Never will I forget the feeling of sipping a cool capeta while sitting at a wooden table on a warm summer night, toes buried in the sand as stars sparkled above. Scents of saltwater and grilled meat filled my nose as smooth jazz notes from the Jericoacoara Jazz and Chorinho Festival drifted through the air, the breeze pulling tiny wisps of hair across my sun-soaked skin. Here in Jeri, as the locals call it, it’s too easy to forget what day it is, or even the hour.
I was with a new friend – a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Irish guy who had just quit his law job to backpack around South America – and after a day of kitesurfing it was about time to relax. We ordered drinks of the local specialty and conversed about work, relationships, and of course, travel while sitting in front of the dark, nighttime ocean. The waves were calm and the air was cool, perfect for a thoughtful conversation.
We’d just come from watching the sun set on top of a majestic sand dune, a nightly ritual for residents and tourists alike. As the last bits of burning sunshine slipped below the horizon, everyone applauded, children running down the dune and into the ocean, screaming in pure bliss. Speaking of bliss…did I mention where we were?
The Trek to Jericoacoara
Located about 6 hours outside of Fortaleza, Jericoacoara is a small beach town located in the middle of a Brazilian National Park. Admittedly, it’s not easy to get to – from Rio I took two flights, one to Brasília and the next to Fortaleza, stayed one night in Fortaleza, then took a six-hour bus and a one-hour truck ride to arrive at my Pousada on the central street of the town. (Apparently, there’s also an option to go straight from the Fortaleza Airport to Jericoacoara via 4 x 4, but it’s expensive and only leaves as certain times of the day.) I was exhausted by the time I arrived, having traveled for well over 10 hours through 4 different vehicles.
However, here in Brazil we have a saying: vale a pena or “it is worth the effort.” So, of course, I boarded my bus from Fortaleza’s rodoviária and hoped for the best.
After six hours on the road, my first bus finally arrived in Jijoca, a small city outside of the national park where the sand dunes begin. Luckily, I had met some new friends on my first bus who were painters living in Jericoacoara. Because Jericoacoara’s supplies are limited, they had just come from Fortaleza carrying three or four bags of paint, canvases, and other artistic tools. They confessed to me that a lot of people fall into the tourist trap of paying over 6 times the price of a truck ride from Jijoca to Jericoacoara, so they hustled me into a tightly-packed van of locals and I paid a whopping R$7 for my ride through the dunes, as opposed to as much as R$50 or R$60 that they tend to charge tourists. What a deal!
On the way to the town, where all of the tiny pousadas are located, we passed through what seemed like miles of golden sand dunes and valleys showing off wild horses, donkeys, and cows. I felt like maybe I was in the Sahara desert, or on a primal, deserted island. I looked at my local phone – no cell service – and I smiled to myself at the thought of being disconnected for a week. I mean, after all, this was my vacation. Passing through the dunes in the back of a rusty pickup truck, the wind lapped my face, refreshing and cool, as the sun slowly started to creep behind the sand. I crossed my fingers and hoped I’d make it to my place by sunset.
By some leap of faith I did. No one was in the reception area so I dropped my stuff off in the front desk and sprinted, camera in hand, to the beach. This was the result:
Jeri’s Quaint Town
The town of Jericoacoara took me by surprise. It was the kind of place that could only appear in a romance novel, small cottage-like buildings laced with vines and flowers, and hanging lights dangling from the trees. Painted signs marked most of the restaurants and hotels, and it was easy to tell that the shops were all family-owned, overflowing with artisan work and “local specialties.” There are no paved streets in Jericoacoara, only sand roads on which trucks can drive. By the end of my three-day stay I would have ventured to say that the town was almost utopic, with it’s nonexistent crime rates, vibrant lifestyle and glowing people. It was definitely a nice breath of fresh air from the constantly moving Rio de Janeiro.
I stayed in the wonderful little Pousada do Tadeu, located right on the town square on the main road, where the jazz festival was going on. What magic! I had a window that opened up right to a balcony with a hammock, through which I’d crawl on relaxed nights to write or nap or listen to the drifting sounds of chorinho and the chatter of drunken voices. The weather was perfect pretty much every day, fluffy little clouds laced a light blue sky, which blended with the hues of the flat ocean.
I imagined myself falling in love here in Jericoacoara, underneath the gnarled branches and roots of the beachside trees, the sandy roadways, the scents of bonfire. A life without pavement seemed all too good to be true, but here I was, relaxing in perfect harmony and making new friends with whom I shared many a great drink, a few breathtaking sunsets, and an unforgettable three days.
I loved Jericoacoara so much I’ve decided to split my writing into two posts – this one is the first. Have you ever fallen in love with a place so much you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Tell me your stories in the comments!