Friday, June 11, 2010

Ilha Grande, Angra Dos Reis, Brazil, Part One

Approaching the dock at Ilha Grande, Brazil

After ten interesting but frenetic days exploring Rio de Janeiro, Luis and I decided it was time to move on; there was a lot more of Brazil to explore to say the least. Brazil has a total land area of 8.5 million square kilometres (3.3 million square miles), making it the 5th largest nation in the world. I had heard from other travelers that the region called Angra Dos Reis had incredibly beautiful beaches and islands, but also had many options for activities if we got tired of lounging on the beach. Angra Dos Reis (meaning "The Bay of Kings" or "The Creek of Kings") has dozens of white sand beaches and 365 islands and islets, so that it would literally take a year to visit all of them, an island a day. The area is known for its amazing diving, snorkeling, hiking trails and boating excursions and has beaches considered to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Sounded like the perfect place to recuperate after the full-on excitement and chaos of Rio.

View from one of Ilha Grande's beaches (photo by Simone Cannon)

Ilha Grande (pronounced illa-GRAN-zjee) is the largest of all the islands and an ecological preserve. Other than a handful of vehicles used by the police and military, there are no cars or trucks allowed on the island, so it retains its tranquil atmosphere despite the ever growing number of tourists who visit each year. We set off by bus for Angra Dos Reis with a German girl named Ina whom we had met in Rio. The bus ride took just under three hours, after which we connected to Ilha Grande by ferry, another hour and a half. The views from the boat were spectacular, a good sign of things to come.

View from the Ilha Grande ferry...looks promising! (photo by Simone Cannon)

When we arrived, we found our posada easily enough since the town is quite small, but as always, it was at the top of a hill. I have an innate talent for unintentionally booking hotels at the highest possible point in any place we visit, usually requiring a steep, sweaty hike up a hillside loaded down with our heavy backpacks, or in the case of the hostel in Rio, up several flights of stone stairs, with full backpacks and jet lag, usually in the pouring rain. When we arrived at the hotel, we rang the bell, but no one seemed to be there. We called to the owners, but no response, so we tried unsuccessfuly to open the metal gate to the garden. Finally, out of frustration, Luis, ready to unload his pack and flop down on his bed, scrambled over the high fence to find the manager, who returned to the gate with Luis, to show us that all we had to do was slide the lock on the gate up and to the right to open it...well, yeah, if you want to do things the easy way.

Simone, Luis and friends enjoying our beachside caipirinhas

When we got settled, we realized how hungry and thirsty we were and so we met Ina and three young British guys who were staying at her hostel at a bar on the waterfront. Luis told the waiter that we wanted good strong caipirinhas, (pronounced ki-pri-EEN-yas) not the wimpy ones that tourists usually get and, boy, did we get our money's worth; they were some of the strongest we had had so far. That turned out to be fairly common practice as it is a good tip generator for waiters and bartenders. Judging by the number of tourists reeling down the streets, the ban on driving seemed an exceptionally insightful idea by the local government. Luckily, cachaça, (pronounced ka-CHA-sa) the liquor used in caipirinhas, generally doesn't cause severe hangovers, so at least most people are ready the morning after to explore the island. It would be a shame to miss it.

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