The second installment of my “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009″ series is all about Fortaleza! Okay fine, not so much about Fortaleza as it is about one of the greatest places we’ve ever visited: Jericoacoara.
After our interesting Amazon river experience, Aaron and I were eager to get back on the Gringo Trail and relax on a beach. We’re not saying that we deserved a vacation or anything, but being on a crowded hammock boat for an unknown amount of time with minimal food surrounded by people we could hardly communicate with was a bit stressful. Oh, that combined with the fact that some scary witch lady in Belém ripped a necklace off of my neck while I was walking down a busy street in broad daylight. (It was pretty freaky.)
So, yes, relaxing beach time felt necessary. Looking at our map, Fortaleza was the next big beach town south of Belém, so that became our destination by default. But don’t let maps of Brazil fool you. It may look like two destinations are relatively close to each other, but in reality those “short” distances are almost always a 24+ hour bus ride (approximately $80). We opted for a $200 five hour flight instead.
I think we had originally planned to do a few days in Fortaleza before heading to either Jericoacoara or somewhere south, but it became quickly apparent that the city beaches were not as idyllic as we had hoped. So rather than spending a few days wishing we were somewhere else, we only stayed in Fortaleza one night before starting the trek to Jeri.
If there’s one thing that you take away from this blog post, if you’re anywhere near Fortaleza GO TO JERICOACOARA! I’ll let Aaron’s email explain how awesome it was:
Q: You landed in Fortaleza and stayed there about six hours before heading North to the small beach town of Jericoacoara. Big cities, small towns, South, North … I have to ask: How do you guys choose your destinations?
A: I gotta say, it´s almost totally random. We have two guidebooks, so those are somewhat useful. A personal recommendation by a fellow traveler goes a long way. Mostly though, we´re doing it on instinct, and it´s amazing we´ve had as much luck as we have.
Basically, we arrived in Fortaleza, and it looked way too much like Belém for our liking. Though no one we knew personally had ever been to Jericoacoara, most people had positive things to say about it, and it was on a list of “Brazil´s Best Beaches” Ilana found online. So that´s it. We were on the bus.
Q: And, when the historians ask, you´ll tell them your trip´s low point was right about here, right?
A: I think so, yeah. The bus trip was billed as five hours, with a sixth hour in some kind of 4 wheel drive vehicle over some sand dunes to the town itself, but after six and a half hours, we were still on the first bus. We try to take direct buses when possible, at least buses that advertise that they make very few stops. At night, this works out okay. During the day, however, “direct bus” means that the driver picks up every person who looks like they could maybe use a lift anywhere. And there are no freeways in Brazil, so we´re constantly passing through towns, slowing for speed bumps and intersections, and literally picking people up, taking them three blocks and then dropping them off. Do these people have tickets? Do they have to pay at all?!?
Honestly, it´s about as much fun as picking up the 38 bus at 6th and Clement and taking it to, I dunno, Fresno.
Then we got on the dune travel vehicle, which looks like part of the ride from Disney´s Safari Adventure, and that thing takes off, bumping around like crazy, and we´re actually going BACK DOWN the road we´d just traveled by bus, and a little bit of my soul died. I thought back on the last two weeks, all the time since we´d entered Brazil, and all I could see was: Mototaxi-Plane-Bus-Taxi-Boat-Taxi-Bus-Bus-Boat-Taxi-Plane-Bus-Disney´s-Safari-Adventure-Vehicle. It was like we´d signed up for some kind of survey course on Modes of Transportation in Brazil, and I wondered if all this traveling was even leading somewhere, if we´d ever get to a place where we wanted to stay …
Q: And the couple in front of you weren´t helping anything, were they?
A: Oh lord. No. No they were not. Where to start? Well, they were some kind of nondescipt European, the guy hideously dessicated, like his skin had to be painfully stretched out to cover his face, the girl just homely, doughy, and pale. She was out of his league, just by not being freakishly ugly. And they just made out, hardcore, the entire time. Sloppy, slobbering makeout sessions, even as we traveled over some of the roughest terrain. Honestly, they pretty much destroyed my concept of romantic love forever. If Ilana is ever distant with me for any reason, I assume that she just can´t get the image of these two out of her head. Honestly. Physical intimacy is gross, isn´t it? And so I sat there, sleep-deprived and bouncing against a hard metal seat, and I tried not to look, but of course I couldn´t stop. This was the low point.
Q: And then … Jericoacoara?
A: And then Jericoacoara. And then, all of the sudden, I had nothing to complain about. After 90 minutes traversing huge sand dunes with nothing man-made as far as the eye can see, we came over a dune and there it was, shimmering like a mirage in the night, an impossible collection of everything I wanted a Brazilian beach town to be.
In Jeri, there are no roads. It is literally built on the sand dunes. Even in the businesses, there are no floors, only sand. Twenty years ago, this was apparently just another fishing village, like Alter Do Chao, with pristine beaches but nothing to do. At some point, though, it became a windsurfing and kitesurfing mecca, and so a town grew up out of nowhere in a three square block area, cheap hostels and restaurants with soft-lit patios and live acoustic music, beach shops and bars and internet cafes. I´m still not sure if it was real. I mean, there are no roads. How did all that stuff get out there? Just the basic building materials … it seems impossible.
We checked into an incredible hostel with wireless internet and free huge breakfasts and air conditioning and an owner who spoke English, and we paid less than half of what we paid to sleep in a hole in Belém. Our neighbors across the hall were x-ray technicians from Seattle, breaking our streak of 11 days without meeting a native English speaker. We went out for huge portions of pineapple shrimp, and I felt truly happy to be traveling for the first time in about a week. This was a place we could stay.