Joao Pessoa


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Joao Pessoa by Tamashin

April 27th, 2009

thermometer_hotDuring the three weeks we were in João Pessoa, the average temperature was about 30c. We did see 35c on our thermometer one day. It took me some time (about three days) to get used to it, I’m from Minas, you know and heat like that isn’t that common. Getting used to the heat means taking it that little bit easier and drinking lots of water.

There was always a soft, gentle breeze blowing in from the sea, day and night. It just wafted across your face like a silk scarf, cool in every sense of the word.

It did rain but just enough and as John said it evaporated quickly. The rain didn’t bother some people who continued walking on the beach whilst others took shelter in the bars. There’s another darker side to this breeze though and locals call it the “marzinho”. Never buy a sea front house, I was told, because the sea breeze ruins everything in a very short time, particularly clothes and domestic appliances. I was talking to some locals at a carwash and they told me you had to wash the car ever week (don’t we all?) because of the detrimental effect of the salt. No problem because the car wash I went to was very thorough and cost R$20 including a polish.

There is a definite small town feel to João Pessoa. There are several wide avenues running through the city, though you feel like you are always driving through the suburbs of a larger city. One moment you are driving along, the next you are confronted by a large sandy, grassy praça with people exercising or lounging at a bar.

Even so, it’s hard to believe that 600,000 people live there because you hardly see anyone. Even the beach front was virtually void of people and there were plenty of places to park.

For the moment parking is free except for the parking maniacs. These were the people who would stand in the middle of the road gesticulating wildly with a red cloth in their hands indicating a space for you. Most of the time you didn’t need them, but of course they need you. As you park they dart from side to side and back to front performing windmill like arm movements to enable you to manoeuvre your precious vehicle into position. When you deign to alight from the vehicle they ask you if they can wash it. Be careful, they use washing up liquid and wash the car in the sunlight, while it is hot, using the same cloth for the wheels and the paintwork. Do you really want grey, scarmy marks on your paintwork? Methinks not. Parking correctly is important though because there are traffic wardens. So you must only park in the free spaces provided and not in the Taxi rank or bus parks which are well marked. The warden I spoke to spoke English as did some of the police.

policeThere is a very heavy police presence. Why, I don’t really know. The officer I spoke to said that they were taking extra precautions this year because of what was happening in Rio. However, John mentions it too in his article. They walk in pairs, ride around on bicycles, there are the special ops teams (the blue land rovers)and quad bike squads for the beach. For New Year they were accompanied by the military. All very no nonsense.

I did flick through the papers now and again and the sort of things that go on were much the same as in our own little town in Minas. A burglary here, car stolen there, the odd mugging, someone picked up for possession of drugs, that sort of thing. However, when you looked around the bairros you did notice that the walls surrounding the houses were lower or next to non existent, there weren’t so many electric fences, there was the odd big dog and people left their garden furniture unconcreted or not chained down. Furniture and belongings were left on the varandas too. So in the main, neighbours were very trusting of each other. Very reassuring.

During the day, there wasn’t much traffic around and at least two roads were closed on the sea front area in the morning so people could walk freely. Many people cycled, roller skated and skate-boarded which some may find annoying but I found quite refreshing. All these people exercising made me want to join in and gave a good example for the children. While the beaches were relatively empty, those people that were there were swimming or playing volley or sand tennis. I also noted several fitness areas and there were a few fitness clubs on the beach frontage.

The beaches are beautiful to say the least. Every morning a team of sweepers start at a Manaira where the cafes and restaurants start to build up. They walk along the sea front in a long line clearing the road, pavement and beach. I watched them start one morning , wearing their red uniforms, standing in a huge circle, on the beach. They started with a few songs, followed by what appeared to be “feel good” chants, then a happy birthday which I found myself joining in to and then finally prayers. It was very uplifting for me, how must they have felt? Ten minutes later I was collecting rubbish………..no, not true, but had they asked me I probably would have!

We visited as many beaches as possible because we could. No better reason, I suppose, though I was looking for somewhere which would be perfect for the children. Several beaches fitted the bill, particularly Intermares and Poço to the North of JP (litoral Norte). A few little restaurants, a beach bar here and there, There is beach front housing and in some areas a few six storey buildings but it doesn’t feel oppressive (yet).

However, if you really want isolation the beaches to the litoral South are much better. We took a drive to one such beach called Barra do Garau e Bela, taking care not to drive onto the beach but park just off the track. With the exception of one fisherman about a 500m away we were the only ones there. It was, so far, a wonderful way to spend Christmas day.

pbjcIt was spoiled buy several 4×4 tour vehicles roaring down the track and onto the beach. They raced along the beach into the distance and that was it short and sweet. I took a walk along the beach to see where they had gone. After sometime I found all the vehicles and many more besides parked up around some natural lagoons in the sand. There were a few trailer bars and BBQs but everyone appeared to be acting responsible with the litter. We had a 4×4 and I felt it would be good for the children to swim in the lagoons.

So off I went back to the beach entrance for family and car. As I walked back, a Pajero, passed me and I thought “if he can do it I can”. The family loaded up we set off for the lagoons. In the back of my mind was the little voice which was saying “stay there, everyone is enjoying themselves”. I wish I had listened. I drove about eight metres on to the sand and sunk. I had no idea what had happened. The car was in 4×4 mode and I was following the tracks of the other vehicles but here I was sunk right up to the axles. When I got out of the car, my door was just above the sand, I looked behind me to see a dark line of seaweed and then worse it looked like the tide was coming in. The family out of the car, I took a food carton lid and scooped in a frenzy at the sand below the car. I really needed a small digger but I was making some headway. My wife asked if she could take a photo, then thought better of it. The tide was indeed coming in and not more than ten metres from the car. I had managed to clear a great deal of sand and drive the car forward a bit only for it to get stuck again even closer to the waters edge.

When it seemed like we were going to loose our car to the incoming tide, I heard the roar of a big pickup behind me. A truck load of party goers stopped next to me. They assessed the problem, raced off for a rope and then after several attempts pulled our car out of the sand.

Unbelievably, I drove it round and back towards the beach entrance only for it to get stuck again. The men were very patient with me. When we freed the car again, one of the others drove it around and took it off the beach. The driver took me to one side and explained why I had sunk. There was too much air in the tyres and I had been driving too slow on the sand. He was a member of the Paraíba 4×4 club to whom I will be eternally grateful. There was a sickening feeling looking back to where the car was stuck as the tide had covered the spot in less than 45 minutes. There was sand everywhere and I am still finding sand even when I think I have given the car a thorough cleaning.
There are plenty of places to hire a car, especially on the sea front. Daily rates were R$56 for a Ford Ka to R$150 for a Fiat Doblo. There are a huge variety of colours to choose from such as grey, grey or grey and with a bit of sweet talking you probably could get a grey one so as not to be too conspicuous.

You can even hire a buggy and driver to take you to all the tourist hot spots, not just in João Pessoa but to the outback of Paraíba called the Sertao.

Having our own car gave us greater independence, though. Driving North to Cabedelo, taking the ferry across to Lucena and then taking a long leisurely drive to the baia of Traiçao (bay of Treason) the journey was mostly on asphalt roads but even the few estradas da terra we encountered were well compacted.

I think this is the point for me, there are lots of things to see and do for all ages and João Pessoa is a good base to drive from. Cities like Natal are only 180 kms away, though I met people from Natal and Fortaleza who preferred the calm of JP to spend their holidays. So it was with several Carioca families too. One man perhaps paid the ultimate compliment by saying that JP was just as he remembered Rio when he was a child.

Billboards around the city advertised concerts on the beaches, parks and theatres. I thought this was just for Christmas and New Year but my new found friends confirmed that the events were a regular feature throughout the year. This was confirmed when I was given a leaflet of future events.

One night I heard some opera being performed on the beach stage in Tambau. I thought I would lend support to the other six or seven people there. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the beach as full as the previous nights “Forro” concert. The following evening I watched the excellent “Quinteto da Paraíba” a violin/cello/drum combo which set the stage alight with some electrifying music. Forro will never be the same. I was an instant convert to their music.

Cidade Negra

Cidade Negra

There was a downside though. The following week “Cidade Negra” would be playing live but we would be on our way home to Minas, so I would never hear “Onde voce mora?” played live.

What about when things go wrong and you need a hospital. Well, JP seemed very well catered for and several of the public hospitals I saw were in very modern buildings though I didn’t have occasion to use them. On one of the streets just off Tambau, the busiest beach, there was a very large public clinic.

We did pay attention to Unimeds very large hospital as we are members of their medical plan. My wife and children used the hospital twice and had no complaints about the service or conditions. It looked to be quite new or was that because it was well looked after? I couldn’t compare it to The British NHS because its such a long time since I used that service.

We also looked at several schools, previously researched on the internet, notably PIO X , PIO XI and GEO. These turned out to be quite famous and were well known even in our small Minas town and by friends in Sao Paulo.


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