Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Dear Fellow Travelers,
Here we go with the next installment of my Northern Brazil adventure!
The next day we left for Pipa, close to the town of Natal and some 450 km to the north of Olinda. After driving in the wrong direction again (and this time in broad day light) we thought it might come in handy to have a map of some sort. We had packed hastily for this trip (as we usually do) and some things had sadly been left behind. After several stops at gas stations, supermarkets, and other places where one might expect to be able to buy a map, we finally found one at a local pharmacy where, as it turned out, everybody buys their maps. At least that was the fact in Olinda (at the end of this journey, we stumbled upon the “Giua Cuatro Rodas”, an excellent guidebook, with all kinds of tips, directions and hotel options in the country, along with an excellent road map; so we’re all set for our next trip!). Now it became a lot easier to find our way and within no-time we entered the famous BR101 highway. The BR101 is undergoing many repairs these days, so long stretches are “en obras” (under construction), which means our trip took a little longer than expected and we arrived to Pipa after dark, yet again. Another thing we quickly came to realize is that even though we were visiting a neighboring country of our beautifully southern hemispheric Argentina, we had come quite close to the equator, and the sun here sets at 6.30pm sharp, something to take into account if you are planning a full-day’s drive.
Pipa turned out to be amazing. Lovely beaches circled by high cliffs, lagoons, Atlantic forest and dolphins. Pipa has cobbled streets and good surfing beaches, in addition to a lake full of manatees (in neighboring Tibau do Sul). It is an old hippy colony and was recently discovered by Brazil’s traveling youth. Even though the town can get a bit crowded at night it remains a beautiful little spot to relax and enjoy nature.
We spent our days here walking along one of the beaches, spotting dolphins from a small speedboat, and eating… The place was called Panela do Barro and we went back three times. Located in the heart of town, sitting on the cliff, overlooking Pipa’s central beach, their seafood Moqueca is a feast. The ways various African, Portuguese and indigenous ingredients, and cooking methods have merged through the centuries to create this wondrous dish I cannot describe, but man it was good! I really need to get that recipe, or better still, find me a good Brazilian restaurant in town… It can be said though; food in Brazil is GOOD!
From Pipa we moved on to Porto Galinhas, which was not really worth visiting. Supposedly home to the best beach in Brazil, the town changed from a fishing village into the playground of Brazil’s rich and famous and later became a popular vacation spot for domestic travelers. The town has a questionable history as the “chicken port”, so called by the Portuguese during the time when the English started getting bossy and imposing their power to try and force the Portuguese to abolish slavery - just as the rest of the world had done before. On paper, Porto Galinhas was a port where poultry and other livestock arrived from Europe, but that was only to deceive the British; what actually came off the boats was slave trade business as usual, and it would go on like that for many more years. Today Porto Galinhas does not have too much to offer to the discerning traveler. We relaxed in one of the huge resorts there for a couple of days, but were happy to move on.
Praia do Forte
Praia do Forte on the other hand was a very nice surprise. We stayed in the Tivoli Eco-Resort, which is a pleasure in itself, and explored the surrounding area from there.
The Tamar Project (TAMAR being short for Tartaruga Marinha, Portuguese for Sea Turtle) is definitely worth a visit. The story of marine conservation in Brazil coincides with the creation of the TAMAR Program. Seventeen years ago the Federal Government, in tune with international demand and increasing environmental awareness in Brazilian society, began to adopt measures aimed at marine protection. In the beginning of the 1980s, the Brazilian Institute of Forestry Development (IBDF), created the TAMAR Program with the objective of protecting sea turtles in Brazil. The work started in Bahia (Praia do Forte), Espírito Santo (Comboios) and Sergipe (Pirambú), and was then extended nationwide. The project focused on the identification of different species, their main nesting sites, their reproduction period, and the main socio-economic problems related to the exploitation of sea turtles by the coastal residents. Technical staff spent two years traveling along the Brazilian coastline gathering information. In 1982 and 1986, SUDEPE (the Fishing Development Agency) passed regulations prohibiting the capture of all species of turtle.
From April through November one can also go out to sea to spot Humpback Whales, something that I would love to do. Unfortunately, we arrived off-season this time, but I will certainly go back one day to see these wondrous creatures.
From Praia do Forte we decided to escape Carnaval (absolutely a great party, but a little too much with two small kids) and head for Lencois, some 450 km inland. Until 1996 this was the wild, wild, west where some 80,000 people tried their luck at discovering diamonds. Lawlessness ruled and the area was notoriously unsafe and environmentally irresponsible. Come the mid 90’s the Federal Government decided enough was enough and diamond mining in Lencois was made illegal. The area almost immediately shifted to tourism for its income, and today Lencois, and the few towns surrounding it, are the heart of the Chapada Diamantina National Park. This is a beautiful area of natural springs, waterfalls, weird rock formations, quaint little towns and large underground cave-systems that can all be visited from Lencois.
We found all ranges of accommodation in the village, but relatively few people seem to know about it, or make the decision to go there, so the whole place is very calm and tranquil. Lencois is also a place where all races seem to be living together in perfect balance (from what we saw at least) and it is throughout a very safe and pleasant place to be. We walked through the outskirts of town after dark with our two small children without ever having the feeling that we should start being careful. We have been around the block a bit in this continent, so our antennae are attuned, but here we felt perfectly at ease. Talks with locals confirmed this feeling; Lencois is one of the safest places to travel. Combine this with a great surrounding area for hiking and sight-seeing and you have one fantastic destination to add to your list of Brazil must-sees.
Ps I just had a look at our webpage and came across this aptly named package to Northern Brazil visiting Salvador, Lencois and Praia do Forte - Salvador and the Beauty of Bahia