Beach, Beaches and More Beaches

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Five days on Ilha Grande and some of the beaches in the surrounding area, and I'm now convinced that Brazil has the most beautiful beaches in the world. After my time in Minas Gerais state, I took a bus to Mangaratiba, on the coast, to meet up with my friend Pablo, a journalist from Bariloche, whom I met in Rio a few weeks ago. The next day, we caught the early ferry to nearby Ilha Grande (Big Island). This island has more than 100 beaches, almost all of which are accessible by well marked trails. But since we were only planning to stay for three days, we set up camp in the main settlement of Vila Abraao as soon as we arrived, and then took another boat to Lopes Mendes beach. It's widely ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and I have to agree. The clearest, bluest water you've ever seen.

This had been my first night sleeping in a tent in years, so I didn't sleep much, but the next morning we got up before the roosters and started our hike to Parnaioca beach, an isolated beach on the other side of the island, about a 6 hour hike away. We can hear Howler monkeys screaming in the distance during most of the hike, but we never saw a single one. They're considered the loudest land animals and can be heard clearly from up to 3 miles away! On the way we made a quick stop to rest at Dois Rios, another beautiful beach beyond the ruins of an abandoned prison. Some of Brazil's most dangerous prisoners were locked up here until 1994 which is one of the main reasons the island hadn't seen much tourism until recently. I can't imagine how the prisoners felt knowing that paradise was just beyond the prison walls. We didn't stick around for long, since we had the majority of the hike ahead of us and we knew we would pass by again on the way back tomorrow.

This is also where we befriended a local dog, who we later named Hunter, due to his incredible ability to hunt small animals. As if it was his duty, he lead us from Dois Rios beach to Parnaioca, a 4 hour hike away, then slept outside our tent, and lead us back the next day. More loyal than any girl I've ever dated! He even pointed out some wildlife on the trail along the way. And by pointed out, I mean chased away. On a few occasions he sprinted into the forrest at full speed and returned with a dead armadillo in his mouth.

We arrived at Parnaioca in the early afternoon and had the whole beach almost to ourselves. Most tourists take a boat around the island, stopping at several beaches for about one hour each so some of the beaches are really crowded for an hour a day and void of people the rest of the time. I was really tired from all of the hiking so I slept like a baby the second night in the tent.

We spent our third day on the island hiking back towards the main settlement, this time stopping for a longer while at Dois Rios, to be able to really appreciate it. Again the beach was completely deserted. Two small islands are visible from the shore, so I decided to brave the waves and swim to them, about 1 kilometer away. The closer one was impossible to get on due to the surrounding rocks, so I continued to the second one. I'm not a strong swimmer so the half hour swim was difficult, but my prize was a deserted island. I climbed to the top and saw some nearby fishermen in a boat. They were confused to see me, not understanding how the hell I got there. I swam back, we bid our four legged tour guide farewell, and continued back to Vila Abraao.

After Ilha Grande, we caught a boat back to the mainland and then a bus to Paraty, a colonial town on the coast surrounded by more beaches. One can visit a different beach in this area every day for over a year. We decided to take a break from camping so we stayed at a hostel there for one night. It's a nice city, but very touristy, so the next day we took a bus and hiked for about an hour to Praia do Sono. I'd been wanting to check this beach out since someone told me about it a few months ago, so that's probably why I was a bit disappointed when we got there. It was more developed and populated than I thought and the huge waves made it difficult to go in the water. A surfer's paradise but not great for me. I spent most of my time in a hammock and at the deserted beach which was just a short walk away.

All in all I really enjoyed the last week. It was a good combination of hiking and relaxing on some amazing beaches. The only disappointing thing was the weather. It rained every evening for an hour or two, and the starry sky I envisioned was behind cloud cover every night.

I hate Sao Paulo, but I spent my last few days there since a friend from Rio was in town and my flight to Buenos Aires leaves from here. In my short time here I managed to get my wallet pick pocketed. Luckily, the guy just took the R$40 and threw the wallet on the ground, and someone picked it up and returned it to my hostel. Saved me a big headache. Anyway... off to Buenos Aires where I'll spend the next two weeks.

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