Picuí, and other small towns of Brazil

IMG_20200105_111837

When I was visiting Minha Namorada over Christmas, Meu Sogro (my Father-in-law) invited us to visit his hometown, Picuí, as he was excited to show me where he grew up.

Getting there was an adventure on its own. Driving in Brazil is already a scary concept for a Canadian, but the drive between Joao Pessoa and Picuí has its own special set of fears. As we had to drive uphill, there were fifty-six button hook turns on the highway. The roads in this area were well-maintained, but the numerous monuments to loved ones on the roadside attested to the danger that drove the need for well-maintained roads – we would hardly pass 50 feet between the roadside crosses. However, this does not slow down the Brazilian drivers. Every car I saw was travelling well above the speed limit, and cutting the corners, lightly honking the horn to tell any driver on the other side of the turn that they were coming. I have rarely feared for my life while driving, but this was definitely an exception. Later I was told there is another, slightly slower, route that has no such turns, and we took that way home.

When Minha Namorada and I went to step outside, she asked me if I was “ready for hell”, because of the heat. And, while I do admit it was hot (definitely above 30 Celsius), I told Minha Namorada that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Joao Pessoa. It was hot, but much of the Brazilian Interior is extremely dry, and Picuí is one of the driest of those. As people will often attest, its the heat, not the humidity, and a little bit of shade went a long way in Picuí. Picuí is located in a place called the Polígono das secas (Drought Polygon). It has droughts unrelated to Climate Change (although that doesn’t help), and, when I visited, they had gone five years without rain – the former river beds had become football fields, and most farms in the area raised goats, which can eat cacti. It actually rained above two weeks after we left Picuí, and Meu Sogro sent me a video of the people outside cheering and watching the giant storm. It warmed my heart to see their prayers for water had finally been answered.

Now, Picuí is a small town, and small town Brazil is a lot different than the big cities. They are very reminiscent of small town North America, and while there are still a few more walls and gates than you might normally see here, there isn’t the need. Crime levels are generally less, because everybody knows everybody, and watches out for one another. There is also not the same level of distinction between rich areas and favelas. Very nice houses can be close to poor ones, and so you never know until you get somewhere what the place will look like. The Priest for the small town is one of the most important people in the city, and things tend to move at a slow pace.

IMG_20200105_112325
The Churches in small towns are some of the most beautiful buildings.  I didn’t actually make it inside this one, as Meu Sogro knows the Father of the church in a nearby city, Cruzeta.

 

Prices in restaurants are very cheap – Minha Namorada and I had a large stuffed crust pizza, with four beers and a pop for less than 30 Reals (about $10 Canadian at the time) – including a cover charge for the band. I don’t necessarily recommend travelling to these towns for the average traveler, as there is a lower chance people will speak English. Accents also differ significantly, as they do anywhere, but I can never really guess who I will understand when speaking Portuguese. Trained politicians are sometimes harder for me to understand than an average joe off the street. But, I will say that everyone there is extremely welcoming, even compared to the warm greetings I have always found in the rest of Brazil.

The big event of the year in Picuí, as it is for all the small towns in the region, is their Carne De Sol festival. The centre of many small towns we drove through were clearly built with this in mind, as I couldn’t imagine many gatherings that would require so much space in any small town otherwise. During these events, all the surrounding towns visit, and the places are packed to the brim. These events appear to happen regularly, but varying from town to town, and create a wonderful sense of comraderie and good natured rivalry between the cities.

I can’t say for certain if Picuí is a good representative of small towns in general in Brazil, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Stray animals in Brazil

Unfortunately, Brazil has a problem with many stray animals. It is likely you will see stray dogs and cats scrounging for food, or lounging in the shade during the heat of the day. Like in Canada, you should not feed these animals. You don’t know where they have been, you don’t know if they might bite, or if they have diseases.

It is an unfortunate situation to be sure, but the animals are actually fairly well socialized. Generally speaking while dogs might look at you to see if you will feed them, they largely don’t get too close. They are equally wary of humans (probably a lot have been abused). Lots of people do throw scraps and other food to the animals, so don’t be fearful that they won’t be eating.

I find cats are actually more willing to come to the table and beg for food directly. At one restaurant, I was sitting outside (as I usually do in Brazil) and I repeatedly had to shoo away a cat who wanted to jump up on my lap and share my dinner. It broke my heart to say no, but I didn’t know if the cat was healthy. I did realize the reason the cat was so intrusive, the owner of the restaurant regularly fed this cat. He even let it into his house (attached to the restaurant), although very obviously had taken measures to prevent it entering into his kitchen.

It is very hard to see these animals and not want to take them home with you. But, it definitely reinforced the importance of Bob Barker’s classic sign-offs, “don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets”.

Don’t think for a second that Brazilians don’t like animals though. Lots of people do have dogs and cats as pets though. And just like anywhere else these pet owners clearly spoil their pets. I do wonder how the animals stay cool enough with their thick coats of fur, but anytime of day you’ll see lots of pets taking a walk with their humans, exploring every interesting smell along the way, happy as can be.

Porto de Galinhas

IMG-20190324-WA0115

Porto de Galinhas started out being known as Porto Rico, which means port of riches. However, when slavery was outlawed in Brazil, Porto De Galinhas continued to allow the importation of “chickens” (read: slaves) through the city, and the name stuck. Unlike many cities with not-so-glamorous histories, Porto De Galinhas acknowledges its history and has taken it back. The chicken is now a symbol of cultural significance and pride in the city.

After playing spot the chicken for about ten minutes, we realized that it would have been easier to try to find places without chickens, they were everywhere.

Porto de Galinhas has a thriving downtown, but oddly, the downtown is only busy from about 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. I’m not sure what there really is to do in the city outside of those seven hours. The first day Minha Noiva (my fiancee) and I went, we got there a bit late (around 8 p.m.), and while there were still many people there, by the time we had walked the length of downtown it was clear the crowd was slowly dispersing. I do wonder if it might be busier on a weekend (we were there Monday-Tuesday), but other cities (like Pippa) are busy regardless. When we went there the next morning around 1 p.m., entire streets were empty with the stores not opening until 2, although there were a few restaurants open to accommodate the guests of the many cute hotels right in the heart of downtown.

IMG-20190324-WA0117
Porto De Galinhas is a fairly popular tourist spot
20190324_202426
This was just a random Tuesday night in Porto de Galinhas, but it was decorated for a party all the same
20190324_202005
We could tell the crowd was already starting to wind down

However, Porto de Galinhas is very much centred on tourism, and you will find lots of signs in English, and all the restaurants had english-language menus (although I personally try not to use them too much, so that I can continue to improve my Portuguese). Porto de Galinhas is also a less expensive city, with good deals on shopping, and inexpensive food.

20190327_115527
Downtown Porto De Galinhas was surprisingly empty during the day

Outside of downtown Porto de Galinhas, however, there are many resorts and beautiful homes. We stayed in a resort named Viva, which I would highly recommend, although there were many others to fit all sorts of vacations. At ours, it was something called “half-board”, which meant ours breakfasts and dinners were included, but lunch (which is the main meal in Brazil) we were on our own. I liked this style, as it allowed us to try different foods throughout the trip, but also we could also be lazy and just walk in to the restaurant first thing in the morning, and at the end of the day. There is a lovely little bike path that connects all of the resorts to downtown, so you don’t have to worry about getting around.  The hotel was clearly aimed at both families and couples, having a bunch of stuff for kids to do, but also having locations where couples could have romantic meals alone.

32787641

20190325_111715

 

One of my favourite locations next to Porto de Galinhas was the Praia de Carneiros (Sheep Beach), which is located on a beach of an ocean inlet, and has a lovely church on the beach. The church is so close to the ocean, that at high tide ten steps should take you from the front door of the church to the water below. The water is not deep near the church though, with people able to walk more than halfway out towards the other side of the inlet before switching to swimming. The church is a common stop for all of the boat tours of the area (which are surprisingly expensive), and there are even horse buggies that take you back and forth from the church to various resorts along the beach.

IMG-20190326-WA0028

IMG-20190326-WA0015
Igrejiinha de São Benedito (Church of Saint Benedict)
IMG-20190326-WA0037
Its so close to the water
thumbnail_IMG-20190326-WA0075
You can see just how flat the ground is the whole way across the inlet
IMG-20190326-WA0064
The horses in hats that take you to and from the Igrejiinha de São Benedito were one of the cutest unexpected things I saw on this trip

 

Misconceptions about Brazil

Growing up in Canada, people often get an unwarranted poor view of other countries. Please don’t think I am suggesting Canadians are racist, or anything like that. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, Canadians simply don’t get educated about many countries around the world. By the time we learn about British History, French History, American History, and how they all integrate into Canadian History, there is not a lot of time to learn about other countries. In addition, as large as we are, Canada is fairly isolated on the map. We have one land border with another country (possibly two), and we live in one of the top ranked countries according to many different indices.

Accordingly, we can easily have rumours, singular items, or misleading headlines shape ours views of other countries. I’ve put together a list of Misconceptions about Brazil, misconceptions that I once believed, or that I’ve head from others:

     1. Brazil is dangerous

Brazil is not dangerous. Canadians have an extremely low crime rate compared to the rest of the world, and we also tend to visit only countries very similar to our own, like the USA or Britain. However, all countries have places that are not safe. Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark all have high crime rates, and higher murder rates than Brazil. Yet, people don’t have the same irrational fears of those cities.

There are places in Brazil that are not safe. You simply have to stay out of the crime ridden areas though, and you will be fine. If you stay away from the Favelas, including the controversial Favela Tours, then you need not worry. This doesn’t mean don’t take precautions, but you don’t have to do anything different than you should do when visiting any foreign country, and especially when you don’t know the city.

     2. Brazilians dress provocatively

I think this comes solely because of Brazilian Carnival. I haven’t been to Carnival, but the traditional Samba Dancers there dress in fairly provocative clothing. And when marketing Carnival and other Brazilian things to tourists, its not surprising that dress like this is used – sex sells, as the saying goes.

Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

No one could rightly think this is how everyone dresses all the time. It is clearly the type of outfit worn for a special performance in one specific time and place, yet many people think about it when they think of Brazil. But, a quick thought experiment will quickly dispel these thoughts. Imagine for a second you live right on the equator, where the sun’s UV index ranges from a low of 5 to a high of 12.

Just to give those numbers some context, Vancouver ranges from 1-7, and the World Health Organization suggests that when the UV reaches just 8, that people avoid the outside during midday hours, seek shade, and that a shirt, sunscreen and hat are a must.

Would it make sense to show a lot of skin in those areas? Certainly not. In fact, when I have visited Brazil, it is almost always the tourists who are the ones provacatively dressed, and who ultimately looking like a tomato at the end of the day. While the Brazilians are the ones seeking shade, wearing hats, wearing UV-protective shirts, and actually getting through life without contracting Melenoma.

     3. Brazilian animals are a constant threat.

Canadians don’t view Brazil quite as badly as we view Australia, but we aren’t used to dealing with poisonous animals. Accordingly, when visiting Brazil, we think about the horror stories of animals from the Amazon – anacondas, poison dart frogs, Brazilian Wandering Spiders, just to name a few. However, Brazil and the Amazon are not the same thing. And, this largely stems from a familiarity problem. People from countries outside of North America think of Canada and worry about bears or wolves. I’ve only ever seen a bear in the wild once or twice in my life, and that was when I was visiting small out of the way towns, and I was in a car. The same is true for Brazilian animals. You won’t see anything more dangerous than a hornet (which, don’t get me wrong, do suck – I have an irrational hatred of bees, wasps, and hornets). But, you don’t need to worry about snakes, or poisonous animals anymore than someone living in Toronto has to worry about bears.

I’ll add to this list as I encounter more misconceptions.

Praia da Pipa

Pipa is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to.

Pipa used to have a very small population, but as a result of the pristine beaches, and the beautiful horizons, it has become a tourist hotspot. While there are many places in Brazil where people do not speak English (which is actually wonderful – I’ll discuss that later), in Pipa you will find many people that speak English with ease.

We stayed in a wonderful hotel called the Recanto De Sophie,  (which I’ll discuss more later), and the guests in the neighboring chalet were a British couple who didn’t speak a word of Portuguese – we saw them at all the same events we went to, and they seemed to have no issues with getting around.

20181011_130518
I found the main streets in Pipa to have a feel very similar to other places in Canada and the USA which I’ve been, specifically the ones that are themed to be like New Orleans. I’ve never been to New Orleans, only areas themed as such, but I felt a similar vibe.
Pipa has a very vibrant nightlife, which is important because, being near the equator, the sun sets very early in Northeastern Brazil. Every night in Pipa there are large crowds having a street party. In Brazil, it is not unusual to ask for a beer to go, and public drinking is acceptable.

As such, the entire street essentially becomes one big bar. The crowds generally start to grow around 10 p.m., and the parties lasts late into the night.
However, even though the nightlife is amazing, don’t miss out on the wonderful experiences during the day. The beaches are what made the area grow so quickly, and they do not disappoint.

IMG-20181111-WA0005 (1)

There are sheer cliffs which mark the edge of the beaches, with man-made paths to descend. This keeps development away from the beaches themselves (although there are always bars nearby), and provides for some stunning views.

20181011_121744

I also saw, for the first time in my life, wild dolphins playing. There is something so much more spectacular in seeing them in the wild, because they are choosing to be with us – they want to be seen.

One important tip though, is to wear very comfortable shoes when visiting Pipa – there are a lot of hilly streets, and the descent/ascent of the cliffs at the edge of the beach is not fun without support. Even though I exercise regularly, wearing only my Havianas led to bad calf pain, and the walks home were quite a struggle.

Another issue is to watch the tide – sometimes when walking you won’t realize just how quickly the tide can come in. Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I were walking and exploring the beach, and we grabbed a quick snack, and by the time we were walking back, the tide had easily moved 100-200 meters in-land. The path we’d walked to get there was still open, but other paths I’d seen people walk had been submerged.