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2003-11-20 / Travel

CANOA QUEBRADA: A Ruby Among Brazil’s Seaside Jewels

Associated Press Writer
By Todd Lewan
CANOA QUEBRADA: A Ruby Among Brazil’s Seaside Jewels By Todd Lewan Associated Press Writer

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

But 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 barefooted fisherman trudged slow-ly past, a roll of shrimp netting on his bare, sun-browned back. I called out to him, waved.

He stopped.

Say, I said, 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 they 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. And there is a Cyber Cafe, run by a couple of Italian transplants.

But I wasn’t here for pampering.

I was in Canoa Quebrada – Broken Canoe, in Portuguese – for the sweeping ocean views, the salty, soft sea breezes, the driftwood-colored sand squeezed between blood-red, wind-carved falesias – stone cliffs – and a palate 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 thump and break on newly wet sand.

For 10 bucks, you can hop a ride on a jangada, the log rafts 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 laid eyes on – and I’ve seen the Greek isles. The three-hour ride set me back $40. It was worth every nickel.

Bernardo 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 a half-dozen times, he stop-ped the buggy and led me through caverns and faults and other natural marvels such as the Devil’s Throat.

That was a cleft in the cliffs a couple of miles east of town. Underground aquifers and the tides had, over the years, eroded and carved caves and jagged, tooth-like outcroppings.

The cliffs hugging the shore changed in hue from auburn to blush to violet, from driftwood to gold to coral. Some-times I imagined seeing a cathedral in those cliffs, and other times pyramids, and other times trees and clouds and giant toes and cacti and the muscled arms of sea gods, and 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 Que-brada.

Standing 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 splot-ches on a topaz sea. In the distant At- lantic, white fins jutted from the horizon a cluster of jangadas.

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

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