Wednesday, February 16, 2022

[OLINDA] Something Colonial in Recife's Urban Sprawl


In line with my MO when arriving in a big city: select a nice Airbnb in a central area; work in peace; rest, visit a nearby tourist attraction. And then we’re done. That’s why Rio Grande do Norte for me featured more Genipabu than Natal and now Pernambuco has been all about Olinda instead of Recife. I guess the only exceptions were Salvador in Bahía and João Pessoa's Tambaú  in Paraíba. In any case, I decided not to explore Recife anymore. Being based here for a few days and being comfortable is all that matters. I ended up at I(lh)a Leite, an island in the middle of the city where all the hospitals are. Weird, I know. But central, nonetheless.


My plan to catch a film or two late at night before my shifts begin was ambushed by work-related demands, which always have to be top priority. All in all, I spent three nights here in Pernambuco but only managed to allocate one afternoon for sightseeing. Since Olinda has been highly recommended, it easily became my choice by default. As for Recife, it also has an old town, concentrated on an island down south close to Ia Leite and Pina. You can Google it. It looks nice, but I no longer bothered to visit.


Olinda is not that far from Recife. Hop on an Uber and you’ll arrive there in 20 minutes from downtown. Most of the travel time in my case, I lost to traffic due to the ongoing road repairs in front of my Airbnb building. But yeah, Olinda being so close to all the action is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it guarantees accessibility. On the other hand, I believe it has lost much of its charm because of the fact. Being so close to a mega city makes it seem as though Olinda has been swallowed by Recife’s urban sprawl.


Unlike Ouro Preto or Paraty which seem to exist in their own time-warped bubbles more than two hours away from Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, respectively, the road to Olinda is rather lackluster. Instead of traversing mountains and verdant forests that make you feel like a legit explorer, the Uber got off the highway and turned right to a shady congested neighborhood with lots of graffiti. At first, I thought we got lost, until I consulted Google Maps and confirmed that it was the correct path.


If you are taking an Uber, make sure to have the driver take you all the way to Alto da Sé where the viewing decks are. That way, you get spared from the uphill hike waiting for you. There you will see the astronomical tower overlooking the deck with a panoramic view of Recife’s skyline not so far away. And I guess this is what I appreciated the most. Contrast. I am tempted to say that it felt a bit like Cartagena, except that the old town within the Colombian city’s walls do transport you back to the colonial times somehow.


Olinda doesn’t have that luxury. Instead, what you get is some sort of fusion between the hustle bustle of Recife and Olinda’s colonial nature, with no clear delineation in between. To reiterate, it feels as though it has been swallowed by the big city’s urban chaos. But that does not mean that you won’t have a good time here. The town has its own group of churches and convents dating all the way back to the 1500’s. As one of Brazil’s UNESCO world heritage sites, it is considered as one of the country’s best preserved colonial cities.


The churches were closed when I was there, and one of the convents had me intrigued. The doors were shut but the windows were wide open. Taking a peek inside, I saw walls adorned with blue and white tiles depicting many scenes from the country’s colonial history. For a while there, I really wanted to go in and check it out, but the attraction was closed. The convent in question is the Convent of São Francisco, the oldest Franciscan convent in Brazil.


Anyway, the gorgeous view of the beach with several shades of blue with the colonial churches in the foreground and Recife’s skyline in the background must be best seen from the viewing deck across the street, obviously a higher vantage point. It was also closed when I was there. Damn it. The view from the lower deck before you get to the restaurants also offers a sweeping view of downtown Recife, but kind of obscured by the roofs of the houses down below, which will almost be within your line of sight.

[OLINDA] Something Colonial in Recife's Urban Sprawl

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