Ilha Grande, Brazil
23/05/2012 – 28/05/2012 – Illha Grande
We had heard that the beaches of Brazil were some of the best in the world. So traveling 150kms south from Rio on the “Easy Transfer” service we were picked up from The Mango Tree hostel by mini bus in something that resembled that of an ArmourGuard mobile. Packed with Brits even whiter than us and an Aussie couple whom we later befriended. Maybe Rio was that dangerous city packed with drug lords and a corrupt government we had heard of and to which the tourists had to escape by the most secure means possible.
Two hours later we arrived at Mangaratiba port and were ushered towards a 40ft old yacht looking like an old pirate ship. A very friendly man took all out backpacks for us, loaded them on to a trolly, pushed them 5mtrs to the end of the pier and then demanded with a smile that all the stupid tourists pay him 1 riel each for his services. Done. As our packs were loaded onto the ship we looked over at the lush green island of Ilha Grande, a beautiful sight. Also standing at the pier was a young British couple, father and his son and sons best friend. The looked the typical part with their blinding white skins. The young couple had been traveling 6mths prior to the rest of the gang meeting them in Rio. The son and his 4ft nothing mate commented on their attempt at thanking the locals on their first day in Portuguese by the first hailing a ‘Oregano’ and the second shouting an ‘Advocado’ rather than the correct “Obragato” for “thankyou”…and we thought we had no idea.
After the 1.5 hours on the boat we approached Abrao, the main town of 3,000 inhabitants, no cars, a plethora of surrounding world class beaches, coves and lagoons and probably just as many canines. We unloaded and motioned up the pier towards loads of brightly coloured pousadas, tourist agencies, beach bars and checked in to the Pousada Tropicana. Carolina was the most welcoming and bubbly host, originally from France she mentioned she had picked our room especially – on the top floor on the quiet end of town, with a small balcony looking directly over the beach and out to sea. Equipped with television with the very best Brazillian broadcasting, WiFi, fridge and fresh breakfast of eggs, tropical fruit and the Brazillian coffee beans for a mere $60 a night. Not bad. Carolina was in her late 30s and after showing us around she pointed to the map of all the various hikes and local beaches we could walk to. She pointed to the corresponding photos around the large map of each beach and those that were her favorite, we could tell which ones they were as Carolina seemed to bear all on these beaches with the Brazilian g-string she wore…hmm…we both now looked at Carolina with a new perspective – from the bottom up.
The LP compared Ilha Grande with a Thai party island as it was where the locals came over from the mainland on weekends to tan their buns and we realised very quickly that there was no shame no matter what size you were – the bigger the better and the requirement to stay out that little longer on the sands with a little more oil on the rear and a little more time for the sun to do a 180 across the horizon to tan every exposed dimple. It was cellulite galore. But enough talk from the ‘bottom’ of the barrel and back up to the top (for some very unsettling reason I seemed much more obsessed with the amount of flesh I was exposed to than Murray).
The two highlights of Ilha Grande was the infamous Lopez Mendez beach and the Lagoa Azule lagoon. The day after we arrived, we excitedly set out on the first trek. A 2hr walk through an Amazonian style forest over the other side of the island to Praia Palmes beach and if our legs could carry us, another 1km to Lopez Mendez beach. I quickly found out that ‘my’ legs couldn’t carry me and Murray wasn’t prepared to carry us. The paths were ridiculously steep to which you cut through a windy path filled with roots of ancient trees, vines, quartz rock, miniature monkeys, snakes, huge spiders and a worm that was 2ft length! Murray just about stood on it and I was fixated. After an endless uphill climb we were on the down hill and hearing the breaking waves we entered the Praia. Beautiful sweeping golden sands, spotless, surrounded by palm trees and the only other inhabitants was a few barrakas (food stalls) which consisted of an umbrella, a few chairs, cerveza (beer) and sandwiches. Paradise.
Trudging back before the sunset at 6, we met up with the Aussie couple from Sydney, Ania and Blaire, they quit their jobs, packed up for 7mths of traveling through South America and Central America before landing in London for work. After drinks and dinner we got some great tips and planned to meet up in Columbia, to rent a house on the Caribbean coast with them and a couple from Perth and chill out. The funny thing is, it is absolutely do’able, not just one of those ‘imagine ifs’,
Murray was keen to explore the diving around the island. We had planned to stay 4nights but that quickly turned into 6 and to be honest we could have stayed 2 weeks without blinking. After asking around the local PADI, as it was low season, the numbers weren’t enough for Murray to take the dive. So to ease his frustration we set off on the Lagona Azule tour with two Praia’s (Blue Lagoon and two beaches). Jumping on a resembling pirate ship (maybe something out of The Goonies) we set out for the lagoon. A gorgeous site which was indeed crystal waters, we jumped overboard for snorkeling with the nemo fish. Off to the next beach that was completely isolated within nothing more than an old Catholic white and blue church from the 1800s that the Portuguese built. In fact, the island back in its day used to hold a Penitentiary that was also a quarantining house for those arriving from the New World to clear against Cholera. Thank god we got that immunization from the travel doctor before leaving!
After a few more days of walking through the national parks, exploring the local beaches, eating the most delicious pizzas, grilled chicken and black beans we planned the next stop, we would catch the local ferry and bus to Paraty or “Parachi”, a colonial town another 2hrs south on the mainland of Brazil hinged by more beautiful Brazilian beaches. If Illha Grande was a taste of what to come…we were both very happy campers.