Part I: Bussing Brazil
photo credit: Phil Whitehouse via photopin (cc)
There exists a delicate balance between expenditure and travel time. In theory, it’s always worth it to go for a cheaper ticket, the more inexpensive mode of transportation taking you from the same point A to point B while doing much less damage to your wallet. In a case like a trip between New York and Boston, the extra hour between a bus and trains is definitely worth the up to 100-dollar discount of the former. The balance becomes more precarious as the distance increases. Testing the adage ‘time is money’, depending on how cheap you are, you can make trips wherein you spend more time getting to the place you’re going that time you can afford to spend there.
I confronted this reality head on this past January towards the end of a six-month stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazil is a massive, diverse, and incredibly beautiful country. It’s also a country notorious for its substandard and anemic infrastructure. My aim was the Northeast of the country, centered around the colonial capital of Salvador in the state of Bahia, and I happened to set my sights on it during the height of Brazilian summer and therein tourist season, when just about every other person of Brazil’s 200 million odd population also had their gazes similarly fixed.
That meant extremely expensive airline tickets up north for inevitably uncomfortable flights through contrived, unorganized airports. I chose the bus, which presented just one problem, the hundreds of miles of lush empty countryside between my point of departure and general destination. The trip between the southern edge of the state of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro is about 20 hours. My travel companion and myself arrived in the town of Porto Seguro, where the Portuguese explorers allegedly first touched down on American soil, and immediately took a series of buses to the nearby beach town of Caraíva. Advertised as an out of the way slice of paradise, Caraíva lies on the other end of a small river, the dot of an i sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Certainly beautiful, Caraíva has miles of lush beaches, the primary stretch of which sits in front of a series of hostels, bars and bungalows, all of which were packed with tourists, albeit all of the them Brazilian. It was clear that Caraíva had long since been discovered, and the guaranteed influx of visitors had created a market tailored to their appearance, driving up prices of everything from food to accommodation. We had arrived with nothing more than a tent and the romantic dream of setting up camp on the beach, but upon a brief conference with a Indian in town who owned a buggy we thought could take us a mile or two down the beach to relative seclusion, our plan was stymied. Our Indian ‘friend’ said the beach was a dangerous place, and it was better for both us and him if we didn’t go out there. Discouraged, we settled down for the night in a mediocre camp ground. The next day, we got up early and decided to do some exploring of our own down the relatively abandoned coastline. We walked for about 25 minutes before we found a more secluded campsite run by a man with 8 children and a gold tooth. After an hour spent getting at coconuts just beyond the reach of the property, we sat down on the soft sand to watch the waves and consider our options.