After a quick overnight in Macapa (Rochelle’s favorite type of stay, “the gas station”) we boarded the barrage to Belém where our last time sailing down the Amazon proved to be as fascinating as the first one. We never had thought that such a way of transportation would be such fun. On our barrage we were positioned at the very front so, as you can imagine, the Amazon views we had were unparalleled. In Belém our arrival was probably the only thing worth mentioning as the Amazon when approaching the city becomes wide and wavy enough to be a sea and therefore, with the barrage being a flat platform, we ended up with a bumpy ride that made Rochelle lose her sleep (she gets a bit more afraid than me, I guess). As for Belém itself, it was surprisingly non-rewarding (we had thought that, as the biggest city on the river, it would have been at least impressive). Although its streets and parks were shaded by beautiful mango trees, the city itself had a chaotic feel to it. So we stayed here only long enough to stock in supplies before we started our course south. Heading there we drove through the states of Piauí & Maranhão that hold the fame of Brazil’s only north-facing coast.
Here are two of Brazil’s most picturesque colonial stopovers, São Luís and Alcântara that are considered to be a sample of Afro-Brazilian
culture. We didn’t stay in any of them though and just drove through as our main draw in the area was the beaches of Ceará. Spreading for hundreds of kilometers in the state of Ceará, someone can find some of the most stunning beaches in all of Brazil before or after Fortaleza, the state’s fun-loving capital city. After a drive on the coastal route, we arrived in the scenic Delta do Parnaíba that includes a vast collection of high dunes and clear blue lagoons known as the Lençóis Maranhenses, one of Brazil’s northeast highlights. Although we didn’t stay as long as we wanted, off-roading and dune bashing were in our itinerary. Finally and almost on our way out, we got stuck in the sand which proved to be an adventure within an adventure before we continued our route further south.
Two days later we were in Jericoacoara, the hip hangout and for me the jewel of Ceará’s coastline. Known to locals simply as ‘Jeri’, Jericoacoara is uniquely located within a dune-covered national park and it is one of Brazil’s most cinematic destinations. It has that hard-to-reach location (access is only by an unpaved track through the dunes), stunning coastal scenery, fun nightlife and restaurant options. The village has sandy streets only and can be a never ending labyrinth under the noon sun. But no matter how lost you think you are, the end of some magic turn will finally bring you to Jeri’s broad beach. For completing that perfect day at the beach, you need to climb up to Pôr do Sol (sunset) dune where you can enjoy “one of South America’s most stunning sunsets”. In our book we read that “It is here each evening that Jeri’s crowds climb up for the ‘Emerald Sunset,’ which is when the tip of the setting sun turns bright green for the final instant before it slides below the horizon.” As advised, bring your camera. We didn’t see the ‘Emerald Sunset,’ but I guess if you are in Brazil, you’ll need a camera no matter what!!! Keep in mind here that Jeri is closed to unauthorized vehicles, so by being a bit tricky and paying only for the first day’s parking, when you arrive you can get your vehicle-home into one of Jeri’s posadas and sleep in it but do not attempt to drive it around as the fines for unauthorized vehicle use can be huge.
After following the coast and for a while driving literally next to the waves, we got our front windshield cracked by a stone thrown off by an overpassing vehicle. So we had to divert our route back on the tart and end up in the city of Fortaleza for a quick repair. Fortaleza, Ceará’s capital, is one of Brazil’s biggest cities and a magnet for tourists from Brazil and overseas gringos, who come here for its party atmosphere. If you are for some reason stuck here, you might want to consider the city’s beaches. And don’t forget to experience the city’s nightlife that is definitely a lot of fun!!! We had arranged to meet up with Ernesto here, a friend and an overlander that we had met in Lima more than a year ago. As our routes were the same but with the exact opposite direction, it was here we criss crossed paths again. Catching up with stories and common experiences during that year in a neighborhood’s typical bar outside our hostel was more than a pleasant activity so we didn’t bother exploring more of the city. Further south in the coast of Fortaleza, there were many fine beaches backed with dunes, but they were a little too developed and built up for our taste. It’s not until we reached the red-windswept village of Canoa Quebrada that the coast attracted us with its natural majesty. Once a tiny village cut off from the world by its huge pink sand dunes, Canoa Quebrada today is a favorite destination of daily van tours from Fortaleza. The time we were there was a long weekend vacation and that made it even more crowded. Even in these conditions, the sand cliffs and the large dunes still give Canoa an otherworldly feel that makes up for an enjoyable spot to relax for a few days.
Further south we reached Praia de Pipa, another highlight of a beach and one more of Brazil’s magical destinations. “Pristine beaches backed by tall cliffs, dreamy lagoons, dolphin and turtle-filled waters and a great selection of posadas, global restaurants and good nightlife.” Do you need anything else? Exactly like Jericoacoara, Pipa was just another small, roadless fishing village when I was here more than twenty years ago. Am I getting old? Today’s Praia de Pipa rivals Jericoacoara as the Northeast’s hippest beach town and like Canoa, it attracts partiers from Natal, João Pessoa and Recife. With that in mind, we planned to arrive on a late Sunday afternoon when we faced the crowds departing in scary numbers. The next day Pipa’s laid back, eco-independent-traveler friendly vibe was back. Although small in size, it can be hard to get your bearings around on arrival. Be patient and after 24 hours it will feel like home.
Recife (reh-see-fee), the capital of Pernambuco province and our next destination, was a big turning point for our trip. We received a call from my sister that my dad had passed away and we needed to head home to honor him. After his funeral, Rochelle,”my wife”,”the co-pilot” and “spotter” of the team would be heading home to see her family and arrange to get us a job. So upon my return, Voukefalas and I will run the last 4000km of the exhibition on our own before we close the chapter of 11North 55South by boarding the boat back to Europe (Belgium) and then to Greece.
The feel of the trip when I got back was not the same any more. Except my father’s loss I was now without Rochelle as well. I had traveled by myself for a while in the past but having someone to share the experience is something in-replaceable. So heading south seemed to me like an obligatory drive in order to complete what we started. I knew that after Salvador I would need to pick up my pace as the departing date would be getting close. So only a couple of more stops before I reached Salvador were in my itinerary. First was the non tourist Japaratinga where its shallow waters are protected by coral reefs and the beach is lined up with coconut trees and fishing huts. It was a very much needed 3 day stop-over. Then it was the upmarket Praia do Forte, an attractive, ecologically sensitive beach village overflowing with stylish restaurants and shops. Surrounding the village are castle ruins (from where its name comes), a lagoon and a forest reserve. Our guide book mentions that “If you can, time your visit for the full moon and walk along the beach past the resort at sunset, when the sun turns the waters of the Río Timeantube red as the moon rises over the sea”.
Although a world apart, both my stops had their own beauty worthwhile the time spent. Next was the city of Salvador. As I am not a city fun, Salvador only served as a stop by, a small stock up and a quick fix for Voukefalas before I turned back south with direction Montevideo. Now for that, as well as the end of 11North 55South, you will have to wait till our next and final post.
P.S. I would like to dedicate this entire post to my deceased father. Although he did not exactly agree with our long time overlanding life, he was the one that inspired me and taught me in my young years that traveling can give to someone much more education than the world’s best universities would. So long, Dad, wish you “Kalo Taxidi” (safe travel) to your next destination.