Saturday, September 8, 2012

Porto de Galinhas: Praias e Piscinas

The title smudges the truth a little, we actually arrived and stayed in Maracaipe which is one beach down from Porto de Galinhas. Really, it’s just one epically long beach of glory. Mary’s aunt and uncle arranged for us to stay at a beautiful pousada (bed and breakfast) on the beach for the beginning of the trip. Rosangela let it slip that we were on our honeymoon so the manager was quick to set us up in an appropriately romantic room. As you can see, there were hearts everywhere, even on our towels. The best part was the flowers and petals on the floor, bed, and bathroom counter.

The flower petals led to an open balcony where we could lie in a hammock and watch the ocean. The sound of the waves lulled us to sleep at night, and sometimes even during the day.

Breakfast at this place was also one of the highlights of our day. It was huge, as Brazilian breakfasts tend to be. There is a saying that goes, “For breakfast eat like a king, for lunch like a prince, and for dinner like a beggar.” The little veranda filled with tropical plants and songbirds was also a nice touch.

                    Here is the beach right outside the pousada. We spent a lot of time out here with our shoes off!


The sand was amazingly soft and fine. Mary just had to stop and run her fingers through it from time to time.

During the week, we had the beach almost

completely to ourselves. The main beach still

attracted some surfers and sunbathers, but other

parts of the coastline inhabited only by coconut

palm trees and the occasional horse.

The whole coastline is very shallow and teeming with corals. During low tide, suddenly we could see

 strips of sand and rocks emerging from the ocean. Sometimes the ocean even would form shallow

pools in the sand as it receded. All of this made for stunning natural beauty that was always changing

with the tides.

 All these formations were invisible every

morning and night; only appearing at noon.

One of the coolest parts of this beach was the piscinas naturais (natural swimming pools). When the tide goes out, the higher shelves of rock and coral trap water between them, forming pools until the tide rises back up over the rocks. These pools were about a mile offshore, visible from the beach but still a long swim away. You can see them beginning to emerge behind all the boats in this picture.
Fortunately, the locals had specially designed boats called jangadas to navigate the shallow waters, and it wasn’t hard to find someone to give us a lift at low tide. Jangadas have flat bottoms and float almost entirely out of the water. Some have sails, but all are manned by jangadeiros (boatmen) with long oars, which are used to push the boat off of rock or sand.
Here is the skeleton of one that we found at the far end of a deserted beach. 

But back to the piscinas naturais... At about noon (low tide), we sailed out to the nearly exposed rock/coral shelves. As we stepped off the jangada into about six inches of water, we were told by our jangadeiro to keep our flip flops on.
Here’s why.

The boatman was able to pick up this guy and hand it to us. It tickled Mary’s hand, but would have been a different sensation entirely to step on.
Once we got to the edge of the piscina, we were able to tie our sandals onto the rope and jump in with our snorkeling masks. 
We saw that water wasn’t the only thing trapped in these pools...

Mary raised her hands because the fish kept nibbling at her fingers, which also tickled. It was a ticklish time for Mary overall.

 These peixe amarello (yellowfish) dominated the underwater scene everywhere we looked. We saw a couple other species of fish too, but they were too small and fast to get any good pictures. Which was a shame because they were brilliant shades of blue and yellow.

The blurry guy in the corner is Nick.

 Here’s Mary posing with the Porto de Galinhas beach in the distance. Between her and the beach, you can see a line of jangadas and other people near the piscinas naturais. And of course, a whole lotta ocean.

We took a jangada up a small river into a mangrove forest. Here we are standing on a sandbar in the river. 

While we were there, our jangadeiro (temporarily) captured some seahorses. This is apparently not too difficult, as he explained how they just wrap themselves around the mangrove roots for food and protection and stay there. After this romantic heart-shaped photo shoot (the male was actually pregnant), he returned them to their home unharmed.

Porto de Galinhas means “Port of Chickens” in Portuguese, although you wouldn’t need to know a word of the language to figure that out. There is chicken-themed art all over town, including all manner of interestingly painted chicken statues.
We called the one on the left “Chicken of the Sea”. And on the right is Mary getting ready to kiss Psychedelic Hippy Chicken.
 Here’s Cool Blue Surfer Chicken (he was on a surfboard).
And we called this brightly painted fellow Luiz.

Here's Nick making an important Chicken Phone call...

And finally, a random hanging chicken sculpture outside our room at the cute bed and breakfast where we spent the end of our time in Porto de Galinhas.... 

The cute chicken theme unfortunately has a more sinister background. Since the port is a little difficult to navigate (reefs, sandbars, rocks) it wasn't very frequented in the past. Its relative isolation in combination to its proximity to Recife and Olinda made a good spot for illegal shipping. In particular, Europeans brought in slaves after the slave trade had been declared illegal. The code word for slave was "chicken."

Before checking into the place above, we took a party barge trip to Praia dos Carneiros, stopping along the way for a therapeutic mud rub. They promised Mary would look five years younger, but it hasn’t happened yet. She’s still crossing her fingers...

 As we got off the barge, we were greeted by the ringing bell of a particularly resourceful ice-cream seller. We thought the floating cooler was a nice touch.

The water at the beach was calm and crystal clear because huge sandbars, reefs, and rocks created a bay that stopped the ocean waves. The reefs and rocks also created more piscinas naturais, and we were able to walk out on the rocks at low tide. Here’s a shot of Mary on the rocks.

One of the many horse carts for anyone who wanted a ride up and down Praia dos Carneiros. Look carefully at the horse's head. Yup, that's a hat.

This old church was the only building right on the beach, and had survived for hundreds of years.

Grilled fish on the beach – pricey but freshly caught!

 Back at Porto de Galinhas, a view of jangadas with festive sails. Coconut water from green coconuts like these were refreshing and (refreshingly) everywhere.


Pineapples were also in season, and this handy cart served them full of pina coladas made with cachaça, the Brazilian national liquor. When you’re finished with your drink you get to eat the glass!

But really the best way to drink cachaça is in a caipirinha, a drink made with ice, crushed limes, and cane sugar. Here we were sipping them while listening to a guy play old Brazilian songs on an acoustic guitar at a beachside bar.

A rainbow and some jangadas as seen from the next beach bar down...

And out comes the sun! (Despite being the rainy season, our honeymoon luck held out and it was actually quite sunny for most of our week in Porto... Que sorte!)