Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 5

By Tamashin
Here is part 5 of Tamashin&rsquot;s article about João Pessoa. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the end of the article.

We didn’t spend all our time in restaurants. In fact, we stayed in a self catering apartment which means we had to use the local supermarkets. The nearest to us was a Pão de Aucar, which I found to be incredibly expensive, not offset by the huge range of food available. I put this down to the fact that we were in the tourist area. However, I found two other Pãos” and noted the 24 hour supermarket was even more expensive.

Nose to the ground, I found a Bom Preo which advertised a comparable weekly shop as R$65 cheaper than Pao de Aucar. It was indeed cheaper but it depended on what you were buying and of course it could be R$65 cheaper here in JP but how would it compare to our little town in Minas?

My own survey based on the staples of rice, beans, bread, ham, coffee and milk revealed all to be more expensive than in Minas. Ours is a small town and lots of things are brought in, so I am not sure why things are so much more expensive than in Minas. There wasn’t a great difference in the Carrefour and Super Bom Preo hypermarkets just a short distance away from the main centre. That said, fuel prices varied greatly even on the same road.

My good lady wife surveyed two of the biggest shopping malls, an arduous task but someone had to do it. She reported that there was little difference between the malls in São Jose Dos Campos and those of JP. Both Manaira and Tambau shopping malls had excellent leisure facilities for children including very large play areas and cinemas, even a bowling alley in one.

We didn’t try the city tour guides but we did go on some of the excursions that were advertised along the sea front. Amongst the many places we visited were Ilha de Areia Vermelha and Picaozinho. At both places you were able to wander freely amongst the coral to look at all the brightly coloured fish. The children loved it. The tour staff were very informative, good humoured and went to great pains to explain to you about preserving the environment, particularly not to drop litter. So it was really annoying to see people drop cans, plastic spoons and lolly wrappers on the sand. Some youngsters were running around picking it up but one young man threw his rubbish down right in front of me without so much as a by your leave. I was so incensed at this irresponsibility I picked it up and went after him. I asked him if he had any respect for his country at all, handing it back to him at the same time. He replied “Sorry” in English before going back to the boat having had a salutary lesson in litter-picking.

Excursions weren’t restricted to JP, there were tourist attractions all around Paraiba from the natural stone formations in the Sertao and dinosaur valley etc to spending the day with the local Indians at Traitors Bay (Baia da Traiao). There were also trips further afield to Natal, Recife and Praia da Galinhas.

We went to the zoo in JP which was a little run down but a brilliant opportunity for a private investor. Entrance fee was R$1 per adult, children free. Classically, the animals were in small cages and the wide open spaces were left to the people, when in fact the people should have been restricted to the footpaths and the animals left to roam in larger spaces. That said the children enjoyed the monkeys playing in their very generous island space as well as the jacares in their huge lake. Worth a visit even if to just ruminate on the possibilities.

We also went to see Jurandy play his sax as the sun set near Praia do Jacare. If you go there, don’t go to the very first restaurant on the beach but walk along the little footpath with the shops and go to the original Jurandy restaurant where he sails right up to the jetty and plays to the patrons.

I wasn’t able to comment about the airport (as John did), though frankly I would be more bothered about the plane and whether it could get me there in one piece. I wouldn’t want to stay there any length of time anyway, there’s too much to do in Paraiba! I understand, though, that a significant amount of redevelopment is going on there.

We were looking for a place to live so our research wasn’t confined to being near the beach. There are good areas and better. There are bairros which seem to have nothing but high rises and those with anything but. Housing inland towards the city centre was cheaper than that closer to the beach areas. However, being closer to the tourist beaches was much more expensive than the isolated beaches. We were originally concerned about the earth roads in the north of the city but found out the city council have a massive road building and drainage scheme in hand for the area. Its really important to note that the electrical system is 220v only but transformers are widely available.

So that’s it. A bit longwinded but hopefully a fair wind. Would I go back? Well we are already selling up in Minas to start a new life there. Would I recommend JP land to anyone else? I certainly would. There is a sense of opportunity there, a feeling that you are on the edge of something big, like the area is about to explode on to the rest of Brazil.

Being there makes you feel like you have been let in on a big secret.

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 4
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 3
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 1
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1

Around Brazil: Barreirinhas

By Ricky Skelton
It was definitely memorable. Places you visit are always much better if you have a story to tell about them. Barreirinhas is a small town which is the gateway to Parque Nacional Lenois Maranhenses. It sits on the wide Rio Preguia with weeping trees dipping their branches into the drifting water. It has a nice riverfront, which was being refurbished as we arrived, and a river beach in the form of a huge dune. We saw all this as we hung around by the river, four ‘gringoes’ (one Brasileira who was always getting confused for a gringo), all survivors of the adventure from Tutóia. First up we were approached by a pretty Brazilian woman with a bright smile who told us about her jewellery in the main square. She was one of those people who you instantly warm to, sweet, friendly and the thought of her makes me smile. Of course we would see her later on. She should give classes in sales techniques to every single seller in Salvador.

As she left, a dune buggy with ‘Policia Militar’ stencilled on the side and three big policemen squashed into it came bouncing down the track from the main road. They looked like they were driving a kiddies pedal car, but they didn’t act like it. They stepped down, looked at us and pointed to our American friend who was sitting on the steps. They walked over as menacingly as they could. Now, our friend was in the habit of smoking roll-up cigarettes. Large ones. I can only speculate as to what was in them, but they didn’t look too subtle, especially to the woman in the tourist office. As we’d alighted from our four hour, 30km marathon, he’d rolled a cigarette and gone to ask questions. She became suspicious and called in the squad pedal-car. They meant business. He knew it. He was trembling and looking totally guilty. (I don’t know whether he was, but wouldn’t we all look like that when confronted by moody armed policemen?). Our Basque friend also smoked roll-ups and between her showing her papers and tobacco, and Blondie pacifying the mean dude who wanted to perform a search on our friend (I would have, given his guilty expression!) by telling him that it was no surprise that his target was scared, the Policia Militar calmed down slightly and eventually pedalled away down the beira rio.

I guess our friend had the next 6-8 years to thank the girls for, but was too scared to realise just how much. He disappeared to Cabur, the disappearing dune village down river, as soon as he could find a boat out of town, but not before checking out what our girl and her crazy husband had to sell: 10m rolls of anaconda skins, jaguar and ocelot pelts, and baby jaguar pelts! All kinds of crazy skins and furs of endangered creatures. He bought them from the Amazon Indians, who hunt them and eat them, then sell the skins. Which is fair enough as they’ve been doing it for thousands of years, and those animals only became endangered after the arrival of Europeans. I think our American friend, feeling magnanimous because he wasn’t going to stay in Barreirinhas for 6-8 years, agreed to buy the lot.

If anyone asks why I like travelling, that was one of the days I can use as an explanation.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: São Paulo Transport

By Ben White
This article is the third to win our competition to submit an article and win a R$150 voucher for the Tabu Restaurant located in the Sonesta Hotel, in São Paulo. For more details on how to enter our current competition read here.

Every visitor to São Paulo will be forced to use the roads sooner or later. Unlike a city, such as London for example where the Tube network’s extensive reach makes most locales accessible without recourse to a car, São Paulo’s sprawl will remain largely unknown should the newcomer refuse to get behind a wheel of some kind. Trusting that most Gringoes readers will possess sufficient initiative to research the practicalities themselves, this writer instead seeks to offer some advice – some observations from experience – that might come in handy (if only with the result that you never leave your hotel).

The traffic is one of the most frequently cited complaints by São Paulo residents, but for the foreign guest, I would like to hazard a guess that the biggest impression is left not so much by the number of drivers but by how they go about their driving. For example, should you be so thoughtless as to be going about your business at a moderately sensible pace, you are sure to be passed by a fellow motorist who, unsatisfied with the horn’s traditional purpose of indicating imminent danger, has expanded its repertoire to include ‘Get out of my way, you incompetent excuse for a driver’.

Complicating matters still further, core elements of the Highway Code are observed with an alarming degree of ambiguity. A red light at a junction seems more of a suggestion than a command; as if on one’s theory test the correct answer was in fact ‘c’, “Stop. Well, unless it’s night time, and maybe there aren’t so many other cars around or perhaps you’re just really in a hurry”. The ‘hurry clause’ seems to cover a multitude of sins, ranging from cutting across a 4-lane highway for the right exit, to creating a brand new lane altogether.

Should the prospect of renting or buying car for the duration of your stay in the city be now filling you with dread, may I offer the reassurance that with a little practice, you too can be driving as terribly as the locals. But if it really all sounds just a bit too much then you can always take a bus. So far, bus-riding in São Paulo has remained by and large a pleasant and problem-free experience. That said, if you need to travel during the morning or evening rush hours then you may find yourself playing a game of ‘see how many sweaty commuters we can fit in a box on wheels’. And of course, there isn’t a timetable, just a sizeable fleet of buses despatched one-by-one from headquarters at seemingly random intervals.

Probably the most disconcerting aspect of bus-riding I found personally was the fact that one’s ticket is purchased not from the driver or an electronic machine, but from a conductor usually seated in the middle of the bus, dividing the vehicle into the ‘unpaid’ and ‘paid’. This system’s sole advantage, locals have explained to me, is that it provides employment for those filling the role of conductor, but for the passenger, it means that payment must occur at the same time as the bus lurches off again.

When you remember the normal patterns of driving as described above, this makes for a tricky balancing exercise. Standing legs apart, preferably wedged against the metal turnstile, I fumble for the right change, while holding notebook between elbow and ribs, all the while praying that the driver won’t decide to suddenly decelerate, thus sending me staggering and my coins rolling. Locals never seem to have this problem, and I have often watched, red-faced from my seat, straining to spot something in their body posture that’s the secret of their success.

A final note on São Paulo’s roads – leave the keys hanging at home if there’s one of the city’s torrential downpours. A mere 20 minutes of rain produces complete gridlock, if you’re not actually merrily floating home in your car-come-raft. This article may not have provided much by way of car rental contact details or petrol prices, but for me, knowing all of the above beforehand would have saved a lot of minor heart attacks, near misses or humiliations. Enjoy!”

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 4

By Tamashin
Here is part 4 of Tamashin&rsquot;s article about João Pessoa. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the end of the article.

Billboards around the city advertised concerts on the beaches, parks and theatres. I thought this was just for Christmas and New Year but my new found friends confirmed that the events were a regular feature throughout the year. This was confirmed when I was given a leaflet of future events.

One night I heard some opera being performed on the beach stage in Tambau. I thought I would lend support to the other six or seven people there. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the beach as full as the previous nights Forro” concert. The following evening I watched the excellent “Quinteto da Paraiba” a violin/cello/drum combo which set the stage alight with some electrifying music. Forro will never be the same. I was an instant convert to their music.

There was a downside though. The following week “Cidade Negra” would be playing live but we would be on our way home to Minas, so I would never hear “Onde voce mora?” played live.

What about when things go wrong and you need a hospital. Well, JP seemed very well catered for and several of the public hospitals I saw were in very modern buildings though I didn’t have occasion to use them. On one of the streets just off Tambau, the busiest beach, there was a very large public clinic.

We did pay attention to Unimeds very large hospital as we are members of their medical plan. My wife and children used the hospital twice and had no complaints about the service or conditions. It looked to be quite new or was that because it was well looked after? I couldn’t compare it to The British NHS because its such a long time since I used that service.

We also looked at several schools, previously researched on the internet, notably PIO X , PIO XI and GEO. These turned out to be quite famous and were well known even in our small Minas town and by friends in São Paulo.

We spoke with teachers, parents and pupils. Obviously, no one is going to say “our school is rubbish” but we were encouraged by the variety of well kept facilities and answers to our many questions. There was a point of concern regarding the educational year structure which is a year behind Minas Gerais. This would mean our eldest daughter having to go in a class where she would be ahead of the other students. She is also bilingual. We have been told that she will have to sit a placement exam which should resolve the situation.

We were very impressed by the number, quality and variety of restaurants. JP is a capital city after all so it was to be expected but you could find a place to fit your budget and lifestyle.

We found American, French, Italian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese restaurants as well as those specialising in local cuisine. Perhaps the most famous was Mangai which boasts 40 local dishes, including the famous sun dried meat. You eat in an area surrounded by local paraphernalia, though there is a separate part which is fully air conditioned. It caters for children and has a little park. However, there are others too numerous to mention and all the ones we tried served generous portions.

As in all cities the quality varied and our most expensive meal definitely wasn’t the best. Certainly, there were numerous Japanese bars and restaurants and we were very impressed with a sushi bar in one of the big shopping malls. We tried a “nobs and swells” restaurant away from the sea front and though it was frequented by the glitterati the food was only as good as the shopping malls. I remember looking at the photos of famous models adorning the walls. One caught my eye so I said to the waiter “isn’t that.?” but the waiter interrupted me and said “yes it is, she’s a regular”. When he left, my wife asked who the model was but I couldn’t tell her because the waiter had interrupted me. Its very annoying when that happens.

The music varied from place to place too. Someone tinkling a grand piano in one place, in another a guitar, yet another a band with the music varying from forro to pop. Some places even had karaoke.

Without a doubt, if you like sea food you will love JP. It is there in abundance. I tried many fish that I had never heard of until my visit.

Final part next week…

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 3
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 1
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1

Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas

By Ricky Skelton
This was possibly the most amazing ‘road’ journey that I’ve ever had, mostly because it was so normal for the locals. We left Jeri at stupid o’clock in the morning with me thinking that we’d head along the beach, but no, we went inland. We didn’t miss any scenery though, because as well as it being dark, it was pouring down, and the surprisingly cold rain down my back kept me from sleep. It only looked like 200km on the map, but a whole day of travelling and waiting got us through Camocim, Parnaiba and Tutóia, where we had to break the journey with only 30km or so to go. There were no late evening buses for some reason. No problem, we could set off early morning, get to Barreirinhas and get a trip out to Lenois Maranhenses before celebrating my impending birthday. Little did we know.

We caught another 4WD bus-truck combo down the sand roads, waving at the kids, reading the signs prohibiting motorcyclists to wear helmets (due to robberies in the area!) and dangling our legs over the back, enjoying the ride. Elevenish, we stopped in Paulino Neves and watched the big Rio Novo drifting slowly by as a woman washed her clothes in the river. It was such a tranquil scene, and she looked so relaxed as she scrubbed, sitting half-in half-out of the water while singing softly. We ate freshly picked starfruit as we waited for our next ride. That was when the fun really started.

The 10km Paulino Neves to Barreirinhas (check it out on a map) journey is incredible. It is a complete cultural experience as to how other people live. Mainly because there is no road! Not even a sandy one! Straight out of town, we headed between two fences down an ‘area’ of grass, hillocks, ruts, puddles, sand, holes and streams. The open truck, full of 20 or so people, wobbled slowly and precariously down the non-road. The fence then disappeared and the whole place opened up. Where the hell do we go now? The driver and his assistant knew vaguely. Poor assistant had to walk ahead and check the depth of every ditch, every puddle, every river. It appeared that the road changed every day because they also had to exchange info with the few vehicles making the opposite journey across the sandy moor. The burrow owls stood and watched in bemusement as we shook our way through the bog. A man walking to the side overtook and left us way behind.

We drove down ruts so deep, making us travel at such an angle, with screams and slides from the passengers on the wooden benches that, sitting on the outside, if I had put my arm out straight from my shoulder, I would have touched the floor. Easily. So many times, I prepared to jump ship as we reached tipping point. So many times everybody had to jump out to push, to lighten the load for bridges, or to help dig us out of the bog. Or was it a flood plain? Passengers were going swimming in the water as we waited for the truck-bus to negotiate an inland sea! We made it to the dryer dunes without much more than wet feet. No tipping, no crashing, nada. A real feat of off-road driving and navigating. Those two should take up rally-driving.

We rolled up and down and around the dunes until we reached more sand roads. The last hour of bouncing along while getting whipped by thorny branches became a little wearing, and I was glad to finally make it into Barreirinhas four hours after setting off. I loved the journey though. Like nothing else in India, Africa, Cambodia, Bolivia, anywhere. And some people probably do it every day! Twice! Maybe it’s the school run! Perhaps mums drop their kids off at school, go home, then turn around immediately and go back to pick them up. Probably not though.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: Natal&rsquot;s Autos and Motos

By Hal
I have previously described the bare bones of Natal. In the next series I will offer up sketches of specific activities that have caught my attention. For example:

Not surprisingly Natal is blessed with two major status symbols of our 21st century: cars and rush hour traffic. In addition, motorcycles (motos) are everywhere.

A favorite sport among some owners of snappy new cars is the Red Light Challenge; racing top speed to the next red light. Satisfaction in these block long spurts is measured by how many slowpoke cars one is able to pass/cut off before the next red light stops you.

GREEN LIGHT! They roar down the block, engines straining, and screech to a halt at the red. There they re-rev their engines, inch up on the light, lunge on the green, scream to a stop at the next red. In English this is referred to as: Hurry up, hurry up – – – w a i t.”

A more competitive aspect of this machão (male and female) driving is personalised: a challenge is offered by a driver waiting at a red light who revs his engine a few times (translated: I will beat you to the next red light). If the driver beside him responds by gunning his/her engine, the challenge is accepted. “They&rsquot;re off!”

My contribution to this chaos is modest: I own a scratched and dented, 1996 royal blue Fiat. (The above photo shows my Fiat resting between races) No power steering, no air conditioning, no radio. It drives like a dream. It shouts out to car thieves, “Not this one, it&rsquot;s a mess, worth nothing.” I think it gorgeous. Occasionally I win a race.

Cautions: This is a very machão activity often practised after a driver is a bit gone-by with slowed reflexes; check out the competitor.

Burro drawn, two-wheel wagons are frequent on Natal&rsquot;s streets; making local deliveries, scavenging saleable stuff. Even at top trot, they are slower than fog off a swamp. I&rsquot;m told they always win in court.

Potholes: The main streets in Natal are in good shape, but sometimes a hole in the road will suddenly appear 10 feet in front of you. Also, watch for a tree branch sticking up from such a hole; a warning that someone has kindly stuck there.

More interesting to me are the motos, much less expensive to buy and operate, much more maneuverable. Thanks to our benign year round weather motos are everywhere; in your rear view mirror, in the side mirrors, in your armpit. They are driven by helmeted men, boys, women, girls and children. These weaving machines are used to deliver bodies – from commuters to grandmothers and babies – and everything from sofas (takes a bit of skill), LPG tanks to 20 liter bottles of drinking water and take-out lunches. (This morning I saw a Harley with two milk crates full of clucking chickens piled one-top-t&rsquot;other on its luggage rack. I would have been clucking too.) Think of the wild west of the pony riding cowboys.

My recent memory of the USA is that nowadays a very large percentage of motorcycles are recreational vehicles. They are driven by sedate paunchies, usually in groups which used to be called gangs. But in Natal motos are working vehicles, their jockeys are individuals.

The analogy that comes to mind about the motos amazing progress through the obstacle course of bulky automobiles is the trick horseback riding that awes you at a rodeo. They weave through traffic and at red lights they slither through jammed cars to the front of the pack, accelerate to freedom a split second before the green shows. It takes me twenty minutes to get from Nova Parnamirim to Tirol in rush hour, these trick riders make it in five, eight minutes at the outside. The above photo shows the motos jockeying for position.

Heavy footed machão car drivers don&rsquot;t stand a chance against a moto.

Caveat: I am aware that activities similar to those described take place in other garden spots of the world, that is Red Light Challenges in economies that can sustain this important ego activity, and motos in countries blessed with benign weather. Whatever, they are a part of the world of Natal.

Previous articles by Hal:

Around Brazil: Natal Part 2
Around Brazil: Natal Part 1
Brazil: A View from Rio Grande do Norte

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 3

By Tamashin
Here is part 3 of Tamashin&rsquot;s article about João Pessoa. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the end of the article.

We visited as many beaches as possible because we could. No better reason, I suppose, though I was looking for somewhere which would be perfect for the children. Several beaches fitted the bill, particularly Intermares and Poo to the North of JP (litoral Norte). A few little restaurants, a beach bar here and there, there is beach front housing and in some areas a few six storey buildings but it doesn’t feel oppressive (yet).

However, if you really want isolation the beaches to the litoral South are much better. We took a drive to one such beach called Barra do Garau e Bela, taking care not to drive onto the beach but park just off the track. With the exception of one fisherman about 500m away we were the only ones there. It was, so far, a wonderful way to spend Christmas day.

It was spoiled by several 4×4 tour vehicles roaring down the track and onto the beach. They raced along the beach into the distance and that was it, short and sweet. I took a walk along the beach to see where they had gone. After sometime I found all the vehicles and many more besides parked up around some natural lagoons in the sand. There were a few trailer bars and BBQs but everyone appeared to be acting responsibly with the litter. We had a 4×4 and I felt it would be good for the children to swim in the lagoons.

So off I went back to the beach entrance for family and car. As I walked back, a Pajero, passed me and I thought if he can do it I can”. The family loaded up we set off for the lagoons. In the back of my mind was the little voice which was saying “stay there, everyone is enjoying themselves”. I wish I had listened. I drove about eight metres on to the sand and sunk. I had no idea what had happened. The car was in 4×4 mode and I was following the tracks of the other vehicles but here I was sunk right up to the axles. When I got out of the car, my door was just above the sand, I looked behind me to see a dark line of seaweed and then worse it looked like the tide was coming in. The family out of the car, I took a food carton lid and scooped in a frenzy at the sand below the car. I really needed a small digger but I was making some headway. My wife asked if she could take a photo, then thought better of it. The tide was indeed coming in and not more than ten metres from the car. I had managed to clear a great deal of sand and drive the car forward a bit only for it to get stuck again even closer to the waters edge.

When it seemed like we were going to loose our car to the incoming tide, I heard the roar of a big pickup behind me. A truck load of party goers stopped next to me. They assessed the problem, raced off for a rope and then after several attempts pulled our car out of the sand.

Unbelievably, I drove it round and back towards the beach entrance only for it to get stuck again. The men were very patient with me. When we freed the car again, one of the others drove it around and took it off the beach. The driver took me to one side and explained why I had sunk. There was too much air in the tyres and I had been driving too slow on the sand. He was a member of the Paraiba 4×4 club to whom I will be eternally grateful. There was a sickening feeling looking back to where the car was stuck as the tide had covered the spot in less than 45 minutes. There was sand everywhere and I am still finding sand even when I think I have given the car a thorough cleaning.

There are plenty of places to hire a car, especially on the sea front. Daily rates were R$56 for a Ford Ka to R$150 for a Fiat Doblo. There are a huge variety of colours to choose from such as grey, grey or grey and with a bit of sweet talking you probably could get a grey one so as not to be too conspicuous. You can even hire a buggy and driver to take you to all the tourist hot spots, not just in João Pessoa but to the outback of Paraiba called the Sertao.

Having our own car gave us greater independence, though. Driving North to Cabedelo, taking the ferry across to Lucena and then taking a long leisurely drive to the baia of Traiao (bay of Treason) the journey was mostly on asphalt roads but even the few estradas da terra we encountered were well compacted.

I think this is the point for me, there are lots of things to see and do for all ages and João Pessoa is a good base to drive from. Cities like Natal are only 180 kms away, though I met people from Natal and Fortaleza who preferred the calm of JP to spend their holidays. So it was with several Carioca families too. One man perhaps paid the ultimate compliment by saying that JP was just as he remembered Rio when he was a child.

Part 4 next week…

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 3
Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2

By Tamashin
Here is part 2 of Tamashin’s article about João Pessoa. To read part 1 click the link at the end of the article.

There is a definite small town feel to João Pessoa. There are several wide avenues running through the city, though you feel like you are always driving through the suburbs of a larger city. One moment you are driving along, the next you are confronted by a large sandy, grassy praa with people exercising or lounging at a bar. Even so, it&rsquot;s hard to believe that 600,000 people live there because you hardly see anyone. Even the beach front was virtually void of people and there were plenty of places to park.

For the moment parking is free except for the parking maniacs. These were the people who would stand in the middle of the road gesticulating wildly with a red cloth in their hands indicating a space for you. Most of the time you didn&rsquot;t need them, but of course they need you. As you park they dart from side to side and back to front performing windmill like arm movements to enable you to manoeuvre your precious vehicle into position. When you deign to alight from the vehicle they ask you if they can wash it. Be careful, they use washing up liquid and wash the car in the sunlight, while it is hot, using the same cloth for the wheels and the paintwork. Do you really want grey, scummy marks on your paintwork? Methinks not. Parking correctly is important though because there are traffic wardens. So you must only park in the free spaces provided and not in the Taxi rank or bus parks which are well marked. The warden I spoke to spoke English as did some of the police.

There is a very heavy police presence. Why, I don&rsquot;t really know. The officer I spoke to said that they were taking extra precautions this year because of what was happening in Rio. However, John mentions it too in his article. They walk in pairs, ride around on bicycles, there are the special ops teams (the blue land rovers) and quad bike squads for the beach. For New Year they were accompanied by the military. All very no nonsense.

I did flick through the papers now and again and the sort of things that go on were much the same as in our own little town in Minas. A burglary here, car stolen there, the odd mugging, someone picked up for possession of drugs, that sort of thing. However, when you looked around the bairros you did notice that the walls surrounding the houses were lower or next to non existent, there weren&rsquot;t so many electric fences, there was the odd big dog and people left their garden furniture unconcreted or not chained down. Furniture and belongings were left on the verandas too. So in the main, neighbours were very trusting of each other. Very reassuring.

During the day, there wasn&rsquot;t much traffic around and at least two roads were closed on the sea front area in the morning so people could walk freely. Many people cycled, roller skated and skate-boarded which some may find annoying but I found quite refreshing. All these people exercising made me want to join in and gave a good example for the children. While the beaches were relatively empty, those people that were there were swimming or playing volley or sand tennis. I also noted several fitness areas and there were a few fitness clubs on the beach frontage.

The beaches are beautiful to say the least. Every morning a team of sweepers start at Manaira, where the cafes and restaurants start to build up. They walk along the sea front in a long line clearing the road, pavement and beach. I watched them start one morning, wearing their red uniforms, standing in a huge circle, on the beach. They started with a few songs, followed by what appeared to be feel good” chants, then a happy birthday which I found myself joining in to and then finally prayers. It was very uplifting for me, how must they have felt? Ten minutes later I was collecting rubbish… no, not true, but had they asked me I probably would have!

Part 3 next week…

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1

Around Brazil: Jericoacoara

By Ricky Skelton
Ahh Jeri. One of those places. The bus ride from Fortaleza is fun, but only for the last hour or so as you transfer to a strange 4WD open bus-truck with high wheels, and eight people across to bounce down the sandy roads through fazendas to the beach. Wow. What a letdown. Grey. I’d never seen a grey beach before. But back inland, and around the headland to the rear of the town, and you’re walking down sandy roads lined with bars and trees, and the grey has gone or doesn’t matter any more, I can’t remember which.

Jeri faces north, hiding amongst the dunes that make the place so difficult to drive to. The wide strips of beach with dunes behind make it one of the best activity beaches in Brazil for horse-riding and buggy rides. Because to make sand dunes, you need wind to blow the sand over some stationary object. Amazingly, huge dunes can start from something as small as a shoe having sand repeatedly blown over it, for years. I didn’t dig deep enough to find out what was underneath in Jeri, the dunes are too big. So big, that as well as the high Atlantic winds making the place ideal for surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and more, and you can also sandboard down the dunes. I’ve been snowboarding before but my one chance to sandboard in Namibia was ruined by a stupid fall on a gravel road in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We’d stopped for a toilet break, and with nothing to do, we decided to have a race. I fell and put a hole in my knee through which I could see the bone, all white and dry. So in Jeri, I was determined to finally make up for that.

Didn’t happen.

The main dune in Jeri is called Por do Sol. It sits a few minutes along the beach and up the slope. The name comes because everybody watches sunset at the top. The dune slopes very steeply down to the flat of the beach and a little lagoa (more of a puddle) when the tide is out. Now it might look from the photo like it isn’t that steep, but the thing about sand dunes is that they change shape in the wind! It was much steeper when I was standing at the top! So I needed to practise on a shallower slope first, but the sand was wet and I never moved. I couldn’t bring myself to try Por do Sol with hundreds of people watching me. It would have been a public execution.

There was a very public execution though – on Easter Friday, we were besieged by hundreds of be-robed people walking towards the beach as we were leaving it. We were pushed backwards with the tide, and washed up on the beach for the Easter re-enactment. Jesus was tried, whipped, covered in ketchup and made to carry his cross to the top of Por do Sol. There, in a scene reminiscent of a hybrid of two of the best British films ever – Life of Brian and The Wicker Man – he and his two friends were crucified as the sun dropped into the sea. Bravo!

The crowd of hundreds played their part too, including the person I spotted with. count them 1 2 3… 5… 7… Seven fingers! On one hand! It’s a small town. But a special one, especially if you happen to be on top of Por do Sol at full moon. The tropical sun drips into the sea while a huge red moon rises over the dunes. And if you do your Jeri experience properly, you can leave the dune for a caipirinha, have a few more caipirinhas, party through until almost dawn, then head back up to Por do Sol. The silver moon shimmers across the black sea as it sets, and the sky over the dunes turns lilac, azure, pink and then gold as the sun rises at the same time. Like I said, Jeri’s a special place.

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: João Pessoa Part 1

By Tamashin
I have always been curious about João Pessoa, especially when I read posts from the so called Captain Bill on the www.gringoes.com forum. It did seem the ideal place for my young family to live in, and for me especially to retire to. Then I read John Fitzpatrick article, João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success, which gave a different view and realised I really must go and see this place for myself. I didn’t want to write a travelogue. There are many tourist information guides on the web which do a much better job than I could ever do. Rather, I wanted to something from the perspective of wanting to live there, with a few tourism gems thrown in.

Due to the problems at the airports (December 2006 strikes), my wife and I decided to drive the 3000kms, rather than fly. It was a good decision. We saw and appreciated a lot more of Brasil than we would have done by plane.

John started his article writing about the history of João Pessoa and commented on the poor infrastructure to cope with tourism. Well I am pleased to say that the Burgers of JP must have read his article. I found the roads to be in excellent condition, with good road signs indicating the places to see. Getting the right road is especially important as JP is more or less the starting point for the Transamazonica (BR230). A wrong turn and you could off across the Amazon!

The roads themselves had street signs, making map reading much easier. There were plenty of road markings, traffic lights and speed cameras to control the traffic flow. Buses looked new with digital destination boards and while I was there new bus shelters were being installed.

Many places boasted signs saying “Amigo do Turista” (friend of the tourist) as part of a campaign by the Mayor. I experienced the results of the campaign first hand in the Tourist Information Centre in Tambau. I found the centre to be well stocked with leaflets about things going on in the area and on what to see and visit. The centre officials spoke English and were able to explain things comprehensively and patiently. I was given a large glossy booklet about sightseeing in Paraiba and a map, both free, which were infinitely superior to the maps costing R$4.99 at the local bancos. However, the guide book for R$9.99 was very useful.

The historical centre of the city has had a lot of work done to it. Many of the old buildings looked as if they had recently been repainted and looked particularly charming in the evening. Sadly there was a main shopping street leading up to the lagoa where the colonial type buildings were in a very sorry state and would cost a tidy sum to bring back up to standard.

In the main, I found all of the “praas” (squares), churches etc. to be in comfortable walking distance of each other. There was always someone around to collect litter, and watering or cutting the grass, giving a well kept feel to the area. This feeling continued with the presence of the trees which are everywhere. The avenues are lined with trees and there are huge forests on the outskirts and in the centre of the city. Looking at a map, or on Google Earth, you will see swathes of green everywhere which makes you wonder why is it so green when it is so hot and hardly rains.

During the three weeks we were there, the average temperature was about 30c. We did see 35c on our thermometer one day. It took me some time (about three days) to get used to it, I’m from Minas, you know and heat like that isn’t that common. Getting used to the heat means taking it that little bit easier and drinking lots of water.

There was always a soft, gentle breeze blowing in from the sea, day and night. It just wafted across your face like a silk scarf, cool in every sense of the word.

It did rain just enough, and as John said it evaporated quickly. The rain didn’t bother some people who continued walking on the beach whilst others took shelter in the bars. There’s another darker side to this breeze though and locals call it the “marzinho”. Never buy a sea front house, I was told, because the sea breeze ruins everything in a very short time, particularly clothes and domestic appliances. I was talking to some locals at a carwash and they told me you had to wash the car ever week (don’t we all?) because of the detrimental effect of the salt. No problem because the car wash I went to was very thorough and cost R$20 including a polish.

Part 2 next week…

Tamashin is a retired civil engineer who first came to Brazil in 1993 to help build a community centre for street children in Rio. He now lives in Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife and children.

Previous articles by Tamashin:

Brazil: The Great North Road Part 6
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 5
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 4
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 3
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 2
Brazil: The Great North Road Part 1