Natural Living

By Irene Fogarty

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Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil. What are the first things that come to mind when I say “Brazilian”? Giselle Bà¼ndchen? Painful bikini waxing? Ronaldo? Fingers on the buzzers for round two. What’s the capital of Brazil? And what language do they speak in Brazil?

For starters, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world (only slightly smaller than the USA). Brasilia (not Rio) is the capital, and Portuguese (not Spanish) is their national language.

Didn’t know all this? No worries. I didn’t know much either when I decided to head off to a tiny place called Itacaré, in the north east. What I did know was that I was going to “The girl from Ipanema” country, Bossa Nova-land, creators of delicious caiprinhias and soccer fanatics, and the makers of the best flip-flops in the world, Havanas. Most importantly, I was going to a country I’ve always wanted to see.

Plus, the fact, that their soccer players are probably the best-looking, most talented strikers in the world, (sorry Becks doesn’t come close, but that’s another article for another site), with the best bods, I was excited!

So I’m here to tell you if you want to experience a trip that’s not your typical “sun” getaway, this is your ticket. You will see “life” in a different way. So much so that you may want to change your own when you come back to “reality” – NYC that is. Do it before it becomes destroyed with annoying tourists and Starbucks opens on every corner.

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Where is Itacaré? Here’s a map, so you can see exactly where Itacaré is. It’s in Bahia, the capital of Salvador, on the north east coast of Brazil. I never made it to Salvador, but I hear it’s a fantastic, historic city with loads of traditions and of course beautiful beaches too.

Itacaré is a small, peaceful fishing village with an extremely relaxed lifestyle combined with typical Afro-Brazilian culture. The town of 10,000+ inhabitants was once a notorious hideout for pirates. Think Jack Straw!! Later it became a lively stronghold for cacao-exportation. Nowadays it’s inhabited by fishermen, surfers, Brazilians and jaded foreigners looking for a new “life”.

The coast of Itacaré is a succession of beaches and hills covered with palm trees and forest. It’s so exotic. On the beaches located close to the village, there are hotels, bars and restaurants. There are hotels and pousadas. Hotels are more exclusive and more expensive.

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Quick history lesson, very quick
Itacaré was originally inhabited by indians, and then by Jesuits (mainly from Europe) in the early 1700′s. Some of the earliest buildings like the one here, still define the town’s appearance. However, it was the cacao-boom during the late 19th and early 20th century that accounts for the many of its historical buildings. At one point, Itacaré was a big harbor for export shipments of the cacao. This industrial boom ended however when in the 1980′s a fungus disease afflicted the whole cacao region, destroying harvests and the city’s main industry. As a result, Ilhéus became the “bigger” city.

With the construction of the road between Ilhéus and Itacaré in 1998, Itacaré was re-opened to the world, with a new shift toward tourism. Today, we welcome its revival. It is one of those few untouched havens left in the world that should be treasured and cherished.

New York to Itacare: the flight time
Just so you know the trip is not short. You can fly direct to Sao Paolo from New York. This is a 10 hr trip. From Sao Paolo you fly to Ilhéus – about 2 hours. Nearly there. From Ilhéus to Itacaré, 70 mins in a car/taxi, There are no buses/trains. My advice? Don’t try and squeeze this holiday into a long weekend. Get at least 10 days off to do it right. (Go in now and tell the boss you need time off).

Live to work vs. work to live If you think the New ork way of life is the best or only way of life, think again. In this part of the world, they’re not concerned about 401 (k)’s, therapists or manolas. It’s about living for the day.

I remember talking to a few of the Itacare natives on a late Sun. evening and one of them said he had to leave because he had “work” the next day. When I asked him what he did, he looked at me and said “surfing, of course.” So forget about working lunches, power lunches, or anything related to corporate world. These people live for the day, for the beach and for the beer – Skol! Makes you wonder what the hell we’re all doing running about in this city.

Heading for the big waves dude? Discovered by surfers in the late 70′s, Itacaré is where surfers from all over the world return religiously. Itacaré offers visiting surfers some of the most consistently breaking surfspots in the Brazilian Northeastern region, with warm water all year round and paradise beaches.

Best surfing season in Itacaré? For total beginners recommended months are September – June, since the waves are small then (2 to 4 feet). Note that Brazilian summer holidays extend from Christmas until a couple of weeks after Carnival, with many Brazilian tourists around (especially surfers…), and much higher lodging prices than during the low season. For experienced surfers, Brazilian winter is the best travel season, since there are generally bigger waves (up to 10 feet from June to August). On the other hand beaches and peaks are crowd-free then.

Preferred surfing season is between Sept – Nov, which has the cleanest swells, very nice weather (not too hot), and deserted beaches.

Hot, hot, hot.
Itacaré is tropical so expect a hot, and humid climate. The first four days it rained non-stop. I was beginning to see why they called it a “rainforest”. But by day 5, the rays came out and boy was it hot. Even on the hazy days, the sun can be scorching. So be careful. Temperatures can reach 105ºF in summer, from December to March, but normally range then from 90 – 100ºF.

In winter, from June to Sept, Itacaré has a humid climate with temperatures around 80ºF and lots of rainfalls, but even with windy days and rainfall, temperatures hardly fall below 15ºC (60ºF). Weather in spring, from September to Nov, is the most calm of the year. Expect sunshine and a warm and comfortable climate. The good news? Warm sea water, 12 months a year.

So if you surf, forget the wet suit, just bring plenty of sunscreen lotion. You’re going to need it.

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Eco Resort – a natural ecological haven I stayed at the Eco Resort – an ecological, rainforest paradise that was about half a mile away from downtown Itacaré.

Eco Resort is perfectly integrated in the landscape. Surrounded by the Atlantic Rainforest, it feels like your own little part of Brazil. You wake up to the noises of insects and animals, the smells of plants on the forest and the beautiful lushness of the rainforest vegetation that surrounds the entire resort. You feel you’re at one with nature. Not that you’re intruding on it.

Run by two Swiss guys (Daniel Karrer is the one of the owners), you see that the place is not only carefully cultivated but it is not a lavish hotel-like. Don’t expect mint chocolates on the bed here. It’s about nature. They ask you to recycle your towels, and there’s a certain way to turn on the water using different faucets (something I never quite figured out). Nonetheless, I like the concept of keeping the grounds as natural as possible.

There are different rooms and different types of accommodation depending on what you want. For two people, I’d recommend the rooms. There are 25 apartments are all equipped with central air-condition, veranda with hammock, cable TV, frigobar, telephone, safe. Nothing over the top. If there’s a group of six or more people, you can rent out one of the little villas. They’re really magnificent.

The Itacaré Eco Resort has a couple of restaurants. One of them is perfectly located beside the beach and offers an international cuisine with the diverse flavors and spices of Bahian food.

Personally, I think it’s best to get the bus into the town of Itacaré and check out the local restos there. It’s much cheaper and much more vibrant. What you can do is organize that you get free breakfast with your accommodation and that should keep you going till late afternoon. Then when you hit downtown Itacare you can see what you’d like.

Since the resort, like an island to itself, is a little cut off from the town of Itacare, I recommend that you take the shuttle bus from the resort and spend the evening or day there. The buses come every 2 hours – last one leaves at 11 o’clock at night, after that you can get a taxi.

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Downtown Itacaré If you want to be in the heart of it all, you can stay in the town of Itacaré in cute hostel like hotels, they call pousadas. Pousadas are smaller, very simple, clean and really inexpensive. You can get them at less than $10 a night – and that includes breakfast! Here is my recommendation

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Pousada dos Anges (Posada of 2 Angels) 6 rooms. Antique colonial house transformed into pousada located in the town center. In front of the ocean. Comfortable rooms with TV, minibar, ceiling fan or air conditioner. Really nice. You can contact the owner, Barbara at: btdanjos@yahoo.com.br , tel: +55 73 – 251 2482

She’s fluent in French. Just make sure to book in advance, it’s becoming pretty busy all year round here.

Zagat for Itacaré There’s a great variety of restos here. So be adventurous. Don’t expect to find Caesar salad and a glass of chardonnay here. The food is influenced from so many places (Africa, South America, Europe), it’s hard to say where it’s from. You’re going to taste more heavier traditional dishes with rice, beans and meat. Being a veggie, I often found it hard to find what I wanted. But there is great seafood. Be sure to try their moquecas – stew like dishes that are really tasty and a little spicy.

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A night-capoeira After dinner, why not watch the locals do their capoeira. This dance/martial art form of expression is fascinating and Itacaré is renowned for it. Check out the cut muscles of these dancers. No trainer in New York can give you a body like this. And yes, it’s all natural!

Life’s a beach…all 17 of them
There are many beautiful preserved beaches here. Sà£o José, on the Eco Resort, where I stayed at is breath-taking. I’ve been to the Caribbean, south of France etc., and I’ve never seen beaches like these. Snow-white sand, palm trees leaning over to give you shade, rivers, coconut palm trees and forests. And the amazing thing is that they’re deserted. So you’ll have the place to yourself.

To see more of Itacaré’s stunning beaches, go to www.itacre.com. It’s an incredible website that has everything you need to know about this magical place.

Calling all passengers for flight… So what are you waiting for? It’s time to rejuvenate yourself. And I’m not talking about a haircut and color. Go see the world, the world outside New York. Bahia, Brazil will help you rejuvenate your mind and spirit. You may just fall in love with it and never come back…

Finally, just a few tips to take into account to make your trip as enjoyable as possible.

1. You talkin’ to me? Unless you’re fluent in Portuguese, get a tourist book on basic Portuguese. You’re def. going to need it. They don’t speak much English here. Anyway, it’s fun to speak another language than Brooklynese, right?

2. Remember you need a passport and a visa for Brazil (unless your European – you won’t need the visa which costs $100). Contact the Brazilian embassy to find out.

3. Cover Up! Obviously spfs, all the time. It’s hazy, hot and humid. So be careful! Don’t forget your nose, ears and toes!

4. Bug out. You may need bug spray: mosquitoes, etc. They seem to love my white skin for some weird reason.

5. Don’t drink water from tap. They usually serve bottled water in restaurants.

6. Be patient. It’s not New York. People take their time here.

7. Mind your “p’s and “q’s”. Manners are very important here. Remember your “por favor”‘s and “origados.”

8. Be friendly. After a day or two, you will not be able to walk in the street without waving “Bem Dia” to everyone. (Try that when you get back to the city – you’ll be in Bellevue before you know it.)

9. Leave the bling-bling at home. Brazil is a poor country. So be discreet. Don’t flash money, expensive cameras, etc.

10. Get in the mood for caiprinhias and with Frequent Flyer CD (Rio de Janeiro). It’s fantastic!

11. Bon Voyage!

Contact DiscoverBrazil for more information about Itacaré and the Itacaré EcoResort. Ask for Tania. She’s fantastic!

Tania Gutierrez International Travel Consultant DiscoverBrazil.com Tel: (55) (71) 271-5261 Mobile: (55) (71) 9963-4909 Fax: (55) (71) 341-0728 Toll Free: 1-800-495-8211 or (732) 704-1898 E-mail: tania@discoverbrazil.com.br Web: www.discoverbrazil.com

For more info on travel packages to Brazil, go to www.varigbrazilvacations.com or call 1-877-687-1000.

Originally published March 2005
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