We needed to spend four months of our 3 year-circumnavigation in Rio de Janeiro in order for Frans to work full time. If we had our way, we would have spent the whole four months in and around Ilha Grande (Big Island).
The Internet there is good, the water is clear enough to swim around the boat, the variety of different anchorages are amazing and we would have been content………… That is, if we could only get there 🙂
As we limped into Rio towing 26 tonne Shang Du with our dingy and had the engine subsequently removed completely via the roof……we had to put aside our grand visions of this grand island for a while. However, we kept the dream alive and managed to do two enjoyable trips to Ilha Grande and its surroundings during our time in Brazil.
For Shang Du, it is about a 13 hour trip from Rio. (Compare this to the motorboats who happily eat up huge fuel supplies to do the same distance in 2 hours!).
What a contrast to Botafoga Bay! We arrived in the dark and very clearly we could smell the rich aroma of the soil. It was so quiet that we could hear crickets chirp. We anchored and turned in for the night.
The next morning we were surprised by the now familiar greeting of the Howler Monkeys. It is possible to hear them at a distance of 3 kilometres through dense jungle. They sound exactly like the crowd at a huge football match, cheering just after a goal is scored. A wave or rumble of noise, building up to a crescendo and then dying down again. We were fortunate to see some of these Brown Howler Monkeys on one of our hikes and when they are not actually howling it is hard to believe that these docile creatures are capable of making any noise at all.
During our first visit to Ilha Grande Frans was still working full time. This meant that he had to get started at 3:00 am every morning to coincide with South African time. I tried to join him just before sunrise and what a truly blessed experience it was. During the week the anchorages are mostly deserted and we loved the feeling of being alone. The weather was rainy and we spent the week catching up on school and odd jobs.
And oh yes,…… we did some hull cleaning : )
Frans did the heavy scraping at the bottommost parts while Marike and I attacked the sides. However, It was already after the first scraping, that we completely lost Marike as an active member of the hull-scraping team…….
The hull is covered with life. It is not immediately apparent how much life. Only after deciding that a rest is in order, do you start to notice the tiny, creeping, icky, MOVING fuzz that now cover you and yours. I have never seen Marike as freaked out as she was then.. She thought writhing about was an appropriate action for dislodging the critters. She kept on squealing and demanding that someone bring her a change of bathing suit immediately, so she could change right there in the water. If I did not, at that point, notice my own company of critters, it would have been even funnier. Needless to say… Marike does all kinds of other things nowadays, but no hull-cleaning. Just for clarity – the critters never last long out of the water and can simply be brushed off later.
The Island is covered with Atlantic Jungle. There are no thorns and no stones that can hurt your feet. Thus, after the first two hikes where my children dutifully carried their sandals in their hands to placate the Mommy, hikes were done barefoot.
The hikes were really enjoyable. They were all well shaded from the burning sun and full of very interesting and diverse plants as well as small animal life (think spiders and ants and worms mostly).
There was one hike we would do often. It is the pathway that connects the Praia dos Mangues cove with a beautiful boogy-boarding beach Praia Lopez Mendes. The sand on the two sides of the island differ dramatically. The one side of the island lies toward the mainland and the other side is directly open to the ocean. The beach sand on the mainland side is course and grainy and yellow-brown. On the side of the ocean it is not sheltered enough to anchor and the beach sand is finely ground into a very white sand that squeaks as you walk over it. Marike loved the feeling of it between her toes, but the noise freaked me out.
The highlight of our first time at Ilha Grande was the long weekend that fell right in the middle of our stay. Frans was able to take time off and we invited Mike and Nancy de Vries to spend the weekend with us on the boat. They were so gracious with both us and the primitive “camping” arrangements on board. Everyone – except me – took a long hike from the town of Abraão to an ancient aqueduct and to an old prison in the vicinity.
They had a good time drawing in white beach sand with black sand right underneath. Frans immediately thought that the black sand was due to oil pollution, but Mike – a Geologist – assured them that it was just a different type of sand. He showed us later how to separate the black sand particles from the mix by using a magnet.
That night we rounded off our dinner with interesting Brazilian desserts bought by the expedition from a typical dessert trolley in Abraão.
A description of the long weekend experience at Ilha Grande would not be complete without mentioning the Brazilian way of relaxing. After we had the anchorages very much to ourselves during the week, we were astonished when motorboat after motorboat started arriving at the island on Saturday. We planned to spend the day snorkelling at the blue lagoon beach and soon made our way there in our dingy. As we arrived, we realised that there is barely a space left to pull the dingy onto the beach. The whole beachfront was taken up with motor yachts “parked” in the water in front of the sand. They tie one anchor in the sea at the bow (front) and another anchor in the sand in the shallow water to the stern (back). Very few people actually leave their boats. They sit on the boats in the sun and drink and eat and play loud music. If they do swim, they swim right next to the boat and just wallow a bit in the shallow water. After we managed to squeeze the dingy through onto the beach we had a glorious time snorkelling and even saw a few sea turtles. The water, it seems. Is not the main attraction if you are Brazillian.
Even people who do not own motor yachts or have access to them, choose to spend the long weekend at Ilha Grande. Enter the PARTY BOAT. So called because this is precisely what their function is. These are fairly large wooden boats with lots of seating. They are decorated with fake masts and little white crossbars that look like bunting. Huge crowds rent space on these to come and lie next to the Island.
They sure do not do much swimming. The most we saw was one specific boat that issued every person with a swimming noodle. It was fascinating to see the line of colourful swimming noodles climb out of the boat, drift along in a line and get back in.
After the clear water and the star filled nights it was hard to return to Botafoga Bay. This was especially true as we spent the remaining time in Rio, tied to the working docks with its unique problems – not knowing whether the keel would scrape and the mosquitoes and the rats……..