More Than Just a Big Island
07.11.2012 - 12.11.2012 25 °C
Overnight Stays: Abraao (Ilha Grande) (5 nights)
DW - Hungover, in the sun, scoffing the best breakfast of South America to-date, we awoke, in Paraty, ready for the highly anticipated Ilha Grande. The bus-ride to Angra Dos Reis was an experience in itself not to be forgotten, albeit standard Brazilian public bus riding, hanging on for your dear life while the driver does his best to knock you off your seat. Annoyingly it arrived well after its' scheduled time (surprise surprise) and we missed the 11am boat to Ilha Grande by a matter of minutes, watching it sail away at arm's length. The even more frustrating thing was that the next public boat wasn't scheduled until 3pm, four (4) horrible long hours away.
Angra isn't the sort of place you want to be stuck in; it's industrial, hot, smelly, and overpriced; a trap for people like us who miss the boat and having nothing to do but wait, eat, and drink. While we waited, as others joined around the general vicinity, just as frustrated, we found a local bloke who offered to take us out to the island as soon as he had ten (10) takers. We were first, followed immediately by a couple of Scandos, but then no-one seemed to follow-suit, $15AUD was just too much for them to justify when the public boat was only $5AUD, and only a couple of hours later. This plan was soon scrapped and we managed to board another boat, just around the corner, about to leave, finally.
The boat trip out to Ilha Grande was not dissimilar to Brazilian public bus-rides, but this wasn't the driver's fault, the water was rough as guts. Stupidly I sat on the edge of the boat and after getting splashed heavily the first time I decided I was already so wet it didn't matter if I stayed or moved; I took the former option, and found myself an hour and a half later drenched to the bone, as wet as Lanjaron on the longest day of the year (Loz and Abell, no one else will get that). The rockiness took its toll on Lozenge and feeling woozy she settled for a lay-down in the cabin downstairs to ride the trip out. But once we turned in towards Abraao, we knew we'd made the right choice, this place looked perfect.
There are no cars on Ilha Grande (except one solus police car) and it's everything you'd expect from a remote (although it's not that far off the coast) Brazilian island; beautiful clear calm waters, beautiful relaxed people, and jungle allover, just desserts. Abraao, the capital of the island is hidden away in a little peninsula and from the water you can see jungle hills fronted by a line of restaurants and pousadas (hotels), paradise. The weather still wasn't agreeing with us (turns out Oct/Nov are pretty ordinary months to visit Brazilian beaches if you want full sun) but with five (5) nights up our sleeve, it was easy to look past the clouds and know the future was bright.
We checked into our pousada on the beach-front and wandered in search for lunch, soon finding a great little spot in a back-street offering meals of the day (plato du dia) for bananas (not really for bananas, they already have plenty of those. What I meant to say is a metaphor for not much money. I realise now it would've been much easier and quicker to write that in the first place, but it's just too late). Afterwards we walked around to check out the rest of the town, which took a total of about ten (10) minutes, a tiny little village, wonderful.
It's funny some of the things you remember about places you visit, and we'd just received an email from my sister Kirra when we arrived at Ilha Grande, saying from what she remember you could buy ice-cream by the weight in Ilha Grande. Low and behold we found it to be true, a great concept actually. You'd pick your flavours and scoop them yourself, only getting the amount you want of each, then whack it on the scales, and Bob's your uncle, chicken dinner.
The next morning, after a tasty brekkie overlooking the water, we started our first hike on the island, towards Lopes Mendes, recently rated by Vogue magazine as the third best beach in the world. With no cars on the island, the only way to get to most places is to walk, or take a boat. We were feeling fit enough (and I love a bit of adventure and any chance to see monkeys) so we took the 8.5km hike towards the other side of the island, through the thick rainforest jungle. It was a reasonably easy walk, and thankfully we had Rex (a mangey dog with no owner who seemed to stay with us the whole walk) to show us the way to Lopes Mendes, where we arrived a couple of hours later, sweating and begging for a swim. When you step out of the jungle and onto the gorgeous white sand it makes it all the worthwhile; this place is awesome. Having left reasonably early in the day the long beach was all but empty, and with no shops, boats, restaurants, or pousadas, we couldn't have felt more isolated, or happy. The whiteness of the sand took us back to Mexico but when our feet hit the water we were shocked to discover how incredibly freezing it was. The day was hot and the clouds had stayed away, but the water was near unbearable, we reckon about 14-16'C, clear and beautiful, but wow, COLD!
Turns out the silver lining to the icy water was that it was cold enough for a very lost penguin to roll up and strut his stuff along the beach. Second to Elvis, this was the last thing we expected to see on a tropical beach in Brazil. The little fella soon drew a big crowd of tourists, all pleasantly surprised as we were and got as close as possible to him as he just stood and flapped, seemingly very relaxed and very much at home, strange. A lifeguard soon arrived and (we think, it was in Portuguese) notified everyone that it had been dragged in a strong current from Patagonia, only about 4,000kms away, easy trip. As the hysteria calmed over the next few hours around Pingu, and more people started to arrive along with the clouds, we decided we'd had the perfect few hours, and walked a kilometre back to another beach (without waves) where we were to be picked up by a boat and returned to Abraao. Thankfully the boat wasn't due for another hour or so, so a little man on the beach (the only guy on the beach) hopped us in his dinghy attached by rope to a floating bar 100m out on the water, where we hammered down some delicious Brazilian cervejas and enjoyed the last sun of the day, before Mother Nature threw a blanket of cloud down. We were the only ones there and it was freaking awesome, on a floating bar, by ourselves (but for the barman), on one (1) of the best islands of the Wombat Tour, bliss.
We got a little carried away with the beers and soon noticed our boat was leaving downshore, shit. In a slight panic (as much as you can panic when you're in paradise) I just waved my arms, and the boat then turned in and docked at the bar, where we boarded and made our way, one (1) of the coolest things ever.
At some ridiculous hour that night I awoke suddenly with Loz grabbing me and indicating someone was trying to get in the door. This has only happened once before in our lives and it scared the absolute bejesus out of us; it was when we were living with Lee (from uni) and he came home in the middle of the night (a night we weren't expecting him home). As the door handle rattled we froze and started to yell, my voice totally lost in shock. After a while we came to our senses and Lee's voice became obvious, but we've never felt so scared in our lives, probably until this moment in Ilha Grande. So the door began to open, and scared shitless, we both started to yell at the top of our lungs. I can't recollect what we were yelling but it's probably not stuff you'd repeat to your grandchildren. This screaming didn't seem to be working and the door continued to open. In my admired bravery I threw my pillow at the door, how tough am I?! This act of defiance clearly wasn't deterring our new friend so we both rose to the door as he flicked the light on. Still adamant that this guy was bad news we (still in pure shock from being awoken by this horrible instance, for the second time in our lives) continued to yell at him in English, trying to force him out the door as he pleaded with us in Portuguese. Turns out he was a staffer and apparently didn't mean any harm, but with his English and our Portuguese as useless as throwing a pillow at an intruder, we still to this very day have no idea what his motive was. A bloody freaky night and needless to say we cuddled closer than ever before for the rest of the night, begging for the sun to rise, fast.
The next couple of days were fairly relaxed as the weather wasn't optimal, mostly overcast, but also bucketing down at times. Feeling slightly disappointed with the weather in general on the Brazilian coastline we made the decision on those days to finish our final week of the Wombat Tour in Cuba, lazing on the beach in the (hopefully) sun.
When we noticed a small break in the weather we took another hike (only about 5kms this time) to a waterfall that had been recommended by one (1) of the staffers at our pousada (not nightrider, another dude). The walk was signposted as easy and quick, but it was quite demanding, catching us by surprise as the hills always seemed to go up, and never down. About halfway there we started to hear this weird howling noise from the middle of the forest, a noise we'd not heard before, and we became fascinated. At first I though it was some sort of machinery starting up, but then it continued, and increased in volume, what was it? Loz thought at first it was a lion, it couldn't be, could it? Then we together came to the obvious conclusion that it was a troll, and it was coming to get us, the volume increasing with every howl. It was one (1) of the strangest things we've ever heard and it remained a mystery with us until we researched later and found it to be howler monkeys.
The waterfall was okay, pretty lame compared to some of the powerfalls we've seen, but the hike was a nice adventure, and with the shitty weather around it was nice to get out and about (and to hear those howler monkeys, amazing).
The worst thing about rain at beach destinations is that it really leaves you nothing to do, except read, drink, sleep, and eat. That night, with slight cabin-fever, we treated ourselves to Sam Mario's restaurant, rated on TripAdvisor as the best place to eat on Ilha Grande. We shared a creamy salmon plate with mixed vegetables, and Loz quoted it as the best fish she's ever eaten, and I'd have to agree (even though I don't really eat fish). It was a huge meal, the sharer plate gave us two (2) huge cuts of salmon, bigger than most steaks, and it was seriously good tucker, maybe I do like fish after-all. With beers and a full-belly it cost us all of $50AUD for the night, gotta love this bloody country!
You can tell a good bar by how many locals attend. In Brazil, most of the best bars have yellow plastic seats and tables just outside. This is generally an indication that it's not a tourist bar, the beers are cheap, and it's just bloody tremendous. We didn't manage to find any 'yellow-chair' bars in Abraao but found a couple of rippers that had the exact same feel to them, with cheap as chips cervejas. One where we spent several hours had a samba band playing on the tele, pumping out popular songs (like U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday) but Sambaising them, fantastic stuff.
On our second last day in paradise (before we moved to the next paradise) the weather started to behave again and we took full advantage, taking a hike towards Dois Rios beach, about 8.3kms away on the other side of the island. There are no boat options to this particular beach, it's walk, or don't go, simple as that. This meant it was going to be a 16.6km round-trip for the day, a slight challenge with 90% humidity and 30'C+ temperatures, especially for unfit holidayers such as ourselves. But the walk was quite easy, only one (1) hill to cross, with a steady incline for 4kms before a steady decline over the summit. The walk was worth every drop of sweat and when we arrived at the whitest sandy beach with crystal blue water, surrounded by jungle, and not a sole in sight, we knew it just couldn't get any better. We were the only people in sight on this long stretch of beach, and again despite the icy-cold water, this place was as good or better than anywhere we've ever been in the world. No photos can do a place like this justice, especially with our shithouse Nikon purchase we made in Rio after drowning our beloved Canon in Iguazu, but I reckon we took about 250 photos of this one (1) beach, we just couldn't get enough of it. Only a few days earlier we thought we'd felt pure isolation and tranquility, but this had taken it to a new level. In the three (3) or so hours we were there, we would've seen less than ten (10) people coming and going, most of whom were local fishermen, simply awesome.
The walk back was a little frustrating but arriving home in good time, again, perfectly as the clouds began to cover overhead, we'd had such an amazing day, a true highlight of the Wombat Tour to-date. The blisters started to appear once our bodies cooled and we soaked in the shower, and our joints and muscles told us they'd had enough; but how could this be, we're only 26 and 27, hmmm?
For our final night we were excited to return to Dom Mario's restaurant and this time try the critically acclaimed passionfruit salmon, but sadly we were robbed by the Sunday Stitch-Up, that seems to get us every bloody time! Dom wasn't opening on Sunday, nor where many of his competitors. A little disheartened by this, but still so satisfied with the ripper day we'd had, we played total tourist and dined at a beachside restaurant, with the sand between our toes, metres from the water, and scoffed down a pot of moqueca (seafood stew) that was again very very nice. Twas a great way to finish the most amazing time on the most amazing island, our favourite place in this wonderful jungle country.