BRAZIL MY DREAM. CHAPTER 1
Updated: Jan 28
I remember where this dream came from. Back in Dubai, when we just started dating, the Chef and I went to the cinema to watch the cartoon "Rio". I then said that I dreamt to go to Brazil for the honeymoon. The Chef replied, "Why not, let's go!"
Brazil is a huge country (5th in the world by area) that makes the size of a few Europes, to make it clear. Thus, when the question came where exactly in Brazil to go, we were completely lost. Most tourists go to Rio or to the Iguazu falls. We ended up by going to the East and the North of the country, which are relatively non-touristic areas, or rather, they are not popular among intercontinental tourists. We were almost the only European travelers throughout our whole trip, but there was no lack of Brazilian tourists. Our destination was dictated partly by an economical calculation (we landed in Recife, the closest city to Europe and thus the cheapest), which was important for us because we were traveling during very expensive winter holidays, and partly, by the Chef's parents' recommendation who had been to the region before and loved it.
So here is our route: Paris => Recife (Olinda) => São Luis (+Barreirinhas+Atins) => Recife => Porto do Galinhas => Sao Miguel dos Milagres => Paripueira => Recife (Olinda) => Paris
The first thing that defines a country is definitely its people who in their turn form the customs and traditions, the cultural identity, the mentality and everything else we know the country for. After 15 days that we spent in Brazil, of course I cannot say that I understood or even vaguely got to know the locals. But here are a few observations.
Brazil after the USA is probably the largest melting pot of different nationalities that I know. It is a curious mix of indigenous people, descendants of Portuguese colonizers (who unlike their counterparts in America, didn't mind marrying local women), black people of African origin brought initially to Brazil as slaves and of course Europeans, especially the Germans who migrated to Brazil after WWII. This is just a sketch of the population mix, which in reality is much richer. This explains why there is actually no typical physical appearance in Brazil. Literally anyone could be Brazilian! Without any hesitation the locals talked to us in Portuguese and when The Chef asked them in Spanish where they thought we came from, they said, perhaps, Argentina.
Unfortunately, to this day in Brazil there is still a lot of racism against the black population. On the TV for example you would rarely see a black presenter and in a posh beach club where we went black ladies are only nannies for the white families...
The image of a beautiful tall mulatto girl with long black hair and curvy forms turned out to be more of a collective image than the reality, although I don't have a doubt that there is no lack of fantastic Brazilian women that make our men stay in this Latin country forever. It's just that we did not have a chance to meet any. The women that we crossed with were mostly roundish (but with no signs of complexes about their bodies as they were generously exposing them) and curvy, especially on the lower part! I swear, I have never seen so many amazing butts! My bottom part as compared to theirs is like a frisbee disc versus a soccer ball. To make myself feel better, I'm still doubting if they were real. All these treasures, as I have already mentioned above, were slightly covered by a very small piece of cloth called a Brazilian bikini. One Brazilian girl once told my friend (whose boyfriend by the way also comes from this great body-cultivating country) that a one-piece swimming suit is no better than a burkini. And I have to say, beyond the beach, local girls do not cover themselves much more either. To be fair, most of the men matched their ladies wearing short skinny swim-wears that almost distracted attention from their muscled torses. Well, all of this just to say that The Chef and I were not really in the local taste.
We did not have much chance to interact with the locals, but they were very nice to us, however not showing much interest for us either. Not once did our presence provoke more excitement in a restaurant or a hotel that the one of a normal client. And to be honest, it is pleasant when you do not want to feel like a typical tourist, so different from the local people that they either benefit from it taking you for an idiot, or make you feel like a monkey in a zoo taking pictures of you all the time (I'm sure that those white women who have travelled in China or India would know what I mean).
If we did not talk much with the locals, it is mostly for a real communication problem. Brazilians, especially those who are 40 years old and more, mostly do not speak English at all, so unless you speak Portuguese, you have little chance to get understood. Luckily, The Chef speaks some Spanish, otherwise I wouldn't even be able to order food at a restaurant. Once a waitress asked me, "Bebe(r)?" (the R seemed silent) and I was afraid she thought I was pregnant ("bébé" in French means "baby"). For those who don't know, "beber" means "to drink". After we came back home, I was so embarrassed by my ignorance, that I started learning Spanish. Yes, I know it is not the same language, but you wouldn't argue that the Spanish is more useful, right?
In general, we had an impression that the people in this country were not that different from us, the Europeans, despite the ocean, history and culture separating us. At least we could relate to the Brazilians a lot more than to the Asians.
Here again, I saw perhaps only a tiny bit of the rich Brazilian nature, but even this bit was very diverse. From the desert to the jungle, from rivers, to the ocean, from beautiful beaches to exotic fauna. We started our trip in the extreme Eastern part of Brazil, Recife, where we only spent one night and moved on to the North, São Luis. Located on an island, separated from the rest of the country by a river, the city cannot boast of beautiful beaches as the river flowing into the ocean colors the water in brownish. However, we did not come there for the beach.
Our primary attraction was a wonderful national parc with white sand desert Lençois Maranhenses. Lençois is translated from Portuguese as "bed sheets", so you would imagine white flat sandy fields, but it is not exactly what it is. And for us, having lived in Dubai, the "classical" desert is not the biggest attraction. In reality high dunes are separated from one another by natural pools of blue water. So if you look at the desert from the bird-height view, it looks like the beach under the loop once the wave retreats for a few seconds and leaves the bare sand covered with tiny water pools in-between.
We knew that December was not the best month for visiting the famous parc as it is the end of the dry season when the lagoons dry out. However, we were really eager to take the risk and see this natural wonder, even if not at its best. December is considered to be the last dry month in the North before the arrival of the rain season, but we witnessed its beginning during our short stay in Lençois Maranhenses. It rained only occasionally but the sky was almost always covered, making the desert look dramatic and threatening, a little bit like in the video clip of Noir Desir "Le Vent nous portera".
The trip to Lençois Maranhenses is not easy but it is absolutely worth it! We booked an organized tour from São Luis with our pousada "Portas da Amazônia".
- Five-hour mini-bus trip to Barreirinhas, the closest town to the main entrance to the desert;
- A one-hour jeep safari transfer to the desert with a guided tour (you don't have the right to go the natural parc by yourself);
- 1 night in Barreirinhas in a hotel reserved by the tourist company;
- Half-day private boat tour to Atins with 3 stops on the way including the Small Lençois (smaller part of the parc), a lighthouse and an ocean beach;
- 2 nights in Atins in the hotel of our choice;
- 1 hour boat trip back without stops, followed by a big tourist bus trip back to São Luis.
Below is the map of our trip. The thin blue lines that I have added myself show the parts of the trip covered by boat. Don't be surprised when you see Alcantara as I haven't mentioned it yet, I will talk about it in the next chapter about towns and cities.
In fact, what I liked most about the trip to the desert is not the destination, but the trip itself. Not that Lençois Maranhenses was not at the height of our expectations (as I said, having decided to arrive their off-season, we did not event think we would see any lagoons at all) - this pearl of nature is truly magnificent. However, when you get there in a group, accompanied by a tourist guide and you only get to visit one pool with a hundred of people inside, you feel at best like a part of a herd. There are definitely more private ways of visiting the national parc, but also much more expensive. Either way, what we really enjoyed is the off-road route to the desert by jeep that takes you through the bushes. And then suddenly all vegetation stops and you see only the sand mountains all around. Also, the boat trip the next day through the mangrove forest river made us discover the landscapes we had never seen before. Our Brazilian captain did not speak a word in Spanish/English, but told us a lot about the local flora and fauna. Not that we understood much, but appreciated the gesture :)
Atins was a complete discovery for us. We have heard from The Chef's parents and multiple blogs that it was a "must" destination if you have reached as far as Barreirinhas. Nonetheless, when we arrived there, we were afraid we had made a mistake to book two nights in the village. The village consists of one street with a dozen of pousadas (guest houses), two-three restaurants and a long beach stripe. "Street" is probably too ambitious of a name as there are no roads there, only sand everywhere. When we reached Atins, the sky was still grey and it was windy, but not enough to do kite-surfing although the village is famous among the fans of this water sports. But the new day cleared the sky and we could enjoy 2 days of a very slow, sun-dictated rhythm of life with good food and plenty of caipirinhas on the beach. The good weather also allowed us to learn to harness the wind and the waves with a kite. Well, actually I was the only one to learn as The Chef just needed to refresh his skills. This turned out to be a more laborious and time-consuming task than I thought. At the end of a one two-hour lesson you do not get to stand on the board, but can already try steering your kite in water and feel the strength of the wind that can easily lift and drag you five meters away in a matter of two seconds. We decided that one day we would go for a week-long holidays and take a proper kite-surfing course, but for now it was an excellent opportunity for me to have the first taste of it.
Our first week was not only about adventures and kiting. We also visited some amazing colorful cities with the old colonial architecture, but I will tell you about them in the next chapter. Brazil is way to big to put it all on just one page...