Fortaleza was most northerly state capital that we visited. A key reason for making the trek there was that it was very near a fisherman’s village called Canoa Quebrada (Broken Canoe), a must-go place on the Brazilian easy rider’s circuit. After thumbing a few lifts and some short bus trips to increasingly remote spots, we were eventually dropped off at the foot of a gigantic sand dune. The climb up that dune was tough but when we got to the summit and caught our breath, in the distance we made out a group of huts that resembled a lost place between the desert and the sea. We were captivated.
Canoa Quebrada’s rugged huts were separated by sand paths that abruptly ended at a massive clifftop. The beach below was wider than the ones we had seen elsewhere on our travels and its sand was harder, ideal for keeping the fishermen’s rafts – jangadas, a mispronunciation of Chinese junks. These rafts were flat-bottomed and made of tough, dried tree trunks bound together by ropes, and featuring a mast with a huge triangular sail. At sunrise, the fishermen rolled their wooden vessels into the water over coconut tree trunks. At sea, jangadas were light and easy to maneuver, and their simple elegance fitted in perfectly with the surroundings.
The locals knew how to cope with the sun and the heat: they would only expose themselves early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During the day men mended nets, sold their catches, bought provisions, or simply rested in the shade, while the women produced lace items, their technique famous across Brazil. The summer visitors, hippy-looking people from all over the country, including me, went to the beach at the hottest time of the day, from 11 am to 2 pm. When the heat became unbearable, we found shade in the kiosks by the cliffs and drank beer, listened to one other’s stories, recommendations of places to visit, gossip and expound political-existential theories.
Pedro and I rented, for next to nothing, a room in a fisherman’s hut. The accommodation wasn’t very comfortable but, after putting up with Pedro’s uncle, anything was great. The family slept in hammocks while we were in a separate room, sleeping on mats placed on the sand-covered floor. There was no electricity, the house was lit by a kerosene lamp and water came from a well. Food was cooked on a rudimentary wood-burning stove. The wattle and daub walls were full of holes that enabled the breeze to cool the rooms slightly and the gaps in the roofing were hardly a problem because it rarely rained.
Our landlord was the patriarch of the three generations who lived under the straw roof. His hair was entirely gray but his body was still strong thanks to the years spent at sea. He had the look of someone who had lived life in its plenitude in the place that destiny had assigned to him. He had a bookless wisdom and a clearer picture of where the world stood than many of my professors,would ever achieve. His questions about our way of life were sharp and we had many conversations comparing our two worlds. If people were to ever dare sneer at him for not knowing how to read or write, he could easily – and rightly – reply that he could read the ocean and the stars – indeed the whole surrounding natural environment, the accumulated wisdom passed down through the generations.
At sunset, the outsiders congregated by the dune. In Rio – as in all the states we had been until then – the sun set at the right end of the beach. But, as Ceará is so much more northerly and located on Brazil’s northeasterly hump, the sun set in land. In Canoa Quebrada the sun disappeared behind an endless plain of low, untouched, woodland that echoed with the sounds of birds. We went to see this daily spectacle from the top of the dune that separated the village from the rest of the world. The intense, orange ball shone on the sand and on our faces, creating an amazing hue that contrasted against the dark blue sky. When night finally arrived, it seemed as though the land had absorbed the day’s light and had responded by providing a different look and a more pleasing temperature.
The sense of harmony we experienced as dusk approached was like that I’d felt in Trancoso two years previously. One special evening my companions asked me to play the guitar. The atmosphere was so positive that a circle opened around me in the field behind us. That circle of people singing and dancing to the music felt like redemption for the anxieties that we were escaping from.
As I relaxed and unwound, my luck with women began to change. There was a wonderful moment that an average guy like me could only dream of. I was in a bar with a friend from São Paulo, when I noticed a beautiful blonde girl with blue eyes and dark, suntanned skin staring at me. I approached her and asked if she wanted to go to the sea. She immediately accepted the invitation and I took her by the hand as we followed the trail down the cliff.
The beach was almost empty and we laid down with the waves licking our feet. I didn’t need to talk much: we kissed for a long time while stroking each other under the moon light. I whispered the suggestion that we should go to the construction site where, by chance, my buddies from Alagoas and Frenchman’s Beach were camped. On our way, every now and then we would stop to feel each other’s skin and kiss passionately. When we arrived, there was no one there. After tripping on the magic of her sheer beauty, a hurricane of pleasure took over and then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves lying next to each other in the cool, gentle wind beneath the stars. I felt at peace with the world.