Midway up the coast of Pernambuco, less than 40 miles south of Recife, lies Porto de Galinhas (literally, Chicken Port), one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. Since 2001, the Brazilian magazine Viagem & Turismo has held an annual contest for its readers to elect the best Brazilian travel options and Porto de Galinhas dominated in the beach category for the first ten years straight, making it the paragon of paradise.
Aside from being located on the Northeast’s serene coastline, with its abundance of beaches, Porto de Galinhas isn’t just pretty to look at. When the high tide pulls out, natural tidal pools are created around the reefs that are both warm and transparent, making them perfect for catching an eyeful of tropical fish. Other activities include either sunbathing or riding dune buggies on the white sands of any of the 10 local beaches, and taking canoe rides through the mangroves.
The founding of the tourism hotspot is perhaps as interesting as the destination is beautiful. It starts with the fact that the largest Brazilian tract of massapê soil (which is very fertile and rich with a reddish-brown color) can be found in the Ipojuca municipality of Pernambuco, within Brazil’s tropical, coastal region. One of the neighborhoods that makes up Ipojuca happens to be Porto de Galinhas. It’s the unique soil, as well as the region’s port, that made Ipojuca the perfect place for the European colonizers to start cultivating and selling sugarcane. In fact, the previous name of Porto de Galinas was Porto Rico, not only due to the wealth it made the local sugarcane barons but also to the large amounts of brazilwood that left the country from its shores, en route to Europe.
So, how did such a pretty place receive such a strange name as “Chicken Port”? Well, there are two theories . The most oft-repeated one says that with slavery in Brazil being abolished in the late 1800s, some slave traders saw a big part of their livelihood being taken away thus they continued importing slaves, albeit in secret. The port soon served as the main point of arrival for illegal slaves in the northeast of Brazil. It is said that the slaves were frequently hidden below the crates of chickens (more specifically, helmeted guinea-fowl, known as galinhas d’Angola, or Angolan chickens, in Portuguese), which were favored for consumption by the Pernambucan upper-class. Upon the arrival of new “merchandise”, one would hear the phrase “tem galinha nova no porto!” (“there’s new chicken at the port!”). This was code for announcing a new shipment of slaves and, with time, the name of the beach eventually changed. The second theory says many of the first African slaves brought to the region were of the Fula people, also known as Pheul, which in French sounds like Poule (chicken).
Today, the chickens are hand-painted, made of coconut shells and tree trunks, by local artisans to later be bought by the purchasing power and for the viewing pleasure of the many tourists to the region. This wasn’t always so, though, as it was only a few years ago that the local artists decided to find a marketable image that would serve as their golden egg, so to speak.
Chickens are definitely not the only thing being sold in Porto de Galinhas. Aside from the endless beauty of the barrier reefs and the natural pools, there are now resorts, nightclubs and refined restaurants that have moved in and exist side by side with the rustic charm that helped to make this old fishing village so popular in the 1990′s. With all the “development” and changes, I can’t help but wonder where the locals go to “get away from it all”.