March 15, 2007

The 10-Day Itch
Pipa, Brazil

I can't even hit the two-week mark these days without feeling the desire to move on.

I have serious maybe the grass is greener issues. Beaches, cities, women, cultures, continents—is it normal to always be looking over the proverbial fence, looking next door for something better?

I change cities in Brazil like I'm flipping through radio stations, hoping the next will be an upgrade. I'm too curious to stay put for long.

Even if it's not a good move, the sensation of leaving will be pleasurable. It isn't because I don't like Jacumã (a real love it or hate it kind of town), but because I enjoy reflecting what I've learned as I leave a place. Another city analyzed and experienced—onto the next.

A Natural Naturalist

Who would've thought it, but I'm nudist—or is that naturalist?—I get a little hazy on the wordplay. I'm naked, they're naked, everybody's naked. I don't care, they don't care, no one cares. Naked and happy.

Dad says I have this in common with his generation. I'm a naked old man on the beach in training. Add another 25 years of wear to my body and I'd fit right in with the typical naturalist scenes I've been exposed to (…if you'll forgive the pun).

Except for those two initial days on the beach north of Tambaba, I've been sunning inside the clothing-free zone every day. Not just laying in the sun alone, but actually chatting and socializing with the folks (and all that jazz). Sometimes I truly forget about the whole naked thing—I'm just that comfortable.

My tan line? Nearly a thing of the past.

Strange Schedule

I've had the oddest sleep schedule recently. Ever since Porto de Pedras my body has been closely following the rise and fall of the sun. That is to say, almost every day since Carnival I've been asleep by 9 or 10:00 in the evening, and up no later than 6—usually somewhere around 5:00. This is absolutely nuts for a night-owl like myself.

With the hours I've been keeping, I feel like I'm camping—and the mosquito net over my bed of late just makes the sensation I'm feeling all the more tangible. The mosquitoes—they're at the heart of why I'm in bed so early.

What Jacumã lacks in humidity it makes up for with flying pests—flies in the morning, mosquitoes in the evening. Each night by 7 or 8:00 I'm driven out of the lovely evening air and indoors to escape the bites. I'll write for a bit, but soon have nothing better to do than go to sleep.

The dreams I've been having (on this schedule) are absolutely wild. I don't typically remember my deep sleep sessions, but every night I've gone to sleep at this early hour has left me with intense experiences to recover from. Once or twice I've awoken to find myself overwhelmingly thankful that the ordeal I was going through wasn't real.

Interesting People

Loads of interesting people have been encountered since my arrival in Jacumã, but some deserve to be mentioned.

Earlier this week a German on a massive motorbike rolled up into the pousada, looking for the campsite he found mention of on the Internet. Pousada Onze Praias does indeed have an adjoining lot for camping, but it's in poor shape (too many weeds to be of use). Lord how I want to take over management of the place—I could have it filled 80–90% of the time without problem.

The German, Thor, ended up putting up his tent on the sandy volleyball court (net missing) instead. This man physically looked every bit the part of a WWII trooper, and would be absolutely terrifying to find yourself in front of him with the receiving end of his Mauser pointed at you. I just wanted to hug a veteran after mental image like that.

This man turned out to be one of the most interesting travelers I've encountered on this continent, and we chatted for many hours that evening. I discovered that he was 40 (although he looked 30), spent a decade in the military as a German Navy Seal (specializing in sea-mine disarmament), a former resident of Spain, and that after selling his diving business on a Spanish island in the Mediterranean spent the last two years traveling from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and back up the eastern coast by any means but bus/plane (from bicycle to horse to ATV).

He was heading north, planning to kayak up the totality of the Amazon River, before returning to Brazil to live (and perhaps open a 2-week coastal motorbike touring business for well-off tourists from Europe). He'd already motored up the coast from Uruguay himself, looking for a new home and a fun path for his future clients.

A few days before Thor arrived, a trio of (unattractive) Brazilians from Recife showed up for the weekend, and I ended up catching a ride with them on Sunday to the nude beach of Tambaba. One of the women was all touchy-touchy with me (most unwelcome), and I was trying my best to keep her from making any physical contact with my person.

I was taking a dip in the ocean, dealing with her conversation attempts by replying to her in English (which she spoke none of), when I was saved by another woman who broke in by asking where I was from (in English). Her husband joined in on the conversation shortly thereafter, ridding me of the unwanted woman who was shut out of our English-only conversation.

Mario and Elizabeth

I came to know Mario and Elizabeth, established members among the naturalists, over the next few days. They were from Rio, but Mario looked rather Pakistani (with French mannerisms) and his wife the classic image of a French painter. Most every day they would pick me up and drop me off at my pousada (as they traveled to/from their second home in the city of João Pessoa, about an hour north). It seemed that I had happily been adopted by my naturalist friends.

It turned out that both were very well traveled, lived in Switzerland and France for about two decades, and spoke five languages with confidence. Mario currently owns an ice factory in the south, and Elizabeth was in fact a painter (and worked in art restoration in cathedrals for a good number of years). On the beach, with the bloody mary they prepared for me in hand, I listened with great interest Mario's tales of backpacking in the early '70's, in places that today are still without some decent travel infrastructure (I can't imagine what it was like 30 years ago).

It makes me wonder if my children (if I have any) or my brother's kids will, when they're my at my current age, ask me questions and listen in amazement to what it was like to backpack 30 years ago (compared to what it will become).

Yesterday morning Mario and Elizabeth picked me up and suggested that after our time on the beach they could give me a quick in-car tour of João Pessoa and a small coastal monument just south of the city that marks the furthest eastern point of land in South America—practically a stone's throw away from Africa. In the same sentence he also invited me to stay the night at their condo, returning to Tambaba the next day.

I was rather caught off guard, but said yes to the invitation. I had wanted to travel north to Pipa the day following, and needed to get to João Pessoa to grab a bus anyway. It was decided that I'd gather my things, check out of the pousada, and spend the night in their home—but first, a fantastic octopus-based dinner at an ocean-side restaurant.

Itch Scratched

Today I relocated to the town of Pipa, three or so hours north of João Pessoa. I'm back on the tourist trail, surrounded by all the benefits and pitfalls such a thing brings with it. Getting here was a rather interesting thing.

Unlike most countries I've traveled in, Brazil seems to specialize in bus destination monopolies. There is often only one company at the terminal going in the direction you need. They set the price and times, and you're forced to pay and wait. The single source of bus transport problem was encountered as I tried to leave the city this morning.

I had missed the last "cheap" bus headed north to/towards Natal by about 10 minutes (plus another 10 waiting in line to find that out). I'm only traveling part of the way along the highway towards this final destination, but the agency won't discount my ticket. Normal fare is going for about BR$22 for the two hour journey to Natal, or in my case the special BR$31 sorry you missed the cheaper morning buses and enjoy your two hour wait rate. No, this would not do.

With no other options (that is to say, bus companies traveling north) I walked back out to the street in front of the terminal. Found here were taxi drivers trying to coax people into their cabs and men with average cars trying to gather people to drive to popular destinations.

An hour later I was inside a 4-door compact with four other Brazilians, en route to the town of Goianinha (where I would get off and catch a small shuttle-bus to the town of Pipa). The car ride was eventually negotiated to a rate slightly less than the bus would have been (BR$20—the same price as the locals were paying), with the shuttle running BR$2.50 for the transport from the highway to the coast.

Along the way I was have a conversation with the French/Brazilian seated next to me about how I don't particularly care for the natural gas fuel used so commonly in Brazil (big tanks of natural gas in the trunks of cars scare me), and how problematic it must be to run out of gas with such a vehicle (as there's no way to bring a small supply back to the car). A stranded auto would have to be towed.

No sooner than we had finished the conversation did our driver pull up to a shouldered car that had run out of fuel (natural gas), and needed a tow. A rope was attached between the cars, and the sight of driving 120km/h and passing traffic using the oncoming lane whilst towing a car will not fade from my memory any time soon.

Earlier this afternoon I got settled into a small dorm room at Pousada Vera My House, one of Dr. Mario's suggestions back in Salvador, for BR$20/night. Considering how touristy the town is, I'm guessing that's a pretty decent rate, but the competition would have to be pretty bad for me to recommend a hostel without backpack storage lockers and hot water to a friend (as is the case here).

It took me less than 30 minutes in Pipa to sniff out a free Internet connection in the "library," which has no books but three computers sharing a slow dial-up connection. Good enough to send an e-mail or two, but I won't be uploading any photos there.

I'm going to buy my flights to the Amazonian city of Belém tomorrow. Yesterday evening I purchased my flight out of the capital of Venezuela, taking me off the continent and out of Latin America for an indeterminable period of time—years, probably. I will spend a week in Pipa, another floating up the Amazon in a hammock, and then make a speedy dash across the border and to Caracas to catch my flight.

I'm heading to Asia.



July 12th, 2009

Great article, thanks Craig. Porto de Galinhas

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