Monday, October 31, 2011

Jericoacoara - A Step Back in Time

The small beachfront town of Jericoacoara (or Jeri as it's most commonly known) is located on the north coast of Ceará, about 200 miles (290 km) from Fortaleza. It's not that far as the crow flies, but even by car or express-bus the trip from the capital to Jeri takes a good part of the day. Why? The reason is that the road to Jeri ends about 12 miles (20 km) from Jeri itself in a place called Jijoca. From there to Jeri you can only  travel by dune buggy or by specially modified open-air minibus - from Jijoca to Jeri the road is nothing more than a path in the sand, first on the dunes, then along the beach. Jeri is not accessible by paved road, nor even gravel road. To travel the 12 miles across the sand to Jeri takes well over an hour.

And when you arrive there, the streets of Jeri are not paved, nor even gravelled either. They're sand as well  - the entire village of Jeri perches on the beach. High heels will do you no good here - to walk on the sand streets of Jeri you need tennis shoes, flipflops, or nothing (barefoot works very well). Jeri is casual and laid-back, at times seeming to be in a time-warp. In Jeri it can still seem like the 60s - the hippies that founded the village are still there in force, it's just that they're now third-generation hippies.

Jericoacoara is in an area of environmental protection, and a road to it will hopefully never be built. It's the village's isolation and beauty that draw the tourists that drive the local economy. Jeri is so isolated that it didn't have electricity until 1989, and even today there are no streetlights at night - just the lanterns and lamps of small shops, bars, restaurants and inns to brighten the darkness a bit.

Today Jeri has sophisticated boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants, but it hasn't lost its hippie past - most of the accommodation in the village is in small inns and pousadas, and most of the restaurants serve basic local fare, with emphasis on seafood. At night, many of the bars have live music and all serve cheap and potent cocktails, most of them based on cachaça and local fruit juices. Local "herbal" intoxicants remain popular too - another vestige of Jeri's hippie era.

Because of its location on the northernmost stretches of Ceará coastline, Jeri is one of the very few places in Brazil where it's possible to see the sun set into the sea. A popular ritual, for locals and visitors alike is to climb the 200 foot high sand dune that dominates the village at about 5 pm and watch the sun set in the sea from the dune's windy heights.

Jericoacoara is a popular weekend get-away for residents of Fortaleza, but because of the travel time involved isn't really worth visiting unless you can afford to spend at least two nights there - any shorter amount of time and you'll spend more time traveling to and from Jeri than you will relaxing and enjoying it.

Our next few posts on Flavors of Brazil will feature a couple of local signature dishes from Jericoacoara. A taste of Jeri, as it were.


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