Sweet Escapes of Exploration

So, here we were, in Itacimirim, in December 2018, doing marketing&design work for the Pousada Jardim Cambui for half a day, in a spot that looked like a ghost town – all due to being in the offseason.

The natural paradise was there, but not that easy to access, except for the slice of the beach so very near to us and our way through the lagoon. We didn’t have a car, our intention was to be traveling low budget – as we were volunteering for food and shelter at a place where we’ve actually been told that we need to be careful where we wander around. This was the scenery, all combined with kind of a modest diet, that included rice & beans almost every day, with a few fruits on top. The more volunteers and workers we were, the faster you needed to get to the kitchen area around mealtime. Leftovers were not so nice to handle.

So, considering all of these, we were so very anxious about how we would spend our weekends. About getting out of our little box that the Itacimirim ambient became for us. And then, on our first weekend, next to Stefano, Louisa and Nala, we found out that we actually had this resort town just 7 kilometers away and that Uber was an option to get there. This is how Praia do Forte became our breath of fresh air after every workweek in Itacimirim. It was a delight. People, little souvenir shops, street food, kiosks. All in all, for a regular tourist, not such a big deal. But for us, then, it was like the Chocolate Factory to Charlie.

Praia do Forte – something weekend-ly

We even ended up having some sort of ritual when we were going there, just for the Saturday or just for the Sunday. (We checked once if we would afford a night to sleep between the 2 days of the weekend, but we just couldn’t afford it). The ritual would start with us calling our Uber. Then, we would wait about 10 minutes for it to come (if we were lucky to find one in the morning hours). We’d pay around 40 reais for the one way trip and we’d get there in about 25 minutes.

After that, we’d walk on the full-of-people tiny roads and around the main square. We would then go grab the tastiest street food (ten times cheaper than a medium-priced restaurant).

We’d walk to the beach, lay in the sun, swim or snorkel – depending on the tide. Eventually, our last stop on our way to the ride back home would be the local supermarket. There, we’d buy stuff to eat for the upcoming week, stuff that wasn’t included in our food from the volunteering (things like nuts, yogurt, eggs, fruits or veggies – thank God to our room’s minifridge, really saved our diet in that period). And finally, we would discretely call an Uber, far away from the taxi station, and go back to the pousada. This whole ritual was our weekend’s peak. That month, all those Praia do Forte escapes and the extra bites and things we got from there, cost us somewhere around 1000 euros. Not so low budget anymore, but we were in a place where the cost of living was higher than what we were used to – so, in that context, that sum was not that bad, actually.

Behind everything mentioned above, the benefits of doing this were so important to us. We got to really get a sense of where we actually were. It was like someone was showing us just a little corner inside of a room, and we were pulling off the rest of the curtain, bit by bit, with every exploration we were doing. All 3 of us, together. We were discovering Bahia, still touristic but yet eccentric and so very much alive.

I remember all those moments of genuine happiness, with our mouth smiling to our ears, cheeks hurting and all. The nature around Praia do Forte was so, so, so gorgeous. Amazing palm trees, perfect beaches, sweet tides on top of a friendly reef you could swim around. Caipirinhas on the beach or fresh coconuts, so carelessly paid by contactless cards, where beautiful both to witness or to taste. Queijo coalho (fried cheese, similar to halloumi) with molasses was, as well, absolutely fantastic.

The local scenery was very colorful, from people serving us the food or trying to convince us about their little souvenirs on the sidewalks, to the surfers, the fishermen or the church community we were curiously noticing on the main square. We laughed so so well at a church ceremony, once, just because the ritual surprised us – it was nothing that we have ever seen in a church before. Everything was so open and dynamic.

Even the lagoon was so beautiful and always surprising, under the sunset lights. The Municipal Park Klaus Peters, right next to the lagoon, was not such a nice adventure for us. We visited it on the 24th of December, right before preparing the Christmas Eve food. We had no idea that it was actually a cycling park with no exit at its ending, and we eventually had to walk for about 7 kilometers in total. We were hoping for the pathway of the park to communicate with the beach – but there the access was forbidden because that area belonged to a luxury hotel. This is how we spend some long hours with little water and surrounded just by dry nature on our “Christmas Eve” day. So, if you intend visiting the park for noticing the local flora (the fauna is solely marked in panels, here and there), just be aware that you should either do this on a bicycle or with a lot of water, a snack, a sun hat and a lot of time at your disposal. 😉

Projeto Tamar – something ecological

This project is basically Brazil’s conservation program for sea turtles. The name of “TaMar” comes from “Tartarugas Marinhas”. Together with the Florianopolis museum, Tamar is one of the top 5 museums in Brazil, with over 600 million visitors per year. (source: tamar.org.br). And the amazing job they are doing there is internationally recognized. Their mission is to support research, conservation, and management of all the five sea turtles species Brazil has – all threatened with extinction.

The project operates more than 1,100 beach kilometers. They have 26 feeding areas, and also spawning, growth and resting spots – all over Brazil. The not so nice thing about Tamar is that it is all sponsored by Petrobras – the leading petrol business in Brasil. And of course, you can see that all over the place. But hey, we live in a world where one hand washes the other – even though this is painful to witness.

We visited the Praia do Forte museum together with Maya and it was so fantastic for her to see with her own eyes the enormous beauties, with all their old, boney, slow wisdom. Ever since visiting the site, we have watched “A Turtle’s Tale” and I really recommend it for children as well – for the way it showcases the ecological issues this animal is confronting nowadays, mostly due to us, humans.

Garcia d’Ávila Tower House – something romantic

This article is not presenting spots in chronological order. The logic that it follows is just showcasing some sweet spots of exploration near Itacimirim, Bahia. So, on our very last day at the Pousada, we (meaning Vlad) dared to ask for the manager’s motorbike and we took it for a ride. Maya stayed with the other volunteers and we just ran, gone with the wind. We probably could have done this more often, but we just did the job and stayed still during weekdays. Now, looking back at it, it’s a thing we should have tried asking for before. Especially as we, just once, had a sense of what freedom felt like – much more than we have experienced in that month. We were also very attached to Maya. But she was so loving and people looking for her for an hour was not that big of a deal.

So, that one hour, time expanded so much for us. Because we saw so much novelty, after one month of being more or less in the same place. For me, it was really a special ride. The last time I had been on the motorbike was in Greece, back in 2017, when I was 6 months pregnant. It has been quite a long while back. And in the meantime, I also had a very heavy belly, natural childbirth, many days next to a newborn, and so on. For whoever lived this, you know what I mean. When you skip adrenaline for such a long time, and you are so attached to your heavy body, especially after confronting all the fears that childbirth got out of you, sitting on a motorbike at full speed is sooo good. And so crazy. I had goosebumps all over my body. So, as I said, that hour was long. I just shouted and kept my arms around Vlad, in his borrowed moto jacket. And we went to the Garcia d’Avila Castle.

I’m not that much of a castle person – as I am not so passionate about history (and this may sound ignorant, but it is what it is; Vlad’s the history guy here). But I can appreciate architecture, especially if it blends well with nature and I am such a sucker for lights and shades on rocky walls. So this little castle got me crazy, in a good way. Right next to it, there was this immense, superb tree – one of the most beautiful trees I have seen in my life (and I’ve also seen “El Drago Milenario“, so this was darn pretty). It got me hyped – as I always get so excited about nature and trees and leaves. So behind the tree, a bit further away, we were already seeing the tower house set. And it was beautiful, I can tell you that. The mixture between rocky walls and straight-cut solid metal was just splendid for the eye. The photos speak more than my words here, though. I had to wiki a few details on this beauty, not to just put it here like this. It was built in the 17th century. These pretty ruins were once used to guard all the Atlantic coast near Salvador, and once enemies were detected, encrypted messages through smoke and torches were sent to the big city. I first considered the entrance fee a bit high for the site, but in the end, I really loved the place and I would say it’s a fair price. Astonishing view with surrounding nature is also included.

On our way back, I was so happy to see Maya being well – she was on top of the pool table, on her feet, surrounded by people. She was having fun. As we also had fun. I was nervous, being apart from her for just one hour, but it was all fine. Heartbeats were intense, but just because of the best of reasons. I can tell that I so miss a motorcycle ride (I mean without Maya, as I write this after some Bali experience), even now, writing this.

Arembepe – something hippie

There was this other spot we were mentioned as an attraction and it was an adventure getting there as well. We got dropped off by a volunteer colleague and we were to be picked up, as well – from the same spot, a few hours later. No phone, nothing. The place was crazy crowded. And it was nothing like Itacimirim. Here – you could feel raw Bahia. It was all Afro Americans, moving around like little ants, all over the place. We were such cultural aliens and such a contrast. We were “gringos” in a local ambient. (that’s how tourists/expats were called around here, in a pejorative way). And this wasn’t feeling just nice. It also felt tense.

We had to remember all the labyrinthic streets we got on, getting to the beach, and then ask around for the hippie village. We had no idea how close or how far it was. Just a little point on the offline saved Google map.

On the beach, the shock was even bigger. I remember talking to Vlad about this sensation – of a spectator of the world. We were definitely intruders. It was so much joy of life on that beach. But we weren’t part of it. We had to have our own little milk-skinned joy. And just watch the tv channel, as they were watching us, passing by. Football, fishing, running, shouting, drinking beers. Staying away from the sun, in the almost non-existent shade. And we were also looking for it, for the shade. With a white little baby in our care.

We found the shades, under perhaps some of the most careless coconut trees Bahia gave us as a gift. We felt so good there. Just a little shady spot, in that excruciating sun. Just us three and some water, maybe also a few biscuits left. We made our coconut bracelets. Still have them at home. And the moments that stay with us forever. Us picking up tiny palm fruits, looking like little stars.

Our exploration continued, after being guided by some locals where the hippie village would be. We were already very near. The first welcoming sign was a statue made from the roots of a coconut tree. Without even noticing, an old afro man with very long dreadlocks joined us to the statue, conversating casually while hugging and welcoming us into the village. He told us “welcome, this is your home; come into my house just as it is yours”.

In no time, we were in that man’s house -quite an excentric piece of architecture, I would say. It was populated with tones of objects – funny to say it looked like an abandoned “lost and found” office, somehow. It was also populated with friends and nomads. Not so many people, all in all, maybe 4 or 5, but you could sense that each person in that place had a very different story. The atmosphere was very open, our curiosity was fed by every little corner or conversation under that roof.

All of a sudden, all that tension we felt outside, in the raw Bahia, was gone. All of it. We were feeling freedom – that happy 70s kind of freedom you sense in so few hippie spots on this planet nowadays. Our host was telling us how he hanged around with Mick Jagger and such in the peak period of the Arembepe hippie village.

The short exploration again distorted our perception upon reality. Everything was so different – so close to Itacimirim. And then, Arembepe in and of itself had such different parts. On one side, it was this hippie village, now more of a visitor’s spot. On the other side, it was the colorful crowded population of the little town. Nothing to do with the ghost resort Itacimirim proved to be, in the off-season.

I remember meeting a Portuguese couple on our beach walk, them being very surprised by us traveling there, like that. They said “parabens” – which means “congratulations” – for us, as such a young family, to be living that, just as we were. It felt like fellow aliens saying hi on an exotic planet. And it also felt good. Someone with their mind opened acknowledging our act of freedom and exploration without putting any other stamp on it.

And we were just starting to comprehend, a tiny bit, very little of what they call: Bahia. Just one of the many regions of immense Brasil, in and of itself a world full of worlds. With our heart open, with more curiosity but also with some tension, acknowledging more that we were in a place where we needed to watch our back and to travel wisely, we were getting ready for going back to Salvador – just as a pit stop on our way to Itacaré.

And honestly, now looking back at it, we had no idea at that point that the heavens were so much closer to our senses than we could have even been imagining…

post written by Roxana

CategoriesPlanning Travels
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