You could be anywhere in the world—Thailand, Guatemala, Australia. It is this place where a few hippies decided they didn’t feel like leaving and where locals were accommodating. This cute ad place place what wants to be different with a laid-back atmosphere. There are cute signs, pop cultures references, someone is playing a Bob Marley song. There is a beach or places to hang out, hammocks and love seats and some kind of drug easily available—coffee, booze, marijuana—because when you “hang out”, you need something.
I’d be 18, I would fall in love with the place. At 32, I’m a bit more cynical. Alternative culture can be awfully predictable and boring. When you are trying too hard, it shows.
Destination of the day? Pipa beach, “Praia da Pipa”.
You know the story. It all started as a small fishermen village, a roadless place… and it became “the place”. As in “the beach”.
Of course, we had to check it out.
At 9:50 a.m., we were at the Rodoviária de Natal. We found the ticket booth and bought tickets for the 10 a.m. bus without even knowing there was a 10 a.m. bus. Timing, my friends.
We rushed to the convenience store and bought a Coke and a Sprite. Coke for me, Sprite for Feng and Mark. I remember when, once upon a time, Mark was drinking formula… Eh, don’t judge my parenting skills. A sip or two of Sprite makes him happy and I choose my battles. I keep my Coke jealously though, unlike me, he doesn’t need caffeine.
Of course, o ônibus wasn’t there at 10 a.m. I knew it wouldn’t, just like I predicted the 82-kilometre long trip wouldn’t take two hours as announced. Good things in life take time. Or rather, I’ve never seen a bus leaving and arriving on time.
You’re not going to call 1-800 customer service to complain or ask for a refund. The tickets were just above $10 for three passengers.
At 10:30 a.m., the driver stopped just long enough for passengers to board. It was one of these buses where anything goes, the more passengers the merrier, kids sitting on the floor and folks selling slices of cakes, peanuts or drinks at each stop. There were many stops, like every 500 metres or so. Hey, someone could still squeeze in, come onboard!
It took a long time to get to the freeway. Then I made the beginner’s mistake: I spotted a sign that said “Pipa: 5 km”. “We are almost there!” I told the guy. Why did I say that… Mysteriously, it took another 40 minutes to drive the so-called 5 kilometres. The last stretch was beautiful though, green fields, coconut trees, a narrow strip of asphalt (cars still passed the bus, eh, why not…) and the beach in the distance.
The bus dropped us off on what I assumed was Pipa’s main street. The first thing I noticed that the Subway restaurant franchise. “Ah!” I thought. “Counter-culture still needs to be fed…”
We went down a steep stairway between restaurants and found the beach.
It was packed.
Pipa is hard to get to but people still go. I don’t blame them, it is a lovely beach. Shallow water, a large strip of sand, green hills, lizards and dolphins (didn’t see the latter)… All the ingredients are here.
I walked around the “village” which was bigger than I had expected. Pousadas, restaurants, souvenir shops, beer caps stuck in the pavement, funny signs… yep, your basic “paradise”.
I’m being cynical again. It was nice.
We took a different bus to go back to Natal. It was also late. I knew it would.
By the time we reached our busy main street, we were once again dirty, sweaty and hungry. We walked along the freeway (did I mention that bus stops are optional? The driver just drops you off wherever it feels like it), debriefing.
“It was hard to get to!”
“Bit more crowded than I thought.”
“Mommy… I need food. I wanna go McDonald’s.”
Pipa? Now I can say it. Been there, done that.