Posted by: Tom Lancaster | March 30, 2010

Something deserted and something tall

Episode 2: Salvador/Penedo/Maceio/Praia do Pipa, Brazil

Beard length (Tom): David Gest
Skin colour (both): Eau de Nil (currently with random crimson patches)
Location: Praia do Pipa, Natal

Date: 28th January 2010.

Greetings all. Benjamin Franklin said that “nothing is certain in life but death and taxes” – in Brazil there’s another certainty – the length of any bus journey will be 20-25% longer than advertised.

There are other near certainties here:

  • no taxi will have more than one working seatbelt (usually none);
  • producing any bank-note including and upwards of 20 reais (about 7 quid) will be met with a reaction somewhere between surprised and aghast, followed by a head-shaking search for such a large amount of change;
  • when crossing a street, you will be given 8 seconds before the cars bear down upon you (if you miss this opportunity you may have to wait upwards of 40 minutes for your next one);
  • Brazilians will watch TV at full volume, even if the only thing on is a blank screen and white noise; and
  • if there’s a special 2 hour rate on a motel called “Love Motel”, it’s only going to be used for one thing (sadly there’s no 5 minute rate and I’m not going to waste 115 minutes).

Sightseeing is thirsty work

We flew from Rio to colonial Salvador, to check in at a pousada preferable to Abu Ghraib only because there were fewer Americans (and electrodes). The room was tiny, filthy and dark and we were fleeced at every opportunity: one carrier bag full of washing – that’ll be 13 GBP; taxi to the bus station booked via the hotel –  that’ll be 10 GBP (in the owner’s car!).

Pretty, pastel coloured Salvador

However, the cell was in a central location and Salvador itself was lovely: full of pretty squares and houses in various pastel colours. The place also had a constant background samba beat, adding great atmosphere.

We visited seemingly more churches than there are in the whole of Europe, which was getting a little wearing towards the end for Philistines like us. There were also many interesting museums, although quite a few were closed for refurbishment (which appears to be something of a theme).

Salvador streets

While we were in Salvador, we got a chance to see the locals practicing for carnival, which I’m sure is a fraction of  the real thing, but was still impressive to watch through the bars of our cell before lights-out. My lamenting of our quarters is, of course, relative – there are some genuinely needy people in Salvador, including many street children, which was very sad and made us realise (not that we didn’t already) how very lucky we are.

Carnaval practice

Next we headed to a place called Penedo on an 8 hour bus journey (which naturally took 10 hours) – the highlight of Penedo is inevitably a church.

Jane spent a full 5 hours on the journey staring out of the window daydreaming – I’m not sure how this is possible, but I suspect she may be planning my untimely demise, so I’m keeping my eye on her.

I’m actually not sure how cut out for travelling Jane is: she’s a little bit scared of flying; loudly squawks when insects land on her; scared of the sea (unless totally calm) and unable to read on coaches. [Jane is protesting loudly as she reads this!!]

Penedo on a Sunday!

Penedo seems a lovely little town and friendlier and cheaper than the other places we’ve been. However, we were only there for a day, and that day happened to be a Sunday, when everything was shut!

Still, we had a wander through the ghost town and a few beers, although not as many as the pair of drunken guys who separately tried to engage us in conversation that evening with topics as wide-ranging (we gathered through our pidgin Portuguese) as Elton John and “something tall” – this last topic mainly covered through the medium of gesticulation.

Lunch by the river in Penedo

Our next stop was Praia do Pipa (a beach resort), but first we had to check out and catch a bus. With the pousada not taking visa, and our bank cards initially not working (another theme of the trip so far), the morning saw us both sprinting up and down the main street in an increasingly dishevelled state before finally dumping all of our cash (about 4 quid short) on the front desk and looking at the receptionist with pleading eyes and glances at our watches.

Thankfully he let us off and we made the bus to Maceio with 2 minutes to spare, although with no cash, water or food for the 3 hour (actually 5 hour) journey.

The delayed bus meant that there were no more buses North that day, so we spent a night in Maceio (nice beach resort) and left early the next day to get a 6 hour bus (which took 8 hours) to a place called Joao Pessoa and then onto Goianinha and then minibus to Pipa.

We were pretty glad to arrive after 2 days travelling (although the buses are by no means unpleasant, even if the roads are a little bone-jarring).

Praia do Pipa

Pipa looks really nice – more touristy (to be honest, we’ve barely seen another Westerner on our trip so far, and this is supposed to be high season!), with 4 large coves (home to dolphins by all accounts), a deceptive breeze, a bustling centre and nice restaurants. Our pousada is also splendid – quiet with big, clean rooms and nice breakfast.

So far we’ve been here a day and went to the beach for an hour yesterday slathered in factor 20 and 35 (to be on the safe side). We now look like somebody has indiscriminately taken a cheese grater to us, so we’re steering clear of the sun today and will try to find some factor 400 before taking it on again.

Adonis in a hammock

Anyway, an afternoon in the hammock on our balcony awaits, so we’ll love you and leave you. Apologies for the long update after promising to try to keep them short – we’ve been without internet for 10 days so there’s a lot to tell. Since we’ve got a week here, we probably won’t bore you with tales of us lying in the sun, adventures with dolphins and turtles and stunning seafood coming out of our ears.

Hope the UK isn’t falling apart without us.


Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!

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