The goal of the United Nations’ International Day of the Tropics (June 29) is to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of the tropics and to encourage the exchange of tropical stories. Here are ours!
Jericoacoara is one of the most revered spots on Brazil’s lengthy, alluring tropical coastline. Lonely Planet brought it to internation attention in 2004 when it declared it the most beautiful beach in the world, and it still features regularly on such lists by those who love compiling them. Yet relatively few tourists go there – which is marvellous for those who do.
It’s a question of access. “Jeri” is a remote coastal village set in the sands of the Jericoacoara National Park, a five-hour drive north-east of Fortaleza, state capital of Ceará (the relatively new airport 40-odd km from Jeri currently serves only the chilly, non-tropical Sao Paulo market). You need a four-wheel-drive to get around the 8850-hectare National Park, so unless you have one, at its entry point about 15km from the coast you have to transfer to a special local fleet that will take you to the village. The drivers obligingly stop at the most photogenic dunes along the way, and they are spectacular.
Jeri is small and sleepy by day – it snoozes in the tropical heat, there are no high rises, even double-storeys are rare – but at night it comes wonderfully alive and bursts into colour. The bars and restaurants buzz, musicians regale audiences, and it’s the most comfortable time to shop. There is a great sandy stretch in Rua Principal leading downhill to the shore where little drinks carts (barraccas in the local lingo, pop-up bars in the modern lingo) decorated with dangling little nets of pineapples, coconuts and other enticing tropical fruit, form an alleyway of alluring alcoholic temptations under the glorious night sky. Not even the most glitzy bars of Dubai or New York can beat this simple set-up for charm and character.
A popular outing is to watch the sunset at Pedra Furada, an arch-like rock about 1.5km to the east of the village. Getting there involves a stiff uphill walk and negotiating steep slopes by the shore, but horse-drawn carriages can take some of the effort out of it. July is the month, apparently, when the sun sets right in the centre of the arch.
The best bathing, though, is to be had at the freshwater lagoons within the park, Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) and Lagao do Paraíso (Paradise Lagoon). Here you can sail in a traditional flat-bottomed jangada (pictured at top), snooze in a water-level hammock or sip cocktails at under thatched umbrellas on the shore. Life in the tropics can be wonderful.
SPICE ISLANDS, INDONESIA
To me, nothing says “the tropics” more than a warm ocean breeze, a sea view that stretches to the azure horizon and a sense of freedom that makes my soul soar.
A long-planned trip on a converted Indonesian pinisi two-sailed schooner, chartered for a dive and snorkelling cruise through the remote Banda Islands of Indonesia, was heaven on earth, or should that be water.
As our departure date approached and my excitement grew, it was tempered by the knowledge that my mother was gravely ill in Cape Town. And then I got the news – Bar, as she was known, had died. Things were a blur as I jumped on a plane as soon as possible and found myself dealing with funeral arrangements and our family’s grief. Our tropical cruise slipped away, and I decided to cancel as the deadline to get back to Sydney and fly to Jakarta loomed.
However, my family said Bar would have been horrified, knowing that I inherited her peripatetic nature, so I took the first flight possible (40 hours via Dubai) and made it to Sydney 20 minutes before our Jakarta flight closed. I was a wreck by the time we made it to our embarkation point at Sorong, West Papua, after two internal flights on local airlines.
It was only as our tender approached the gleaming white hull of the Royal Fortuna, with her sails neatly furled, that I thought this is going to be a holiday of a lifetime! And it was.
With my darling husband who had waited, stricken-faced, for me to arrive at Sydney airport and whisk me to our departure gate, and two dear friends who had flown from the UK, it was two weeks of adventures, sleeping and lots of laughs between the tears.
How better to end a day of snorkelling and exploring with a chilled Indonesia Bintang beer and fresh fish caught and cooked by our delightful crew. I know Bar would have thoroughly approved.
Diana Streak travelled at her own expense. For more information: Wonderful Indonesia
REEF SHARKS, FRENCH POLYNESIA
Sharks are circling but I’d rather jump in with them than endure this cold. As winter wraps its icy tentacles around the southern hemisphere, French Polynesia is greedily hogging the sun. Chained to my desk in cold, damp Sydney, I stare at photographs from my recent journey to this tropical hotspot and convince myself its colours are true: water so intensely pigmented it looks like it’s been poured from a bottle of Blue Curacao; bays so translucent you’d think nothing was hovering above them if not for the ripples betraying the water’s presence; islets so lush and fragrant they decorate the sea like gifts from the gods.
This French-administered idyll in the South Pacific only just scrapes into that zone broadly referred to as ‘the tropics’; the Tropic of Capricorn underscores it like a tick of approval. Its fellow tropical regions lie between this imaginary line and the northerly Tropic of Cancer. Separating these two Zodiac-named delineations midway is the equator, the place where the sun is at its closest to the earth.
But French Polynesia – a scattering of pinprick archipelagos on a vast swatch of ocean – richly deserves its title as a tropical destination. Even before I’ve landed in Papeete I’ve been blanketed in the warmth of Air Tahiti Nui’s turquoise livery. Let loose in this paradise, I’ve absorbed its sticky warmth and honeyed scents. I’ve tucked frangipanis and hibiscuses behind my ear, like the locals do. I’ve basked in the freedom of knowing I’m in one of the most places remote from continental landfall on earth.
And I’ve jumped in with those circling sharks. They’re less pushy, it turns out, than the manta rays, which swiftly approach tourist boats in the hope of being fed (an ongoing and ecologically irresponsible practice). As I sink into their realm – an impossibly crystalline lagoon off Bora Bora – they glide past me, their black fin-tips discerning their pale bodies from the pale seabed.
Six months later, when winter hits Sydney, I think of these magnificent, harmless creatures. I long to be with them right now, to glide with them across the invisible line that tells us we’re in the tropics. TTW