Part 9: And the streets were paved with gold…
After the craziness of Carnaval, Creamer and I craved calmness and caught a catamaran across to Ilha Grande (not really a catamaran; more of a water taxi, but in the interests of assonance, I lied). As its name suggests this is Brazil’s largest island and is only short of paradise for its high volume of visitors.
We arrived on pancake day- and were happy to find that there were three crepe restaurants in the island’s tiny town of Abraão (oddly enough, the first we’d seen on the continent so far!). The town is pretty much one big block of hotels and restaurants connected on a single loop of sand-paved roads with a few side streets stretching out like fingers, poking at the edges of the jungle. The Island’s dark green lush forests cloak almost all of the island, all the way to the highest point; Parrots’ Peak.
Unfortunately it turned out that our excitement at the abundance of crepes was dampened somewhat by our disappointment at the distinct lack of coconuts on the island (for which we’d developed a minor addiction to in Rio). How can a tropical island run out of coconuts I hear you cry?! Well it did. And we were disappointed. There is definitely something oh-so-refreshing about someone machete-ing their way into the hollow of a giant green bowling ball-sized nut for you to sup on the cool slightly sweet-flavoured water inside (not at all sickly like Bounty bars would lead us to believe).
Despite its many visitors packed into a very small area the still town holds a certain tranquillity, perhaps because it boasts no cars: we saw one police “tractor” whilst there and everything else was being transported by bicycle carts or pushed along in giant trolleys by strong sinewy men.
Day 1 we took a perimeter island tour by boat to the green and blue lagoons (both lovely, but probably actually both turquoise in reality). We snorkelled at several spots and saw a good selection of tropical fish, including one that walked on its fins along the shallow sea floor.
It was a pretty cloudy day so we were surprised to see Andy’s frontage was pure pink (underneath his chest rug) after a short sun-exposure time. This was pointed out and commented on over lunchtime by two of our friendly Argentinean boat-mates, one who looked a bit like Messi (but wasn’t), the other who confessed to being addicted to ‘Sneakers’. Apparently his collection contains over 100 pairs, at least 10 of which had never and would never be worn. I told Andy that this in no way vindicates his many Sport Pursuit purchases.
I definitely recommend the walk to Lopes Mendes beach to anyone visiting Ilha Grande. We did this on our second day and were enjoying our peaceful stroll through the island’s South Atlantic rainforest when a bellowing mechanical frog sound reverberated around the trees coming from somewhere just below us on the Atlantic-facing side of the island. As we got closer this amphibian sound transformed into a racket of what sounded like thousands of giant cicadas in distress. Andy ran ahead to investigate, while I slowed my pace, more than just a little intimidated by this thunderous alien sound. I was picturing the “mysterious island monster” from Lost lurking around the next bend in the path. I turned the corner and found Andy, along with twenty other tourists staring skyward at the source of the now near-deafening noise.
It turned out to be a pack of Howler Monkeys, which are in fact cuter than their ongoing creepy cry would suggest. They howled continuously for twenty minutes. I can only describe the sound they make as a combination of rhythmically sawing through bone with a blunt hack saw with the occasional screech of dying pig thrown in (maybe because someone was sawing through its bones with a blunt hacksaw). It felt like the canopy was a ceiling of noise and activity. We stayed watching them until, seemingly without reason, they feel silent. It was a short stint further down to the open ocean facing beach (Lopes Mendes).
Once we’d had our fill of sunbathing (Andrew somewhat tentatively after the previous day) and swimming at the beach we sought further entertainment in the form of chasing crabs down their crab holes (like a man hole, but for crabs) and making our own idyllic island exercise video. I yoga-ed, while Andy cart-wheeled and teddy bear rolled into the hearts of many a beach-goer that afternoon.
Day 3, we walked the short distance from town to ‘Lazareto’, a structure that would have looked like a former bomb-shelter in the UK, but actually was once a quarantine hospital, built in 1886 to house European immigrants suspected of having Cholera. Its later incarnation was as a prison (1893-1913) for rebels of the Revolta Armada. The only remains of the building are the dungeons, where the prison cells were (which you cannot enter, since apparently they could collapse at any moment). The only current inmates of the prison are some of the blue-est crabs you ever will see, who are present in their droves and live in thousands of tiny burrows surrounding the sinister-looking site.
We chilled and ate (a lot) for most of day 4. The food was great, if a little pricey (though weirdly the beef we had was better than the sea food). Whilst eating at some of the beach-side restaurants we marvelled at the skill of Brazilian youngsters skills on a slack line (a kind of inch-wide tight rope, but bouncy and about 2ft off the ground, tied between 2 palm trees). One kid nearly landed back on it after a somersault. Impressive.
After 4 nights on the island we returned to Rio to fly swiftly west, waaaay into the middle of the continent, to Bonito (a small town on the edge of the Pantanal- the rainforest marsh land south of the Amazon and bordering with Bolivia).
Back in Rio we headed out for dinner in warm but overcast weather conditions; but, in between entering the mall, ordering and eating our speed noodles, ‘spoodles’, the weather well and truly ‘came in’. Our journey home consisted of us dashing between awnings and doorways in the most torrential rain I have ever felt (coming from someone who’s spent the start of rainy season in sub-Saharan Africa). After about 10 minutes we resigned ourselves to walking up the, now-gushing, unsheltered steep streets to our hilltop hostel. This was followed by the next 3 hours blow drying shoes and clothes with my travel hair dryer so they wouldn’t stink (too much).
We left for our flight at 05:30am and crossed paths with some ‘Gap Yar’ young’uns returning to our hostel after the final night at the Sambadromo for 2014. It was hard to believe people had lasted longer in Rio than the 4 nights of Carnaval that we had survived. Oh to be 19 again.