Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brazil, a land of contrasts – Part 3

Hello and welcome to the final installment of my Brazil road-trip!

Morro de Sao Paulo

After Carnaval is over, most Brazilians just want to keep on partying, and so they decided to do just that! The ‘Resaca do Carnaval’ (Carnaval’s hangover) is possibly even bigger than Carnaval itself in terms of national tourism, and for most places this means that the party goes on for the rest of the week. There was a time when this would have been the perfect bait for me to hit Salvador for eight days and really turn the town inside out, but nowadays other pleasures and obligations are at the top of the priority list. So, we drove straight through Salvador, made our way past the party tents, and had a cab driver lead the way to the Mercado Modelo, next to which our ferry would leave to the Isle of Tinhare and the town of Morro do Sao Paulo. We managed to park our car in the Marina, not too far from the docks and crossed the strait between Tinhare and the mainland on a big Catamaran, surrounded by sleeping people on their way to the after party.

Tinhare, and Morro in particular, have in recent years become THE place to celebrate the Resaca, so we had booked a small “Fazenda” (farm hotel) outside of town. There are officially no cars on that part of the island (we later found out there are several, but they are kept out of sight) and an army of “taxistas” (in this case strong men with wheelbarrows) offer themselves to carry your bags and suitcases from the port to your hotel. Since our fazenda was located on Praia 3 (the third beach from the port) we reluctantly paid the 20 reais (some 10 USD) to have our luggage pushed through the sand, up and down the hills to our next resting place. It turned out to be a great decision as it was 35 degrees Celsius outside and the walk was a lot longer than expected. Dao, our wheelbarrow-driver turned out to be a great guy, so we contracted him for the way back as well. Tinhare is a great spot to relax. Hammocks, sundowners on the beach, great ocean views, a little swimming in warm natural pools at low tide, tremendous amounts of palm trees, hunting for crabs and monkey spotting filled our time during most of our four days there. Great for us and the kids to get our batteries recharged and move on with renewed energy. Sadly our trip was almost over…

Even though we did not visit due to Carnival, I want to say a little bit about Salvador de Bahia. With its fantastic swimming beaches, the largest collection of colonial architecture in Latin America, and a vibrant modern culture, this city has perhaps the richest living cultural mix in the country, with a multitude of Afro-Caribbean bands and performers. We sadly did not have the time to really explore this exciting city, but I will certainly go back in one of my upcoming trips.

We took the ferry back to Salvador (very strong currents this time, so we all got sea sick, something to keep in mind when you make this crossing), grabbed a cab to the marina and had an excellent lunch at the Soho Sushi bar. We were somewhat surprised by the high-end cliental, as we ourselves looked like a couple of sun-burnt hippies with two semi-wild kids running around the place. After lunch we picked up the car and drove to Itacimirim (5km short of Praia do Forte on our way back north), where we stayed in the Pousada Praia das Ondas, on a beach with the same name. We had planned for one night, but ended up staying another one as both the food and the company were great, plus it was our last chance to relax on the beach. Itacimirim is a small place, but very nice, a little like what Praia do Forte must have looked like before it was developed for tourism. If you are not looking for all the fancy stuff, and if you like bigger waves (the ocean is a bit rougher here, a nice change after hundreds of kilometers of bounty beaches), this is a great spot to use as a base to get to know the area. Around the corner from Praia, close to Salvador and 6 hours driving from Lencois - Itacimirim certainly did it for us.

On the way back to our final destination, Recife, we stopped in Maragogi at the beautiful Posada Maragogi, run by a Dutch/Brazilian couple. After some good Dutch koffie and a relaxing couple of hours overlooking their beach we drove on to Praia Carneiros, where we had lunch at a place called BoraBora. This is one of the most beautiful beaches of the entire region and it is frequented by locals and Brazilians from all over the country. Located on a private Fazenda, BoraBora does not see that many foreigners, and as always we were met with friendly, though somewhat surprised looks from people not used to hearing Dutch, or seeing a man walk around with a backpack containing a two-year old child. That child being our Noa, with white-blond hair, large deep-blue eyes and a one-month Brazilian tan… one can imagine I got a lot of attention. Young fathers, this is your chance to shine!

After lunch we went for a walk along the beach and of course lost track of time, and yet again ended up driving in the dark. When we arrived in Recife, instead of trying to find the hotel for our last night, we drove directly to the airport, unloaded all our stuff, plus one month’s worth of dust, sand, rocks, empty water bottles and more good news, returned the car to our hire company and had a cab driver take us ‘home’. One short night later (we had to get up at 3.50am), we were on our way to the airport for a flawless set of flights back to Buenos Aires, where we were welcomed by the last thunderstorm of the season. Home sweet home, even if only for two-weeks before my next flight out…

What did strike me in Porto Galinhas (and probably because I was reading the final pages of “A death in Brazil”, an amazing book about the country, and especially that area, by Australian writer Peter Robb) is that Brazil is a very particular country with a very particular people. Sitting there in that big resort, between a couple more resorts, smacked down in the middle of what must have been stunningly beautiful nature once upon a time, but is now surrounded by heavy industry, it became utterly clear that I needed to look at Brazil in context. This country has only known democracy for roughly 15 years; it has the most thoroughly mixed races of all of the former European colonies and its history is one of oppression of the vast, poor majority by a small elite group, until very recently. Brazil is largely self-sufficient and its mostly independent and strongly growing economy does not really seem to need foreign tourism. As a matter of fact some hoteliers I spoke to explained they depend about 80% on local tourism for most of the year.

Brazilians in general are very nice and warm people, friendly, welcoming and genuinely interested. The fabulous Brazilian kitchen, some truly amazing sights, a rough but intriguing past, the vastness of the Amazon Basin and thousands of kilometers of stunning beaches combine to make Brazil a fantastic destination that can’t fail to grow on you in one way or another. Treat it with proper respect and prepare for a true adventure into a nature, a culture and a gastronomy that will have you hooked, and most likely leave you wanting to visit time and time again.

Happy trails!


1 comment:

Manisha Chopra said...

It is these kind of destinations that attract tourists a lot - good surroundings, beautiful scenery, friendly people and delicious food.