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Originally published May 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 19, 2005 at 3:15 PM

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Remote beach town of Jericoacoara has a laid-back rhythm all its own

The ritual begins an hour or so before sunset. As the tropical Brazilian sun beats down still at this hour, a few trekkers begin to climb...

Special to The Seattle Times

JERICOACOARA, Brazil — The ritual begins an hour or so before sunset. As the tropical Brazilian sun beats down still at this hour, a few trekkers begin to climb a sand dune that overlooks a remote, windswept beach.

Like ants discovering a fallen scoop of ice cream, the line of sun worshippers grows from a trickle to a stream. Soon a crowd has gathered on the lip of the dune. A couple of sandboarders swoop down the dune like snowboarders. For a tip, or maybe just for the fun of it, a local kid will do backflips down the steep face of the dune. A couple has a "From Here To Eternity" moment, rolling around in a passionate and sandy embrace.

As the sun dips toward the horizon, someone begins to play the didgeridoo, the long, tubular horn of the Australian aborigines. Using circular-breathing technique, the performer produces a continuous low moan that lasts from the moment the sun touches the horizon until it finally disappears.

If you go


Jericoacoara, Brazil

Where

Jericoacoara is located on the northeast coast of Brazil.

Lodging

Ranges from the rustic pousadas (inns) to comfortably elegant hotels. One of many Web sites that provide information on accommodation is www2.uol.com.br/mochilabrasil/, although it is in Portuguese. (Spanish-speakers will be able to understand it.)

Traveler's tip

Former Washington resident, Jodi Thompson, runs a pousada in Jericoacoara and is very helpful. Her pousada, Vila Bela Vista, vilabelavista.com/ is located outside of town and is excellent for light sleepers. Sandy streets may pose difficulties for people who have trouble walking.

It's the end of another day in Jericoacoara, the beach that all Brazil and now the world have come to love.

"It's very beautiful," was the nearly universal response I heard when telling Brazilians where I was planning to go. Those who didn't speak English would just give a knowing smile at the mention of the name.

For a nation that loves its beaches and is in love with being in love with beaches, the beach called Jeri is something special.

There are other beaches in Brazil that are more scenic, says Margarita Moreira, an employee at Club dos Ventos, a local windsurfing club. Moreira has studied and worked in London and has had job offers in Italy. But to live and work in Jeri was too good an opportunity to pass up.

"Other beaches, they have all this, dunes, lagoons, much better nightlife," says Moreira, who is planning to open a pastry shop here, "but Jericoacoara, there's something magical here."

The dunes and the beach are the essence of the magic. In subtle and almost mystical ways, the landscape changes daily. The wind, which builds to near-gale force every day from June to December, constantly reshapes the dunes, sending hazy jetstreams sweeping across the sand. Small clumps of shrubbery catch the blowing granules, creating miniature dunes that last a few days before being carried off again by the wind.

The tides constantly sift and resift the smooth, flat beach. The few rockbeds exposed one day may be covered by the next; that tidepool you splashed in yesterday to get some relief from the sun will have moved a few yards away today.

Jodi Thompson, a former elementary-school teacher from Stevenson, Skamania County, first visited three years ago, after a year of teaching in Bolivia and a motorcycle ride through South America.


STEVEN MARK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A Brazilian athlete flips as he practices capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, on the beach.

With her new Brazilian husband, Márcio, she came across some property for sale. The owner said it had been covered by a sand dune for 15 years, but the dune was now gone. Upwind, no more were forthcoming.

"Before we knew it, we'd bought it," she says. Now the couple operates a pousada (inn) on the property and has opened a kiteboarding school in a nearby town.

It's all part of a friendly, international community. Brazilians have been coming here since the government declared the area an environmentally protected zone in 1984. The strong winds and warm waters have drawn windsurfers and kiteboarders from around the world, bringing in foreign exchange and investment. You hear every European language, and if you can't speak anything but English, someone will translate enough for you to feel included.

The result is a town that, for the moment, has all the tourist trappings without feeling too much like a tourist trap. You can shop, eat, drink and party if you want to; but everyone understands if you just lie in your hammock at the pousada.

Jericoacoara is too remote to become another Ipanema or Copacabana, the famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. It's a six-hour drive to a major airport, in Fortaleza, the capitol of the state of Ceará. The ride is pleasant, at least at first, through small towns and plantations of cashew and carnauba trees. But then, one hour from town, the road turns to dirt and finally sand. At that point, passengers change to a 4-wheel-drive jitney that bounces and grinds the rest of the way.


When I arrived, I learned quickly that in Jericoacoara, going with the flow is the best way to go. The driver who had brought me there described Jericoacoara as "tranquilo," but it hardly seemed that way. I arrived in early November, just as Brazil was celebrating a national holiday. Every room in town was booked, and the parties raged loud and long into the morning. Recovering from jet lag wasn't going to be easy, so the best thing was to sleep when possible — usually from about 7 p.m. until 11 p.m., then go out and join the fun.

On one of these nights, I ventured out to the main drag, a strip of beachfront where two of the three nightclubs were blasting rap and European techno-pop. A band was setting up in the third, and I asked what they were going to play. "Blues," was the answer.

So where was Brazil in all this? I wondered. I left just as the band was heating up to "I Shot the Sheriff," and took a walk through town. As the beat from the beach subsided, I heard another kind of music from uptown — brighter, syncopated. I walked through a darkened neighborhood and came across a scene far different than at the beach clubs. Couples, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, swaying in tangolike pairs in the back yard of a private home. Children playing in the corner. A live band that could have been a garage band in east L.A.

Music from Brazil

Listen to farró. (:43, MP3)

This was forró, a regional music of northeastern Brazil. As I was to learn later, I had happened upon the home of a local woman who holds forró dances every month. A local club also has forró night every Wednesday.

While enjoying a burst of broad popularity back in the 1970s, forró in general has been considered the music of the second-class citizens of Brazil; one forró recording is titled "Music for maids and taxidrivers." And yet in Jericoacoara, one of the most international and cosmopolitan areas in all of Brazil, forró had found a home.


STEVEN MARK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A didgeridoo player entertains the crowd that has gathered on the rim of a sand dune to watch the sunset. Jericoacoara has an international, relaxed feel.

At the beach, as the sun dips below the horizon, the final act of the ritual begins.

The moaning of the didgeridoo ceases, and the last pictures of the dying sun are snapped. On the water below the sand dune where we were standing, a few windsurfers are shredding the last waves of the day.

Most of us had taken the easy way up — climbing up the side of the dune which is gently sloped. The descent, however, must be down the face, which to most newcomers seems frighteningly steep.

Until they see everyone else leap over the edge and begin striding — skipping, hopping, running down the dune, kicking up roostertails of sand with every step. The most creative descents, like those who roll or leapfrog down, earn applause and whistles. Soon everyone is gleefully bounding down the hill. In Jeri, every day deserves a celebration.

Steven Mark is a computer analyst at The Seattle Times. E-mail: smark@seattletimes.com

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