São Luis: a city of contradictions.

The sleepy side – Upon first arriving in the city center, there was a palpable dormant quality to the town. The cobbled streets were lined with rows and rows of closed doors and shuttered windows. Walking along, we passed very few other people. Were all the people inside? Hard to tell. There were no sounds of individuals conversing, dishes clinking or televisions buzzing. A few of the streets showed no signs of inhabitants.

The lively side – Once the lights went down in the city, the whole place came alive. There was music outside of many of the central restaurants and in a few of the tucked-away back alleys. Drums were set in front of streetside fires to loosen the heads before being pounded upon with soulful exuberance. Women were stamping and spinning around the drummers, their skirts swirling around them in a kaleidoscope of flowing fabric. Broad staircases were lined with people conversing, sharing beers at the plastic tables, dancing and swaying to reggae beats.

The European side – The entire city center was a postcard-worthy image of cobblestone streets, terra cotta roofs and colonial architecture. Every few blocks there was a central square or plaza shaded by mango and palm trees. The grand whitewashed buildings were stark under the midday sun and then lit at night with green, blue, red lights. Many rock walls and structures had plants dripping off the sides. The Portuguese influence was apparent in the tiled walls and colorful colonial buildings in bright oranges and greens, pale yellows and blues.

The eclectic Brazilian side – There was a uniquely African feel to the city in the soulful drumming and dancing. A certain sector was greatly influenced by reggae culture: dreadlocks, rasta caps and lions of Zion. There was a big skater community that hung around the front of one of the cathedrals and a vibrant LGBT scene. It was a beautiful myriad of people blending together. So many different colors of skin, hair and eyes…

 

 

Jericoacoara: a tourist trap or seventh heaven?

               I could not (and still can´t) make up my mind how I feel about Jeri. When we first found a jeep to take us over the sand dunes to the little beach town, I was skeptical. It was the first time on this trip that I felt targeted as a tourist as we were picked out of the crowd in the central market and asked if we needed a ride to Jeri.

                The ride there was very interesting. Our large 4×4 had all our bags piled on top and roped down somewhat haphazardly (mine was on the edge, of course.) About ten of us were crammed into the back with sweaty arms and legs rubbing against one another. Two more stood on the back bumper. Two ferries that were nothing more than shabby wooden-planked floating platforms with men with long wooden poles served as the motor to carry us across impassable streams. After drifting over dunes and past the ocean for about an hour in the jeep, we arrived in Jeri.

                From first sight, it was apparent that it was a tourist town. There was more English being spoken than Portuguese and upscale shops and restaurants lining the streets. Besides the obvious tourist influence, there were the surfers. Kitesurfers, windsurfers, regular surfers… All kinds of bronzed, sun bleached, swimsuit wearing people were walking the streets with their respective boards of choice in hand. I immediately felt like I was in southern California.

                So I was unhappy when I first arrived. Up until that point we had met few gringos and I didn´t want to spend time in a Brazilian town where there were more Europeans than Brazilians. Then after the first night there, the place started to grow on me.

                We found a really cool place to stay which was just barely outside of the town and perched on a hill overlooking the beach. It had guestrooms in the front and then a large courtyard in the back with huge cashew trees shading the area. James and I strung up our hammocks and slept in this courtyard for the next two nights. The place doubled as a capoeira center so all day instructors and students alike were coming and going. We got to watch some lessons and the sounds of berimbaus reverberating through the trees was a constant. I used the small guest kitchen to cook one night which was a nice break from going out to eat in restaurants.

                I spent one day walking out to the natural stone arch that was down the beach from the town. James and I found a spot for bouldering along the way, and although the arch itself was ok, but the scenery along the way made the hike worthwhile- dunes, lizards, cacti and awesome quartz stone formations, waves crashing in the ocean below. The second day I spent at the beach and then took a sunset run and watched the full moon come up over a huge dune. At night the crowd migrated to caipirhinia row where fifteen or twenty stands were lined up mixing the drinks on the spot. Delicious drinks and new friends before strolling down the moonlit beach made for two quite enjoyable nights.

                So I found some good in the place. It was undeniably geared toward foreign tourists (myself included) and that always spoils a place for me, but the town itself had a certain charm. It had a laid back, happy atmosphere that is hard to dislike, and there turned out to be a cool sector of local people there between the surfers and the capoeiras from our pousada who I got to know a bit. Anyway, each different location has something unique to show, and Jericoacoara turned out to be much more complex than I though upon first judgement.

 

All in all, two very different locales, both multi-layered. Out of all the different places I have seen thus far, these two have both left distinct impressions. The first I loved and was enamored with almost immediately. The second I have mixed feelings about. So although this is just a small sample of what I have been seeing along the way, I hope that the description of these two towns shows the enormous amount of variety in this country. The diverse and vibrant nature of Brazil has been endlessly fascinating and inspiring for me.

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