A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Brazil: Part II, Day 3

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

The next morning dawned bold and beautiful.

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I woke long before Matt the next day and was excited to see a bright blue sky staring down at me. We had made a good decision by saving today for boat day!

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I took an early morning walk to the village and just enjoyed watching the sleepy town come slowly to life.

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Remember how I mentioned there seemed to be dogs everywhere? In the morning, they all seemed to be on the main street in town in various stages of sleeping, waking up, and playing in the sand. We'll call these four: Stayed Out Too Late Last Night, Still Asleep, Trying to Wake Up, and Already Had Too Much Coffee.

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Matt was up by the time I returned and we headed to breakfast so that I could get some more of those hot weenies. Yum!

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Before we sat down to eat, I asked the girl at the desk about a boat for the day. She told us we had 2 options: a large schooner that would be inexpensive but force us to share our day with about 50 other people or a private speed boat. While Matt wasn’t looking, I quickly told her “private boat.”

Within minutes, she had found us a boat for the day and told us to be at the dock at 9:30 and he’d pick us up.

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At 9:30 a.m., we were on our way! Within minutes of leaving the dock, he slowed the boat to point to a large pod of dolphins in our path. He stopped and let us enjoy them for 10 – 15 minutes before they finally headed on their way.

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Our first stop was at Lagoa Azul, or the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a natural shallow created at low tide between some small offshore islands and the island of Ilha Grande. It’s filled with beautiful coral and tons of colorful fish.

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We had arrived before any other boats. It was deserted. While we had it all to ourselves, we snorkeled for a while and then spent about an hour lounging on the boat in the sun, watching boat after boat after boat arrive.

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This was one of those places that was truly so beautiful, that you almost couldn’t believe what your eyes were seeing. The colors of the water, the blue of the sky, the lush green foliage…..I could scarcely take it all in.

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We could have spent all day there, bobbing gently on the water, but we finally had to tear ourselves away.

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Our next stop was a beach. I don’t know the name of it, but it was striking. Several tall, thin palms lined the middle of the beach, like little soldiers welcoming us to their tiny stretch of sand.

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The beach was small but incredibly perfect. A delicious little crescent of white sand, clear blue water, swaying palms.

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We were dropped off on shore and left to enjoy the beach for a while.

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Waterlogged and pruny, we finally motioned for our boat to return from the middle of the bay. He picked us up and once again, we were on our way. The views from the boat were amazing. I couldn’t believe how incredible this place was. I had been to beautiful islands before, but not beautiful islands that were so pristine and untouched.

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As we rounded yet another deep blue cove, lined with white sand and lush green palms, the boat slowed. Thinking we were visiting another beach, we looked up at our guy expectantly. He spoke no English but we had managed to communicate effectively all day. There are only so many words needed on boat day.

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He handed us a menu, pointed to shore where we could see nothing more than some shallow sand and trees, and raised his eyes in question.

Do I EVER say no to food?

We nodded in agreement and called someone on the radio. Within seconds, a small boat came whizzing out of nowhere and pulled up beside us.

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We piled in and the little boat headed toward the shore. Eventually, the water became so shallow that all 3 guys got out of the boat and pulled it with me sitting inside, very princess like.

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I felt very much like the water version of Cleopatra and decided that this should be my mode of transport from now on. It suited me.

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When the water got too shallow for even the tiny boat, I was forced out into the shallow water in a very unprincesslike manner. We waded toward the shore.

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Had my mother been present, she would have been certain that this was the moment when they would take us back into the woods, chloroform us, and hack out our organs for sale on Ebay. I had no worries. I was excited about this little adventure. We had no idea where we were headed and we didn’t care.

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And there it was. A cozy little tropical restaurant all tucked up into the jungle.

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This place gets my vote for coolest bathroom.

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I was pretty used to the fact that caipirinhas in Brazil were like getting a glass of water as soon as you sit down in a restaurant in the US. They were always there.

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We decided to try a Brazilian specialty: Moqueca de Camarao. It was basically a shrimp stew and had appeared on virtually every menu we had seen.

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Moqueca is a savory stew made only with fish or shrimp. It has its origins in Bahia and is a staple of the Brazilian comfort food diet. The Brazilians have been making this dish for over 300 years. Its simple name, which translates to "shrimp stew," belies its complex flavors.

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Moqueca takes hours to prepare. Fresh shrimp are simmered in a coconut broth and palm oil with a sauté of onion, garlic, bell peppers, cilantro and tomatoes. They say the palm oil is so rich, that a teaspoon takes a year off your life. Hey, the year comes off the slow end, so who's complaining?

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It was served with rice, the ever present bowl of farofa, and a bowl of something we didn’t recognize. I ate it, because I am always up for something new.

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The weird gravy-like substance didn’t have a very strong taste and it certainly wasn’t offensive, so I slathered it on and lapped it up. Matt is not a fan of the unfamiliar and took a pass. After we returned home, I looked it up to see what it was. Pirão is a kind of gravy usually made from fish broth and cassava flour. It is typically made from a broth obtained by cooking a fish head and scraps not used in whole fish dishes (i.e., the parts you ain’t supposed to eat), with other ingredients such as coconut milk, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, chives, pepper, and fresh cilantro.

At the time, I had no idea I was eating fish head and guts gravy, so……Bon Appetit!

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After a long and leisurely lunch, it was time to be carried, Cleopatra-Style, back to our boat.

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It had been a full day and we were certain it was time to head back, but were surprised when we were pulled up onto yet another pristine beach. This might have been the best yet because we were the only two people in sight.

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We had about an hour of “deserted tropical island experience” before it was time to head back.

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We were dropped off back at Sagu. Matt was feeling a little off again and went in to take a nap.

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He woke up sounding like a 97 year old smoker.

His head was pounding, he had a terrible cough, and he was hoarse and raspy. I had some Aleve and gave him one but he really needed something for that cough.

“I saw what I think was a pharmacy in the village,” he said.

We headed into the village. Our vision was that we would walk into a pharmacy that looked just like a US pharmacy. We would see medicine we recognized on a shelf and we would buy it.

Are we really that dumb?

Instead we stepped into a tiny pharmacy that had no medicine of any kind out front. There was a pharmacy counter in back and everything was on shelves behind Mr. Pharmacist in non-descript, unrecognizable, black and white printed boxes.

We walked back, hopeful that the pharmacist spoke some English.

Are we really that dumb?

Of course he didn’t speak English. He also didn’t carry any American medicines. Matt proceeded to do an elaborate game of charades that included mimicking a cough and a pounding head. Mr. Pharmacist returned with a strange box containing a little bottle of vile looking brown liquid and a teeny tiny cup. He held up 3 fingers and pointed to the cup. Did that mean 3 cups or 3 times a day?

We were pretty much on our own from there.

I had no idea what was in that bottle, but I am certain that it was not FDA approved.

It made Matt feel better, though. Probably because it was a combination of morphine and crack.

We took it easy and just crashed in a couple of chairs by the water at Cafe do Mar.

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It was a cozy little place that was open to the ocean and filled with twinkling lights and candles.

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Matt said he wasn’t hungry, probably because he was high on morphine and crack, so I took the liberty of ordering us a “snack.”

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We had a fresh caprese salad, what was basically fried cheese on a stick (GENIUS), and the most amazing garlic shrimp. It was lick-the-plate good.

We even had live entertainment as a very convincing pirate seemed to stroll up out of nowhere. Literally.

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He was promptly chased off by the bar dog.

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It was time to get Matt to sleep before he overdosed on the unidentifiable medicine.

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The next morning Matt was worse. A lot worse. It was obvious that he had something akin to the flu. Caught from the lady on the plane that was hacking up a lung for 8 ½ hours, no doubt. The worst part was that we had to load up, take a 1 ½ hour ferry ride, then drive 2 hours back into Rio de Janeiro, and then find our accommodations in the heart of that vile city.

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To shore us up, we had our final breakfast at Sagu. Bye, bye hot wieners.

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As we piled onto the ferry for the return trip, I couldn’t help but be apprehensive. Matt was sick. We had a long drive. We had to find our way back into that horrible city that we thought we’d never get out of a few days before.

What would the next 2 days have in store for us? Only time would tell.

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Posted by vicki_h 16:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (1)

Brazil: Part II, Days 1 & 2

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pe Na Areia Restaurante served up a mean caipirinha and some fantastic marinated olives.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Breakfast at Sagu was a self-serve buffet on the verandah behind the main building, overlooking the water.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Matt was feeling better this morning, so we were hopeful that whatever had him down the day before was brief in passing.

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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.

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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.

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After about an hour, we came to a beach. The sign told me it was not our beach.

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We had arrived at Praia Grande das Palmas, or the “Big Beach of Las Palmas.”

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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.

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This village had 2 tiny restaurants, a few houses, and a church.

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We decided to stretch out and relax for a bit before pressing on.

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We headed to the far end of the beach where a sign pointed up a steep rock telling us “that way.”

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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.

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After another hour we came to another beach.

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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.

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Matt found a friend. I don’t know what it is, but strange dogs and strange kids always gravitate to Matt on vacation.

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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.

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We walked to the end of the beach and saw a small booth, a sign with an arrow, and a man.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We lounged. We walked. We splashed.

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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.

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When we’d had our fill, we made the walk back through the jungle to the beach with the boats.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by vicki_h 15:24 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (2)

Brazil: Part I

Paraty, The Town That Time Forgot.

We landed at the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro at 5:45 a.m. We’d been awake since the previous morning and knew we had to stay awake until that night to avoid jet lag brought about by the overnight travel coupled with the time change. We had all day to make the 3 ½ hour drive to Paraty, so we weren’t in any hurry.

We had a reservation for an economy car with a GPS (God bless the GPS...) at Budget. The Budget office didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., so we settled on a bench and waited. And waited. And waited.

FINALLY, a young woman arrived who spoke about as much English as we did Portuguese. Somehow, we managed to understand each other. We particularly understood when she said, “No GPS.”

NO GPS?????? This was not a good start. But what were we going to do? We had no choice. We took the car without the GPS.

We were her first customers of the day. Her ONLY customers. Our car was on site at the airport. Yet...it took her 30 minutes to process our reservation. After that painfully long time, a little man motioned for us to follow him to our car. He proceeded to take us out into the ground transportation area where he led us to a sidewalk lined with taxis. He held up his finger and said, “Wait.” Then he walked off.

Thirty minutes later, we dragged our luggage back inside the terminal and returned to the Budget counter, where there were still no other customers. We explained that he had left us on the sidewalk a half hour earlier and vanished.

I don’t know Portuguese but I am pretty sure what she said to him on that walkie talkie could not be repeated in church. Or to your mother.

She led us out to our car herself and within minutes, we were inside our Fiat.

When the word “ECONOMY” is actually adhered to the back of your rental vehicle in raised metallic letters, you know you have not been upgraded.

It had been almost 2 hours since we landed and we were finally on our way out of the airport, tired and very, very irritable, with no GPS and nothing more than a handful of Google maps I had printed as a back-up.

Yes, we were driving.

This would be the single worst mistake we made in planning our trip to Brazil, other than choosing to go to Brazil in the first place. While it was a significant improvement over trying to use public transportation, the difficulty of the road system, the lack of signage and our inability to read what few signs there were, the danger posed by actually being stupid enough to drive a car through Rio de Janeiro, our lack of maps or GPS, and the incredibly ridiculous traffic jams made driving a bad, bad idea.

Bad idea.

We were immediately thrust out of the airport into a maze of highways, bumper to bumper traffic, blaring horns, and signs that did not match my Google map. Street signs were flying past me with names like “Ln. Vermelha/Av. Pres. João Goulart” or “Estr. das Canárias.” I was totally confused, trying to match any street name on my map to any street sign I saw. I felt like I’d been shot out of a canon with a bag over my head and my butt on fire.

Holy hell.

To say that driving in Rio is difficult is a gross understatement. Lanes are a mere suggestion. A three lane road is more likely to have about 6 lanes of traffic with everyone sort of carving out their own little space. Don’t forget about the scooters and motorbikes that simply fly up in between said lanes. Then you have the guys that walk up and down the street selling food to the people stuck in the traffic. Add to that about a million buses, poor signage, and no on/off access roads.

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After a few minutes, I saw a sign with a road name I recognized and an arrow pointing to it’s access from my map, Avenue Brazil.

“Just keep following that,” I told Matt. “That’s the highway that will take us to Paraty.”

This worked just fine until we actually got to the access and had a choice of left or right.

“Which way?” Matt asked, sweat beading up on his brow. I had no freaking idea.

Given a 50-50 choice, Matt and I will make the wrong choice 99.9999% of the time. This time was no exception.

One of the first things we learned about the “highways” in Brazil, is that, unlike US interstates that have an exit approximately every mile or so, you might drive for 30 miles before finding an exit or appropriate turnaround in Brazil. We drove 45 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic with poverty stricken favelas (slums) surrounding us before there was an opportunity to turn around. We then had to drive the 45 minutes back to our starting point.

It had now been 3 ½ hours since we landed and we were still at the freaking airport.

Nerves shot, we just kept driving. What else could we do?

The stand still traffic lasted for about an hour. During that hour, we inched our way through the absolute worst part of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are the slums of Rio. Like many third world cities, Rio has a very large population of poverty stricken people. Much of the population lives in favelas, or communities of squatter housing. Shacks are built one on top of the other along the steep hillsides that surround the city. Favelas are typically controlled by drug lords and are known for their high crime rates.

During the first hour of the drive, there were literally favelas stretching up every hillside, covering every imaginable space, for miles, and miles, and miles. They went as far as my eyes could see.

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It was not a feel-good introduction to Brazil.

About the time I was asking myself for the twenty-seventh time WHY we had decide vacationing in Brazil was a good idea, the landscape abruptly changed. The traffic all but vanished and the dejected favelas gave way to rolling hills.

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Then the rolling hills gave way to towering mountains that stretched down the coast as far as we could see. They were lush and green, with jagged peaks reaching to the heavens. A bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds stretched overhead and the highway coasted along the sea. We first caught glimpses of blue and emerald waters lined with verdant mountains at turns in the road, but eventually, the landscape opened up into vast stretches of deep blue sea fringed with white sand beaches and dotted with bright green islands.

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It was an entirely different world from the one we had been in just an hour before. It was beautiful.

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We had reached the Costa Verde, or Emerald Coast. There was virtually no traffic and the views astounded us for the next 2 hours. It was almost enough to make us forget the hellish morning.

It was about noon when we saw the sign for “Paraty.” Hot damn and hallelujah, we had made it.

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Pronounced “Para-chee,” Paraty is a town that time forgot. Situated about 125 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is a tourist destination, but it retains a character that is the very essence of Brazil. There was no major road from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty for almost one hundred years, causing Paraty to essentially be forgotten by the world.

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Just like Sleeping Beauty with her fairy tale kiss, Paraty awoke from it’s sleep in 1975 with the completion of a road from Rio de Janeiro, but it remained untouched by most modern trappings. The historic town center was preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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You won’t see any cars on the streets of Paraty, but you might have to wait for a donkey-cart jam. The town is lined with stony streets, cobbled together hundreds of years ago by slaves, and are better suited for Havianas than heels. The old town is filled with cafes and restaurants and quaint shops. You can buy a colorful woven basket on the street or can buy a cold beer at any number of colorful bars.

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It was the perfect place to undo the damage that Rio had done.

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It was going on one o’clock by the time we found a place for lunch. As we stepped into the Margarida Café, I felt my brow unfurrow, felt my shoulders relax, and felt my breathing slow down.

The restaurant was an eclectic mix of bohemian art, mismatched tables and chairs, and tropical plants. Tall windows surrounded the restaurant and let the bright sunlight filter in. A grand piano was set up in one corner and someone was playing softly.

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I ordered my first caipirinha. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with local cachaca (sugar cane rum), sugar, and limes. Extremely potent and undeniably delicious, I was an instant fan. I made it my personal goal to sample as many caipirinhas as possible on this trip.

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One Caipirinha down. Ninety-seven to go.

We learned on this trip that there seem to be several staple foods that appeared on virtually every menu in Brazil: pizza, pasta, grilled meats, seafood. The latter two almost always came with several side dishes and were ordered for 2 people.

For our first meal, too hungry and exhausted to make a bad meal choice, we went for the familiar. I opted for a dish of pasta with a rich tomato sauce and steak. Matt had a chicken that was marinated in a tangerine sauce.

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With the soft piano music, the sunlight gently filtering in through the windows, the delicious food, and the strong caipirinhas, Margarida was a much needed oasis of salvation after a difficult start.

We took some time to walk around the old part of town. It is hard to describe just how beautiful it was. The stone streets made walking a challenge, especially after a caipirinha, but they were gorgeous. Block after block of white buildings with colorful wooden doors and shutters, in bright blue or bright yellow, greeted us with every turn. Wooden carts filled with goods were pulled by donkeys and restaurateurs were setting colorful tables outside their kitchens in anticipation of the evening’s guests.

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It was hot and we were tired, so we made our way over to Vivenda Paraty, a pousada that was just outside of the old town. Unlike a traditional hotel, a “pousada” is a smaller, more personal place to stay. Pousadas are typically B&Bs, small inns, or boutique hotels. Opting to stay in pousadas rather than large hotels was one of the few things I did RIGHT when planning this trip.

I had selected pousadas that were highly rated and I ensured that each one had owners that either had English as a first language or spoke fluent English.

Pousada Vivenda Paraty is rated #1 in Paraty on Tripadvisor and let me tell you, it is well deserved. The owner is a delightful English gentleman that came to Brazil 26 years ago as a teacher, fell in love with it, and never left. He has a beautiful house and behind his pool and tropical gardens, he has 2 very private free standing cottages.

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John welcomed us with a hug like old friends and led us to our cottage. The gardens were filled with orchids and tropical plants. The pool glistened, a cool and inviting blue. Our cottage welcomed us with a private veranda and a swaying hammock. Inside, the cottage had a kitchenette, sitting area, and a king bedroom with a large bath. It was all done in cool and crisp shades of white.

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We did our very best to relax but not sleep, but the cool white sheets and delicious air conditioning made that a very hard promise to keep.

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We asked John for his recommendation on dinner and his first recommendation was Margarida Café, so we asked him what his second recommendation would be. He highly recommended Punta Di Vino, a small restaurant specializing in Neapolitan style pizzas.

We headed toward old town to do some strolling, have some pizza, and sample some more caipirinhas.

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The town was as beautiful at night as it had been that afternoon. The soft glow of light spilled from the brightly shuttered windows and café tables littered the streets, filled with flickering candlelight.

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People wound up and down the streets as music poured out of most restaurants. Couples laughed at small tables with flickering candlelight to the sound of soft samba music. THIS was the Brazil I had envisioned and hoped for.

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We found Punta Di Vino and chose to sit inside since it felt like it was about to rain. We were seated at a romantic little table in the corner and ordered a half carafe of wine.

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The restaurant was warm and inviting. The wood stove used to cook the wood fired pizzas filled the air with a warm smell and the wine made everything feel mellow as a soft drizzle began to fall outside. The open window let in the fresh smell of rain and we could hear music playing from the lively bar next door.

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We ordered a pizza with some type of Italian salami on it. The pizza was thin and crispy and the salami was incredibly rich and tangy.

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The rain had stopped by the time we finished eating and we decided to walk over to find the source of the music we heard playing. “Brasil” was a small restaurant/bar just down the street. Tables were scattered all over the cobblestone front and more were packed inside the cozy interior. A live band was playing.

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We hesitated in front just long enough for the waiter to grab our hands and coax us inside. He looked around, and seeing absolutely NO empty tables, held up his finger and ran off. Worried that this would be a repeat of the airport Budget guy….we were relieved when he immediately returned with a small table that he placed in a corner and pulled up two chairs.

How could we not get something now? We ordered 2 caipirinhas and a bowl of marinated olives.

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When the band stopped playing, we paid up and headed over to Café Margarida for a final caipirinha of the night.

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We figured out on that very first day that we were never able to drink more than 2 caipirinhas. A third would have been out of the question. They were that strong. When I got home, I looked up the recipe and figured out why. There is nothing in that glass but alcohol, sugar, and a crushed up lime. How many shots is that?

Exactly.

(Major travel exhaustion + two caipirinhas) x Vivenda’s super soft bed = One hell of a good night’s sleep.

I awoke to the sound of exotic birds whose songs I didn’t recognize. Soft white orchids waved in the morning breeze.

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I tiptoed out to the verandah as Matt slept and found that the breakfast fairy had come in the night and set our table beautifully, in anticipation of our first full day in Brazil.

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I stretched out in the breezy white hammock and read until Matt finally stumbled sleepily out into the early morning sunshine.

As we sat blissfully in soft chairs, two ladies carried over a tray laden with more food than we could eat.

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Underneath a soft white netting were plates of tropical fruit, meats and cheeses, pastries and breads. We had their housemade yogurt and granola, fresh squeezed juice, and strong, hot coffee. They even asked if we wanted eggs cooked to order. With all this, who needed eggs?

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I like the way Brazilians do breakfast.

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It was a hazy morning, so we decided to wander over to town for a while before deciding what to do with our day.

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My favorite part of town were the colorful wooden boats lining the harbor. There must have been a hundred of them. Each boat was painted in outrageous color and boasted and upper deck laden with pillows and cushions. Most had some sort of bar filled with exotic fruits and cocktails, and in front of each boat was a colorfully dressed Brazilian man trying to convince you to spend the day on his boat.

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We were tempted, but the sky was clouding over and it didn’t look like much of a day to be stuck on the sea in a boat.

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Instead, we chose to drive about 30 minutes down the coast to Trindade, a small village with beautiful beaches backed by towering mountains. To get there, we had to drive along the highway a short distance and then take a harrowing drive along a narrow, steep, twisting, turning road down to the village.

Our first stop was at Praia do Cepilho, a large beach littered with huge boulders. There was a little bar on the top of a hill overlooking the beach.

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We decided to drive on to the small village, where we parked and walked out onto a beach at the end of the village, Praia do Meio. The beach was covered with small eateries, each one with a sprinkling of bright yellow or red plastic chairs and tables out front. The smells of fried fish and potatoes mixed with the fresh salt air.

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It was then that I uttered the 4 words that make Matt cringe on vacation.

“I read somewhere that...”

He just wanted to sit down on the beach, stretch his legs, and read his book. Maybe get some fish and a cold beer. With those four little words, he knew I wasn’t going to let him do that.

“I read somewhere that there is a BETTER beach if you just hike through that stretch of jungle over there and over that small mountain.”

Poor Matt. There is a golden throne with his name on it waiting for him in heaven just for having to put up with me.

He sighed, gathered his things back up and set off across the beach behind me.

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Praia Brava is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Unfortunately, as would be a repeated theme on this trip, I didn’t have extremely clear directions on how to get there. Here were the directions I had, “When you arrive in Trindade, forget the beach right next to the village and go to the do Meio beach, further south: you will find two small beaches separated by a bunch of rocks in the middle. From there there is just one little obstacle, a small hill you will have to climb and go down. It’s a short climb that presents no problems in dry weather.”

We literally set off blindly through the jungle. In the wrong direction. No, not even the wrong direction, on the wrong entire trail.

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There was a small path and I assumed that must be it. You know what they say about assuming don’t you? Well, just call me an A-S-S. After walking about 30 minutes in the broiling heat, sweat dripping off our brows, we came to a dead end with a small waterfall and a naked man. This was most definitely NOT it.

We trekked back through the hot, hot jungle to our starting point. At this point, most men would have cussed me out, maybe slapped me, and hoofed it back to the main beach without so much as a “How do you do,” but not Matt. He actually let me lead him down another path through the hot, hot jungle.

This time, we reached a dead end and a large chicken pecking at a pile of garbage.

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After almost an hour of wandering around in the steamy jungle, toting our beach stuff, do you know what Matt did when we got back to Praia do Meio? He went and found the right trail for me.

Saint, I tell you.

After all that hot walking, it was only a short (but steep) 15 minute walk over a small hill to Praia Brava.

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The beach was a mind blowing combination of blue water, white sand, rainforest, and green mountains. Not only was the beach beautiful, but unlike it’s cousin, Praia do Meio, it was virtually deserted.

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We finally had our beach time and just enjoyed laying in the sand, reading and listening to the waves.

Eventually, we got restless, as we always do.

“I read somewhere that there is a natural swimming pool at the end of this beach….” I ventured.

Oh no. Here we go again.

We saw people walking a path at the end of the beach, so it was pretty easy to figure out where to go this time. It was about a 20 minute trek over lots of steep, muddy hills before we found ourselves at Cachadaco, a series of natural pools formed by giant boulders in the ocean.

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We did the obligatory lagoon swim, even though the water must have been about 67 degrees. It was a beautiful spot, though.

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About this time, I started thinking about how long it would take to walk back. Twenty minutes back through the steep, muddy jungle; another fifteen minutes across the beach; about fifteen minutes more to walk over the steep hill back to Praia do Meio.

But I was hungry NOW.

It was then that we noticed the little boats on the other side of the rocks.

$7 and 5 minutes later we were deposited safely in the sand of Praia do Meio beach, ready for lunch and a stiff caipirinha!

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Matt was apparently through with allowing me to make any decisions for the day and he marched right up to one restaurant grabbed the menu, pointed at something and told the waiter he’d take that.

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I am one of these people that orders every meal as though it’s my last. I look over the menu slowly, savoring each choice. I have to read each one in detail. Then I read it again. Maybe three times. Then I ponder my options. Matt simply didn’t have the patience to wait at that point. I learned that day that letting someone else order for you can be amazing.

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Two strong caipirinhas showed up first. I was starting to really like these.

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Shortly after the drinks arrived, the waiter brought several dishes and set them down. There was a platter of salad, a bowl of rice, and a platter of grilled fish and potatoes. The fish was grilled perfectly, topped with capers and limes.

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Rice and potatoes? I like a country that double starches. Particularly after feeding me cake for breakfast. Oh yeah.

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We also noticed this little bowl of grainy looking stuff. We smelled it. It had no smell. We tasted it. It had no taste. Seeing no benefit to it ,we passed it over.

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Lunch was fantastically delicious and we ate until we could eat no more. We made our way back to Paraty and crashed at Vivenda for the rest of the afternoon.

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Now that our food rules were all a mess, what with the cake for breakfast and the triple carb lunch, we decided there was absolutely nothing wrong with dessert before dinner so we headed into the old town for some gelato.

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Gelato places were unique in Brazil. They were all self serve with tons of toppings. You simply put everything you wanted into your dish and then it was weighed at the register. You paid per kilo.

For dinner, we decided to try some oceanfront dining and headed to the beach of Praia do Jabaquara to find Restaurante La Luna. The restaurant was open to the ocean air, warmly lit with candles. We were allowed to choose our seats and opted for a thatched table facing the ocean on the back terrace. Our feet were in the sand and the waves gently lapped the shore only feet away.

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Lunch had taught us that most meals were ordered family style for 2 people, so we went with it. We ordered grilled steak for 2.

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It was delivered with a tray of condiments like peppers and chimmichurri, a salad, rice, fried potatoes, and another dish of the mystery stuff.

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When I got back to our cottage, I decided to Google the mystery stuff. It turned out to be farofa, or toasted manioc flour. It is typically toasted with butter, salt, and bacon until it is brown. It is served alongside the main course and can either be sprinkled on by individual diners to their taste before eating, or eaten as an accompaniment in its own right, the way that rice is often eaten.

It is basically odorless and flavorless and appeared to serve no purpose other than to provide additional carbohydrates to your meal, in case the oversized bowls of rice and potatoes did not sufficiently accomplish that task.

I like the way Brazilians think.

We sat by the light of the pool and used the free wi-fi to let our parents know that we still had all 4 kidneys and called it a night.

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It seemed like we had just arrived in Paraty and it was already time to move on. Before heading out, however, we enjoyed another fabulous breakfast at Vivenda Paraty.

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We bid our farewell to John and set back out on the road. This time the drive wasn’t so bad because we were still on the quiet coast and were simply backtracking the way we had already come. The drive would take us about halfway back toward Rio, where we would then stop at the town of Angra dos Reis and do our best to figure out how to get to the ferry that would take us to the island of Ilha Grande.

The drive was spectacular….towering mountains and blue sea.

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Originally, we had planned to stop for lunch before the ferry but Matt was feeling a little under the weather, so we didn’t stop, but headed straight for Angra dos Reis. Good thing I had loaded up on all that cake at breakfast.

Angra dos Reis was accessed by one single road from the highway that stretched down toward the beach. Everything in town was pretty much on this one road, so how hard could it be to find the ferry, right?

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“Do you know where it is?” Matt asked.

I didn’t….but I had a photo of the ferry and a picture of the ferry companies logo and name. Believe it or not, that did the trick. We simply drove along the harbor until we saw that sign. We pulled into the parking lot.

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A young man motioned for us to roll down the window, which we did.

“Ilha Grande?” he asked.

We nodded and he motioned for us to park.

When we got out of the car, we didn’t really know what to do. The young man came up to us with a clipboard and said something that sounded like, “Garbledy goo blah blah gibberish gibberish gibberish DIAS?”

Matt just looked at me. Like I knew Portuguese. Thanks, Matt.

“English?” I queried.

He shook his head. I shook my head. We were at an impass. He looked thoughtful for a moment, scratched his head, and then held up his fingers – one, two, then three and repeated “Dias?”

Ah ha! He was asking how many days. I held up three fingers. He nodded. He scratched his head again and then grabbed his clipboard. He wrote down “3 Dias...$60 Reis.” I understood. Parking and the ferry for 3 days was $60 reis (about $32). We handed him the money and headed for the ferry.

See! Who needs Portuguese!!

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Phase one of the trip was over and phase 2 would soon begin. Soon we would be on our way to the mysterious island of Ilha Grande. I had visions of a tropical oasis filled with orchids and monkeys, meanwhile, Matt was feeling worse by the moment and had visions of nothing more than a soft bed and some Advil for his aching head.

We settled in to wait for the ferry.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:22 Archived in Brazil Tagged south america brazil de rio janeiro Comments (2)

Brazil: An Introduction

Getting there is NOT half the fun.

Rewind to a cold day in March 2011. Matt and I are piled up in the bedroom on a rainy Saturday. Matt is reading a book and I am doing what I always do when stuck indoors...surfing the web looking for the next great place to visit.

“I want to go to South America,” I hear from the other side of the bed.

I turn my head slowly to stare stupidly at the man who NEVER utters a vacation opinion.

“You want to ...wha huh?”

“I want to go to South America,” he repeats and returns to reading his book.

I am not one to back down from a challenge. Fifteen minutes and a freakishly low super saver air miles rate on USAir later, I am sitting there scratching my head not sure how it is that I now have 2 round trip tickets to Rio de Janeiro or what I am going to do with them, exactly.

In the fashion of “Four Christmases,” we would be flying out on Thanksgiving Day. Unlike the movie, however, we did not lie to our parents and tell them we would miss the holiday because we’d be inoculating babies in Burma. We told them the truth...that we were blowing off Thanksgiving to go to exotic Brazil for 10 days.

We probably should have lied. Lying to our parents would have been preferable to telling them the truth and then enduring 9 months of “parental worry.” They did not see going to Brazil as "exotic." The viewed it as temporary insanity.

“Do you have to get shots to go there?”
“Are you going to the Amazon? You’re not going to the Amazon are you? They have snakes there that can swallow you whole.”
“Will you get malaria?”
“Don’t drink the water. Or eat the food. Can you take your own food with you? Never mind, just eat things in packages. Don’t eat anything fresh.”
“I don’t think they have running water there.”
“Can you take a gun?”
“Have you seen the movie ‘City of God?’”
“Don’t stop to help anyone on the side of the road. They’ll steal your car and rape you.”
“Why can’t you just go somewhere normal, like Cleveland?”

To our parents, we may as well have been heading to Syria or Uzbekistan. They were certain that within 24 hours of arriving, we would be kidnapped, drugged, and someone would steal our kidneys to sell on the black market.

Not only did we dismiss our parents as having “overactive imaginations,” we ignored the fact that Rio de Janeiro is regularly touted as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, that Brazil is considered by many to be a third world country, and that nearly every travel site we visited for information was loaded with disclaimers like, “Don’t wear expensive things. Dress down and try to blend in,” or “Don’t carry much cash and never let your camera be in plain view of others,” or even “Don’t walk the streets after dark; if you do, look purposeful and walk quickly.”

We were blinded by visions of string bikinis and late night caipirinhas.

We should have read the fine print.

Fast forward 9 months.

Thanksgiving Day. There was no turkey and dressing for us. We spent Thanksgiving flying to Charlotte, enduring a 4 ½ hour layover (which passed much more pleasantly thanks to US Air club passes), and then making a torturous 8 ½ hour non-stop flight from Charlotte to Rio trying to sleep at a 90 degree angle while sitting next to a woman who sounded like she had tuberculosis.

We were on our way to Rio de Janeiro with only the language skills required to order a milkshake.

“Eu gostaria de um milkshake de.”

After a $299 Rosetta Stone course in Brazilian Portuguese and several months of trying, this was the only phrase I could actually utter in Portuguese. Not because it was particularly useful, but because it was the only one that stuck in my memory due to the immature fact that every time I heard the Rosetta Stone lady pronounce, “Milkey Shakey Day,” I laughed so hard I snorted. I found the language difficult and, unlike the Italian I picked up pretty quickly years before, I simply couldn’t retain even the simplest of phrases.

Unable to sleep on that long overnight flight, I found myself looking over our itinerary. It had been a tough trip to plan. There was a definite lack of good travel information to be found. I had purchased books and I had scoured the internet, but had turned up very little. Not only was it tough to plan, I was totally unaware when I hit the “BOOK IT” button on US Air that fateful day in March, that Matt and I were both required to get travel Visas, which involved about 1,000 forms, including copies of our bank and credit card accounts to “demonstrate financial means commensurate to those of an international traveler,” and to the tune of $160 each.

I had managed, however, to put together what appeared to be a pretty good trip. Because US Air only flies into Rio, we chose to explore only areas in the state of Rio de Janeiro. We would split our time between 4 different locations: a historic fishing village, an exotic tropical island, the urban madness of Rio de Janeiro, and a swanky coastal resort town.

The flight attendant came over the speaker to announce that we were beginning our descent into Rio de Janeiro...

Fasten your seatbelts, folks, as some turbulence is to be expected. Due to extreme challenges presented by the location itself, our lack of proper tools such as maps or language skills, and an oncoming bout of the flu that we didn’t know was already incubating inside one of us...this turned out to be one crazy ride.

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in Brazil Tagged south america brazil de rio janeiro Comments (6)

Sun, Sand, and Sea

A quick trip to Elbow Cay

Everyone has that “go to” destination. That place you have been so many times that it’s like a second home. That place where you can get around with your eyes closed and where a trip requires virtually no planning. It’s that place you go when you have a few days and decide to take off at the drop of a hat. Abaco is our “go to” place, and we headed down for a quick getaway in early November.

Day One: Travel Day

Knowing the weather in the Bahamas is not as warm as the Caribbean in the cooler months, we decided to stay on Elbow Cay where there are more “out of the water” activities than our usual haunt of Guana Cay.

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This gave us the chance to rent our own boat at Marsh Harbor rather than taking the ferry which was a really cool change of pace! We stopped at Seahorse boat rentals, tossed our luggage into our boat and were on our way. It was a pretty quick hop over to Tahiti Beach on the southern end of Elbow Cay and we were amazed at how much time we saved by not having to wait for the ferry.

We had toes in sand and drinks in hand by noon.

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Ahh....bliss.

We stayed at Barefoot Bay, an AMAZING house near Tahiti Beach. The first thing everyone wanted to do was grab a cold drink and run up to the Crow’s Nest deck and take in the amazing views.

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And people wonder why we keep coming down here.

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We had brought newbie friends, John and Kelley, with us and Barefoot Bay provided a perfect set up. Not only did it have amazing views of Tahiti Beach and Tilloo Cut, but the house was split into 3 separate buildings, offering tons of space and privacy. The main building housed a beautiful kitchen, dining, living space with a great sound system.

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Then, each of the other two buildings had a large master bedroom and two smaller bedrooms. This place can seriously sleep a lot of people.

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Not to mention the pool....

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Once we had all settled in, we took John & Kelley into Hopetown for lunch and to grab a few essentials.

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By “essentials,” you all know I mean one of Vernon’s key lime pies and several bottles of rum.

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Seriously, do you need anything else? You have all the food groups covered. Fruit & Veges: Limes. Dairy: all that darn creamy stuff in the pie. Meat: Hello....merengue. What do you think it’s made out of? Eggs. Duh. Grains: I think graham crackers can be considered a grain. And don’t forget the rum food group, because it deserves one all on it’s own.

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We were sad to find the Reef Bar at Hopetown Harbor Lodge closed for a wedding, but happy to find that Cap’n Jacks was open. Hello, jackhammer!

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When I saw coconut fried lobster with mac n’ cheese on the menu, I was all over it.

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We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and, after seeing the condition of the road to town post-hurricane, decided maybe we’d stick close to home for dinner that night!!

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Besides, I was dying to try out a new place, Firefly. Like any good southern girl, I love Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and couldn’t help but notice the bar highlighted the delicious South Carolina libation in their cocktails.

It was a beautiful restaurant with a nice outdoor deck and sparkly sign. I love sparkly.

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The menu was small and seemed to highlight unique, creative, and fresh items. I ordered up a firefly cocktail and a curry lobster salad with papaya. Both were fabulous and refreshing!

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Travel day over, we retired to Barefoot Bay and watched the stars come out to play.

Day Two: Nippers or BUST (literally)

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What we didn’t know when we decided to head down to Abaco was that it was going to be UNGODLY windy the entire time we were on Elbow Cay. I think the wind averaged 25 knots each day we were there.

It was Sunday and that always means one thing: NIPPERS BEACH BBQ. Staying on Elbow, that meant a 45 minute boat ride to get there. When I looked outside our window and saw that the swimming pool was whitecapping….I knew we had a problem.

Not realizing the wind was a permanent fixture on our vacation at this point, we decided to head down to Tahiti Beach for a while to “give the wind time to die down.” (I laugh on the inside as I type this….ah….hindsight…you devil, you).

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Tahiti Beach is one of my favorites. A long curve of sand down one side, fringed with beautiful palm trees, takes you to a small point, where the beach then curves in, forming a perfect crescent beach with shallow water that goes so far out, you can almost walk to the next island.

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We noticed the sandbar had moved/vanished/shifted, I guess due to the hurricanes of the summer, but the beach was still magically beautiful.

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When we returned to Barefoot Bay, totally planning to boat it over to Nippers, we found the house owner’s brother, a super great guy we had met the day before, hanging out to see if we were heading over. He was down with a group of guys on a “guys’ maintenance week” trip on their other house. I put this in quotes, because we all know what this means. This means, they spend 4 hours drinking beer and then change a lightbulb. Spend another 2 hours sipping frozen Nippers and then rehang a door. Right?

They were also planning to head over to Guana that day and thought there might be safety in numbers. I mean, 9 idiots on the water who have no business being there is certainly better than 4.

We loaded up and headed out.

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HOLY MOLY. That was one rough ride. I think I would have fared better trying to stay on a mechanical bull for 8 minutes than trying to endure that boat ride. It was like trying to ride a really slippery, wet bucking bronco with nothing to hold onto as someone pours a bucket of cold, salty water over your head every 3 minutes.

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Our level of dedication should tell you how good that Nippers mac n’ cheese is.

Kelley and I held on for dear life. I made the mistake of thinking it might be easier to ride in the front. We were coasting along and I thought, hey, this isn’t so bad. I’ve got this! Just then, we hit the first big wave, sending me about 3 feet up into the air, after which I crashed down on the hard fiberglass deck of the boat and am pretty sure lost about 3 inches on my spine. I’m pretty sure I am now significantly shorter than I used to be…and I think a chunk of my tailbone is somewhere up around my ears.

I quickly jumped onto the padded seat, squeezed my eyes closed, and held on for all it was worth.

Soaked and salty, we finally pulled up to that familiar dock in that familiar town on that familiar street where all roads lead to Nippers.

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When we got to Nippers, I looked out at the ocean. What I have come to know as a tranquil sea of blue green that stretches calmly into forever, was a raging ocean of foam and waves. I have never seen it like that. It was pretty wild. Since there would be no swimming, I guess that meant we just had to do more eating, drinking, and dancing.

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We had our frozen Nippers and BBQ and sat back to enjoy the show. It was a pretty quiet start to the Nippers BBQ….until this guy showed up.

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Frozen Nippers have the ability to make even the most stiff legged stuffed shirt get out and bust a move and before long, we were all at it.

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We shook it until the sun started to go down and suddenly realized…Holy Crap…were not staying on Guana….we still have a boat ride!!!!

The group high tailed it out of there, hoping we had just enough time to get back before the sun finally set.

I think we made it with about 2 minutes to spare. Maybe one.

We grabbed dinner at Sea Spray and I think I had a chicken in a bag, but there is no photographic evidence and my brain was a little Nippers fuzzed by then, so I really can’t tell you much more than that. Bon Appetit!

Day Three: We Ain’t Afraid of No Wind!

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We had planned to see some beaches by boat but the wind and waves were even worse than they had been the day before. Rather than push our luck, we decided to head into Hopetown for a while.

The Reef Bar was OPEN…but there was no Gary. :(

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We enjoyed a little time on the Hopetown Beach. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches ever. I never get tired of seeing it.

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There’s nothing better than a burger on the beach, in my opinion, so I dove head first into a Reef Burger and washed it down with a rum punch.

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Inappropriately confident, due to our previous day’s boating success, we decided that the weather wasn’t going to keep us off the water. We were smart enough to stick close, however, and only headed for Tilloo and the Pelican Cays.

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It was a pretty quick trip and relatively painless, but when we got to what I think was North Pelican Cay, the water was so rough, none of us had the heart to get in. Well, except Matt, but I am pretty sure he regretted it.

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Instead, we just enjoyed some tunes and rocked along on the boat, watching the incredible colors of the water.

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When we got back to Elbow, we just walked over to Tahiti Beach where we spread out in the sand with beer and chips.

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It was late in the day, so we settled in to watch the sky go from blue to gold as the sun dripped down into a golden haze on the horizon.

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Sometimes it’s the simplest things that bring the greatest pleasure.

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We ate in, throwing together a platter with some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, smoked salmon, and baguettes.

And pie.

Within minutes there was a knock at the door.

Our new friends stopped by to let us know that there was Karaoke at Ray’s that night.

Ha. Me? Karaoke? Fat chance. I sing like a badly scratched record and no one EVER hears me sing. No not ever. Never.

Not gonna’ happen in this lifetime.

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Okay, so apparently, after enough adult beverages, pigs do fly and hell freezes over.

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Day Four: Searching for Treasure

We woke up to strong winds AGAIN and decided (wisely) that the boat was not an option. We had met a couple on the beach the night before that were sailing and they really talked up Treasure Cay. As soon as Kelley heard them say it was named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, she was there. She was going and she was not going to take no for an answer.

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We had nothing else to do, so we decided to take the ferry over, grab a taxi, and visit Treasure Cay. Uber planner that I am, doing something unplanned with no information left me a little unsettled…but hey….a ferry, a taxi, a great beach…what’s to worry about?

I’ll tell you what’s to worry about: A total of 2 hours to get there from Tahiti beach between golf cart rides to the ferry, ferry rides to Marsh Harbor, and taxi rides to Treasure Cay and a total of $25 per person for the ferry and $175 for a cab. Ouch!!

But…what’s done was done. By the time we realized how long it would take to get there and how much it would cost….we were already there.

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I can’t say I regretted it, though. We had nothing else to do and despite the windy seas, Treasure Cay was GORGEOUS.

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We set up camp at the Coco Beach Bar, a great beachfront place that let us use their thatched umbrellas and chairs as long as we were eating and drinking. For a while, we just took the lazy route and crashed in some chairs.

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When the smell of food got to us, we headed up to the bar for some fried grouper fingers and conch fritters.

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And an amazing Pina Colada that was reminiscent of a soft serve ice cream. Oh yummy.

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After lunch, we decided to walk the beach. I am so happy we did. If you stick to the area of beach behind the Coco Beach Bar, beautiful as it is, you will have seen only the least attractive part of Treasure Cay. Head down toward the water, turn right and walk as far as you can. Head toward the little cay you see offshore in the distance. You won’t be sorry.

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The first part of the beach just stretched out long and blindingly white, with crazy turquoise water lapping the shore.

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As you rounded a point, an entirely new and remarkable vista opened up.

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The water was super shallow and clear….stretching out to delicate sand bars that popped up just off the beach like tiny oases of white sand and bejeweled water.

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Beyond that was a small cay, shimmering just off shore like a mirage. No matter how far you walked, it never seemed to get any closer.

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There were beautiful shells, starfish, and sand dollars along the way to look at and enjoy. I found tons of these little guys along the beach. They are definitely too small to be sand dollars. I think these are sand pennies.

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As we splashed in the shallow waters and enjoyed the beautiful views, we all agreed that this alone made the entire trip worth every minute and every dollar. If you ever get a chance to go over to Treasure Cay for a day, you should do it.

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For our “last meal” we returned to Cap’n Jacks for more lobster. I know there is something about food always tasting better after a day on the beach, but I swear, Kelley and I both agreed this was our favorite grilled lobster EVER - perfectly grilled and juicy, with a squeeze of lime and dripping with melted butter.

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It seemed over before it had really begun. It was time to head home. As always, Abaco delivered beautiful vistas, the most perfect beaches and the most beautiful water, lots of frosty island cocktails and beach eats, and even some new friends.

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I watched the islands disappear from the plane window, a haze of blue and green below me, and I couldn’t help but wonder what next time would hold……

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For more photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157628127135090/

And if you want to check out Barefoot Bay:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157628122881444/

Posted by vicki_h 10:03 Archived in Bahamas Tagged beach island caribbean bahamas abaco Comments (2)

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