Brazilian Beach Bliss

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The beach along Porto de Pedras

Living in Brazil without having been to the beach would be like living in Switzerland without ever having visisted the Alps. Brazil has an impressive coastline that extends over 4,600 miles (or 7,400 km) long and some of the world’s most stunning beaches can be found here. I had been yearning for a beach vacation ever since we arrived. Finally, the time had come–we just returned from a truly memorable trip with two other families to a small town called Porto de Pedras, in the state of Alagoas.

First, a quick word about the town. Like many others dotted along the shoreline, it is built around a main road (AL 101) that extends north to south. The road is flanked by very modest houses on either side, with giant satellite dishes affixed to every roof. Open windows and doors afford a glimpse into these homes: they are rather cramped and dim-lit. On the outside, though, they are painted cheerful colors like canary yellow, lime green and fuchsia pink—which oddly called to mind Charleston, S.C.. It struck me that front yards did not exist; the houses opened directly onto the streets and narrow

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Porto de Pedras

sidewalks, so that house gatherings would often spill over from the living rooms onto the streets, perhaps to compensate for the lack of space on the inside. Interspersed among these homes are colonial-era structures; something entirely lacking in the modernist cityscape of Brasília. The road is a busy place: stray dogs dart furtively between cars, horse-drawn wagons plod along and teenagers on mopeds overtake you at every chance.

The lavish homes and resorts along the coastline build a striking contrast to the rather impoverished town. If you turn off the main road and head east along fields of palm trees swaying in the breeze, you will gradually happen upon elaborate estates, gated condominium properties and exclusive resorts. Our vacation home, which we found on AirBnB, was a sprawling property that included two guest houses, a swimming pool and private beach access. It also had a complete staff, including two cooks, a housekeeper and a “man of all trades”, who made a mean caipirinha (Remember my post about feeling a bit odd in the role of an expat? This vacation was certain among the most lavish I have ever taken and I was keenly aware of the privilege we enjoyed during our entire trip).

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Our stunning vacation home for the week

The beaches near our house were breathtaking: the water, a striking teal and aquamarine blue, was warmer than bathwater at most times of the day. It was remarkably translucent. At low tide, the water would recede so far that you could walk out a half-mile and still only be knee deep in the ocean. Low tide would also create beautiful tidal pools ideal for snorkeling.

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Translucent tidal pools

Here is a short recap of the week, for anyone interested in exploring this area or wondering what we were up to while we were gone!

Saturday was our travel day—by the time we arrived in Porto de Pedras, the sun was setting, casting the entire place in a gorgeous pink and purple glow. With our caipirinhas in hand, we were ready to unwind and looked forward to what the week would bring.

Sunday, our first full day, we spent on the beach. The beach was of course an ideal place for the children to play. They delighted in building sandcastles, drawing in the sand, playing in the gentle waves and digging in the shade. In the afternoon, we adults booked a boat trip and floated down the coast to a small inlet and public beach area where Carnaval celebrations were underway. We stopped for a quick dip in the water and headed back to our home base.

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The boat that took us out to the tidal pools on Monday

On Monday, several of us climbed aboard another boat to head out to one of the tidal pools and coral reefs. The kids swam in the shallow waters while the adults did some snorkeling around the small reef. One of the boatmen caught a small squid, which was quite a sight to behold. On our way back, we stopped to collect sea urchins, which we ate for lunch. Or rather, some of us ate them; I, on the other hand, tentatively tasted one and then squealed when I discovered that the black spikes were still moving…

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Squid
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Sea Urchin

Speaking of food–in the evening, we went out to eat at a restaurant called Restaurante No Quintal, where we indulged in local seafood. Right next to the open-air dining area, the restaurant had an expansive garden where they grew all of their own herbs and plants—impressive!

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Japaratinga

Tuesday was a day of exploring! We piled into our three rental cars and headed north to Japaratinga. Along the way, we stopped at a lighthouse and also rode a ferry to cross the inlet. Japaratinga is a bustling beach town located directly on the shore.
Because it was the last day of Carnaval, the beach was packed, filled with Brazilians wanting to soak up some sunshine and play in the waves before they returned to work.

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Carnaval party-goers

We grabbed lunch at a small restaurant overlooking the beach and then spent the early afternoon relaxing in the sand and ocean. On our way back to
Porto de Pedras, we ran into a Carnaval parade that brought traffic to a complete halt. We had no choice but to join in on the fun! When we returned home, we had our own little Carnaval celebration, complete with streamers, samba and leis.

On Wednesday, several of us decided to take a guided boat tour down a river, where we were promised to see “peixe-bois” (actual translation: manatee; literally translated: fish ox). The trip was somewhat underwhelming; the few manatees that we managed to spot were, true to their nature, very slow moving and not particularly exciting to watch. But we did find this beautiful crab!

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#legssoblue

Wednesday afternoon was deemed “spa time” for the mamas. We each received massages at the Pousada do Toque, one of the best known resorts in the area. Thursday the dads got their turn at massages while the rest of us stayed behind, spending the day drawing, playing on the beach and trying to keep cool.

On Friday, we again piled into the cars and traveled just a bit south to Pousada Milagres do Toque, a super chill resort with plenty of beach shade, hammocks and fresh coconuts to enjoy. Lo and behold, this resort also offered massages, but with an added bonus: the massage table was perched upon an open-air bamboo tower with a magnificent view of the ocean. We couldn’t resist… That evening, we returned to our houses and built a bonfire at night—because what beach trip is complete without roasting marshmallows over an open fire in the sand?

Our last day we journeyed back out to the tidal pools for some snorkeling and swimming. The last evening we spent much like the first: caipirinhas in hand, watching the children play gleefully in the sand while the sun set.

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