As I start to write this, it’s our last night on Ilha Grande, a huge, mountainous island about 3 hours south of Rio. We were complaining about the heat and humidity earlier in our trip… you can now add the daily downpour (and with downpour I mean tropical style, totally drenching, bucketing down-type of rain).
Well, as we were told by a chap we met at Tiete bus station in Sao Paulo (apparently the 2nd largest bus station in the world) when it’s summer in Brazil… it rains. But we’re on holiday, and since we can’t change the weather, we just go with the flow… I even bought a rain cape today for the carnival, just in case.
Serra Verde Express
The first encounter with our daily downpour happened on our way back from Morretes. A day trip from Curitiba on the Serra Verde Express brought us to this cute, but the very quiet little town. The train and the tourists it brings seem to be the highlight of the day for the people here. A few hours to earn some money between 1200hours and 1500hours when the train and most tourists leave again… until the next day when it all happens again. The train ride takes about 3 hours, quite long for 70 or so kilometres. But the train travels through the rainforest, climbs up mountains, via 13 or so tunnels, over bridges… the journey is well worth it… if the weather is good. In our case it was… and we were lucky to experience those absolutely amazing views. The rain hit when we took the bus back to Curitiba… It’s astonishing how quickly a so far sunny, hot day with totally blue skies can change into a tropical thunderstorm.
We didn’t see much of Curitiba itself, apart from a short evening stroll through its historic centre and the taxi rides to and from our hotel and the bus/train station, but everyone we met said it’s a nice town. The funny thing about Curitiba though was something I would have least expected in a city in South-America… punctuality and efficiency: Our luggage was the first off the plane. The airport bus was just about to leave as we got outside, and within a minute we had our ticket and our seats, our luggage was stowed away, and we were on our way into the city. The same quick procedure in the city… with taxis waiting right next to the bus… and the same experience on the way back… The bus arrived at the airport even before schedule.
Sao Paulo was the total opposite… unfriendly, super slow airport staff, a totally overpriced airport bus that runs only hourly!!! Thanks to the long queue at the ticket counter where only one of the two ladies actually sold tickets (the other only answered questions and looked bored in between) we missed the first bus to Tiete. By the time we got to Tiete, where all the overland buses leave (imagine 50 or so Greyhound buses at any point in time), our bus to Paraty (and the last one for the day) was fully booked. The only way to get to Paraty the same day was to take a bus 2 1/2 hours later to Ubatuba (70 km from Paraty) and see if there is a bus from Ubatuba to Paraty by the time we get there. As soon as we left Sao Paulo, a massive downpour started… so much so that roads turned into streams… it even made news in Rio. Needless to say, our 4-hour bus trip turned into 5 hours, and by the time we reached Ubatuba, the last bus to Paraty had left too. Thankfully, a lady on our bus was happy to share a taxi with us. After a hair bending taxi ride, we finally arrived at our destination at 2100hours, reaching our Pousada just in time before the massive thunderstorm hit Paraty as well.
Paraty itself is a beautiful little town with many old colonial buildings similar to what you would find in Portugal. We explored it a bit after breakfast the next morning, early enough to appreciate its quiet streets before all the tourist shops opened and the hordes of day-trippers arrived. One of the things we’ve been experiencing over and over on our trip… being somewhere without the tourist groups is such a different and (needless to point out) better experience.
From Paraty, we headed further towards Rio. Compared to our taxi driver the night before (whom Paul already called ‘cousin of Ayrton Senna’), the bus driver’s skills would have been more suited to a motocross bike but not a bus with 30 odd passengers. I changed from the last row towards the front of the bus early on as each hump or pothole sent us a few centimetres into the air. At some point, Paul entertained the bus with a loud shriek as another hump sent him into the air… replying ‘I’m fine’ to the heads that had turned around to see what had happened in the back.
But we made it safely to Angra in the end and even found the dock where our ferry to Ilha Grande was to leave. Signposting is surely not a strong point for the tourism office there… why would anyone wanna go to Ilha Grande? We had chosen the island to relax a bit and enjoy some ‘back to nature’ before the ‘Ciudad maravilla’ as the Cariocas (the people of Rio de Janeiro) call their city.
And it was good to do just that… though we were not safe from the downpour here either. Ilha Grande is great for hiking, but best for the type you do where you hike around the island with a small pack, staying at different places each night, even camping, until you made it around the island in a week or two… and at a time when it’s… well… not summer.
It hasn’t happened often in my life that I’ve been dripping with sweat… literally water running down my body type sweat. But that’s what happens when you hike in 30-degree heat and close to 100% humidity. Was it worth it? The end destination, Lopes Mendes, a beach on the other side of the island not so much (I imagined a romantic and secluded little beach with hardly anyone else there to share it with… only to step onto a huge, sweeping ocean beach full of day-trippers who took the boat rather than hike the 8 mountainous km). But as the saying goes it’s about the journey, not the destination, and we enjoyed some awesome views from the top of the mountains we crossed… and some of those quiet, picturesque beaches I had imagined along the way… plus a boat trip back (after backtracking 2km through the jungle) that made us proud of our achievement and got us back to our Pousada just in time before all heavens broke out over the island.
Apart from sweeping, almost crowded ocean beaches, Ilha Grande also offers boat trips to snorkel spots dotted around the island, even to a grotto, where the sun makes the water look turquoise as you look from the inside of the grotto out. Unfortunately though, again, these trips are best done outside the rainy season, as on the first day we tried it, no tour went due to the weather, and on day 2, they decided to have a tour of the grotto but not enough people signed up as no-one trusted the weather would clear up. Anyhow, going with the flow, we joined another tour to a few other spots instead. Nothing special… particularly not if you have snorkelled or dived in places like Seychelles… but a relaxing day out on a boat in nice company nonetheless.
And with this, I say goodbye to Ilha Grande… Rio, here we come 🙂