- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

CANOA QUEBRADA, Brazil — You know you’re in for a tough day at the shore when the red clay cliffs are already baking at 9 in the morning and Daisy, the mule who’s supposed to be carrying tourists down the cliffs to the sand, is pooped out under a palm tree.

Still, there was no way I was going to let a little sun-scorched sand keep me off the beach. I had traveled far to reach the northern shoulder of Brazil, and this was Canoa Quebrada, a slice of paradise that made the airbrushed posters of the Caribbean on the wall of my travel agent’s office look washed out in comparison.

After hotfooting it down the ramshackle wood stairway between a fault in the cliffs, I scampered across the sand and took refuge under a wide straw-topped umbrella.

A barefoot fisherman trudged past slowly, a roll of shrimp netting on his bare, sun-browned back. I called out to him and waved. He stopped.

“Say,” I asked, “do you know if they serve margaritas at any huts down on the beach?”

He gave me a quizzical look, lifted his sun-blotched shoulders, turned and trudged on to work, shaking his head.

OK, dumb question.

No, Canoa Quebrada isn’t another primped, polished resort with barmen at the ready to make margaritas all hours of the day. It’s a fishing village, a real fishing village, and the villagers take creature comforts, well, on the lighter side.

Sure, there are a few trinket and T-shirt shops along the main drag — a red sandy road the locals jokingly refer to as Broadway — as well as two or three watering holes and a few brick, stick and vine places to nosh. There also is a cyber-cafe run by a couple of Italian transplants.

However, I wasn’t here for pampering.

I was in Canoa Quebrada — Broken Canoe, in Portuguese — for the sweeping ocean views, the soft salty sea breezes, the driftwood-colored sand squeezed between blood-red, wind-carved falesias — stone cliffs — and a pallet of azure Atlantic.

You can hike dunes as white as sugar. You can splash about in sun-gilded natural pools left behind by the tides. You can ride the backs of donkeys up and down an endless ribbon of shoreline, all the while listening to the rollers thumping and breaking on newly wet sand.

For $10, you can hop a ride on a jangada, a log raft used by the fishermen of northeastern Brazil, and let the winds take you out to the darker waters of the deep ocean. Or you can go buggy.

I had a guide, Ermilson Bernardo, 29, drive me in a dune buggy to seven of the most pristine beaches I have ever seen — and I’ve seen the Greek isles. The three-hour ride set me back $40. It was worth every nickel.

He was polite, friendly and intent on having me see even the tiniest, most minuscule details that composed the mosaic of his native shore. More than half a dozen times, he stopped the buggy and led me through caverns, faults and other natural marvels, such as the Devil’s Throat.

That is a cleft in the cliffs a couple of miles east of town. Underground aquifers and the tides have, through the years, eroded and carved caves and jagged, toothlike outcroppings.

The cliffs hugging the shore changed in hue from auburn to blush to violet, from driftwood to gold to coral. Sometimes I imagined seeing a cathedral in those cliffs, other times pyramids, and other times trees and clouds and giant toes and cactuses and the muscled arms of sea gods, even the finlike sails of jangadas.

No doubt the highlight of my tour was when we buggied up to the top of the highest dune on Ponta Grossa beach, 33 miles east of Canoa Quebrada.

As we stood there atop the dune, all around us were sea and sky and sand, all sun-drenched and timeless, majestic and uncluttered. Below, the sun shone brassy on the wave crests. The clouds painted splotches on a topaz sea. In the distant Atlantic, white fins jutted from the horizon on a cluster of jangadas.

To me, they looked like butterflies posing on a spread of sapphires.

Take plane, car and bus to Canoa Quebrada:

All of Brazil’s major airlines — Varig, TAM, VASP and Gol — offer daily service from the gateway cities of Rio de

Janeiro and Sao Paulo to the northeastern region of the country. Fly to Fortaleza, capital of Ceara, and then either rent a car or hop on a bus and head 100 miles due east along the BR-304 highway to Canoa Quebrada.

There are frequent departures to Canoa Quebrada, and bus fare from Fortaleza is about $10; economical rental cars can be had at a reasonable $35 a day, but pay the extra $15 a day and get one with air conditioning. I didn’t, and I paid for it in sweat.

Cars can be rented at the airport — Nobre (phone 88/477-1303), Hertz (phone 88/477-5055) or Localiza (phone 88/477-5050).

CLIMATE

Hot, hot, hot, and the sun is strong. Temperatures in this tropical region are around 80 degrees at night and 95 degrees in the daytime. Steady, strong coastal breezes will give you much-needed heat relief. It rains more often between June and August, the South American winter, but the downpours usually are fleeting.

MONEY

Northeastern Brazil is reasonably priced. Fortaleza has a large number of accredited exchange agencies downtown, and money can be exchanged at hotels, although the rate is not as good.

In Canoa Quebrada, you will be able to change dollars at the Art Canoa, a souvenir shop. Otherwise, you’ll need to go six miles to the nearest city, Aracati, and change currency at the local branch of the Banco do Brasil.

FOOD

Seafood is what they do best here. Try the Bistro Natural (phone 088/421-7162) and the Tenda do Cumbe (phone 088/421-7252) for great salads, fish and side dishes of manioc flour, white rice, sliced tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions and red beans to go with your fresh fish.

In Ceara state, the typical seafood dishes are amarela, beijupira, pargo, cavala and robalo, salted lightly, moistened with a touch of lime juice and garlic and then broiled.

LODGING

The place to stay is the Great Seaside Porto Canoa Resort, which straddles the shore between Canoa Quebrada and Majorlandia, a fishing village to the east.

There are seven clusters of 112 nifty suites, the larger ones with kitchens, all with views of the ocean.

Each apartment has what I call necessities: air conditioning, cable TV with international programming, hot-water showers, phone and big, firm beds.

Voltage in the hotel is 220, so Americans should bring their adapters.

The hotel offers terrific dining, three swimming pools and a swath of pristine beach with no one but the occasional fisherman walking it. The price is about $45 a night for two; credit cards are aaccepted (unlike at many other local hotels). Reservations can be made by phone, 088/421-9000, or fax, 088/421-9046.

If you can’t get a room here, a number of cheaper pousadas are available in town. The better ones are the Pousada Chataletta (088/421-7200, www.pousadachataletta.hpg.com.br), the Pousada Sete Mares (088/421-7109, www.geocities.com/pousada7mares), and the La Dolce Vita (088/421-7213, www.canoa-quebrada.it), which range in price from $25 to $35 a night for doubles.

TOURIST INFORMATION

Visit the Tourism Center in Fortaleza (Rua Senador Pompeu, 350, telephone 088/488-7411) for a travel brochure on beach life in Ceara. There also is a 24-hour tourist information hot line, toll-free in Brazil (800/99-1516), and a tourist information booth at the Fortaleza airport (088/477-1667). In Canoa Quebrada, stop at the Porto Canoa Resort for a pamphlet on things to do and see.


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