I have to say that I really find it odd when I see people plan their travel to the n’th degree. You probably know the type, (or possibly even are one) that
Nothing depresses me more than seeing a jam-packed schedule that accounts for every 15 minutes of my time. It sounds more like my typical work day, where time is money, and it’s just not the ‘baggage’ I like to travel with! Now not everyone is the same, and some will find immense comfort in schedules and planning, but for me, that spontaneity is one of the best parts.
Adventure is out there. You’ll never know it if you don’t go and give things a try, meet new people or be open to a change of plans. After my previous trip to Brazil where I had a few crazy adventures (namely Drugged and Mugged…) many friends and family suggested I come home after only a few months into my year-long adventure. How glad I am now that I chose not to listen to them… I am a far richer person for the travel experiences I’ve had. The financial cost, but a minor inconvenience when compared to the feeling of being really alive – in control, in the moment and truly free.
The hardest thing after a really bad travel experience, is to learn to trust again. And not just to trust in others, like locals, businesses or other travellers – but also to learn to trust in yourself again, and your judgement. If I’d cut myself off from trusting others during my past trip, I would have missed out on some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life. I learnt to quickly trust my judgement again, my gut-feel about situations and interactions so that I could be ‘travel aware’.
It made me open to new experiences and willing to go outside of my comfort zone – ready to grab life and run with it whichever way it unfolded before me.
And so it came to pass that while I was in Natal, a friend I’d just met mentioned I should check out nearby Pipa, a small coastal town about an hour and a half south of Natal.
My travel plan said stay in Natal, and I’d only recently met Anderson, so could I really trust his call to go and visit Pipa? My heart however, said, “let’s see what Pipa has to offer”. Last time I was in Brazil, some of my most favourite moments were spent in a small town in the country, which I never would have gone to if it weren’t for the kind invitation of my friend, Savio.
The bus slowly crawled its way past small village after village, until finally it reached the coast, and Pipa came into view. A bustling mix of locals, tourist and foreigners who had come to call Pipa home met my eye. It was like a more funky Jericoacoara but without all the desperate selling. The streets were mostly cobblestone, and charming avenues, restaurants, hotels and shops spun off from the main strip in all directions.
From the nearby Bay of Dolphins (yes, with actual dolphins) to the varied and beckoning beach coastline, Pipa has a small getaway for anyone, yet with all the convenience that sometimes makes life just, well, fun.
Such as the pizza rodizio. A great idea for a restaurant where they make a million and one different pizza flavours and bring them out every few minutes to share up amongst the guests who pay an ‘all you can eat’ fee. An awesome place for pizza lovers to taste a little bit of everything all at once.
I loved my time in Pipa. I felt relaxed, rejuvenated and entranced by the local vibe. And it wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t have gone out on a limb, and trusted my travel ‘gut’.
After my adventure leaving Jericoacoara, and subsequent arrival in Natal, you can imagine my surprise when the taxi pulls up to my hotel and it’s a fully functional castle, complete with moat, English tavern and a witchy theme throughout.
The Lua Cheia (Full Moon) hostel is one of the best serviced hostels that I stayed at while in Brazil. All the rooms have crazy names of famous witches or dastardly doers-of-evil. My room was the “Sanitorium of Dr Ravengar” which certainly confused the heck out of the airport transfer organiser on the telephone when they asked me for my room number!
It was kitsch, but fun and it made for a great hostel experience. Staff were super friendly, and always dressed in some witchy garb. The place has plenty of spacious areas to socialise with the other guests, or find your own quiet nook for a spot of spellbook reading.
If the hostel wasn’t bewitching enough, then the true magic potion of Natal, must lie in its beaches. I was located in the suburb of Ponta Negra, which offers up a fantastic stretch of beach, all serviced by various ‘barracas’ or kiosks and freelance vendors. Want for nothing, with everything at your fingertips. Just kick back, relax and enjoy the service under the sun.
Part of Natal is set among the giant sand dunes, which makes it quite unique for a large metropolitan city and it’s a pretty backdrop to the city skyline.
The city, which name means Christmas in portuguese, has a year round giant Christmas Tree, complete with 3 wise men made out of lights.Just like the Lua Cheia, the city is one for kitsch. You’ll see many figurines of famous faces – rock musicians, local sports legends, presidents – adorning the entrances of a number of bars and restaurants, and there are definitely plenty of interesting spots to keep the occasional tourist busy.
I must admit that I don’t feel like spent enough time in Natal, and would really like to go back there to see what else the city has to offer.
Leaving Jericoacoara was quite an experience…
I woke up very early for any traveler (6am), packed my things and left the pousada (hotel) to make my way down to the one bus stop in Jeri where you can catch the bus back to Fortaleza.
It had been raining a little the evening before, but suffice to say, it had turned into a torrential early morning riser as well… The sandy streets of Jeri had become surging rivers of water racing back to the neighbouring sea. Armed with only a plastic bag around my backpack, I stripped off to just my shorts, and trudged through the rain for 7 minutes until I reached the bus stop, thinking of the warmth of the bus that would soon be my shelter.
I was soaked to the bone, but luckily, my backpack had largely escaped unscathed by the elements. Upon spying the bus, I soon realised that I would not be as lucky, as the 4WD dune buggy-bus had open windows, no flaps, and just enough seats to fit most of us in…
The leaky roof didn’t really help either. We soon became best buddies with our shivering travel companions as we put on a brave face for the next hour or so until we would get to the ‘proper bus’.
I wrested my towel from my backpack, and managed to dry myself off, but it too soon joined the rest of us and was drenched. When we got to the proper bus, there was no time to get dry clothes out of our bags, it was straight under the bus for our bags, and we jumped on board to try and dry off as best we could.
Lucky for me I had packed a spare pair of shorts/shirt in my daypack, so was largely able to get dry enough again over the next 4 hours to Fortaleza, then prepare myself for the next bus to Natal…
A crazy, crazy, yet adventurous day was had by all.
It is oddly amusing that this trip was one of the more friendlier trips, as the cold and rain brought all the travelers together in one spirit.
UPDATE: Yes, it has been a while since I have been able to update these travel blogs. I arrived back in Sydney, and had to wait almost 3 months for internet access at home. So I will now upload the rest of the travel blog entries, photos and video over the next few days. After all, we still have to get through Carnival!
Thanks for reading! (And your comments…)
Love, the Brazilianaire
Whilst Jericoacoara is undeniably beautiful, it can also be a lonely place for someone travelling on their own. It’s also a place which has seen so many tourists, that now its inhabitants only live to sell and find new ways of removing as much money from your wallets as possible.
Here’s a few tips for some of the vendors…(which I did give feedback to)
I’m a tourist. I’m going to buy things, it’s only natural… I’m going to take a tour or two. I’m going to eat out at restaurants. I’ll hire a chair and an umbrella to sit under at the beach.
BUT when you incessantly and aggressively approach me to buy things, I tend to react by not buying anything at all, out of spite.
I know that I have to catch a buggy to go anywhere outside the town. I’m not blind, or stupid… But you probably need to sell the destinations a little more, and not the ride itself. I loved the places that the buggies took me to, but no one told me about these in town. It was too much ‘Get your buggy here… buy a buggy ride’…
I had some pretty poor service at some of the restaurants, the kind of service where you want to just go out the back and get it yourself…
I think I stayed in Jericoacoara two days more than I should have as the non-stop selling wore me down after a while. I spent some great time here alone in nature, with my thoughts , amazed by the dunes and the beaches, with pen and paper in hand.
If i had the chance to go back to Jeri again, I would do it, as the beauty of it is amazing. But it would be for a different style of holiday…
When in Jeri, a town of sandy streets, you’re faced with a few limited options for transport – on foot, horse or mule, quad bikes and the dune buggy.
Needless to say, many take the buggy option. I bumped into Paulinho on my way down to the beach and he offered to take me round (a ‘passeio’) at a discounted price (as I was by myself and normally the buggy’s seat 3 plus the driver)
While you’re no longer allowed to go onto the dunes themselves as it’s a National Park Reserve, it’s a great experience to drive where permitted. There’s plenty to see around Jeri, but it takes a bit of driving to get there…
We arrived at Lagoa Azul (there’s always a Blue Lagoon everywhere!) and I had to swim across a channel of water to get to an island where they have set up a cute array of restaurants.
Tables are set in the water, so you can eat and drink while fish sim about your ankles and nibble at your toes. You can also jump in a hammock, submerged in the water and relax as people wait on you, serving you with whatever you’d like to eat and drink.
(My kind of paradise!)
Nearby Lagoa Paraiso (Paradise Lagoon) is a similar experience with a few more lunch items to choose from at their larger bar.
At around 5pm, the locals and tourists slowly make their way up the giant sand dune beside the touristy fishing village of Jericoacoara. Couples bed down into the sand at the crest and claim their spot of paradise.
Wise small business owners, sell caipirinhas from a close yet non-distracting distance, and the light of the setting sun playfully catches in the thin rivulets of water left behind by the retreating sea.
Below the dunes, riders on horseback settle in for one last gallop along the vast expanse of beach as daylight begrudgingly gives way to dusk.
The colours of the water, normally crystal blue, now purple, darken as the ceaseless tide gently buffets the shoreline.
Thin white sand from the dunes whisps into you eyes as a flurry of wind passes through, and you blink momentarily, as the sun sets into the sea on the horizon, amidst cheers and applause from the pleased crowd.
Some say it is one of the best sunsets in the world… And there is the legend of the momentary ‘flash of green’ a phenomenon that occurs from time to time as the sun sinks behind the sea.
The sunsets were pretty spectacular when I was there, but it was cloudy each time. I can only imagine what it would be like on what the locals call a ‘good day!’
It’s hard not to appreciate each day in Jeri.
When I read the description of the hostel in Fortaleza, I thought it sounded pretty cool. And as it turns out, it was… but only for the people which go there.
The rooms were pretty basic… okay they were kind of sketchy at best!
One of the main ladies who cleans, constantly talks to herself, sometimes about you, in front of you, whether anyone is listening or not….
Cleaning day in the kitchen means that everything, and I mean everything, gets hosed down, from the ceiling rafters to the walls, the wall sockets, the chairs, letting the heat dry it all out eventually (now I get why there was a musty smell…).
The bathroom has a motion activated light with a short fuse, so needless to say that when you are in the shower or toilet for more than a minute, the lights go out. Toilet paper, well it’s not provided, as the ladies who run the place say, “Well you guys go out and buy it, so why do we need to…?”
Aside from all this, this was still one of the more sociable and fun hostels that I stayed at in Brazil. It’s funny how odd situations, like bad lodgings, train delays or accidents can get people to talk and open up to each other more….
A hostel is only as good as the people that stay there as well…
My first impression of Fortaleza was rather depressing. I met another traveller Davide, from France, and we headed out to see some nightlife as it was kind of boring hanging around at the backpackers hostel. So we went to nearby Iracema where there seemed to be a little movement.
After having a rather tasty, yet rather suspicious dinner for just A$3, we ended up walking into a bar. The entry was $15, based on consumption, which means if you go in and drink nothing, you pay $15, otherwise the first $15 of your drinks is already paid for, so everyone stays for at least two drinks in order to make it worth your while…
Turns out we were in the red light district and it was just the two of us travellers, a few desperate older men and a horde of enterprising women with makeup piled on with trowels…
It was quite depressing to watch, and I wondered what the hell I was doing in this part of town. Outside the streets seemed pretty deserted, and a little bit rough. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to like Fortaleza all that much.
But the next day, I saw a different side to the city, which I was glad to see… I spent time at the city’s cultural hub, the Dragao do Mar, and even went to see a play. It was a student production, and so while the acting wasn’t all that brilliant, it was still awesome to see the work that had gone into the production. Tickets were just a few dollars each after all…
I also went to another part of town that was fantastic, Meirelles, a suburb by the sea that reminded me of Rio. There were lots of active, happy people out jogging the sidewalks, the streets were always lively, and a large street fair ensured there was always something to see and buy down by the beach.
First impressions can be damning, in relationships, and even in travel. But give a person time, or a place some time, and you might see another side to it that makes you appreciate the uniqueness it has to offer.
Fortaleza, while not my favourite city this trip to Brazil, was still a great experience, and I’d go back again to experience what else it has to offer.
(Stay in Meirelles, not Iracema, even if it costs a little more… it’s far nicer!)
If you are ever in Rio and it’s the month before Carnival, then you’re in for an added bonus. You can have a mini Carnival experience by heading to any of the street parties or ‘blocos’ that happen in the weeks leading up to the main event.
What’s a bloco? Well, it’s best experienced, but in its simplest form, it’s a group of people getting together in the street. There’s music, usually a band, or a large group of drums & percussion, plenty of drinking and even more dancing. Bring costumes, smiles and a sense of fun and you’ll fit right in.
(The picture above is from my 2005 trip but it will give you the idea…)
Ask around when in Rio, the locals tend to have a pretty good idea of where and when the street parties are happening… The most famous one, and possibly the most debaucherous, is the ‘Banda de Ipanema’ which starts at the General Osorio park and then take over the streets of Ipanema.
Start drinking early, but pace yourself, as the truck with the huge speakers pumping out the tunes goes pretty slowly around the streets for four hours or more. First hour – drinking/dancing. Second hour – drinking/dancing. Third hour – flirting/drinking/dancing. And the fourth hour? Well it’s is best viewed in person…
Everyone wears a costume or ‘fantasia’ and you can buy pretty much anything you’d need on the streets, so take just some cash and not much else for a worry-free Carnival experience.
This time, I was wearing some shorts which were hanging quite loose on me, so I was glad for the belt I had on to keep them up. That was until I went to the bathroom and the belt buckle broke! (Of all the days…) So I raced around to all the shops in Ipanema, which were rapidly closing their doors before the street filled will revelers. I found myself a new belt, and was back on track for a pants-on bloco experience. 🙂
Banda de Ipanema usually happens each Saturday in the month leading up to Carnival and starts around 4 or 5pm in the afternoon at the General Osorio park, just next to the metro stop. Follow the drum beat if you get lost or turn up late…