So if you’re coming to Rio state, Ilha Grande has defs got to be on your list. Using a transfer company called Green Toad, for a mere 4 hour trip you can take a van and boat from Rio to Ilha Grande, and the two places couldn’t be more different. Ilha Grande is this small (by South American standards) jungle island off the coast of Rio state, there are no cars, it’s low-key and you either walk or take a boat everywhere. It’s pretty good for cycling too. I booked last minute (as in an hour before) to pick up the 10am van, and by 3pm I had safely arrived at my hostel on the island. Staying in a place called Biergarten, (weird) I was sharing a room with a couple from London, no creaky top bunk without a ladder for me this time!
Unfortunately the weather was crap. And it’s on these overcast rainy days that you realise that Brazil is all about the outdoors, there’s nothing to do inside, and I haven’t come here to shop! Making friends with a crew of people in the dorm below, soon we had a squad of international peeps ready to go out and take on the island.
At the bottom of our hostel there was a fantastic pay per kilo restaurant, typical of Brazilian cuisine. Basically, you load your plate up with as much as you like and then weigh and pay. Simples! My plate was immediately full of salad, vegetables and protein – I’ve had far too many carbs this holiday, and it was delicious. The great thing about paying per kilo means you can eat as much or as little as you like. Over the course of my Ilha Grande stint I ate 3 dinners at this restaurant, and the price I paid varied significantly from meal to meal. Girl gotta eat 😉 That night, we made caipirinhas in the hostel with some really cheap plonk and went to the only club on the island, Aquario.
The next morning was a bit hazy (my mind not the weather) but after a lil lie in myself and another girl from Australia boarded a boat to Mendes Lopes – the best beach on the island. The sun was shining and the sea was calm, kinda. For 30R$ (£7) you can get a round trip to the drop off point, where you then hike for 20mins to the beach. Hiking with a fuzzy head isn’t great, especially when it’s steep uphill and downhill, although for my trouble we saw the cutest little monkeys in the trees. I thought about swiping one and putting it in my bag to take back to the flat in London. Soooo cuteee. Seriously had to resist.
The beach was fantastic, really worth the treacherous hike, okay fine not treacherous but not for everyone. The sand was a delight, sooo soft but crunchy, I just wanted to roll around in it all day thinking about how great life is. We attempted to go for a swim, but with the strength of the waves I want having fun, it felt more like a battering. A few hours of this bliss was well overdue, especially in the wake of a hectic few days in Rio.
The boat ride back was interesting, for some bizarre reason we decided to sit at the front of the boat with a couple of other random ladies. The term “hold onto your hats” doesn’t cut it, more like hold onto your stuff, the seat, yourself and the person next to you. The waves were insane, we tossed and turned as if a heavy handed toddler was playing with a toy boat in the bath, and he be angry. At one point, the waves were coming sideways and all we could see was sea, the horizon had completely disappeared. Mental. Back on dry land I was still rocking side to side. Winning.
That night, guess what? We went out to the only nightclub on the Aquario and partied the night away…
So Lopes Mendes was soo nice I decided to go back the following day, this time with a larger group of folks. The weather was really sunny, like beautifullllllll. No clouds in the sky, hot but bearable, and that sand… Oh my. That sand! Amazing. The waves were calmer so I could swim, well not swim because the waves are still cray but they were fun waves. Ilha Grande is so beautiful, it really is. I’ve been told that Lopes Mendes is one of the top 10 beaches in Brazil, and it’s a huge country. If I didn’t have to go back to Rio to work I could quite happily chill on that beach for the rest of my trip. Heaven. We stayed there for the entire day, but with the sun setting early in Brazil because it’s winter, 5.30pm is a real shame. So by 4.30pm we were on a boat back to the harbour and back to the hostel to freshen up, go out for dinner and watch the Olympic opening ceremony!
I wanted to watch it with Brazilian peeps who could tell me exactly what was going on, who iconic people were and whether they backed the Olympics or not. It’s a bone of contention here in Brazil, some people love the games and some people hate them. Corruption and a poor economy have meant that Rio state has had to borrow a lot of money from the federal government in order to pay for the games, the infrastructure and its workers. When I tell people I’m a volunteer, some people commend me, and some people laugh at me. I’m getting used to it. Having watched the first part of the opening ceremony last Sunday in the dress rehearsal I wasn’t so fussed about seeing the first part again, I was more interested to see Team GB in the athlete parade, the lighting of the torch and the speeches. I watched it in the bar at the bottom of our hostel and it was fab! I had a running commentary going on from the locals, translating what was going on at every moment. It’s such a big deal for this country, for this continent.
After the opening ceremony (it went down well with my new friends) a few travellers went out with locals to a bar to dance and have a few beers. It was a great night, one that was poignant for Brazil and a night that I’ll never forget.
Saturday morning rolled around, today was the day of our epic boat trip. Having made friends with a guy in the bar the previous night who runs a boat company, I organised for 15 of us to hire a private speedboat to take us on a half island tour that included 2 lagoons, 2 beaches and snorkelling. We could bring our own food and drink too (beers beers beers!) so the trip worked out to 90R$ each (£21). It was amazing, we had the best weather you could ask for, not a single cloud in the sky. Apparently it’s winter?! The water was clear, sparkling in the sun against the lush greenery of the jungle island clusters. We went to blue lagoon and green lagoon, of the two I think blue lagoon was my favourite. There were loads of fish in the water, huge schools of them that I swam with. I’ve snorkelled quite a bit now in various countries, I mean it wasn’t the best but it was still pretty fantastic and I highly recommend. Ilha Grande is also fantastic for diving, but I’m yet to get my Padi certificate. Highlight for me was feeding fish bread under water and being completely surrounded as they swarmed to get the food. With the beers flowing, music pumping and continuos laughter, our boat was the place to be. Our trip lasted from 10.30 – 4.30pm and we all had epic tans by the end of it, and we were all firm friends.
Back on dry land, after a shower and a lie down, I booked my transfer for the following morning back to Rio on the Sunday for 110R$ (£26). That night the group from the boat had our last night out together, making our own caipirinhas in the hostel and playing drinking games that I haven’t played since uni! We then moved to the harbour where there was a live samba band in the square where we danced the night away, before moving onto the beach where we saw in the morning sat around a fire. Ilha Grande, you have a special place in my heart for your beauty, your charm, your laid-back attitude and friendly locals. I hope to come back one day.