Monday, March 17, 2008

Back from Brazil

Ah... Two weeks on and along the beaches in the north-east of Brazil was nice.

I found a cheap flight from Oslo to Recife, €300 roundtrip! Arriving there, I discovered that Recife is one of those large (3.5 million people) and ugly Brazilian hives of crime (somewhere between 50 and 100 murders pr 100.000 people per year). Although I know it's not that difficult to stay in the city and still avoid becoming part of those statistics, I just don't feel good in places like that.

So, only an hour after arriving, I got on a plane to Fortaleza, further north. It came to about 200 reals, which is only slightly more than the 12-14 hour bus ride would have cost me. GOL has good deals sometimes!

Guess what? It turned out that Fortaleza was ALSO a large and ugly Brazilian city. By then I had spent more than 20 hours in airports and airplanes, so I just made my way to the peaceful haven of the local YHA-HI hostel on the beach near the city centre. Although the beach is nice, the water isn't. It's a good base, though. It's in a safe area, and there are several companies running daytrips and easy transportation to the lovely beaches within striking distance of Fortaleza from there. Never mind that the electrical water heater in the en-suite shower didn't produce any hot water. It did produce terrific electrical shocks, though!

Encouraged by the many smiling faces and large numbers of people out jogging, power-walking, playing football and volleyball on the beach, I did quite a bit of walking around in Fortaleza. I even asked at the tourist information whether it was as safe to walk on the beach as it seemed to be, which they eagerly confirmed. Now, I probably should have specified that I am Norwegian, and I like to walk, and when I start walking, I can keep going for quite a while. But I didn't, I just was happy to learn that I could walk as I pleased.

So I walked. And I walked. For a couple of hours east along the beach. Past the hotel area, past some port and industrial zone, towards something that was signposted as "The Old Lighthouse", which sounded like a nice place to go. I noticed that there were fewer people around, but there were no bullet holes to be seen. Then I noticed that people stared at me. When I stared back, they didn't smile. They "cut" their throat with their hands, and they pointed finger guns at me. Some just wagged a finger at me, indicating that whatever I thought I was doing, I was doing it in the wrong place. This got me slightly worried.

Fortunately, before I could be processed by the local mafia, a police car came to my rescue. With the lights and sirens on they drove right up to me and asked me what the hell I was doing there. Taking a walk, I answered. They let me know that I should really enjoy the walk then, as it was likely to be my last. I then enquired whether it would be possible for me to hitch a ride with them, but for some reason this was not possible unless I committed a serious crime first.

There were no unbroken windows around, so I had a hard time finding something illegal to do. So I just started carefully walking back the way I had come from, with the police following slowly, one meter behind. I felt really, really stupid. After a few minutes I finally found a taxi. The police interrogated him, and satisfied that he would probably not take me away to my death, they left. It cost 10 reals to be taken to "anywhere safe", so I must have walked for quite a while in unsafe neighbourhoods.

Anyway. My walk ended in safety, and I left Fortaleza the very next morning.

I'll recommend that you take a couple of days in the little beach town of Canoa Quebrada (2-3 hours southeast of Fortaleza) if you ever have the chance. But an even better place to go for some peace and quiet on the beach is Jericoacoara, Jeri for short. To get there you first go six hours in a bus to Gijoca. From there it's another hour in a vehicle, but since there is no real road to Jeri, you will do the trip by truck or by 4WD jeep/beach buggy. It's a long way, but it's worth it!

In Jeri you'll have ample access to beaches with noone else on them, mighty dunes with carcasses of cows and donkeys in them, plenty of hippies walking around selling useless stuff they have made, and after a day there you'll have seen it all and feel like you live there. While the heaps of sand are enormous, the dunes are separated by lush, green fields, wits lots of grazing animals and hunting birds. I spent my days just walking around and exploring the coast and the interior. The shifting sunlight made the scenery constantly change, it never got boring. Just wait a few days, and I'll put up the photos to prove it.

The last few days before going home I spent in Pipa, a somewhat larger beach town between Natal and Recife. It's a pleasant place with little to worry about, but you can't really walk around as you please. Much of the land has been bought by European developers, so there are bothersome fences and ferocious dogs in your way wherever you go. But the beaches are nice, with tall, picturesque cliffs bordering them.

I also spent a day in Olinda, the safe town just north of Recife, waiting for my flight home. That's where the government wants the tourists to stay, as signalled by an absolutely ludicrous density of police officers. I haven't seen anything like it outside of Guatemala! But that's okay. Olinda is nice, a very Portuguese colonial town with lots of cozy small streets, colourful houses and a vast number of galleries and workshops. It's one of those places where the artists of the nation gather, like Venice in Italy, Santa Fe in the USA, Paris in France and Visby in Sweden. It's easy to spend time there.

Anyway, I'm home and I have had a nice trip! Also, my book seems to be doing well. Lots of people download it, and some have even decided they want to pay for it! The online bookstores' systems still haven't received notice of my ISBN, so until that happens, I'm not really marketing the book. But to those of you who have made your way here anyway, I'm really happy to see you!

I'll be back with more details as soon as I've gone through the 1000+ photos I took in Brazil... See you!
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