If only the weather was grand, eh? Ilha Grande, Brazil
Of all the ways in which I have ever arrived on a beach, Ilha Grande (a small tropical island off the coast of Brazil) was my favourite. Lopez Mendes is glorious of course. The world-famous beach has dazzling white sand backed on one side by thick forest and rolling hills and battered on the other by a clear crashing sea. As is so often the way though, it is the journey that really makes it.
For two hours we had trekked through the rainforest without really knowing where we were going. With no map and no sign-posting apart from some confusing hand-painted wooden boards nailed to trees we were more than a little lost. Still, we trekked on, hiking up narrow paths in what must have been 200% humidity. Up we climbed, panting for breath and sweating profusely and down we slid, grabbing hold of vines, trees and bushes to steady ourselves. Up and down, up and down, up and down until we thought that we must have walked the whole 100km to Rio.
On our way we passed monkeys playing in the trees, a tree snake hanging from a branch and a worm that must have been two metres long. We also passed other, perfectly good beaches. There were a few businesses on the first one – a shop/restaurant/bar/creche where a small child played in the sand with a bucket and an abandonned boat taxi company – and a row of coloured houses with boats parked out front. We stopped for a while, feeling the crunch of broken shells scratch the bottoms of our feet, kicking sand at each other and eventually descending into a fit of childish giggles as Alan tried desperately to shake the sand out of his dreadlocks.
The second beach was quieter, just a clapboard hotel whose shutters banged in the wind and a Brazilian family sitting in red plastic Brahma beer chairs half-sunk into the sand. They were soaking up what little sun the day had to offer, sometimes talking but mostly listening to the sound of the waves and keeping a weary eye on their children.
By the time we had traversed the last hill, crossing a huge hollow bursting with trees and vegetation, it was getting on 5pm. All day we had been passing the most unexpected scenes, always getting the impression that a huge crowd had just passed through and that, after putting on their public faces for an hour or two, the locals and the island were settling back into their natural rhythm. As we emerged from the rainforest, sandals in hand, the last family were packing up their beach blanket and heading home. With the beach stretching on inifinity before us and not a soul in sight we did what any red-blooded person would do…. Buried each other in the sand and practiced our kartwheels.
As seems to be so often the case, the sun did not shine for us in Ilha Grande – land of beaches, rainforests, no roads, idyllic guesthouses and bobbing boats. Our hostel, Che Laguarto was dead and all in all, pretty sub-par (Studio Beach in town is much nicer, friendlier and a hell of a lot cheaper) although it was lovely to be able to sit out on the deck writing, the sea lapping below the boards. I had pictured a few days of relaxing tan top-up before we headed for Rio, our last stop. What we got was a town that always seemed to have been busy and hour before we turned up. Ilha Grande was undeniably beautiful though and if you had the weather and the right crowd, an absolute tropical paradise.
Still, rain isn’t always a bad thing. For as long as I live I will never forget taking off my flip-flops and sprinting 1.5km through a torrential shower with Gary, him cackling hysterically as the lightning cracked overhead. The squidge of mud between my toes, the smack of warm water on my stomach as I landed in another puddle and that fantastic care-free feeling of being so wet that you might as well just dance in the streets. And in Brazil why wouldn’t you?
There are more pictures from Ilha Grande available in the gallery