As with any tropical location, the first thing pops into one’s mind is no doubt sandy beaches, palm trees, hammocks and the like. And Pernambuco (the state in which Recife lies) is certainly no exception to the rule. It’s funny that I live so close to the beach and never EVER go. Put me in another country (city even) and I’m all about it but I avoid my own like the plague. Why is that, I wonder? I’ve spent more moonlit nights skinny-dipping in St. Augustine than I’ve made trips to Jax Beach to actually go to the beach. While I’m anything but a beach person, I can definitely appreciate the extreme feeling of relaxation and liberation one feels when as the sun warms your skin and the sand cools your toes. Maybe that’s why I hate Jax Beach, it doesn’t feel very relaxing. Too many bro’s trying to look a part. In just about every other part of the world, the beach is a place to let go and chill, not look cool. Fat hairy dudes wear tiny little bathing suits and give no fucks about it. It’s something that will throw you off at first but once you accept it, it’s quite liberating. I even broke down and bought one of those tiny little bathing suits. True story! It’s funny how wearing board shorts at places like these makes you look like more of a chump than donning a speedo.
Our hotel was on Avenida Boa Viagem (Portuguese for bon voyage) overlooking the ocean. Recife literally translates to “reef” and it’s clear why as you glance out over the sea at the dark strips of reef just below the surface. Not ideal for surfing but Diablo don’t surf so no big deal. Plus less bro’s. Apparently Recife has seen an upswing in the number of shark attacks lately as evidenced by the warning signs cautioning patrons to be on the lookout for tibaurao.
The beach in the city was like any other city beach really. Towering hotels cast their shadows on umbrella-covered beach chairs as vendors dealt in Brazil nuts, fried fish and freshly coconuts with straws in them. The water was full of seaweed though so I made only one trip the whole time I was there.
The first day I arrived I was instructed to get some food with my step-sisters and be ready to go somewhere else for the weekend. Their aunt who still lives in Recife had arranged for us to use a friend’s bungalow in Porto de Galhinas for the weekend. Before we left my eldest sister insisted I have a caipirosca, the Brazilian specialty drink. I was hooked immediately! It’s not unlike a mojito but with mulled sugar and lime and either vodka, rum or cachaca depending on the variation. As best as I could gather caipirosca meant it was made with vodka while a caipirinha was made with the cachaca, a Brazilian liquor made from cane sugar. Then there was a caipifruta which could be made from any number of assorted fruits. Pretay, pretay, pretay awesome!
That evening we drove an hour or so to a resort-heavy city and settled into our digs. We later learned that although there is quite a bit of money to be made in Brazil, most of it has to remain in the country hence whomever it was purchasing said bungalow. We went to dinner that night in the city which had the vibe of any beach resort town. Flip flops and optional shirts seemed to be the dress code. I ate some kind of fish seasoned with cinnamon and cardamon and topped with banana and coconut. So damn tropical! Of course I washed it down with another caipi-something-or-other and a Bohemia beer or two. After eating, my sister and I had a gander at the open air bazaar next door. It was there I learned that Porto de Galinhas meant “port of chickens” from all the touristy trinkets featuring weird little folk art chickens. I have to admit, as I saw them more and more they began to grow on me. However, they were the only chickens I saw that weren’t on a plate the entire time I was there.
I was informed that a “boogie” had been arranged for myself and the girls the next day. I was confused as to how boogie boarding was going to work with all the reefs before I realized it was actually a “buggy.” The next morning my sisters and I piled into our little dune buggy and were escorted across the sand past beachside cafes and hotels to a somewhat secluded inlet. There we boarded what my cajun mother might call a pirogue propelled by a stick. We passed forests of mangroves and arrived at a particular place where our jangadeiro hopped in the water to catch a couple of sea-horses in a glass jar. The bewildered little creatures fluttered their fins and ran into the sides of the jar trying to escape our tourists’ curiosity. He then found a sea cucumber which he poked and prodded until it expelled its purple ink. Poor little sea creatures.
That night we returned to the city to souvenir shop where my father and I broke off from the girls to have dinner and drinks and talk life and business and stuff. It was the first of several similar conversations we had over the week that helped me put things in perspective but also made me eager to get home and get back to work. How lame is that? I’m sitting outside in paradise eating delicious food, drinking tropical drinks, savoring the night air and ocean breeze and I’m thinking about work.
The following day was the first time I got really stoked about being there. The jet lag had long since departed and we were getting further away from the resort-type stuff that I’m less than fond of. My step-mother is one of the friendliest people you could ever meet. Rather than call for a random taxi, she called upon our driver from the previous night to take us to a place called Treis Carneiros where we boarded a ferry that shuttled us around for the day. But rather than simply drop us off, James came with us and helped our young jangadeiro explain where we were and what we were seeing. As we walked to our boat, thousands of tiny crabs with one large pincer scampered away from us and hid in their little holes in the sand.
Our first stop was a secluded beach known for its “banho de argila” or mud bath. We each were handed a lump of gritty gray clay which we moistened and rubbed on our bodies to exfoliate our skin and make us “20 years younger.” From there we got back on the ferry as the mud dried to another location where we rinsed off in the warm water before arriving at a somewhat crowded group of natural pools created by the changing tides over the reef. Our guide showed us the best spots to snorkel and check out the tropical fish trapped by the changing tides.
Famished we headed to yet another island beach where a ridiculous spread of food was delivered to our table after many a bottle of beer. A true symphony of the fruits of the sea containing everything from fish, octopus, lobster and shrimp swam in a reddish roux served with rice. It was enough food to feed three times the number of our party so after the meal we boxed it up and sent it home with James, our taxi driver.
Absolutely exhausted and roasted by the sun we headed back. By the time we arrived the dock we had left from was completely submerged by the rising tide. Unbeknownst to us, or at least forgotten, daylight savings had occurred and we waited anxiously for an extra hour until our shuttle arrived to bring us back to Recife.
That night I ate a hamburger with a fried egg and corn in the mayonnaise. It was pretty fucking good.