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Big Waves in Little Italy: The Desert Oasis of Jericoacoara

Dunes of Jericocoara 300x200 Big Waves in Little Italy: The Desert Oasis of JericoacoaraRomanticized by the backpacking set for its isolation and by wind sport enthusiasts for its strong and consistent African winds, Jericoacoara (pronounced Sheri-kwa-kwada) has become a bit of a geographic phenomenon. “Jeri,” as the locals call it, has long been on my radar. It was a favored honeymoon idea of mine and a place I was eagerly waiting to visit since my first trip to Brazil four years ago. Expectations were high but after one week here, one thing is abundantly clear: Jeri is a very unique place.

I admit much of my initial desire to visit Jeri on our around the world travel adventure was in its funny-sounding name, Jericoacoara. I loved the way it just rolled off your tongue, like an important emperor or ancient village. The name was given as a result of a rock formation along the coast and means “alligator taking sun,” which it closely resembles. While my joy in repeating its name has not dissipated in the slightest, I soon learned that the depth and complexity of the place needs to be peeled off in layers.

To get to Jeri, we had to take a 6 hour bus ride and then transferred to an open-air 4WD truck to drive the last hour through desert sands. This was a magnificent entry, as we watched the sunset over white dunes with palm trees dotting the coastline. The beauty of Jeri is easy to grasp, understanding it is another thing. It seems you are driving through the windy Sahara when all of a sudden you reach the coast and see the ocean.

Dune Views in Jericoacoara Brazil 300x225 Big Waves in Little Italy: The Desert Oasis of JericoacoaraAfter checking into our pousada we quickly realized that Jeri is one, big Italian ex-pat community. Discovered (rediscovered I should say) in the 70’s by an Italian windsurfer, the place took off and seems to have brought all of this initial Italian windsurfer’s friends and family, noted by the many pousadas that carry Italian names such as Maurcio and Calanda. There is no shortage of places to enjoy an espresso at any moment of the day and you have a selection of Italian restaurants where you can order pastas, pizzas, prosciutto sandwiches and pastries. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? I did, and managed to develop a serious addiction to espresso.

Our first day made it very clear that people come to Jeri for one thing – the surf. I think Laura and I were part of only a select few that were not perfecting our kite or windsurfing skills. The town is absolutely devoted to the sports with windsurfing clubs and hotels providing racks and storage space for all the equipment. People come from all over the world to surf Jeri. Few places in the world offer such consistently strong winds, in the range of 20-30mph, along with good waves to jump and do tricks on (that sounds really lame, but I’ve yet to learn the windsurfing lingo for such moves).

Much equipment is required for the sports, making it a bit cumbersome and prohibitively expensive, so we decided to have fun observing. Like skiers talking about “fresh powder,” people here are always talking about the wind and the tides. We had great fun watching professionals from around the globe. There were photographers with crazy lenses taking tons of photos, presumably for wind and kite surfing magazines, much like you see at Pipeline in Hawaii.

Moonrise in Jeri 300x225 Big Waves in Little Italy: The Desert Oasis of JericoacoaraWe were lucky to be there for a full moon which provides great waves and also a great backdrop for sunsets. We climbed the great dune at the edge of town with hundreds of others to watch the simultaneous sunset and moonrise. This was one of our favorite daily rituals, ending with everyone running, back-flipping, rolling or sand surfing their way to the bottom and into the ocean. Even crazier and something we can’t quite get used to, is the sun setting at 5:30pm. Being so close to the Equator the temperature and time of sunsets change very little during the year. For Midwesterners associating warm, summer-like weather with 8:30 sunsets, this was quite strange.

Unbeknownst to us, we happened on Jeri during the biggest music festival of the year called Choro Jazz. Each night for 5 nights, beginning at 10pm and going until 1am, the city came alive with jazz and choro (a jazz-influenced type of music very popular in the northeast of Brazil), with some of the best musicians from Brazil and others from France and Australia. There were bars and food stalls set up around the main square where you could eat local plates of arraoz (rice), feijao (beans), carne de sol (sun-dried meat), farofa (dried manioc root), queijo grelhado (grilled cheese), espetinhos (meats or fish on a stick), plenty of desserts and drain cheap fruit cocktails like caipirinhas or caipifrutas (cachasa or cane alcohol with pineapple, passion fruit, strawberries and other very fresh fruits).

Nightlife in Jeri was surprisingly very good. For such a small, laid-back town people like to break it down here, and quite late. After the concert each night, people would head to the beach where bars project surf films against a giant wall and dance to music that was popular a few years ago in other parts of the world. When that starts to wind down, around 3 or 4am, everyone heads back into town to a bar where people dance forro (a type of music blending folk and reggae, among others) until the sun rises. We only made it out until 4am, but were proud of ourselves nonetheless.

Sands Up 225x300 Big Waves in Little Italy: The Desert Oasis of JericoacoaraWe also took advantage of the many buggy tours the area offers. Along with another Brazilian couple, we went out on an all-day buggy tour, driving along the beach and over dunes to check out some cool lakes and petrified stone. While we couldn’t understand a word our guide was saying, it was clear the highlight was a massive dune plunging into a clear lake, where Laura and I rented, respectively, a sled and sand board. Typical to my style, I “ollied” and “hucked ropes” down the sand at rapid speed and had some nasty scars after it was over to prove it.

To sum up our time in Jeri, I am left with one word to describe it all: unique. I haven’t seen anything like it and don’t suppose I will on the rest of our trip. The juxtaposition of the dunes, palm trees and ocean make you feel like you’re in a different world. I strongly recommend coming here, whether you are a surfer of any type or not, just to take it all in.

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