There is even lovelier coastline north of Salvador. We pull in for the night at Praia do Forte. I wanted to see the turtle sanctuary, but it has become a “turtle theme park” with not too much emphasis on saving turtles. The whole beach area has become an upmarket resort area. We overnight in this the carpark, but it’s not really the best spot as it is a 4 day holiday & very noisy. As we continue north we turn off the main road again to ferry across the Rio Sao Francisco to Penelo. A surprisingly lovely old town on the riverfront. The church is particularly exquisite. Here escaping slaves could hide behind panels in the church walls.
Another Overlander has given us directions to some great beaches & recommended camp spots. The first place we try is packed with locals – they come by the busload with their food & boom boxes! It’s a pity about all the rubbish they leave behind. Finally we find a spot at Lagoa do Pac – perfect. No people, just miles of beach.
Continuing our drive we are now passing lots of sugar cane, right up & down hillsides. I am wondering how it can be harvested, when we see lots of workers cottages & cane being harvested by hand.
Our next port of call is the old town of Olinda that is located practically inside the more modern city of Recife. It takes a while to navigate as Recife is made up of lots of waterways & islands, but it is worth it. Olinda is a pretty colonial town – whicn we spend a few hours checking out. The best thing is the free elevator at the top of the hill giving magic views. Although perhaps the very best thing was lunch at a Creperia. Anyway time to move on, finding our favorite kind of petrol station – quiet & with Wi-Fi.
Lots of driving today passing Joao Pessoa, Natal & Mossoro (a wealthy mining town with lots of oil wells). Finally we reach Canoa Quebrada where we plan to camp. It’s a pretty place with red canyons dropping into the surf. There are lots of kite boarding places & heaps of local boats called jangadas .Flat bottom boats sailed by 1 to 4 guys. In the morning we watch a few heading out through the surf. We continue hugging the coast, exploring lots of beaches & villages. There are some great spots with big dunes & lots of buggy’s. No time for a ride – we are heading to the city of Fortaleza to find internet as we have a propery settling in a couple of days. (Moral of this story – don’t drive into a city for internet) The place we set on the GPS was no longer there so we went into a hotel. They don’t have Wi-Fi so we use their computer – useless as there is no writing left on most of the keyboard. Very frustrating! So we head out of town to my chosen destination of Praia Lagoinha – gorgeous spot. We camp right between the hotel & the beach, and guess what – we use their Wi-Fi and eat in their restaurant. The wifi was good but the food disappointing to say the least. The next morning we wile away a few hours watching boats head out to sea & swimming. As the beach fills up (remember it is still holidays) we head to our next destination – Jericoacoara (one of the top pic’s in the Lonely Planet) As we get closer we are waved down by locals saying we must have a guide to get into the “dunas”. We figure there must be another road so we ask the police – no we need a guide to go in the vehicle. We negotiate one to lead us on his motorbike. The first section is very corrugated, the next on beach & amongst the dunes. All very easy, but there are lots of tracks. We camp between the sunset dune & the beach. It’s a very popular place with kite boarders & windsurfers. In the morning there are no guides waiting to take us out, so we head off. Surely it can’t be too hard. End up on a different track past more dunes. See lots of oncoming local 4x4’s full of locals, so continue. The track eventually narrows down & oh my there are lots of low overhanging trees. No choice but to ease GR2 through with lots of scraping noises! Not good at all!!
Back onto the main road & continue north on to Luis Correia with its very modern subdivisions right on the beach, and then the city of Parnaiba. Here there is a National Park of wetlands & mangroves. We don’t go on the usual tourist boat trip – but drive through the inland roads finding yet another disgusting road with lots of sandholes. It takes us so much extra time we arrive at Tutoia at dusk, so head straight to the Praia/beach to find a spot. As the town ends right on the beach it doesn’t look too great, but a local Pousada owner lets us camp in her back yard. We eat at her restaurant.
Head off bright & early to our next destination (another Lonely Planet top pic) – Parque Nacional Dos Lencois Maranhenses. There are no roads into it – only escorted tours, but apparently there are similar dunes after Paulino Neves. Then there is a gap in the road of 30km to the next town of Barreirinhas. Apparently a 4x4 can drive it. The supposedly dirt road to Paulino Neves was new seal. Looking good. So we feel confident tackling the 30km of sand. We head off on a maze of sandy track with no other traffic in sight. A bit unnerving. It gets softer & sandier- the track looks as if it goes right into the dunes. Phew! At last we see an oncoming 4x4 tourist vehicle, and we follow their tracks. The dunes are absolutely gorgeous & the lovely pools of water have sadly dried up – but it is still magical) At this point we should have turned around & gone back, but we didn’t know how soft the sand was going to get. The track continued another 15km through thatched villages. The road got softer & softer, especially as the day got hotter and hotter. If it wasn’t for overhanging branches we could have kept up enough speed. I had to walk ahead to check out tracks, & when John stopped to pick me up GR2 dug herself in. For the next very hot hour we dug her out. Our mactracs proved useless. The sand is very fine, hot & slippery. A local guy helps us use coconut fronds. Finally out, but up the hill we are stuck again. This time it is a tractor to the rescue. YAY! We follow him out the final 8kms, quite a few of these tied to him. We are very, very relieved to see the tarsealed streets of Barreirinhas. John & GR2 have had 10 years taken off their lives! And I have promised to never ever choose back roads again!
As we are leaving town both of us covered in sand & sweat. John comments that he would love a fresh water swim. Before you know it we are crossing a gorgeous river, so we turn back and have a much needed soak.
Coming next: Rio Amazonas.