My last days in Maceió were filled with amazing experiences: visiting the natural pools of Pajucara, the embroidery workshops in Pontal de Barra and the beautiful historical town of Marechal Deodoro.
The Natural Pools of Pajucara
The pools created around the coral reef (which in full length actually runs along the north-east Brazilian coast and is supposedly the second biggest in the world) can only be reached by a boat, the traditional jangada (simple fishermen´s boat which is rolled from the shore into the sea in an old-fashion way by using logs and their replacement – see the video). They leave from the beach of Pajucara, cost 40 reals both ways and take you to the pools in about 15 mins one way.
Brazil has a 106.574 square km of total occurrence area of reefs (northeast continental shelf), and 1.008,49 square km of mapped shallow reefs. Unlike Australian Great Barrier Reef (which I talked about here), the reefs in Brazil haven’t seen any mass mortality events related to bleaching so far, so they could possibly hold the key to more resilient reefs.
In Pajucara, you cannot really admire any spectacular colours of the reef or a huge number of fish and other marine life. You would need to go further away from the pools which are packed by jangadas and people standing in the water (rather than snorkelling), drinking pineapple juice and eating sea food grilled on the boats. The reef here is covered in a layer of weeds and similar plants and though you do get to see some fish it is nothing too striking as I said, unless you move further away from the crowds (in which case you need to be a good swimmer as the boats simply will not take you – the boatmen claiming that it is due to the protection of the reef – and you only have an hour and a half in the spot).
What the boatmen like to do though, they give you a piece of break to crumble into the water – at which point a school of fish would arrive to enjoy the feeding feast.
Many tourists would go to Maragogi, about 125 km away from Maceió, where they can enjoy a similar experience in even more protected and preserved waters, yet the experience is overall very much the same.
Pontal de Barra
I was lucky enough to enjoy some beautiful blocos (street carnival parades) in Pontal de Barra, a small town with special vibes and a unique community of people who make the place even more interesting. The colourful town spread around a romantic lagoon is well-known for the art of embroidery which is common for the local women. You find dozens of little shops where you can see the women at work and buy their products for more or less reasonable prices – depending on your negotiating skills and the knowledge of Portuguese and the particular product you want to obtain (a fully embroidered dress of master-art could go as high as 1800 – 2500 reals).
Just visiting and feeling the town allows you to understand better the people of Alagoas where this particular type of embroidery originated. There is an Artisans’ Association of Pontal da Barra which you ca get in touch with to support the community work and this art of strong background both historical and cultural.
I shall remember walking through the streets as a part of a bonco, dancing frevo (or at least trying too) and taking snaps of the inspiring people whose faces would light up (and thus show how flattered they feel) when you take a picture of them.
Marechal Deodoro is a beautiful, colourful, quaint town of historical architecture named after the first Brazilian president who was born here. The city was founded as Vila Madalena (dedicated to Mary Magdalene just like the main church in the square) in 1611, and features a number of historical buildings from the colonial.
The town of siesta atmosphere, wonderful views over the old roofs of fired tiles and street vendors of sugar cane juice will make you fall in love. If it were in Europe, it would be featured in many romantic movies as the place to meet the soulmate.
Leaving the North-East for the South
Now, I was told, of course, that each of the 27 Brazilian states is slightly different. But it would have never occurred to me that the differences could be as noticeable as those between the North and the South of Brazil, starting with the buildings and prices, ending with the people. I am currently living in Cascavel in the state of Paraná and I will speak about this place in my next article. Let me just say for now that my heart in a way is still in Maceió – even though the university where I teach as a volunteering visiting professor (giving lectures on Aesthetics and the Impermanent Ideal of Feminine Beauty, on Gastro Photography, Arts and Travelling) is very cool and the staff is lovely and treats me with admiring respect, and even though my host (a 27-year-old professor of Photography) is a gem, I find it hard to find genuine affiliation with the modern town which was created in the first half of the 20th century. People come here to study and earn money. There is a feeling of general uprootedness and identity crisis which I cannot shake off when I walk through the relatively safe yet plain streets… But, more on this another time…
Now, I laugh every time I watch a movie such as The Tourist, where Angelina Jolie travels from France to Italy on a train merely with a small purse in her hand and looks awesome and fresh after the several hours journeying. I mean, come on, I would want to see anybody whose make-up and hair and clothes would be that flawless after such a long time spent on a train – especially without carrying several necessary cosmetic products and a hairbrush along!
I surely never look fresh when travelling for more than a couple of hours, especially when the travel happens at night which was the case of my move on from Maceió to Cascavel. I used a local airline – Azul. Five hours on two planes, a transfer of 40 mins – which eventually turned into a transfer of 10 mins as my first plane arrived twenty mins late and when I finally managed, all stressed-out and desperate, to get out of the packed plane from all the way back there where I was seated, I had about 10 mins to get onto my other plane – so yes, I was way past the boarding time.
I spoke with the stewardess and urged her to do something about my situation. Luckily, she spoke English and she picked a phone on the plane to speak with someone which had a magical effect. A security guard was waiting for me right at the end of the tunnel I walked through when I got out of the plane, and took me to an elevator where there was another security man already in who confirmed that my suitcase was safely transferred to the plane which I was about to board. After a few seconds on the elevator the doors opened and right out there on the road there was a van with a Brazilian lady whose incoming flight was also delayed and who was also flying to Cascavel.
The two gentlemen opened the door of the car for me and got on themselves as a security woman standing by the van got on too to drive us in three minutes to the plane. I walked up the stairs into the small, almost private-looking plane and was assured again by a stewardess present that my suitcase was already loaded. There were about fifteen people on the plane only so the flight felt somehow truly special.
Sitting down in peace and in disbelief of how fast and well things happened I had this thought on my mind: “Wow, this is how it feels when you are a movie star!” The second thought went: “This felt like in an action movie!” And trust me, it did. It did feel special. On the Azul planes you get free soft drinks and then as many packages of selected snacks as you want (they include chips, nuts, and jellies). I fed myself on these richly, not minding my healthy lifestyle and the fact that it was midnight, as I was celebrating that things went well in the end and enjoying the VIP feeling.