Why visit Jericoacoara off-season?

Because it is not a destination, it is a lifestyle!

I am on a flight to Belem… a flight taking me further away from Jericoacoara, my Jeri, my home of the past two months. And although I have devoted almost exclusively all my posts during that time to my feelings about Jeri and my life there, it seems there are still things to be said.

I first experienced Jeri for a few days in February, the last month of its peak season. My initial plan was to visit it for 3-4 days, then return to Natal where I was renting an apartment and continue my travels to Rio and Bahia and Sao Paulo…  Little did I know Jeri would steal my heart and become my new comfort zone in Brazil. My stay of 3-4 days was prolonged to 12 days (with only a couple of bikinis and t-shirts in my daypack). By that time, the mere thought of leaving was making me sad so I thought why look for another paradise when you’ve found yours already? Decision made. I would yet again make the 20 hour bus trip to Natal this time to pack my stuff, empty my apartment and return to my paradise. I was only leaving with a smile on my face because I knew I was coming back after 10 days. Walking around the village the day before my departure and asking around for apartments to rent I found what was the ideal place for me. A beautiful studio close to Malhada beach a location I’d already fallen for on my first day in Jeri. Could I get any luckier? A lovely Italian family helped me settle and gave me the chance to feel I’m “at home”.

So on the 29th of February, that special day that only happens once every 4 years, I dropped my CrossFit addiction focusing on learning Portuguese, surf and forró. I started immediately. I downloaded DuoLingo and worked on my language skills every single day. I went to the beach to get a good deal for renting a surf board and getting some surf lessons and asked around to find out which nights are ‘forró nights’.

I soon realized how different the village was this time of the year. So calm, yet never empty. Jericoacoara enjoys a very long season with temperatures above 28 degrees all year round and the rain season lasting only a few months between March and May. During high season months, everyone is working long hours, putting up with all the weird things tourists want and do while on vacation, yet always having a smile on their face. Locals hardly take any time for themselves, so at the end of February they have their first free days and are able to finally enjoy their paradise, which they so openhandedly had been offering to foreigners between June and February. Now is the time for them to go out every night, to dance, to play beach volley and football, to practice capoeira, to have fun and relax…

That was the Jericoacoara I fell in love with. Jeri people embraced me, their greka-gringa that spoke no Portuguese whatsoever, always giving me a bright smile and a ‘bom dia’ and making efforts to communicate be it any broken language we could use or sign language, or even body language…

Jeri is famous among wind-surfers and kite-surfers, but I opted for plain surfing. Yes, I tried, but no it did not steal my heart. Maybe I didn’t give it the time required, maybe it was not the time for me to become the badass surf-girl I had imagined 🙂

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Instead, I found me a great little corner by the beach, at Milano Beach bar where I had loads of coconut water and caipirinhas com maracuja almost on a daily basis. The music, the view and drinks you definitely enjoy all year round, but the tranquility, the sunbeds, the small talk with the waiters and locals, you can only enjoy during low season when the day could start with heavy rain or just a drizzle for a few hours and then everything goes ‘back to normal’ and the beach is waiting for you!

What I did invest more time in was dancing… Thursday nights at Maloka were the highlight of my week and although I was waking up at 5:30am every morning to work (yes, I do work while I travel, I’m not on constant vacation – I am a translator), I had one more alarm set for Wednesdays at 23:50, to get up and go dancing, because there is really no point in going at 22:30 when the live band starts, as there is no one there to dance with! Best time to go is around 00:30-1am, yup. I soon started going to Dona Amelia forro nights too on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I was greedy already…

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As for the samba-Fridays (which I was told are locals’ favorite night out) I enjoyed those as much, but not for the dancing (samba is not my thing). The band playing and the energy of that place on Fridays is simply unimaginable. The crowd dancing and singing along, everyone dancing… not to mention I had the best caipirinhas there.

On my first nights out, I was still a bit numb not knowing anyone and feeling a bit awkward for going out on my own, but I was not the only one. I guess when I started being given the locals’ discount on the entrance fee and was able to recognize and hum along the melodies of samba and forro, did I start to really blend in.

I learned forró in Jeri. This is a statement in itself and is light years away from just saying ‘I learned forró’. I know this now, having danced the same dance in Fortaleza in my short stay there and talked with ‘outsiders’, Jeri outsiders and after my initial shock dancing in Fortaleza. Let me tell you this: in Jericoacoara – the low-season Jeri – I learned the ‘dirty-dancing’ forró and thought that is actually the way to dance it. In Fortaleza, I saw another, ‘classy’ forró – very nice too, but absolutely different. Women dressed up, wearing high heels, men keeping a ‘safe’ distance and not claiming their partner’s full attention and energy. In Jeri you dance barefoot, sharing your sweat with your partner, enjoying the smell of their body and hearing their heavy breathing in your ear. There is no distance, two become one. Maybe Jericoacoarans were smart enough to lure a gringa into dancing like that, but truth is I wouldn’t have preferred it any other way. I was asked to dance in Fortaleza and I thought it was normal to just hold on tight to the guy and dance away, but he immediately corrected me. Then it clicked and my perception of dancing changed. Imagine me having learned forró in Fortaleza and then going to Jeri? Now, THAT would have been a shock! But I learned from the locals, the passionate way and I am sticking to that! I will never forget my first attempts and impressions of dancing forro. Those days and nights became my reality for two months, a reality I am look forward to return to.

The night clubs in Jeri all close at 2am – all except for Dona Amelia, known as the first forro place in Jeri a fact that makes it sort of a ‘monument’ in itself, thus having the privilege to stay open until 3am. What I didn’t get to see was the padaria (bakery) that opens at 2am only to feed the hungry dancers and closes around 4-5am. Had to leave some things for my next stay.

Off-season days in Jeri are heavenly. To me it was so much more a genuine experience to talk to the locals, to be invited to dinners, to go canoeing, buggy-kite-surfing and not being regarded as one more tourist that comes and goes. Knowing who to turn to whenever something would come up, becoming familiar with all little alleys and knowing which coconut tree gives the best shade at what time of the day… to enjoy my afternoons at the Hurricane Hotel (which on-season won’t accept non-residents in its premises) in front of the infinity pool… to have the delicious ice cream at the square or by the praia principal with the confidence that the girl behind the counter will never ever ask me again if I want two spoons for the huge ice-cream cup I just bought because she had already realized ice-cream is one of those things in my life I just won’t share, it was all mine. Familiar faces, warm smiles, new friends every day and me feeling I’m home. I could not dream of anything better… simply ‘priceless’.

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Of course I assume there is also a difference in the prices off-season in almost everything, but believe me, this is the last advantage of visiting Jericoacoara when the locals enjoy it the most. Those ‘slow’ months are like a secret after-party only the select few know and enjoy.

And I will be honest, there is one thing that I would change, if I could. Well, two actually.

One is the fact that when it starts raining chances are internet will soon go down. It’s ok for the days or hours that I only used it to skype with my bestie or surf the net (instead of the ocean) but when a power cut left me hanging for 7 hours knowing that I had to deliver my projects the next morning, I can tell you those were the worst 7 hours of my life in Jeri. It only happened once and later I found out that I could have been informed in advance, which would have solved my problems. Now I know. 🙂

Two is the fact that there is no CrossFit. There is a local gym and I trained there for most part of my stay, but I have to admit I am spoiled when it comes to weights. Solution / project for next time: garage gym. Yes, I am making long-term plans here.

I know the next months will find me daydreaming about Jeri every single day, posting pictures of its beaches, sunsets, of the horses and donkeys roaming freely and thinking of the nights I was swept away dancing with the locals.

In 3 months from now I will be allowed to enter the country again and I can only see myself in Jeri, with a first stop in Fortaleza, of course. Long walks by the beach, coconut water at hand or a caipirinha for that matter… Every single day. I am already missing that place so much, I don’t plan on missing out on those sunsets again!

I am going back and this time I will be ready to stay.

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