Wilbert Das's Insider Guide to Trancoso, Brazil
Read more about Trancoso in SUITCASE Volume 20: Homelands.
14 September, 2017
Wilbert Das is a Dutch designer who fell in love with a particular corner of the world. A far cry from the chaotic throngs of carnival tourists found in Rio de Janerio and miles away from the modernised capital Brasília, the quiet Bahia beach town of Trancoso emits a colonial, sleepy charm that is to be treasured.
The simple, rhythmic lives of the locals inspired Das's pioneering creative movement, which moves away from mass consumerism. The traditional artisan methods of Trancoso have shaped his work and led to the creation of his interior brand and hotel UXUA, where no two pieces are the same.
Channelling the tranquil beach town's motto, "there are no strangers in Trancoso" Das takes us on an exploration of family perfected hot sauces, roaming beach bars and leisurely starlit dinners which champion the town's sense of balance and serendipity.
What's your first memory of Trancoso?
Tranquility. Total tranquility. I arrived alone in 2004 to this beautiful village with a sleepy, colonial-tropical vibe, almost as if it had been forgotten in time. There were only two tourists - me and a Frenchman.
Describe the moment you knew you wanted to move there?
The first day I arrived I was scared I'd get bored as there was just so little happening. But by the third day I was hypnotised by Trancoso's relaxed rhythm and cancelled the rest of my itinerary which was meant to take me to the Amazon. I spent the last days of my trip looking for an old house to buy.
What are you favourite restaurants in town?
My favourite is Aki Sushi, which might surprise but sushi in Brazil is excellent. I also love Capim Santo, Trancoso's oldest restaurant which started as a macrobiotic café 30 years ago.There's also a really pleasant outdoor, native restaurant on the Quadrado called Restaurante Vitoria too.
The one dish everyone who comes to Trancoso should try?
Undoubtedly acarajé which are bean fritters, a popular street food in Bahia. Also moqueca de peixe which is a fish stew, the official dish of Trancoso. Vistors should try with molho de pimento, a hot pepper sauce which most families make at home, a tradition dating back to slaves who smuggled peppers with them on ships from Africa.
Where would you go for a drink at the weekend?
I'm at the beach frequently, especially on Sunday. But up at the village I like to visit the simple mobile drink carts set up at the entrance of the town square in the early evenings. For something a little more refined, the restaurant Jacaré do Brasil has an excellent cocktail lounge.
Which beach is your favourite?
The Praia do Barra do Rio Trancoso at the bottom of the hill beneath the church. It's where the town's oldest fisherman bar was and it's now been restored in a simple way which serves as our very rustic beach lounge. Locals come here for picnics, as do fishermen and their families, while Pataxó Indians pass by selling crafts, often stopping for a swim. It's a wonderful mix - very Brazilian.
Where would you go to dance / go out?
I only go to parties during the summer and New Year when the social scene completely changes and every night there are big parties. The rest of the year "going out" means long dinners, usually under the stars on the historic Quadrado.
Your favourite fact about Trancoso?
The average temperature is around 29 degrees and the ocean is always warm.
What's the most magical site you've ever seen on the quadrado?
Every other year in July we help organise a gathering of capoeira players from around the world to meet on the historic quadrado, and 400-500 of them perform in unison in their white trousers with the sun setting behind them in the late afternoon. It's quite stunning.
Describe the perfect day in Trancoso
Well most days here are kind of perfect because the things I don't appreciate about modern living are totally absent. There's an amazing balance in life here. People are keeping busy, full of work, creative projects, sports, music, dance and countless romances, and yet they fit these full full lives into days and nights which feel relaxed, never rushed, walking places instead of driving, stopping frequently to chat and greet people whose names and stories they know well.
What's your favourite Brazilian saying?
"There are no strangers in Trancoso" is an expression I hear a lot. I love the phrase as it captures the essence here as one of the most welcoming places in the world. From when the hippies began arriving in the 70s there's always been an air of cordiality and conviviality; no one is ever treated as an outsider. This is especially amazing today, with the seeming devolution of civility we've witnessed in some of what we used to regard as the most "advanced" nations on earth.