Trancoso
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Brazilian Beach Bar
The Uxua Praia (beach) Bar is the most coveted spot on the beach. A short walk from the Quadrado, it's been built out of old abandoned fishing boats that had been on the site. The main bar is shaded by a thatched palm roof and a cocktail alter features a statue of Mary surrounded by bottles of cachaca and other alcohol. The bartenders make excellent versions of the national drink, the caipirinha, but also have cold beers and will hack open coconuts and pop in a straw so you can sip coconut water. It's the perfect spot for a sunset cocktail.
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The Colorful Quadrado
The beach may be the magnet that draws crowds to Trancoso but its the Quadrado that is the heart of the town. The town square sits atop a hilltop offering stunning views of the mangrove forest and sea below. The 1,050-feet-long green park is anchored by the town's iconic white church and bordered by 50 or so Crayola-colored old fisherman houses. During the day most of the homes stay shuttered due to the heat. But by 5pm, particularly during the peak summer season, they open their doors to reveal chic boutiques and art galleries, restaurants, and pousadas like Uxua and El Gordo. At sunset wild horses graze in the square sometimes interrupt the local kids' soccer game. The square is filled with crowds after sunset, and artists and artisans come out to sells their goods while musicians come to play music and capoiera dancers come entertain passersby.
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The Heart of Trancoso
The Quadrado—the town square‚ in Trancoso is anchored by São João Batista church. The small, humble white church dates back to the 17th century and still holds mass. I attended Christmas Eve mass and was fascinated to see the diversity of people in the pews and touched by the warmth people showed toward me, an obvious visitor. The two colorfully painted poles outside of the church are key to the São Bras celebration, which takes place annually on February 3. One of the oldest festivals in Bahia, São Bras involves the entire village. Participants gather in a procession and sing religious songs to the beat of drums while carrying a mast with the image of São Bras and a painted pole. The pole is given to the honorary party-givers selected each year.
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Off Into the Sunset
One of the best ways to explore the beaches of Trancoso is on horseback. The best time to go is at day's end to avoid the heat and so you catch the spectacular sunsets. Head south from Trancoso and explore Coqueiros, Rio Vere, Pedra Grande, and Ponta de Itapororaoca, then return through the protected mangrove forest.
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A Secret Seafood Restaurant
If you visit Trancoso, you must schedule time to make a day trip to Praia do Espelho (Mirror Beach). Often called one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, it's about an hour's drive through the Valley of Buffalo. The beach is a spectacular stretch of empty white sand and the sea is made up of endless shades of blues. Be sure to have lunch at Sylvinha's. It was one of my favorite meals of my trip. Maria Sylvia Esteves Calazans Luz, one of Trancoso's original hippies, has a humble little house just across the river (you'll have to wade across). Call ahead for a reservation because her restaurant is only open for lunch and by reservation only, plus she only serves around eight people per day. The dining room is nothing more than two picnic tables on a veranda overlooking the sea. There is no menu. Sylvinha cooks whatever she fancies, but it's always delicious. She roasted us a bass just pulled from the oven (peix olho de boi) and served sides of stir-fried vegetables, farofa, and smashed plantains. After lunch it's customary to sleep off your food coma in one of the hammocks hanging in her back yard. For reservations call: 55/73-9985-4157
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