Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Brazil '08, Day 1 - Ilhabela, SP

We did it! We did it! Obama won! Am beside myself!!! At 2am Obama was leading McCain 170 to 89 or so which gave me some hope but we had to go catch the bus. Let me just tell you something about buses in Brazil. I have never been on more luxurious transportation than a Brazilian bus. They come in several 'classes': conventional, executive, double service and leito. I havn't experienced a leito, the fanciest and most expensive of the bunch, but all the rest of them are like traveling on a sofa. Seats recline almost entirely and there is a leg rest that comes down to support your legs, so you are literally almost horizontal from head to toe, not to mention that the next person is still far enough away from you that you do not travel with their head in your lap.
Anyway, we arrived in Tiete (Barra Funda), which is the main bus terminal in the city of Sao Paulo at around 7:30am and immediate went to find a newspaper stand. When I saw Obama on all the front pages, I have to tell you, I cried from joy. I can't emphasize enough how scared I was of a McCain presidency, and I am so proud of Americans right now. I hear Minnesota and Georgia are still having trouble, and I am rooting for Al Franken and Jim Martin. The fly in my dessert is that proposition 8 passed in California, which I think frankly is unconstitutional. Also, bizarrely Michele Bachmann won, not sure what to make of that.
Back to the travels at hand though. We got tickets for a 9am bus to São Sebastião, which could only be paid for with cash for some reason, and slept through at least 2 hours of the three and a half hour trip. When I woke up I realized that we were on some kind of mountain range, making our way down through the beautiful Mato Atlantico rain forest. I haven't been to a rain forest since Costa Rica back in 2003 so it was all fresh and new and absolutely gorgeous. We could see the city of São Sebastião on the small stretch of land between where the mountains ended and the ocean began. Driving along the shore we saw some of São Sebastião's suburbs, which looked more prosperous than any part of Brazil I had seen up to this point. I was also pleased to see that the fences around the properties where only waist high, rather than the full-on prison-like walls and barbed wire of Husband's hometown.
The bus dropped us, and only us, at a deserted looking place by the ocean, and moved on towards the city. Upon closer inspection we found the ferry, which is free for pedestrians, and headed for Ilhabela (travel time ~30 minutes, no motion sickness, in case you are interested.)
We had no prearranged plans or any specific notions of where we were going or what we were planning to do, so first thing we did was visit the tourist booth just a few feet from the ferry dock. The lady there, who spoke English, told us all about the various attraction on the island and made many phone calls on our behalf to pousadas (bed and breakfast type hotels). The island, which is actually called Ilha de São Sebastião, but is referred to as Ilhabela at all times, has two roads. The main road, which is paved, runs along the western coast of the island from north to south, and a second road, passable only by 4-wheel drive vehicles, crosses the island from west to east, connecting Perequê with the Castelhanos beach. Some hiking trails exist as well but beware of the snakes! The ferry arrives in Perequê, which is also the dividing point between the "north" and "south" part of the island. The northern part is more developed and a bit fancier. When I say developed however, it is in this case not a negative. There are more restaurants and pousadas, and there are also more and nicer houses, but it is not unpleasant and plenty of nature, beaches and beauty is preserved. The southern part of the island is supposedly more wild and has the more deserted beaches.
For transportation it was recommended that we should use the bus. Taxis are extremely and unreasonably expensive, while car rentals are absurd. Buses run regularly (every 30 minutes) from Perequê north as far as Armacao, and a different set of buses runs south from Perequê.
While looking into pousadas we met two girls from Holland, one originally from Honduras and the other from Thailand, who recommended to us their pousada in the south part of the island. So our plan became thus - stay one night in the north, and then one night in the south of Ilhabela. We decided to do north first because being tired and starving we thought the north would offer more comforts. We found an excellent pousada - Manga Rosa - run by a husband and wife. They came and picked us up from the tourist office, they accept credit cards (most pousadas don't) and the place is just beautiful. Check out the view from our room!

Manga Rosa is in one of the few real 'towns' on Ilha de São Sebastião. It's called Ilhabela but everyone calls it Vila. I am not sure how townships are established here but each beach appears to have a name, and all businesses identify themselves by the beach. There are signs along the road which indicate the name of the beach area you are in, and how far to the next beach.

After we took a shower and freshened up we wondered off into Vila and had some lunch at "Cheiro Verde", a place that serves local and fresh salt water fish, sadly deep fried and smothered in grease. It is, however, recommended by locals and Lonely Planet alike. I had some fresh squeezed lemon juice, which is made with tap water I presume, so here's hoping I don't get sick. Now really sleepy we stumbled back to the pousada and passed out for 3 hours. When we got up it was dark. We wondered outside again and went for a nice walk, had some self-serve ice cream and watched locals fishing off the dock for squid. It was the weirdest thing. They fish with these lit bobby things (you can tell I am so not a fisherwoman) and the squid are so funny. There was a grandpa there who caught at least 3 while we watched. There were kids there too, really people of all ages, fishing for breakfast squid. Wicked!

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