A Love Letter to the Island I Met a Year Ago

the tranquil cove of Praia Pousa
The tranquil cove of Praia Pousa

Who can forget the bittersweet memories of our former loves? Most times, it followed the same parabola: The flush of excitement upon meeting, the whirlwind of good times spent together, and that sensation of loss that you don’t yet fully comprehend when inevitably your time together runs out. You might be sad for awhile but life goes on and so do we. But there will always be those random triggers that will have you thinking about those magical times on a Tuesday afternoon when driving home from work, or some rainy Saturday while doing laundry.

A year ago I experienced such love. Fortunately I don’t have to hide it from my wife because she was there and I believe was equally enamored as I was. The object of my affection was not a person at all but a lovely island on Brazil’s Costa Verde called Ilha Grande. And now, on the one year anniversary of my arrival there, I’ve decided to write the love letter I always wanted to send.

The idyllic harbor of Abraao
The idyllic harbor of Abraao

I first met Ilha Grande (pronounced eel-ya grun’jee) after a 2.5 hour bus ride from Rio and a 15 minute transfer in a glorified Zodiac with an outboard motor from the tiny hamlet of Conceicao de Jacarei. The day was overcast and well on its way toward evening, but even in the diminished light she was sufficiently beautiful for me to fall in love at first sight. I felt excited disembarking in the only settlement of any size on the island—a village called Abraao. I was enchanted by the lack of vehicles and the sandy streets cutting through the lush greenery that makes up the entire remainder of the island. And I felt that buzz of contentment walking downhill from our hillside pousada and dining right on the beach until a thunderstorm chased us off. Yes, for me sparks were flying on my first night there and the prospect of several more left me in a state of complete well-being.

Lopes Mendez Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil
Lopes Mendez Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil

The next day we spent time together at Ilha Grande’s most famous beach—Lopes Mendes. While everything is walkable if you have the time (and stamina) we opted for a boat transfer to the trailhead for the 30 minute hike to the beach past monkeys, sloths and slower tourists. Stepping out from the jungle, I fell in love all over again.

The amazing sand and surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil
The amazing sand and surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil

The sand was a glimmering ribbon of white stretching out in a giant crescent—most of which was peacefully empty. The water was turquoise but choppy given this was the Atlantic side of the island. Laying there listening to the surf, feeling the sun and drinking uma cerveja estupidamente gelado (literally: stupidly cold beer), like many former loves, you wish the good times could last forever.

Nighttime Dining al fresco
Nighttime Dining al fresco

Such longing continued into the evening while dining outside in a backstreet pizza parlor followed by a few hours of leisurely souvenir shopping in the small but lively village. After that it was another walk along the beach under a starry sky with the rich smell of wet vegetation like an intoxicating pheromone. Man, I miss her.

The Loop Trail, Ilha Grande
The Loop Trail, Ilha Grande

The next day we spent some more quality time together, leaving the curve of Abraao Harbor and entering a state park with a loop trail that brought us to scenic overlooks, black sand beaches, an ancient aqueduct, and the remains of a former prison that was once this island’s raison d’etre. This was followed by more dining, shopping and strolling that left us dreading the following day when we knew we’d have to leave.

It’s hard to accept when something good has to end, and leaving Ilha Grande was no exception. Sure, we moved on with our trip, returned home and got on with our life. But like other loves gone by, I still steal a thought or two of our times together, wondering if we shall meet again, and hoping in my heart of hearts that the answer is yes. And it’s that thought that keeps the memory fresh and flame still burning. And yes, it makes doing the laundry all the more enjoyable too.

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A Love Letter to the Island I Met a Year Ago

the tranquil cove of Praia Pousa
The tranquil cove of Praia Pousa

Who can forget the bittersweet memories of our former loves? Most times, it followed the same parabola: The flush of excitement upon meeting, the whirlwind of good times spent together, and that sensation of loss that you don’t yet fully comprehend when inevitably your time together runs out. You might be sad for awhile but life goes on and so do we. But there will always be those random triggers that will have you thinking about those magical times on a Tuesday afternoon when driving home from work, or some rainy Saturday while doing laundry.

A year ago I experienced such love. Fortunately I don’t have to hide it from my wife because she was there and I believe was equally enamored as I was. The object of my affection was not a person at all but a lovely island on Brazil’s Costa Verde called Ilha Grande. And now, on the one year anniversary of my arrival there, I’ve decided to write the love letter I always wanted to send.

The idyllic harbor of Abraao
The idyllic harbor of Abraao

I first met Ilha Grande (pronounced eel-ya grun’jee) after a 2.5 hour bus ride from Rio and a 15 minute transfer in a glorified Zodiac with an outboard motor from the tiny hamlet of Conceicao de Jacarei. The day was overcast and well on its way toward evening, but even in the diminished light she was sufficiently beautiful for me to fall in love at first sight. I felt excited disembarking in the only settlement of any size on the island—a village called Abraao. I was enchanted by the lack of vehicles and the sandy streets cutting through the lush greenery that makes up the entire remainder of the island. And I felt that buzz of contentment walking downhill from our hillside pousada and dining right on the beach until a thunderstorm chased us off. Yes, for me sparks were flying on my first night there and the prospect of several more left me in a state of complete well-being.

Lopes Mendez Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil
Lopes Mendez Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil

The next day we spent time together at Ilha Grande’s most famous beach—Lopes Mendes. While everything is walkable if you have the time (and stamina) we opted for a boat transfer to the trailhead for the 30 minute hike to the beach past monkeys, sloths and slower tourists. Stepping out from the jungle, I fell in love all over again.

The amazing sand and surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil
The amazing sand and surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil

The sand was a glimmering ribbon of white stretching out in a giant crescent—most of which was peacefully empty. The water was turquoise but choppy given this was the Atlantic side of the island. Laying there listening to the surf, feeling the sun and drinking uma cerveja estupidamente gelado (literally: stupidly cold beer), like many former loves, you wish the good times could last forever.

Nighttime Dining al fresco
Nighttime Dining al fresco

Such longing continued into the evening while dining outside in a backstreet pizza parlor followed by a few hours of leisurely souvenir shopping in the small but lively village. After that it was another walk along the beach under a starry sky with the rich smell of wet vegetation like an intoxicating pheromone. Man, I miss her.

The Loop Trail, Ilha Grande
The Loop Trail, Ilha Grande

The next day we spent some more quality time together, leaving the curve of Abraao Harbor and entering a state park with a loop trail that brought us to scenic overlooks, black sand beaches, an ancient aqueduct, and the remains of a former prison that was once this island’s raison d’etre. This was followed by more dining, shopping and strolling that left us dreading the following day when we knew we’d have to leave.

It’s hard to accept when something good has to end, and leaving Ilha Grande was no exception. Sure, we moved on with our trip, returned home and got on with our life. But like other loves gone by, I still steal a thought or two of our times together, wondering if we shall meet again, and hoping in my heart of hearts that the answer is yes. And it’s that thought that keeps the memory fresh and flame still burning. And yes, it makes doing the laundry all the more enjoyable too.

Southern (Hemisphere) Comfort

It’s that time of year again. While I’m vacillating my attention between my icy driveway and the level of oil for my burner, my mind tends to wander from the chilly environs of my native Long Island and longingly travel to points south—way south. I don’t know if it’s comforting or teasing to know that even though we’re on the same page of the calendar, on the other side of the equator the sand is on the beaches, not the roads, and the only ice to be found is mixed with fruit and liquor. And while we had our chance to enjoy the warmth of summer a few months ago, I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy when I think about the pleasant weather happening right now in lower latitudes.

 

Looking back, some of my fondest beach memories took place during what North Americans, Europeans, most Africans and all Asians with the exception of Indonesians (who never get cold weather anyway) would consider the winter months. So here are a few of them with incongruous dates to match the picture. Perhaps it will warm you up by imagining yourself there—or with anger at my having brought it up. 

 

January 25, 2008

Punta del Este, Uruguay

The happening resort town of Punta del Este
The happening resort town of Punta del Este

 

Seeing the word January on the calendar doesn’t often conjure images of sun-kissed beaches and warm waters, but it certainly does to visitors and residents of this happening resort area less than two hours’ drive east of the capital of Montevideo. I only got to spend a few hours here before my cruise ship was set to sail onward, but it felt great to (literally) get my feet wet again after several months of cold weather back home—not to mention having been in the frigid waters of Antarctica just a few days before.

 

March 10, 2013

Ilha Grande, Brazil

The idyllic sand & surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil
The idyllic sand & surf of Praia Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil

 

Historically, March is one of the snowiest months where I live, so you can imagine the joy of coming to the end of the sometimes arduous path through the jungle and stepping out onto the powdery sands of the beach called Lopes Mendes—considered one of Brazil’s best. I distinctly recall walking the edge of the waterline, alternating between the baking sand and the cool waters of the South Atlantic while listening to music on my iPhone and marveling at the verdant scenery hugging the ribbon of sand curving off ahead of me. Upon returning to my wife and blanket and opening a bottle of the local cerveja, I can assure you wind chills and snow drifts were the last things on my mind.

 

March 18, 2009

Praslin, Seychelles Islands

Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles
Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles

 

While at the end of the season—though technically on the winter side of the Spring Equinox—visiting the golden sands of the beach at Anse Lazio in late March was zero part lion and 100% lamb. I arrived here at sunset after a delayed bus ride, broken sandal on a steep hillside descent, and an encounter with a pack of dogs with questionable motives. All that was forgotten—along with the date—upon seeing the calm waters lapping the rounded granite boulders bordering this tranquil cove. I took my pictures, caught my breath and negotiated a cab ride back to the resort with the last of my cash, but if I had the chance I doubt if I would have ever left until well into Spring.

 

So as we Northern Hemispherers (trademark pending) prepare to enter the heart of winter’s wrath, it’s not such a bad idea to steal a thought or glance south. Perhaps planning that trip to the other half of the planet will be what you need to get you through a few months of heavy coats and scraping windshields.

 

Have a favorite experience in the Southern Hemisphere? Leave a comment

Parati, Brazil-The Whole Package

 

The whole package. Depending on the context that can mean a lot of different things. In terms of travel destinations, most would define a place with the whole package as being convenient to get to, offering lots of attractions for a variety of tastes, having abundant lodging & dining options, and featuring a sense of place with lots of charm. A couple of places like that come to mind: Ponza, Italy; Phuket, Thailand; Queenstown, New Zealand. But today I’m going Parati as scene from the waterto write about the one I visited most recently, and most recently reminded me that not only does the complete package exist, but it’s worth looking for. In this case, I found it in the charming town of Parati, Brazil.

Let’s start with that first prerequisite: being convenient to get to. I know, convenient is a relative term and Parati (pronounced: Pah-rah-CHEE’) is not exactly on the beaten track. In fact it was its inaccessibility up until the 1960’s that preserved this colonial gem & kept it worthy of being rediscovered. There is frequent daily (almost hourly) service on comfortable, clean, and thankfully well-air-conditioned buses from Rio de Janeiro’s Rodoviaria, lasting four to five hours depending on road construction. Yes, 4-5 hours on a bus sounds like a long time, but that includes food & restroom breaks with stunning scenery along the Costa Verde thrown in for free. Once there, Parati is a great base of operations for the entire region, and you’ll forget your bus ride after the first caiparinha.

On the subject of transportation, one of the greatest features of Parati is its compact, walkable nature. I personally stayed at the very edge of town and it was at most a half hour walk along the well-groomed (& lighted) Parati River promenade to the historic center. With most lodging options closer in it means nothing is too far to walk, and many outlying lodgings offer complimentary bicycles to guests.

Moving on to the subject of attractions, Parati is a great place to do everything or nothing and enjoy yourself while doing (or not doing) it. Situated on a lovely harbor, each morning an entire armada of wooden schooners venture out to a multitude of jungle-covered islets with secluded beaches and snorkeling opportunities in emerald green waters.

Scenes from a Schooner
Scenes from a Schooner

Costing between $20-$30 a person for a full day of exploring, this is a must-see of any visit, and the views alone of returning to the dock with the sun setting behind the town and surrounding mountains Returning to Port, Parati, Brazilmake it more than worth the price. If it’s the beach you’re after, most locals head 15 minutes or so south of town to Trindade Beach, the first in a succession of lovely beaches stretching right down into nearby Sao Paolo State. (My favorite was Ubatuba—not so much for the town itself but because it was so much fun to say out loud. Try it: ooba-tooba. Fun, right?). In the nearby mountains clad in the Mata Atlantica rain forest, hiking enthusiasts can walk the Caminho de Ouro (Golden Trail—the original purpose for the founding of Parati) or if walking isn’t your thing, you can take a horse ride to one of many local waterfalls & get a sense of life in the countryside.One of many cachasa shops And for connoisseurs of liquors, spirits and the like, no visit would be complete without a stop at a local cachasa (pronounced: kah-SHAH’-sah) distillery, where they make the sugar-based liquor that is the chief ingredient in the caipirinha—Brazil’s national drink. (Think a high-octane mojito without the mint.)

When it comes to lodging options—particularly away from the major cities with their chain hotels—most people opt to stay at a locally-owned pousada, which is basically a cross between a bed & breakfast and a boutique hotel. Oftentimes these are converted old mansions, such as the ones in the historic center, while others in the more peaceful outskirts can be found on ordinary side streets. While prices and services vary, usually a stay includes breakfast and the local expertise of the pousada owner. For my part, I was thoroughly pleased with my stay at the unassuming yet eclectic Pousada Guarana Lounge at the Pousada Guaranawww.pousadaguarana.com.br where hosts David & Jimena struck a perfect balance between value, comfort, and hospitality. I recommend them wholeheartedly.

When it comes to food, there are many ex-pats in town, the advantage of which being the opportunity to have authentic ‘foreign’ fare. Whether it be Thai, Middle Eastern, or the ubiquitous pizzerias, good eats are easy to find.

Lastly, there’s the ethereal quality of having a sense of place—that charm or personality that distinguishes it from everywhere else. Strolling through the roughly-hewn cobblestone streets of the historic center, it’s hard to imagine anywhere like it outside of Disney World.

Street Reflections
Street Reflections

With whitewashed houses in multi-colored trim in a simple grid around churches and a plethora of one-of-a-kind shops featuring the works of local artists, the charm factor is off the scale.

At night the restaurants will set up tables outside, street vendors and performers are out in full force, and the festive atmosphere will satisfy the soul of both romantics and adventurers. Few places I’ve been can match this ambience, and if it seems hard to picture that’s because the sense of contentment and well-being don’t translate easily to words. Like many other things in life, it has to be experienced to be understood.Parati At Night

I can go on and on about Parati but I’ll stop for now. Suffice to say, it is the whole package for anyone who can appreciate that a little extra effort in travel—as in life—can & will bring rich dividends for those who won’t settle for less.