Published: April 26th 2009April 10th 2009
After 5 nights in Fernando Noronha, we weren't ready to give up the Brazilian beaches just yet. We boarded a 2 hour bus from Natal to Pipa, a beach town described in the Lonely Planet as being an 'international' destination. (Still not sure what that means, but we did see the requisite Argentine hippies selling jewelry on the beach). We had read some blogs where visitors described seeing dolphins, which influenced our decision to stop in Pipa on the way to Recife. It ended up being a very good alternative to staying in Recife before our flight to Rio de Janeiro. (God forbid we would have to spend another night in smelly Recife! Yikes).
Praia do Pipa
Pipa was a cute spot to spend a few nights. We found a clean, simple pousada a few blocks from the bus station and discovered that all of the main beaches were within walking distance. Pipa has many restaurants and even a few cheap per-kilo lunch spots, which gives it a leg up on Natal.
The main beach, Praia do Pipa, is right in town and is a great place to relax at low tide, when the entire coastline is filled with
small tide pools. Even though the main beach is the most crowded, its not too hard to find a semi-secluded spot to float in a calm pool of water. Unlike Noronha, we didn't see any fish or marine life in the tide pools, only several dozen middle-aged package tourists working on their tans ;) This was a great beach for me, since I love calm water, but Jake was looking for some rougher surf, so we walked to the surrounding beaches looking for waves (and dolphins).
We didn't see any dolphins on the Dolphin Beach, but we spotted several at Praia do Madeiro, the neighboring beach. We had just gotten into the water when we saw a few dolphins in the distance. We swam further out to sea, not too far from the dolphin-watching boats that were anchored in the area, and the dolphins swam all around us, popping up from the waves in their trademark arcs. It was an exciting guessing game, wondering where they would pop up; since the water was murky, we couldn't see them coming. At one point, 3 dolphins surfaced just a few meters from where we were treading water. Very exciting! We noticed
some beachgoers making half-hearted attempts to ride the waves on rented surfboards. Then we realized the surfboard rental was a roundabout way to swim out and get closer to the dolphins... entire families were holding on to the surfboards as floatation devices. We were sort of jealous as we were treading water for 40 minutes without any swim aids, but we did get a good total body workout :) Swimming with the dolphins was a nice way to end our Brazilian beach odyssey and a good compliment to Noronha, where we swam wth giant turtles and sting rays but did not see any dolphins.
We had spotted an Ecological Sanctuary on our free tourist map and it looked walkable from the town center, so we decided to check it out. For a small entry fee (R$5 if memory serves), we got a little line-drawing map and spent the day walking through some well-groomed trails. There were a couple of cool cliff-top lookout points, and access to Praia do Madeiro, where we saw the dolphins. We were skeptical of the garden 'labyrinth' since the walls consisted of scraggly trees and were basically see-through, but it was actually kind of hard
and we had to resort to cheating to make it. Lots of fun and adventure... and we were seemingly the only ones walking the trails that day.
After 2 nights in Pipa, we boarded a bus to Recife and found our way to the airport, then we flew to Rio de Janeiro. Miraculously, the Mercure hotel in Leblon had received our camera charger in the mail and agreed to save it for us until we could get back to Rio-- which turned out to be over a month later. We were ecstatic to discover the charger actually worked, so we could finally use our digital camera and upload the photos from Brazil. Hopefully we won't have to use the semi-disposable camera anymore! Finally we are in the new millenium again :) (NOTE- we uploaded tons of photos to the blog only to discover the %&!$&$ Travel Blog website deleted ALL of our photos from April when they performed server maintenance. UGH! Including all the photos from the blogs we had already published this month. Trying to control my simmering rage...). Fortunately we were able to upload a few photos from Pipa to this entry after the mass-deletion.
After Pipa we spent a few uneventful days in Rio buying presents and revisiting our favorite per-kilo joints. Jake had been researching airfares and bus fares to Foz de Iguacu-- the beautiful series of waterfalls on the border of Brazil and Argentina-- for a week; it was a frustrating process since airfares change hourly and as foreigners we can't book airfare online, so prices sometimes increase by the time we get to a travel agent. He discovered that we could save money by flying to Curitiba and then taking a 10-hour bus to Foz de Iguacu, rather than taking a super-long bus all the way from Rio to Foz de Iguacu. So, we ended up spending a few nights in Curitiba, in southern Brazil.
Curitiba: The Salt Lake City of Brazil
We had met a Brazilian couple from Curitiba in our travels, and when we asked if we should visit their city, they said not to bother! In truth, it is a pretty, clean little city that has very few tourist attractions, but it is still a pleasant place to stopover for a few nights. The most interesting features of Curitiba were its strange bus stops, which are enclosed
in plexiglass tubes (seemingly for no reason except to confuse tourists), and the high incidence of super-pale, blonde Brazilians residing there. About 1 in 10 residents have a strong Dolph Lundgren resemblance. If we were able to fit in anywhere in Brazil, this would probably be our best shot ;) The city bears a strong resemblance to Salt Lake City, due to the fair haired population and the clean-and-friendly-yet-boring vibe. The highlight of Curitiba for us was the prevalence of cheap and tasty street food. We ate tons of greasy pastels (basically fried empanadas) for about $1, and they even had vegetarian ones with soy meat. Unique to Brazil... we haven't seen a place this veggie friendly in South America :)
Curitiba´s tourist attractions are listed on the free tourist map (available at the airport), and they are all reachable by tourist bus for about R$20 per day. This seemed like a good time killer, so we set out to hail the tourist bus despite not being too interested in the attractions (e.g. the Ukranian immigrant monument, the German immigrant forrest, the Italian immigrant neighborhood...). Since it happened to be Easter weekend (aka Semana Santa), we discovered the bus
was incredibly crowded and we could not even squeeze on to buy a ticket. Apparently the tourist bus is very popular with Brazilians visiting Curitiba for the holidays. So, we scrapped our plans of going to far flung sites and walked around the city on our own.
We stumbled upon the large Passeio Publico in the middle of town; it is basically a free park with several cramped, zoo-like animal enclosures. In addition to a dozen large tropical birds, the cages house pink flamingos, a giant pelican and a group of small black monkeys. The latter were the most entertaining, since the female monkeys were engaged in some acrobatic acts of grooming their nether-regions. This attracted the attention of a local stew bum, who began pleasuring himself in front of the cage! This is the second time we have some accross a masturbating homeless man in Brazil. Must be something in the water!
We set out on foot to see the Oscar Niemeyer museum, a strange, Jetsons-looking structure that probably qualifies as the focal point of Curitiban tourism. It ended up being a long walk, but the weather was nice and we took some silly photos on the
grounds. We figured out how to take a bus back into town, which was quite an accomplishment in itself (the buses are only marked with the end destination, so we had to communicate with the ticket taker in broken PortuSpanglish to figure out which bus to take).
We boarded a plush 'conventional' bus for Foz de Iguacu that was actually very comfortable, considering it was not the most luxurious option. 10 hours later we arrived at Iguacu and were off to see the beautiful waterfalls. Sadly, that was the end to our 2-month long Brazilian trip. We already miss the per-kilo lunch spots and the interesting beach fashions. Boo hoo!
This also marked the end to our 9-month long summer... we have not been in cold weather since Australia, and have hardly worn shoes much less sweaters in that entire time period. Our tans are quickly fading here in Buenos Aires, but we are having fun meeting up with old friends. The colder temps here probably influenced our decision to move our departing flight from Santiago, Chile to Bogota, Colombia. We are hoping to squeeze in a few more weeks of beach vacation at the end of our South American adventure.
More to come...