Ilha grande, Curitiba and Florianopolis

Trip Start Feb 16, 2014
Trip End Nov 01, 2014

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Santa Catarina,
Sunday, March 30, 2014

I've bundled these three places together before Kate murders me for taking so long so apologies if it is slightly too long!

We had to be in Uruguay for volunteering by the 7th of April which left sparse wiggle room for activities down the coast. One place mentioned by every person who had been to Brazil was Ilha Grande - a tropical island 30 minutes boat ride off the coast just south of Rio - and I'm glad we listened to them.

The island is comprised of many beaches and bays with one major town, Abraão on the north eastern side that is dominated by small, low hostels and restaurants. There are no cars on the island besides the odd JVC being used to help build the next tourist haven. We were originally booked in for only a couple of nights but quickly revised this to 5 nights after taking in the relaxed atmosphere and tropical beaches. Tough life. As with most of SA there were still plenty of stray dogs around and someone had an atypically quiet daschund so Kate was happy.

Most days were spent at one beach or another with our first attempt to get to Lopes Mendes beach thwarted by our lack of geography skills and equal lack of signage. This didn't matter too much as the beach we spent the day on was mostly empty besides a very noisy generator down one end of the beach with a cafe. The return water taxi happily charged us the same amount it cost us to get to the island as the alternative was to walk back another two hours through a very sweat-inducing jungle that, whilst pretty, we had already conquered that morning. Other similar jungle walks led us by natural rock pools and up close to two different species of monkey, one of which was extremely loud and could be heard grunting and calling from our second hostel close up to the jungle. At one point we were surrounded by monkeys as they made their way through the trees to us to make a few noises before losing interest.

Lopes Mendes beach mentioned earlier was on someones top ten list of beaches in the world a few years ago so we were determined to check it out. I know people in England will scoff at this one so my apologies once again but Kate and I agreed we could name ten beaches better than this one in WA alone (I'm thinking Esperance, Jim). Maybe we hyped it up too much in our heads but there were bits of rubbish strewn around and a few other aspects could have been better. That said, it was still very nice and we enjoyed hanging out for a day getting crispy.

With most of our time tragically filled up lying on beaches we still had managed to sample the local caipirinhas and restaurants with our favourites including a seafood stew on the beach (Kate, not me) and the per kilo restaurant at our first hostel where they weigh your food in order to pay. This is the most typical type of restaurant in Brazil. One night we cooked pasta in the hostel then added a plate of BBQ'd chorizo to the mix for a few dollars. Yum! The final mention should go to the second hostel which had just obtained a new kitten the owner had found on the side of a mainland road. Needless to say Kate went missing for several hours on a number of occasions. To be fair I did too.

We had decided to skip São Paulo due to time constraints and several people's accounts that there wasn't much to do there besides fear for your wallet (I exaggerate a little of course). This gave us time to stop by the 'greenest city in Brazil', Curitiba to which I slightly miscalculated our next hop. Originally assuming it would be a 12 hour bus ride at most, it soon became apparent that it was slightly further than that. Our hops ended up being a 45 minute boat ride to shore, 2 hours by bus to Paraty, 7 hours to São Paulo and finally an 8 hour night bus to Curitiba. Oops. On the plus side I think I read 4 books in that time :). I already regret not staying a night or two in Paraty as an hour's perambulation through the cobbled streets revealed a gorgeous colonial town with tiny artisan shops dotted about and a relaxed atmosphere to accompany them. Time was against us though.

The main - and perhaps the only - reason we went to Curitiba was to take a jungle train to the nearby town of Morretes. The journey took around 3 hours and started in the central city before trundling ponderously out into fields and then winding its way up into the verdant, picturesque hills. Three hours of photo taking later and we were in a quiet town that contained little to do besides walk along the very pretty riverside and wait for your ride back to Curitiba.

Kate had heard of some tubing to be done somewhere nearby but after an hour it seemed unlikely until some locals rang a taxi for us and told us to go to the next town 6km away. The place we arrived at looked completely dead and we walked around what was essentially someone's estate calling out for ten minutes until someone popped their head out to confirm they were in fact open. We received helmets, tubes, life jackets, and a 2 minute safety talk in Spanglish before being whisked 3km up the river and waved goodbye with a cheerful thumbs up. I'd have given up in Morretes so kudos to Kate for persevering and gambling on everything as the ride down the river was amazing; most of the time involving bouncing off rocks and lazily drifting down river surrounded by no sounds except tropical jungle. Other time's requiring some quick navigation of short rapids and slightly more treacherous waters. Kate was certainly more capable of handling herself as I ended up falling out twice during the descent as she casually span through various rocky waters and looking impressively restrained from smug. Upon return we caught the short bus back to Curitiba ready for a day of exploring on the morrow.

We probably wouldn't have got up to much more than the market and old town but Kate - on a roll - had heard rumours of giant Capybaras in a local park which she informed me could absolutely not be missed upon pain of death and so the afternoon was spent on the shores of a small lake in which the world's biggest rodents swam in. Even being forewarned of their size doesn't really prepare you and whilst the majority were fairly cautious of humans (even though they are in a public park) we got within touching distance of one on its own and got the desired photo ops. The only other thing to say about Curitiba is the bus system is very impressive and it would be well received in Perth if they had something similar! I'm fairly certain Colin Barnett follows this blog so it had to be said.

The final stop for this post (I can hear you crying out with relief) was Florianopolis. This was only a quick 6 hour or so bus ride down the coast and is the capital of the Santa Catarina region. Almost an island, the city isn't where we intended to stay but instead one of the many small towns dotted amongst the jungle-covered hills around the coast surrounded by pristine beaches. Ours, Barra Da Lagoa turned out to be an hour's bus ride from the city and was perfect for what we wanted. Our beach choices were a very long beach with a few bars at one end or a quiet bay 5 minutes walk away via a small bridge. The town was so small I had to get a 20 minute bus to go to an ATM. Food options were limited but no problem as we stuck to hostel cooked meals and one night out eating an extremely rich prawn and cheese cream dish that left both of us alternating between delight and self-disgust. I made amends with my conscience during a beach run the next day.

There were some jungle treks available nearby or some trips to the south coast for various activities but we were content to laze around for a few more days due to our extremely stressful river tubing in Morretes. Although tricky to find online, rumour (tripadvisor forums) had it we could get an overnight bus straight to the small town adjacent to our volunteering in Uruguay. This was mostly true and we enjoyed a very comfortable trip to Chuy on what we assumed must be a Uruguayan bus company as they handed out complimentary whiskey and martinis of all things. Tasted way better than the stuff I stole off dad when I was 14. A 30 minute local hop at 3AM left us navigating the small town of Punta Del Diablo to a hostel called Diablo Tranquilo that was anything but quiet and greeted us with smiles and cheap, potent caipirinhas.
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