Jericoacoara and Fortaleza, Brazil - Juli 2007

Sometimes you sit somewhere, get all philosophical and wonder:
"What strange turns did my life take that I ever ended up here?"

Sitting at the beach in the tropics with a cocktail by your side is one of the better places to find yourself in when asking such a question. (As opposed to, maybe, sitting in your office with lots of work to do.)

Sitting at some warm beach somewhere is for me about as natural as for a penguin. (Although even they end up on warm beaches somewhere, though usually not in the tropics.)

How I ended up in Jericoacoara is reasonably easy to explain.

I had a project meeting in Fortaleza and in preparation, I asked the person organizing the meeting: "If I add a couple of vacation days to the meeting, what is there to do in Ceará?" (Ceará is the area of Brazil where Fortaleza is located.)

The basic answer was: "Well, you can go to a beach in Fortaleza and drink Caipirinha. But that's not a very good beach. You should go to Canoa Quebrada, about 170 km to the east or to Jericoacoara, about 320 km to the west and drink Caipirinha there. Or go to one of the other beaches on the 500+ km coastline between them and drink Caipirinha."

Summary: In Ceará you should go to the beach and drink Caipirinha.

I checked some travel guides and while there are a few other things to do in Ceará (like kite-surfing and wind-surfing), basically most activities boil down to stuff you do at beaches.

(There was some possible inland activity - going to Ubajara national park and visiting the cave there, which is the kind of stuff I usually like, but that didn't quite fit in with the travel plans at that time.)

Dune at Jericoacoara

In the end I decided to go to Jericoacoara, mostly for intending not to like it and doing that in comfort. At some point, Jericoacoara was called "the best beach in the world", and since I don't really like beaches, I decided that if I was going to sit on the beach and not liking it, I might as well go to the best beach there is, so I wouldn't think that I might like another beach more. (Didn't happen that way, but that was the bit that decided between Jericoacoara and Canoa Quebrada.)

Getting the trip booked was strangely complicated, but in the end I decided to go to the place that offered transfers from Fortaleza to Jericoacoara in a mini-bus. (Or, accurately, to Jijoca, where the road ends and then a switch to a four-wheeler and on to Jericoacoara.)

One of the attractions of Jericoacoara is that there's no 'real' street leading to it, so at some point you have to switch to four-wheel drive or at least high wheeled vehicle to drive over the sand. Sometimes. On the way in, they dropped the only other passenger off at Preá. Going there was mostly dirt roads (and also going from there to Jericoacoara), with at best a hundred meters of slightly sandy stretch. So I wondered, what all the fuzz was about. Going back a couple of days later (Sunday at noon) were a lot more passengers and a larger vehicle, so we went directly to Jijoca and there was much more driving through sandy places along the way.

Jericoacoara to Jijoca Jericoacoara to Jijoca Transport to Jijoca

I ended up in a fairly nice place at the beach, on the edge of town, right next to the (locally) famous sand dune. What the hotel (more like a small resort) was reminding me most of was the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' place at EuroDisney (or whatever the official name is nowadays). Not actually the ride itself, but they have a restaurant there, which overlooks part of the ride and shares some of the basic style. Very nice and low key, a number of small bungalows (some at ground level, some on stilts, all similar, but with individual touches), lots of open space. It's not any kind of architectural style that really existed somewhere, but if you make up some eco-theme hotel, it's a very pleasant style to have. So, somewhat unexpectedly, I liked it.

Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara
Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara
Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara

I ended up in Bungalow 1, which was not one of the really neat ones on stilts, but quite nice, nonetheless.

Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara Bungalow, Vila Kalango, Jericoacoara

Jericoacoara is (supposedly) mainly a surfer place. When I checked in at the hotel, the registration form had the following options:

Reason for visit ( ) Wind surf   ( ) Kite surf   ( ) Other

Which gives a pretty good impression of the expected crowd, even though (at that place) it seemed to be mainly families on vacation. And supposed rock stars...

After checking in, I took a walk through town. Essentially, there's a main street (which has all the trendy shops, cafes and restaurants) and a couple of parallel streets, which are mostly empty. (Navigating between the parallel streets is a bit tricky for the first ten minutes, since the connecting streets are not always easy to distinguish from an entrance to a house or pousada. But after that, you pretty much know all the places in town - it's not that big.

Streets in Jericoacoara Streets in Jericoacoara Streets in Jericoacoara Main square in Jericoacoara Main square in Jericoacoara

So what about the "best beach in the world"?

Well, it's a bad image for Jericoacoara to have.

Because, as a beach, it is 'ok' at best.

Beach at Jericoacoara Beach at Jericoacoara

The beach in Jericoacoara is pretty dull and while it gets better farther away from town, even I could name a number of places that have better beaches. And I don't go much to beaches. Someone who spends lots of vacations at the sea would probably have a long list of beaches that are better than the one at Jericoacoara.

If you define 'beach' as the sandy bit between the land and the sea, where you lie down in the sun and go to the sea for a bit of swimming. (Which hardly anyone does in Jericoacoara. Actually, the place where people have been resting at the shore and going swimming was the bit where there was hardly any sand. People were using an area with flat rocks.)

But, if you 'beach' doesn't actually mean the beach itself, but a more general 'beach life', then Jericoacoara may come up near the top again.

Since it was pretty isolated (no road) when most of the big beach hotels went up, it started to get 'touristy' when the trend went towards smaller places. So it's a relaxed place with neither the mass tourism, nor a too glittery 'fashion tourism'. It attracts some 'trendy' crowd, but not too much. (And that crowd seems to be limited to the places right where the 'main street' hits the beach, where the Apple logos on the trendy notebooks shine in harmony with the candles on the tables.)

What the town reminded me most of was Carmel in California, which is a very expensive place, but in a sort of low key way. (Which I didn't like much when I was there, so I have no idea why I liked Jericoacoara, but so it happens.)

In the evening I headed for the big sand dune to photograph the sunset. (I was planning to write 'to watch the sunset', but nobody seems to do that anymore...)

Sunset scene at Jericoacoara

Sunset at Jericoacoara Sunset at Jericoacoara Sunset at Jericoacoara Sunset at Jericoacoara

Then off to the restaurant for some dinner and a nice cocktail. (Which, truth to be told, wasn't a Caipirinha at all. But I had one the next day, specifically to be able to say that I went to Jericoacoara and had a Caipirinha by the beach...)

Next day I found out that relaxing at the beach isn't as easy as it seemed. After an extensive breakfast, I went to the pool and tried to relax there. After about half an hour I got bored and went to the 'lobby' (an open area with a palm roof above it) to write some postcards. Then I watched some sleeping cats, which were so much better in 'relaxing' than I was.

Cats relaxing Cats relaxing Cats relaxing

The decided to try some relaxing in the hammock, which lasted about another half hour, before I got bored and went to relax a bit more on an armchair, suspended from a tree, before getting really tired of all the relaxing and going for a walk.

Now, the very nice bit about Jericoacoara (and the one that usually gets ignored due to all the 'best beach' stuff) is that it's not just a big beach, but has quite a variety of landscapes.

Right to the East of the town, there are some grass covered hills, with some walking paths, winding through low shrubberies (sorry, when it comes to botanic stuff, that's as specific I can get) and dotted with cactus plants, leading on to some cliffs overlooking the sea. No beach at all, but a nice landscape to walk around in.

View over Jericoacoara
Jericoacoara hill Birds of prey at Brazil coast Bird of prey at Brazil coast Bird of prey at Brazil coast
Cactus at Brazil coast Cactus at Brazil coast Cactus at Brazil coast Donkey at Brazil coast
Birds of prey at Brazil coast Coast near Jericoacora Donkey at Brazil coast Donkey at Brazil coast Donkey at Brazil coast Brazil coast near Jericoacoara
Me at coast near Jericoacoara

To the West of town (where I took a walk in the afternoon) are a fair number of sandy dunes, which, from the right angle, can look a bit Sahara-like, but they are also intermixed with small ponds and some vegetation. And some photogenic lone trees.

I also noticed a sort of inverse 'Fata Morgana' (Mata Forgana?) effect. It was nearly always quite windy in Jericoacoara (that's why it's popular with wind surfers and kite surfers) and there was always a bit sand blown across the dunes, which made the top of dunes look a bit 'fuzzy'. So instead of a real fata morgana, which makes distant things look close, this made dunes that where nearby looked that they were in some hazy distance.

Scenery near Jericoacoara Scenery near Jericoacoara Jericoacoara, boats on beach Jericoacoara, horse tours
Jericoacoara dunes Jericoacoara dunes Jericoacoara dunes Jericoacoara dunes Jericoacoara dunes
Scenery near Jericoacoara Jericoacoara kite surfing Jericoacoara kite surfing Scenery near Jericoacoara Scenery near Jericoacoara
Scenery near Jericoacoara Tree at beach near Jericoacoara Tree at beach near Jericoacoara Tree at beach near Jericoacoara Tree at beach near Jericoacoara

Nice place. And much better for walks than the 'best beach image' made me assume in the first place.

When I came back in the evening (after a watching the sunset from the sand dune - this time actually watching, since my camera battery was depleted), one of the staff mentioned to me that I was a bit unusual dressed for the place (and temperature). I was wearing black shoes, black jeans, a black t-shirt and black sunglasses, while everyone else was much more, colorful.

Hadn't actually noticed that before, but I wasn't really blending in with the crowds. Next day at the restaurant I noticed that I was the only one in the restaurant (customers and staff) in the whole place wearing (closed) shoes. Everyone else had sandals, flip-flops or was barefoot. I'm really not much of a beach person. But I was enjoying myself anyway.

Off to the pool and some gazing at the southern starry sky. (Or the almost equatorial starry sky.)

Next day I had planned to go on an ATV (quad) tour, which was booked for 8 am. So early rising, just a quick breakfast and over to the place that offered these tours - only to find that the tour was moved to 2 pm.

Since I was up and about and it wasn't that hot yet, I did some more walking, this time to the 'rock with the hole' a bit outside Jericoacoara. I had almost been there the previous day while walking in the hills, but hadn't realized that I was close to it.

Rock with hole near Jericoacoara Rock with hole near Jericoacoara

Getting a nice shot of the rock without any people in it isn't that easy. I had to wait for quite some time to get the pictures above, and even then I never managed to get a 'widescreen' picture of it. Usually the place looked like this:

Rock with hole near Jericoacoara

It is the only real 'tourist attraction' around, so everyone takes this as their destination for walks. (Although even then, it isn't that crowded with usually just a dozen of people being around, but it is a fairly constant stream.) But, as a bonus, once you were a hundred meters away from it, you were pretty much on your own with the landscape.

Jericoacoara coast Jericoacoara coast Jericoacoara coast
Jericoacoara coast Jericoacoara coast Jericoacoara coast

After some more relaxing at the pool/hammock/sofa/armchair (I might get the hang of it after a couple of weeks...) I went for the ATV tour, only to find that it had been moved further to 4 pm.

Time to practice relaxing a bit more.

Finally the ATV tour actually happened.

It actually turned out to be better than being just a couple of people racing over the beach and the dunes and having fun. (While the big dune is off-limits, some of the smaller ones can be driven over.)

We went a bit inland and got to see a bit how the people live outside the tourist areas. Admittedly, rushing by at high speed over dirt roads, but better than not seeing it at all. Also, the ride had the most variety of all the ATV tours I've been on. From beaches and dunes through steppe-like areas and bits of forest, over red sand roads, passing groups of small houses and trying not to run over livestock and dogs resting on the road.

As a matter of fact, it looked more like I expect Kenya to look like, than I expected Brazil to look.

A short stop at a eatery next to some lake or river, where crabs were kept in a big stone barrel and a tame raccoon was feeding on fruits and scraps.

ATVs on beach Photostop on bridge Crabs in a barrel Small river in Brazil Racoon as a pet

The on to the dune for another sunset, before heading along the beach back to Jericoacoara and doing a couple of rounds of the town, before the tour is over.

Me and ATV on dune Dune near Jericoacoara Dune near Jericoacoara ATVs on dune
ATVs on dune at sunset Dune near Jericoacoara Me on dune near Jericoacoara Sunset on dune near Jericoacoara

Time for dinner, then back for a late night swim at the pool, before settling down on one of the deckchairs, ordering a cocktail, gazing at the stars above and (coming back to the start of this page) wondering what I think I am doing here.

It is a nice place, and I am enjoying myself. But somehow it's 'just not me'. It feels like I am on the wrong vacation somehow, but then again, where's the rule that says that I have to enjoy myself in a consistent manner?

When I checked out the next morning, I sort of become aware how much I stick out in a place like that. The receptionist tells me that there were two girls at the reception the previous evening, who had heard that the lead singer or guitar player of 'Iron Maiden' was staying at bungalow one (where I was staying) and whether he (the receptionist) could ask me to come out, so they could take a picture with me. The receptionist managed to convince them that a computer programmer from Germany and a well known English rock musician were quite unlikely to be the same person, so they left...

Anyway, when we were in the open bus on the way along the sand path towards Jijoca, the tour guide started talking to me, telling me about tourist season in Jericoacoara, asking me how I liked this place and after a while started to tell me how much he liked a specific song (which I never heard before - I don't know any 'Iron Maiden' songs), so I had to tell him that, whatever rumors he might have heard, I was not a musician and hence not in 'Iron Maiden'.

Later on, when we were on the 'normal' bus to Fortaleza, we had a rest stop. I was remaining in the bus, when one of the tourists came back onto the bus and asked "Are you a musician? Iron Maiden?". No, I'm not...

So, when you are above a certain age, male and long-haired and walk about in tropical beach resorts, all dressed in black, there seems to be a certain probability to be mistaken for a rock star.

Given the earlier musings that this wasn't really "my vacation" and what I was doing there, I kept wondering for a while whether it would be sufficient for a bad science fiction plot, if I turned out that I actually am a musician in Iron Maiden, who, after a nervous breakdown, thinks that he's a computer programmer and wonders whose life he is leading. But since I couldn't come up with any real punch line to this, it's bet to leave it were it started, with some melancholic musings over a cocktail at the pool.

Originally I had wanted to visit the Ubajara National Park, but there were no convenient tours covering that and Jericoacoara, so I decided to go to Jericoacoara instead and forget about Ubajara.

But now I was in Fortaleza with a spare day and nothing much to do. (I could go to Canoa Quebrada of course, but following up on Jericoacoara with another beach seemed a bit pointless.) So I got up in the morning with the idea "Why not try going to Ubajara?". I went to the hotel reception (expecting them to tell me that this was a stupid idea - if only they would have...) and they organized a rental car and a driver for me.

It wasn't much of a good idea to begin with, since it's about 400 km driving distance from Fortaleza, which would basically mean five hours of driving, about two hours in the National Park and another five hours back. But then again, I like caves and walking three kilometers on a nature trail to the caves, visiting the caves and taking the cable car back up to the entrance seemed like a fun thing to do.

To keep it short: Ubajara National Park is closed on Mondays.

Ubajara park entrance

So I spent five hours in a car to Ubajara, took a picture of the park entrance and went back to Fortaleza.

Next time I should prepare 'spontaneous' trips a bit better.

(The driver then tried to get to some 'ecological reservation', in that area, which supposedly had a couple of waterfalls, but after half a dozen kilometers along red dirt roads, this ended at a locked gate as well.)

Dirt road

On my last day in Brazil, I had a late flight back, so I had a bit of time to walk around in Fortaleza, see the Mercado Central, the cathedral and the art center. And then walk back along the beach to the hotel.

Mercado Central, Fortaleza Mercado Central, Fortaleza Mercado Central, Fortaleza Cathedral, Fortaleza
Old street, Fortaleza Arts center, Fortaleza Planetarium center, Fortaleza Cameraman sculpture, Fortaleza Camerawoman sculpture, Fortaleza
Iracema beach statue, Fortaleza Fortalzea beach Fortalzea beach

Still had some time left at the hotel, so I went to the rooftop pool and relaxed there with yet another cocktail and felt quite odd. Relaxing next to a rooftop pool in a five star hotel makes you feel somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Somewhere outside there is a city with real people doing real things, but you're living in an artificial bubble where you are about as much removed from Brazil as you are in the plane a couple of hours later. Except that you get more leg room, politer service and much better drinks.

Once again, the trip feels somewhat unreal to me. While I'm not usually one of the "chat, mingle and get friends with the locals"-kind of travelers, I am usually not that removed from the rest of the world. It's comfortable, but I am not accustomed to it.

While I am still lying in the sun at the pool, the barkeeper walks over to me: "One question: Do you happen to be a musician?" Brazil is strange.

(Note: I looked up photos of the musicians in Iron Maiden. I haven't got the slightest idea which one of them I am supposed to resemble...)

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