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Not into pampering or fluff? Canoa Quebrada has the charm

Not into pampering or fluff? Canoa Quebrada kicks back with charm
Forget the margaritas, this 'real' fishing village in the northern part of the country trades the tourist stuff for pristine beaches and white-sand dunes.
Associated Press

CANOA QUEBRADA, Brazil - You know you're in for a tough day at the shore when the red, clay cliffs are already baking at 9 in the morning, and Daisy, the mule that's supposed to be carrying tourists down the cliffs to the sand, is pooped out under a palm tree.
But there was no way I was going to let a little sun-scorched sand keep me off the beach. I had traveled far to reach the northern shoulder of Brazil. And this was Canoa Quebrada, a slice of paradise that made the airbrushed posters of the Caribbean on the wall of my travel agent's office look washed out in comparison.
After hotfooting it down the ramshackle wood stairway between a fault in the cliffs, I scampered across the sand and took refuge under a wide, straw-topped umbrella.
A barefooted fisherman trudged slowly past, a roll of shrimp netting on his bare, sun-browned back. I called out to him, waved.
He stopped.
Say, I said, do you know if they serve margaritas at any huts down on the beach?
He gave me a quizzical look, lifted his sun-blotched shoulders, turned and trudged on to work, shaking his head.
OK, dumb question.
No, Canoa Quebrada isn't another primped, polished resort with barmen at the ready to make margaritas all hours of the day. It's a fishing village, a real fishing village, and they take creature comforts, well, on the lighter side.
Sure, there are a few trinket and T-shirt shops along the main drag -- a red, sandy road the locals jokingly refer to as Broadway -- as well as two or three watering holes and a few brick, stick and vine places to nosh. And there is a Cyber Cafe, run by a couple of Italian transplants.
But I wasn't here for pampering.
I was in Canoa Quebrada -- Broken Canoe, in Portuguese -- for the sweeping ocean views, the salty, soft sea breezes, the driftwood-colored sand squeezed between blood-red, wind-carved falesias -- stone cliffs -- and a palate of azure Atlantic.
You can hike dunes as white as sugar. You can splash about in sun-gilded, natural pools left behind by the tides. You can ride the backs of donkeys up and down an endless ribbon of shoreline, all the while listening to the rollers thump and break on newly wet sand.
For 10 bucks, you can hop a ride on a jangada, the log rafts used by the fishermen of northeastern Brazil, and let the winds take you out to the darker waters of the deep ocean.
Or you can go buggy.
I had a guide, Ermilson Bernardo, 29, drive me in a dune buggy to seven of the most pristine beaches I have ever laid eyes on -- and I've seen the Greek isles. The three-hour ride set me back $40. It was worth every nickel.
Bernardo was polite, friendly, and intent on having me see even the tiniest, most minuscule details that composed the mosaic of his native shore. More than a half-dozen times, he stopped the buggy and led me through caverns and faults and other natural marvels such as the Devil's Throat.
That was a cleft in the cliffs a couple of miles east of town. Underground aquifers and the tides had, over the years, eroded and carved caves and jagged, tooth-like outcroppings.
The cliffs hugging the shore changed in hue from auburn to blush to violet, from driftwood to gold to coral. Sometimes I imagined seeing a cathedral in those cliffs, and other times pyramids, and other times trees and clouds and giant toes and cactuses and the muscled arms of sea gods, and even the finlike sails of jangadas.
No doubt the highlight of my tour was when we buggied up to the top of the highest dune on Ponta Grossa beach, 33 miles east of Canoa Quebrada.
Standing there atop the dune, all around us were sea and sky and sand, all sun-drenched and timeless, majestic and uncluttered.
Below, the sun shone brassy on the wave crests. The clouds painted splotches on a topaz sea. In the distant Atlantic, white fins jutted from the horizon a cluster of jangadas.
To me they looked like butterflies posing on a spread of sapphires.


Getting there: All of Brazil's major airlines -- Varig, TAM, VASP and Gol -- offer daily service from the gateway cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to the northeastern region of the country. Fly to Fortaleza, capital of Ceara, and then either rent a car or hop on a bus and head 100 miles due east along the BR-304 highway to Canoa Quebrada. There are frequent departures to Canoa Quebrada, and bus fare from Fortaleza is about $10; economical rental cars can be had at a reasonable $35 a day, but pay the extra $15 a day and get one with air conditioning.
Climate: Hot, and the sun is strong. Temperatures in this tropical region are around 80 degrees at night and 95 degrees in the daytime. Steady, strong coastal breezes will give you much-needed heat relief. It rains more often between June and August, the South American winter, but the downpours are usually fleeting.
What and where to eat: Seafood is what they do best here. Try the Bistro Natural (011-088-421-7162) and the Tenda do Cumbe (011-088-421-7252) for great salads, fish and side dishes of manioc flour, white rice, sliced tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions and red beans to go with your fresh fish. The typical seafood dishes are amarela, beijupira, pargo, cavala and robalo, salted lightly and moistened with a touch of lime juice and garlic, and then broiled.

Night Life

The Capital of Ceara has a great night life. For each day of the week, one club is chosen by the locals to be the meeting point for that evening. It starts on the Monday at Pirata Bar on Iracema Beach.


Fruit of the most genuine popular manifestation, the craft still keeps characteristic from its first artisans, the indigenous people that inhabited the territory from Ceará in the pré-colonial...

Not into pampering or fluff? Canoa Quebrada has the charm

Not into pampering or fluff? Canoa Quebrada kicks back with charm
Forget the margaritas,...