Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Out of Town

If you ask any well-off resident of São Paulo for five things worth doing in the city, one of the five will almost certainly be to get out of it. And every Friday evening thousands of them do just that, as soon as they can bunk off work. Of course, the very lucky ones pack up and head off on Thursday to avoid the traffic, and the very annoying ones just get in their helicopters and drown out all conversation in a ten-block radius whenever they feel like it.

And needless to say, the destination of choice is the beach. The nearest bit of coast is about an hour-and-a-half's drive out of the city and from there sandy beaches stretch away in either direction for about half a continent. There are party beaches, family beaches, private beaches, surfer beaches... you just pick your own brand of paradise and get there as soon as you can, determined to enjoy every moment until you have to get back in your car on Sunday afternoon and spend five hours in a queue to get back to the city you were so desperate to get away from two days before.

Ever since we arrived here last July people have been telling us we should get out to the coast at the weekends. You ask those same well-off paulistanos where to go and they will reel off a list of their favourite beaches quicker than you can write down the names - and certainly quicker than they could name the same number of places to visit within the city. They will know the best resorts, the best places to stay, the nicest restaurants, where to find the best surf, or the safest places for children to swim. Not surprising, perhaps, considering the amount of time they've spent researching.

Anyway, following the old adage "when in Rome, follow everyone else out of town at the weekend" we finally packed ourselves off on our very first beach holiday in Brazil - a mere eight months after getting here - and headed out to the lovely resort of Juquehy. Given that the kids were off school for Carnaval, we set off on the Thursday morning and so the journey was a perfectly manageable two hours fifty. And against all expectation, the sun came out about fifteen minutes before we arrived and stayed with us for the rest of that day and the whole of the following, making our trip just about as perfect as it could have been.

On arrival we met up with friends who had travelled up on the previous day and the eight of us spent a wonderfully lazy afternoon of sun, sand and surf, drinking chilled agua de coco straight from the coconut and eating frozen açaí while the children hurled themselves at waves several times their height. Actually, the wave diving was a lot of fun and I spent a fair amount of the day doing it as well. So much, in fact, that by mid-afternoon I was beginning to wish I'd spent more time under the umbrella. Red patches were beginning to appear in odd places I'd clearly missed with the suntan lotion and I decided to spend the remainder of the day in t-shirt and long shorts.

Late afternoon involved a wonderfully bumpy and wet trip on a motor boat out to one of the islands just off-shore for a change of scene. I spent about half-an-hour clambering over rocks and wandering up and down a practically deserted beach while Helen and the kids indulged in more swimming and David drew some interesting pictures in the sand. Then it was another splashy ride back to the mainland and back to the hotel to wash off all the sand and salt-encrusted suntan lotion and get ready for dinner.

Dinner was at the lovely Badauê restaurant which is built right over the beach and is open to the sea and the sunset. We missed seeing the sun actually disappear below the hills, but sitting eating fresh and beautifully cooked fish while the sea slowly disappears into the darkness was a fabulous experience and one I haven't enjoyed for many, many years. The decision to finish off the evening with crêpes across the street was also inspired, not just because there are few things as nice as a pancake bursting at the seams with oozing chocolate but because while we were all sitting there at the side of the road, another one of James' school friends wandered by and stopped to say hello.

Turns out his family own an apartment right next door to the crêperia (how handy is that?) and they come up to Juquehy pretty much every weekend. So on our second day, there were six children in our group, and the two new ones came with bikes, surfboards, a swimming pool and a very delicious and unexpected lunch. Sadly, having only partially learned my lesson from the day before, I again managed to get a bit too much sun - it's amazing just how unforgiving the sun can be of poorly applied suntan lotion - but with the waves coming in even bigger than on the first day, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to get salt water up my nose as often as possible.

Day three was much more subdued. Everyone else in the party had packed up and headed back to São Paulo and although it was still nice and warm, the sun remained firmly behind thick cloud all day. Actually, this was a blessing as it didn't stop us from having as much fun as usual, but it did stop me getting any redder along the way. By lunchtime Helen and I were ready to head home and so the boys were dragged unenthusiastically from their body-boarding and sandcastle-making and bundled into the car for another three hour drive which got us home just in time for tea - followed by an hour of trying to clean sand out of absolutely everything we'd taken with us, whether it had gone anywhere near the beach or not.

So there you have it - our first beach holiday. I feel like a proper paulistano now. Although having said that I actually quite like being in the city on the weekend anyway - it's quiet and we have plenty of things to entertain us right here. Also, going midweek and coming back on the Saturday was convenient for avoiding the worst of the traffic but we can only do that when the kids are on holiday and I really don't like the idea of six to eight hours in a car for twenty-four hours at the beach which is what it would be on a normal weekend.

Still, we'll definitely do it again whenever the opportunity arises and having done it once we'll be much better prepared in future. Cooler swimwear for James, a bucket and spade for David, fewer clothes not designed for the beach, twice as much suntan lotion... and most important of all, our own coffee maker!

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