‘Let’s take a shortcut and go directly north’, suggested excitedly by my Brazilian roommates Egi and Silvia. My head went into brain freeze. Hesitation grasped me because nothing was written about it in my Lonely Planet guide. I do like to pre-plan a little so that I'm prepared. So it was unnatural for me to be unprepared for a 4 day shortcut in Brazil.
After my rational part of the brain relaxed again, I agreed only because I felt that I would have a safety net by travelling with locals. Little did I know that we would be entering into the unknown, turning our shortcut into an adventure full of surprises. I never imagined that the ‘shortcut’ would take four days instead of fifteen hours, using seven different modes of transport.
So what does a 4 day shortcut in Brazil look like?
We were enjoying the peacefulness of an isolated coastal town of Jericoacoara in eastern Brazil. Sandy streets, no cars (except for the occasional buggy), everything runs on generators and you can only get there by a 30 minute open-air truck ride along the sandy beach. No modern conveniences – total tranquillity.
In stark contrast it did offer classy expensive restaurants and trendy boutiques to my surprise.
This coastline was so impressive with high sand dunes at one end, palm trees in the middle where the village is located and green rocky hills at the other end. Sometimes I thought I was looking at Ireland!.
Unfortunately, when it was time to leave this paradise, we had two choices. Backtrack south down the beach to Prea/Jijoca (in the open air truck) in order to catch the comfortable highway bus to the next major town north called Sao Luis. Or head directly north along the beach to the first bus station. We estimated that going north will save us two to four hours travelling time.
So we all agreed, why not try this idea of taking the road less travelled.
A friend of Egi’s offered to drive us to Tabajuda in his Landrover for a small tip. It was a short ride along the beach, whizzing by dead tree stumps protruding along the water’s edge.
Eventually we were stopped by a river at Tabajuda. We waved goodbye to our Landrover man as we hopped into a canoe/boat to cross the river. Conveniently waiting on the other side were beach buggies, ready to negotiate a deal to take us to the town of Camocim.
Along the way, we got side-tracked as the driver insisted we spend a little time in Ilha Amor (Love Island - named way before the tv show was invented!) instead of going directly into town. A five minute walk behind the baraccas (beach bars) and over a hill is a colony of lagoons nestled in-between the pure white coloured sand dunes. So impressive and inviting, we just couldn’t resist a swim in the fresh water pools.
We then paid the driver extra to drive the buggy through the second river and directly into Camocim bus station. Alternatively you could take the passenger boat across the second river and walk to the bus station but it was so much more fun in the buggy).
Luckily we grabbed the last regular bus for the three hour ride to Parnaiba, but could go no further. So we booked into a local pousada (hotel).
The owners of a nearby restaurant fed us so well with sizzling steak and potatoes. They became friendly and chatty with Egi and Silvia. Of course I couldn’t do any talking but the owners liked us so much that they gave us extra food and then treated us a city tour by night in their family car. Parnaiba is a cute town with a colourful and quaint port area.
The next morning we could have taken a regular bus for the remaining journey but the restaurant owners convinced us to depart by boat. A discussion over breakfast led to a change of plans. Egi and Silvia decided to carry on by regular bus.
But for me however, I had somehow lost my inhibition to travel into the unknown. I was enjoying this discovery of new places that weren’t on my list to see. I loved chatting with the locals to find the best places that locals go to. Egi and Silvia taught me to do that as I watched them talk and negotiate the last couple of days. Pretending to be fearless, I made my way down to the colourful port. I must admit, I did feel a little scared to continue on my own. But it was short lived.
So I boarded the next boat departure and rented a hammock on the top deck for the seven hour journey to Tutioa and watched the greenery and small villages float by.
By some luck I also happened to meet some other backpackers on-board – three Israeli’s and a South African couple. It turned out we became travelling companions for the next two days. See, there was nothing to worry about I thought to myself. Everything has a way of working out that I’m never alone.
As we arrived into Tutioa in the evening, instead of paying for a pousada we accepted the captains offer to sleep on board in our hammocks for free. With the six of us together, we felt safe to do so.
The next morning, awoken by the sun, a noisy street market and the smell of fish, we quickly organised a 4WD transfer to Cabure - the scenic way. Driving on unpaved bumpy roads for 2.5 hours, the scenery was amazing. Lush green forests dotted with bright white sand dunes!
We had to leave the rustic beach village of Cabure by hiring a speedboat. It was so fortunate that one of the Israel’s could speak Portuguese and did all the negotiating.
Although it cost us more but we couldn’t wait until 4am next day for the regular ferry to Barreirinhas.
I highly recommend staying overnight in Barreirinhas because a definite must is to visit the Lencois Maranheses National Park. We were WOWED when we came across miles and miles of sand dunes in the middle of a huge lush forest. We spent hours swimming in all the natural lagoons nestled in-between while we pondered how is it possible for the landscape to change so dramatically by walking over a hill. It felt out of this world.
Finally, for the last section we reluctantly took the uninteresting ride on a regular bus to Sao Luis!
Although the bus ride was boring, the city of Sao Luis is anything but. It’s definitely worth a short stay in this world heritage listed city. The architecture is so vibrant, coated in stunning colours.
I loved my 4 day shortcut in Brazil. It is still etched into my memory.
My Brazilian roommates, Egi and Silvia, and the four day short cut taught me to never be afraid stepping into the unknown in anything I do. To be open to new ideas. The thought of the unknown is much scarier than actually living in it – no matter how long it takes!
I now love travelling without a plan, so that every day is a surprise.
Have you ever taken short cuts in your travels that pleasantly surprised you? Did you discover something new by taking a shortcut?
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A travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.
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