Saturday, December 29, 2012

Arraial do Cabo

Arraial do Cabo is a beach-side municipality about one hundred seventy kilometers east of Rio, still a part of the State of Rio de Janeiro, or RJ, a place where the big city folk go away for the holidays, the New Years and the Carnival, surrendering Rio's beaches to people coming from far and away. ("Arraial," by the way, in Portuguese sounds something like "Ah-high-ahl," the two "rr"s giving a sound that has absolutely no roll in it.) It's located on a picturesque arrow-shaped peninsula, sandwiched between two long beaches on either side. The point of the arrow is a mountain, and there are more beaches located around the point of the arrow, some of these accessible only by boat. Several competing companies in town provide boat beach tours. The boat drops you off on each beach for about thirty minutes, then picks you up and takes right to the next beach.

(On Wikipedia, Arraial has a stub page in Volapük, not to speak of an extensive article in Portuguese, but the English page is there merely to inform us that the town's population was 26,390 in 2005 and that "n 1960 a documentary film was made directed by Mário Carneiro and Paulo Cesar Saraceni about the local fishing industry.")

We came to Arraial by bus, normally a three and a half hour ride that turned into six hours for us due to heavy traffic--all the people clearing out of Rio for the holidays. It was a pleasant enough ride in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus that made enough stops for us to replenish our fruit, nut, and cookie supplies. Otherwise, we alternated between napping, blogging, and reading. The first thing I did when we got off the bus was to buy flip flops (I'd been getting away walking around in my tennis shoes, but here that wouldn't be right). Then we bought ourselves a tapioca-coconut treat drenched in sweetened condensed milk and marched to drop off bags at our hotel. It was hot but felt fresher than in Rio. The town's two big beaches were visible from a high spot in front of our hotel, and they beckoned to us with their fine white sand.

Dave had made arrangements with a diving company for the morning dives, but the night dive was proving tricky to arrange. He'd hoped to finalize it in person, but the six hour ride complicated matters. For one reason or another, all the dive shops in town (and we saw many), refused to take him on a night dive. Some claimed that he didn't have the right certification, others said that they only offered a night dive as a part of a training course, and one said something that google translated as "our captain is very strict." So, no night dive, but a lovely walk on the beach, watching the sun descend and night spill into fog, and the moon come out, full and bright, between the clouds. We dipped our toes into the water: it was cold. Not freezing, like in the Pacific Ocean around San Francisco, but cold enough for us to turn us off on swimming that night, no matter how hot we'd been by day. Anyway, the air had cooled significantly, and walking around in not much more than my bathing suit and my new flip flops I felt almost, if not quite, ready to shiver.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant and in the morning the breakfast spread was so good that I took note of the name of the chef--Marcelo Poppe. Apparently, he'd studied with the chef at a restaurant in Hotel Copacabana, and his specialty seems to be cakes. The breakfast featured no less than eight or nine different varieties of cakes, including a savory meat pie. There were mini donuts and other types of pastries, including pão de queijo that I'm growing to love. There was fruit and fruit juices, and more kept coming throughout the morning. After I dropped Dave off at the dive shop, I briefly walked through the town and returned to the breakfast table. The way the cakes were laid out on the center table seemed like an expression of somebody's childhood fantasy. I tore myself away from it when the time was nearing check out, and I still wanted to swim in the Atlantic.

I didn't linger on the beach. I went into the ocean, allowed myself to be bounced around by the waves (the waves were towering over my head and the undercurrent was quite strong), and then returned to the hotel to take a shower and check out. I whiled away the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the hotel bar, writing, planning out a couple of stories I want to write when I get back to San Francisco. The hotel bar stayed closed until 2 pm or so, when the first weekend customer asked for a shot of rum and a couple of bottles of beer. The hotel staff spent a couple of hours working, on and off, on building a giant tent that would shade all of the bar area. It was a Friday, and that night every room in this hotel was booked. The staff was clearly preparing for a giant party that would last through the weekend and then on until the New Year's day.

We're readying to celebrate New Year's, too, but in Rio. After Dave came back from his diving excursion (he'll post pictures and stories on his blog here), we returned to the bus station and three and a half hours later disembarked back in Rio. It was still sweltering hot here, but not as hot as the day before. On the bus ride back we passed a huge crowd somewhere in the vicinity of downtown--something that looked like a festival or a giant demonstration. No idea what that was, but we're starting to picture what New Years might be like.

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