Caraíva: The Town With No Escape

I somehow managed to leave Trancoso behind to head to Caraíva. I had heard that Caraíva was an idyllic town stuck in time; electricity was introduced in 2007 and even now there is no public lighting. It is inaccessible by car; one needs to take a boat across a river to reach this remote village. Although only a short distance from Trancoso (36km), the dirt roads and river crossing causes the trip to take longer than expected. There are no cars either; the main modes of transit are feet or a mule taxi. Instead of streets and sidewalk, there is sand.

The bus ride to Caraíva was along a road that was anything but industrial. In fact, we passed a sloth on the way there. I arrived in Caraíva without accommodation booked; I had not found many places online and everywhere I had found was expensive. Caraíva is known as a touristy, pricy retreat from modern times, but it was offseason and I was hoping to find something more reasonable.

I knew that there was a hostel in town and went there first. Since the streets are sand, I had to trudge through this deep sand mix to the hostel. Luckily, I decided to stay there because I would not have wanted to carry all of my bags elsewhere in this sand.

The town of Caraíva consists of a short street; the rest of the small piece of land is dedicated to hotels and beaches. I followed the river to where it meets the ocean; every beach in Bahia has a river and an ocean. The village is bordered by a river on one side and the ocean on the other. The beach, called Praia do Satu, was nice but I preferred Trancoso’s beach. I walked back to my hostel along the beach, but ended up getting lost and walking much further than necessary. As I tried to cut across town, I found myself in a maze of hotels and stuck walking in deep sand in flip flops. The sand was extremely hot. It would’ve been easier to walk barefoot, but I knew that parasitic worms live in Caraíva’s sand and did not want to risk it. So I was marching through deep sand, my feet were getting burned, my calves hated me, and I had no idea where I was. Finally, I arrived in a square with a church; probably the most local part of town and close to my hostel.

Returning to my hostel, I got ready for the beach. The hostel wasn’t great, but it seemed good enough. I had put an opened grocery bag of sealed food on my bed before my walk and when I returned bugs were climbing all over the bag trying to access my food. I started to feel gross. I had avoided parasitic worms clawing through sand and now I was cleaning up bugs. I had left the farm almost a month ago and thought I was past that rustic, buggy lifestyle.

The beach was nice; I swam in both the river and the ocean. But I wore flip flops until the absolute last second to avoid the worms. I also was not too comfortable with the idea of lying on my canga (Brazilians don’t use towels at the beach, they use something similar to a sarong called a canga) on the sand either.

That evening, I went out for dinner. I had decided not to stay longer in Caraíva; one night was enough. Before dinner, I asked a hostel staff member about the bus times and he told me that the first bus was at 7:15AM. He was getting tattooed while we were having this conversation. I was ready to leave.

My search for a restaurant was more scary than idyllic; it was dark! Caraíva is known for being a very safe town – so safe that there are no police. However, I find it scary to walk around a town alone in the pitch black (no public electricity!). The businesses have small lights out front, but that’s it. If there is no commercial building, there is no light.

Finally, it was bedtime. I was looking forward to leaving the next day. As I was crawling under my mosquito net to fall asleep, another guest at the hostel told me to be careful. The mosquito net is ineffective and I will be eaten alive – I should check for mosquitos inside the netting too. I laid in bed completely awake with every inch of my body on standby for the slightest touch of a mosquito. I was hot as there was no air conditioning, but I had covered myself with the sheet to prevent bites.

The next morning, I was a zombie motivated only by my desire to leave. I walked to the dock to get the boat. I started chatting with the man who works there about how I wanted to get the 7:15AM bus. He told me that the bus was at 6:20AM – there was no 7:15AM bus. I had missed it. I was furious at tattoo man. I went back to bed and when I woke up confronted the hostel workers about it. They apologized – they had told me the wrong information because they were high. Wonderful.

The next bus wasn’t until 4PM. I spent the day sleeping and doing nothing. I felt gross – like I was being eaten alive in Caraíva and it kept getting worse. I needed to leave. Finally, I was at the dock again at 3:45PM and joined the line. I had been told to arrive 15 minutes before the bus. The man at the dock told us that we were waiting for more people and that we would easily make the bus. I kept waiting. Finally, we crossed. As we crossed I saw my bus start to leave. The man on the boat repeated that I shouldn’t worry, that the bus won’t leave yet. He was wrong. I was on the other side of the river but my bus was gone. I walked around hoping it was just around a corner when a Brazilian woman who had been on my boat called over to me. She told me to come with her; she and a few others were getting a taxi ride to meet up with the bus.

I knew that the first stop the bus makes is an hour outside of Caraíva. I was surprised that we were going to follow the bus for an entire hour. How naïve of me! That would be inefficient. Why do that? Instead, we drove quickly to catch up to the bus. We may be on a two-way, remote, dirt road, but this road is the most direct route in between seaside towns. I didn’t understand what we were doing until we drove next to the bus and motioned for the driver to pull over. The bus driver pulled over and we got onto the bus. It would be as if I had missed my Greyhound bus in the United States and got the driver to pull over on Route 60 so I could board. It was hysterical. It was so Brazilian. And, even better, it worked. I was on my way to Arraial d’Ajuda!

Thoughts and Observations

It is clear from my experience that I did not like Caraíva. I felt dirty. Everything was a bother. I spent the entire time in Caraíva wishing I had stayed another night in Trancoso.

I think Caraíva is great for two types of people – laid back, modern hippies and people who stay at nicer places. Caraíva could be a great resort-like place for people who want a yesteryear vacation; romantic meals without electricity, rides in the mule taxi, and passing the day on a beach chair. However, it was not for me.

Oddly enough, my favorite memories of Caraíva are my bus rides. On my bus ride there, I saw a sloth. When I left, I had a “only in Brazil” moment chasing down the bus. As always, it was an adventure.


Note: My hostel in Caraíva is under new management. The people who manage it now are friends of mine and run amazing hostels.

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