A Paradise on Earth!
I’ve found the closest thing to a desert island paradise: Ilha Grande, on Brazil’s Emerald Coast, just south-west of Rio de Janeiro. A 2 ½ hour coach trip from Rio brought us to the town of Angra Dos Reis, a small town on this stunning coast, studded with hundreds of tropical islands. From Anga we took the local ferry to the island, with a couple of hundred other people, mostly locals who had done their shopping on the mainland. So they had bags and bags from supermarkets, as well as boxes of groceries to restock their stores on the island. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and the woman sitting behind us was busy breast-feeding her baby. The journey took 1 ½ hours and cost us all of £1.50; many tourists preferred the catamaran or launches, as they travelled faster and felt more exclusive.
The island is big - hence the name - 20 miles long, and 10 miles wide, and thickly forested. The whole island is a national park, and part of it is closed to visitors entirely, to preserve the biodiversity. There is an abundant water supply, with lots of small springs pouring down from mountain peaks over 3000 feet high. The island was once a pirate lair, then a landing post for slaves from Africa, and in the twentieth century a notorious prison, only closed in 1994. What gives the island its magic today is that there are no roads on the island and no cars or motorbikes; transport round the island is by boat or, within the main village, Abraao, by wheelbarrow or hand-pulled cart. Everything comes in by boat, even bricks, cement and electrical goods, and gets pulled to its destination by groups of cheerful men pushing and pulling the carts along cobbled streets.
Abraao may be the only village, but seen from the sea, there’s nothing much there either. The main jetty juts out into a bay full of small boats, but the beach extends right round the bay too, so you’re safe to swim right in town. A mini island sits within the bay of Abraao, while across the sea the mountains of the mainland rise, blue, in the distance. Trees line the front and fill the village, all festooned with bromeliads, cacti and ferns; tropical shrubs and climbers, with gorgeous bright flowers are everywhere. Vultures circle overhead or in the early morning settle on the football field where they all turn away from the sun, then splay their wings in the sun to warm themselves up in the cool morning air. They’re just like me, as I also go off to catch the early sun in some bay! It’s winter when we’re here; the temperature climbs to the low thirties by day and cools to around 18 degrees at night. It means we have deep blue cloudless skies every day, there are fewer biting insects, and even though it’s winter the sand is still too hot to walk on barefoot!
We’d booked our guesthouse through the internet, and it turns out to be on the hill overlooking Abraao. We find ourselves pulling our cases up the steep “street”, only a four foot wide concrete/cobbled path, with simple one or two-storey homes on either side, and lined with beautiful tropical plants, many of them cultivated assiduously in Europe as treasured pot plants, here in wild abundance. Our pousada (= guesthouse) is called Pousada da Cachoeira; “cachoeira” means “waterfall” and refers to the stream in the garden, tumbling down through rocks, and lulling us to sleep at night with its burbling. Frogs sing at night and emerge onto the verandah outside our room to look for insects. We’re in a simple, but perfectly adequate en suite bedroom, and outside on the verandah (the same one the frogs come onto at night) each room has a hammock we can relax in and look at the blue sky and the garden full of tropical flowers, orchids and bromeliads. One orchid is called a bamboo orchid, the proprietor tells me; it grows to over 8 feet high, with exotic mauve flowers! I’m in heaven! Breakfast is in an open-sided pavilion, surrounded by plants on all sides. I notice that the honey and jam pots are placed in saucers of water to stop ants getting into them.
We’ve had a wonderful relaxing few days here, pottering from one small cove to another, each of them as stunning as the one before. Because there are no roads, paths lead along the coast through the thick undergrowth. often crossing little streams, or if you want to go further afield, you can go by boat. Launches or schooners cater for tourists while small taxi boats seem to be used by locals. Today I went on a major hike across the island to one of the most famous beaches, Lopes Mendes, three hours of sweating up and down from one bay to another and then over the spine of the island. Parrots squawked, minute hummingbirds flicked silently through the trees, and if you looked carefully, tiny capuchin monkeys quietly busied themselves in the tree tops, just giving themselves away by birdlike chirrups. The beach itself when I got there was worth the hike: soft, very white sand, a very gently shelving beach, and gentle limpid turquoise water shading to deep blue in the distance. No boats, no cars, no shops, no buildings; just one man selling a few cold drinks where the path emerged from the forest onto the beach. No wonder the guidebook declared it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world!
Chris van Straaten
In : Vicar's trips