Monthly Archives: March 2007

Back to Fortaleza

March 1, 2007
Day 519

It started raining again today so there wasn't much to do but wait around my hotel. I took the bus along the same route back to Fortaleza, which was uneventful because of the rain, and took up the rest of the day.

Jericoacoara was a beautiful place, but there were way too many "cooler than you" tourists for my liking, and the remoteness of the place only served to make it difficult to access and experience. The small, remote beach village charm that Jeri probably had a decade ago is long gone now. Or maybe the fact that it rained most of the time I was there killed the atmosphere for me.

Nonstop Rain

February 28, 2007
Day 518

Picture of dune.

Sitting on the big sand dune.

The rain came early this morning. I tried walking around but I soon became drenched and my umbrella was destroyed by the accompanying strong wind. I had to go back to the hotel and wait it out. Unfortunately, it continued to rain almost all day.

While reading a book in my hammock, I met another guy staying at the same place. He said he was from Sao Paulo, the biggest city in South America. He was covered with tattoos, so I didn't go out of my way to talk to him. He started telling me about futebol (soccer) and his favorite team Santos, which was Pele's team. Then I noticed that the Poseidon tattoo on his shoulder matched the character on his shirt, which was a jersey for his team. In fact, all of his tattoos were of Santos, even the one with the team's fight song on his back, which I had previously assumed was some sort of gang-related material. This guy wasn't a gangster at all, but the most dedicated soccer fan I've ever met!

An hour before sunset, the rain finally subsided a bit. I was able to walk to the top of the dune and take in the evening air, along with half the population of Jericoacoara. The view from the top was amazing.

Tonight I met a few people and we hit the town. It turned out that Jeri was a lot bigger than I had previously realized. I walked through street after street, all made of sand of course, and passed dozens of outdoor bars filled with hundreds of people trying their best to look cooler than everybody else. Also scattered in the mix were groups of hippies trying to sell handmade jewelry and emitting strange skunk-like odors.

I was about ready to go home to my tent when I stumbled into a place that was actually playing music from Brazil. I asked around and was told that the music was called "forró" and the accompanying dance was especially popular in this part of Brazil. I started watching and was amazed at how quickly the dancing couples spun each other around and flung themselves through the air. It was quite hypnotic to watch, but I didn't dare try to join in next to the others dancing. They were so good, they could have been professionals!

Picture of boat.

A ship called hope.

A Walk to Pedra Furada

February 27, 2007
Day 517

Picture of me.

Me at Pedra Furada.

I went out to the beach at Jericoacoara early this morning. It was quite a nice place, and there were almost no people anywhere. Occasionally, a dune buggy full of tourists would drive past me, but that was about it. There was a large sand dune next to the town that I was told was a popular place to watch the sunset. After a few hours of walking, it got too hot and I had to retreat to a hammock under the veranda of my hotel for the afternoon.

I decided that today I would check out Pedra Furada during the sunset. It was a beautiful 3 KM walk over dunes and grassy hills with lots of grazing cattle and donkeys. Along the way I ran into many people going to the same place as me. They were mostly Brazilians from the south and Italians from what I could make out.

Pedra Furada is a natural rock arch that sits right at the level of the water during high tide. Incidentally, Jericoacoara is the only place in the state of Ceara where the sun sets over the horizon of the ocean. I've seen pictures of the sun passing through the arch of Pedra Furada, but it wasn't possible to see it from that perspective today. The photo must have been taken at a different time of year.

Picture of beach.

The waters around Jericoacoara.

One by one, people would pose for pictures underneath the rock. One lady who must have thought she was a supermodel stayed there for a good half hour while people took photos of her and others angrily awaited their turns. A couple guys walked all the way to the rock with coolers full of coconuts and other refreshments to be sold at three times the normal rate. As the sun went down, people started to clear out and I could take in the scenery alone. It indeed was quite a beautiful place. It's just too bad that it's no longer the secret little remote fishing village that it once was.

The photo album for this entry is here.

A Remote Beach

February 26, 2007
Day 516

The used Brazil guidebook I was lucky to pick up from a lady in Belem lists Jericoacoara as one of the highlights of the entire country, and for that very reason, I wasn't planning to go there. As soon as a remote, little-known place like Jeri makes it into the guidebooks, it tends to become overcrowded with tourists and the prices triple. In a sense, the guidebooks can actually ruin the little gems that were previously the tightly-kept secrets of a few seasoned travelers. But that's just the nature of the beast, and given that I myself am in fact a tourist, there's not much I can do but move on and search for some other unknown place.

But in the case of Jericoacoara, as soon as I got in the town's general vicinity, all of the local people I met started talking about it. They said sure it's crowded with tourists, but it's also one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil. I found a few pictures of the place online and was convinced that I had to check it out personally.

The bus to get to Jeri took most of the day. I thought we had arrived when everyone exited the bus, but I was explained that we were in fact only in the town of Jijoca, and from there we'd have to transfer to another bus for the rest of the trip. Soon a rugged bus/truck with wooden bench seats and no doors pulled up. We threw our luggage on the roof and started down the road. We passed through a few small towns and the road ended. From then on, there was only sand. That explained the transfer to a different bus. The rest of the trip was along the shore through an amazingly beautiful area. The sun was setting over the sand dunes just as we saw a few houses in the distance.

I found a place in Jeri that had camping and set up my tent in the yard. I figured it would be an expensive town so I brought a bunch of food and my tent with me. The town was built directly out of the sand with no paved, or even gravel, roads. There was only a patch of sand between a row of houses. Still, the house I was camping at was modern with electricity, running water, and a television set. We'll see tomorrow just how great the beach really is.

A Hilly Site-Seeing Day

February 25, 2007
Day 515

Picture of people.

Daniela, Edvania, and Lara on top of the hill.

The four of us took off in Daniela's car today and drove through a few towns near Guaramiranga. They were all nice little places with lots of people hanging around without a care in the world. Our first stop was at a church at the top of a hill overlooking Guaramiranga. It was nice but I've seen a million churches in South America already.

Later we drove up and down a series of hills to another town in the area. From there, we went up a steep hill that was almost too much for Daniela's 1-liter Fiat. We inched our way to the top and were rewarded with a great view of the hillside. A lot of other people from Fortaleza were at the top, and Daniela happened to know one group of them from her work. They chatted for awhile and talked about what a small world it was.

We relaxed a for a few hours this afternoon at the campsite. Every inch of the hotel's walls was covered with paintings from the area. The visual over-stimulation hurt my brain so I went outside. The owner had quite a few pets running around, most notably some swans and peacocks. There were also many flowers, a river, and some nice walkways on the grounds. The owner claimed there were two hundred tents set up in his yard for Carnaval last week, which sounded ridiculous given how great of shape everything was currently in.

We drove back to the city as it was getting dark. The trip was a short one, but a much-needed break especially for Daniela, who spends most of her time at the hospital.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Driving to the Mountains

February 24, 2007
Day 514

Guaramiranga is the state of Ceara's version of the mountains. Its altitude of 1000 or so meters may not seem like much, but it's quite high for the people of Fortaleza, which of course is at sea level. Daniela had some time off of her hectic doctoring schedule, so we decided to make the three-hour drive there with daughter Lara and friend Echevania.

The drive took forever, but it was quite scenic. The rolling hills of the Brazilian interior were a nice change of pace from the constant barrage of beaches. We got to a hotel with camping in the back yard just as it was getting dark. We set up our tents near a shelter where we met some other campers from Fortaleza who said it was their first time sleeping in tents. Surprisingly, they were wearing heavy jackets. I thought the weather was pleasantly cool, but the Fortalezans had had felt cold before.

We cooked up a big meal, but it was too late to do much else. We planned to do some sight seeing tomorrow.

Everybody's Going Surfing

February 23, 2007
Day 513

Brazil's main attraction is its beaches, and one of the best activities to do on the beach is to surf. Being from an area that's more known for its frozen lakes than its sunny beaches, I had never tried surfing. I decided it was about time I gave it a shot and took a bus back to Praia do Futuro.

It wasn't hard to find a surf school on the beach. Near the "surf school" sign, a bunch of guys were sitting around, and one of them named Kakou was willing to give me a lesson right away. He was probably a legitimate instructor, but he was overweight, not the body of someone who goes surfing every day of his life. I wondered how much help he'd be if I started drowning.

I walked down the beach awhile with a surfboard under my arm and already felt like a real surfer. We did a brief stretching session and got started with the lesson. Kakou showed me how to paddle with my arms while laying face-down on the board, we walked out as far as possible, and he began swimming next to me. I paddled as hard as I could, but it soon became like Chinese water torture. I'd paddle for about fifteen seconds and move five meters, then a huge wave would come and throw me back four meters. This process kept repeating itself until I was exhausted.

I looked back toward shore and saw that I'd hardly made any progress at all. In fact, Kakau was standing next to me at that point, so maybe I actually was closer to the shore than when I started! I didn't feel like much of a surfer at all at that point. The worst part was seeing a ten-year-old kid who was also learning how to surf paddle right past me and out into the ocean, seemingly unaffected by the waves that were continuously pounding my head in.

Kakau probably saw my frustration because he turned me around and told me to hold on tight. While I was still on my belly, a wave came and pulled me all the way into shore. That part was actually fun. We repeated the process of paddling out and getting sent back in two more times and my lesson was over. I asked Kakou about standing up and actually surfing, but he said I'd have to learn that part later. Then he revealed some good news: I was using a short 6'8" board, which is only a few inches taller than I am. On my next lesson I could use a long board, which should be much easier to paddle. When I asked why I didn't start out with the easier board, he told me that my first lesson just had to be difficult for some unexplained reason. Maybe he's just a sadist.

I didn't drown, so in that regard, my first surf lesson was a success. My back and neck were sore from the waves slamming me backwards, but it was still an alright experience. Maybe I'll try another lesson with a long board before I leave Brazil.

Thursday Crab Night

February 22, 2007
Day 512

Picture of Daniela.

Daniela with her crab.

Thursday nights are traditionally when the locals in Fortaleza go out to eat crab on the beach of Praia do Futuro. Tonight I went with Daniela and her daughter Lara to a nice restaurant which had an appropriate crab theme. Our first dish was shredded, fried crab meat served in a shell. Next, we had a plate of breaded crab claws. Both dishes were delicious. For our third and final plate, we had our work cut out for us. After the waiter made a visit to our table, three whole boiled crabs were staring our way. The food was good, but hardly worth the effort as it took a good fifteen minutes to pick apart each crab. My first Fortaleza crab night turned out to be a success, despite practically having burned more calories than I consumed.

The Beach of the Future

February 21, 2007
Day 511

Picture of Picture of me and Marcelo.

Marcelo and I.

I wanted to check out more of Fortaleza, so today I decided to head to Praia do Futuro, the "Beach of the Future." Once again, I couldn't figure out the confusing city bus system, but luckily somebody at the bus stop told me which one to take.

As soon as I boarded the bus, I wished I hadn't. It was crowded beyond belief, none of the windows were open so it was hot as hell, and there was only one door so it felt claustrophobic. But the worst problem of all was that the ceiling was so low my shoulders were touching it. Normally wherever I go the locals laugh at me when I won't fit somewhere because I'm so tall, but this time they had horrified looks that said "Oh my God, he's really in pain!" The one thing I noticed while looking down at everyone with my kinked neck was that none of them had even close to the same dilemma as me. How could it be that nobody is over 5'6" in this crazy world of ours? After awhile, a seat finally freed up and a lady made me sit in it out of sheer pity. My neck was no longer in pain, but of course the same thing couldn't be said about my knees.

When I first laid eyes upon Praia do Futuro, it became immediately obvious that it was different from the rest of the city beaches. It was clean, empty, and big waves continuously crashed upon its shores. Along the shore, there were restaurants and hotels with hundreds of empty chairs outside. I figured that it either only filled up on weekends, or it really was meant to be used in the future.

Tonight I got together again with Marcelo for dinner. We had pockets of bread stuffed with meat, cheese, veggies, etc. called pasteis. They were a lot like empanadas, but I was ensured that they were somehow different. We finished the night at an ice cream place that offered over fifty flavors, including an unbelievable selection of tropical fruits. Marcelo has an extensive knowledge of Brazil because he has lived and traveled through so much of it. He also lived in Indiana for awhile, so he actually understood what I meant when I talked about the cold weather back home. I don't normally like to visit cities in South America for very long, but I sure am enjoying Fortaleza!

New Friends for Carnaval

February 17-20, 2007
Day 507-510

I was told that Morro Branco was probably the best place to experience Carnaval in the area, so today I decided to head there. With all of the stories I had heard of tourists getting robbed during Carnaval, I decided to travel light: I just had the clothes I was wearing, enough money for the night, and a copy of my passport. I planned to stay out all night and return to Fortaleza in the morning.

After much random wandering around, I found a city bus to take me to the bus station. You would think every bus would go there, but in Fortaleza that was not the case. When I got to the bus station it was crowded beyond belief. Huge lines of Brazilians wanting to flee their city were everywhere. Everyone except me was carrying an overnight bag of some sort. It took awhile, but eventually I found the line for Morro Branco and had to wait an hour to get my ticket. At least the crowded place remained civilized, unlike the slums of Ecuador and Miami.

I found my bus amidst the hundreds about to disembark and was disappointed to find out that all the seats were full. Standing on the bus I realized that everyone was either drunk or getting there. Bottles of booze and Coke to mix it with were being passed indiscriminately all over the place. Finally, the craziest one of them all passed a cup my way and promised me it wasn't poisoned.

Soon I had met Ari and all of his friends on the bus. They told me I shouldn't be going to Morro Branco alone and invited me to stay at their place. We walked to the second home of a retired guy from Fortaleza and hung out for a bit. He had learned a bit of German and English working on the docks, so he was happy to practice them both with me, even though I don't speak German.

A bunch of us went down to the beach where I thought the party would be, but there was almost nobody out because it was raining. I got to try a tasty stingray dish, but nothing else happened. The real party would be tomorrow night, I was told. I had no choice but to accept the invitation to sleep in a hammock at the old guy's house.

The next day was spent mostly at the beach. It was hot and sunny all day, so I got good and burned. The beach was a beautiful place, but it was more full than the beaches in Fortaleza. I wondered why the people even bothered leaving the city. Everyone told me all day how great the party was going to be, but everyone went to bed early tonight. The party will be great tomorrow night, they said. I had to stay another night.

The next day was again spent at the beach, but I also walked all over the small town. When night finally came, so did the big party. A group of us took a mini-bus to the next town and went to a big outdoor concert which had flooded from the town's main square into the streets. We brought along a bag of flour and before long, it was gone and our faces were white along with those of everyone else around us. It wasn't Carnaval in the sense of having a big parade with elaborate costumes, but it still was a good time.

After three days I had to go back to Fortaleza. I had no clean clothes, no money, and only had planned to spend one night at Morro Branco anyway. The people I was staying with tried to convince me to stay one more night, but I wouldn't budge.

I took a bus back to Fortaleza, once again standing the whole way. I got to the bus station with about an hour to go before dark and tried to figure out how to get to the downtown area. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any buses going there (although maybe I just didn't know which bus to look for), so I started walking. I finally found a bus that I thought would take me all the way to the beach, but it just went to another bus station. At that point I only had about twenty cents left so I had no choice but to keep walking.

It was dark and therefore more dangerous by then, but I was still covered with flour, smelly, and only had enough money to buy a piece of bubble gum. In fact, the people on the street were probably afraid I was going to rob them! I eventually found the beach and navigated to Daniela's apartment from there. Somehow I had managed to take in Carnaval for three days with nowhere to stay, no spare clothes, and barely enough money for one night.