I’ve been kind of obsessed with visiting Brazil since about 10 minutes into my first listen to an Astrud Gilberto record in college. I guess that lots of people around the world grow up watching american TV and movies and listening to american music and they are just obsessed with going to visit the usa and seeing it all in real life. That’s just like me only with Brazil! so it’s pretty crazy that I’ve been living in Argentina for a few years now, right next to Brazil, listening to samba and bossa nova and Seu Jorge and CSS and it took me this long to finally go visit! Anyway, we’ll just say that i was SUPER PSYCHED and filled with anticipation for this trip. And Brazil lived up to my great expectations.
We split our (way-too-short) visit between Rio de Janeiro and Ilha Grande. Arrived in Rio on Friday, super exhausted from a weird flight schedule and it was pouring rain in the city so we dedicated our afternoon to digging into amazing Brazilian eats. Fish, shrimp, sushi, pineapple, mango, passionfruit, brazilian beef and caipirinhas all appeared on our lunch menu. We had a big nap and a small exploration of Ipanema, then ate awesome thai-brazilian fusion for dinner at a fancy place (Nem Thai) in Leblon.
Saturday was less rainy, so we set out with an ambitious sight-seeing plan! We unfortunately started with going up to see the Cristo Redentor at Corcovado, which turned out to be a huge touristy amusement-ride type thing, with a looooong wait. So we pretty much spent the whole day going up to Corcovado.
It was an awesome view, though! Rio is such a ridiculously beautiful city. I want to live in a city that has crazy mountains and jungle and ocean all together! Really I want to live in Rio! but without the crazy class divide and crime and stuff.
After Corcovado we wanted to take the Bonde (street-car) from the station in the Centro up to Santa Teresa, but we had some communication problems with the taxi driver (none of us can speak Portuguese, though spanish and portuguese are so similar, we mostly got by okay with speaking spanish!) and he took us to the Bonde station in Lapa instead of Centro. Lapa is a touristy area, not a favela, but it is rumored to be a great place to get mugged, and the spot where he dropped us was like this weird, trash-strewn deserted old train platform at the end of a long twisty cobblestone alley and the whole situation seemed like a bad place for a bunch of unfortunately conspicuous gringo tourists to be hanging out. We immediately regretted having climbed out of the cab, but he was gone and we were all alone with our thoughts of the 10000 warnings everyone gave us about getting mugged in Rio and not wandering aimlessly around Lapa. We were all panicky and freaked out and didn’t know what to do and night was falling fast. We totally feared the worst of every person that walked past – but all of them just walked up and waited quietly at the platform next to us. After the LONGEST half-hour ever, the bonde finally trundled up… and it was completely full, there were people hanging off the sides and out the windows and out the door and we totally couldn’t smash ourselves in there, noway nohow. So then the bonde trundled off and we were left alone again, on this platform in the dark.
Nothing to do but wander out into the streets and search for a cab. Which turned out to be very easy. Soon we were in Santa Teresa and, still a little shaky, we wandered up to the most beautiful old ramshackle hillside mansion/bookstore/bar where an awesome samba band was playing an informal show on the front porch while people seated at card tables listened to the music and drank caipirinhas and looked out over the ridiculously beautiful view of the city and mountains beyond.
Crispy pizza and much-needed drinks were ordered, and we played a few rounds of cards while the band finished up and another band started setting up on a little stage on the other side of the house, and a good crowd wandered over to dance to their afro-samba music. What an amazing and perfect spot. Later we had another awesome dinner at a Brazilian restaurant in the same neighborhood, Espirito Santo, which also had beautiful views of the city from the back patio.
Sunday, off to Ilha Grande! We took a three-hour bus ride to Angra dos Reis, with beautiful views of the mountainy coastline in the last hour.
Then a half-hour boat ride (on the fast catamaran) out to Ilha Grande! It’s a jungly island off the Atlantic coast, the former site of several infamous prisons, but has become a tourist spot in the years since the prisons shut down. It’s totally a tourist paradise, but a tiny and simple one, lots of nature and not much development.
We stayed at a place called Sagu Mini-Resort. They picked us up at the main dock and we had a 5-minute boat ride over there. It is a totally cute and kinda fancy little place, a few cabañas and a very nice restaurant.
We spent the rest of Sunday exploring Abraao, the island’s only real town. We waded in the water (it’s wintertime so the water is not very warm, but it’s Brazil so it’s not very cold either) and wandered down a string of small beaches, had caipirinhas on the beach while the sun went down. We had to wander home in the dark, as the sun sets very early (like 6pm!) and we’d forgotten our flashlight. We had a great dinner in the restaurant at Sagu, I’ve forgotten the name but it was excellent. I had linguini with scallops and shrimp and just the right amount of garlic, which was awesome, and I am very picky about pasta.
On Monday we took a hike through the jungle that covers most of the island, out to the famous Praia Lopes Mendes beach. It was steep going and the trails were made out of packed clay, which was pretty slippery on the hills!
The temperature was a bit cool in the shade of the jungle, and then sometimes the trail would come out onto a little beach and get warmed up in the sun.
At the top of the mountain the foliage opened up for a minute and we had spectacular views across the bay, and we could see the town of Abraao and a few small beaches around the island below us.
At the top of another hill, we met a friendly family of monkeys!
luckily we had a few bananas in our pack, so we shared them with these cute little guys. We think they were marmosets. Their fur was incredibly soft, but their little hands grabbed my fingers so tightly it startled me. At first they were wary of us, but as soon as they tasted our bananas they started calling all their friends and family over, and soon we were surrounded by a bajillion curious monkeys.
We hiked for three or four hours, including a stop to drink freshly squeezed fruit juice on the beach.
When we finally arrived at THE Beach, it was indeed spectacular.
Praia Lopes Mendes is world-famous for its beauty! but because it’s so remote (and it’s winter), there were only eight or ten other swimmers and surfers dotted around the beach. Unlike the island’s other beaches, the sand was perfectly white and incredibly fine and soft. Dramatic mountains looming just beside the beach:
The sun was warm, it was perfect swimming weather and we stayed in the water until we were exhausted.
The waves were pretty big and fun to play in, and I saw the most AMAZING thing: a giant wave about to crash over my head, and in the thinnest crest of the wave, above me, a big silver fish swimming along the crest of the wave, silhouetted in the sunlight, as it broke over me! Nobody else saw it though, he disappeared after this one magical moment.
When the sun started to get low, we had to trot back through the jungle to another beach where we caught the last ferry back to Abraao.
We stopped at a beach shack for a caipirinha on our way home, and then we had another caipirinha, and then they fired up the barbecue and started grilling skewers of beef and fish and giant prawns, and we never made it home to change out of our sandy bathing suits, we just kept drinking caipirinhas and feasting on salads and grilled meat and fish as the moon rose over the beach, then finally stumbled down the beach and home to bed.
We’d originally thought we might head back to Rio on Tuesday to see more of the city, but once tuesday arrived, of course we didn’t want to leave yet. We caught a boat out of Abraao to do a snorkeling adventure at Laguna Azul, they handed us flippers and goggles and herded us on a little boat full of tourists. They took us to three different snorkeling spots; the day was overcast and there was a chilly breeze so it was really hard to get into the water, I just kept wanting to sit on the boat and huddle under my towel, but thankfully, at the final (and best) spot, I made the chilly plunge. Mike is not wimpy about the cold, so he was splashing around exploring everywhere and kept shouting “come over here you have to see this!”
I’d never been snorkeling before, and never seen a coral reef before, and honestly despite being a confident swimmer, deep water gives me the heebie-jeebies. It was hard to get used to the snorkel thing and I kept getting mouthfuls of salty water when I wanted lungfuls of air. But Mike kept saying “come on over here, I’ll show you, I’ll give you a tour of the reef, it is so awesome, you have to come see!” and soon I started to get used to breathing air while my face is in the water. While the world above water was grey and chilly, the underwater world was a spectacular and crazy fantasy waterscape of freaky beautiful fishes and bulging coral formations and undulating, pulsating seaweedy looking things that might have been flora or might have been fauna, I don’t even know. There was a loooong skinny fish and there was a fabulous fish with feathery wings, there was a camouflage fish that looked like a swimming rock, translucent fishes and zillions of stripey black-and-yellow fish, and who knows what else. When I finally surfaced and looked back, I couldn’t see the boat anymore and I was all “O god where are we, oh no! it looks like it’s going to rain, we better hurry back!” and then I stuck my face back in the water and I was all “WHOA, COOL” and forgot about going home. I was so surprised that a whole hour had flown by when the boat tooted its horn to call us back. I so wish I had an underwater camera to take pictures of all that.
Then they took us to a cantina on a beach somewhere and we got this ridiculously huge black cauldron of stewed garlicky shrimp and it was awesome.
After lunch, back to Abraao, rushed back to our rooms and packed everything in a hurry and hustled onto the last boat out of town.
We got back to Rio at 9 or 10 at night, had an amazing churrascuro buffet in Ipanema (I didn’t even eat any beef, the salad bar was so spectacular, and they had amazing pasta and sushi and seafood, and I just want to eat that every night for the rest of my life. Food in Brazil is so good!) and then after a good night’s sleep we flew home first thing in the morning. I want to go back already!