All this was in celebration of Iemanjá, the West African goddess of the sea. An hour before sunset, villagers dressed in white had paraded around the quadrado before walking in a procession to the beach where offerings were passed to fishermen on small wooden boats and taken out to sea.
The offerings, made to flatter and indulge the beautiful goddess, include white, fragrant flowers, fruits and sweets, perfumes, soaps, jewellery, and any other small objects which might enhance feminine beauty.
At some point in the night, the festivities moved seamlessly from celebrating Iemanjá to honouring Saint Brais. Just one of Trancoso’s three revered saints. The hours in between are filled with a marathon celebration, the acoustic instruments giving way to a sound system and a couple of bands, punctuated by the intermittent ear-popping cracks of fireworks – the first of the two religious ceremonies which bookend the festivities. At around dawn, those still standing – and there were surprisingly many of them – staggered out of the quadrado and up the mile or so through the village to a clearing where a 60’ long, painted, wooden pole lay waiting. Immediately all the women and girls ran to the pole and promptly sat upon it, to much hilarity and jeering from the men and boys, who after a few minutes managed to organise themselves into some kind of order to lift the pole onto their shoulders and carry it back to the quadrado, placing it just by the historic white church where it would lie for the next twelve hours. After a well-earned sleep, followed by a feast and another procession around the quadrado, the entire village assembled once more to lift the pole into a hole in the ground. It’s a hair-raising spectacle as, the long, heavy pole spun wildly around on its axis, threatening to flatten the crowd below as it was lifted into place.
“Trancoso is a truly eclectic melting pot filled with tolerance and acceptance.”
The whole event was one of the most intoxicating – and intoxicated – things I’ve ever witnessed and to do so was both an honour and an education. It explains why so much of this little corner of Northern Brazil remains one of the most charming and unique places I’ve ever visited. That’s not to say that the charms of Trancoso stop there. In fact,
that’s barely the beginning, I could wax lyrical about the many ingredients that come together to cast their spell and make one fall in love with this magical place… the freedom of expression; the ease with which the people break into song or dance; their warm smiles that match the warmth of the tropical climate; the fertile soil which gives sustenance to a bounty of flora and fauna; the effortless beauty of its handsome, often shirtless, smiling young men with their svelte, tanned physiques nonchalantly on display; the gentle good humour of the locals; the fact that the old are as integrated and outgoing as the young; their lack of pretension and their self-assured confidence. It became a running joke among my fellow travellers that perhaps we hadn’t survived the turbulence-battered flight from Salvador and had actually progressed to heaven.
The charms of Trancoso aren’t lost on its locals, ask any of them where the best place in the world to live is and the answer will consistently be “Trancoso!” Being born here is to win the geographical and cultural lottery. Its outstanding natural beauty is accompanied by a vibrant, artisanal industry, supported in no small part by the steady stream of wealthy, adventurous visitors. It’s a place with a tolerant and forward-looking philosophy on life which fosters individual expression, but where community is central. It is as close to paradise as you’ll get.
Martin’s trip to Trancoso was made possible by TAP Air Portugal, the flag carrier airline of Portugal, connecting London (and other major hubs) to Lisbon and onwards to Salvador in Brazil. Martin stayed at the absolutely stunning Uxua Casa Hotel and Spa.
Photography by Martin Perry
Get out there
… take a walk around the Quadrado, it’s full of hidden gems from small galleries to cute restaurants, sometimes hidden away behind the colourful little houses.
… try Capoeira. Uxua has their own instructor who will take you through the history and guide you through the basic moves. Its a great work-out and a lot of fun.
… invest in some local arts and crafts. By supporting local crafts you are helping to keep Trancoso’s micro-economy going and in turn safe for future generations to enjoy.
… be anti-social. As tempting as it is to stay in your Casa, make an effort to talk to the locals. Trancoso residents are a good-humoured, friendly bunch and full of amusing stories.
… miss out on taking a ride along the seemingly never-ending beach on horseback. It’s pretty amazing to feel the wind rushing through your hair as you gallop along the surf.
… forget to bring your camera! Or better still, pack some watercolours. We found we couldn’t help but feel inspired by this colourful, creative place.
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