Northeast Brazil Carnaval 2016 During Zika Outbreak

I traveled to the Northeast of Brazil in February 2016 for two weeks. I decided to start in Salvador and drive as far as I could before needing to turn around. I made it to Natal and still had a little time, so I went on to Sao Miguel do Gostozo.

I have had a dream for many years to travel by bus or car to the beaches around Fortaleza. I compromised because I wanted to see too much in a short time. I wanted to pass from Rio to Fortaleza and on up to Jericoacoara Beach. But doing the math on travel time this would require 2 weeks of travel, 4-5 hours a day. Then 40 hours straight return by car. If Brazil offered one way rental cars, my dilemma would have been satisfied and I would have made this trip flying into Rio and out of Fortaleza. But as of now, there is no reasonable offer for a one way rental in Brazil. So I missed Fortaleza and the beaches far north. This will be my next Brazil trip.

I have organized several trips like this, overland with rental cars, all over the world. I have done it for myself and for others. I recently prepared an itinerary around South Eastern Europe by rental car for gentleman that travels extensively. I have visited about 60 countries/regions on the World Traveler Century Club list. This year I should hit 75 and be allowed to join as a junior member.

Many of these trips were for La Mancha Media. But now I have begun organizing trips for educational and geographical purposes. This trip did not have anything to do with charities or helping orphanages or service projects. However, I decided to post my thoughts and pictures here for the purposes of providing information about this region, especially since I traveled to Recife, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak during it’s full on frenzy in the news cycle.

I landed in Salvador during the first days of Carnaval 2016. I rented a car from Localiza, a Brazilian rental agency. It was a Fiat Kangoo, a small cargo van. I planned to camp out inside so I could sleep anywhere near beaches or when hotels were full. I had a mosquito net I hung from inside the van and had a small battery powered fan at night. I slept on a nice air mattress I bought and topped it off with memory foam. I prefer having my own bed every night to hotels that always skimp on the beds. My plan worked great, other than it was difficult finding showers. But I stayed at a few hotels.

The streets in Salvador along the coast were all closed down creating driving chaos. Brazil already has chaos drivers and I planned to return after Carnaval, so the first day I drove out to Praia do Forte. This is a very nice touristy beach town. The nicest of all the tourist beaches. It is the only place I saw Porsches (well one). There was a nice grocery store, the man in front of me in the line was buying several $100 bottles of wine. This is normal to see in USA, but was the only place I saw in northeast Brazil during my time on its beaches.

Praia do Forte has a wonderful attraction called the Projeto TAMAR. This project has several tortoises in captivity, the staff helps breed them on the nearby beach and help the preservation of this species. Inside, there is a mural. It starts with the natives in Brazil hundreds of years ago, hunting and destroying the tortoises. Then shows the Portuguese and Spanish explorers killing the tortoises for exploitation. Then shows the capitalists of the 1900s destroying them for money. The final mural shows Projeto TAMAR preserving them. Funny. Over the top. Perhaps true!

I then went on to Aracaju. It is a nice little town with a small promenade. Very attractive. Then on to Laranjeiras in the state of Sergipe. A small run down colonial town where I shot these pictures of a cemetery, a fence made of water bottles, and this polluted river with a few hand made huts showing extreme poverty. I shot a few more pics in the next colonial town, Penedo, in the state of Alagoas on the Sao Francisco River. Another colonial town, but nicer. While it had several beautifully colonial churches, they were all closed. There were no tourists there. Brazil sits on such beauty from its past, but without money or desire, they allow these old glory days to fade into nothing. The one thing that always does exist there, is sound. Lots of sound, cars are pulling trailers with enormous speakers, like this one. They are everywhere. I am a quieter person, so Brazil is a different experience. It is loud!

Next stop was Maceio, in Alagoas. This is my favorite city of all those visited. It is like a mini Rio De Janeiro. It has sidewalk and promenade along miles of its coastline. This makes for a great place, there are beaches, restaurants, Acai cafes, skating, jogging. Everything you can imagine, nice hotels but not expensive. In Maceio, I went out to the piscinas naturais (natural pools), an area about a mile from the shore where there is a high bottom during low tide where people snorkel, but in reality is just a big party in the water. It shows you the attitude in Brazil. It is not so much about nature and a great snorkeling experience as it is about being in a group of hundreds of revelers in the water, bikinis everywhere, even boats cooking and selling fish (though frozen), beers, etc.

Maragogi was next. A smaller city but a nice coast. There was a big street party for Carnaval. They pulled a tractor trailer through the streets. On top was people dancing and singing. The entire city followed the truck partying, and people were on balconies and rooftops to celebrate its passing. On the ground people walking right next to the large wheels. I couldn’t help but think this would be prohibited in USA unless the wheels were completely covered, because of our litigious society. It is fresh to see the lack of worry and anxiety over such things.

I then made my way the beach of Tamandare in the state of Pernambuco. On this beach, one can walk nearly a mile in waste deep water to reach the surf break. 

I then headed across a river ferry at Praia dos Carneiros and got stuck right in the middle of a Carnaval party. I thought there was no passing, but with aggressive driving, one can push through the crowd. The crowd responds well, but will not give you room unless you push on.

I then made my way to Recife. This was the final weekend of Carnaval 2016 and was at the height of the press frenzy regarding the outbreak of Zika and microcephaly. Days before, I had read in the New York Times that there were so many cases of microcephaly that the main hospital in Recife, Oswaldo Cruz, had no room for the 100s of women bringing their babies with microcephaly (small head), that they told them to wait in the park across the street. So I decided to go there. The day I went, there were no women with babies waiting in the park. I suppose the government, after having read about this in the New York Times, decided to prepare a place inside for the women. I only took this picture of the outside of the hospital. I was also quite surprised that I had no mosquito bites in Recife. I don’t know where they were, I was expecting many.
My experience of the Recife Carnaval at night was very positive. I had always heard about the Rio Carnaval being days and nights of horn dogs in the streets having sex. But in Recife, the Carnaval is anything but. While there was loud music and dancing, it was done in traditional costumes and many of those dressing were older. The atmosphere in the street was a great party but everyone very respectful. I saw no drunken debauchery at all. I left at 1030pm. Many left also, but there were literally thousands of youth coming in at that time. I suppose the debauchery started at 11pm and went on through the night, but I will never know.
The next day I attended the Carnaval in the colonial city of Olinda. It was a huge parade and street party in the tiniest of colonial cobblestone streets. A group of young girls dressed in purple formed a band called Sambasom. Before starting their drumming, the entire group prayed an Our Father for guidance. They began the drums and everyone surrounding and behind them starting swaying in unison as we walked behind. It was an intoxicating experience, to see how Brazilians want to be part of such a group, a whole one of many. At times it was too much for me as people starting pressing so tight. I had to step out, of fear of being crushed. No one ever got hurt, but my not knowing is what I feared. In the USA, I would fear being crushed by overzealous revelers, but here is very respectful, even if extremely energetic. One group called themselves the Noivas de Olinda, which is basically the girlfriends of Olinda. They were all dressed in wedding dresses and were looking for boyfriends. One of them asked me to marry her.

I stopped the next day in Joao Pessoa, and attempted to look into the marvelous churches and monasteries. Unfortunately all were still locked and closed. I began to think that even the priests shut their doors to partake in the revelry of Carnaval. They closed the masses, confessions, and church doors. I began to think perhaps they will open up everything on Ash Wednesday for Cuaresma (Lent), but during Carnaval was their time to party as well.
Ponta do Seixas
The most interesting spot in Joao Pessoa is the Ponta do Seixas, the furthest point east in the entire Americas, the closest spot to Africa.

I planned to stay the next night in what is called the best beach in Brazil, Pipa Beach. Instead I could not wait to escape. I drove in, but all I saw were drunken tourists dressed in women’s drag. Isn’t it odd, the women dress like women and the men dress like women. Why do the women not lower themselves to pretend to be men. In my opinion, this is not beautiful. This is what you would see in the French Quarter in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, a drunken, over sexed debauchery that has nothing to do with Lent. But up until this beach, I had not seen this in Brazil. But in Pipa all were tourists, and so many of them. I left as soon as I could get my car out of there, which was not easy, and headed to Tibau do Sul, a magnificent spot. Few tourists, rough waves, simple small restaurants, the best sunsets in Brazil.

After taking a swim and almost getting sucked out to the bay in the extreme currents, I headed to Natal and walked along the beach, a touristy area. Skipping it, I began to drive as far north as I could to discover a piece of the wild Brazil. 

It was about a two hour drive to the little town of Sao Miguel Gostoso. I kept driving a little farther until the Route 221 turned south away from the beach. I parked and walked to the beach, discovering the wild beaches, where very few people are seen.
My last stop: 5°06'06.8"S 35°41'55.8"W

It took me about 8 days to get here and only had three days to get back to Salvador. On my way back I took some dirt roads, one of which led me to a river ferry at Brejo Grande. There I crossed from the state of Alagoas to the state of Sergipe, again across the Sao Francisco River. I could not find the ferry since I was accustomed to looking for a line of cars and a typical ferry. Instead someone had to bring me to the spot down a dirt road. When we got there I asked where the ferry was, while looking right at it. It was a small old wooden boat and they were ready to have me board my car and go. Just one car, mine. So I drove on the rickety old boat. Then as we went the ferry passed through the smallest part of the river, basically a swamp. I could see the bottom of the swamp. The boat must have had a very high bottom. There was only about 3 feet on either side of the boat at the narrowest part. I thought that if this was not Brazil we would have been stuck, but I trusted the captain since he must know the tides of this area very well. Sure enough we had no problem.

Finally making it to Salvador I attended mass at the the church of Senhor do Bonfim, an especially nice Basilica which was open! There people put small bracelet on their arm and on other things, in a promise to God to keep it on for several weeks in an exchange for a favor of healing. After the mass the priest held up infants high in front of the altar to bless them before God and the people. What a happy night.

That evening I spent time along the southern most tip of Salvador, the Barra, at the historic lighthouse, the oldest in the Americas. Here there were hundreds of young Salvadorans, the majority were black, just hanging out and talking. It reminded me of the big plazas in Italy where youth just hang out. What was nice to see is the young people did not seem confused, drugged, drunken or confused by their gender. They were just hanging out, kissing, talking and dancing. It is a simple and good life there.
I love Brazil. I love the beauty of the women. Nowhere in the world are there so many so beautiful. I love the happiness culture. Everyone is very respectful and very happy. They desire it and work toward it. This does not happen in other South American countries. Nor in Europe or anywhere I have been. How this culture began, I do not know, but I enjoy it.

Regarding Zika. I do not necessarily believe there is a direct link between Zika and microcephaly. A group of Argentine doctors stated that the believe the outbreak of microcephaly is from a lavarcide, Pyriproxyfen, inserted into the water by Monsanto. But then Forbes ran a story stating this group of doctors is funded my anti-GMO group that opposed Monsanto. So I cannot say, but I do understand that Zika has outbreaks in many countries including Colombia, and there is no microcephaly there. Therefore I believe is is likely some other environmental/chemical cause. I find it hard to believe a naturally occurring mosquito could produce this. If it could, we would have known before 2016. I was very nervous going to Brazil. I did get bit by several mosquitoes. I do not have any symptoms of Zika. CNN ran a story entitled Why men need to worry about Zika, stating that doctors believe men are actually to be worried by Zika more than women, in that it can stay in semen for an unknown period of time. But having seen so many over the top media scares the past few years, I am not so worried. I could not let the Drudge Report and other news source headlines prevent me from going, and I am glad I did not.

Here are several more pictures from the trip.

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