The real Brazil - little sizzle, but lots of heat Sao Sebastiao: This small working port-resort town lives for the night.

March 11, 1998|By GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE | GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil - Rio it ain't. This way station for yachts in the Whitbread Round the World Race is not your usual port of call. After the major port cities the nine boats have stopped in during earlier legs, this is a change of pace.

This is the real Brazil hot, humid and down-home - but hardly exciting. It is a mixture of working port and picturesque resort, dating more than three centuries and graced by a cluster of old Portuguese colonial buildings.

Set in the luxuriant Atlantic rain forest that covers the mountains of the Serra do Mar, Sao Sebastiao is protected from the full force of the ocean by the aptly named island of Ilhabela (Beautiful Island), now mostly a nature reserve. The channel between the island and the port offers the third-largest natural harbor on earth.

It has, during the years, been a trading center for slaves, gold, coffee and agricultural products.

Being host to an event of this size is straining the town's accommodations, as yacht and shore crews, race officials and media, vie for rooms in hotels that offer more rustic charm than modern luxury.

Perhaps the Chessie Racing team has the best accommodation around - a compound of three houses, set in shade trees and fronting a secluded beach edged with palm trees sloping over golden sand at a picture-postcard angle.

Little wonder they have called it Shangri-La. If the racers are not revived, refreshed and ready for Leg 6 after their stay here, they will not be able to blame their board and lodgings.

They may be able, however, to blame the late nights. This is a town that sheds its torpor in the cool of the night. The locals parade along the waterfront and wine and dine at an hour most Americans are going to bed.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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