Especially among backpackers, I have met times and again a certain contempt for the average tourist and the places they go to. Getting off the beaten track, to see some exotic, original, well preserved, preferable hidden place, seems to be the ultimate goal. Best are those who only miss good infrastructure but that’s not the point.
The point is that tourists visit a place for a reason and usually it’s not because it is ugly. While a lot of these frequently visited places would certainly be more pleasant without masses of tourists, they are often beautiful and worthwhile seeing. Many of them are actually brought alive thanks to all those people visiting as many historic city centres could tell.
Additionally, I feel that we should leave the last few undisturbed corners the way they are. Once there is a first hotel, a beach club, a more convenient road, and a shopping centre; the discoverers move on to the next ‘undiscovered’ beauty. To start all over again…
Sometimes, when speaking about the Brazilians, I have to stop myself from generalizing. The Northeast is not always representative of the entire country and Alagoas even less so. Having said this, one of the things that bothers me most here is ‘the matter of fact’ with which common places are polluted.
According to the discussions with other people, the the main reason seems to be a lack of sense for the common good. The idea that the beach, a park, or the streets are places for everybody and that it is therefore everybody’s duty to keep them clean; seems to be wanting. Now, I don’t say people should clean these places, they should however stop littering them.
Still, a common sight here – to give just one example – are children on the beach, dropping their plastic cups or ice wrapping wherever they happen to stand. Will the parents scold them? Show them how to do it better? Nope, one the contrary, they serve as a fine example; dropping the beer can right next to the chair where they sit.
Whether this behaviour speaks more of thoughtlessness or arrogance – à la ‘someone will surely clean this up’; I cannot say. The pity is that even those who complain about this attitude won’t go and challenge the ones who throw their rubbish around.
With tourism being one of the most important sources of income in the region, there is hope that over time, this attitude may change. But why not simply for the sake of it?
Though it certainly would be interesting to dwell on the differences in what is considered appropriate beach wear in Brazil contrary to Germany, this is not the focus of this post.
It’s about crowds. On any given beach, Brazilians have a tendency to stay closely packed together, preferable within the vicinity of food and drinks. In this comfortable life, they sit under their umbrella and wait for the next beach seller to come by, offering anything from soup, to sunscreen, children toys, grilled meat, fruit salads or caipirinha.
Distribution on a Brazilian beach
Germans on the other hand would be spread all over the beach. Not literally of course. But each family would be neatly separated from the other by a few meters distance, cautiously aware of any invasion of their private space. If need be, they might proceed to the construction of sand walls to clearly mark the territory.
Distribution on a German beach
Now, I don’t say one is better or worse than the other. It’s just one of those things you can’t help noticing as the example from the praia de Frances shows:
Well, not really, only a half day trip down to Coruripe where we spent most of our time on the grounds of a friend, picking up and tasting fruits. At least as long as we weren’t busy fighting of the omnipresent mosquitoes. And not just any: the biggest mosquitoes I have ever seen.
A part from that, the afternoon gave a great impression of Brazil, with all its beauties and contrasts, including:
Huge ants to go along with the mosquitoes.
Tiny crabs only; the big ones were still hiding.
Other huge furry animals…
The freshest and tastiest Carambole I ever had.
And another fruit, olive like in its outside appearance.
With a sweet sour, floury taste…
A look up the river, including high-rising smoke caused by the
illegal burning of sugar cane fields.
A look down the river
Lots of moonshine
And, not pictured, a bucket full of mangoes already turned into chutney.
Along the coast of Alagoas, there are many reefs. Not only do they have the advantage of breaking the huge Atlantic waives, but, the shallow waters between the reefs and the beach provide an almost bath-tub-warm swimming ground. During low tide that is. Walking over the reefs is only recommended with good shoes; due to sea urchins and sharp corals. Which, obviously, in Brazil means plastic flip-flops for everybody with the exception of those crazy Germans…
When driving through Brazil one of the recurring road features are quebra molas. Especially on the long interstate highways, a quebra mola marks the difference between a settlement that just happens to be alongside the road and a proper village.
Villages and smaller cities relay on the quebra molas for traffic management. And indeed, wherever these wheel breaking road blocks are placed, a traffic light becomes unnecessary. The worst though are those that, at night, are without the yellow markers or the sign next to the road.
And while most Brazilian drivers have developed a sixth sense for these engine wrecking stoppages, I still find myself swearing frequently at the all but invisible blocks leading to a full braking…
Though apparently, it can even get worse.
Alternative quebra mola
I promise to take pictures next time. This time, I was too busy just walking around and enjoying the historic city centre of Recife. Contrary to Maceio, a lot of the centre has been preserved with all its little churches, an impressive old market and the beautifully restored fort.
Though the best of all for me was… the livraria cultura. Which is only a chain of book shops and still so much more! After several months in Maceio, I only know two bookshops down here. One is the poorest and most neglected little thing I’ve ever seen; placed in a shopping centre where every other shop receives more attention than this book shop. The other is nicer, with a coffee place but still without any English books whatsoever and a selection that is easily looked through in 10 minutes max.
I must admit that I was excited like a child on Christmas eve when taking the bus to Recife. And oh the pleasure of being in a proper bookshop, of going through the English section, of taking out all the books that seemed interesting, or only vaguely so and then to settle in one of the many arm chairs to skim through all the books…
In the end, I finished buying three books despite their stiff ‘European‘ price after a very happy afternoon. If it weren’t for the four hour bus trip up North (one way); I’d definitely come over more often.
Ah, what the heck! I might still!
Olinda has, not to write is, one of the most beautiful historic city centers of Brazil. Having said this, it is important to note that “historic city center” has a slightly different meaning in Brazil.
In many cities, the sign centro historico might very well mean that once there was one (Maceió), that there are a handful of nicely restored buildings scattered across an otherwise unremarkable area (Natal) or that there is indeed one, despite modernization efforts, though it really could do with some maintenance (Recife).
This makes Olinda with its colourful houses and restored churches even more worth-while visiting. Only reminding slightly of most European historic city centres: no matter how well maintained and beautiful, after one day max., you’ve seen it all.