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Quote:  Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except for heaven and hell, and I have only a vague curiosity as concerns one of those (Mark Twain)

Ilha Grande, Small Paradise

The Abraos quay.
I am rather scheptical when I hear the word "paradise", a good turistic slogan, but that very few times lives up to reality. I've been to some of the so-called "paradises on Earth"and now they are filthy crowded places with sewage 'scenting' the air with their stink. Fortunately this has not happened yet to Ilha Grande, a 196 square Km area island located some 2 hour- travel to the south of Rio de Janeiro, but it's on its way to that fate, because it's not very far from Rio and the touristic pressure is very strong.

Panoramic view over Abrao.
The first impresión you get when you dock in the small Abrao quay (Abrao means 'shelter' in Portuguese), the non-official capital of Ilha Grande, is that time has stood still here; after 2 ½ hours of navigation from Angra dos Reis on board of a Escuna (the name of the ship is derived from the original English name 'shooner') or on a Ferry, you can see that all the goods are unloaded by hand, not by cranes or other means, and put into small vans that are the commonest means of transportation in the island, because the only motorized vehicles are the police units and the garbage collectors, that drive by the only asphalted street in the town, "Rua da Igreja, in search of the crime that is never commited here, and the garbage, which indeed is produced and in loads.

A boat on Pouso beach.
You can see all over Abrao the vans carrying pieces of bagage and taking people to their housings, which usually are little inns that you can hardly see because they are half hidden by the exuberant vegetation. I can see that this growth is uncontrolled, that the sewage system or drains are virtually inexistent, and all he sewage flow directly in the harbour, leaving a wake of stinkness all along their way. The dogs in Abrao don't seem to be territorial, (except maybe one of them that must be the bitter one of the town) and don't look bothered or bark at you when you leap over them as you walk by, because they're lying in streets that in many cases are not even 2 mt wide.

Pouso beach.
Luckily enough, the island is rather mountainous and has areas difficult to reach that are still virgin; for a time it was the Brazilean equivalent of Alcatraz, for there was a penal institution ruled by very strict rules. That part is now a biological reserve, called 'das Praias de Sul e Leste', and a marine reserve, 'Aventureiro'. The island has over 100 beaches, many of them only reachable by sea, and others after exhausting hikes through the sultry jungle that stretches up througth the mountains that split de island in North and South, some of them of up to 1000 mt high, and the most famous of them is the Papagayo peak, because its top has the exact shape of a Papagayo's head, and of which I'll tell you later on. There are over 1000 signalised paths that allow you take a whole trip around the island in one week. The most known beach is Lopes Medes, long and with white sands, that is always crowded with surfers looking for the 'Big Wave'. The island is an extraordinary spot for scuba diving as well.

Palmas beach.
My inn is a youth hostel located halfway up a hill from where you can enjoy an extraordinay view over the jungle in the mornings, while having a coffe at the balcony and speaking half English, half Portuguese with the people of all kind that are logded there. This balcony was almost responsible for the end of my journey, because I fell down the stony stairs when the old chair I was sitting on cracked and we both rolled down. I only got slight bruises, but the chair ended its useful days with two broken legs.

During my stay in the island I concurred with the Sao Sebastian celebrations, on 21st of January, but they're not so lively as those of Puerto Rico, and their activitiy programme is prayers, prayers and prayers, bingo and a forró concert, the music of the Northeast area of the country, which is a very simple dance intended to be easy to learn even for the North Americans, not for nothing its name comes from the English expression "for all".

Lopes Mendes' chappel.
I hope that the people of Ilha Grande will realise that one thing is the touristic bussiness, and other to kill the goose that lays golden egs, because there are a lot of paradisiacal places in the world, and people aren't always faithful, so if Ilha Grande keeps on deteriorating, people will find another place and the island will fall into ostracism and will lose its main source of subsistence, but the accumulated garbage will be left behind there for a long time. If they follow the example of Paraty, they will find that it is not so difficult to combine tourism, ecologics and quality of life.

Lopes Mendes' small beach.
I am with some Argentinian friends who have developped the turistic portal of Ilha Grande in Spanish and English and they have helped me a because they lent me a digital camera (thank you, Toba!), because due to an unfortunate accident, I can't use my own camera until I arrive in Buenos Aires and have it repaired or replaced. (thank you, Albert!). I'm going to climb the Papagayo peak with them and Nelio, one of the best connoiseurs of the secrets of Ilha Grande, in one of the clearest and sunniest days that we had in the island; we chose the most complicated path in the island, which doesn't mean it's the longest one, (about 14 Km. Starting and finishing from the town) but the distance is no the hardest thing about it, as you will see further on.

The Hispano-Argentinian-Brazilean expedition. From left to right: Toba, Sandra, Carlos and Nelio.
There is nearly all the time a cloud hanging on the beak of the formation, and I say beak and not peak, because the mountain has the shape of a papagayo's head, and its rocky beak is sharply and distinctively shaped. The path starts in Abrao, sharing the first stretch to the way to Dos Ríos town, on the other side of the island, but soon we find a signal indicating that we have to enter a steep sloped jungle; on one hand you appreciate that, because the jungle protects you from the intense sun that already falls vertically on you by 10 a.m., but on the other hand, the humidity is very high, more than 90%.

Papagayo's peak, 1.000 mts higher over us.
You start to sweat heavily and get soaked in seconds; the mosquitoes take advantage and drink your fluids, and the hike gets harder and harder. The path, well tracked but with many ramifications that make advisable to use a guide, is often block by fallen trees, that you have to surmount either by ducking under them or jumping over them, and sometimes the tangle of lianas complicates the task. We use the many roots that stick out from the muddy path to step on them to protect ourselves from the mud, but we have ocassionally to keep an eye on the ground to avoid tripping over with those very roots. As I go in the front, I have the opportunity of take a glimpse of some iguanas that quickly disappear from sight as we close in.

The elated vagamundos, and the dog-tired "Boca football team" fan.
Abolutely soaked, my hiking clothing can't exude any more sweat and my pants are dripping water! This is so because although the temperatures don't surpass 23º C, the humidity increases its effects. You can see all around the place all kind of plants and lianas crawling up the trees in search of sunlight and nutriment, in an complex and delicate ecosytem that is being continually threatened by the many agressions that has to endure. We can also hear the chirps and singing of hundreds of diferent birds and farther away, the howling monkeys, whose shrieks get me gooseflesh and make me think of how they howled at the Mayan temples of Tikal, Guatemala. A boy gets ahead of us in our way up but we don't come across him on our way down, and as we believe that there is only this path to do this hike, we humorously think that the monkeys are howling with pleasure because they're having him for dinner.

The Papagayo's beak stands out atop the mountain.
To get to the top, you have to climb three hills, the first of which is an uphill climb for about one hour, and just when I almost run out of my 2 lt of water, we find a river where we can refill the bottles. We go on, climb the second hill that lead us a little closer to our goal, but we still have to surmount the hardest stretch of all, because the basis of the peak is a vertical wall which makes the last part of the ascent very complicated. You have to climb it holding you to the plants, roots and lianas around the place, because down below a nice "free fall" waits for you if you loose your grip.

Picture of the bunch at the top.
We finally get there after a 3 hour climb and the view is rewarding indeed. Far away, below us you can see nearly the entire island, with its beaches and the town of Abrao and beyond you can see the coastline of Ilha Grande, Angra dos Reis, Margaritiba and Marambaia, a stretch of sand of over 60 Km long that extends to the Eeast towards Rio de Janeiro. You can see relatively near the highest peak on the island, the Water Stone, that beats the Papagayo's peak in about 100 mts.

Panoramic view of Abrao from the top.
We stayed over one hour on the top enjoying the views and resting and in this time there came up here only three other Brazilean people. We start then the descent, that turns out to be an exercise of concentration to not fall over constantly because of the slippery mud , and the roots and lianas that can make you trip over.

My friends' pace is too slow for me, so after two hours I decide to leave them and keep going down on my own, Spanish Ibex style, and I reach the end of the path way before them. Luckily, we all finish the adventure safe and sound, except for some scratches, our aching muscles, and thirst, a relentless thirst that now, as I write this 24 hours later, I still feel, in spite of the 6 litres of water that I drunk..

To see the Foto-Album of Ilha Grande, click here.
For further information in Spanish about Ilha Grande, click here.

See you soon!!!

From Ilha Grande, Brazil.

Translated by:
Luis Gómez Pérez,

Published: 29/04/2003 17:09

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