The big island

Since planning to visit Brazil, a visit to Ilha Grande and it’s beautiful beaches was always on the cards. Well… Briefly it was off the cards when I thought instead we’d spend more time in Paraty and skip the island. But something didn’t sit right with me. I needed the ocean and the beach. And so a little manipulation of our dates, and yes – perhaps a bit more whirlwind, I included 3 nights on Ilha Grande into our itinerary.

A local bus, which started out comfortable and landed up more crowded than a district line tube to Fulham for a Chelsea game, took us from Paraty to Angra dos Reis. A far more comfortable catamaran transported us out to the island. The jungle covered island, home to one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been on.

The beauty of Lopes Mendes is mostly in the lack of deck chairs and hawkers, and the abundance of white soft sea sand, turquoise blue warm water and gentle waves. Its a surfers beach, but South African surfers would’ve been disappointed in those waves. For the non-surfers, it was perfection. Besides whiling away a full day on this beach with the jungle as our backdrop getting sunburnt in awkward places, we also spent a (different) full day hiking to this same beach.

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The hike came first.

A hike through the jungle with huge bamboos and palms creating a dark canopy, with woodpeckers pecking wood above you and spiders seemingly undisturbed (and just being large) in their webs, was simply put – a very cool experience. But when it started to drizzle, then rain, then bucket down – that was something extraordinary. Feeling like we were deserted, either Survivor style or on an episode of the first season of LOST, we hid under a tree waiting for the downpour to stop. It didn’t. We soldiered on in search of the incredible famous beach.

And when we found it, it didn’t matter that it was raining – we had hiked for 9km over a mountain to reach it. And so we swam – and reminded ourselves that in SA, only the vaalies would behave this way in the rain at the beach. We took cover for an hour – simply watching, wishing, hoping for the sky to clear with the company of two Canadians, chatting about countries, cultures, currencies.
The sky didn’t clear so we hiked back over the hill and rented a seat on a speed boat to take us home while we hid from the needling drops of rain.

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We met Ian in la clusaz, a snowboarding destination somewhere near Switzerland (I think – they all roll into one after a while). Aaah, snow. Wouldn’t mind some of that now. It is so hot here. Anyway, I digress. Ian. Ian’s been travelling the world since then. He did Thailand, Cambodia and Laos just before we did and gave us heads up on tour guides and what to see and what to miss. Lucky for us, he did South America at the end of 2013, and told us to expect something like phi phi when we got to ilha grande.
He wasn’t far off. Backpacker Central and English spoken by most tourists, I got away with wearing comfy (they’re not quite pj) pants and a sweater (that was from the sleep section at woolies to be fair) to dinner in the evenings. I also had no makeup on, slops that are broken, unstraightened wet hair, and felt so much not like the girly girl people think I am, I actually dreamt about my fashion director at home giving me a very disapproving look on my final night there.

It’s perhaps not as expensive as Paraty, but Brazil is not the cheapest place to visit on the Rand.
One big-ish night of caprinhia’s (R45), R60 pints of beer (should’ve stuck to caprinhias) and a kebab skewer at the (funnily enough named) kebab lounge set us back the same as one average meal in Paraty.

Worth visiting for a ‘self-service’ meal (which is just meal by weight buffet style) is Biergarten – incredible, home-style cooked food. Making us miss our kitchen, our home… And maybe our moms too (because let’s be honest – I don’t cook like that!)

Ilha Grande is beautiful and with it’s own charm, even amongst the made-for-backpacker tourist offices and boat tours. The hiking is incredible – both wet and dry. And Lopes Mendes will go down as one of my favourite places in the world.

(Grammar police note: I am starting sentences with ‘And’. It’s wrong, but I’m thinking in conjunctions. So be it)

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