Sunday, June 23, 2002

Bronzing in Brazil


Back in Buenos Aires...hard to believe. The past 3 weeks (!?) since we last wrote have been spent frolicking in the sun. It is a hard life. We've been hopping from one Brazilian beach to another, and it has been making our day to day routine such a struggle! I'm sure that you all recognize the labor of our ways?....right.

Beaches, beaches, beaches. Shell combing in paradise. Napping in hammocks...Monkey on my back...USA Team fighting! These are just a few of the proposed titles for this episode of trip 2002.

Way back when, we left Bahia for the further Northeast climes of Recife. We caught a cheapie flight for under $30 US, saving us a 12-15 hour bus ride. Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, is a huge, bustling, high-rise beach city, which we traded for Olinda, the sister city that overlooks Recife and the ocean from a nearby hill. Olinda is one of Brazil's best preserved Dutch colonial cities, and is considered to represent the artier, bohemian side of living in comparison to Recifes' working, economic role. Our beach days were not yet begun, as the weather was more humid and rainy, so we entertained ourselves with wet strolls (dry within old churches and art museums). In Olinda, you have to fend off local guides, eager to tell you all about the altars and religious paintings, in painfully stretched english, for a fee of course, while in Recife, you have to avoid being knocked off sidewalks as shoppers search for world cup soccer shirts, scarves, flags, banners, etc. and dodge fast cars barreling down narrow streets. One afternoon, we found respite from the masses, by visiting a ceramics factory in the Atlantic rainforest outskirts of Recife. The Olaria is home to Francisco Brennands' whimsical masterpieces. As an extremely prolific artist, he has transformed his property, which was once a brickworks, into a museum/gallery/studio/wonderland of fantastical sculptures. The man has crossed the human form with geometric shapes, amphibians, and animals to create a wide range of symbolism. It is really too hard to describe, but hopefully our photos will shed some light.

With the World Cup about to begin, we bussed through miles and miles of sugarcane fields to our next destination - Praia do Pipa.
Ahh...nothing to do but feed the inner child. We woke at 6AM to watch Senegal embarrass France - what a pleasure. Our 'tv lounge' was an outside patio, with a thatched roof, decorated with Brazil streamers in yellow and green. Dan could view the games from a gently swinging hammock, while I sat in front, doing stretches and working on my posture. Between games, we enjoyed a tropical fruit breakfast with strong coffee and bread rolls with cheese. Then we'd head for the glorious beaches, which are backed by pink sand cliffs and hanging green vines. After swimming in the warm, clear ocean, we'd seat our selves at a high balcony overlooking the Atlantic, and eat lush, fresh shrimp presented in a pineapple shell. Back to our private bungalow for an afternoon nap, or to read a classic in the shade. How spoiled we are... we spent 4 full days repeating the above in Pipa, but the trend continued through several more beach towns, with subtle variations.

Canoa Quebrada wins the award for best beach colors - a deep turquoise ocean meets pale terracotta dunes. The beach itself is lined with upscale food shacks, small wooden, sailing boats, and the occasional donkey pulls a 'bar/fruit drink' cart to refresh the parched. Here, Dan and I went on a dune buggy excursion, straight out of some 70's movie or Scooby Do cartoon. Our driver took us down steep, 60 degree angle dunes, circled sandy bowls, and rushed through shallow waterholes. We stopped high on a dune that overlooked a fresh water lake, and Dan tried sand boarding down the mountain side. I'm sure he would have perfected the skill, if it weren't for having to climb back up, after a quick descent.

Our next stop (only 12 hours away) was Jericoacoara, a very secluded 'hip' beach village outside Fortaleza, in the state of Ceara. The journey was endless, and involved 3 transfers. The final drive was in the back of a pick-up truck through grassy sand dunes. Jericoacoara is on the lips of every backpacker, as the place that is untouched by rampant tourism. Of course, if everyone knows about it, than it really isn't that secluded. The only thing that saves this place from becoming overrun with Internet cafes, dune buggy tour guides, and a Mc Donald's is the lack of paved roads. (In fact, all roads, streets, paths are of sand (NO pavement and no cobblestones). People walk everywhere in flip-flops or in their bare feet.) You really have to work to get out here, BUT it is not far behind in having all the little luxuries that make a traveler feel truly comfortable. In fact, Dan and I were housed in our own little beach chalet, 50 meters from the beach, which tops all of our accommodations on this entire trip. For 4 days, we had a beautiful, brand-new wooden home with a front lounge, kitchen, spotless bathroom with hot shower, air conditioning, and a t.v. in our room (excellent for 3:30AM soccer matches) for $15 a night. Our front porch, more like a verandah, had the requisite hammock, and views of the garden and a large grandfather tree. During breakfast, we were visited by two of the tiniest monkeys(tamerins?) I have ever seen. At first I thought they were squirrels, but there is no mistaking that unbelievably human face (which was smaller than a hard-boiled egg). They were dark grey, with long tails, black primate hands, and had white, furry tufts that wisped out above their ears. Dan began to offer them pineapple, which they eagerly snatched from his hands. One of the monkeys became braver and braver, first eating from his hand, and then jumping on his arm, and then his back ("Monkey on my back! Monkey on my back!"). Then, the nasty bugger bit him on the neck! No blood, no tearing of the skin, no worries, but a shock nonetheless. A Mogwai gone Gremlin!

What we really enjoyed about Jericoacoara, besides the beautiful beaches and long walks down the coast, were the activities around sunset. We hiked with many others (fathers and sons, young couples, grandparents, energetic boys and girls) to the top of a glaring white sand dune to watch the sunset. In the bay below us, people played impromptu soccer games, or struck up capoeira matches to the beat of the agogo instrument and the singing of the spectator-musicians. In nearby beach cafes, people were drinking Skol beer, or chilled coconut juice, or enjoying an ice cream. The Brazilian pace of life is a very happy one, and we could all learn a thing or two from these non stressed-out people. This was as far North as we made it. We had to return to Rio for our eventual flight back to Argentina.

Let the long journey begin... Back to Fortaleza for a nights rest, and a short morning exploration - a tease, really, then we had a milk run of flights - Fortaleza to Recife to Salvador to Vitoria to Belo Horizonte, where we had another nights' sleep, before bussing it to Ouro Preto the following morning. I wanted to visit at least one other city besides Lencois, that was not on the coast. Ouro Preto, which means black gold, is considered the gem of Minas Gerais state. This is a beautiful hilly town, with cobblestone roads, and not a single building from the 20th century. When gold was discovered in the nearby hills in 1698, the eventual gold rush created a booming town of vast wealth and European immigration. Ouro Pretos' churches became a showcase for the Portuguese empire and the tremendous wealth and artistic ability of sculptors and painters like Aleijadinho and Manuel da Costa Ataide. Here, we traded beaches for visiting churches, an old gold mine, and shopping for gems. My first travel splurge is an 18 karat gold ring with a turquoise topaz, which makes me smile like a little girl with a new party dress. Dan got more beer and seemed equally as thrilled.

Back to Rio and Copacabana beach... we were reunited with our new Canadian friends, Glenn and Carolynn. They had rented a little apartamento, blocks from the beach, and invited us to crash at their new pad. Being 4 soccer enthusiasts, it was a regular all-night slumber party, waking for 3:30AM and 8:30AM pillow-biting games. We had a great time, pushing each other to new heights... new heights of drunkenness, new heights of humor and soccer trivia one upmanship, and best of all...new heights of jumping off mountains! Yes, that is right, we all took a flying leap of faith and went hang-gliding over the Tijuca rainforest, with a birdseye view of mansions and beach front high-rises, landing in the powdery white sands of beautiful Barra beach. Wow! We strapped on to our flying guides, and ran off a ramp, through low faint clouds, to experience weightlessness and the freedom of flight.

With the awareness that our beach days were numbered, we decided to make one last side trip to Ilha Grande, reputed to have one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil. Dan and I left one day earlier than Carolynn and Glenn, who joined us for a final goodbye. We enjoyed more of the same here - watching soccer games (Go USA!!!), eating seafood, reading a book a day, and living in bathing suits and flip-flops. Most of the beaches are a fair distance from Abraao, the main island settlement, so one day, Dan and I took a boat tour to several different emerald water beaches and snorkeling coves filled with giant red starfish and schools of perch. With our friends in tow, we speed boated and hiked to the 'best' beach, Praia Lopes Mendes, an awesome stretch of white sand, and wave-filled, surfing material blue water, backed by a lush green forest. The next day, we ditched marine transport in favor of a 2 hour hike (each way) to Praia dos Dios.

We said our sad goodbyes to warm weather, life in the sand, two new, dear friends, and the beauty of Brazil. What an adventure!

Please see our new pictures at
http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/brz3 and http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/brz4

much love,
Sarah and Dan

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