Viajando pelo Nordeste Brasileiro
22.08.2010 - 28.09.2010
We are writing from Rio de Janeiro aka Cidade Maravilhosa -the Wonderful City- for a good reason... it is beautiful even with bad weather. On the last entry we had just finished cruising the Amazon... on this one, we went exploring the Northeastern coast of Brazil which had much more than gorgeous beaches to offer, as you may find out below.
The sunny and musical Nordeste Brasileiro definitely exceeded our expectations. An expensive and long overnight busride from Belem took us to São Luis de Maranhão. The historic center had a trendy area with what appeared to be the University/Middle class crowd. It was a nice place to hang out and have a Caipirinha or two or three.... But other than perusing a few historic houses and churches, we hightailed on a bus to our next destination. After our experience in Belem, we were kind of put of by the big cities of the Northeast, so we didn't quite enjoy this city that much.
Across the bay from the capital of Maranhão we found one of the very best colonial towns of Brazil -that we've seen,- Alcântara. This town has a great number of colonial jewels in a state of decay. On a Sunday - the day we arrived- pretty much everything is closed and the locals stay home... All this gives it a tint of ghost town, which was quite charming to us. The historic district has a good-ol´pre-S&M Movement whipping post. Unfortunately, it's in a public area, otherwise we may have been tempted to try it out (kidding?).
We also had the good fortune of being there during one of their Catholic/Candomble(Afro-Brazilian religion) festivals for a local saint. There were a few parties scattered around town where free meals were handed out (raise the roof!). The scene was dominated by old men drinking cachaça -hard alcohol made out of sugar can- and women dancing to African drums... not the worse place to be, huh?
Barreirinhas is a nice town with sandy streets and beautiful starry nights, but extremely touristy with tons of resorts. We took the typical group day tour to the Lençóis (Bedsheets) Maranhenses on the spot to save time. The dunes, named Bedsheets for obvious reasons, were quite marvelous. Now, there ARE some amazing sand dunes in the deserts of West Texas and Peru, but what makes these babies special are the natural lagoon pools. They're excellent for swimming. As the windy breeze is constant, you don't feel as through you're walking on sand dunes.
Parnaíba is a quaint little city, and taking a boat tour of the delta is the activity of choice. We teamed up with 2 Italian girls we met on the truck and reserved a small boat for the 4 of us. The poor things, the Italian girls (nameless for their protection) got sick from something. We all ate the same thing, so Goodness knows what got them. We visited a two sided beach that had a fresh water side and a side to the Atlantic with salt water. The boatmen also took us crabhunting in the mud. Mud is always fun. After lunch, we canoed down a tiny, IndianaJones'ish channel that had two types of monkeys hanging out in the trees above.
Some of those little guys were curious about us. Towards the end of the day, we took in the sunset on some riverside sand dunes. With the boatmen and the sick Italian girls hanging down by the river and no one else around for miles, Jay took the liberty of walking around in the buff for a bit (no pics for the best interest of the blogviewers). Other than getting your nude on and viewing the fantastic sunset, you have a nice view of an area of the delta with lovely islets and that. The next day, we went to one of the local beaches, one of the many we would visit over the next several weeks.
Getting away from the beach and the classic gringo trail along the coast we detoured towards Piripiri where we stayed in the Texas Hotel. Hey, it was an excellent value. You probably wouldn't be surprised to see how many Texas-themed restaurants and hotels there are all over the world: countless. Close by is the Sete Cidades or Seven Cities National Park, a prime slice of nature with some very interesting rock formations that seem to resemble petrified remains of ancient cities. The indigenous and foreign alike have concocted legends and such about how they came about, but as usual... it is all speculation. There are also some prehistoric paintings that date back to like.....a LONG time ago.
A little something that blows about this park is that, since a few years ago, you're required to hire a guide. Hiking on your own is prohibited. It can be cheap if you have a group, but it's a bit pricey if you´re just a couple. Thanks to the lady who arranged our boattour in Parnaíba, we had a recommendation for Oziel as a guide. Born and raised in the park, this guy was fantastic. He calls himself a Curiologo (Curiologist) because he is curious about everything, he doesn't have any academic degree but he's been a guide and a teacher to many scientist (such as geologists, archaeologists and biologists) who have visited the park.
Não fala Inglês, but even if you don't understand a word he's saying you'll still have quite a time. He made a necklace for Fiorela and a bracelet for me out of some plants in minutes. The necklace, didn't last, but the bracelet has been on my wrist for over a month and doesn't show any sign of coming off. He also made us try different fruits and leaves from the forest and told us many interesting stories of the area... Apart from the guide, the rock formations are quite out of this world.
Fortaleza was another Brazilian metropolis. Upon our arrival in the early morning on the overnight, we gave it a miss as there was another bus leaving pronto for Canoa Quebrada, one of Brazil's many beach towns. The beach here was beautiful, but what really made this place worthwhile was the spectacular view we had from our hotel balcony. It was the perfect place to lay in our hammocks while gazing out at the Atlantic, not without a glass of straight-chilled cachaça, contemplating life. The town itself was okay. It's a popular weekend getaway for the Brazilians, so there are plenty of shops and restaurants geared for that. After 4 nights, it was time to put the beachbumming on hold in favor of moving on. Que-up busride to Natal.
Natal is a large city, but with a population of less than 1 million, so we felt more secure feel than some of the other larger cities. The beaches are lovely for thong gazing (shame on me -Jay), and here you can find some of the cheapest coconuts in Brazil. This is extremely important if you develop an addiction for them like me. The normal price in Brazil is 2 reals (3 in Rio), but here we found them for as low as .50 reals.
About 30 kms south of Natal, you come to Praia da Pipa, which has a similar ambience to Canoa Quebrada, only more developed and expensive. We also happened to arrive during a long-weekend holiday -Brazil's Indepence day, so it was pretty full. At our Pousada, in the room next to ours, there was a group of 5 Brazilian girls sharing a room together. One of them invited us to her place in Recife, and we ended up staying with her there for a couple of nights. Their routine was to stay up all night drinking at the bars, have breakfast, and then sleep ´til at least noon (4 hours sleep per day). Can we say Spring Break ´86? Our routine was somewhat different.
We'd walk the beaches in the morning after breakfast, lunch, drink and play cards, and then walk the beaches again in the evening. No all-night partying for we old folk. After all, Jay is going to turn 30 soon. A popular tour highlight of these beaches is Praia dos Golfinhos (Dolphin Beach) that has a crowd of dolphins swimming around at various times of the day. They get pretty close to the people in the water as if they're looking for playmates. If you´re lucky you'll get one doing a flip out of the waves breaking in front of you. We were.
What also makes the beaches of Pipa cool is their proximity to the cliff walls, although you need time your walks with the tide as at various times of the day it´ll be right up to the cliffs and some areas get too deep for walking. Another great thing about Pipa is to see Micos -little monkeys- literally invading people's roof tops in the quest for a treat. Even though it is not good to feed the wildlife, some Pipa residents did it... the little creatures seemed to prefer cookies over fruit... no wonder why!!
Joã Pessoa is the next big city south of Pipa. Smaller than Natal, it felt secure in various areas. The beaches were okay, but the fact that they were quite long, made for an extensive beachwalk to the Easternmost point of the Americas. Next time, you guys gaze at a world map and you focus on that tiny point eastern most of S. America.....we were there!!! We also drank a cold coconut there. The architecture in the historic district is also fantastic. One interesting thing that happened while we were there, was that the Scorpions played. As we're not DIE-hard fans, we didn´t go, but it was nifty to know they were there. We'll have to be rocked like hurricanes some other time.
Recife/Oilinda. Like a big sister/little sister pair of cities. We mainly made a stop here to visit the girl we met in Pipa. She and her sisters were very friendly and hospitable. We took them to a local Rodizio restaurant. Now, everyone who's been to a Fogo do Chão in the states knows what a Rodizio is. It's a simple don't stop feeding me steak products until I explode or have a heart-attack. The beauty of this particular restaurant is that the buffet included some quality sushi and other non-steak fare. This is good, because one of the people in this relationship doesn't eat red meat.
Other than hanging with the girls for a night, we took care of our laundry, did a routine walk through the local historic district of Oilinda, and arranged our bus to Salvador. Take a note that bus travel over long distances in brazil is not economical. Most of the time, if you know your dates and purchase far enough ahead of time, you'll find flights for the same price or cheaper than the bus.
Salvador is the 3rd largest city in Brazil and the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. As we wanted to reserve more time to explore the highlands, we didn't stay too long. But in two days, we were able to explore the historic district. It's set in an old slave market. We visited a church here and viewed a number of paintings made by former slaves, and it appears these slaves took some revenge on their oppressors in the art. Angels that look pregnant or like they have big wangs. After reading about this in the guidebooks, this was one of the churchest I simply had to see. The images in the paintings weren´t as cut and dried as I hoped, but we can't have it all. Our last evening in Salvador, we ate a buffet with a number of traditional dishes from the Bahian state. Yummy yummy yummy. Two jelly-rolls walking out the door afterwards.
Lençois (Parque da Diamantina) was an opportunity to try something else out in Brazil aside from beaches and big cities: hiking. At first, we weren´t expecting much. We loved the town of Lençois, and there were plenty of day-trips we partook in. A few of these, we made with two charming Uruguayan girls and a world-traveling Canadian guy (he has some awesome traveling stories from back in the day) with whom we visited Cachoeira da Fumaça, the tallest waterfall in Brazil.
However, after talking to a number of agencies about a multi-day excursion through the park interior, we realized that, unless we went on our own, it was going to be out of our budget. So, we invested in a good map, stuffed our packs with the essentials and took to the trails. We must say that our hike through this park completely exceeded our every expectation.
For those of you that visit Brazil in the future, if you're into hiking, you won't want to miss a visit there. The jewel is the Vale do Pati. We spent 5 days hiking through this area of the park. The hikes and viewpoints here were absolutely breathtaking. Of course we did get lost a couple of times, but that's part of the adventure. One of those times, we stumbled upon the beginnings of a small pot garden. I guess some of the locals are looking for new revenue streams. And wouldn't you know it...we met two Americans at one of the viewpoints...on top of that they were Houstonians....who would´ve thought of all places...? They were pretty cool, so we ended up hanging out with them for 4 days.
We went to one of them coolest spots in the Chapada Diamantina: Poço Azul -or Blue Well.- This place, at the right time of the day, has a blue light coming through a whole which, seen underwater, seemed as though thousands of blue lazers... it was just amazing to be able to snorquel in the crystal clear waters looking for transparent little shrimps. Poço Azul is so impressive that visitors would just keep it quiet and whispered among themselves, without being told... as if a loud sound would disrupt the beauty of the site.
On September 28th we took a flight from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro... from the sunny Northeast we arrived in the rainy Southeast. So, as soon as we got here we took a bus to Arrial do Cabo. We did a couple of dives there which was actually pretty nice, even though the water was soooo cold that I felt I was going to get hypothermia or something... We'll let you know more about our time in Rio and Southern Brazil on the next entry... until then and God Bless y'all!