Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island
27.11.2011 - 28.11.2011
The ferry pulled away from Angra dos Reis at 1:30 p.m. It was a really ugly day, so it was perfect for a travel day. The ferry ride was long (1 ½ hours) and boring. It was noisy and smelled like diesel fuel and exhaust no matter where on the boat you went. This did not help Matt’s pounding head. He was feeling worse by the minute.
At 3:00 p.m. the ferry pulled up to the small village of Abraão on Ilha Grande. We had arrived.
Ilha Grande (pronounced Ilya Granjee) is a small island off the coast of southern Brazil. The island is undeveloped and is known for its natural beauty, filled with tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation, parrots and monkeys, and rugged mountains. There are no roads or cars on the entire island and the largest village on the island is called Vila do Abraão, with a population of about 1900 inhabitants. The island is considered “paradise,” particularly for those who are somewhat adventurous, with its jungle trails and waterfalls in the mountainous, it’s rain forests and deserted beaches, and it’s shimmering waters.
I was psyched.
Matt was sick.
It was obvious at this point that he had some kind of cold or something, but he wasn’t feeling 100% terrible….yet. The good news was that there was a shiny white speedboat with a sign that said “Hatfields” waiting at the ferry dock, ready to whisk us over to Sagu Mini Resort so that we wouldn’t have to carry our luggage.
Sagu was a small resort with only 9 rooms, scattered about the hillside, tucked up into the lush rainforest. The main building sat right at the water’s edge. As we walked down the long wooden dock, brightly colored buildings with clay tile roofs peeked out, half hidden behind thick green palms. Riots of flowers bloomed everywhere. It was hidden, private, and as exotic as I’d hoped.
We settled our luggage into our room which was a large cottage with a private verandah overlooking the water. There was a mosquito net over the bed, which I hoped was just for ambience, since the room had air conditioning. I like nature….but not in my room.
I thought Matt would want a nap, but he was finally hungry, so we decided to walk over to the village for a late afternoon bite.
It was about a 10 minute walk along a path at the water’s edge from Sagu to the village. This location gave us the privacy we craved but kept us close to all the restaurants and shops. It was a perfect location.
I expected something rather primitive, but Abraão was a beautiful little town filled with upscale restaurants and shops as well as street vendors and casual oceanside eateries. The main street bordered the beach as it curved around the harbor. Tall mountains rose up behind it. The buildings were colorful and bright, with bougainvillea and hibiscus spilling out between them. Dogs seemed to be everywhere.
We made our restaurant choice in a very discriminating way: we chose the closest one with a good view. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sand with a great view, despite the gloomy day.
Pe Na Areia Restaurante served up a mean caipirinha and some fantastic marinated olives.
We had only intended to get a light snack, but we were HUNGRY. We ended up ordering shrimp in a cream cheese sauce. This came rice and a mango salad.
Bellies full, we wandered around town a bit to get the lay of the land. The village was small and could be walked across in just minutes. There were lots of cute shops and plenty of restaurants. When I saw this place, I made up my mind that I HAD to eat there. Forget the fact that the most amazing smells were wafting out the windows, look at how CUTE this table is!
We took the afternoon off to let Matt recharge his quickly depleting batteries, in hopes that he would feel better the next day. We spent the afternoon and evening listening to the soft sounds of samba music, swaying in the hammock, napping, and reading underneath the giant palm tree beside our verandah.
Because lunch had been so late, it was very late when we got hungry for dinner. Sagu is supposed to have one of the very best restaurants on the island, Toscanelli. We decided to stick close to home. We made the 30 second walk to the restaurant and found that we were the only patrons.
The restaurant was an open air wooden building sitting at the edge of a hill overlooking the water. It had a tropical feel to it that turned romantic as two tall candelabras were lit behind us. We ordered a bottle of wine and I opted for a banana wrapped filet for dinner. It was thick and cooked perfectly rare, served with couscous and a slice of some sort of potato pie. Double starch me again, baby, I like it!
After a long day, a good steak, and a couple of glasses of wine, sleep came easy. And no, I didn’t need that mosquito net.
Breakfast at Sagu was a self-serve buffet on the verandah behind the main building, overlooking the water.
They had everything….baskets of rolls and cheese bread, several platters of cakes, sliced breads for toasting, cereals, granola, plates of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, bowls of yogurt, eggs….but despite all those offerings….I became hooked on these:
Yes. Those are sliced up wieners in hot sauce. My true white trash nature comes out every so often, particularly when I am in close proximity to yard sales, Vienna sausages, pork rinds, or anything with rhinestones on it. Oh my, but they were good. Don’t worry, I had plenty of carbs to balance out all that hot dog protein.
We had 2 days on Ilha Grande and had only 2 things we really wanted to do: 1) do a hike through the jungle to Lopes Mendes beach and 2) rent a boat to take us around for the day. The weather looked iffy. Not wanting to waste the money for a boat on an ugly day, we decided to do the jungle walk.
Matt was feeling better this morning, so we were hopeful that whatever had him down the day before was brief in passing.
The trail head was very close to Sagu and we headed up into the jungle. The park map had said that it was a 4 mile, 3 hour hike through the jungle, over the mountains, to Lopes Mendes beach on the other side of the island. Up, up, and up we went.
It was a tough hike, but rewarding. There was very little flat ground on the 4 mile hike. We were climbing steeply up or steeply down. The jungle was dense and lush. It was peaceful and quiet and the exercise felt good after so many days of leisure filled with so many carbohydrates. There were some amazing views.
I was keeping my eyes peeled for monkeys. There were monkeys in this jungle, and I was going to find one.
After about an hour, we came to a beach. The sign told me it was not our beach.
We had arrived at Praia Grande das Palmas, or the “Big Beach of Las Palmas.”
There appeared to be a very small village, and I am using the term “village” generously, applying the east TN standard. In rural east Tennessee, you can call something a town if there is a fireworks store, one movie rental/gas station/tanning bed combo, and a post office.
This village had 2 tiny restaurants, a few houses, and a church.
We decided to stretch out and relax for a bit before pressing on.
We headed to the far end of the beach where a sign pointed up a steep rock telling us “that way.”
We hiked through more steep jungle. I still hadn’t seen a monkey. Where were those darn monkeys? It was like the Montana moose hunt all over again.
After another hour we came to another beach.
It was GORGEOUS. A long stretch of blinding white sand, gently lapping water, and swaying palm trees. We saw only one other person on the beach. The sun was starting to pop out and we needed a break, so we decided to stretch out on the sand for a while, get some sun, and take a leisurely swim.
Matt found a friend. I don’t know what it is, but strange dogs and strange kids always gravitate to Matt on vacation.
After an hour or so, we felt sunned and refreshed and decided to make the final push to Lopes Mendes. It was so tempting not to, with so many beautiful beaches tempting us to stop along the way.
We walked to the end of the beach and saw a small booth, a sign with an arrow, and a man.
He told us Lopes Mendes was about 20 minutes through the jungle and that his boat would take us back to town if we wanted, at 4:00. Not wanting to make that steep, hot, 4 mile trek back, this made my day.
Hot diggity dog. We were almost there AND we had a boat to take us back. The only thing that would make this day better were some monkeys.
We were about 5 minutes into our final walk through the jungle toward Lopes Mendes when we saw them.
There were about 10 of them and the largest were no bigger than a kitten. The marmoset monkeys dangled on the branches of a small tree right at the edge of the trail. They peered curiously at us from behind branches, caramel colored eyes bright and inquisitive. I’m pretty sure they hoped we had some cookies in our pocket. We didn’t.
I had already eaten them all.
After enjoying their antics for a while, we pressed on for our final destination: Lopes Mendes. Although, I didn’t really care about seeing the beach at this point because I had seen MONKEYS!
Lopes Mendes is one of the most famous beaches in Brazil and is the most famous beach on Ilha Grande. It was reported to be a huge stretch of glistening sand, soft as sugar, with towering mountains and palms behind it and wildly crashing waves pounding the shore. There are no buildings or restaurants on the beach, just sun, sand, and sea.
When we finally broke out of the trees to see the beach, it was as breathtaking as everyone had said. Lopes Mendes turned out to be worth every steep, muddy, slippery, hot step.
We tucked up under the shade of a palm tree and just took it all in. The beach was absolutely huge, length and width. It was also absolutely beautiful.
We lounged. We walked. We splashed.
We watched all the interesting people. Everything they say about Brazilian beaches and beachwear is true, by the way. Virtually every woman has on either a thong or a bikini so tiny it may as well be a thong. Virtually every man has on a tiny speedo. It does not matter what your age, body type, body size, or how much body hair you have. They bare it all.
That is not always a good thing.
When we’d had our fill, we made the walk back through the jungle to the beach with the boats.
We had 30 minutes to kill so we headed to the one little restaurant on the beach. It wasn’t really a restaurant. It was more of a garden shed with a food window and some plastic tables.
I’m still trying to figure out if that dog is the same dog that was on the earlier beach, a 30 minute jungle hike away……
We hadn’t had lunch and my new pig belly was growling for some potatoes or rice. I ordered us 2 caipirinhas and an order of batatas fritas (french fries).
Those drinks were so strong I believe they could be used to strip paint.
We had been sitting and waiting on those darn fries for a while. We only had 10 minutes until the boat left and I still didn’t have my fries. Matt was going all restless and squirrelly on me, the way he always does when we are in an unfamiliar place and his boat/taxi/train/bus is about to leave and I am distracted by something like food/monkeys/shiny things.
“Five minutes,” he said as he started walking toward the boat. “I am getting on the boat. You can wait for the fries if you want. The boat leaves in 5 minutes.”
And with that, he left me there.
He’s only a saint to a point. Even Matt has his limits.
I refused to leave without my fries. I had forgotten that this wasn’t McDonald’s but that I was at a shack on a beach in the middle of the jungle where they probably had to go dig the damn potato up before they could make the fries.
I waited. Four minutes. I waited. Three minutes. I waited.
With literally seconds to spare, my fries were delivered. I gave the owner a huge tip and a huge smile as I grabbed the salty potato goodness and literally ran for the boat.
Me and my fries made it.
Because he declined my giant greasy pile of fries on the boat, Matt was ready for dinner by the time we got back. We quickly got cleaned up and headed for the village.
We stopped at O Pescador to see if we might want dinner there. Located on the ocean, it has a great view and is supposed to have incredible seafood (and they speak English!). We ordered caipirinhas (of course we did) and perused the menu. Nothing really grabbed us, so we decided to find dinner elsewhere.
As we walked down the street, we smelled a heavenly garlic scent drifting through the air. We followed our noses and guess where they took us? Right to that adorable little table I had seen the night before. We instantly made it ours.
We noticed in Brazil that about half the restaurants we went to had English translations in the menu. This was extremely helpful, despite the fact that the translations weren’t always spot on.
I wonder….does “Chilly” mean cold soup or the stuff with beans and beef? What the hell is “weird rice?” And who can resist ordering something called “Neebles?”
Neebles might just be my new favorite word.
As in most restaurants, we resorted to the point and grunt method of ordering. Here is Matt attempting to communicate with our extremely NON-English speaking waiter.
The meal was fantastic. We started with a seafood bisque (although I really wanted the chilly). That was followed by olives and a crab spread with baguette slices. For an entrée, I had the pasta Bolognese, which was loaded with rich meaty sauce.
We strolled around town a bit. My favorite thing were these giant rolling dessert carts. There were several of them and they were filled with unimaginable goodness.
Eventually, it got dark and we got tired. We picked our way along the trail with flashlights and were soon nestled in our soft bed, fast asleep.