Lost on “Ilha Grande”

I will never forget those 3 days we spent there, on that island. I will never forget how we arrived there having no idea what we will face or where and how we are gonna spend the night. Ilha Grande is a tropical island situated 2 hours south of the city of Rio. The big island is covered up to 95% with dense forests and mountains. Even the beaches don’t have wide sand areas. A perfect location to get lost and enjoy nature in its best way.

As Rio2016 Volunteers and Delegations Assistants, we managed to have 5 days off between the Olympic and Paralympic Games to enjoy Brazil. On the first day we woke around 4am to catch the Costa Verde bus at Rodoviaro at 5am. It was the cheapest options because with that bus we can reach the public ferry from Mangaratiba, which leaves the coast once a day at 8am.

We put our first foot on the island around 10am. The main place there is called Abraao, which is after all a gathering of hostels ad restaurants and locals’ Houses. It took us around 90minutes to figure out the highlights of the islands, the coolest spots and where to buy food and water. The plan then became clear: visit Lopes Mendes beach and spend the night somewhere there. Climb Pico do Papagaio, the highest peak of the island, visit a famous waterfall and finally end up spending the night in the best beach and furthest one there: Adventureiro.

We also go some useful info like never camp beside a sweet / fresh water area as it’s the best place to find crocodiles. A hike to Lopes Mendes beach from Abraao takes around 3-4 hours. A hike to Adventureiro takes around 7-8 hours and making it up to Pico do Papagaio and then down takes around 8-9 hours. The waterfall was “only” 2 hours away to the South.

We didn’t lose time, we quickly found the start point to Lopes Mendes as it was already 2pm. We had to hurry a little because sunset was around 6pm. The way started in a tough way, a challenging uphill with big stones on the way. Our heavy backpacks made us slower and we had to take several breaks. But it was amazing how it feels inside a tropical jungle. You can quickly feel how alive it is, how green and how dense it is. There is always something moving around: a beast, a monkey, a snake, a big bird… But there is nothing dangerous as all of them run away as soon as they see humans, except monkey sometimes as they are so curious by nature.

We crossed some breath-taking on the way. Some sides of the island facing the ocean on 500 or 700m altitude are just amazing. You never get bored on the way as the jungle always changes shape. Sometimes it becomes sunny and cheerful, sometimes it gets dark and frightening, sometimes you have to walk along the beach and sometimes you have to cross naturally-made tunnels of stones and trees. The way was more or less clear, as you can’t make your way inside the jungle without a path anyway.

At the end of the trek, we started to get tired. We were not sure about wild camping was a good idea because it’s forbidden on the island and in Brazil in general. We were afraid to get busted by the police or that we get some safety problems at night. On the whole way, people kept trying to convince us not to do it because it can be dangerous and we can get busted by the cops. We looked at each other and then we said No! We didn’t make all this way with all those heavy backpacks to land in some “boring” hostels.

It was already sunset time when we arrived to Lopes Mendes beach. But we knew that it’s quite famous so we will find people and maybe cops there. That’s why we decided to camp in a neighbouring one, called Saint Antonio. It’s a smaller and kind of secret beach 20 minutes away from Lopes Mendes. We made it there! It was empty, and so beautiful. A mix of sandy and rocky beach. A small spot to camp. On the right side there is a small rived of sweet water ending directly in the sea. I never saw such a combination before. Usually beaches and rivers are not this close to each other.

We didn’t have much of a choice to set up the tents. The distance between the Jungle behind us and the water is 15-20 meters. But the ground was even so we had to be careful measuring the water tight XXX. The only possibility was to camp as close as much to the jungle so that we don’t get EMPORTED way by the beach in the middle of the night. As it was getting dark, I wanted to take a look inside the jungle behind us to make myself comfortable with it. I went inside 5 minutes and then went out so quickly. It was so frightening, dark, dense, and alive as usual. I would never have believed I am actually gonna sleep in such a place full of animals and beasts, facing the ocean.

This part of the island faces directly the Atlantic Ocean. So it was so dark at night. At least we thought so. But soon our eyes got used to the dark, and then we discovered the sky. That sky will stay stick in my head forever. The stars were so shiny, so big, so clear. I saw for the first time the Milky Way with a naked eye. You even don’t need to make long exposure photos to see it. It was magical. I couldn’t get my eyes away from it. It was an hypnotizing beauty…

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Then we saw a light in the middle of the jungle, we got right away scared. We thought somebody is coming. But we saw another one right next it, and another one close, and another one further. Then suddenly those tiny lights appeared in the whole jungle. It was BOUDHAW. They were green, blinking everywhere and moving in a smooth way. Can you imagine that view? A lighting jungle under a shiny sky full of stars throwing their lights all over the sea? I never knew such a combination exists on our mother Earth…

We got later more comfortable with the place and we started preparing dinner and talking. I still don’t know why but we were whispering all the time. It was so calm around. Nobody dared to speak loudly. Then we saw a boat coming in our direction with red lights, and getting closer and closer. We got scared. We turned off the lights and we hided in our tents and kept looking at it. It looked like a coast guard boat. It stopped maybe 300 meters in front of us and stayed there for a while. We held our breath and we didn’t dare to even talk to each other. The boat was there, blinking in the middle of the dark then decided to leave. We were so relieved. We made it. We didn’t get busted or didn’t face any other kind of safety problem. We finished our dinner and we stayed awake till late at night and started telling our stories. Although we were friends, we didn’t know each other well. After all we were all volunteers and met each other a couple of weeks ago. But after all what we had been through during the Olympic Games, we were feeling like we knew each other for so long… We barely made to midnight then we surrounded to our sleeping bags. We were so exhausted. We slept only 2 hours the night before, we had a 5-hour trip then a 4-hour difficult hike. I slept like a baby. It was one of my best nights ever…

Around 6am. It was getting HELL. I heard my friend, Jennifer, opening her tent. She knew I woke up and suggested to look for a nice spot to watch sunrise. The others joined quickly and we found a cool rocky place which has a quite perfect view of another bay of the islands with the shadow of the mountains on it. Sunrise was wonderful. It’s a pity that in TROPICAL islands the sun gets up and down so quickly. We didn’t have much time to enjoy that moment. But it was so worth it.

7am, breakfast time. We looked for another sunny spot, hung our wet clothes from the swim of yesterday and moved our tents to a sunny spot to dry them from the humidity of the night and we sat on another cool rocky spot to eat. At that moment, and looking to our stuff everywhere on the beach, we felt like we owned this place. It already and quickly felt like home and we never wanted to leave it. But we had too, too late, around 11am.

We had to take the same way back to Abraao. But one hour later we found a guy which accepted to drive us with his boat for 20 reais. It was a 20-minute drive. In the mean time we were planning what we should do on this day. Decision was to visit the other side of the island, where the waterfall is. We also found an awesome idea which is to climb up to Pico do Papagaio before sunrise of the next day and watch it from there, almost 1000m high.

As we arrived to Abraao, we randomly chose a random organized camping place because we had to spend the night near the city, left our stuff there and headed to the waterfalls. The other side of the island was so different, a lot of bamboos, more local people and there were old ruins. We suddenly found and abandoned prison on the way. You could feel history here. It was used in the 19th century to catch immigrants coming from Europe and Africa. It was also my first time I saw a prison-tree. Frightening.

On our way to the waterfalls, we crossed by pure chance another Rio2016 volunteer. We were surprised how many of us were travelling around. It was a Russian girl, Valeria and her friend who recommended us not to climb to Pico do Papagio at dawn because it’s dangerous in the dark and a local guide is too expensive. So we decided to abandon that crazy idea of hanging out through the jungle in the middle of the night and shifted it as day trip for the next day. Then we finally arrived to the waterfall, it’s really high one and it was amazing how dark the lake underneath it was. After some hesitation, we decided to take a fresh shower under it. It was quite hot but the water was so cold. You barely can stand under the falling water more than 30 seconds. But it was one of my best nature showers ever…

It was getting late, but we anyway decided to make to the other side of the island to check the beach there. Another 1-hour trek. The view down to the beach was just breath-taking, a paradise. As it got really late. We said it’s really time to go back to abraao before it gets dark. We made the 3-hour way back in 2-hours only. We had no chance anyway. We arrived by sunset already.

The next day is Pico do Papagaio day. We met with other random people we met the day before and agreed to make this trek together. Pico do Papagaio is a special mountain top. It has the shape of a bird head. A Big rock at the top which has nothing under it. It’s just hanging there up there in the air. We already were astonished by this anti-nature form of mountain as soon as we got close to the island with the boat the first day. It’s so high and so clear. You just can’t miss it. The way up there was not easy at all. An exhausting uphill, a non-clear path and some scary sounds of big monkeys and birds. We had to be careful as we got lost already a couple of times on the way. 3 hours later. We were almost there, and suddenly the trees disappeared and that view was in front of us. We unconsciously hugged each other and screamed. We made it and we didn’t believe it. The view made us forget everything. We were speechless….

We thought the way down will be easier, but we got even more confused finding it. We also got lost many times but finally after some hours we made it down back to the city. It was already 4pm. Nex challenge was to get to that Adventureiro, a wonderful beach situated north. As usual, we were asking around fishermen and private boats people at the harbour. No one wanted to drive us there. As Advetureiro is also situated at the ocean side. It was quite dangerous to go there by sunset because of ocean wind. We were so sad and upset. It was supposed to be the best part of the trip to camp and spend the night there. We heard so much about that place and pictures on Instagram were so amazing… Then we gave up. We decided to look for another near beach because it was getting late. Finally a boat driver said to us he will drop us at Camrianga beach on his way home, a nice spot people there recommended us. It was 8pm and already night. We had to wait for that guy to finish his work and then we drove together in the middle of the dark. 20 minutes later we were approaching a beach we could barely recognize. It was so dark and the guy explained to us in Portuguese that we arrived. The place was a desert. We were wondering where he is supposed to live in this place. The guy just dropped as there on the sand and left without saying a word. We were so confused and we looked at each other. Are we really going to spend the night in such a dark and deserted place? We can’t even see each other. But we finally accepted this reality and started to set our tents in dark, again. We became experts in this 🙂

The jungle behind us was so dense that it was impossible to walk through it. The beach was so quite. We barely could hear the waves but we recognized some lights not very far away from us. So we trusted this place and we sat for dinner. Same meal again: Yogurt and bread. As we were sitting on the sand and moving our feet. We discovered something surreal, or maybe natural? We saw some lightening tiny points in the sand, blinking and fading so slowly. The more we moved the sand, the more numerous they became. We didn’t believe our eyes. What’s that? We had no idea. It was dark but we were sure that they were neither insects nor warms. They were like so tiny stones, atoms… We had no idea what those were until we read about it later. They are XYZ.

The sky as wonderful as the first night in Saint Antonio. Just like a fairy tale. It was our last night on the island. So didn’t want it to end. Suddenly we saw a shadow in the dark. Moving on a tiny boat without making any noise, right 20 meters in front of us. We were not sure whether we saw actually so it or it was our imagination. It was too dark. The shadow kept going left and right and sometimes in circle. It looked that a human shadow. We had no idea what a human would be doing in the water in this deserted place and in the middle of the dark. But he has to be so courageous. After some time he disappeared in the dark and we couldn’t find him anymore. We were exhausted because of the 8-hour trek to Pico do Papagaio. But we refused to surrender to sleep. It was a hopeless try. Mother nature won and we fell asleep…

In the morning we didn’t have to go anywhere to see sunrise. It was right in front of us. It was only then that we understood why people call this place a paradisiaque beach. The view was not real. Shades of mountains, calm blue beach, a river running on our left we knew about only in the morning and fish jumping out of the water. We forgot about breakfast… We saw a fisherman coming with a very tiny and primitive boat. Wait, was it the shadow of last night? It looks like so. He headed somewhere in the sea and started pulling his NETZ. It is only then that we understood what he did last night. It took him an hour to come back to the beach maybe 700m away from us. We decided to go meet him and say hi. The guy was so kind. We took a look at what he caught. It was only around 10 fishes… We communicated in a funny way. A mix of Spanish, Portuguese and signs. We told him we had spent the night here and we discovered that the light we saw last night was his house. He lived there together with his wife and his brother. We were lucky. His brother is a boat driver 🙂

We finally decided to have breakfast and discovered the neighbourhood and that river. No crocodiles around. We even forgot about this point. Shit we camped beside a sweet water river! Well too late to think about this. I had my first shower ever in the beach. I’ve never done it before. Seeing how shampoo foam and mouth XXX between the waves was funny. Who imagined I would take a shower in a beach? This trip is full of surprises and of first-time things.

We could feel the end. Around 10am we were ready to go back to Abraao, where we will take a boat back to the coast. After some negotiation with the fisherman’s brother, he decided to take us back with his boat with 40 reais. Not that cheap but we did our best. We were so sad and silent on the way back. In each place of this island we visit, we say we don’t want to leave it anymore. But this onw was the worst. Because we were leaving Ilha Grande…

But heading to new part of Brazil 🙂

To be continued…

About the author: Achraf

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