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…
No, not lines of used wax strips, but a bureaucratic necessity for life in Brazil – the all important receipt.
There is what seems to be an over-complicated exchange of goods, money, and three times the amount of paper in Brazil. And at first glance it’s a bit odd.
Like the restaurant in Rio for example, where you are given a card as you enter. When you take a plate of buffet food to the counter to be weighed, the card is swapped for a piece of paper which details all you are about to consume. Following dinner and a few beverage additions to the paper, you take the slip to the cashier at the door. She hands you your receipt and a note to give to the doorperson who is standing less than a foot away. The note is your permission slip to exit. Sounds complicated for a plate of food right?
If you by chance forget to pick up your receipt, with your worldly western ways, then you’ll probably get an odd look or two from the Brazilians.
That’s because the ‘nota fiscal’ is quite important for their financial management. In Brazil, you can buy things such as groceries or most small to large goods on monthly credit payments (4x, 10x…).
In Australia, credit seems to come in just the one payment, and you have to sign up for different interest free purchase offers with other providers. But in Brazil, Visa and MasterCard offer the opportunity to purchase through monthly credit payments.
And there is no end to the variety of credit and debit cards you are likely to encounter in Brazil.
With all these payments happening at any one time, it helps to have the receipts at the end of each day in order to work out just how much you might be owing or have left to spend.
So what might seem to be an overzealous obsession with the paper trail might just be the signs of good, if not slightly complicated, financial management.
The first time I visited Rio, I was living there for 3 months, so there was no rush to do all the touristy things. So out of a little bit of laziness and perhaps a smidgeon of procrastination, I missed out on going to see the view from the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf).
If I’d have known how spectacular the view is, I would have probably gone there a dozen times in those three months. This time I was sure to have it on my to-see list, and it didn’t let me down.
After catching the first cablecar to the first of its two peaks, the vista was spectacular already with sweeping views of all the key places in Rio – Centro, Copacabana, Ipanema, Niteroi, Guanabara and Botafogo.
But the view is gobsmacking when you catch the second cablecar to the peak. Despite the crowds – the feeling was transcendent.
My tips on best time to go… At least an hour before sunset, so you can get a view of Rio by day and by night. Make sure you get up to the top just before sunset so you can enjoy the best view.
Cost is about 40 Reais and cablecars travel every 20 minutes. Each car carries only 60 people so make sure you get in the line early or you might wait and miss out!
Brazilians are really into their black and white rocks… Many of the cities have ornate sidewalks which must take days to create out of small pieces of colored rock.
In Rio, two designs in particular mark the calçadãoes (sidewalk promenades) of its most famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema. The designs have been adopted with a sense of pride and place by its inhabitants, and have come to symbolize the spirit of the beachside communities.
For Rio, beach life is kind of like Australia’s cafes… People meet here to chat, drink and share lifes moments together.
It’s sometimes hard to know where to meet amongst the crowds, but everyones so easygoing that it doesnt matter if you don’t end up finding them!
My advice for a great day on the beach in Rio…
– Choose a ‘barraca’ or serviced tent and grab a chair and umbrella. It’s a good idea if you plan to stay there a while.
– Tents are the best way to find someone as well. Let your friends know which tent you plan on staying in front of and it makes it a little easier to find you.
– Take only what you need for a great day at the beach. Sunscreen, sarong, some money, a book. Everything else you can get there and ask someone to mind your stuff while you take a dip. It’s common practice…
– Forget the boardshorts. The speedo or square ‘sunga’ is the way to go here…
– Try the foods on offer. Queijo coalho (haloumi like cheese) and açai are my favorites. Oh and agua de coco, the coconut water!
– You can almost buy ANYTHING on the beach in Rio. I’ve seen people selling carpet, no joke…
Rio has changed so much in the past six years since I was the Boy from Ipanema… And it’s a change for the better!
The city is far safer (in most of the tourist spots) than it was during my last visit. Which means that all there is for you to do is enjoy the marvelous life that the ‘cidade maravilhoso’ has to offer.
My first day I spent connecting with all the places I had missed so much… Ipanema, my old apartment, my favorite cafe, and of course having an açai with banana by the beach!
No matter how prepared you are, the first time you go to the beaches here, you always feel like a complete foreigner… But the feeling passes overnight and then you can just relax and enjoy this stretch of paradise.
Cariocas, Rio’s locals, can be profoundly annoying to tie down to times, as a general rule, but once you accept this and move on, you’ll find the other Carioca characteristics that make them so charming. Wide smiles, good humoured, friendly and always with their finely tuned bodies on display, the Cariocas are excellent at making tourists feel welcome.
As mentioned, it’s not that easy meeting people at pousadas versus hostels – so I decided to hostel crash.
It’s easy because no one really knows where you are staying, and you can meet people at the same time. Just act like you sleep there and if there’s more than fifteen people there you should just blend right in. Hehe
So I met up with Kate (NZ), Katy (UK), Shaun and Michael (AUS) and we went out on the ‘town’ in the evenings.
After drinking a few beers at the hostel, we headed down to the beach…
There, under a large tree, was a cool bar with hanging lights and funky decor. On one side of the bar, a line of hookah pipes awaited with different flavours to experience. On the other side, cheap caipirinhas of all flavours wait patiently for thirsty travelers.
The night passes with noisy laughter, drinking and a slow walk back alongside the beach to return to the pousada. Then, all too soon, my time on Ilha Grande has come to an end, and we are on a boat heading for the marvelous city, Rio de Janeiro.