On monday night I arrive at the incredibly basic hotel off Copacabana beach that GAP adventures has decided to start the tour in (with the words of my travel agent ringing in my ears "oh yeah normally they put you somewhere really nice for the first night...")
I meet Sarah my new roommate who i´ll be sharing with for the duration of the tour, a leggy North Londoner with Pre Raphaelite locks, a penchant for mini dresses and bubbling laugh. I have a feeling we are going to get on.
Then we meet Alberto. Alberto is a half man, half Labrador Spaniard with an amiable bordering on lascivious grin and huge brown stomach that he delights in showing off at every opportunity. We discover that he has spent all of the previous night on the beach because he hadn´t managed to find a room in a hotel, that he never wears a watch and doesn´t believe in pre planning.
Hell i´m a free spirit and no one knows me for my excellent organisation skills so this would all be fine ... except for the fact that Alberto also happens to be our Tour Guide (or "Chief Experience Officer
as GAP Adventures like to call it.) Yes that´s right, the man responsible for getting us and the rest of the group safely down the coast of Brazil to Buenos Aires in Argentina. Oh...
That evening we go out for drinks as a group to get to know each other. We are made up of 10 girls (8 Brits and 2 Kiwis) and 2 rather nervous boys. Out of the 12 of us, 8 of us have quit our jobs to go travelling. Its incredibly comforting to meet some like minded spirits - Ladies. We Rock. We settle down in a beach front bar on Copacabana to down a few Caprinhias, the Brazilian cocktail made with a sugar cane liqueor Cachaca, soda and vodka. After a couple, the scousers in the group - Michelle a formidable 6ft redhead and former stand up comedian with the palest skin and acerbic wit (is there actually anyone who hails from Liverpool who is not funny?) starts dissecting the legacy that is Desperate Scousewives and TOWIE to much hilarity. The boys look on slightly stunned.
Alberto gets up to pour some more drinks and his beach shorts promptly fall down leaving us
with a very clear view of some very small pants and pearly white tan lines.
"Alberto!" we shriek in unison...
"EEEEEHhhhhhhhhh..." he shrugs Spanishly.
" Why would i care?? Only boring people care..."
We decide from this point on he shall be known as Alfresco.
The next morning we set off for Ilha Grande, taking a winding bus route that shows off fabulous views of the Sugar Loaf mountain and sparkling sea in the clear sunshine, Rio city has been saving its pretty for my last day here. I am joined by a stunning Eastern European brunette who gabbles excitdely for the journey. Vanja Vajec lives in Denmark but hails from Croatia -and has huge chocolate eyes, an amazing tan and very husky voice. She is despairing because she has been put in a group where half the people are OLD people. (i´m ok because apparently i´m only semi old!) I take to her immediately, she strikes me as someone who would make a fabulous wing woman and i find myself hoping our paths cross again.
Ilha Grande (big island) is situated off the coast of Brazil and is part of the Angra dos
Reis state. It remains largely undeveloped and represents a section of untouched Brazilian rainforest with a diverse eco system in place. The entire island is protected.
We arrive at the largest Village on the island - Vila de Abraao via a boat that steams across the muddy waves to an accompaniment of harcore techno music. After wading ashore we walk up a little winding path to our hotel. The vegetation is lush and jungly and the hostels and accommodation are sweet little beach houses with verandas and gardens. However i can´t help but resent the extras that we are already expected to shell out (on a tour that has already cost more than a grand.) Not only will we have to pay another 6 or 7 pounds for breakfast the next day but to use the safety deposit box in the room or indeed the air conditioning there will be further charges. I am already forming the complaints letter to Gap in my head!
The island is very pretty and most people spend their time doing the many hiking trails to the beach which we decide to save for the next day. As dusk falls the restaurants switch
on the fairy lights in their trees that skim the shores of the beach and the little shops stay open late selling clothes and local crafts. The girls make a unanimous decision to go shopping and leave the "men" behind to drink beer.
Perhaps the most brilliant invention we come across is the fact they seem to be selling cakes in carts on the street...enormous lit up wagons filled with glorious gateaus. You just rock up and purchase a slice of chocolate fudge cake, or black forest, whatever takes your fancy. Why hasn´t this caught on!
Our first dinner is a kebab and pina colada which has been greatly built up by Alfresco and that sets me back about 40 REAL or 15 pounds. Brazil is NOT cheap. The kebab is mediocre by London standards - and speaking as someone who is half Turkish -truly terrible by Istanbul standards!
The next day (after finding breakfast at a local bakery of a sweet, cinnamony bread pudding) we decide to do a 2.5 hour trek to the beach. Alberto, we are soon to learn is (when he decides to impart any ) a totally unreliable source of all information.
Plus his sense of time seems to only exist in 10 minute chunks. As in - "how much further is? " "how far away is?" "how long until...?"
It is gruelling. I´m not in the best shape but i like to think i´m reasonably fit but within minutes the lactic acid burn has begun and we soon discover the trek is mostly winding up hills.
We arrive at a deserted beach and think "We are here!"
We high five. We take celebratory photos. We look around at it being suspiciously empty...
No, no...Alfresco has omitted to mention the fact that there are actually three beaches we have to cross until we arrive at our destination.
"How much longer Alfresco???"
"eeeehhhh 10 minutes?"
We finally arrive on Lopez Mendes beach and sink down to get a tan in a sweaty mess. I´m sure my bum muscles will thank someone later. Michelle arrives 20 minutes later cursing under her breath accompanied by her very sweet friend Louise who conveniently also happens to be a nurse. We contemplate pitching tents and living on the beach forever. In later tales told by Michelle the
winding hill trek becomes a mountain...
However after a few hours and in a moment of pure insanity i decide to do the walk back again via the same trail rather than get the boat and am joined by Pierre - a quiet Belgian guy, Sabrina - a fabulous blonde with cut glass Oxbridge vowels and Vanja Vajic - the brunette from the bus. At one point we lull ourselves into a false sense of security. This is actually alright. And then 45 minutes of sheer Hill Hell begin. It is momentarily interspersed with stopping to look at some baby monkies in trees, admiring the light through the leaves and swerving to avoid the huge black spiders that have sometimes decided to build their web right across our path and are sat poised in the middle of their homes.
We get to the upper most point and the views overlooking the island and the bays are worth it but i´m also exhausted and dripping. Vanja (who has decided she can do it like a mountain goat and is in flip flops) turns around at one point and just laughs at my head for about 5 minutes. I am
not one of those women who go to the gym and finish 45 mins later with an attractive pale, dewy glow and a small strand of hair seductively knocked out of place. I go the full beetroot sweaty mess from scalp to collarbone and my eyes disappear into my head. Still, i´m glad the sight cheers her up!!!
We get to the bottom and the other two move on. Vanja and i strip off to our bikinis and run into the water for a swim. It is the most beautiful dip i´ve ever taken. There are little fishing boats around, the water is calm and milky and just the right temperature and the sun has just begun to set in the sky. Suddenly all of the exercise seems worth it and this is just the right reward.
The next day and its time for another trek! This time to a waterfall. I pose under it and get the kiwis to take some shots. How do some girls manage to pose sexily pouting while all i manage is a cross between a grimace and a squint.
" i need to practice my waterfall face! oooohh that sounds rude!"
i say to the Kiwis.
I don´t think they get it. Is there anything to get?! Maybe i just have a naturally filthy mind.
That evening i get a meal at a self service buffet where they weigh your plate and you pay by the pound.
Unfortunately mine comes to 45 Real about 17 - 20 pounds. I´d pay the same for a main course in one of the top restaurants in London. My eyes have always been bigger than my belly, maybe this will help me focus on taking smaller portion sizes!
The next day we head for Paraty.
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