Itacare is better than Ilheus (see Seema’s previous post)
We hadn’t planned much of our Brazil trip before entering the country, opting for the plan-as-you go method that has worked well for us on this trip. Due to our advantage of time and the burden of having to get the maximum value out of every day of travel is removed. We learned about Itacare in Salvador from a Dutch girl that we ended up running into subsequently both in Morro do Sao Paulo (our destination between Salvador and Itacare) and again in Itacare. It was described to me as “the place people go and end up staying considerably longer time then they initially planned.” To me, that is about as good a compliment a place can receive. Travelers on a plan-as-you-go method vote on places with their time, and Itacare was the leading candidate for our next destination. We asked a few more questions about the place, but I only heard a few keywords in the response: “blah blah blah surfing blah blah beach town blah blah nice waves and weather blah blah nightlife.” Done- next destination booked- we would stay for a little over a week doing approximately the same exact thing every day.
We got to Itacare from Morro do Sao Paulo via a combination of water and land based transport and arrived at the bus terminal near the center of town. It was hot, but we were told that our hostel could be found within 5-10 min walking distance so we started out by foot. 5 minutes is about as long as anyone can walk while carrying a full 75L backpack on their back and a full book bag on their front in 85 degree heat and unrelenting sun. Instead, it took us about 25 minutes, though the additional unexpected time no longer comes as a surprise to us. We arrived at Buddy’s Pousada hot and sweaty and hoping against logic that our $27 / night hostel was going to be a magnificent oasis for our 7 nights in Itacare. It was not. Buddy’s was probably the worst place we’d ever stayed, but we had already put a deposit down so we braved the black mold infested walls and disgustingly dirty and smelly mattress for the night in the name of “the budget”.
We spent the day walking the town which is our traditional first activity at any new location. Itacare is the perfect 1 road surf town. To clarify, it has a small gridded downtown area with some bus stops and random shops, but the beach part of the town, where the visitors go, is largely 1 road that leads to all 5 beaches. We made our way down the road to the 5 beaches in town and were keeping our eyes open for a new place to stay when we noticed a group of hotels on the secluded beach Tiririca (the best waves in town). These hotels were clearly out of our nightly price range of $30/night but for fun we decided to ask what one of them was going for, just to get a gage. The Shangri-La Pousada rents for R$250-$1000 / night (roughly $125-$500) but it was empty. We asked what type of discount we could get if we paid in cash, and stayed for an extended duration – we got the host down to $80/night and pulled the trigger – setting up one of the most fun, challenging, and relaxing weeks of my life.
The Shangri-la is a modernly architected log cabin-type 5 room B&B located on a bay beach (beach pictured here). It has a small staff and had no guests while we were staying there; we had the place (essentially a beautiful beach house) completely to ourselves. We took the small room on the 2nd floor with a window to the ocean and door next to the dining area which doubled as an open balcony facing the ocean. The room was cozy with an A/C, mosquito net, bathroom with a door (you wouldn’t think this is something worth listing – it is), and a mini fridge to keep our Capirinha ingredients as well as the remainder of our Subway foot longs that were purchased from lunch-for dinner.
A note on the budget: we’re keeping a budget on our trip and sync it up monthly on an excel sheet that automatically calculates how much we’ve spent per day while prorating the costs of our health insurance, plane tickets and other general expenditures across all the days of our trip. At this point, even after staying with Otavio’s family for 17 days, we were still 5 days over budget, not too bad really. We decided that we would eat Subway for lunch and dinner, make our own drinks, and largely do nothing other than enjoy the ridiculously beautiful landscape of the Shangri-la Pousada for the next 7 days to justify the increased cost of living – it worked out perfectly.
The fact that we did the same exact thing every day makes writing a blog post that recounts the week’s activities pretty easy. I previously described “The Perfect Travel Day” (link) while we were in Peru. This one has a different feel, but is also considered perfect in my eyes:
Wake up to sunlight and birds 7:30am:
Grab book, go out to balcony and have some coffee and read while waiting for breakfast
Enjoy breakfast service which included fruit, yogurt, granola, bread, cheese, ham, eggs, crepes, coffee, and fresh juice
Surf Session 1, 9:30am:
To surf 3 times a day, I needed to have a system down otherwise my body wouldn’t have lasted: suntan lotion (Block Up, the cheapest stuff on the market of Nicaragua with ingredients Seema claims will give me cancer rather than protect me from it), chapstick, vasoline on eyes, highlights of face and other chafe-prone areas of body (including nipples), wax surfboard, strap on leash, stretch, walk out to beach, get annihilated by waves
Surfing 10am – Noon
Morning surf session lasted until I thought there was too many people on the waves to be safe. I’m particularly hazardous as a surfer among the locals because no one has written a book on surfing etiquette, and I’m not sure which way to go to get out of someone’s way while they are on the waves. Ultimately this ended in me damaging 2 surfboards while surfers were coming my way and nicked my board with their board’s fins. I believe I figured it out the hard way, but the complex timing and dynamics of a wave make learning which way to go more of a “learn with experience” type of thing that cost me R$50 in repairs.
Go into town for Lunch 12-2pm
Itacare’s shops and restaurants are centered around the needs of hippies, travelers, locals, and surfers (imagine a deeply connected venn diagram) so it makes for a great walk. Nothing at all opens until 12 (apparently the Bahian stereotype of laziness is reinforced here) and most things don’t open until 2pm – that should give you a feel for what type of place this is. A.k.a.Amazing. Because of the hippies, Itacare’s got great vegetarian food options. We found our way to something we’ve been craving for awhile – our first Mediteranean cuisine on the trip. We made sure to return to Alladin’s for falafel and lassies a few times, until we found another vegetarian option’s famous eggplant burgers and special plates. I’m not a vegetarian, but I tend to love the food these restaurants serve. My theory is that without the easy luxury of protein, a cook actually has to think about how they will develop flavors on a dish. Meat and beans are easy, salt is all that is needed. But to make carrots taste good – now that is magic only vegetarians wield.
2pm-3:30 Surf Session 2
After a 20 min walk back to our nicely secluded Pousada, I get ready for a second round of bashing from waves too big for my talent level. I’m getting it though. A few tips from my favorite staff member Islao and I’ve got some new things to try.
Relaxation, Ibuprofen, some email, some trip planning, and mentally preparing for the last session of the day.
5pm – sunset Surf Session 3
Surfing at the end of the day is easily the most interesting. The local kids get waves every day so near the end of the day when the wave quality and the visibility is declining they don’t see a need to be there anymore. In addition to the empty waves, I got to watch the sunset behind me cast beautifully warm light across the waves as they rolled out from the massive ocean under me (as I waited for a big one to smash me). I’m getting better at photography on this trip and wish there was a way to capture the way the horizontal light increases the contrast of everything around me, the whitewater, the trees around the bay, and the rock formations. Everything looks amazing, it’s totally quiet, and if I happen to be out there alone, I get the narcissitic feeling that somehow the moment was meticulously crafted just for me.
Sunset is when I catch the best waves. They are a bit smaller as the tide goes out and since I’m not in danger of hitting or being hit by anyone, I take more risks and make more progress learning. Eventually, during the last 4-5 surf sessions of Itacare, I end up figuring it out. I can easily catch a wave on a short board, get to the bottom of the wave face, and start the turn. Nine times out of 10, I’m crashing shortly after starting the turn, but I have ridden a handful of waves as they were designed to be ridden – something I didn’t think I was cut out to do (and what I told myself after one particularly thorough thrashing).
After purchasing a few limes in town, a bag full of sugar, and a $6R ($3 USD) bottle of 80 proof Cachasa, we had all the makings for delicious Capirinhas. Brazil’s favorite alcohol (Cachasa) and beverage (Capirinha) is just like one of the characteristics of its culture: a hard and fast approach to fun that is accessible to everyone and an experience designed to be shared. We prepared the drink with some makeshift tools using what was available in our room (picture). Water bottle cut in half made for an excellent container to muddle lime and sugar, and our canteen doubled as a muddler and shaker. After borrowing a few glasses from the empty kitchen, we had ourselves some potent capirinhas as we enjoyed the warm night air and sounds of only us, the wind chimes, and the waves crashing on the beach right in front of our balcony.
At about 8pm the mosquitos get a bit rough and whatever book we were reading gets a bit boring, so we retired to the room to watch some downloaded media. We started Mad Men on this trip, a show that I’m still not sold on, and we’re in Season 3 at the time of writing. Nevertheless, retiring to watch some slow-moving plot while in bed was a great way to unwind, relax, and prepare for the next day.
Sometime during the night
Get bit by the itchiest mosquitoes in the world on the bottom of the foot or anywhere you forgot to spray. Punch the wall in frustration/itch-pain. Complain about hurt hand to wife who does not sympathize.
Rinse and repeat x 7
A couple of the more eventful stories worth recounting from Itacare that didn’t follow this formula were when the Buddy’s hostel lady accosted us on the street the day that we slipped out of her hostel when she happened to be away. We paid in full for our night, but she was upset at us that we didn’t fulfill the weeklong reservation we had made. I told her (read: yelled back at her across the street) that the reservation was made under the assumption of basic rules of cleanliness and canceled in the name of our health. I took some pictures and tried to post them on TripAdvisor, but they have yet to be accepted. These are the types of shots that end businesses, but after the confrontation, I was especially amped to display the truth about Buddy’s.
Itacare also has a lively nightlife – we only participated twice, but we got to see a free Caipoera school perform their amazing feats of rhythm and athleticism on both Monday nights with a lively crowd on site to enjoy it with.
Possibly one of my favorite memories of the trip so far came was when the night shift staff member of our Pousada, Irmao, came through on his commitment to invite me surfing. The last day of our stay in Itacare had particularly large waves after 3 days of offshore winds, and it crowded the surf scene to a level I wasn’t comfortable participating (after having damaged 2 boards already). On this day Irmao shouted my name on the way off to a private beach called Prainho with his buddy Paul. I of course said yes, and we were off. After 50 minutes of jogging through the woods with surfboard in hand, we arrived to a beautiful secluded beach with no other surfers to be seen. The quality of the waves was just as good as Tiririca, but since there was no road access to the beach, and it was pretty much a pain in the ass to get to, it was deserted. Irmao, Paul, and I surfed for a few hours, broke open a coconut without tools (amazing, didn’t know this could be done) for lunch, and made our way back before sunset. I caught the best wave of my life there. That coupled with the ability to taste paradise with some excellent locals and the thick wooded hike there and back makes it one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.
I hope to come back to Itacare some day or at least some place exactly like it. Hopefully next time, in addition to the patient company of my wife, I can add a surfing enthusiast or 2 that enjoys struggling in the name of surf just as much as I do.