Friday, November 16, 2007

Beaches, Beaches, and More. Mosqueiro to Cumbuco (Fortaleza)

Rural Brazil..

The center was dry, Diamantina was cool, Lençois was touristy, Belem was hot and humid, plenty of the "real" Brazil, mostly no tourists or associated infrastructure (with the exception of Lençois and Diamantina), now it was time to head for the beaches and the "other" Brazil. Many say the most interesting part of Brazil.

Beach strip in Mosqueiro, PA

We started by heading to the campground in Mosqueiro. As I noted previously Mosqueiro is an island near Belem. It has some excellent beaches which have waves and a tide although more than 150km from the Atlantic ocean. It is also one of the places Belem goes on the weekend to get out of the sticky and hot city. During the week though it is deserted, and the only action is the daily market when the fishing fleet comes in. The beaches range from empty stretches punctuated by a few "Barracas" (Kiosks) selling food and drink, to the city beaches with high rise apartments across the street. Our preference was Praia Paraiso on the norther end of the island. Conveniently the campground was less than a km from this beach! The campground was run by a couple who acted as caretakers for the owner who only came out on weekends to watch over his restaurant on the premises. The beach was nicely deserted during the week, and tolerable on the weekends.

The Brazilian beach preference seems to run to somewhere where they can park their car play music out of the back and have plenty to eat and drink to accompany the tunes. Particularly on the city beaches where they would be cars parked all along the strip, all playing music at deafening levels, making for a very interesting spectacle. The funny thing is that few people were actually in the water. As most other places, this would be reserved for the children.

A steady wind also allowed the wind and kite surfers to practice their art along various stretches of beach, and of course plenty of people playing sand futebol (pronunced futscheebol also known as soccer).

In the end we spent two weeks here, and looking back at it, I am hard pressed to explain why. It was just relaxing, we spent plenty of time on the beach, shopping for food at the market in Vila (Vila de Mosquiero, the main city on the island), practicing our camp cooking, and enjoying a bottle or two of Cachaça (over the two weeks!!). Trying some of the "stranger" delicacies available, such as Açai, maniçoba, tapioca and a variety of fruits available at the market, whose names escape me.

Açai has a very fruity bitter taste and is used in a variety of things from drinks to a sauce served with pretty much anything. Maniçoba, which we tried at a beach kiosk, where they assured us that "tourists" don't like it, was a black soup/sauce with meat in it. It has a salty bitter taste, but is definitely palatable (accompanied by rice). Apparently it is made from the leaves of a plant which have to be cooked for 7 days as it is poisonous otherwise. In Vila there is a whole row of stands selling tapioca in various flavors and methods. Apparently a favorite breakfast food of the locals and tourists alike. We tried "wet" tapioca with coconut, and a "dry" tapioca. The dry tapioca was fried and both were served like a rolled up pancake. I preferred the wet version which had a sauce and therefor easier to get down. The other was chewy but otherwise pretty tasteless.

All good things must come to an end, and we finally dragged ourself away from Mosqueiro. It helped that it has started to rain more and more as the weeks passed. The next stop was 300km away at the first Ocean beach in the area; Salinopolis, or Salinas for the locals.

Corvina beach, Salinopolis, PA

Salinas was great, first it was empty, second the beach was pristine, no kiosks or Barracas to ruin the view (or the sound of the ocean). The beach we stayed at was Corvina beach, a stretch of beach which had a large lagoon in front of the ocean, effectively making two beaches. The lagoon is shallow and can be waded easily at low tide (a little deeper at high tide), to get to the ocean. The waves made us return to town and buy a boogie board! Which we then made good use of during the week that we stayed, so much so in fact, that I had to make various repairs to the board.

There are a couple of other beaches, particular Atalaya beach a few km's away but none had the deserted feel of Corvina. Atalaya turned out to be a wide beach which could be driven on at low tide, with plenty of barracas to provide the necessary liquid refreshments. After a week practicing with out boogie board it was time to move on. The next stop was Sao Luis, which we had been told was a very nice town.

Mosaics in Sao Luis by night, MA

It is indeed a very nice town. The old town is a world heritage site. Not only that, but the beaches are only a couple of km's away. Additionally I read that it is the Reggae capital of Brazil! Something I couldn't confirm, although I did see a couple of "Reggae bars".

The architecture is very interesting (building covered with colorful tiles, and my favorites the street lamps everywhere) and I took tons of pics. The beaches were nice and wide, with plenty of room for quads and 4x4 cars to run around, at high tide there were waves for the surfers and boogie boarders. The water was a bit murky but otherwise very nice. Being a world heritage site, there were plenty of tourists and attractions/shopping for them. A few days of this was enough for us and we continued on to Lençois Marahense which is a national park with huge sand dunes.

Lencois Marahense NP, MA

We made it as far as Barreirinhas which is where the road effectively ends, as past this you need a 4x4. From here we took a tour to the dunes and dune lakes nearby. The price was outrageous for the 10km off road ride to the dunes. The "tour" consists of a walk to two of the lakes, and the ride back and forth, that was it. The price of 20$/p was in our opinion pure highway robbery. Luckily it didn't take anything away from the dunes, which are very beautiful. The lakes between them are very interesting. Apparently, water filters through the dunes and collects in various lakes between the dunes, most of which dry out over the season, but a couple which always contains water. The most interesting sight is where the dunes end directly in the water, making for some spectacular pictures. Also the color of the dunes; snow white, gives the whole area an almost surreal feel.

Sete Cidades NP, PI

Since the track between Barreirinhas was un-passable for us, we had to back track to the main road going to Sao Luis, from there we headed to Piripiri, where we wanted to go and visit the Sete Cidades national park. After passing Piracuruca we entered the park and found out that they had camping there, so we didn't make it to Piripiri. We stayed in the middle of the park and camped at the hotel grounds. The following morning we took a 6 hour walk in 40C heat checking out the park sights. A guide is required, and the one we got is apparently the only "native" guide in the area. Something he would mention on a number of occasions. Native meaning he was born in the park (the last people to leave the park left in 1976, although the park was established in 1961). The park itself was pretty interesting, we saw some animals and plenty of rock formations, which with a lot of fantasy, or a 6 year old could be anything you liked. From giant serpents with scaly skin, to huge elephants, or the profile of some long gone ruler of Brazil. There were even plenty of rock paintings, in mostly geometric shapes, which we speculate were a bunch of pre-historic kindegarden kids just doodling, but what do we know.

Luis Correia, Atalaya beach, CE

Ok, enough sightseeing, now back to the beaches. From Sete Cidades we headed straight north to Luis Correia which was supposed to have a beach camping. No beach camping, but we found plenty of vacation condos for various government institutions, from police to military. In one they allowed us to stay the night for a very reasonable fee, and though the place was a dump we took it. It had an excellent view of the ocean and beach, and had plenty of room for us to spread out. The beach, Atalaia, was for the most part deserted, and looked like it had had its best days quite a while ago. Most of the installation along the beach and across the road were in a pretty bad shape. Empty, abandoned, and being taken over by sand. There are also some spectacular dunes just as you get into Luis Correia from Parnaiba.

After settling in, we went to Parnaiba to have a look. Parnaiba turned out to be a delightful town, with a nice central square, some wide boulevards and is fairly small and compact. it used to be a major port, but since the river silted up and the port moved it has gotten pretty quiet. Nevertheless, it is doing pretty good, judging from the fancy stores and huge houses along the road headed to the beach. When I mean huge, I really mean huge. These compounds take a block, have three entrances and three to four buildings spread around. Must be nice.

Nearby was one of my favorite spots; the Pedro do Sal beach to the north. A long empty stretch of beach which the surfers (all 4 or 5 of them...) take over when the tide is high, otherwise completely abandoned. Even the main area where the kiosks are is overrun by sand, giving it an abandoned look. There are plenty of large sand dunes along the road leading to this beach also.

The day before we left we were stopped by a group of people blocking the road going into Luis Correia, there had apparently been and accident, and when we drove through we saw a small child lying dead on the road. The ambulance and police were there as well as lots of on-lookers, but for some reason no-one had bothered to cover him up. This was to say the least, a horrible sight that I will not soon forget, and made our stay here memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Things didn't get any better, as three days later traveling between Gijoca do Jericoacoara and Cumbuco we saw another accident, this time a young man was lying dead on the roadway early in the morning.

But I am getting ahead of myself, after Luis Correia we headed to Gijoca do Jericoacoara. We took the road along the beach which had some spectacular dune vistas before turning inland. The ride was uneventful, other than the last 70km which was on a very bad sand track, which as anyone who has ever ridden a bike will know, is not fun, specially not on a fully loaded bike. I managed to make it 69.5km before dropping the bike, and twice at that, this only 500 meters from the campground, very annoying. Luckily only my pride was hurt.

Jericoacoara dunes at sundown, CE

The following morning we took one of the frequent trucks to Jericoacoara and spent the day walking around this trendy beach spot. There is little that is Brazilian about it, other than being in Brazil obviously, otherwise judging from the people and languages spoken this could be anywhere from Hawaii to Tahiti.

There are only sand roads in town, but plenty of boutiques, and coffee shops, as well as pousadas and upscale hotels. There is large bay and a constant wind which attracts wind and kite surfers from all over the world. There is also a surf beach nearby. The sunset during high tide in the bay is magical. A lot of people climb up to the nearby giant sand dunes and watch it from there (along with hundreds of others...), we preferred the bay.

It is definitely easy to see why Jeri is so popular with wind surfers, you can literally go 10 meters from your room and jump on your board and off you go (at least during high tide). The apre-surfing is also first class, at least from the look of it. For our tastes though, too many tourists and too expensive. So after the day there we decided to continue on.

The next stop was Cumbuco beach. Someone had recommended that we stop there on our way south, as it has some nice beaches backed by beautiful sand dunes. As I noted previously, on our way there we passed another fatal accident. Something we both hope is not going to be a trend. Cumbuco turned out to be pretty nice if a bit glitzy/ritzy for our tastes. Luckily for us there is a much more affordable beach just next door, namely Tabuba beach.

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