Monday, November 23, 2015

South America (Brazil) - Day 6 - 9: Island life on Ilha Grande

I think travelling around South America is going to be a lot harder than SE Asia. The language barrier in particular is tough; very few people in Brazil speak much English, which means that we're reliant on my pigeon Portuguese (no DuoLingo, I am not 41% fluent no matter how many times you try and claim otherwise), mime, and Google Translate on our phones to show people how rubbish we are at speaking. It also means that we're more likely to come across hurdles, such as the one we experienced getting to Ilha Grande.

I'd booked the place for us based on reviews; it looked like a fairly isolated slice of island paradise and just what we needed after Rio's mayhem. We'd got a transfer through the hostel, which we'd asked them to confirm on several occasions that it included a boat to the beach we were staying on (Praia Vermelha - not to be confused with the one next to Sugar Loaf mountain) - they said it did. So, after leaving at 6:45am and bundling into a minibus, imagine our surprise when we arrived at the transfer spot in Conceição de Jacareí, only to be told that we were going to have to arrange another boat to the correct beach when we arrived at Abraão on Ilha Grande. On arriving in Abraão we were told the only way to do that was to pay for a private taxiboat at a cost of around £90. Yay. At this point Gilly was almost apoplectic, but fortunately a local tour shop guide beckoned us into their shop and told us that a tour they were running which included a few nearby snorkel spots to Praia Vermelha was setting off in five minutes, and for £45 we could join them and they'd drop us off at the halfway point of the tour.

So, in what felt like battering rain and freezing wind, we slunk onto a tour boat with a number of far happier people, and after a visit to both a green lagoon and a blue lagoon, two and a half hours later we finally got off the pier on Praia Vermelha.




A couple of hundred steps up a forest path later, and we arrived at Pousada Lagamar. We immediately realised that we'd made the right decision. A very pregnant Luciana welcomed us with a glass of guava juice, and showed us to our room - we'd been upgraded to a sea view (which basically meant first floor, not ground floor) and the shower felt amazing after a stressful morning. The power was out on the entire island, which is pretty common by all accounts, so we walked down to a local restaurant on the beachfront owned by a cranky South African named Christian and he rustled up some calabrese via the wonder of gas cooking, whilst I quizzed him on why he had stayed on the island for 20 years if he found it so hard living there. He didn't really have an answer. Island life definitely has its plusses, but I personally couldn't do it full time. I definitely wouldn't stay two decades if I hated it, but that might just be me. I can definitely get used to the amazing hammocks though.




After lunch we went to the main beach where we docked, and came across a penguin! Apparently her name was Lucy, and she'd come over during the whale/penguin/dolphin visits through July to September, and had got separated. She was looking pretty lost but we gave her some space (unlike another couple we saw who thought it'd be a great idea to pick her up...sometimes I despair of people). We took a walk over to a nearby beach: Praia do Itaguaçú. It was deserted other than for a couple who were also staying at the pousada. En route, we saw a green snake slithering through the forest - an early sign of the varied wildlife we were going to encounter. After a brief sunbathe, we headed back to the accommodation where the power was now back on and Luciana's husband Ezekiel was cooking up a storm in the kitchen. He is an absolutely fantastic chef, and before we knew it we were chowing down on filet mignon for the second night in a row, but this time in a mustard sauce with sautéed potatoes. As we ate we were also visited by a porcupine - apparently there is a family of them nearby, as well as a family of black-tufted marmosets. Luciana puts fruit out for them, and they are all very friendly. Even Gilly (who is not a fan of monkeys since one got a bit angry with her in Ubud) came around to their cuteness, particularly after realising one had a tiny baby clinging on to its back.









Breakfast is also special here, as we found out the next morning. A selection of breads, cereals, fruit and juices...and black tea. Our first cup of tea since the flight tasted like heaven, and it wasn't Lipton either. The power then went out again, so we hired some snorkels and took a walk out to Praia Grande, via the forest paths. It was a couple of hours' trek, so we stopped for food at Camping Bem Natural where the bored owner looked positively excited to be cooking for us tourists in what appeared to be a holiday period for Brazil. Fish, rice, salad and farofa (the manioc flour stuff) with juice prepared us for some lovely snorkelling around the beach not long after, where we saw fantastic coral, zebra fish, some angry blue fish, but sadly no turtles. I find snorkelling a lot more difficult than diving usually, but on this occasion I really enjoyed it. We headed back and the power was back on so I finally convinced Gilly to watch Return of the Jedi (my favourite of the trilogy), so we are now fully prepared for the upcoming fourth film. Because as everyone knows, there are currently only three Star Wars films.

Ezekiel was cooking up some more fish and rice for dinner, and Gilly was all over it (she had been craving salad for ages), but I couldn't stomach eating fish for two meals in a row so went for a salami pizza instead. That evening our guest was a pyrophorus - a fire beetle. Keeping on the earlier theme, it looked like something from Batteries Not Included. The fauna here is incredible.




I'd been fighting against an ear problem since setting off from home. It was giving me serious headaches and a stiff neck. I'd been to a walk-in centre before we left, and they told me it was a pimple inside my ear which just needed antibiotic spray. A week and a half later though, and it wasn't showing any signs of getting better. The next morning was particularly painful, not helped by me picking up a bout of traveller's cold; I'd bought more antibiotic drops whilst in Rio and was getting by on a combination of this, paracetamol and ibuprofen. It was staving off the pain, but it is clear that I will have to get checked out when we arrive in Sao Paulo. I felt well enough mid-morning to take a trek up to Gruta do Acaiá - the Acai cave. This was one of the toughest treks I've done for a long time, perhaps ever, because of the unrelenting heat and our foolishness in only taking a litre of water between us, due to the fact that our pousada had sold out of large bottles. The climb up was crazily steep in places, there is a huge area which is completely uncovered so you get the full force of the sun, and by the time we arrived an hour and a half later, we were swaying somewhat. The cave is actually on a guy's property so he happily charges 20 reais per person to show people around. He didn't speak a word of English, but between us we picked up the gist of what he was saying (mostly, "mind your head here"). It is a descent into a very claustrophobic, incredibly narrow space, followed by a scramble along damp rock faces to the bottom of the cave, which is basically a water inlet for the sea which reflects the water in amazing azure colours. It would take 2 to 3 minutes to swim underwater and end up out in the sea - not a place you want to end up trapped under.















It was worth the trek, but we were dreading the walk back given the length of time it took us to arrive at the cave. Fortunately, a combination of the guide giving us an armful of bananas and a couple of cacao fruit to keep us going, as well as routine of stopping in shade every ten minutes, and we were soon back home and in much faster time than expected. It was probably due to remembering the landmarks we'd passed: the crazily muddy bit; the signpost that didn't actually say how far it was; the house with the psychopathic dog, and so on. More delicious fish and rice saw us good for dinner, and we fought with the wi-fi to try and get a booking at a hostel in Paraty, which was going to be our next destination. The booking site just wasn't working though as the bandwidth was too narrow, so in desperation I messaged the hostel owner on WhatsApp and got an instant reply back to tell us we were booked in. Fantastic. We didn't have smartphones on our last trip but they have been almost essential this time around. Navigation, booking, calling, translating - there's an application for pretty much everything we need. Hopefully we'll return with them!

Our last day on Ilha Grande saw us heading back to Itaguaçú beach to read our books in the sun, before catching up on some blogging and photo processing, wandering around the tiny hamlet of Praia Vermelha, and eating a fish casserole courtesy of one of Ezekiel's kitchen helpers. Fish is - if you hadn't guessed - the primary dish on Ilha Grande, and each meal is a very reasonable 40 reais per person; the main tourist area of the island costs a lot more. And it's really, really good food.





We were sad to leave the place as even though the weather had been variable, it hadn't properly rained except for a huge storm overnight on our final night, and on most days we managed to get a lot of sun. Luciana gave me some excellent advice about medical care in Sao Paulo (her home town) and we got our stuff together ready to depart for Angra the next morning on a local, far more reasonably priced boat, from where we'd then take a bus to Paraty.

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