After four eventful days in Rio it was time to move on. I was up early for the 10 am departure. It took one and a half hours to get to the port for our next destination, the Ilha Grande, a beautiful and peaceful island where cars and motorbikes are not allowed. It would be a fine tonic after the madness of Rio de Janeiro. On the boat trip over, Jose, our guide, treated us to a caipirinha, a potent Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça, the national liquor. As the sun momentarily came out, I stretched out on deck with drink in hand and, at that moment, life couldn’t get much better.
The accommodation on the island was magnificent. We were staying in a complex of beautiful wooden chalets with pretty tiled roofing. Situated in the jungle, they were fairly basic inside but very clean with a spacious and refreshing shower. On a tropical island you’ve got to love a refreshing shower. We went exploring along the bay and a little way into the jungle. The views were spectacular. It was so quiet and idyllic and I knew I was really going to enjoy a few chilled out days of guiltless relaxation before we had to leave.
The next day it was raining again and there was still no sun. I wasn’t really bothered anymore. In fact the weather had become the in-joke. Having said this, getting wet wasn’t the reason why I’d come to Brazil, and I was hoping it would stop soon. Breakfast was fantastic. There was plenty of fresh fruit, bread, cold meats and cheeses, with lovely strong coffee to wash it down with. I wasn’t quite so taken aback by the orange juice though. It was tasteless and, in this respect, similar to the juice served to us for breakfast in Rio.
After breakfast we ventured out for more island exploring. We walked through the jungle and were most thrilled when we spotted a snake ahead of us. Unfortunately it slithered off amongst the foliage before we could get our cameras out. It was still raining and I had a thin plastic rain poncho on which I had bought in Rio. It was keeping some of the girls amused who thought it looked like a giant condom. Furthermore, but not wishing to go into too much detail, because I have a bald head, they likened me to a giant walking phallus, wearing said giant condom. A little harsh I felt. Later on a miracle happened and the rain actually stopped. As the clouds vanished and the sun came out we all ran to the beach. I stripped down to my bathing attire and, casting my contraceptive to one side, launched myself into the cool clear water. It was beautiful.
The next day was glorious so most of us headed back to the beach. At lunchtime I went for a drink in a beach bar and, enjoying the shade, started to write in my diary:
‘Ilha Grande is stunning. The beauty and tranquillity is just the ticket after the hustle and bustle of Rio. It is the ideal environment for contemplating one’s existence. The locals appear to have things sussed. They are happy souls who don’t seem to pay much attention to time. They just chill out and take each day as it comes. They live for today and don’t question tomorrow. Living on such a beautiful island I can’t really blame them. They just need to make enough money to survive and have a bit left over for a rainy day. They have all they need on this majestic island with its fantastic beaches and tropical climates. It’s a hippy’s paradise and a loafer’s dream. It puts life into perspective and makes you realise nothing really matters. The secret seems to be to appreciate the small things and smile a lot.’
It was the last night on Ilha Grande. We all went to a restaurant where you choose your food from a buffet and then you give your plate to a man who then weighs it. You then get charged by the weight of your food. It was an interesting concept and one that seemed to be quite popular in Brazil. I suppose if you didn’t want to pay too much, the secret would be to fill your plate with lettuce leaves and stick a meatball on the top. However, even for someone like myself, who couldn’t resist a healthy portion of the barbecued meats and every side-serving going, it was hardly extortionate. Afterwards we all went to the pretty main square and sat in a bar in the open air listening to a band playing exhilarating Brazilian music. We were drinking the delicious caipirinhas and their slightly more dangerous cousin, caipivodkas. Slightly intoxicated, we had an amazing time dancing to the relentless samba beats. And later a few of us went to a club where the fun and games continued into the small hours.
The next morning I woke up to the hazy recollections of what had been a very enjoyable night. Around midday we all left the paradise that is Ilha Grande. I hoped that the magical vibes and tranquillity of the island would stay with me for some time. After taking the boat back to the mainland in the searing heat, we drove back to Rio to catch a night bus to Curitiba, our next destination. The bus was fantastic with leg rests and near horizontal reclining seats. The buses are much better here than back home but I suppose this was due to the enormous size of the country. In the UK you can get from Newcastle to London in about four or five hours, but in Brazil it might take over 24 hours to get to your destination so such comforts are essential.
The bus arrived in Curitiba about 7 or 8 the following morning with the journey taking around 12 hours. I felt fit as a fiddle after a nice shower in our new hotel, Hotel Lumini, and we went off for a bus trip round Curitiba, hopping on and off at the various places of interest. My favourite was Jacques Cousteau’s bizarre wooden house with its impressive lookout at the top. I also liked the Panoramic Tower with its impressive 360° views of the city. There was also the Wire Opera House, a structure of tubular steel with a tremendous transparent roof, and the glorious Botanical Gardens, which were very pretty. One thing that particularly amused us, as we passed by them, were the futuristic tube-shaped bus stops. We had never seen anything like them before and they were highly unusual. While not necessarily having the sex appeal of other large Brazilian cities, I was quite impressed by Curitiba’s modern feel and use of open spaces which included some lush green parks. Furthermore, there wasn’t the poverty or crime here, that had been so prevalent in Rio, and it felt much safer.
Preben, my current roommate, was quite an interesting character. He was about 50 with grey hair and was a bachelor from Denmark. I thought that if I wasn’t careful I might end up just like him. Well not the grey hair bit, more the single middle-aged traveller bit. We’d just had a discussion about Danish bacon and why bacon was such a big thing in Denmark. I was asking, “If pigs can live anywhere why do they choose Denmark?” and “Is it because they prefer blondes?” Preben looked confused and didn’t always get my witty remarks, bless him. To be fair, he was a fountain of knowledge and obviously highly intelligent and I got on really well with him. Other talking points since we had met had included the conversion to the metric system, kings of Denmark, and continental plugs, amongst other things. At that stage of my life I was more at home discussing Newcastle United, nights on the town and music. However, I did enjoy his topics of conversation and sometimes found him to be most fascinating. We were different in many ways but, having a love for travel as a common denominator, still made us compatible. It was this shared passion that would see me bond with many fellow travellers during my year away.
I enjoyed a good hearty breakfast the following morning. It included cereal, bread, cheese, scrambled eggs and frankfurter sausages. I also had a glass of that hopelessly tasteless juice that had been served at every breakfast in Brazil so far, and a couple of cups of fine Brazilian black coffee. It was strong and fresh which set me up nicely for the day ahead. Today we would be leaving Curitiba. Our next destination was Foz de Iguassu to see the world famous Iguassu Falls. First, however, there was the small matter of another long bus journey ahead of us. Thankfully, just like the bus that had brought us here, it was ultra-comfortable with extensive leg room and air conditioning. Curitiba had been fun but it was never going to rank highly on my list of places that would blow my socks off.
Perhaps our next destination would induce a different emotion.