March 2, 2007

Healed And Happy
Porto de Pedras, Brazil

It took the better part of a week to do it, but I'm in a good place both mentally and physically—healed from the pains of large cities, tourism, and Carnival.

Although I was preoccupied with catching up on Salvador writings and finishing off the thick novel I had started on my first night in town, I managed to squeeze in two day-trips to the north. The weather is totally hit-or-miss in this tropical region of the world (dumping down rain for an entire day, a cloudless sky the following), and I ended up randomly selecting the best days of the lot to go play/explore.

Porto de Pedras is the end of the road—that's it, you can go no further—unless you take a an aging longboat (puttering along on a 5Hp motor) across the mouth of the river (or perhaps that slightly questionable vehicle ferry). Hiring a boat costs BR$1, or you can ride across on the little car-shuttle boat for free (if a car happens to come along).

Both options take less time to cross the river than to boil an egg. I suppose a bridge could be constructed easily enough, but then the folks who make their living on moving people and vehicles across would be unemployed. Oh, the pitfalls of modernization.

I've been enjoying waking up early this week (by 7:00), but haven't really had a choice in the matter. My window opens to the sea, but also directly in the sight of the rising sun—it's practically impossible to sleep late into the day. Having the extra daylight is great though; the time zone I'm in is a little wacky for how far east this little piece of the continent juts out into the Atlantic Ocean—it's the middle of summer, but is completely dark by 5:30 in the evening.

I heard there was transport to take me to the next town on the other side of the river, but after crossing on my first outing I found none. I put my feet to good use and started walking down the dirt road—sun on my shirtless skin, ocean on my right, coconut palms surrounding me. Very enjoyable.

Occasionally a vehicle would pass me by, which got me to thinking about hitching a ride. I flagged down a motorbike with space for a passenger and climbed on the back.

Some things in this world scare the crap out of me, and after getting on this motorbike I instantly remembered that riding as a passenger on one of these vehicles is one of them. I tried to keep calm (and not throw off our balance) as we zoomed and zagged down the sandy, potholed, road at high speed.

All I could do was put my trust in this complete stranger as the road turned from dirt into cobbled bricks of cement and stone. Visions of us wiping out at 70kmph filled my mind—no shirt, no helmet, stone road—I'd be a mess.

We passed by a whole slew of hotels and pousadas on the way to whatever destination he was taking me to—this side of the mainland (unlike my village) is unobtrusively crammed full of little getaways for vacationing Brazilians with cars.

We pulled up to a collection of other motorbikes upon our arrival in the town of Japaratinga—realizing I had flagged down a passing mototaxi. I paid the man BR$2 for a good 10–15 of travel.

Japaratinga has a population similar in size to Porto de Pedras, but is actually organized into a small town with streets in loose grid and a tiny plaza. It even has an ATM, although not a single Internet café.

I walked around, looked at the ocean (blue at the reefs but rather brown at the shoreline), and popped into a couple stores, but there wasn't anything to really hold my interest. The town was on the cusp of being touristy—no postcards but plenty of bathing suits and sandals for sale. I would say hello to people, but they just weren't as interested in me as those in Porto de Pedras.

I eventually found the main road (coastal highway) that kisses the entrance into town, and waited at a bus stop for something to take me north. I knew the name of the next big tourist destination from fliers at my hostel in Maceió—I expected it to be just up the road.

Maragogi is at least three times the size of Japaratinga, and is a very established town. It draws tourists in from all over the region with photos of the beautiful Galés marine reserve(a stretch of sandbars and reefs 6km offshore). Tours are the item to push on visitors.

I picked up a minibus (kombi) headed to Maragogi (BR$2), sitting shotgun for the 10km ride. The young driver and I had entertaining small-talk along the way, though limited because of the Portuguese.

At this time last year I was living out of a local's home in a banana plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent—and the atmosphere of this entire area reminded me very much of my time spent there. It's a wonderful memory to reconnect with a year later, and is truly a great thing to have discovered in Brazil.

That day I played in the jade green ocean waters and walked the off-white coastline away from the town. I eventually made my way back home by retracing my steps (scary mototaxi included, paying BR$3 for the full journey/adrenaline-high).

The second time I ventured across the river I passed on the waiting motorbikes and decided to walk the 10km to the town and back, stopping along the way to play in the surf as often as I pleased. I figured there was no need to rush, I had the entire day to saunter down the shore and back, and 20km isn't that far to walk in a day.

The sand and salt water has been great for my injured feet/toes—after some careful trimming they look pretty normal again (although one poor piggy did lose half a nail).

I'm leaving tomorrow, and on this, my final night, I'm standing on the shore next to a small hut, looking at the light of a full moon shimmering across the water. The breeze in the air is so overwhelming temperate—it's perfect.

I'm going to miss my stress-free days here, but I know it's time to move on. Tomorrow's journey north will bring new challenges, new adventures, and new memories. Off I go…

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