PAQUETA, Brazil – Quiet, sandy streets, low houses and bicycles are some of the joys of Paqueta, an island in Guanabara Bay that serves as an escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby Rio de Janeiro.
Located less than an hour by boat from the craziness that is Rio, the island is an unknown for many tourists that practically glows because it has none of the violence and insecurity that prevails in the metropolis.
Everyone knows everyone else here and it’s also a place with no automobiles where bicycles are the main means of transport.
With barely 4,000 residents and just 1.2 square kilometers (0.46 square miles) in area, Paqueta attracts those who are seeking a refuge where they can take a walk or a little hike or eat fresh seafood without any cares.
Standing out among its well-known residents over the years is poet and politician Jose Bonifacio (1763-1838), known as the “father of Brazilian independence.” Bonifacio lived in exile in one of the houses on the island, now being converted into a museum that houses a unique 10,000-piece collection of items from the areas of communications and customs.
Its owner, Fichel Davit Chargel, is just about to turn 85 and, although his home is in the bohemian Rio neighborhood of Santa Teresa, he now spends more than half the week on Paqueta.
When he was 17, Chargel began his collection that currently includes about 10,000 pieces that are on display at one of the island’s most spectacular houses.
“I decided to buy the house because when I discovered it it was empty and a little run-down because it had been for sale for five years , but it had room for all my collection, which I had assembled in Santa Teresa,” Chargel told EFE.
“The people here can feel like they’re in a museum because of the internal architecture of the house, which also has enormous historic value,” he said.
The collection includes pieces dating as far back as the 16th century ranging from walking sticks, weapons, hats and fans to photos, movie projectors and packs of erotic cards.
But this is not the only curiosity that the island has to offer and, walking through its streets, eventually one will run across a baobab tree more than seven meters (23 feet) in circumference and a bird cemetery, where local residents bury their pet birds and on the walls of which can be read poems that reflect the poets’ love of nature.
Jose Batista de Oliveira is another local resident, originally from northeastern Brazil but who moved to Paqueta when he was 16 looking for a change in lifestyle.
In the almost 50 years since then, he has worked in the tourism sector and currently drives visitors around the island in an electric car.
“Life in Paqueta is very quiet. The island is a family, everyone knows each other. Everyone knows what’s happening and everyone helps each other,” Oliveira told EFE.
In addition, he emphasized that it “terrifies” him when he reads in the newspapers about the lack of security in Rio, given that – he said – in Paqueta violence “doesn’t exist” and the only contentious situations that can arise are, every now and then, “fights in isolated bars.”
Oliveira said that Paqueta is his “favorite spot in the world,” although he also emphasized that “the horrible pollution of the bay, the rotten situation in the country and the lack of investment” make the island unable to take advantage of its full potential.