For an European the lack of long-distance trains and hence the opportunity to watch the countryside fly by outside your window while relaxing in your seat eating some snack is disappointing. Having made one of the three remaining long trips myself – from Curitiba almost to Paranaguá – and loving it, I recommend this small article in today’s English section of the Folha de SP, “Across Brazil by train”.
Let’s start with a confession: the first book I have ever read was in a Mickey Mouse Comic book that my grandmother had just given me. „Aua“ I read and I was mighty proud, because I had only just started with school and only new the „a“ the rest of the word I guessed more than I read. Still I was proud and I kept on reading Disney comics for many more years in my life. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had an important role in my childhood, because whenever I was sick and had to stay in bed, my mother would go shopping and promised me to bring me a surprise – which almost always turned out to be a comic book. I read these things until I was a teenager, when I slowly grew out of it. When Disney opened their Disneyland Paris in 2005 I was maybe already too old to care. Since today I have never imagined to visit one of the theme parks and I hope I will never have to go there, even with a child, since I have become quite critical of the Disney ideology.
The Brazilian Obsession with Disney
But since I lived in Brazil I have talked about Disney World or short “Disney” in Orlando/Florida more often that I would’ve ever imagined. And I find this fascinating. I remember coming to Brazil after having spent some months in Central America a decade a ago and thinking: “wow, Brazil seems almost as European as Central America seems to be influenced by the US”. And not only because of the US involvement in Brazil during the military dictatorship, I know that many Brazilians see the US quite critical. But this seems to stop, when it comes to Disney. When Brazilian adults tell me, they have been to the US, chances are very high, that they visited Disney World in Orlando/Florida. And when Brazilians have children, chances are very high again, that they want to take them there. And they speak of this not with a single bit of embarrassment or apology, it seems to be the most normal thing of the world, to leave a giant country, filled with amazing nature and crazily beautiful beaches only to spend their time in an artificial and kitschy dream land for children. I find this very strange, but I have come to accept it as one more curiosity, Brazilians are full of.
A week ago in Itacaré I was lying in the small pool of our Pousada in the late afternoon, cooling down from another nice day at the beach. With me in the pool was an older couple and we talked a bit about the kindness of Brazilians (usually great) and its nature (stunning). They were from the interior of Bahia and spent a week on the coast at the beaches. They pointed out how nice their hometown is, and that there were a lot of waterfalls in the woods around which are nice to visit.
The next day my wife and me were visiting a nearby waterfall and though it is one of the tourist hotspots around Itacaé, there were only about six other people enjoying a bath in the cold but amazingly clean waters of a pretty waterfall. Funnily there was yet another couple from our Pousada. We talked a bit and it turned out that they are from the capital Brasilia and came to spend some days at the beach as well. But they reassured me, that Brasilia is quite a nice city worth visiting (no doubts about that) and that there are a lot of beautiful waterfalls around the city which make good weekend getaways.
Brazilians seem to be obsessed with waterfalls. As if the 8000 kilometers of coast-line are not enough, Brazilians have to look for more places to have fun with water. This leads to strange encounters, I remember when I was walking through the woods of Ilha de Santa Catarina with a friend, climbing over rocks and through bushes on a tiny trail, that was said to lead to a nice waterfall. As Germans we were well prepared, wearing walking boots or at least sneakers. But when we arrived at the small and rather unspectacular waterfall we met a dozen Brazilians who had hiked up here wearing nothing but Havaianas and shorts – the usual beachwear – already taking a bath in the cold river water.
Brazil has some amazing territories for hiking, though it generally lacks infrastructure due to the lack of interest of Brazilians to go out there and hike. So if you like to hike, you mustn’t be bothered by the lot of people on the first part of the way, especially when many of them seem not to prepared to hike at all. They wont. What will happen is, that they will walk to the next waterfall, take a bath, spend some time and then head back to where they came from. If your trails goes beyond the waterfall, chances are very high, that you will be all by yourself after you left the pool of fresh water (and maybe full of Brazilians) behind you. It’s a beautiful country to explore and full with mysteries as well.
One of my most favorite places in Germany is Rügen, the big island in the Baltic Sea. I love to spend spring, summer or autumn weekends there – the relaxed tranquility and the nearby ocean as well as the friendly people make me very happy. But I have to admit all of this is nothing compared to Itacaré.
On the way to Bahia
It has been a while since the last post but I have a very good excuse: I have been to Itacaré. And after being there, you are not the same anymore. The magical Itacaré lies about 1800 kilometers northeast of Santos (Brazil IS a really big country) and to get there my wife and I had to take a taxi to the bus terminal in Santos, a bus to the airport in São Paulo, a plane to Ilhéus (hometown of famous author Jorge Amado) and another taxi for the last 65 kilometres. And when I say “plane to Ilhéus” you shouldn’t get a wrong idea, because while the plane was a regular Boeing the airport itself seemed like a relic from last century: a tiny building and the runway nested between a big river and the ocean. And about 200 meters from the terminal starts the ocean and the beaches and consequently there is a sign at the entrance to Ilhéus airport not allowing people without shirts into the terminal.
The drive to Itacaré takes about an hour and goes along the coast with access and view to many beaches. The small town of Itacaré lies on a the peninsula of Maraú which is famous for its beaches, some of them small and pocket-sized jewels, others stretching for kilometers lined with palm-trees. Many of them are completely undeveloped. But Itacaré itself has a touristic infrastructure. A part of the city consists mainly of Pousadas and some hotels, but all of them are small in size and situated in a dense forest area and almost invisible. There is a main tourist road in the city which is lined with travel agencies to book your next trip and restaurants to eat the amazing Bahian food, but everything happens on a rather small scale. And above all lies an amazing calmness, the whole town has a hippiesque aura of amazing relaxedness.
Beaches. Beaches. One more beautiful than the other
There is of course not a lot to do. But there are the beaches to visit, some beaches to drive to and some boat trips you can do (to see more natural wonders or some whales in winter). But Itacaré is mainly about hanging out on the beach, surfing and eating the amazing Bahian food. Whether it is one of the tasty Moquecas (a pot with tasty fish or seafood, coconut milk and spices) or a piece of amazingly fresh grilled fish – everything we ate was very good, and that specially includes several delicious Casquinha de Aratu (small portions of meat from Aratu, which is a local crab). And of course you can’t forget to drink! My tip: forget about beer (most Brazilian beer is made with genetically modified corn anyways and does strange stuff to my stomach) and stick to Caipriniha. My newest experience was Caipirinha de Cacau, made from the fresh Cacau fruit whose slightly bitter taste goes very well together with vodka!
And incredibly friendly people
Oh, one more thing. I know it is an incredibly cliché and that Bahia is a poor state, but the people I have met there were all so incredibly friendly, that it is impossible not to like them. Even the people I met there who had moved to Bahia from São Paulo (state) some years ago were incredibly friendly. Basically everyone. This peaceful place, the friendly people and the perfect weather (between 20 and 30 degrees all year) create a very special atmosphere, which I absolutely loved and which I will try to find out more about in my next book by Jorge Amado. But now and without writing much more, here are some holiday impressions from my new favorite tropical paradise:
- Going to the beach in the morning and watching a girl doing Yoga in the shallow and calm water of the ocean at Praia da Concha.
- Lying on the “main” beach of Itacaré with calm waters that appeal to families and stand-up-paddlers. A small row of beach-chairs with “Barracas” behind line the small stretch of sand between the ocean and the forest. Lying in the beach chairs you look over the bay where the river (Rio das Contas) streams into the ocean and watch the first 6 kilometres of an totally empty and undeveloped beach, which stretches on for more than 60 kilometers.
- Floating in the pool at night, watching the stars in the sky.
- At one of the surfer’s beaches in the afternoon (with maybe 5 surfers in the waves and about 20 people watching and swimming). A woman arrives at the beach with her mother who is pushing a cart with a girl of maybe three years. The mother of the girl is about fourty years old and carrying a surfboard. She tells her daughter to play with grandmother and then slowly gets into the waves and starts to surf, like so many other locals to at the end of the day.
- Watching Capoeira at the beach.