Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Fortaleza + Jericoacoara

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.

Paradise Lagoon in Jericoacoara: photo credit Jonathan Hood

Paradise Lagoon in Jericoacoara: photo credit Jonathan Hood

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.

Map credit Rome2rio

Map credit Rome2rio

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. 

Praia do Mucuripe, Fortaleza: photo credit  Rafael Ramos and David Andrade

Praia do Mucuripe, Fortaleza: photo credit Rafael Ramos and David Andrade

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.

Ah, Jericoacoara: photo credit Jamie McIntyre

Ah, Jericoacoara: photo credit Jamie McIntyre

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.

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Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Manaus + The Amazon

Welcome to the first many “Fond Memories of Brazil 2009” posts, just in time for the World Cup! I’ll start each of these posts with some of my own thoughts on the city, then I’m going to include excerpts from my husband Aaron’s weekly emails to our friends and family that he wrote during the trip. To make these emails a bit more engaging, he wrote all of them in a mock Q&A format. (In other words, he just interviewed himself… which confused my grandparents a lot.)

One more quick programming note before we get started: At the end of our South America trip, we actually lost one of our digital camera memory cards. It. Was. Devastating. Especially so because we had already missed a few weeks of photos when our camera stopped working midway through Brazil and we found out the hard way that electronics in Brazil are outrageously overpriced. So that explains the lack of amazing photos to go along with these blog posts. Sorry about that!

Alright, how did we end up visiting Manaus in the first place? That’s easy to explain. My friend’s older brother had once told me that the ONE thing that he wanted to do next time he went to South America was take a hammock boat from Manaus to Belém. Because this friend of mine goes to South America a lot and seemed to know his stuff, we assumed that this was a “can’t-miss” activity. (Spoiler alert: we may have been wrong about that.) So we flew into Manaus with no plans other than to get ourselves on one of those hammock boats headed east.

Little did we know, this is what the hammock boats looked like  mik_p

Little did we know, this is what the hammock boats looked like: photo credit mik_p

Upon arrival at our hostel, we were happy to learn that they could secure hammock boat tickets for us the very next morning, so we only ended up spending one night in Manaus. Most of the time we just wandered around the city buying supplies for the boat trip and trying the local street food.

Aerial view of Manaus: photo credit Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Aerial view of Manaus: photo credit Neil Palmer (CIAT)

From what I recall of our quick Manaus experience, it just seemed like a typical big city… that just happened to be in the middle of the Amazon. Like if I hadn’t flown in and seen with my own eyes how much jungle and wilderness surrounded the city, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it myself.

Meeting of the waters: via Mariordo

The “meeting of the waters,” where the black Rio Negro meets the sandy Amazon: photo credit Mariordo

But unless you’re going for either 1) an Amazonian adventure, or 2) the World Cup, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way to visit Manaus. I’m sure the city had a lot more to offer than what we saw during our short time there, but there were so many other cities in Brazil that we liked a lot better. And as for the “can’t-miss” hammock boat adventure down the Amazon? Well, I’ll let Aaron’s email explain our experience, then you can decide for yourself whether you’d be up for it:

Q: So you flew into Manaus, the capital of the Amazon region, a surprisingly big city. What will be your main enduring memory of Manaus?

A: Sadly, it will be the bus station. Let´s explain. Crossing into Brazil, I feel a constant, blinding, drowning sense of helplessness. I know I poke fun at our lack of Spanish skills, but we know enough to get around, to bargain, to ask questions, to instruct a cab driver, etc. In a Spanish-speaking country, I know we will not simply die in the streets. In Brazil, it´s not so much of a given. Everyone who tells you Portuguese is just like Spanish is LYING TO YOU. They may look similar on paper, but you will not understand one word anyone is saying, and they will not understand your Spanish. At all.

So we got off the plane in Manaus, and succeeded in getting on a bus from the airport to the main bus terminal, where we hoped to transfer to another bus that would take us to our hostel. We got off at the bus terminal … and stepped into … something. There was one huge line, leading up some stairs and into a building … and this line NEVER MOVED. We were there for at least ten minutes, standing in the same place. Buses constantly stopped, and people got off, but no one ever got on. And the people who got off just got in our line and stood there. WHERE WAS THIS LINE GOING TO?!? Some of the buses appeared to be heading where we wanted go, but the drivers were emphatic that we could not get on. I don´t want to be the ugly American traveler, but if there was ever one time I wanted to yell “Does anyone here speak English?!? Can anyone tell me what´s going on?!?”, it was this moment.

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Coming Soon: Lots of Posts About Brazil

Back in 2009, Aaron and I spent 2 1/2 glorious months backpacking all over South America. Because we spent the months leading up to our trip studying for the California bar exam, we didn’t have a lot of spare time to do any travel research in advance – all we had were flights into Peru in August and out of Argentina in October.

Boca Juniors v. River Plate at La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

Superclasico 2009: Boca Juniors v. River Plate at La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

Looking back on it, I can’t believe how unlike me it was to go into such a big trip practically blind! I remember emailing some friends who had been to South America before to see if they had any recommendations for us, but Aaron and I just figured that we’d make decisions for the most part on the fly once we arrived. This uber-casual spontaneous travel strategy worked out for the most part, but we probably could have saved a lot of money if we had made some of the major decisions in advance.

One of the things that we knew before our trip was that we wanted to spend a lot of time in Brazil. Americans need to get travel visas in advance to visit Brazil, so Aaron and I made a few trips to the Brazil Consulate in San Francisco with our bar books in tow.

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Our Next Big Trip Will Be… Morocco!

Hope you all had a great weekend! We spent ours binge-watching Orphan Black* and booking our next big trip to MOROCCO!

morocco

As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, Morocco has been on my wanderlust list for awhile. Aaron and I haven’t been anywhere in Africa yet, we love warm weather destinations, the food is supposed to be fantastic, and CAMELS! Okay fine, camels don’t dictate where we decide to go on vacation, but Aaron hasn’t ridden one yet and I think it’s pretty important that he does so soon.

All we’ve booked so far is our flights into and out of Marrakesh, but I can’t wait to start researching where to go and what to do. I’m hoping to spend several days exploring the city, a few nights by the sea in Essaouira, and some sort of desert excursion. Other than that, we’re totally open to suggestions!

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Bachelor/Bachelorette Party Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re reading a blog about honeymoons, chances are pretty high that you’re of the age of attending many bachelor/bachelorette parties a year. Bach parties have somehow evolved from one big night out on the town to full-blown long-weekend vacations, and they can be a whole lot of fun so long as everyone in the group acts appropriately. Just coming back from a really great bachelorette party in Austin myself, I thought it would be fitting to write a blog post about the Do’s and Don’ts of bach parties.

Bach parties

Bachelorettes Gone Wild! Just kidding – these are pics of my dearest friends, and they are all very classy ladies.

– If you RSVP yes to a bach party, DO show up. The person planning the shindig will calculate costs based on the overall number of people attending, and when someone bails at the last minute it makes everything a lot more expensive for all of the other guests.

– If you see a bach party out and about, DON’T yell at them: “Don’t do it! Marriage is the worst!” It’s not funny or cute, and the joke gets old fast.

– Before you attend a bach party, DO expect to spend more money than you think you will. Last minute expenses (i.e. other guests bailing after they RSVP yes) are absolutely bound to happen, so it’s a good idea to set expectations accordingly in advance. If you’re worried about the high cost of a bach party, let the organizer know ahead of time, or it’s really okay to just sit it out. The bride/groom should not hold it against you for not being able to attend a wedding-related event for financial reasons. (If they do, then you probably don’t want to go to their bach party in the first place.)

DON’T be the sourpuss who’s too cool for the rest of the party. If the whole group is wearing bright pink sunglasses, suck it up, smile, and wear bright pink sunglasses. You’ll forget how ridiculous you look in no time.

DO ask the party organizer what you can bring or do to help. Planning a bach party can be overwhelming, and extra help is usually very much appreciated.

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Two Year Wedding Anniversary

Oh hey, it’s me. Sorry about not writing for awhile, but job stuff, hockey play-offs, and my foster dog have kept me pretty busy throughout these past few weeks. Since wedding season 2014 has officially begun, I’m definitely hoping to blog more frequently again, and what better reason is there to start it off than my own second wedding anniversary?

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 3.28.09 PM

May 5, 2012 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA

Yes, it’s true, Aaron and I have been married for two whole years, and I must say that it has been pretty excellent. I think back to our Cinco de Mayo wedding and relaxing honeymoon in Bali and Vietnam all the time, wanting to relive all of the fun memories.

People (mostly my family’s friends) still ask me all the time, “So, how does it feel to be married?” Aaron and I lived together before our wedding and we’ve been in the same apartment, at the same jobs, and with the same dog for about four years now, so my first reaction used to be that everything is pretty much the same, married or not. However, there are three big things that I’ve noticed over the past two years of marriage:

1) If you ever go anywhere without your spouse, the first question that people will ask you is where your spouse is. You’re never allowed to go anywhere alone without some sort of explanation!

2) If you go to a social event and decide not to drink, people will notice. I haven’t been a big drinker for several years now, so good friends of mine don’t jump to “omg-she-must-be-pregnant!” conclusion whenever I order a water, but people who don’t know me as well definitely do. For example, at a gala last winter I hadn’t even had time to grab a drink before one of my parents’ friends told me, “Turn to the side. Okay good, you’re not pregnant yet.” Yeah. That happened. I’ve learned my lesson to grab a drink as soon as possible, even if I don’t intend to drink it. Pretty lame, right? Continue reading