Sunday, 27 May 2007

I know it's not a race

... but I'd hate to come second.

I'm currently in Jericoacoara (, a town I've only just learnt how to spell. It's a beautiful little beachfront resort that very few people seem to have heard of, though maybe they just can't spell it either. There are very few tourists here, but the place is so lovely I imagine it'll become a major destination soon enough.

I'm with a couple of Aussies and a French couple, and we were tipped off about Jericoacoacoacoacoara by a Portuguese guy we met - he was travelling with his Brazilian wife by motorbike across Latin America, starting off by following the Che Guevara route from The Motorcycle Diaries.

He had sponsorship and everything - mainly in the form of motorbike spares and tyres that were too big and bulky for him to bring. You can read his blog at , as long as you can read Portuguese. He has a photo of the boat to Belem on it ( ), and you can see a tiny sliver of my red and yellow hammock just above the head of the boy in red. I must have been in the bar at the time, or attempting to hang myself from the back of the boat by a string of spaghetti.

It's fantastic to be here after the boat trip, but I seem to have picked up a cold. This is irritating, especially because the temperature only drops below thirty at night here so it can make a really determined assault on forty the next day. Having the sniffles seems somehow inappropriate, but it's not a bad place to recuperate, especially since the company is good.

For the most part the entertainment has been provided by a guy we met in Sao Luis. He was Israeli, but that's in no way relevant to the story. I merely mention it in order to provide a little local colour.

He'd already irritated me once that day. I'd tried to be friendly to him in the hostel and he blanked me completely as he was with some friends. So when he came up to us (alone) while we were having lunch and asked if we'd mind if he joined us, I said "Yes". Unfortunately this was treated as a joke and the Aussies told him to sit down and make himself comfortable.

He then proceeded to annoy them by complaining loudly about the food, both in terms of quality and cost - it was all you could eat for two pounds fifty. This was right in front of the English speaking owner, thus undoing all the good work we'd done in befriending him. As Aussie Jim said later "I gave him a chance and he let me down"

It was a few more minutes before he offended the French couple, though. The owner was from France, too, and they got chatting to him for quite a while. Mr Isreal was sitting next to them, and when the owner spoke to him en fran├žais the tone in which he said "What, do I f*cking look French?!" would have had Job spitting out his dummy and throwing his toys out of the pram.

Over lunch he explained to us in great detail how disastrous his trip had been, because the universe simply wasn't built to his exacting specifications. "What's been your favourite so far?" asked Aussie Jim. "Nothing, really" he replied. "How long have you got left?" enquired Aussie Mick. "Four months, but it's too long, I want to go home now" was the response, which was met with silence, though I reckon we were all thinking the same thing.

I like to think I'm not a bad whinger myself but I'm a mere dabbler next to this guy, who'd turned whining into such an art form he could have exhibited some of his better works in the National Gallery.

He'd just come back from Jericoacoacoacoacoacoacoacoacoacoara himself, and he didn't like it because it was too busy. Honestly, there's about a dozen people here, and on the kilometer long stretches of beautiful sandy beach yesterday you could just about make out the hazy image of a lone windsurfer in the distance.

He also complained that "there were too many bars and restaurants". I don't know about you, but I hate that in a town. It was particularly rich, too, because he'd already complained that there was only one restaurant in Sao Luis. Judging from the fact that we've found seven here, I think four is his ideal concentration of eateries in any one location.

After listening to a few lifetimes of this I was about to head up to the smokers' end of the table, preferring the possibility of lung cancer to the inevitability of brain death, when things picked up a bit.

It turned out that he'd already visited a few of the same places we had, including a place called Sorata in Bolivia. You may remember that I was less than complimentary about the welcome afforded to tourists in that country*, but it's a beautiful part of the world and I have the photos that completely fail to prove it.

* I think I might have used the phrase "they're a bunch of miserable lying toads", and if I didn't then I should have

While we were discussing Sorata, to which the Israeli judges awarded nil points, Aussie Mick asked him "Did you visit the underwater lagoon?"

I must admit I spent a couple of seconds thinking "underwater lagoon? how does that work? where was that?" before I got it, and Mick was continuing "Oh yeah, it's the most beautiful place I've ever been, it was incredible".

I think Aussie Jim caught on round about the same time I did, because he started waxing lyrical about other fictitious places no-one should have missed, and between us we spent some considerable time describing a kind of fantasy South America that after a while I wished I'd visited myself. It sounded a lot better than the trip I'd had.

Which was of course the point.

My favourite part of this conversation was:
Aussie Mick - "Did you visit the pygmy village?"
Israel - "Pygmy village?"
Aussie Mick - "It was incredible. It's a tiny place in the jungle, and it's been untouched by human civilisation for thousands of years"
Israel - "Was it easy to get to?"
Aussie Mick - "Yeah, they run tourist buses out there three times a day"


Once we'd exhausted that reserve, we enquired about his future plans and were delighted to discover that he was heading back the way we'd come. After recommending some dodgy hostels and smelly boats, we started advising him on the prices to pay, insisting we'd paid about half of what we did for everything and telling him that he had to haggle more or they'd rip him off. So, having set him up for a few weeks of aggravation, we left.

Maybe it was a little unfair, but I enjoyed it. The best was yet to come, though, because in his honour we launched an unofficial whinging competition that lasted for several days.

We took a trip to a small desert nearby, which had a series of rainwater lagoons in the middle of the white sand. It was lovely, but we spent the entire time complaining, tongues firmly in cheek. Mostly it was the usual kind of thing, "These dunes are too sandy", "This lagoon is too wet", etc, but I took the lead in the bar that night. We were having cocktails to celebrate Aussie Mick's birthday, and after taking a sip of a surprisingly good rum and coconut milk concoction, served in a real coconut, I said in my most plaintive voice "These drinks are too nice", which went down very well.

However, Aussie Mick nailed it shortly afterwards as we sat with more cocktails watching the sun set over the beach (which was perfectly dreadful, as I'm sure you can imagine).

As the sun turned a particularly intense shade of orange, lighting the horizon with red fire and turning the sea to gold, Mick took a sip of his caipirinha and said

"It's not very disappointing, is it?"

Sometimes you just have to settle for second place.

All the best

Sniffles in Brazil

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