Recife – Porto de Galinhas
Having enjoyed the pre-carnival, there were suggestions that I should stay for the real thing and I really would have liked to – being limited to 180 days per year in Brazil is just unfair! As it was, I was out and on the way to my next capital city – Maceió – which was about 3 days away. I hit the bike path on the way out of town, which involved a 2 minute boat ride from Recife Antigo which I shared with a cycling dentist on his way to work.
The bike path didn’t last all the way out of town, and I had a few very close encounters with traffic, including a bus that passed about 5cm away from me. This of course was followed by stopping at a traffic light 100m ahead where I caught up with him and asked the driver what the hell he was doing, he told me it was my fault because I wasn’t supposed to be on that road before closing his window. Thankfully I soon hit upon my first toll road in Brazil which lead past some very expenive houses. The people at the toll gate said something to me, but I had my earphones in. Better to claim ignorance than get turned around and have to go back to the heavy traffic.
The toll road, was followed by a dirt road, and then more terrible bus drivers, before stumbling upon my second toll road. My GPS didn’t have it marked, and I was actually looking for another dirt road but the toll road definitely seemed better as it promised to take me towards my destination of Porto de Galinhas (Port of Chickens) which apparently got it’s name from the 19th century when after slavery was made illegal ‘chickens’ were brought over from Angola instead.
It’s a very touristy place, and having arrived after dark I was lucky to find a fire station on the main road. It was little more than a control point, but they had no problems with me putting my tent in the bit of space between it and the skate park. I sat around on the steps for a couple of hours before putting my tent up chatting with tourists that walked past and asked about my bike.
Porto de Galinhas – Japaratinga
I’d left my bags inside the station, and when I woke up at 4:30 found 3 firemen sleeping on mats between the door and the bags. To make matters worse, the door was locked. I guess they’d expected me to wake up after the sun came up. Thankfully only 10 minutes after I’d finished packing my tent up one of them got up to go to the toilet, and I got his attention when he came back. We stealthily got my bags out and I was on the beach in time to watch the sun come up.
There were coastal communities that I was hoping to go through, and I knew I would have to take a couple of boats. The first one of them would be from the end of the beach I was at but the locals that were up told me that that wouldn’t happen until 8 or 9am. The fishermen who used to be up before the sun now work taking tourists to the nearby natural pools that form at low tide between 10am and 2pm, and so aren’t awake to help out early-rising cyclists. I figured I’d go to the end of the beach anyway, Juliana had told me it was the best place in town, but it involved a good 20 minutes of pushing my bike through loose sand.
At the point, it was frustrating to see the river of less than 100m wide impeding my journey. I tried wading, but the channel was deep enough that it was at waist-deep within a few steps. A boat did pass while I was hanging around, and I tried to wave him over, but he shook his head and pointed up river. I waited for about half-an-hour but turned back to hit the main road. The main road had a turn off to the beach I’d been trying to catch a boat to, but as I’d need to find another boat I decided to just skip it and keep on the main road. Also, Roney & Dama, my hosts from João Pessoa, who were meant to be just down the coast, hadn’t got back to me to confirm it.
The main road had minimal shoulder, but the traffic generally wasn’t too bad as I weaved my way through rolling hills full of sugar cane all the way to the next state, and my 10th, Alagoas. The road left the sugar cane behind and became the first coastal road in Brazil to actually be along the coast and not filled with signs pointing to beaches 10-20km away. About 15km before I was planning to stop for the day I met Max & Sofia, a French couple and my first cycle tourists for ages. They had started in Colombia, gone down to Argentina and were heading to Recife for carnival and then trying to find a boat back to Europe. We could only speak shortly as it was near the end of the day, but we swapped information about routes for the next few days.
I was intending to get to Japaratinga and ask at the police station there, but with the coastal road that didn’t seem worth it. The section just before the town had plenty of palm trees in the 100m or so that separated the road from the beach so I pulled over and found a pair of trees that’d work well for my hammock. The level of traffic was low, and I was far enough away that no-one would see me without actively looking for me. After my typical dinner of bread and jam it was into the ocean to get cleaned up and some night swimming, definitely better than staying with the police.
At the end of the beach
Japaratinga – Maceió
From Japaratinga I would leave the road I was on as it moved away from the coast, and find a smaller one. The first 10km or so were a combination of cobblestones and hard sand through small beach communities until I got to a river. There is a ferry that’s free for bikes, as long as there are cars, or the option of paying 2BRL (80 cents). As I’d only seen one car in the previous 30 minutes I paid rather than waiting. I was hungry, and my GPS showed there being a bakery on the other side of the river, in Porto de Pedras, where I’d have breakfast.
I was stopped for about 30 minutes eating my ham sandwiches, allowing the tarp of my hammock to dry off as it had been drizzling in the morning, and it was only just before I started to leave that a car turned up. I was happy with my decision. Porto de Pedras is a wonderful little place, and the 25km stretch from it to my next boat at Barra de Camaragibe was definitely my favourite road for a long time. There was something magical about the small communities, and I was lucky enough to meet some fun characters including a guy and his mum riding a bike, someone selling candy floss and people pruning the palm trees.
I decided that I liked the area enough that I’d get a haircut. I’d needed one for a while, and I’d rather pay for it in a nice area than in a city. My hairdresser was called Pygmalion and when I arrived she was cutting the hair of a baby. She told me that the hairdresser was away and she could only do kids haircuts (having practiced on her twins), but thankfully with my haircut being no more complicated than plug in clippers and cut she could manage that. I was unsurprisingly the first foreigner whose hair she’d cut, and at the end she wanted to take my photo, which I had no problem with. When I told her that meant I got to take her photo she was giggly, but agreed.
My second boat of the day would take me over to a deserted beach where 15km of sand would stand between me and the next town of Santo Antônio. As I got off the boat, I met a Mexican couple that Max & Sofia had mentioned, but they gave me a postcard and said “let’s stay in touch” before getting on the boat and going away. I’m really not convinced that’ll happen. They barely had time to tell me that it’d be hours of pushing their bike down the beach, which I hope explains why they were so curt.
I set off and other than the first 50m from the bank to the track, and then from the track onto the beach, there was minimal pushing involved. It was low tide, so the sea was out and the sand completely ridable. The only part that needed me to get off my bike was going between bays when I was pushing over rock pools. It was a beautiful area, and with the 25km earlier confirmed Alagoas as having the best coastline in Brazil in my mind. Later on, as I got to Praia do Carro Quebrado (Beach of the Broken Car, named after a car on stilts that I rode past I guess) I saw some tourists, who had driven down the beach from Santo Antônio, and got one of them to get a picture of me riding along the beach.
Near the end of the beach there were fishermen out, some dragging their nets in to see what they had caught and others sorting out the catch. Little touches like that were so lovely, although I was getting hungry and the midday sun was far too hot so I mainly was focused on getting off the beach and finding shade next to a bakery, which I managed soon after. I cleaned my bike up, to get rid of the sand and any residual sea-water that had got on, and kept going to Maceió.
I showed up at the address I’d been given by Vitor, my Couchsurfing host, which was up a hill that was far too steep for the end of the day. He was coming over from work and stuck in traffic so would be late but had told the security guy to give me the key so I could let myself in. I dropped my bags off and worked out where to leave my bike. The apartment building is brand new, Vitor being one of the first buyers in January.
Vitor had mentioned in Couchsurfing that his apartment was a little bare. He was right, there was a bed, a fridge, a fan and a drum kit and no sign of any possessions, strange. It turned out that Vitor had bought the place, but having just decided that he wants to study to become a ship pilot and so is living with his parents again. It’s going to take 12-18 months to study, and if he’s accepted he will have to do 9 courses costing over $1000 each as well as paying to study in the US for a while – not a career path for those without money. We spoke for about 20 minutes, but then he had to go back to work as the deadline of his current project was just a couple of days away. I was told that I could stay as long as I wanted, but my plan was just to have a day off to get some things sorted out on my bike (I rode the past couple of weeks without any rear brakes as they were rubbing and it was easier to disconnect them than to fix them) so we didn’t end up meeting again and I didn’t even get a photo.
Up in the tree working
View in Maceió – note the tall buildings on the left and demarcation to the poor housing on the right