Tag Archives: Alagoas

Praia do carro quebrado

It’s the kind of place where the last 5km of non-asphalted road take as much time to drive as the 40km asphalted road before.

But then the recompense is beauty, silence and a wonderful Sunday.

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The beach route to happyness

Alagoas is not exactly the largest of the Brazilian states and benefiting from the fact that we actually own a car, we start to know quite a bit of it. This means that when looking for a nice weekend destination, not many new ones come up.

But still, there was one box unticked on our ‘have to visit’ list: the delta of the São Francisco river. Considering that Piaçabuçu had been described to us as dead as a city can be, we were looking for accommodation elsewhere. Having found what we believed to be a nice Bed&Breakfast at reasonable distance, the only challenge was to get the directions jotted down as concretely as possible over the phone.

“Just enter the village and then you drive through the main street and then you turn right and continue on the beach.” On the beach didn’t sound quite right but we were going to find out, weren’t we?

Beforehand was however the visit of the aforementioned delta and what can I say: it was beautiful! We were lucky enough to find a guide taking us out on a small boat together with another couple, avoiding the big ship with its 50 odd people and persistent music.

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We thus spent a relaxing 3 hours – one hour to get to the delta, 30 minutes on the dunes of the delta, 30 minutes chugging across the delta to see the old lighthouse close by and then, guess what, one hour back.

While the sun was setting quickly, we headed towards our accommodation but arrived in Pontal do Peba only after nightfall. Driving through the village was easy enough but what do you do when end of the main road leads you directly into the sea? Obviously: ask.

Result: we were advised to go back to the beginning of the village and drive by the beach there as the upper part was impassable due to the incoming tide. Said and done – though with a slight worry about our car getting stuck in the sand. However, as it turned out the next morning during the low tide, not only was the beach road by far the more travelled one but also the faster and funnier. Especially the 180° sharp turn using the hand breaks, soundly shaking the cars and its passengers…

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Fish tank, river, boat

When first seeing the Xingo reservoir, we were amazed that it is full. With all the visible drought problems, we had expected to find the lake half empty. Until it was explained to us that the Xingo reservoir is the last of five reservoirs lined up on rio São Francisco. As the other ones are smaller and older, they are on a 40% low in order to have the Xingo one filled up.

After the drive through the dusty inland of Alagoas, coming to the shore of the lake is a real pleasure. Vegetation – being burned in many other areas to make space for agriculture – surrounds the lake, giving it a beautiful green frame. The blue, sparkling water is clean and refreshing.

On the banks are two restaurants offering boat trips to the canyons further down the lake. These canyons are the real attraction of the lake, with the trip  being described by Brazilian friends as muito legal – very nice. We probably should have asked for details…

As it turns out, the trip by boat is beautiful and so are the canyons themselves. Even though they must have been much more impressive before the dam was build but so be it. What we did not quite expect was to spend in total two hours on board bombarded by music and, much worse, the constant chatter of the tour guide. And what for? To arrive on a small side canyon where tourists can spend an hour swimming in a former fish tank.

To be honest, given the swimming skills of most Brazilians and the alcohol consumption we observed on the boat, this fish tank is a good idea. It just didn’t fit the slightest with what we had in mind. Neither did the trip to get there. In summary, it is again a reminder that Brazilians and Germans have a very different understanding of what constitutes a proper tourist journey.

The ever important rain

Driving through the inlands of Alagoas, it is visible even to the untrained eye, that this land hasn’t seen enough rain in months. It turns out that the truth is worse. In the past two years, rain has been sparse. People hope that this year’s raining season that is just about to start will be better.

Besides dried out land and meager cows, one of the consequences of this prolonged drought is the increased risk of black-outs. Hydropower is the main source of electricity in Brazil and the dam of Xingo on rio São Franciso is the third most important of the entire country as the guide didn’t tire to repeat.

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The dam and the large reservoir are shared between the two states of Alagoas and Sergipe. It’s only possible to visit the plant with a guided tour which makes a lot of sense but, as so often, requires a sound mastery of Portuguese. After being shown a short movie, we went by car to the dam, being able to see the spillway and then on to the turbine hall. There isn’t much to see of the turbines themselves though you can guess which company build them after seeing the big Willkommen sign outside.

What I found missing were more details about the generation process. Maybe it was my Portuguese, maybe it just wasn’t there but I wouldn’t have mind hearing more about how you convert falling water into something that powers my laptop instead of being told over and over how important this dam is.

Still, it was time and money well spent learning more about this part of the country and its development.

Piranhãs and the blow-dryer

Nothing is ever close by in Brazil. If anything, close means less than four hour drive. In this sense, Piranhãs isn’t that far away from Maceió: only three and a half hours down the road. With our main destination being the canyons of the river São Francisco, we didn’t expect too much from this little town besides finding a place where to stay for a night.

As it turned out, we were positively surprised. Piranhãs is a lovely town. Contrary to other historic city centres, down town Piranhãs consists entirely of small, lively painted houses. Throughout the city, you perceive the efforts to keep everything clean, green and welcoming. Very successfully so!

After walking through most of the streets, we also climbed up to the two mirantes. And even though the view was nice, we couldn’t help but feel a bit roasted. Because once on top of the hill, there was some wind going. Only that, contrary to the coast, there was nothing cooling about this wind. If any, it reminded more an overheated blow dryer…

The not so common good

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.

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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?