By Sílvia Oliveira
For my daughter’s first backpacking trip, when she was nine months old, I decided to introduce her to the Curitiba-Morretes- Paranagua Railway. The journey reveals a landmark of 19th-century engineering. Nine thousand men toiled on the daring project that was completed in five years. A record by the standards of the time. Dozens of languages and styles depart every day from the railway station in Curitiba bound for the fascinating Serra do Mar.
Following the tracks – opened 120 years ago – the trip takes place amid the rich rainforest: a piece of Parana recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. The carriages are a modern Babel on the journey of just over three hours. The route is filled with amazing images, boasting 14 tunnels, 30 bridges, waterfalls and abysses. The train teeters on the tracks and at some moments, like the Carvalho viaduct, seems to fly over the sleepers. The Roca Nova Tunnel is the longest at 457 metres.
The feelings of fear that we sometimes experience in the train (it looks as if it will plunge headlong down the mountainside!) are followed immediately by the pleasure of being involved in the time-honoured combination of adventure, scenery and history. Soon after departure, the onboard service begins. They deliver a nice little box that includes a cake, a biscuit, a cereal bar and a drink (water, tea, juice or a soft drink). A guide accompanies us all the time giving the necessary information about the trip. Passengers also receive a bag of palm seeds to be thrown into the forest during the trip. An initiative from the Serra Verde Express (the company that manages the tour) in partnership with the Rotary Club to contribute to the ecosystem.
When buying the ticket there are several categories: economy, tourist, business or cabin and Litorina. Economy class seats are plastic, there is no on-board service and a one-way ticket sells for R$39.00. Tourist class costs R$66.00 and executive class is R$96.00. Executive class and above boast an open bar. The Litorina – a self-powered vehicle – is considered the most charming. It has air conditioning and a bilingual conductor. The ticket costs R$270.00.
Passengers vie for the panoramic windows. It is a constant back and forth between the right and left sides of the carriage, since photo opportunities appear on both. After passing through Marumbi station it is only another 45 minutes to Morretes, our final destination. The train only travels on to Paranagua – one of the most important historical cities in Parana – on Sundays. Alighting causes a somewhat disorganised exodus.
On weekends, almost 1,200 passengers make the trip. The town’s womenfolk rush to meet the tourists offering the regions most typical products: banana sweets and related items. There is a small stall set up at the station itself with some of these delicacies. The train journey alone makes the trip worthwhile. But upon alighting there is more: Morretes and Antonina, two of Parana’s most charming and historic cities. They can both be visited on the same day (if you rush) or you may choose to stay overnight in one of them to enjoy the best that each offers.
Once you get off the train you have to make your way back to Curitiba, either by minibus, or by coaches operated by Viação Graciosa. The minibuses charge around R$40.00 per head from Morretes to Curitiba. The coach fare costs a mere R$13.00. You can also catch the train back, which leaves Morretes at 3pm (4pm on Sundays). But it is quite tiring – as the descent takes three hours (when there are no delays) and the return trip takes another four. Whichever way you look at it, this is one of the most beloved and harmonious journeys in Brazil: It blends people perfectly with history and nature.
Serra Verde Express | www.serraverdeexpress.com.br
Departure time => Curitiba Train: every day, at 8:15am. | Litorina: Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, at 9:15am.
Economy class tickets must be purchased two weeks in advance as they are much sought after. Residents of Curitiba and region have a 30% discount on ticket prices (except for economy class). You must register on the Serra Verde Express site provide proof of residence.