João Pessoa is a city of about 600,000 people in the Northeast Brazilian state of Paraíba. It has the unique feature of being located on the easternmost tip of the South American continent at S07′.06.30 and W34.50.30. This places it closer to Africa than to Peru on Brazil’s western border.
The actual point is called Cabo Branco (White Cape) and they have a lighthouse and small monument there. The beach closest to it is also called Cabo Branco Praia (White Cape Beach),
Being only about 470 statute miles south of the equator, the area enjoys beautiful weather all season long. Daytime temperatures in the winter normally range from a low of 70°F to about 80°F, and in the summer from about 75°F to about 86°F. The nearly constant south and east ocean breezes moderate even these very pleasant extremes.
In addition to this very mild climate, João Pessoa has never experienced a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or volcano in the 450 years since the city’s founding. In fact, in two years, we have heard thunder only once and that was just two rumbles from the same system. An added attraction to the area is the almost total absence of mosquitoes, especially within the areas close to the beaches.
João Pessoa is very different than Rio. For one thing, traffic is a fraction of what it is in Rio. Nor are there thousands of taxis cruising everywhere. In Rio, you can get a cab anytime, day, or night, by waiting on a street corner for no more than 3 minutes. In João Pessoa, you would be wise to call for one.
For another thing, there is very little graffiti here; a very nice improvement. Driving is much the same though. Lanes are mostly whatever you can make of them and staying in one’s own lane is not considered necessary. No one here seems to think anything of turning left from the right lane even if the traffic in the left lane is not turning.
As in Rio, many streets here are one-way. This makes learning your way around when driving more interesting. The route you take to get somewhere is not the same as you take to get back. In addition, two-way streets can suddenly turn into one-way going the opposite way you are. (naturally) Luckily, I can walk to the beach, so that was easy to learn.
Something here that is much different than in Rio or America is horse-or mule-powered carts. These are almost unheard of in Rio but common when you leave the big city and here in João Pessoa, too. The carts are usually home-made with automobile leaf springs, wheels, and tires. Most carts have two wheels but four-wheeled versions are often seen. You will also see street or beach vendors pulling small carts themselves.
Bicycles are also used with three-wheeled models used to transport everything from ice cream to propane tanks. On the beach, there are vendors selling everything from ice cream to sunglasses and hats, shirts, music CD’s, nuts, and drinks. They will walk up and down the beach all day carrying coolers and racks of whatever they sell. They are always polite and never aggressive. Prices are also usually negotiable on everything but food and drink.
While not a popular tourist area such as Rio de Janeiro, there are many hotels and pousadas (bed and breakfast) either on or within easy walking distance to the beaches. The largest and most luxurious of these is the Hotel Tambaú, located on Tambaú beach. Other smaller, homier hotels and Pousadas can be found all along the beach area of João Pessoa.
There are many tours available by boat, jeep, dune buggy, and bus. Some of these are to Piscinas Naturais (natural swimming pools) in the shallow water among the reefs near the beaches. Other tours include buggy tours of the more remote southern and northern beaches, including the clothing optional beach at Tambaba.
Speaking of the beach, that’s another area where we are like the Brazilians. They love the beach and to exercise. In fact, they often make the street next to the beach a pedestrian area at certain hours because walking for fun and exercise is very popular. They often install some exercise bars and sit-up benches at various places along the beach and in parks.
Health clubs are available but are not as common as they are in populated areas of the US. The one I have seen here is for women only and I suspect is more of a social club than for serious exercise. Come to think of it, that’s a good description of most health clubs in the USA, too. The one I owned was different, of course. Riiiiiighhhht!
Public transportation is plentiful and inexpensive. As in the rest of Brazil, city and inter-city buses are clean, cheap, and frequent. Taxis are also clean and inexpensive. Extended time or trips in taxis can often be negotiated directly with the driver.
For example, we once took a taxi to the American Consulate in Recife, about two hours away, for 100 reais, or US$ 35. This was round trip and included him waiting while we conducted our business there. The bus would have been as much or more and taken longer.
Cars are usually smaller here. Given the size and condition of the roads, a large car would be a serious handicap. Not that you won’t see the occasional full-size SUV, but they are not common, even here in João Pessoa. The streets are often paved with blocks that resemble cobblestones.
Because they are basically driven into the underlying sand, the streets are often uneven. You frequently see places where the street has sunken several inches, indicating an underground water leak. These are usually not repaired until the street becomes impassible even by Brazilian standards.
Citizens here take the initiative in marking these, even if it’s only sticking a few palm fronds into the hole. Actually, this is very effective. Everyone knows it means a bad hole is there and doesn’t attempt to play lawnmower and drive over them. Many of the older streets were actually designed for horse-drawn vehicles and are not really up to withstanding modern trucks and cars.
Restaurants are also plentiful. Many are the Brazilian Churrascarias (BBQ) style that includes a major salad bar with not only salads, but salmon, shrimp, cheeses, and pastries filled with chicken, shrimp, or cheese.
Then you will be served the meat sliced directly from the large skewers on which it was cooked over open flames. There will be beef, pork, chicken, goat, lamb, sausage, fish, and for all I know, iguana, anaconda, and monkey. No matter, you can accept or refuse any of it, but they will not stop bringing it until you beg for mercy. One of the best here, called Tereré, also has a Japanese sushi bar in it too.
Other places are more conventional, but many charge you by the kilo, so you only pay for what you actually eat. There are also ice cream places (sorveterias) that work the same way. You build what you want, cones, dish, as many flavors and toppings as you wish, then pay by weight; the ice cream, not yours. Probably just as well if you been to a Churrascaria first.
Here in João Pessoa, the buildings are not touching as in Rio. Real estate is a little less valuable so there can be some separation between buildings. Even so, single-family houses are not as common in the city as are apartments. There are areas where they are and some are large and have three or four bedrooms, plus the usual arrangements for a maid. Most will not have a lot of land around them. People in the city seem to prefer living in apartment buildings to houses.
The city itself is much more beautiful than Rio, Recife, or São Paulo. Buildings in João Pessoa are normally covered in cerâmica (tile) in primary colours such as white, blue, yellow, red, grey, and black in complimenting colours. Most of these are apartment buildings, what we would call condominiums.
As in other coastal cities, the higher up you live and the closer to the beach, the more expensive they become. Even so, prices are well below those in the USA. A three bedroom apartment with two or three baths in a good building less than ½ mile from the beach currently will be in the area of US$ 30,000 to US$ 40,000.
Another feature of housing that is strange to Americans is the nearly universal provision for live-in maids. Any apartment larger than two bedrooms usually has a small room with bathroom for a maid. This is usually not included in the room count. For example, a “three-room” apartment means three bedrooms. At least one of these will have an attached bathroom and is called a “suite.”
There will be a separate bathroom for the others. There will also be the small maid’s room and bathroom for a total of four bedrooms and at least three bathrooms. Most of the rooms will probably be smaller than Americans expect. There is often a nice balcony with great views. Apartments also usually include a living room, kitchen and laundry area.
The condominium fee will normally be about US$ 70 a month and will include gas and water.
Central air conditioning is not usually found in anything but large commercial buildings as the mild climate makes it unnecessary. Provisions for window units are built into most bedrooms and many living areas, too. The unit in our bedroom has been used perhaps twice in two years. Mostly, we turn it on for maintenance for about 5 minutes a month.
As in any large city, crime and security are a concern to many. The Brazilian attention to this can be seen in the fact that most buildings are secure units with walls, electric gates to the parking areas, and controlled access. Remote garage-door openers for all residents make entry and exit secure at all times. Most buildings have a concierge-type person monitoring entry; many on a 7/24 basis.
These people are extremely helpful and are often available for other things such as car washing. Naturally, they know almost everything about the building and, when looking for an apartment, you can just walk up and ask if any in the building are for sale. Sometimes they will know of one about to go on sale or that an advertised unit is already sold. The individual houses are built in a similar fashion but without the concierge person.
One annoying feature of life here is the presence of loudspeaker-equipped vehicles driving around advertising everything. They often play music with the announcements and are VERY loud and seem to gloat on being as obnoxious as possible. I plan to buy a large supply of water balloons to bomb these whenever I can. If they are lucky, I’ll be in a good mood and only fill the balloons with water instead of more “interesting” fluids. Salt water is a good candidate.
There are several large shopping areas near us as well as smaller stores within walking distance. Places like drugstores even make free deliveries from a phone call and even the local grocery, Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) makes free deliveries. In fact, once they were ready to deliver our groceries and brought us home, too.
One large store, Hiper Bom Preço (Super Good Price) has been purchased by Wal-Mart. It is so complete; they will only have to change the sign. Another, Manaira Shopping, is a three-story shopping mall with a multiplex movie, bowling alley, many shops, including a grocery store and restaurants. While it’s a ten-minute walk, we usually drive because we often have more than we want to carry home. The theatre usually has at least one movie in English with Portuguese legends. (subtitles)
Medical care can vary from terrible, to excellent. When we were first here, I had a very bad intestinal bug that was essentially misdiagnosed at three doctors until I went to a Unimed hospital.
There, I was quickly admitted and received terrific care for the four days I was there. The food was a lot better than most American places, too. Not that I was in any condition to appreciate it. Because I didn’t have a medical plan there, I had to pay cash. It came to 600 reais, which at the time was abut US$ 200.
The Unimed medical plan that I now have costs about US$ 150 USD a month and includes hospitalization, doctor office visits, and even house calls by a doctor! There is no co-pay for doctor visits but prescription drugs are not included. They are inexpensive here so what was costing me about $100 a month in the USA (with a drug plan) is about $30 here. So that seems to be a wash.
Like the rest of Brazil, the language here is Portuguese. While there are many people that speak some English it is not common outside the major hotels and tourist areas. Non-Portuguese speakers are advised to arrange for an interpreter to be able to enjoy items like some tours, restaurants, etc.
Major hotels can arrange this for guests that wish to take “the path less traveled.” But for their tours, usually have English-speakers doing them. To be sure, learn the right question, “Fala Inglês?” (Fahl-ah In-glês? Do you speak English?)