Ilha Grande and Paraty

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February 12th 2010
Published: March 23rd 2010
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A boat full of Coca-Cola, getting ready to ship over to Ilha Grande from Mangaratiba.
From Iguazu, I had to make my way to Ilha Grande, where I was going to meet back up with Sam. If you'll recall, back when we were in Valparaiso I had made my reservation for the flight from Iguazu to Rio airport, but had trouble making the payment over the web. So, after I talked to the reservations agent on the phone (who told me they only take AmEx over the phone), I was told my reservation was going to be held and that I would have to show up at least an hour and half before the (6am) flight to pay for my ticket at its confirms price (of about $90). Things did not work out so neatly. I arrived to the airport (on the Brazilian side) a bit more than two hours early. Knowing that there are no ATMs on Ilha Grande, I figured I'd get some cash. Luckily, there were five or so different ATM machines right next to each other at the airport, because only one of them would give me cash. The others all said the network was down or that they didn't accept my kind of card (and, incidentally, the same thing would happen again later in Rio to Sam; I took out a lot of cash here and Brazil has lots of options to use credit cards, so I didn't need to get more cash later).

Well, that was the first indication that things weren't going to be perfect, but I did get cash and that worked fine. The next thing was that the airport was basically closed - there was no way to get to the ticket counter or check-in line. When it was about an hour and forty-five minutes before the flight, and I was just allowed to go through to the counter, I was worried that I wouldn't make it in time. I shouldn't have worried, because when I got to the counter I was told my reservation had been canceled anyway. Why? Because even though my reservation had been on hold, they only held it for a week or so and then had canceled it, despite what the phone agent had told me previously. After waiting around for a bit while the desk agent tried to fix it (she spent a long time on the phone), the only thing I was able to do was buy a new
Heading to Ilha GrandeHeading to Ilha GrandeHeading to Ilha Grande

You can see the top of the island, Pico da Pedra D'Água (Rooster's Beak), in the center of the photo.
ticket at the walk-up fare, substantially more than I had expected to pay. Shit. But, at least I made it to Rio airport.

Of course, the reservation I'd made with the transportation to Ilha Grande didn't work out either. The driver didn't show up at the airport, and I waited around for almost an hour before I decided to just call it quits. The thing about getting to Ilha Grande is that, well, it's an island, and if you don't get the ferry you can get stuck. I was worried about missing that ferry. Luckily, I happened to see a guy earlier wearing a shirt bearing the name of a company I'd read about online that does direct transfers to the island from the airport. Well, with my attempt to speak Spanish to him failing, but him apparently understanding that I was looking for a ride, he made a phone call to the office and a few minutes later I joined his group of Australians on the way to the island (and for less than the price I was going to pay for the hostel's transfer). With that little stress relieved, I was ready to relax on the beach.

As it turned out, we stopped along the way to pick up a small group at a hostel in Rio, one of which was a Dutch girl who seemed to know a lot about the island. She'd basically quit her travels and decided not to go home in order to stay there for a while, and had been in Rio working something out with the airline. In any case, she was a fountain of useful information, though a generally annoying person. I mostly tried to avoid her on the island, though it's a bit tough to avoid running into people when you're all concentrated in a small area (the island itself is huge, but the main town is pretty tiny).

After docking, I was walking over to the hostel I'd booked for the first night - the place Sam was staying was full that night so I booked a different place - and as I was talking to the Dutch girl to figure out where to go one of the hostel's employees happened to be walking by and
I walked with her (she was Brazilian, but had been living in San Diego and was just here to work for the summer season). After unloading my gear, I took a walk around the island, bought some snacks and a couple beers, and went to wait for Sam to get back at his hostel. When he returned he told me that the water had been out there, so no toilets or showers - not the kind of place I wanted to be for the next couple of nights. Also, it was really hot and humid. When the rains came that night and the power went out, that also meant the fan went out in his room. We were eating dinner when the rain started coming and the power went out, and afterward I took the long walk back to the hostel in the dark, hoping I'd find it. I did, but with the help of the incredible lightning storm--at times it was like daylight. Some people got photos of the lightning, and though I was laughing at them trying at the time, when I saw the photos I was pretty jealous of 'em. Sorry I can't share with you.

The next day, instead of staying at his hostel, we moved with one of the other guys in his room to a nearby pousada (Pousada Juliana), where we saw that they had a generator and air conditioning, not to mention that we got a private ensuite room, a game room, and a great breakfast for the same price as we would have paid for the dorm.

The second day on the island, after figuring out the living situation, we took a boat to Lopes Mendes, a beach that you can hike to but with the heat we thought would be much better by boat. Even after docking, there's a 20-30 minute hike up and down a big hill, so when you finally get there, it's pretty unspoiled. Actually, although I didn't really take advantage of the opportunity to see it, the whole island is pretty much undeveloped - basically no cars (except the trash collection), and lots of wildlife.

After spending the day on the beach, where we ran into a couple of girls that were on the bus/boat with me from Rio, and where we played some frisbee (which I had got free in Buenos Aires with
Underwater desertUnderwater desertUnderwater desert

Reminds me of the steppes of Patagonia... Lots of dead corals in these waters.
my purchase of sunscreen) in the warm water (where I also managed to lose Sam's sunglasses), we headed back to town. On the boat back we met some women who Sam correctly predicted were from Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn), based on their clothing (the fashion there might as well be a uniform--it is that obvious); they were celebrating the 30th birthdays of two of the four. That night there was, yes, more rain, and more power out. We played a little bit of pool at our posada and drank some caipirinhas we made with terrible cachaca.

The third day on the island we went on a boat ride to a few spots around the island and did some snorkeling. On board we met Lisa, a girl who was working for the boat company (though was her day off), and her cousin who was visiting from Ireland. Over the course of the day we stopped at three different spots around the island to snorkel, and the guides showed us various spots on the island an the mainland where just two months earlier there had been landslides that killed a lot of people and caused a lot of damage. That was pretty intense. On a lighter note, we also saw a lot of dolphins, and followed them around with the boat for a while. That was cool. There must have been about 15 or 16 dolphins, swimming, jumping, and playing, not 20 feet from the boat.

That night we went to the hostel where I'd stayed the first night because there was a party there, and we ran into the girls from Brooklyn and the Dutch girl I'd met on the boatride over. We also saw a few Argentinians that I'd met the first night staying at the hostel. There was a local band playing music, which was almost entirely Bob Marley covers, but they did have an original song here and there.

Overall, the island was great--relaxing, which was what I needed since I was still recovering from the motorcycle ride.

When we left the next day, we headed to Angra dos Reis, where we met Sam's friend (acquaintance, really) Eduardo, who Sam had met once a few years prior while doing a study abroad program in Spain. Eduardo showed us around a little - the naval school was really cool - and then took us

Lisa asked me to take her photo underwater - she's been living on the island for months and working for the boat company (Navegantes), but hadn't yet had her photo taken underwater.
to the house his family was building nearby (Eduardo wants to be an architect, and was very involved in the planning of the house). Eduardo's father, who was at the house, is a nuclear engineer and works for one of the nuclear power plants. As part of the job, the family got free housing right on the beach - and back before the area had been developed, they got a lot of other perqs (like free utilities, transportation to the markets, and the like). Well, since Eduardo's father was about to retire, they were building this new house to move into.

From the house, the four of us went to have a snack at an apparently famous pastel spot (Brazilian pastels are not desserts like in Spanish-speaking countries; they're more like empanadas). There we also met Eduardo's mother, who didn't really speak English--we tried with Spanish, but communication with her was a bit difficult. In any case, we went from there back to the place where Eduardo's family was currently living, and took a swim in the beach. Then we hung out a little in the pool. Then we were fed dinner and met Eduardo's cousin and her boyfriend. Afterwards, Eduardo took us to Paraty, which is an old Portuguese gold miners' city from the 1600's that has been fairly well preserved, in part because it wasn't rediscovered until recently. Paraty has some pretty cool features: during high tide the roads all flood, by design, in order to wash the garbage out to sea. Also, the town is known for its cachaca.

In any case, that night was the night before Carnaval, so of course the party was starting already. We went to a bar in Paraty that apparently is a pretty happening place on most nights, but I think the street party was a bigger draw on that particular night since it was pretty slow inside. So we went out to the street party a little, walked around and saw some ridiculousness - including the local Carnaval King riding around in a car and some people wearing huge scary-looking costumes. We went back to the bar again for a little while, and then made our way back to Eduardo's place for the night.

On our last day, we went back to the beach for a bit after breakfast. Eduardo's father, having somehow determining that Sam and I are Jewish, made sure to put out some sliced turkey breast on the breakfast table in place of the traditional ham, which was thoughtful. After the beach, we had some lunch, and then headed to the bus stop to get to Rio, where we would spend the next few days for Carnaval--and my last stop in South America.


23rd March 2010


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