After Bonito, we’d planned to spend a few days in the metropolitan city of Sao Paulo but we’d been told several times (by several different people) that it wasn’t a good city for tourists. The impression we got was that there’s not a lot for visitors to see and do, so we decided to take peoples’ advice and head to Brazil’s coast on our way through to Rio.
We started our journey to the coast with a quick overnight stop in Sao Paulo and woke to find people clustered around a live news bulletin. They were watching what seemed to be some kind of attack on a high-rise block of flats in the city – apparently the building had been overrun with squatters and the police were seizing control of the building, arresting any people they found inside. The majority of the squatters (which included families with young children) had fled, but there was some resistance from a few remaining people – who were throwing whatever they could find out of the higher windows onto the pavements below and even setting fires.
Somewhat pleased to be moving out of the city so soon, we rushed to catch a bus to our first coastal stop – Paraty. Several hours later, it felt like we couldn’t have been further from the hustle and bustle of Sao Paulo. We were stretching our legs while walking down a picturesque cobbled street lined with quaint Portuguese-style colonial houses.
Paraty is a very pretty little seaside town and it reminded us very much of St Ives in Cornwall; with its matching white-washed buildings, multi-coloured boats bobbing in the harbour and expensive boutique shops selling interesting creations made out of driftwood.
Even though the weather wasn’t fine for us, it was easy to see how Paraty would be even more lovely in the sunshine. Unfortunately, we didn’t have long to enjoy Paraty (or the secluded beach coves surrounding it) and the next morning we were on another bus (and boat) to Abraão in Ilha Grande – a beautiful tropical island a few hours from Rio.
On reaching the island we were instantly struck by the quietness of the place – there are no cars here and the town is calm and still as if the lack of vehicles means that life moves at a much slower pace.
We set off exploring right away and quickly came across Candido Mendes Prison – an eerie abandoned building that is being slowly reclaimed by the jungle around it. Apparently the building was first a sort of quarantine hospital for people with yellow fever coming into Brazil, but it was eventually used as an asylum and then a prison, before being closed for good in 1994.
It’s hard to imagine a place of such pain and suffering in a place of such natural beauty and calm. Looking at the tree roots ripping apart the steel bars and the brickwork melting into the sea, I like to think that nature is slowly erasing all of the sorrow that man created here – eventually it will be as if it was never there.
The major draw of Ilha Grande is of course its pristine white-sand beaches – and there are many to choose from. Not having the luxury of time, we decided to trek across the island to Lopes Mendes; a particularly famous beach, having been rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world.
The walk was an interesting two-hour trek through steamy jungle and vast stretches of sand.
Even if there were a few steep climbs, we were always rewarded with spectacular views out over the canopy and across the bay (and the millionaire yachts).
Although the sun that had peeked out from the clouds in the morning, giving us a tantalising glimpse as to what Ilha Grande would look like in the peak of summer, it soon hid again when we were halfway through our walk. So, when we finally reached the beach, it was a little overcast – but that didn’t take away from the experience.
The sand, which seemed to stretch across the bay for miles, was so soft and fine it even squeaked under our feet, and the water was an invitingly beautiful turquoise.
We spent as much time as we could watching the waves roll in, but all too soon it was time for us to head back to the ferry dock to get to Rio.
We were really glad we’d changed our plans to squeeze in both Paraty and Ilha Grande. Although we didn’t get to spend long in either location, they were both beautiful and showed us different side of Brazil we hadn’t anticipated. We would have loved to have more time to explore.