Like Goa and Ibiza before it, Trancoso would seem to be at the tipping
point between high freak and hi h fashion, hippies and hipsters.
As you read this. Trancoso is jumping. For three weeks in late December and early January, Sao Paulo society descends on the Quadrado, transforming the village into one big holiday bacchanal. (It helps that Christmas and New Year’s usher in Brazilian summer.) Lines for restaurants snake around the corner, and parking requires some patience-this in a town where few locals own cars.
Then,just as suddenly, influx turns exodus. For the rest of the year, Trancoso can seem all but deserted. Weekenders and honeymooners pass through during the long off-season, but not many. When we visited in March the hotels were only a quarter full, and when I returned last fall I was one of maybe 10 foreigners in town. In the curious ebb and flow of Trancoso, one month it’s um-cha-um-cha beats at a jam-packed beach bar, and the next it’s the gentle chirrup-chirrup of lizards on an empty Quadrado. At quieter times like those, one wonders what it must have been like a generation ago.
Rhapsodies about hippie-dropout meccas make me skeptical; one dude’s far-out fantasy is another’s dysfunctional cesspooL Still, imagine Trancoso in the early 1970′s, when the first nonnatives-hippies and other urban refugees from Brazil and elsewhere-stumbled upon this remote Patax6 Indian village, where money was fish and fish were plentiful. The newcomers
were called biribandos, a Patax6 term for “outsiders.” By most accounts, they fit in well with the villagers-even helping to restore the town church, which had languished in disrepair.
Many original biribandos remain here, and are known main- 1y by their first names: Lia, Cale, Leila, Cala. (That several of the ragtag escapees came from Sao Paulo families with prominent surnames is perhaps not unrelated.) A new generation of hippies rnanque has followed in their footsteps: guys in untrimmed beards pushing strollers around the square, sundrenched women with middle parts and beaded bikinis, teenage longhairs noodling on the berimhau or grooving on the cuica, the Bahian percussion instrument that emits a squeak like a puppy whose tail was just stepped on. One can always make out the tang of ganja smoke in the breezes wafting across the Quadrado. This may explain why one biribando is presently collecting insect wings in the hope of building a spaceship.
After the hippies came other free spirits: painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians. The actress Sonia Braga visited frequently in the 1980′s, as did the tropicalia singer Gal Costa. Her former summer house on Praia dos Nativos is now a Relais & Chateaux resort, Pousada Estrela d’Agua (with the best bar on the beach). Elba Ramalho, the high priestess of forrd music, owned a local club called Bar.
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