A Comfortable Rhythm in Jericoacoara, Brazil

As soon as the bartender handed over two ice cold Antarcticas, the Brazilian answer to Budweiser, I began to contemplate the similarities between the beer and the place in which my husband and I had just arrived: Jericoacoara. The formula of this beach was all too familiar: miles of white sand; clusters of coconut palms; makeshift umbrellas dotting the space between the open-air bar and the ocean. Now that we were in this fishing-village-turned-hippie-hideaway that the locals called Jeri, I wondered whether this remarkable coastline with the unusual name was nothing more than the vacation equivalent of a lager repackaged with a fancier title. Also weighing on my mind was whether my marriage, this covenant I had entered into just a few days prior, was another sort of repackaging, an attempt to put a fresh label on something I knew so well.

My first glimpse of Jeri was intoxicating, however. It came as our sputtering four-wheeler rounded the top of the last of the dune ridges. In the foreground of the vast panorama was a concentration of terracotta-roofed houses and pousadas, the little inns that serve Jericoacoara’s several thousand tourists each year. Looming left was the colossal Duna do Pôr-do-Sol, the Sunset Dune, an ideal gathering place for watching the sun melt into the sea. Beyond the village and the Sunset Dune was the endless Atlantic.

[Photo: Flickr/Ricardo Olivare de Magalhães]
From Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, Jijoca de Jericoacoara is three hours by car, its secluded beach a bumpy, one-hour dune buggy ride from there. Since the 1970s, hippies, artists, and other drop-outs have been escaping to Jeri, attracted to its isolation and carefree way of life. In the 1990s, windsurfers began coming here from France, Italy, Spain, as Jeri’s position along the ocean – one that gives it both east and west horizons – also creates ideal, blustery conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Juan, an Argentine windsurfer who had been waiting tables at the beachside creperie for two years, told me that he moved there because it lacked a “caudillo,” the so-called “strong man” that figures prominently in South American politics.

Jeri lacks a lot of things: paved roads, streetlamps, ATMs, a hospital. In 2002, to preserve this near-virginal coast, Brazil declared Jericoacoara a national park. Though the pronouncement has helped to keep the beaches clean and the route nearly inaccessible, it hasn’t prevented Jeri from hooking up to the electric grid. Old and new locals can have their TVs, cell phones, AC, and wifi. But when night falls, everyone must walk home by the light of the moon.

On the final evening of our three-night stay in Jeri, after having dune-buggied to distant watering holes, lingered around a fleet of jangadas unloading their catch, and whiled away hours in outdoor cafes humming along to Manu Chao, I thought again about lager and love. But I also thought about how travel, like relationships, gives you the opportunity to experience the new as well as look at the familiar with fresh eyes.

I had come to Jericoacoara on my honeymoon. Just days before, my fiance and I had celebrated our wedding, an event akin to standing on that sandy pinnacle viewing for the first time the promise that was Jericoacoara. As we both gazed at the horizon that last night, watching the deep orange of the sun give way to a black, but twinkling sky, I realized that we had settled into a comfortable rhythm.

“Another Antarctica?” asked my husband as he lifted the near-empty bottle in front of me.

“Sim,” I said smiling, in my best Portuguese. “Obrigada.”