Severely behind on the travel chronicle. Long out of Brazil, I’ve yet to document my nearly whimsical traversal through the state of Pernambuco.
Where did we leave off? Inbound from Juazeiro do Norte of Ceará, I’d entered Pernambuco at Serra Talhada, slowly proceeding back towards the coastal Recife.
Beginning at Juazeiro, arrived at the bus terminal early afternoon to assure availability for the forthcoming night-time itinerary. Informed by the attendant to wait until the arrival of the bus to execute the ticket purchase impromptu - for reasons nor I nor even the Brazilians around could entirely comprehend - granting assurance, however, of availability, plenty anticipated. Baloney. But ultimately another six-hour wait for the ticket emission minutes before departure. First time for everything.
2AM arrival at the Serra Talhada terminal. Need wait until morning to find lodging, having nothing yet arranged. Another raw nighttime experience: the uncomfortably cold temperature (typical of the rural Pernambuco) - frustrating my attempts at any sleep. The two hounds, however, seemed not to mind, laying comfortably prostrate among the filth. The TV blasted. Some figure actively engaged in outcries and whimpers. At least I’d packed abundant water, rendering the irksome configuration tolerable.
Come the aurora, crossed the street to the first pousada suggested by the personnel: more in the spirit of a few closet-sized rooms adjacent to a restaurant, price cheap, perfect for what would amount to a full day in town and then some.
Serra Talhada, beyond the capital of xaxado, a local dance I’d never witnessed, happens also to be the birthplace of Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, aka Lampião, the central figure of the Congaço movement - the bandits/freedom fighters whose legend through Northeastern Brazil would spread for decades, eventually figuring in the regional folklore. The Congaço museum was a worthwhile visit. Analogies, however sketchy: Robin Hood, Jesse James, Martin Ferro.
And equally so, the city museum, or the couple of rooms filled with posters and artifacts, much of no relevance but to fill space and justify operation (ie retroactive sound equipment, postage stamps, currency, old parchment, manuscripts, utensils, garments, handkerchiefs). Moacir Santos, the Jazz artist I mainly know through the landmark album Coisas, it turns too was of Serra Talhada birth.
The sleepy town reminded me more than anything of the Twin Peaks community fictionalized in the respectively titled 1990’s TV series: specifically the scenery observed in the opening credits montage: the mountain peak(s) (which Serra Talhada shares in the majestic backdrop), the rusticity, the factory and the main roadway adjacent to the semi-arid plains of farmland, underneath a cloudy sky of five distinct hues at the time of my random walk circa sunset.
Lacking official bus routes from Serra Talhada, had to hail one of the local shared vans making frequent visits to this small tourist town 1.5 hours away bordering the state of Paraiba. Higher up in the altitudes yet, and the Pernambuco coldest I’d yet encountered, my scarce clothing inventory hardly sufficed. But no matter, five whopping days spent at this charming conglomerate, mainly for the accommodating and inexpensive pousada (guesthouse) availing for some concentrated writing (or whatever I’d otherwise managed).
The highlights are entirely scenic and architectonic: colonial features, surrounded by slopes, pleasant hikes in and around the periphery. At the heart we find a small lake of duck brigades, surrounded by commerce, gastronomy and culture, with a fighter jet erected on a pillar next to an exercise equipment, covered by an orange-pale-blue-misty sky. Although compact, the configuration inspired charm and tranquility.
Beautiful church (Igreja Matriz), a Cristo-Redentor observation peak high up along the slopes - that is, a tiny little cross, scaled down to the town dimensions from what you’d find atop the colossal peaks of Rio de Janeiro.
The border with Paraiba lies less than 2km away from center. Nothing singular beyond the border but unmarked residential areas and aggressive hounds. But close to the edge we find one of the main tourist attractions: Casa Grande das Almas, a construction spanning back to the epoch of Lampião, erected for political motives: to ease escape into the adjacent state. Nowadays the house doubles as a museum. To the side is a little fortress, and down the path a private monastery/chapel (Mosteiro Carmelita São Jose) of contemplation-inspiring macabre obelisks.
Lastly, I undertook an hour-long trek by foot along the main roadway to reach a place called Cacimba do João Neco, or rather, an ancient water well inherited from one family generation to another, now the fruit of an old man who resides at the shack adjacent and collects royalties. Since only tour groups normally reach this point, he startled at the sudden discovery of my appearance, unannounced, arrived by foot, stealthily, so not even the hound detected my steps until nigh. Alas, I could hardly care for his enterprise or the water well: there mainly for the hike in and of itself and to appreciate the vista from the peak adjacent.
Only a single outbound bus route from Triunfo originating at nighttime: through Caruarú and ultimately Recife. Arrived middle of the night to linger at the (yet again) cold and soiled bus terminal until morning, though somehow managing to pass the time reading complex pages of Ulysses.
Prior reservation made at some pseudo-hotel close to the market. Okay for the price. Whenever at these hotels (one of numerous reasons I prefer more bohemian establishments), I keep finding myself pleading to the kitchen lady for non-sweetened coffee. Those containers at the reception come loaded in sugar. Obviously, no kitchen available for self-preparation.
Mainly commercial, though unlike a place like Picos, Piauí, I sensed a pleasant, even enigmatic feel in Caruarú. Some side stretches of road reminded me of segments of Tokyo, or perhaps Osaka, if we’re to consider the pervasive street garbage.
It’s also the capital of Forro (the nationwide dance), though as I’m told, there’s a clash for the title with Campina Grande of Paraiba. Alas, the Forro museum has remained closed for a time since the pandemic.
The large street fair/market, in contrast to many others of its kind, felt strangely refreshing, not nauseating.
The highlight: Mouro de Bom Jesus, a steep stairwise ascension up impressive heights, up there a church with panoramic observation points, all situated dead city center, blocks from the hotel. The two full days spent in town, I twice scaled those steps.
From Caruarú it was a short, 2-hour bus journey to another semi-tourist location Gravatá of which I’d heard through the grapevine, visited strictly by virtue of convenient whereabouts Recife-bound. Stayed one day, just enough for a taste, at this point exhausted with these numerous little stops.
Charming. Uncharacteristically wide main avenues I don’t recall elsewhere in Brazil, not in a historical town with this fair amount of colonial edifice. At the same time, the remainder bore a semblance to a tourism renovated ‘back-woods’ Italian village. Though nothing here inhibits another five hundred such analogies, real or literary.
The city memorial/museum, free-entry, a worthwhile stop. But the prolific remembrance concerns the evening soup lady. Having ordered a sizable bowl of soup at a low-key night-time eatery, it also came with bread and coffee (a strange custom I find not infrequently in Brazil).
The kitchen lady kept inquiring ‘quer mas? quer mas?’: more thermal energy (that is, to heat the soup, reheat, and so on…), more quantity? And she read through my modest refusals; through my bullshit - adamant to produce the more. When I acquiesced to a little bit more, she filled an entire new bowl. I was hungry, but not necessarily to that extent: another showcase of Brazilian hospitality.
In retrospect, I’ve no regrets in passing through these rural parts of three states (Piauí, Ceará, Pernambuco). As from here on, proceeded to reemerge on the coast, in Recife, back among tourists, hostels, bits of chaos.
To hopefully comment on Recife in a separate write-up …
Questions, comments? Connect.