24.11.2012 - 02.12.2012 33 °C
A few months ago we didn’t think we would make it to Brazil. In early October we thought we should start doing some research in preparation for the South American leg of our trip and were not surprised to discover we would need visas for most of the countries we had on our hit list. What we hadn’t counted on was that for Brazil we could not purchase the visa at the airport on arrival – we had to apply in person at a Brazilian consulate and be prepared to leave our passports for up to 10 days. Somewhat difficult when you are travelling through Europe and a passport is essential!
After our flight arrived in the UK from Israel at 1am one cold day in early November, we made a beeline for the consulate in London. We had each completed the five page form, we had copies of the requested bank statements and our travel arrangements, and we had the passport size photos ready to go…… we also had a flight to France booked in 8 days that we would need our passports for! We got lucky with our consulate guy who made the process very easy for us, and guaranteed that we could collect our passports in just 7 days. It was at that point we could get excited about the prospect of Brazil!
We certainly have not been disappointed. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of land mass, just edging out Australia in sixth position, comprising 26 states with a coastline that provides infinite opportunities for lazy days in the sun. A coastline that is said to be between 7000 -8000km long! It is a country that feels very close to home – great climate, pristine beaches and lush vegetation, unlimited seafood options, laid back and friendly people and an infectious beach culture that has everyone flocking to the beach at every opportunity.
The Brazilians speak Portuguese but if you know a little Spanish the challenge of communicating is somewhat eased. Of course if you are like us and do not know a little Spanish, it can prove to be difficult! We had great plans of learning Spanish before we got here – podcasts are on the ipod ready to go, as well as a “Learn Spanish” app on the ipad, but November just came around too quickly! We have often (and rather embarrassingly) fallen into that horrid tourist habit of just speaking in English slowly and loudly, hoping that by some miracle the pace and volume at which we speak will magically transpire into some sort of mutual understanding. Sometimes it works, but hand gestures and pointing have been effective also whilst we got our heads around some basic Portuguese!
Our first stop in the land of the tiny bikini was an island called Florianopolis, just over an hour by plane south of Sao Paolo in the state of Santa Catarina. This is where Brazilians go for holidays and we certainly jumped in at the deep end with regard to negotiating the language barrier. Florianopolis was slightly off the ‘gringo’ (foreigner/tourist!) track but everyone we came into contact with was so nice and helpful, and we managed to negotiate the language well enough to be able to eat and drink!
The beaches here are phenomenal – they stretch for kilometres and the sand is golden and soft. The water temperature however is freezing and even though it is almost high summer there are very few people in the water on any of the beaches we have been to. Thankfully in Brazil going to the beach is not about getting in the ocean – the beach culture here really is something else.
Anything and everything you could want or need is available on the beach: food carts are pushed back and forth all day with empanadas, corn cobs and churros; drink carts pumping music are supplying mojitos, caipirinhas and fresh juices; hawkers walk past with earrings, bikinis and sarongs. There are bars and restaurants that line the shore, kayaks for hire, massage tables, tour operators…. the chaotic blend of activity, paired with the spectacular locations really make hanging out at the beach quite eventful!
We stayed on the northern end of the island and from our fantastic hotel (the Porto Madero Hotel – highly recommended!) we could walk just a few hundred metres to the main street filled with restaurants and shops, and explore multiple beaches within walking distance. After a few days on Brazilian soil Andrew was confident about getting behind the wheel, and we had a hot tip from our hotel manager about a beach back on the mainland that was a local secret. It took us almost two hours to get there, but it was worth it.
Guarda do Embaú was a little piece of paradise. You can’t see it from where you park your car – there is a short walk through dense vegetation before you come out on to a rock ledge overlooking the area. Alternatively, you can take a boat across to the sand bar and set up camp for the day. You just can’t beat the local knowledge! We would never have found this place on our own.
From the laidback island of Florianopolis it was a 90 minute flight to the city pace and general fabulousness of Rio de Janeiro where we found more of paradise in the bay of Ilha Grande, a 3 hour drive south of the city. There are 360 islands in the bay and our day trip was going to take us to three of them. Clear aqua waters, white sands and a boat that opened the bar from 11am – yes, life is pretty good in Brazil! Along for the ride were a few musicians that kept the atmosphere pumping as people baked, danced and swam. It was a gorgeous day and reminded us a little of cruising the Whitsundays, although a lot cheaper at less than $60 each and with much smaller swimsuits (on the men and women!).
Although it is a long day trip from Rio we would highly recommend you set aside a day to get to this bay from the city. It really was beautiful and if we ever find ourselves back in this part of the world we will be allocating more time to the Ilha Grande Bay with its 360 islands and accommodation options ranging from camping to 5 star boutique hotels.
So far so good in Brazil - great food, cheap cocktails and hours of entertainment watching the beautiful people on the beautiful beaches. And then there was Rio…….