Naked and Happy
This country has got me on an emotional roller coaster—tears of frustration turned tears of joy in but a single day.
Relocating out of Olinda was smoother, albeit more expensive, than expected. Four hours of travel brought me to my destination, a small village 12km north of Brazil's only official nude beach: Praia de Tambaba.
My guidebook says that Jacumã is a small, quaint fishing village with a population of 2,000. Well, this might have been true a over half a decade ago, but these days Jacumã is a very different place—my guess is a permanent population closer to 10–15,000 in the greater area.
I've traveled less than 200km from Porto de Pedras, but the environment has changed significantly. Gone are the endless jungles of coconut palm trees, replaced instead with dry, sandy soil, host to low-growing shrubs and diminutive trees. The environment reminds me of Phoenix, Arizona or Mendoza, Argentina, but with an ocean view.
When I mentioned the population I used the word permanent, because what the greater Jacumã area has above all else are small hotels and pousadas—more than I can count—tucked away everywhere you look. I imagine the population of this area triples when a big Brazilian holiday rolls around.
The town is calm and generally absent of tourists. The weeks following Carnival are sure to be relaxed ones, as the Brazilians are back at work (and not traveling around on holiday). There are no banks, street lights, or radio stations.
The topography of the area is that of meandering hills, and with no tree density it's easy to see into the distance. Homes outside of town have been built on the gradual slopes leading to the ocean—roofs of red tile and white concrete dot the landscape, giving off a Mediterranean vibe.
Internet research before arriving turned up a pousada for the right price, but finding the place turned out to be an adventure in itself. There are no addresses in this town—just a few paved streets and a collection of dirt roads that cut across the dry countryside. I had little more to go on than a name.
I finally found the Pousada Onze Praias in a collection of rural homes, about a kilometer away from the coast. The place looked rather abandoned, and I wasn't sure if the hotel was even open. There were no guests or staff on the compound, just a woman in her 50's that liked to quietly ramble/mumble to me and herself in Portuguese. She was obviously waiting, said the hotel was open, and something about Recife (perhaps the owners took a day-trip).
It was two hours shy of sunset, and I couldn't wait forever, but decided I would wait for an hour or so. I strung up one of the hammocks on the individual patios in front of the empty rooms and dozed for a half hour in the relaxing breeze—no humidity, so nice.
Just as I had put my backpack on and was walking out the gate as car drove up with a family inside—the proprietors had returned—good timing. The woman wanted to put me up in a simple (but spacious) BR$25 room, but I told her the collective room with bunk beds for BR$18/night would do just fine (I knew chances that I would have to share the room with anyone were pretty much slim to none).
The room is perfect for me. It, like the others, is spacious, has a wardrobe that I can lock my backpack inside of (as was recently done in Salvador), a private bathroom with a hot-water shower, good ventilation, and a hammock for me to lounge in on the patio—I really couldn't ask for much more.
Jacumã is my kinda place. It's the sort of town where I'll never wear a shirt, and the only clothes I'll probably ever be seen in are my board shorts. The air is hot, dry, and crisp (like Arizona), but the ocean and the constant breeze kicking off of it (and rolling way up into the hills) keeps the temperature exceedingly comfortable.
The 15 minute walk into the central part of town is close enough to be convenient, but far enough away to feel secluded. Walking back home after dusk, in the absence of street lights, a sky full of stars helps to illuminate my path.
It was my brother's 25th birthday this first evening in Jacumã. And although I never feel aged on my own birthday, his consistently make me feel old. I suppose it's the thought that two years had passed since I was that particular age—memories of what I was doing and where I was living at that particular instant in time come rushing back. I usually look on the bright side though, reflecting on how much I've learned and experienced in those two short years.
Happy Quarter Century, Glenn.
Mosquitoes and Misinformation
I awoke last night at 1:00, my body under attack. It takes a lot to wake me up theses days, and for mosquitoes to have done so after I'd been asleep for three hours (a deep sleep stage) should illustrate how bad it was.
I turned on the lights, grabbed a flashlight (for additional hunting illumination), and started slapping and clapping at the little blood bandits as best I could. By the time 15 minutes had elapsed I had killed at least a dozen of them—my palms stained red and black with blood and carcases.
I was an itching wreck, my feet and arms littered with bites. I dug into my little medical stash and pulled out a Benadryl to help with the scratching (and hopefully put me back to sleep). While I was at my backpack I ripped everything out of it so that I could get to the gear at the bottom. From the lowest layer I withdrew the mosquito net donated to me in Colombia.
I've been carrying this thing around with me for a while, but have actually never had a reason to use it (until this night). I switched from the top bunk to the bottom so that I could string the net up above my head without screwing anything into the ceiling. I got myself situated, and slept the rest of the night without issue (undoubtedly aided by the Benadryl).
I awoke at 7:00, went outside, strung up the hammock on the little porch in front of my room, and dozed for another half hour before the owner lady came over asked if I wanted breakfast.
As I've mentioned before, the Brazilians love a good breakfast, and this pousada really put out quite the spread for me (quite the surprise). I'm not much of a breakfast guy per se, but when you put fresh fruits; crackers; coffee; hot milk; cold, just-blended fruit juice; sandwiches of bread, cheese, and meat; and a plate of eggs in front of me (price included in the room), I tend to indulge.
Later this morning, after getting prepped for the beach, I asked if she could tell me when and where the transport to Praia de Tambaba departed. Her Portuguese is easier to understand than most, and she informed me the buses only run on the weekends—crap. That was a problem, as the nude beach is a good dozen kilometers away. We talked about other beaches and types of transport, but nothing was looking promising.
Now let it be known that I can be a rather skeptical person when it comes to getting news I don't want to hear, so I walked over to a BR$70/night hotel on the way into town and asked them the same question. Well, wouldn't you know it, four buses a day make that route every day of the week. Unfortunately the next morning bus after 7:00 was somewhere around 11:30, which meant that I had several hours to kill.
I explored the center of town and walked along the beach, noting the exposed and worn rocks on one section of the coast. A few fishing boats bobbed in the green ocean waters, just a few dozen meters off shore. A constant, gentle breeze pushed against my face as I jumped in and tested the water—the temperature warm enough to be pleasant, cool enough to be refreshing.
Let's Get Naked
I picked up the passing bus at 11:20, bound for Tambaba, which I soon discovered was the end of the road. There's no town or village, just a sharply descending road that leads to the beach and small parking area. I looked to the north before walking down, noticing the kilometers of empty coastline.
This is what my guidebook has to say on Praia de Tambaba:
The beach, considered to be among the top 10 in Brazil, is divided into two parts: one section is reserved exclusively for nudists, and the other is clothing-optional. To prevent problems, the nude section has public relations officers who explain the rules to bathers. Men are not allowed in the nude section unless accompanied by a woman. Interestingly, lesbian couples are permitted but gay male couples are not (unless accompanied by women).
I really didn't know what to expect—the image of a concrete barrier dividing a pristine beach had come to mind when reading this description. This was far from the reality at hand though.
Now I'm not sure who's doing the Brazil's Top 10 Beaches critique, but I think they need to fire him and have another look at this place—not one of the finer beaches I've seen.
I now saw how the beach was divided between the two different zones—natural alcoves had been created by dozens of decades of erosion, and this particular pair was secluded enough to restrict access (with the help of some razor wire along the ridge, I noted).
I walked along the surprisingly short stretch of clothing-optional beach to the restricted stairs, leading to the nudist area. An quirky man stood up from his chair, behind a bunch of trinkets for sale, and stopped me (confirming that I wasn't allowed to enter without a woman).
We start chatting—I'm trying to get a feel if he'll break the rules, or what his price would be to do so—and eventually get him to at least show me the beach. The naturally isolated strip of shore wasn't anything special—perhaps half a kilometer long and 50 meters deep, with a nudist pousada/restaurant buried in the vegetation in the middle of the alcove—and almost totally devoid of people (I counted four in the distant shade).
We retreated to the other side, which I learned was no longer clothing-optional these days, but clothing-mandatory. As the man lit his cigarette with a magnifying glass (neat), he replied to my query that groups of one woman and two men were fine.
Knowing this I asked an approaching (aging) couple if I could accompany them over to the other side, which the "guard" wasn't particularly pleased with, apologizing to the folks. I'd have to do my hunting away from the stairs.
Finding a female to go over with wouldn't be a problem if the beach was busy, but it was dead, and I wanted to get some nude sunbathing in. I walked off and instantly thought of the long stretch of beach leading north that I could take advantage of.
The path was worn, but still took some pushing through the brush and three alcove jumps before I descended and made it to the big beach. Four kids with a surfboard were just heading into the water when I walked past—other than that, no one in sight. A pair tire tracks were left in the sand from a drive taken earlier in the morning.
I walked for a couple hundred meters before finding some very interesting and colorful rock formations, with a likewise bold assortment colors found on the sides of the ridge behind them. This entire stretch of beach has an eroded cliff made of varying colors. I liked the scene and the seclusion the rocks offered, so I setup for the afternoon and stripped…
I'm a beach lover at heart, and for me, being naked on the beach gives me the same sensation as skydiving—a smile like none other. There's nothing like sunning, swimming, and walking around naked on a beach. No clothing to bunch up as you exit the water, no tan lines, and no separation between you and nature. Being alone in this section of beach was doubly great because I could walk away from all my gear without fear of anyone snatching my camera, music, or cash.
Well, I wasn't totally alone—I had my eyes shut and was listening to music most of the time, but on a few of the occasions when they were open I caught one passing vehicle and two separate groups of three people atop the ridge just above me.
The SUV didn't seem to acknowledge my presence as it passed by, one group I noticed as I was swimming, and the other seemed too preoccupied with taking photos of each other (arms spread out like a Rio Christ statue) to look down and see me laying there naked. I don't know how you could be so unobservant as to not notice something like that.
The people posing for photos gave me the itch to do the same, so I tossed the camera on a timer and had a blast doing all sorts of zany stuff in front of it (cart-wheels, jumping off boulders and into the frame, etc). Some I'll share, most I won't.
The return bus to Jacumã departs from the road above Praia de Tambaba at 4:00 in the afternoon—allotting just enough time to play for the day without overdoing it (especially since the sun is so weak after 3:00). If the tide had come in any further I might have been looking at a tricky maneuver to navigate the trio of alcoves.
Back At Home
As I'm sitting on the floor of my room, typing this, I've already killed the 11 mosquitoes that have come close to me—lining their bodies up on the grout of the floor tiles, one after the one. I don't understand where they're coming from, the room is sealed shut. Thank God for the mosquito net over my bed—an asset in the pack of every serious traveler.
In terms of my top four environmental factors (mentioned in the previous post), Jacumã is doing great—dare I say the best location I've lived at in Brazil yet. With my mosquito proofing in place, my accommodations are very pleasant; transport consists of my two feet and the bus to Tambaba (route schedule confirmed); the Internet access is the cheapest I've seen in Brazil (BR$1.50/hour); and the combination of a massive breakfast provided by the pousada and a good market more than satisfy all my food requirements.
I guess you would say that I'm pretty impressed, although still wish I could shave a few dollars off the projected US$12–15 a day that I'll probably spend. US$10/day or less is always the goal, but I'm too happy right now to give it much thought.
I'm totally content keeping this up as the drill for the rest of the week—nice breakfast, walk around town, tan naked in the afternoon, do a little reading or writing in the evening, and start it all again the next day with a smile. If I had a girl to share in the Jacumã experience with me, it'd be perfect—but sometimes the life of a solitary traveler is just that: solitary.