When we decided to visit some towns near Salvador, we narrowed our options to two: Cachoeira and Prais do Forte. Cachoeira is a historic town with colonial buildings. Praia do Forte is a beach town. Because we had seen a lot of history in Salvador, we decided to try the Bahia’s beaches and headed north via bus to Praia do Forte (R$11 each on Linha Verde).
When we got into town I was really disappointed. The city is an insufferably cute tourist zone. Everything is expensive and, at least at first glance, there’s not really much local culture. Though I think people have lived in the area for a long time, the actual town is mostly made up of very recently constructed resort-ish hotels and high end clothing stores. It you’ve been to Old Town San Diego or another city’s tourist area, it’s kind of like that, but without the historic charm or wear. (I typically like old town areas I’ve been to, but Prais do Forte just comes off as sterilized, even calculating.)
To be fair and for some people, Praia do Forte is exactly the sort of place they’re looking for. It’s a place to get away, relax, and blow some money. And in fact, some aspects are fairly pleasant. There is a nice square by the shore, and it was interesting to see what a Brazilian beach would look like without a multitude of vendors and trash, and with some wealth pumped into it. Still, that’s not really the experience we were looking for. And, to make matters worse, it rained off and on all day so we never actually went onto the beach.
Needless to say, I initially regretting not having chosen Cachoeira. However, because it was too stormy to go to the beach, we decided to try to find the fort. The town’s name means “beach of the fort” and comes from the fort the Portuguese built in the area right after they arrived in the 1500s. Apparently, it also includes the only medieval-style, formerly functioning castle in the Americas. It was used for a while, abandoned and forgotten for a few hundred years, and then rediscovered more recently.
To get to the fort we walked out of town along a road that borders an expansive marsh ringed with rainforest. We asked a woman on the road where the castle was, and she told us to follow the power lines through the jungle. As we followed the power lines, we came to a field with horses grazing in it. There was a small building to one side, and a man working there. It turned out that the field was an airstrip and the man the sole staff member. He told us to follow a dirt path, and showed us where to pass through the barbed wire fence.
From there, we went deeper into the forest. Because it had been raining, there were deep, wide puddles submerging the path and the thick air above them clung to our skin. Where the water hadn’t pooled up, the dirt was light and grainy, like fresh brown sugar. It felt late because the trees formed a canopy over us. When we stopped walking, water drops popping on the palm leaves made it sound like the rain hadn’t ended.
The man at the airport had told us to walk for about 30 minutes and we’d find the fort. While following that advice we passed several secluded farms and a few hamlets of tijolo homes. After walking for a half an hour we stopped to ask an old lady if we were going the right way. She told us we had missed a turn and that we needed to take a differen route. She stood outside her house using hand signals to direct us until we had walked back into the jungle and out of sight. We also saw a mangy animal that looked like a fox or a coyote (though I don’t know what canines they have down here). It ran ahead of us on the road, came in and out if view, waited at the curves in the path.
Somehow, though, we never made it to the fort. Nearly everyone’s directions had been just a little bit different, and very vague (things like “just go over there, and then turn”). Though the coyote seemed be leading us along for awhile, it too (appropriately, I suppose) mislead us.
Yet, by the time we got back (running toward the end to avoid walking over a wet, uneven dirt path in the dark), we didn’t mind not getting to the fort. We had spent an evening hiking through a rainforest, and that made the entire trip to Praia do Forte surprising and well worth it.