We’re city folk. We love the urban. We love experiencing their people, life and dynamism first hand. And Jen is a certified urban dork, so she loves not only wandering around their architectural gems (or un-gems), but also figuring out their structure and planning. Even gritty city neighbourhoods that others look past, Jen can’t get enough – the street art, the industrial buildings, the fun little design (or undersigned) inventions – she loves it all.
Thus, we thought Rio was going to be right up our alley. And in many ways it probably would have been – it’s lively, there’s plenty of sites and there are many different areas to discover – historic or brand new; gritty or polished. But that didn’t go to plan (see post from January 5th) and we ended up for the first time in our lives, a bit turned off by the urban.
Yet, fortunately Brazil is so much more than Rio. Prior to even coming to the city (and following friends describing it as the most beautiful places they visited in South America), we booked a two day break in the middle of our Rio time to visit Ilha Grande – an island that’s about 4 hours south of the city.
When the day arrived, we were so ready to leave the city – like so crazy ready. To the point where when we were catching a taxi to the bus station (after our uber failed to show up – first time ever) and two drivers began bickering over who had the right to take us, Jen frustrated (and tight on time) yelled at them “I don’t care which one of you takes us, I just need to get the hell out of this city”. Seeing the fury and probably, craziness, in her eyes, the drivers quickly resolved their dispute and one of them took us to the station, with the statement “nice lady, I take you now.”
The bus ride to Ilha Grande was fairly uneventful as it runs along an urban freeway passing strip malls and suburbia. However, it gets interesting for the last 30 minutes or so, where you are driving along the coast – beautiful green landscape meeting a lovely blue sea with a sprinkling of little islands. Sadly we were sitting on the wrong side of the bus, so we didn’t get any good photos (and on the way back it was overcast).
The bus drops us off at Conceicao de Jacarei, where we now need to wait for the ferry to take us over to Ilha Grande. We apparently just missed a ferry, so we needed to wait about two hours for the next one (seriously you think they’d have coordinated the buses and ferries). Fortunately during this time, we have a lovely view.
We also used the time to meet some of the other travellers heading over to the island. There’s a group of three young, twenty something British guys who have already started drinking and are largely chatting up the two young female travellers. But more to our liking, we meet Ilena and Luciano. Ilena is an Italian, now living in Germany, and on vacation in Brazil for about a month. She brilliantly speaks 4 languages and is trying to pick up Portuguese while here (she was already way more successful than us at doing so). Luciano is from Cordoba, Argentina and pretty much a fitness buff (more on this later). They met in Rio and decided to travel to Ilha Grande together.
We mostly chat to Ilena (Luciano has gone to explore the beach and exercise on the outdoor gym equipment). Yet our conversation is cut short, when we finally are led to the boat, squeezed on like cattle with everyone’s luggage and apparently several boxes of food for the island. A comment on these boxes – considering that many were meant to be frozen, yet were completely defrosted and sitting out in the sun, Jen was very glad she’s a vegetarian. Erwan would stick to the island’s seafood. . .
Back to the boat trip – considering how tightly packed we are, we only get some partial views, but even those are stunning. After 30 minutes, the boat drops us off in Abraao (the only town on the island), which is clearly focused on tourism. It is mostly made up of hostels, beach shops, restaurants, cafes, and tour operators.
After checking into our Airbnb place, we have to figure out what to do in our time here – mainly because we wonder whether we need to book one of the various boat trips that are advertised at every other shop in town. We originally thought we would do the hike to Lopes Mendes Beach, which is supposedly one of the best beaches in the country and the hike is a meant to be a nice, but rigorous jaunt through the jungle. It was recommended by everyone we spoke to, however on the boat ride over and then from a quick google search, we realised that there was SO MUCH MORE to the island and we ended up in choice overload!
There are hundreds of beaches on the island, and while most are still considered inferior to Lopes Mendes, many looked pretty damn awesome. There are lagoons! There are hikes! There are adventure activities! Yeah, it was clear we weren’t going to have enough time here. After umming and ahhing for awhile, we finally decide to go with our original plan of hiking to Lopes Mendes – after all, it is what everybody who’s been to the island told us to do with absolutely stellar reviews.
With our minds made up for the next day’s activity, we head out to explore the town. Yet it starts to rain, so we go inside a restaurant that looks like a good place for dinner. We’re not hungry yet, so we order some caipirinhas, then a few more, then another round and then we finally get around to dinner – fresh seafood for Erwan and fresh pasta for Jen.
During one of the rounds of drinks, the three drinking Brits from the boat come into the place with their luggage. They had still not made it to their hostel after being dropped off (hours ago) and instead were doing a bit of a pub crawl to the place – we shared a round with them. They were all from London.
After dinner, we go back to our original idea and wander around the town. The town is tiny, so we of course run into our new friends of Ilena and Luciano and thus, make plans for all of us to hike to Lopes Mendes Beach in the morning.
The next morning we meet at the pier and they have brought along three other travellers from their hostel:
- Luciano (another one) – a Brazilian, who is currently traveling a bit after returning from living in Russia and starting a job in the new year.
- Jack – another Brazilian, who is taking a few months out to travel around Brazil.
- Strongman (not his real name – we can’t remember it) – a third Brazilian, who is in the military (and also a fitness buff), but doesn’t speak a word of anything other than Portuguese.
After introductions we get to hiking. From the beginning, it was clear that there are two types of trekkers in the group. Argentinian Luciano (who we now find out is a trail running coach in real life) and Strongman are in a league of their own and they are off, while the rest of us of us normal folk are left in the dust.
The hike is 3 hours and it’s not exactly a leisurely hike – sure it passes a few other beaches, but much of it is up or down the surrounding hills and in parts, it’s actually pretty steep. The only thing that keeps us going is knowing that at the end of the trek is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country. In fact, Jack, who had gone to the beach the day before (although by boat), described it as “perfect”.
The hike has various view points out over the surrounding sea, but most of it is through the jungle – we even saw a sloth!
These viewpoints are where the two fast trekkers stop to wait for the rest of us, but after a few times of waiting for what probably feels like an eternity to them, they stopped doing so and just continued. After 1.5 hours of hiking we arrived at Das Palmas Beach, where we stopped for a break and took the opportunity for a photo shoot along some of the nearby rocks overlooking the water.
The beach is nice, but we’re told it’s nothing compared to Lopes Mendes.
However, during the break on the beach, Argentinian Luciano and Strongman are no where to be found. We thought they would wait for us there, but then assume that they had gone up ahead, so we continue.
We get to Do Pouso Beach (where the boats drop people off for Lopez Mendes since boats aren’t allowed on the ‘perfect’ beach).
This beach is less appealing, but from here, it’s only 30 more minutes until happy perfect beach time!
After one more climb over a hill, we get to Lopes Mendes! And it is indeed perfect! A vast stretch of white sand and beautiful blue water with plenty of shady palm trees in the background, no surrounding development, and not too many people.
We settle into a spot, right near the Brazilian flag.
We also realise that Luciano and Strongman aren’t here. Did we beat them here? Turns out, they had indeed waited for us at Das Palmas in one of the little café huts and we never saw them. Fortunately they caught on soon enough and considering their fast pace, they joined us on Lopes Mendes only 10 minutes later. . .
Now that the hike is over, there was nothing left to do but lounge about on the beach, enjoying the views, the good company and the peace. It was fantastic! Our fellow travellers were all really fun and interesting people. We shared great travelling stories from around the world, learned more about Brazil and attempted to learn a bit of Portuguese (and Spanish). Argentinian Luciano and Strongman left for awhile to hike the other nearby hills, but the rest of us stayed behind happy in our sun, relaxation, and conversation.
The only downside to the afternoon was that when in the water, Erwan couldn’t put his arm under, so I joined him in solidarity (for awhile).
Sadly after 4 hours, we needed to head back in order to catch a boat (yeah, we weren’t going to hike that thing back – there was no longer the cherry at the end of a gorgeous beach). So we hike the 30 minutes back to Do Pouso Beach, where when passing through earlier we reserved our spot on the last boat out.
Argentinian Luciano and Strongman did not take the boat with us mere mortals – they ran back. We found out later that it only took them a bit over an hour, when not weighted down with us. . .
Arriving back in Abraao, we make plans with the others to meet for after dinner drinks and then head back to our flat to rest. For our last night on the island, we have dinner at one of the nice restaurants, right on the beach (table on the sand) and of course enjoy some more caipirinhas.
We then meet the others for even more caipirinhas – bought from a street vendor and enjoyed on the esplanade, looking out over the water. The good company and conversation continues and the troubles of Rio seems like miles away. In fact, we hadn’t really thought much about the ordeal at all (except when describing it to others or the fact about Erwan’s arm not being able to go in the water). We were truly relaxed. But sadly the night came to a close and as we were leaving the next day, we said our goodbyes and got all the deets of our new friends.
For the next morning, when originally planning our time on the island, we thought that we would have enough time for a cheeky little half day jaunt elsewhere on the island. Sadly with the timings of the ferries and buses, this was going to be tight. Thus, in the morning, we opted for a further exploration of the town (which only takes 30 minutes), a shared brunch of an acai bowl (it was huge!) and a little wander along the coast.
Then we had to reluctantly head back to the city as scheduled to spend our Christmas (see previous post). While we weren’t exactly looking forward to returning to Rio, we were better able to deal with it having gotten a bit of escape time out of the city.