first it was only an assembly line here but after a few years all parts were produced in country. But as well as a difference in the quality of the locally made parts there was a very big difference in the power plant, as they were fitted with Mercedes C314 engines. It wasn't until 1994 that the Toyota 14b was fitted. Throughout the years the changes were mostly cosmetic, such as the addition of the double cab in 1999. 2001 saw the last Bandeirante roll off the production line, by which time 100,000 units had been produced over an incredible 42 years. Fernando’ s is one of the last models. He bought it two years ago from a telcom company and has since done over 10,000 off-road kilometres in it without a single breakdown. “I had older models before but I always hated the noisy old Mercedes engine. The 3.7 L Toyota turbodiesel is so much better!” he smiles.
Butterflies danced across the path but it was the cute monkey waving at me with his foot that caught my attention. The water in the waterfall was gorgeous but I think Fernando knew it was off-roading I wanted to do. All the other tour jeeps went back down the hill, but we turned the other way and went up higher. The tracks soon narrowed the front bumper pushed grass from the middle of the track. A few hairpins and we came up above the trees... and the view was stunning.
Standing by the car Fernando told me how he came to own the nicest 4x4 in the village. “I started working on the tour company, just selling jungle adventures, because I always like nature,” he said. “But I always wanted to start a project myself. One company bought a couple of luxury minibuses with A/C and nice seats but it didn't work as people don't want to be closed away behind tinted windows when the came out here to the jungle. They want to feel the fresh air on their faces. So I had the idea to do something in the middle; the nicest ‘ rough’ experience. I have rows of nice car seats in the back, not just hard, uncomfortable benches. And I designed the frame myself. It's very strong. If anything happens the passengers will be safe. I want mine to be the best vehicle and Elite Toursto be the best company.”
Next was the lunch stop, a wooden cabin beside the river. People jumped in the pools and slid down the rocks on a natural slide and the cool air from the waterfall was glorious. I had come to Brazil at the invite of Genius tyres and hadn't really expected anything special from the country... But Paraty and the unspoiled area around are an absolute traveller’ s paradise. The town is enchanting, so much so I stopped there and never made it to Rio, the coast is divine and the jungle pristine. If you have business in São Paulo or Rio, or a few days to kill, you need to put Paraty on your ‘ must visit’ list. You will not be disappointed!
Another place Fernando wanted me to take photos was down near the river. I waded in, changed the camera settings for the dusk light and waved him to come in. “I can't drive in there,” he said with incredulity written all over his face. “What's the snorkel for?” I asked and that was the only invitation he needed. The smile on his face as the bumper made little bow waves was precious. The day was over far too quickly... just like my stay in this special part of the world. One day I will be back!
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Winter 2017 Issue: