Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Way Life Should Be - Guaecá

Guaecá at low tide...the view towards Ilha Bela
I have to write this blog post hidden from my husband. He would not like people to know about the best-kept secret on the north coast of São Paulo state. Imagine a beach, 3 kilometers long with soft fluffy sand, no commercial business (that means not even a pousada/inn) and with views of Ilha Bela, the Alcatraz archipelego (now a national park) and the beach mountains that drop into the waves before the next more-famous beach of Toque-Toque (knock-knock). A family beach where he and his cousins run into each other unplanned, where summer friends of 30 years meet again, chubbier, wealthier and with onward generations of offspring. It is, my friends, a tiny paradise.

For thirty years my husband's family has had a beach house or vacationed almost exclusively at the beach called Guaecá, one of the beaches of São Sebastião municipality. At the risk of being accused of bad translation, I will comment that the name Guaecá seems to be from the Guarani Indian word for seagull. Please share any unhappiness with that translation here with another blogger.  There must have been more seagulls in the past because they are pretty hard to find now.

This past weekend which was the Independence Day holiday on Saturday we drove down with three other couples and our kids ranging from 18 months to 8 years. We shared a house of five bedrooms in one of the grassy "quadras" or blocks of Guaecá. And it is because of these quadras (and other delights) that Guaecá will always be the definition of São Paulo's most beautiful beach. Oh okay, Toque Toque people may apply for a tie, but only at sunset. Otherwise, we win.
Guaecá at sunset. Bring it, Toque-Toque (just beyond this mountain)
Here's what you do when you have a beach house in Guaecá. You get up, you wander out your back porch and onto the "gramado" or grassy area. You get dive-bombed by happy singing birds--the same ones that tried to wake you up at 5 am. Oh, okay, time for breakfast. Send off one of your crowd to Barequeçaba, the next beach down, to the famous padaria (bakery) to buy some still-warm French bread. In the high season, the line for bread stretches out the door and down the street.

One of the grassy quadras - in this case, Quadra 3
Sooner or later it is time to grab the beach chairs, beach blankets and the umbrellas and head out. The trail to the beach is paved with grass--at least in the middle section of Guaecá where there are 13 quadras laid out. This is the oldest part of Guaecá--once a large fazenda, these quadras were laid out in a miracle of effective beach planning. I say it is a miracle because you will note many São Paulo beaches are unplanned and even have illegal houses on the mountains, or invasions of roadside areas with small slums. The homeowner's association here is strong and resolute.

These 13 quadras form a closed community with no access to the public--and the only address you will ever use is "I'm in quadra 5, fourth house on the left, it's yellow. Or some long-time houses have nicknames: the academia (a modern structure that looks like a gym), the pousada (an enormous beachfront house--not actually a pousada), the Corinthians house (once owned by a Corinthians player and frequently filled with gorgeous people). 

Guaecá is unfriendly (geographically speaking) to day visitors who must use public access paths at either end of the 3 km beach, or at the "Avenida" which is the u-shaped parking area behind the police station that leads to a small but busy area of food and clothing vendors. When it gets to be the high season, you may have to wait a while for a pastel (fried yummy) filled with shrimp or palm hearts as the small tented vendor area is the only official "commerce" at the beach.

Which doesn't mean you go hungry, of course. If you sit around long enough in your beach chair, any number of vendors will venture by. I'm talking about high season--this past weekend we only got the peanut vendor, the cold coconut guy and the ice cream guy. But in high season, people will come by selling sandwiches, skewers of shrimp, delicious queijo coalho (that will take another post to cover, but it is basically charcoal roasted white cheese on a stick), corn on the cob, the ubiquitous ice cream, beer and any number of other yummies. You don't even need to move from your chair.

If you feel a burst of energy, you can do like the Brazilians do and play some fresco ball. I guess we would translate this as "smash ball" or "paddle ball." Two wooden racquets and a ball slightly bigger and squishier than a squash ball. Then stand three meters from your friend and smash a ball at him with a force that would definitely hurt if you got hit. Or you can kick a soccer ball, smack around a volleyball, play the Brazilian version of cricket, or go for a walk. 

Brazilians love to walk a beach. There is a constant stream of couples and girlfriends and teens and all kinds of groups walking up and down the long curved beach. Ah, I forgot to mention the curve. The delightful horseshoe curve of Guaecá--a curve that most people know will make Copacabana forever more beautiful than Leblon (cleanliness of water aside). 

Fresco ball, Havaianas, beach chairs and kids in the waves in the low tide calm. LOVE it.
Now I could go on forever about Guaecá and its history and my inlaws history there and our experiences trying to buy a house there and everything. But I've got a limited amount of time before my husband finds out I am telling people about this place. So let me tell you about Rocha. Some of you may think you know Rocha, but you don't. You know Rochinha, which is the brand that has made it farther into the interior of the state. No, Rocha lives on the São Sebastião coast line--and has just a couple of inroads into Ubatuba (also coastline) and Ilha Bela (that giant island off the coastline).

Rocha sells picolés on the beach (and scooped ice cream in its few stores). I really hesitate to translate picolés as popsicles because that brings to mind the American style popsicles with their chemical additives and unreal colors. No, these are different. They are made from water, fruit and sugar. That's it. Okay, the avocado, green corn and strawberry and guava have milk as well (maybe coconut has milk too, hmmmm). They seem like they might even be healthy. And that is why we eat four hundred of them in a week's time (big family). I even won a free one this time--once in a while the stick will show a "winner" of a free picolé!

Kids at the Rocha cart. We all scream for ice cream!
Rocha has been around since 1948. A family feud broke off Rochinha in 1994 and I suggest not getting confused between the two if you ever find yourself talking with the Rocha band of brothers. Most of the Rocha ice cream carts are yellow and red and my kids can see them approaching from 1 km distance. And they know the different ice cream men by name, as these guys know our kids. Our favorite ice cream guy is Ivã (Ivan), and he has been the ice cream man for our family for 35 years--my inlaws know him from when he was a skinny kid selling coconuts. Ivã is a smart man, friendly and patient with lunatic kids, and has gone from owning his own cart to owning eight of them and renting them out to other ice cream sellers. Some other time I will tell you about this franchise business--it's amazing.

Love and Devotion. My picolé of coconut, with pieces of coconut--yum!

Ivã was not there this past weekend--he now works only during high season. His brother João was also absent, so we had to make do with a "new" guy called Afonso. We started a "conta" or account with him, and he would just note down the quantity of picolés our group consumed and we would pay up at the end of the day. When we are at the beach at the end of the year, Ivã will sometimes keep an account open for days, not worried that we will pay him. That is what it is to have a beach where everybody knows your name.

Guaecá will be back in my blog. It is a magical and fun and wonderful place. I have many stories from my 15 years visiting there, not to mention stories of my inlaws from before that time. Now I want you to all forget what I have said and never ever visit there and fill up this quiet beach. It's terrible. Truly it is.


  1. You gotta a mean streak in you, girl!!!! Dena

    1. Which surprises no one ever. ;) Thanks for commenting, Dena--good to see you here!

  2. to avoid people going there you forgot to mention that it toke almost 5hrs to got back to SP....truly terrible...big kiss...Giba.

    1. Oh, yes, good point!! Or as the Eagles sang so eloquently "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!"...Boraceia! Or Cubatão...