Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lugares Lindos e Maravilhosos (Places beautiful and wonderful)

In the first two weeks in June we are staying in Cabo Frio, a spectacular coastal region about two and a half hours drive north-east of Rio. Cabo Frio has three different areas, each worth exploring: Cabo Frio and Peró (where we are actually staying) are where the crowds go. It is a long coastline with sand dunes and the typical vacation facilities. Under our window, the sea is going in and out with a constant murmur. The sun rises over the sea and although it seems to be losing vigor by mid-afternoon (it’s winter here) it warms and brightens the beaches. It finishes with spectacular colors at 5pm, when the wind also picks up, getting everything fresh and ready for a new day.
There are many little islands just of the coast in Cabo Frio.
The smaller beach in the morning in Peró with its colorful kiosks.
The larger beach (in front of our hotel) in Peró. Each of the kiosks are putting out chairs on the beach every morning.
On the south end of the region is Arraial do Cabo (Cape Village), a fishing village of modest means, whose only apparent role in tourism is to act as gatekeeper to the islands and beaches of the Arraial. We went with an organized boat tour that was offered to us through the hotel. The tour was a most surreal experience, as many things in Brazil tend to be—meaning that they are located between utopia and dystopia, creating a clash of expectation and reality. In hindsight, it all makes perfect sense: The most beautiful beach in Brazil is Praia do Ilha do Farol (Lighthouse Island beach), located on an island just off the mainland of Arraial. The Brazil navy controls access to the Island, which is also a nature preserve and a sacred indigenous burial ground (so we were told on the boat). The only way to get to the island is by a boat, and only with the help of a third party, one of the so called “tour companies” that charter the boats, whose role is nothing more than actually purchasing the permit to enter the waters and giving the list of passengers to the boat operators. Being a busy Saturday of a long holiday weekend, our boat was large and filled with a blasting soundtrack and heavy drinking vacationers—a scene only entertaining for a brief period bust mostly annoying.
Arraial do Cabo. The turquoise pool of water is connecting the beaches of Forno and Farol. The water is several meters deep even a few meters from the beach, yet incredibly clear. It's possible to see the bottom, the fish and the giant sea-turtles.
The prize for putting up with the partying is a 40-minute stop on the island beach of silky white sand and turquoise waters. They ferried us in groups from the main boat to the shore by a small rubber motorboat, while the “schooner” put down anchor further away in deep waters. Such a magical place! - very likely the limited access just adds to the specialness and romance of the place. I would have liked to explore more but there was only time for a dip in the crystal waters and a visit to the almost fossil-like but still live ancient fig tree (supposedly planted by Amerigo Vespucci upon reaching Arraial during his third voyage around 1500). The area around the tree is cordoned off and the glimmering sand is littered with sparkling white bones and pure white shell fragments. If I understood correctly, this is the burial place, although could not confirm this fact with my google-research. 
At the next stop, on Praia do Forno, they let us jump into the water from the boat and swim to the beach from there. I don’t have many pictures from this trip because I choose to leave my phone (camera) on the boat while swimming, which seemed sensible then but now I regret very much. As a funny aside, most young people were brandishing selfie-sticks and waterproof cameras, taking endless but carefully posed photos of themselves floating, on the beach, with the-girlfriend-in-arm, half-way in the water, etc… 
Tour boats, like this one take people over to Farol Island.
The white beach, Praia do Ilha do Farol, said to be the most beautiful in Brazil, with Vespucci's fig tree in the center. Fig tree species were carried from the Mediterranean/Spain into the New World by the early explorers. 
The very tip of the peninsula which is Cabo Frio is the area of Búzios, the upscale Riviera of Brazil. Búzios has many beaches, each being different in the calmness of the water, their size and crowdedness and in whether they face the open ocean or the distant mountains of the mainland. There are many great view points to hike to and the island is built out with beautiful mansions and hotels. Búzios is a lively elegant town with excellent restaurants and fancy shops. This time we were better prepared with a map and a plan, and took a long cab-ride from our hotel to our first stop, Praia Torturuga (Turtle beach, named after a turtle shaped rock that sits in the middle of it). 
Beaches in Brazil have colorful kiosks, each placing rows of tables and chairs to face the water. These cater to every need, often having wifi, rental equipment for various water sports and, of course, tons fried food and caipirinhas. In the mornings, as one walks down the beach, the vendors try to rope people in with bargains. It is probably fun to totally give yourself over to this kind of leisure experience, and many do, but it’s really not our style to sit in a beach chair all day.  Instead, we took a dip in the choppy water (Torturuga is an open bay with a coral reef just outside of it, where, in calmer weather, would be a lot of fun to snorkel) and went on to explore the peninsula on foot. 
This way, an hour later, we reached Azeda and Azedinho, which are only accessible by a trail that ends in a long stairway. These beaches I think are the most beautiful in Búzios, mostly because they are small and quiet, without the usual fuss of blasting music and hustling vendors. The water was calm like a swimming pool and the handful people laying around on the handkerchief-size sandpad felt almost like family. Against the tree-lined rock wall that is the back-stage of the beach were three upturned wooden boats, each making a make-shift bar or grill counter. 
It can be difficult to find peace at vacation spots in Brazil: Nature is tromped people, noise and litter. Somehow, luckily, Azendinho beach had none of this, which made it even more attractive. Brazilians (this is a generalization, I know) love the company of others; the idea of entertainment is loud music and many beers, which they are always glad to share. The global music industry's soundtracks are annoying but it is also as often to see a make-shift samba circle forming in an instant at any random spot. Using their rich voices as well as styrofoam coolers, cans (and whatever else is around) as musical instruments, music is made together and it is very good. Everyone seems to know all the samba songs and join in on the singing. 
Azeda and Azedinho from the top of the bluff.
The view of Búzios from Mirante (viewpoint). 
While in Cabo Frio, I’m wrapping up the writing and documentation aspects of the past two months and also re-presenting my Palavra word exchange project. I’m a guest of II ELGA (The second Latin American School of Algebraic Geometry and Applications), a high-profile international conference of mathematicians in the special area of Algebraic Geometry. Doing another Palavra project here with a more international and extremely specialist group of people is an interesting and rewarding experience. The first iteration was very successful, drawing big crowds and creating lots of fascinating conversations. I run out of cards to print after three hours and have been getting many requests since for repeating the project. Will be writing about that in more detail in the next post.

Fishing boats are coming into the harbor for the night. 
A gorgeous sunset over the continent. 

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