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  • Writer's pictureAna

A taste of Recife and Olinda

Our first day in Recife was a Friday afternoon.

Between waiting for the afternoon high tide to be able to moor at Cabanga Iate Clube, filling out their arrival documents and preparing the documents for Receita Federal online (link to come), the day was over, and we had not yet even managed to do what we came here for - complete our check-in formalities. There was just one last moment of energy for the first freshwater rinse of the boat since the Atlantic crossing that was not a squall and a tidy up of the cockpit and saloon.



Saturday, the focus was on going to the shopping mall to get our SIM card sorted and to do some grocery shopping. The girls at the marina reception had recommended a nearby shopping mall for this purpose and given us the advice of not walking anywhere, to simply take an Uber for safety reasons.

The shopping mall was an extremely frustrating experience, getting a pre-paid SIM card was nearly impossible, none of the mobile operators sold them, and they all required a CPF to make a contract. (CPF is an identification and a tax number/document which, we as tourists simply don’t have). After much walking from mobile operator shop to mobile operator shop and being directed from one to another, even if from different networks, they finally advised us that it was possible to buy pre-paid cards in pharmacies, electrical appliances shops (Loja Americana) and a few other strange locations. After checking just about any shop or kiosk that sold anything related to mobile phones a nice girl told us to try a certain clothes shop brand. Alleluia, the C&A shop that in Europe sells clothes, etc ., here in Brazil besides clothes, shoes and perfumes somehow this shop also sells pre-paid SIM cards. There was where we found out that pre-paid cards also needed a CPF number, contrary to everywhere else in the world where a passport is sufficient.

Luckily a Brazilian friend that is sailing in the Mediterranean gave us her details.

We spent an entire morning trying to buy a pre-paid SIM card without a clue of how much internet it gave us and how much it cost.

With that finally sorted we then tried to find the supermarket only to be surprised with the most expensive and luxurious supermarket we’ve ever been to!

Back to the boat, and it was time to wash the boat, and the dog and clean all the interiors after the long passage.


Following our Brazilian and some Australian friends' recommendations early Sunday morning, we took an Uber to go and visit Olinda, a village next to Recife, famous for its historical centre with its Portuguese colonial architecture and colourful houses.

If we were lucky we could even see the Carnival show practices they said.

We walked randomly in the historical centre, checking out the narrow streets with very small houses all painted in bright colours. The houses were clearly old Portuguese style used in the colonies, but the bright colours were definitely not typical of Portugal but of a tropical country.

The effect is simply charming and cute!

Being Sunday morning there was barely anyone on the streets, and the tourists had not yet arrived. Almost the dream of any architect, photos without humans! Now if we could only get rid of the ugly cars and road signage we could easily achieve “picture perfect “!

We walked up the hills taking on the views over the reef that gives name to the big neighbouring city, noticed the many churches and chapels closed and abandoned in almost every street, and took a sneak peek at the ones that were open waiting for morning prayers, most quite simple and not as rich as I expected. In my mind the big churches would have very elaborate altars full of gold leaf wood carvings…, the reality was much simpler but still with some gold leaf on the woodwork at the altar.


Eventually, the tourists caught up with us at the very top of the hill of Olinda, where many of the Carnival schools have their ateliers. We saw some of their big muppets, traditional of this village Carnival parade.

We decided that having already walked the majority of the historical centre we should do a quick stop at the local supermarket before finding a place to have lunch before returning to the marina. We had checked on Google Maps, and it should be just a quick walk down one of the hillsides, a turn right followed by a couple of left turns, and we should be in front of the supermarket. Distractedly we followed Google directions, and all of a sudden, we found ourselves in a favela (slum).

Clearly, we were not from around there, and people noticed that immediately but they were busy cleaning their patios from the previous night's party excesses. We kept walking as if we knew exactly where we were going discreetly checking the phone for directions.

The thought of walking up the steep hill was daunting.

As we turned left again we could see the supermarket. What an experience. If the previous day we had found luxury, today we had found the complete opposite, fresh food looked horrible, let’s not talk about the meat section and all else was hyper-processed food, together with the loudest entertainment generated by a guy with a microphone advertising all the promotions while singing extremely loud.

We hurried up with a few items and walked towards the historical centre again to find a place to eat.

Mid-afternoon we were back onboard relaxing and doing some more cleaning.


Monday saw us going to Polícia Federal, Receita Federal and Capitania (harbourmaster/coast guard). Another morning was spent dealing with paperwork and lots of waiting periods. We took the opportunity to walk a bit on the old part of Recife but found it quite disappointing as most streets and buildings seemed abandoned despite being quite interesting. The streets seemed to have been taken by beggars and homeless people.

It seemed the old Recife areas had been left behind, and businesses and residents had moved into newer areas of the city.


What we found really interesting in Recife was the street art on all the roadsides, wall after wall with excellent graffiti.

Tuesday morning we finally managed to find a normal supermarket where we could provision for our next trip. In the afternoon we left the marina and went on anchor in the river just past the area we can only navigate at high tide to wait for the following morning to start heading south.



***More photos of this place can be seen on Sailing The Dream facebook page just click on the album: Brazil - Recife & Olinda - January 2023


***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.

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