Week two and before you could even count to two, we were on a bus rushing the hell away from carnival’s carnage and bombing it down the highway towards the promised land, Ilha Grande.
Ilha Grande, a luscious, bohemian surfer island off the coast of Rio. Where locals lead the good and simple life and we could enjoy our own slice of paradise. It sounded like a dream, and we were dreaming.
By week two we could have sugarcoated our trip all we liked: we were cursed .
More on that in a minute. First-up, some tips to get you off on the right footing. We learnt these the hard way…
Preparation for the Promised land
- Ilha Grande is a tropical island so check the forecast before you go. When it rains, it’s a deluge. Sink or swim my friends
- There are no ATMs, so bring your dollar, dollar reals. Most restaurants accept card but besides that, it’s paper
- Wifi has a phantom presence on the island- digital detoxes just got made easy. If you can’t hack going cold turkey, most restaurants have wifi and internet cafes can be cheap, so long as you’re quick
- Vila do Abraao is where all the eateries, bars and hostels are at. Staying on the other side of Ilha Grande will set you back £70 and a 60-minute boat ride from the centre each night. Three quivering lips got us out of this mare and into a fresh booking in VdA…
- Just rock up on the day/ evening, no accomodation booked. There are so many cool hostels about you’ll be spoilt for choice. Only very few of these are listed online.
Amazing. Now you’re all prepped for the Promised Land. You’re probably thinking like we did, what could possibly go wrong?….
The Rogue Red Cups
We took a mini bus transfer from Rio to Ilha Grande. After one of the bumpiest and most reckless drives of my life, it should have been evident it was a rocky road to Paradise.
4.5hrs and a battered body later, our driver turfed us off the bus and out into God-knows-where. All we knew was there was a festive spirit in the air.
Fully grown adults were spilling out of paddling pools and slopping bubbly out of red cups. Others waddled the streets in mass, tooting airhorns and flaunting loincloths.
This was not the Promised Land. This was an episode of Jersey Shore.
We were beyond relieved when we eventually found out a 20-minute speed boat would take us away from MTV’s finest and on to Vila do Abraao.
First thing you’ll notice about Vila do Abraao is it’s super kooky and quaint. There’s so much attention to detail around the island, like the food menus for one.
VdA may be a sleepy island but it won’t leave you twiddling your fingers. You can go on hour-long forest hikes to other beaches, snorkeling, surfing, paragliding and whatever else a water-baby, adrenalin junkie might please. The island’s also got a real hippie vibe about with acoustic bands always grooving by the sea.
We spent a fair amount of time salivating over VdA’s cool clothes and jewellery stands, like the most broke ballers you’ve ever seen.
Nightlife revolves around bar culture. There are only a handful of clubs dotted about and as we never made it to any, we can’t really comment. We do have some more unusual tales to tell from one certain rave (all in good time).
The Beach from Heaven and from Hell
On our first day we visited Praia Preta, a beach famed for its black sands, and black magic we were soon to discover.
If it hadn’t been for the red seaweed and the shallows looking like the insides of a metal detector, maybe this could have been.
We clawed our way back to shore and our sunbathing spot safely tucked away.
Eyes closed, music on, sun beating down on our skin. I began to feel blissfully happy.
One second later I’m gagging on so water, I’m praying for gills.
At low tide a freak wave shot in our direction, drenching all of us and our belongings. In slow-mo I watched my speakers tragically pulse underwater to Dip It Low.
Christina Milian, if only you knew.
Soaking books, bags, bodies and probably another R.I.P phone. If this wasn’t another cruel act of Divine Providence, we didn’t know what was.
Miraculously everything survived. It just emerged more crinkled and dog-eared than before. Considering the biggest casualty was my phone’s LCD backlighting, this had really been a lucky escape.
It wasn’t until the next day, our luck truly seemed on the up, after visiting the most seraphically stunning beach we’d ever seen.
Lopez Mendez. This would be our slice of paradise.
From Vila do Abraao, Lopez Mendez is a gorgeous 30 minute boat ride and 15 minute steep hike away. It’s worth every second. This destination could make “The Beach” eat its heart out.
The water is as clear as a sheet of glass and the sand’s alarmingly white-gold. Besides the few sun worshippers who venture there, you can imagine Lopez Mendez is just as flawless as the day it first took shape on this Earth.
This day the heavens were opened up to us…and the worst was still yet to come.
A good day of travel admin is always satisfying. Two weeks in and we must have smelt off-key. Laundry was our number one priority. Thankfully our guest house had a washing machine.
One afternoon we chucked in some of our coloured garms and went back to nap in our dorm. An hour later Hannah gets out of bed.
She shoots up. She gasps.
We shoot up. We gasp.
Our feet are submerged in water.
Our flip flops are floating.
Our toiletries are floating.
Our phrase book is floating – and our hearts are sinking.
We wade through every chamber.
We’ve flooded the entire guest house.
We switch off the volcanic washing machine and the panic kicks in.
We try to find anything: a mop, a sponge, a bucket, a broom, a plug, a swimming cap, a snorkel, a ditch for us to bury ourselves in.
We find nothing, so we have to be resourceful.
We use face flannels and our door mat. Funnily enough, a mini Atlantic Ocean doesn’t take too kindly to these.
After 15 minutes of our mopping wrecking an even greater tempest, we hear it- the knock at the door.
Our blood freezes. We all know who it is.
We’d tried calling on her earlier, only to be told by her daughter no one was home.
We flap about like fairies.
If ever a Larry David situation unfolded infront on us, it was this.
Hannah anxiously pokes her head out the door and tries explaining there’s been “a tiny leak”. These words were spoken so hushed and softly, shame about the cacophony of crashing waves.
Heads hung low, we let her in.
Her eyes pop out her skull. Her reassurance for us to remain “Tranquilo” is definitely aimed more at herself, than us. Either way, our landlady stayed true to her word and couldn’t have been kinder about our idiocy.
Two hours later, armed with a more adequate toolkit, we’ve drained the water away and have learnt one thing. A girl can have too many clothes. We’d never get so carried away with doing our dirty laundry again.
Our clothes had finally been cleaned but now an overpowering aroma of stagnant water punctured the air and the rest of our belongings. We just couldn’t win…
After this mare we really needed to blow off some steam. Hannah and Emma’s mates were coming to VdA the following evening and word on the beach was a wild reggae rave was occurring.
The evening came and we arranged for a boat to take us to the neighbouring island for midnight. Boozed up and spirits high, we’d been pumped up by locals for one insanely crazy time.
Looking back it seemed a little strange how quiet it was when we finally approached. Our taxi boat driver Davey motioned for us to walk up further, barked “5:30AM pick-up” and scuttled away in a flurry.
As we walked up towards the shore, we heard a few acoustic rifts. Promising. As we neared even closer, something became clear.
This was no reggae rave.
There were enough ‘ravers’ to count on both hands. The band formed half of them and the rest were middle aged. A sorry excuse for an ABBA tribute band jammed around a measly fire. We recognised no one. We had run out of cash and couldn’t even afford a beer.
I thought I might actually shed a tear.
We sombrely joked about the long night ahead of us. Next thing we know, two hours down the line, the band has packed up and the island has got plunged into darkness.
Apparently the party’s over and our boat isn’t coming until 3.5 hours. We can’t get hold of Davey.
Cloaked in darkness, abandoned and shivering to high heavens- the curse feels real. Some of our friends accept we might have to sleep on the beach and began to nod off. Emma and me are breaking out in such cold sweats we never think we’ll sleep or see daylight again.
Then under the ebony sky, a frog lands splat on my feet. It’s the final straw. I lost my s***.
I hear the trees groaning and their bounty thudding onto the ground. “Death by coconuts… no ‘fro can save me now…”. Emma joins in with my mad ramblings, rocking back and forth in her chair, repeatedly mumbling “The hills have eyes”. She’s convinced everyone on the island is related and conspiring against us.
We’re so desperate for shelter we’re considering animal pens or tracking down the whereabouts of lizard man. The bizarre half-man, half-reptile we met at the ‘rave’, who felt compelled to shoot his tongue out after every breath he drew. Surely he knew about survival instincts.
At 6AM there still no sign of Davey or our reptilian friend. Just when we thought the end was neigh, our friend Jordan hunted down an early morning riser who offered to take us on his boat and back to Vila do Abraao. Just as we are about to set off, who crawls in at 6:30AM, one hour late and 4.5 hours after the party?
We reluctantly get on our pre-paid boat. Davey has the nerve to laugh as we angrily gesticulate at the time. Home bound at last and beyond delirious, even we begin to see the funny side.
It seemed Wavey Davey also had a rough night. He bombs the entire journey back with his eyes firmly closed. Hell, why not add another near death experience under our belts…
We touch-down in VDA around 7am. All panda eyes and sparkly tops, we felt like grim chavs washed ashore. All we wanted was our warm beds and the heartiest dinner that evening…
Of course on the last day all the card machines cut out and everywhere was only accepting cash. This meant we were broke – as well as broken. So we did the one thing broke girls could do, and sat on the beach all day.
Then he came sashaying towards us from that mystical place in the sky. “Jungle Amazon”.
The shaman who wove fish on rods and roses with this teeth, fingers and reed. Eyes like Mad Eye Moody’s, cackling and singing in half English and Portuguese.
We still couldn’t even begin to tell you what kind of cocktail of drugs he was on but whatever, we were counting our three amazing origami mascots as blessings.
An hour later the cash machines started working and we felt our curse had finally been lifted. Our last meal out more or less went perfectly to plan, besides the part where a crab tried attacking us with a fork (still an improvement on a slimy frog I suppose ..)
Ilha Grande clearly attracts a cosmpolitan crowd: Thai and Turkish cuisines, pizzerias and paella, seafood eateries and creperias. If you want it, the chances are this island has it. Although this luxury comes with a price.
Restaurants are surpringsly expensive, with meals falling just short of London prices. If you’re on a backpackers budget like us it’ll mean cooking in most nights to afford a more lavish one out.
We had a delicous meal at Lonier & Garoupas. A restaurant with a really warm interior, offering authentic Brazilian dishes, seafood platters and salads (their grilled chicken with rice, salad and black bean sauce was great). Although Pe na Areia was our number one motivation for eating in. By the far the suavest beach restaurant by day and simply stunning at night.
I’d been craving some good calamari all trip after my neon yellow excuse for one in Rio. The three of us shared some to start, which was sheer joy. Sadly we didn’t order too well for our mains.
We all opted for the chicken with soy and ginger sauce, braised mango and rice. On paper- delightful. On the palette- the chicken was as tough as cardboard. The boys’ fish on the other hand came out and looked incredible- the meat was so succulent. Apparently it tasted just as good as it looked.
So if you order anything- make it fish or seafood. Credit where it’s due though, the rice, mango and sauce were tasty. Pe na Areia also make the tuti fruitest cocktails and juices.
A couple of times for brunch we’d get crepes from Pato Crepes. There’s a mouth-watering list of sweet and savoury options, all at purse-friendly prices (£1.50 for sugar and lemon and £3 for others). Considering we gobbled up ours in a minute it’s crazy we waited about an hour for these. We guessed it was all about the laidback life, dude.
The holistic scene is also pretty big and there are lots of super food shacks about. Acai with banana and granola is a firm breakfast favourite and was a big hit with me.
That’s all for now- watch this space for week three, our final week in Brazil (Florianopolis and Iguazu).
Love the llamas X