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december 24, 2004 -> sand and sea: Jericoacoara 

The last two hours of our 24-hour, multimodal transport marathon were spent in a 4WD school bus that crashed through the dunes, rocking like a ship in rough seas.  Our headlights caught the gaze of startled donkeys, and the fat, creamy moon revealed just enough of the landscape to render it completely mysterious.  We got stuck a few times, but the skillful driver always managed to work us free.  It wouldn't have mattered if we had become stuck; that was part of the adventure.  Everyone was elated to be heading towards such a remote beach, in such a unique way. 

The next morning, we walked down an avenue of palms to the sea.  Life was just beginning to stir in Jericoacoara, a small beach town in the far north of Brazil.  The beach was empty.  A few small fishing boats bobbed beyond the breakers.  To our left, a huge dune rose above the dark blue water.  A few people were already standing on its crest; we could see their clothes trembling in the breeze.    It was a scene of staggering beauty: a juxtaposition of sky, sand, and sea; a slow, oddly symmetric struggle between earthly and watery waves.  Zephyrs whistled through the narrow corridor between the dunes and the sea, hurling sheets of sea spray and sand. 

The town was a small, but growing quickly.  The streets were sandy tracks best negotiated on foot or in dune buggies.  The dreadlocked and the goateed could still claim the place, but their time was drawing near.  Jericoacoara had been chosen as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world by a Washington Post writer; it was a five-star destination in the popular local guidebook, Cuatro Rodas.  Hippy shacks and bungalows were being replaced by more upscale establishments, beans and rice by more elegant (and naturally, expensive) fare.  Yet for all its growing pains, Jericoacoara was still a very cool, very chilled-out place.  It was a place to fall in love and get a tattoo.

Jericoacoara is legendary among windsurfers for its strong, reliable, off-shore breezes.  The waves are of moderate size: not big enough to launch off, but perfect for quick maneuvers.  Many of the beachfront resorts offered equipment rental and lessons.  By ten o'clock, the bay would be filled with darting, colorful triangles.  I had hoped to improve my windsurfing skills, but the jump from the breezeless, flat seas of Singapore (where I took my first lessons) to the gusty, wavy waters of Jericoacoara proved too much for me.  After two days of practice, I had only raw palms and a red nose to show for my efforts. 

Dusk at “Jeri” was a magical time.  We would mix our own caipirinhas (a heady blend of tropical fruit and cane alcohol), and head down to the beach.  There were beach volleyball games, jugglers, and intertwined lovers.  Dozens of people climbed to the top of the dune to watch the sunrise, and then sped down the steep face in great strides or gritty somersaults.  Far down the bay, the curved sails of kite-surfers rose and fell.  Tourists lingered around the circles of capoeira fighters, admiring their supple athleticism and rippling physiques.  Capoeira is a unique Brazilian martial art of high kicks, foot sweeps and handstands.  The two combatants whirl about the circle like dueling windmills; only the musical accompaniment and lack of contact make it seem like a dance.  Foreigners practiced nearby.  They were nowhere near as fit or flexible, but they loved the music and the movement.

We spent five blissful nights in Jeri, treating ourselves to a nice room in a beautiful hotel.  Some days we did nothing but walk down the beach, climb the dunes and sit by the pool.  Every day we took a long mid-afternoon nap.  In the early evening, we would go for a jog.  Dinner might be pizza, a feijoada (a typical Brazilian meal of beans, rice, and anything else), or a spicy seafood stew from the state of Bahia.  We went to bed early – a day in the sun is draining, and the smoky reggae bars held little appeal – and woke refreshed each morning.  It was a perfect vacation within the vacation.