It was a dozen kilometres north of today’s Porto Seguro that Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed Brazil for the Portuguese Crown on 22 April 1500. Note that I don’t say discovered Brazil. It’s not out of an overtly strong sensitivity about the Eurocentric word ‘discovery’, no. It’s because he simply didn’t. There had been at least two documented landings by the Spanish Vicente Pinzón (26 Jan 1500) and Diego de Lepe (Feb 1500) before Cabral. In fact, a 1502 map of Brazil shows much of the South American coast from Venezuela to the south of Bahia which can not be the product of even those few expeditions.
Still, Brazilians call this stretch ‘the Discovery Coast‘ and today Porto Seguro makes a big thing about it. The town’s motto is ‘I was born in Porto Seguro. My name is Brazil‘.
If the native Pataxó Indians – who still live in aldeias around Porto Seguro – think otherwise, they certainly keep it to themselves. They have carved huge statues in memory of their conversion to Christianity and of the First Mass in Brazil, plus they make a living performing for the tourists (you can join in their dances for R$60) or hawking their woodwork. But then, the local tribe is called Ha-Ha-Hae; they must be jolly fellows.
You can do two things in today’s Porto Seguro. Firstly, complete a historical tour of the Old Town whose pride and joy is the Marco da Posse a stone column brought from Portugal in 1503 that claims Brazil for the Portuguese crown and of the various museums and parks with a discovery theme.
But mostly you can lie on the many beaches that stretch for tens of kilometres north of the town. The further north you go, the better and clearer the beach. And if there is wind, well there are surfing sports you can indulge in.
Nightlife in Porto Seguro starts early on the Passarela do Alcool, a long road where kiosks mix cocktails for you from R$6 per shot and back-to-back eateries vie for your attention. I can recommend the Casa da Esquina, whose sea bass with shrimp sauce even I couldn’t finish. And after 10pm, the various barracas (open-air ”stalls” which sometimes extend over 2,000 sq m) that play afoxé music till the early hours.
Any downside? The mosquitoes, proof that God, if She exists, has the humour of an eight-year-old. My British and Greek DEET-based aerosols had no effect on these beasts. I bought a Brazilian variety called OFF and sprayed my arms with my watch on. Next day the plastic watch cap had been corroded.
And as I write these words one little beast is sucking the blood out of me alive.
The only thing more satisfying than killing a mosquito is killing the mosquito that’s been bugging you all night.
John Malathronas’s second edition of Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul is now available on Kindle.