Right on time for sundown, the crowds flock to the big dune on the outskirts of Jericoacoara. They take seats in the sand, as if on a grandstand, and look towards the ocean. Kitesurfers fill the air as far as the eye can see. They glide along the coast until they vanish beneath a dazzling horizon.
They’ve made Jericoacoara an international tourist destination. It may lie far off the beaten path for tourists, but has still lost its status as an insider tip. “There’s a very special atmosphere here,” says one young Dutchwoman. “You get the feeling that you’re at the edge of the world, but then you still meet people from all over. And they’re here for the nature. It’s totally laid-back.”
And then she does what everyone here does for fun: she takes a running jump over the edge of the dune and rolls down the slope on the soft sand.
Every evening, it’s the same spectacle – the whole year through. Here in northeastern Brazil, on the Atlantic coast of Ceará state, the wind is almost constant. From late July to late January, it gusts at wind force 4 or more - ideal conditions for wind and kitesurfers. Pleasant air and water temperatures hovering around 28° Celsius do their part to keep the ranks of loyal fans growing steadily.
Maurice Laurent of France slowly pulls his parachute out on the beach. It’s been eight years since the kitesurfers discovered this spot. He’s been coming back every year since. “No matter when you come here, everything’s always perfect. The sun’s shining, the water‘s warm, and the wind’s always blowing. That’s why this has gotten to be the place where the international wind and kitesurfer set gets together. We all know each other. And once somebody’s been here, they want to come back! Also because of the picturesque surroundings.
Jericoacoara is about 300 kilometers northwest of the state capital Fortaleza, in a national park. It’s surrounded by wandering dunes and fresh-water lagoons. The wind carries the dunes about 15 meters westwards every year, piling them up to 100 meters high. They form an impressive sandy landscape that reaches up to 20 kilometers inland. Here and there are little oases, among them the “Lagoa do Paraíso”. Lying in a hammock next to this palm-rimmed lagoon and looking out across a seemingly endless sand desert, anyone can see how this slice of paradise earned its name.
45-year-old Carlos Nascimento has just taxied in some tourists in his dune buggy. His indigenous ancestors have been living in this region for over 500 years. As a boy, he learned to be a fisherman. Now, almost his entire family works in the tourist trade. That’s more lucrative - and more interesting. “As a fisherman, you have to put out at two a.m., and often, the catch is small. We used to live in huts of clay and straw, and the young people had no real prospects. Now, I’m getting to know other cultures, showing people around my region, and I can provide for my family with it. Today, we live in a 150-square-meter house, and my children won’t have to leave Jericoacoara, because the tourism has provided enough jobs.”
A torrent of tourists
When the first travelers found their way here in the 1980s, his family put them up in their own home, free of charge. They accepted a T-shirt and a pair of worn tennis shoes as compensation. Receiving guests today are about 130 accommodations, ranging from simple bed-and-breakfasts to luxury five-star hotels. Carlos Nascimento’s family sold some land to the hotel developers – for just pennies. Growing corn, beans and cassava in the arid ground was yielding less and less in revenues, and the rains were decreasing.
The building regulations won’t allow high-rises, and only sandy paths lead through the town. So Jericoacoara has indeed preserved some of its rustic fishing-village charm, even with hundreds of thousands of people now visiting the national park every year. Recently, a little international airport opened, serving the area. It’s expected to augment the numbers of visitors by around 20 percent over the next three years.
Carlos Nascimento looks proud to be zipping over and around the dunes in his buggy full of tourists. Now, the once remote fishing village numbers among Brazil’s most famous seaside resorts. And the dune with a view of the sundown is one of its main attractions. It’s said to be around 500 years old and some thirty meters high. But it’s gradually shrinking. The crowds who climb it every evening are hastening the natural process of erosion. A tour guide explains that, in another four to five years, it will have disappeared. But new dunes will come in its place. And new tourists, especially water sports enthusiasts, will follow. The one thing that never changes is the constant breeze.Bianca Kopsch