Ilhabela – it’s Portuguese for beautiful island…

16 May, 2009

Easter was a great excuse for another mini adventure to….

you guessed it.. the beach!

Somewhat strangely for a country that loves public holidays, Brasil has just only one day off for Easter, but we aren’t exactly complaining, it feel like there is a public holiday every couple of weeks at the moment!!

With only one day off work we headed up the coast to Ilhabela, and island just off the coast with probably the most famous set of beaches in the state.

By chance I got a haircut on the morning that we drove up and my barber told me the three things that the island was famous for – stunning beaches, beautiful women and mosquito’s!

But the fourth thing that the island is famous for is the traffic jams over long weekends with people heading there from both Rio and Sao Paulo. As you can see from the map below, its only 200 odd kms to Ilha Bela, with one short ferry ride across to the island. But the consensus among the staff and customers at the barber shop was that it was going to take us five to seven hours to get there.

In the end it only ended up taking four hours, so we werent complaining!!!

The wait for the short fifteen minute ferry ride can be up to an hour – or over a long weekend even longer, but we did learn a great tip from a friend, that was to book ahead on a specific ferry and prepay, then as long as you arrive around the time of your scheduled ferry (we were about an hour early on the way there, and an hour late on the way back) you can drive right past the queue (which must have been at least three km long on Sunday afternoon) and straight onto the next ferry – thank you very much!!!

The island is basically one giant nature reserve (90 percent of the island is national park) with just one road running from north to south along the western side of the island, its along this road that all of the houses, hotels and restaurants are.

There is also one 4×4 track that goes over the island to the beaches on the eastern side.

All around the island are an amazing 41 beaches with great snorkeling and diving and whole host of ship wrecks to be explored, behind the beaches are massive expanses of lush jungle, not the famous rain forest of the amazon, but remnants of the once equally important Atlantic Rainforest.

The map below shows the two beaches that we visited:

It also shows how close the island is the the mainland and the port of Sao Sebastiao, which unfortunately is a major Petrobras port, so the side of island facing the mainland isnt as nice as the wilder eastern side.

There is only one town on the island, which is really cute and still has a bit of a colonial feel.

We went to Ilha Bela with two german friends, one of whom is lucky?!? enough to need an armoured VW Tourag as his company car, as you can see its a beautiful and somewhat sinister machine:

But as you can also see in this shot, the thickness of the armour plating in the windows and the body add a massive amount of weight to the car, in fact it takes two people to close the boot!

So we werent about to tackle the 4×4 track over to the east of the island in it!!

But we did take it to the beach on the north of the island Jabaquara which is right at the end of the road, which is beautiful:

But dont start thinking this is some isloated hideaway, as you can see here, its quite popular with the boaties and has a couple of excellent beachside restaurants as well as a couple of little snack shacks:

We were told that the best beach on the island was over on the east side, called Castelhanos, so we hired a little speedboat to get around the island which took about an hour and a half. But as you can see the trip around was just stunning:

But the beach at Castelhanos may be now my favourite brasilian beach, though still a little crowded, having beautiful warm water with proper waves and a couple of beachside eateries serving awesome caiparinhas, fried fresh squid and fish make for a perfect way to spend the day at the beach….

Another rough weekend in our brasilian adventure!

And yes, my barber was right, the beaches were amazing, the women were beautiful (as usual in brasil) and the mosquitos were nasty little beggars, whatever variety they are on the island they were evil little creatures, but the problem was easily solved by sleeping in late and hitting the bars early (thus avoiding dawn and dusk when they are most active)!!!

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Jungle, Jesus, Beaches, Bikinis & Favelas – a weekend in Rio

14 April, 2009

Hey folks,
The first weekend in April supplied us with three visitors, Sam has just arrived from Melbourne to work in sunny Sao Paulo, Katherine has come over for a holiday from grey London, and Peter one of Caths workmates was in town for the weekend, so as none of them had been to Rio, we decided to go for the weekend.
Now for those of you who are still learning their Brasilian geography, Rio de Janeiro is only 450km from Sao Paulo.

Both Rio and Sao Paulo are serviced by two airports, both of which do domestic flights. The closest airport to our place is Congonhas and in Rio the closest airport to the famous beaches is Santos Dumont. This route is so popular that the number of flights between these two airports make it the 2nd busiest air route in the world with 894 flights per week (or an average of five flights an hour between them – if the airports were open 24 hours – which they aren’t)! So the actual number of flights per hour is even higher. Also add into the mix that both the other airports in Sao Paulo and Rio also have direct flights between the two cities, the total number of flights between the cities must be almost beyond belief!
For those of you who are now wondering what the busiest air route in the world is…. its Madrid – Barcelona (and Sydney – Melbourne is the fourth busiest):

Worlds Busiest Air Routes

But even though there are so many flights, if you don’t book early you can still end up paying an arm and a leg for the 45 minute flight, for example when we looked for last weekend it was an average of R$800.00 return (or 250.00GBP), so given the costs we decided to hire a car and make a road trip of it. A people mover, petrol and road tolls end up costing us just R$240.00 per person!!
Despite what you may read on tripadvisor, lonely planet etc the road from Sao Paulo to Rio is actually great, it’s mostly a toll road, double lane all the way with frequent services and some really pretty scenery. There are only two real problems with the drive – the start and the end!
Leaving after everyone finished work on a Friday night we hit the road at 7pm – and it took us 2hours just to get to the Guarulhos airport on the edge of Sao Paulo!!!
After a quick stop for some motorway services food and Sam working hard to keep Greg awake with some scintillating conversation, we arrived in Rio at about 1am. The drive across Rio and on to Copacabana is a bit of an adventure, it seems to cross some slightly dodgy parts of town – which I am sure would look a lot better in daylight, but can be be pretty scary at 1am in the morning!
Finding accommodation in Rio can be a bit of a lottery, with so many people visiting the beautiful city, there is plenty of accommodation to suit any budget, but this trip we found some great accommodation at Edificio Jucati – a great little hotel, with apartment style rooms for not much more than a room in a backpackers.
Now for our three guests it was their first visit to Rio, so as you can imagine the priorities were as follows:
Beaches – tick!

Football – Tick!

The Christ bloke up on the hill – tick!

And bikini clad beauties – tick tick tick tick!!!

There is no doubt at all that Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful bay side cities in the world, the mix of beautiful sand beaches, stunning jungle clad mountains and the ever present jesus fella up on the hill make it a magic city to visit.

But as well as all that beauty, the city also has an almost equally famous dark side, the favelas or slums of Rio, unlike Sao Paulo where most of the poorer areas are on the edge of the city, in Rio the favelas and rich parts of town live side by side, with the wealthy areas generally on the few flats parts of the city, and the favelas perched precipitously on the surrounding mountains.
Ana and Piero visited Rio a while ago and recommended we do a favela tour while we were in town, and after initially being hesitant to go and look at poor people, we decided on this trip that we would do it.
For those of you who aren’t up on their Brazilian favelas, they are suburbs/cities around Brasil where people (mainly migrants from the north of the country) live. And in a country with 180,000,000 people – 32,000,000 of whom live below the poverty line and many more who are living on the minimum wage of about 150GBP per month, there are plenty of poor people around who need somewhere cheap to live which is close to their employment.
Now I must state that I am by no means an expert on Brasilian poverty or favelas, but from what we have seen on our adventures, they range from the cardboard and wood shacks, to brick and stone three or even four story structures, some of them like Rocinha (the one we visited) are large and vibrant communities with between 60,000 and 150,000 residents.

Anyone who has seen City of God (which isn’t really based in a favela, but in a replacement for a favelas) or Elite Troupe will probably have some understanding of what urban poverty looks like, but by doing a tour with a company like Be A Local who fund a children’s day care centre in Rocinha and a health centre as well, you can get into right into a favela and get a tiny picture of what it’s really like to be poor and Brasilian.

Our tour was absolutely fascinating, we started with a moto taxi ride up from the base of the mountain right through and up to the top of the favela, and we then walked back down to the bottom. All up the trip was about three hours – including a visit to an art gallery, the child care centre (closed on the weekend) and a bakery.
Here are some snaps I took while on the tour:

The Rocinha favela

Beside a wealthier part of town.

Kind of administered by the city council, kind of self administered.

Typical housing

A big house – complete with room to ride your bike!

Electricity – provided by the state electricity company, but the wiring is a strictly do it yourself affair

Plumbing – fresh water is supplied for two hours at a time, unfortunately as you can see, the water tap is right over the sewer

Urban living, without any urban planning – narrow paths, crazy steps, but in reality a fully functioning community, with bars, stores, hair dressers, churches, you name it.

Local entertainment – these kids gave us a demonstration of samba drumming by some local kids

Local enterprise – cheap beer – no pesky sales taxes or licensing restrictions here

Bakery treats – say no more!

It was a really fascinating, educational and humbling experience, I suppose the main thing that we got out of it is that people living in the favela are just people like us, spending Saturday afternoon watching tv, chatting on the front step, surfing the internet, shopping, getting a haircut, sitting in a pub watching Liverpool play while drinking a beer, all the stuff we do, but in a much smaller space, but in a town with limited access to health and education and with little no access to the police or protection from the drug gangs that effectively control their towns.
When we got back to Sao Paulo, many of our Brasilian friends expressed shock, horror and even disgust that we had ´wasted´ our time in Rio by visiting a favela. Looking at it from their point of view I can definitely see what they are saying, there is no way I would think to recommend tourists to New Zealand visit some of the poorer suburbs of our big(ish) cities, but maybe it would be interesting if they did, we certainly learnt a lot more about life in Brasil from our brief time in Rocinha.
Our guide for the trip filled us with many interesting insights into life in the favelas, one of the most interesting facts he gave us was regarding the work of the many NGOs in the favelas of Rio. Apparently 80% of the volunteers working in Rio are from outside Brasil, charities he has worked with have had real trouble attracting Brasilians to help out in the favelas, and his reasoning for this was somewhat cold, confronting and shocking. As you are aware, the gap between rich and poor in Brasil is one of the largest in the world, and the lifestyle that this allows the rich and the middle classes to have is one that appears pretty luxurious to most of us outsiders, having a large group of people with very low wages means that it is relatively cheap to have staff in your house, someone to park your car, walk your dog, look after your kids, pick up after you and generally make your life easier, so our guide suggested that most rich Brasilians aren’t interested in ´fixing´ the favelas because if all of these peoples earned a decent wage, wealthier Brasilians wouldn’t be able to afford to have the great lifestyles which they currently enjoy.
I can’t really comment if this belief is widely held, we have met many Brasilians who are actively working to make help poorer Brasilians lives better and to give them a better chance at life, but we have also been shocked on more than one occasion when Brasilians explain that people live in favelas because they are simply lazy and that the best solution to the favela problem is an airforce bombing raid.
Having only lived in Brasil for just over a year, we really don’t know enough about these massively complex issues to judge any of these people on their beliefs, I suppose you just have to make up your own mind – and a favela tour like the be a local tour gives you lot more information from the inside rather than the outside to help make up your mind.


Escape from SP part two, we enjoy the beaches in winter (and get sunburnt)…

22 May, 2008

Last weekend we had another mini adventure outside SP, our gypsy house guests Piero and Ana were still with us (as were the numerous late nights and hangovers that come with them) – so we decided to take them on an adventure and see the beaches to the east of SP.

For those of you who aren’t up on your Brasilian geography, SP is (unfortunately) not quite on the coast, it’s pretty close, about 85km from the centre of the city, or about 75km from our place.

The drive to Juguehy – half way between SP and Rio.

As you can imagine with a population of over 20,000,000 in SP, the nearby beaches are very popular. The closest beach is Santos which is also Brasils largest port. We drove through Santos on our drive and it’s a damn big port, the beaches there are pretty good – but as everyone kept telling us the beaches get better the further you are away from SP. So we headed to Santos then north up the coast. The coast is just beautiful, within 20 minutes of leaving Santos you are in really beautiful seaside towns with beautiful white sand beaches and big inland waterways and lush green rainforest. I was just stunning, we kept going up the coast towards Rio de Janeiro, stopping for quick feijoada lunch beside the beach and eventually stopping at the beach (or Praia) of Juquehy or (Juquei depending on where you look). Although there are many lovely beaches along the coast, Juquehy is more spectacular than the rest because it has a large mountain just behind it, so with the jungle like bush even round it’s even more spectacular! The town itself is also really nice, it seemed quite new and very well kept, it’s felt quite posh, there were loads of nice hotels apartments and restaurants and bars everywhere.

We didn’t book any accommodation which is fine now in winter but i would guess not a good idea in the summer months, even though I say “winter” again the weather was magic a nice 24 degrees during the day and lots of sunshine, overnight it was just cold enough to warrant a second layer, so not too bad at all.

We stayed at Juquei Hotel Pousada which was perfect as the restaurant was right on the beach, so we just had to cross the road for dinner and breakfast and we could sit right above the beach – after the noise and rush of SP it was just awesome! The hotel describes itself on it’s website as “the best localisation of the best beach of the Coast North” and whatever that means – we agree!

The beach at Juquei.

As soon as we arrived we went for big walk on the beach, the sand was white and clean, the water blue and the surf was good, there was loads of surfers out, and loads of people learning to surf at a couple of surf schools that were running on the beach. The water was just a bit cold for swimming, but only just, I imagine it must be awesome in summer.

These blokes were not quite sure if was warm enough to actually get under the water.

Of course because it’s Brasil the beach is also a place of business, it’s a bit of a surprise at first as it trading isn’t allowed on the beach in Oz or Nz. But as long as you aren’t pestered too much it makes spending a day at the beach much easier, every few minutes someone will come wandering past with hot corn, cold beer, ghastly sarongs and many other strange and wonderful objects for sale.

Maybe theres still hope for a last ice cream sale before it gets dark!

So we decided to settle down at one of the beer and caiparinha stalls on the beach and enjoy the sunset:

Beachside bar – now thats civilised!

Just a little drink heh Cath?

Ana is a bit thirsty after the walk along the beach

We had a great seafood dinner in the restaurant, even though the normal standard of seafood we get in SP is very high, it was great to have fresh prawns, fresh octopus and really fresh fish. We sat outside in the restaurant till late at night drinking too much Argentinean wine and eating way too much food.

On Sunday we had a quiet morning, a breakfast of fresh tropical fruit on the beach and another long walk on along the bay. We then sat and enjoyed the sun for a couple of hours,

Of course being four gringos we stood out like a sore thumb on the beach, the locals wear slightly less to the beach than we are used to, the gentlemen prefering a nice tight pair of budgie smugglers and the ladies in a brief as possible teeni-kini, here is couple of examples we picked up on this trip to illustrate the topic:

The classic brasilian budgie smuggler, you can dress ’em up and dress ’emdown!

If this isnt enough to put you off your lunch i dont know what is.

Just remember boys, getting amorous in your smugglers can lead to inconvienient things popping up!

So as well as laughing at this couple getting romantic in the sun, we had another great meal, this time grilled fresh fish with toasted coconut, rice and fried bananas while drinking fresh tropical fruit juices – I know it’s a tough life but someone has to do it! After lunch we headed back to SP, only 175km straight up and over the misty jungle covered mountains and straight home on the motorway.

Thus finished another top weekend and with adventures like this you see why we are really starting to love living in Sao Paulo!!!